Title: 1000 Rainy Days
Author: R.L. Montoya
Written: May 1999
Feedback: RLMontoya@aol.com I would LOVE feedback! I LIVE for feedback! Critical, constructive or not!
Keywords: Samantha, Oubliette, Margaret Scully, Byers, Mulder/Scully romance, angst, empathy, abduction Spoilers/Timespan: It assumes events in the third season.

Briefly mentions "Quagmire". It's set in a fall/winter month.

Contains no spoilers for subsequent seasons and is cancer-free.
Disclaimer: Characters herein belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting, except Kiko Mendez, Moira Banks and Agent Bryson. The title of this story comes from a Police song, "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," also used without permission. No copyright infringement intended and no profit being made from their use.
Rating: R for language, sexual situations. There might be fifteen objectionable words in the entire story, and the steamy stuff is under NC-17, in my opinion.

Summary: When Scully begins experiencing a strange form of empathy, it affects her work on an abduction case. Mulder reacts oddly, becoming more and more attracted to her because of it, but the consequences of and reasons for her new ability are more farreaching than either of them realize.


Prologue

Summer, 1971

"Momma, can I go in the fun house? Please?"

Margaret looked down at the direction of the tug on her skirt.

"*Please*?" Dana begged, squeezing her blue eyes shut and contorting her face in such a way as to convey the utmost urgency.

"All right, Dana. Take Missy with you," Margaret directed. The sisters viewed each other with disgust.

"*No*!" Dana cried.

"I'm not a babysitter," Melissa chimed in. At 11 years old, she was too *mature* to be going anywhere with her family, much less a stupid amusement park in San Francisco. Her only solace was that she probably wouldn't run into anyone she knew.

Margaret sighed. Maybe bringing the whole family on vacation was a mistake. While Dana and Missy continued to regard each other with contempt, she sought out her husband and youngest child, who had wandered off to buy ice cream at the "It" stand.

William caught his wife's gaze and waved as he and Charlie made their way back. Charlie was still little, only five years old, and he stumbled to keep up with his father.

William reached his wife and sour-faced daughters and immediately asked, "What's going on here?"

All three of them spoke at once.

"Don't interrupt your mother, girls," he reminded them.

"Dana wants to go to the fun house alone, but I told her to take Missy," Margaret explained.

"I can go *by myself*," Dana said firmly.

"Yeah," Missy agreed.

William Scully shook his head. These two were as pigheaded as they came. He looked up at Margaret.

"Well, what do you think, Mother?"

Dana looked up at her expectantly.

"Oh, I suppose so-"

"Thank you! Thank you!" She started to scamper off.

"Dana."

She stopped in her tracks at the tone in her father's voice. She turned and saw him holding up a nickel.

"Oh, yeah," she said, feeling silly and retrieving the money from her father's big, beefy palm.

"Now, don't be long. We're leaving soon," he added.

"Okay."

She turned and bolted, her brown corduroy jumper and yellow shirt disappearing into the crowd.


[The fun house is not so fun when you're alone,] thought Dana as she faced the entrance. It was kind of scary. The spinning tunnel she would have to traverse to enter seemed more treacherous with every passing moment.

She realized someone was standing next to her. It was a little girl of about the same age with long brown hair in two braids and wearing a purple dress with green flowers.

"Are you going in?" the girl asked.

"Are you?" Dana countered.

The girl considered this. "I will if you will," she proposed.

This sounded good to Dana. "Okay."

The girls paid the entrance fee and climbed up the platform. They made it through the tunnel amid much slipping and giggling and were immediately confronted with a choice: left or right?

"Let's go this way," Dana said, pointing left with one hand and reaching out to her companion with the other.

The girl slid her hand easily into Dana's palm without hesitation. "Okay."

They explored the almost deserted fun house together, holding hands through the scary parts.

They came upon the hall of mirrors and talked out loud as they hid from each other in the maze of reflections.

"How old are you?" asked Dana.

"Seven," the girl answered, slipping behind a wall to hide her reflection.

"Me too!"

"Where are you from?" asked the brown-haired girl. "I'm from Massachusetts."

"Right now we live in San Diego, but we move a lot," Dana answered, fascinated with the mirror that made her look taller.

"What's your name?" was the next question.

Dana was currently entranced with a particular Grimm tale her father had read to her and replied enthusiastically, "I'm RoseRed. And you can be Snow-White!"

Missy couldn't be Snow-White because they both had red hair, Dana reasoned. But this girl had dark hair, so it was perfect.

"Okay," Snow-White agreed, popping out into the middle of the mirrors again.

Snow-White and Rose-Red stood side by side in their reflections.

"Where are you?" Dana asked, confused by the multiple images.

"I'm right *here*!" the girl answered, tickling her friend. Dana squealed in surprise, not having realized that they had been standing right next to each other. She dissolved into a gigglefit with her new friend.

As they sat on the floor together, a sparkle caught Dana's eye.

"Hey, you have a bracelet just like mine," she cried, holding up her own arm.

"Yeah," Snow-White replied, holding up hers as well. Both girls wore simple silver charm bracelets.

"My Daddy bought me mine," Snow-White said proudly.

"Mine too," Rose-Red answered, just as proud.

The brown-haired girl examined the red-head's bracelet more closely. "Wait. Yours has little boats."

"Yours has sea shells," Dana noticed.

The girls looked at each other for a moment.

"Wanna trade?" Snow-White ventured.

"Yeah."

They helped each other unclasp the bracelets and refasten them on each other's wrist.

At which point, Dana glanced at her Mickey Mouse watch.

"Uh-oh."

"What?"

"The park closes in ten minutes!"

The girls scrambled to their feet and hurried through the rest of the fun house, arriving breathless and red-faced at the exit.

Where their families were waiting for them.

Margaret stood, carrying a sleepy Charlie, and Melissa rolled her eyes at Dana. Snow-White's parents stood nearby and her older brother lingered behind them, a smirk on his face.

They rushed to their respective fathers, who both looked grim and tired.

"I'm sorry, Daddy-"

"I didn't mean to be late-"

"We were having so much fun-"

"Are you mad?"

William Scully looked down at his red-haired, tomboyish little girl and smiled. "No, Starbuck, I'm not mad, but it is time to go," he said gently, taking her hand.

Bill Mulder looked down at his brown-haired, dainty daughter and grinned. "Come on, sweetheart, we better go before they lock us in," he teased, and she reached up to clasp his outstretched hand.

The families began to walk away in opposite directions.

Dana Scully turned her head and met Samantha Mulder's gaze.

"Bye, Snow," Dana said, waving.

Samantha mirrored her action. "Bye, Rose."


Chapter 1

Friday -- 1 P.M.
X-Files Office

It was Friday, and for the first time in a long time, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder had nothing to do. Cases closed -- if not solved, at least over. Paperwork finished. Skinner out for the day.

Scully exited her web browser and shut down her computer. She scanned her desk. An empty in-box. A quiet phone. A silent partner.

She leaned onto her desk, elbows supporting her as she threaded her fingers into her hair. She focused her gaze on Mulder. He was quietly reading the paper, glasses sliding down his nose.

She sighed, and he looked up at her expectantly.

"You okay?" he asked, noticing for the third time that day that she looked exhausted.

"Just bored."

"Well, it's almost, uh - " He checked his watch. "One." [Feels later than that,] he thought.

"Think anyone will notice if we just leave?" Dana asked her partner.

"Agent Scully, are you suggesting we play hooky?" Mulder replied.

"I will if you will."

"Deal."

Mulder abandoned his paper and Scully grabbed her purse. They nearly ran into each other as they bolted to get their overcoats.

They took the back stairwell out to the parking garage, gravitating instinctively to his car. It was bigger and more comfortable than her more compact model, and they usually took his when investigating a local case. He opened the door for her, and she was a little surprised. He hadn't been so chivalrous lately, and she was glad to see it resurfacing.

"Okay, so now what?" Scully asked as they drove out of the underground parking garage and towards the rain-soaked streets.

"Hey, this was your idea."

"You're driving."

It was not a good rebuttal, but he gave in anyway. Rain came down in sheets on the windshield and Mulder flicked on the wipers. He turned right out of the driveway because it was easiest and they hadn't decided where they were going.

"Well, how about something indoors?"

She smirked at him.

"Basketball?"

The smirk deepened to a scowl.

"How about lunch?" he suggested seriously.

"Didn't you just eat?"

"But you didn't," he countered.

"Won't you be bored?"

"Nah. Let's go to Bucky's - they'll have the game on."

"What game?" she asked, suspicious.

"Oh, any game will do."


1:30 P.M.

They parked near the entrance of the sports bar and hurried under the awning over the front door. They had both forgotten their umbrellas, and the rain dampened their hair.

The warmth inside enveloped them. The bar was crowded, but a few booths by the door were free and Mulder gestured towards one.

They shed their overcoats and slid onto the wooden seats on opposite sides of the table. A young waitress made her way to them through the mass of people.

Scully ordered fish and chips and beer, a grand departure from her usual diet. Mulder let it go without comment and ordered equally uncharacteristically.

"Double scotch."

Scully bit her tongue and settled back into the booth. [It's Friday. Who cares.]

He glanced at her to see her reaction but got only a half-smile.

She looked tired, but relaxed. He liked it.

They sat in silence as they waited, each content to pretend the game on the television screen above the bar was engaging. It wasn't long before they had lapsed into their own universes.

[She looks wrong,] thought Mulder, observing her through his peripheral vision. [Like she didn't sleep well. Like she's bothered by something. Hell, she looks like what I look like half the time.] This train of thought began to disturb him more as it continued. He took a long sip from the glass.

The food arrived, a welcome distraction from their lack of conversation. Usually, their silences were comfortable ones, a measure of their comfort with each other, but Mulder felt selfconscious now that he had ordered alcohol while technically on duty. [Screw it.] He swallowed determinedly.

The game kept his interest as she had lunch. Scully ate slowly and tried to keep herself from confessing to Mulder exactly what was bothering her. The nightmares had taken a strange turn lately. She thought she had gained control over them, but new and different images were starting to appear. Daydreams almost, although she thought there should be a word to express "daymares". [There is a word, Dana: "Hallucinations,"] she told herself.

She shook her head. She wasn't going to confess anything. She could handle it. And she wasn't going to beat herself up about it, either. She took a long sip of her beer and tried to clear her head.

Her gaze started to wander, and before she could stop herself, it was happening again. She saw a man at the bar. About 40. Looked comfortable in a suit. A lawyer, perhaps. A businessman. He had loosened his tie and was staring contemplatively at the shot glass in his hand.

Unbidden, the thoughts began in her mind. [Maybe he's just gone on a job interview and he feels it could go either way. He's so tired of looking for a job; it's so draining and disheartening.

He thinks he might cry, except that he doesn't care enough to. He has sealed himself off. He downs the vodka and it feels like fire running down his throat.]

"Scully?"

The concern in Mulder's voice brought her back, and she turned her head to look at him.

"What?" she asked innocently.

"You looked a million miles away."

"Just thinking." She knew he'd leave it at that.

She looked more than distant, Mulder thought. She looked upset.

He turned his attention back to the screen, choosing to let it alone.

Scully took a sip of her beer and almost choked on it. She had expected it to taste like vodka.

"Can't take you anywhere," Mulder teased, handing her a napkin.

She smirked back at him and wiped the dribble off her chin.


3 P.M.

With judicious use of his charming smile and a few well-placed jibes, Mulder had Scully in a better mood. The alcohol in their blood also helped. Scully was starting to get the warm feeling in her belly, and she was certain that her face was flush. Mulder was smiling too much and had taken off his tie.

They had both had enough to justify getting a cab.

"Another?" Mulder asked as Scully drained her glass. She swallowed and shook her head.

"No. I'm far enough along as it is."

"Aw, you're a lightweight." He leaned in conspiratorially. "What are you like when you're *really* drunk?"

She leaned towards him as well and gave him a throaty laugh.

"Wouldn't you like to know."

He propped his head up with his hand and grinned at her shamelessly. She had to admit, a drunk Mulder was a cute Mulder.

"So," she began, regaining her distance. "Now what?"

"I'm a little sleepy."

She nodded. She was too.

"You call the cab," he said, his eyes half-open.

"Okay," she replied, slipping her cell phone out of her pocket. She spoke quietly and slowly, so as not to mix up her words.

"Ten minutes," she told Mulder as she disconnected.

"Okay. Wake me up then," he answered, lowering his head to the table.


The rain had intensified while they had been inside, and now they huddled together under the awning, both to keep warm and to stay standing. Mulder looked like he was going to fall asleep standing up, and Scully shook him a little. The taxi pulled up alongside them.

"Whah," Mulder managed, blinking at her.

"Taxi's here," she said. He nodded at her and they moved toward the cab as a unit. Scully opened the rear door for him.

"Mulder, get in. It's *raining*," Scully emphasized. Mulder was having trouble. She pushed him and climbed in beside him as he slumped into the seat, his eyes closed.

"Where to?" asked the large black man who was driving.

Her partner said nothing. She hesitated a moment, then gave Mulder's address, and the cabbie pulled away from the curb into the river of a street.

Scully looked across at her dozing friend. She was thinking that she should tell him what had been happening to her. He had already noticed her strange behavior, she was sure, but what did he attribute it to?

Mulder stirred a little, and without looking at her, he reached out, fumbling for her hand. He grasped it warmly, and her fingers felt small to her inside his palm.

"- okay?" he mumbled, hopelessly slurring whatever pronoun he had intended.

[We okay? You okay?] she guessed.

"Yeah," she answered softly, and he squeezed her hand before releasing it.


"Miss? Miss?"

The man was knocking on the fiberglass that separated them.

"We're here," he told her.

Scully fished through her purse and paid the fare, tipping him rather nicely because she didn't have change. His knocking had woken Mulder and now they both exited the cab, jogging drunkenly across the sodden lawn towards Mulder's building. They were soaking by the time they entered the elevator, and Scully took off her muddy shoes. Mulder dripped happily onto the floor. He left dirty footprints down the hall to his apartment, only stopping to kick off his shoes once he'd opened the door.

She followed him in. He headed crookedly for his couch and flopped on it, face first. She closed and locked the door, then walked over to him.

"At least take your coat off. It's wet."

He managed to scoot out of the overcoat without sitting up, and she took it and hung it up in the hall with her own.

She returned to him. A blanket from the night before was still on the floor and she covered him with it. She sat on the coffee table and watched him.

His breathing changed and he was asleep almost instantly, like a cat after eating. He actually looked calm. Peaceful?

She knew it was deceptive. He was only sleeping -- he hadn't forgotten anything or resolved anything. It was only a lack of any feeling that made him look so beautifully tranquil.

Scully lingered longer than she normally would.

What would he say if she told him?

He would go through the logical steps first, just as she did.

It's stress. The abduction. Pfaster. His death. Melissa's death.

Everything that had happened in the last three years.

But it didn't feel like stress.

She looked down at him again in the half-darkened room. The raindrops made the only sound as they landed and trickled down the windows.

It started again, slowly this time, and she caught it before it brought her to tears. She let out a long sigh.

[Maybe if I go to sleep, I'll be peaceful too.] She got up from her perch on the table and wandered into Mulder's rarely utilized bedroom. She peeled off her wet, muddy pantyhose and tossed them into a wastebasket near the night stand, then threw her suit jacket over the back of a chair. She considered going to bathroom to find a towel for her hair, but she just didn't want to get up again. She slipped beneath the navy blue comforter and was soon asleep.


4:30 P.M.

Mulder stirred and tried to return to sleep before he passed from that fragile transition phase into wakefulness.

A sound from the bedroom jolted him awake, body frozen and eyes wide as he listened.

Crying.

Someone was crying in his bed.

Scully.


Chapter 2

Friday - 4:30 P.M.
Mulder's Apartment

He decided to leave her alone. He knew that she thought he was asleep. And he wouldn't have wanted her to know if he were the one crying. But he remained curious even as she quieted down.

[She's been very quiet lately,] Mulder thought to himself. [And distracted.] He hadn't asked about it because he thought he knew why. It was all finally getting to her, piercing her bubble of detachment that she had carefully constructed: The stress. The isolation. The professional suicide she was committing by staying with him. The pain that surrounded both of them now, and neither of them willing or able to talk about it.

[And now she's suffering and you're just sitting here,] he chastised himself. [Because of what it means to you if she's the one falling apart this time.]

A strangled cry, a half-scream almost, came from the bedroom, and he bolted up from the couch, banging his shin on the coffee table as he scrambled to her.

She was awake now and sitting up on the bed, wiping tears from her cheeks. Her hair had dried curly and her eyes were wild. He sat next to her, ignoring the pain in his leg as he focused on her tortured expression.

"Scully -"

"I'm okay."

He wanted to call her on it. It was all he could do to wait and see if she'd tell him voluntarily.

She met his eyes and realized she couldn't keep it from him any longer.

"Well. Maybe not completely."

"I know."

She was only a little surprised.

"Come on," he said softly, putting out his hand to her.

She felt like she was seven years old again as she took his hand and allowed him to lead her to the living room. She'd had a bad dream, and Ahab was going to make it all better...

They sat facing each other, Scully on the couch he had only recently vacated, Mulder in a chair. He had made her tea, and she held the mug in her hands to warm them. He turned on a small lamp by his chair, throwing soft yellow light into his corner of the room.

"So, what's wrong?" Mulder asked quietly. She wondered if he realized how intense his face looked.

"I've been... I've started..." She couldn't find the words. She hadn't decided how much to tell him yet. She cleared her throat and started again.

"I like to think of myself as a sensitive person, but lately I've been overwhelmingly empathetic. It's as though I can feel what people are feeling just by looking at them."

"You mean hear their thoughts?"

"Not really. I can sense their emotions. Sadness. Happiness.

Despair."

He smiled a little. "Isn't that just being tuned in to someone?"

She was doubtful. "Maybe. But I thought I was pretty tuned in to begin with. This seems beyond that."

Mulder got up from the chair and moved to sit near her on the couch. His tone softened, and she saw that already he was willing to believe her, his mind open.

"When did this start happening?" he asked.

"I've thought about that, Mulder. I think it started with Pfaster."

He nodded, almost imperceptibly.

When she spoke again, her voice was softer, quieter. "I think it bothered me so much to look at those girls' bodies because I could feel what they felt. I could imagine what he'd done to them. It's only gotten worse since then. I feel like I'm going a little crazy," she added, her voice losing its volume as she finished.

She distanced herself again, knowing she was too emotional. She straightened her posture and her voice was stronger. "So, Doc, what's wrong with me?" she asked with a weak smile.

He placed a hand on her arm. "Nothing's wrong with you. I think that you've just let a part of you speak that you usually keep silent. Closed up."

She laughed miserably. "You sound like Melissa."

He smiled sympathetically.

"I mean that you've probably experienced these things before: Empathy. Intuition. Imagination. You've just never directed them to strangers or in your work. I think your emotional skills got tangled up with your skills of observation and logic and you came out feeling like a psychic. You just need to learn to balance them again."

She looked up at him. "So it's not just my time of the month?"

she teased softly.

He laughed out loud. "For a year? Not likely!"

She laughed with him, glad that he didn't dismiss her, and that he listened.

"Sorry, Scully, but you haven't suddenly become an empath. You'll have to settle for just plain sensitive," he said, grinning at her.

She sank back into the cushions with a discontented grunt.

Before he could ask what was wrong, she grumbled, "Just plain normal, I guess." She had been hoping, for once, that he would come up with a less ordinary explanation. She'd been so confused by her experiences, and the bizarre dreams she'd been having, that she felt they were beyond normal.

He was astounded. "What? You're *disappointed*?"

"No," she said sulkily, avoiding his eyes.

He turned serious. "Did you want to be an X-File, Scully?" He leaned in and half-whispered, "Did you want me to investigate you?"

She knew he was teasing her, and she remained perfectly cool.

"Not at all, Mulder. I'm quite relieved you don't find me worth investigating," she answered, meeting his mischievous gaze.

"I wouldn't put it that way."

Despite her promises to herself, she couldn't resist a smile, and she lowered her head a little to hide her face.

"Scully."

"Mulder?" She looked up, again composed.

"It's okay to let me see you smile. I promise not to lose respect for you."

She feigned surprise, then dissolved into quiet laughter.

He smiled back at her, his hand still on her arm. When she quieted, she placed her hand over his briefly, and he knew to pull away.


Chapter 3

Friday -- 5:30 P.M.
Mulder's Apartment

They stayed on the couch together, silent for a little while as Scully finished her tea.

"So," Scully began, "Do you have plans for tonight?" It was beginning to get dark.

"Actually, I have a date."

She raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

"- that I don't really want to go on," he continued, "but I promised a friend."

"A date *and* a friend? You're seriously jeopardizing my image of you as a loner," Scully teased.

He found himself explaining the situation to her even though she hadn't asked him anything. "I met her once, at this mutual friend's wedding. He set me up without my consent."

He was irked, and realized that he'd rather spend a comfortable evening with Scully than endure the singular torture of an intimate dinner with someone he hardly knew and had little interest in. An idea crossed his mind.

"Hey."

She met his gaze.

"Think something urgent could come up? Say, around nine o'clock?"

he suggested.

She shook her head at him even as she replied, "Sure."

He smiled.

"Just remember to take your phone with you," she added.


The rain had stopped. She went home and showered, then changed into black leggings and a black cardigan. She pulled her hair back into a loose twist with a clip and settled down on her bed to read. The book was absolute fluff, one of those epic romances that seems to be all foreplay and no sex, but it served her nicely, since she wanted only not to think about work.

In the end, she blamed the work for what had happened to her. She wanted to believe that Fate, as Mulder had said, was the only reason that these terrible things had happened. She wanted to believe that she had no control, and thus free herself from the guilt and the pain, if only just a little. But she knew, in her heart of hearts, that none of these things would have happened if she had followed her first instinct during that first case -- to not touch Fox Mulder or the X-Files with a ten-foot pole.

Her book forgotten, she wondered if the friendship she had gained and the naivete she had lost were worth the effect their quest was having on her soul.

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Too much had happened for her to give up the fight, yet she felt like she was being worn down by the sheer effort the fight required, and the payment in blood it had exacted.

Her thoughts drifted back to Mulder. Maybe it was their shared suffering that brought them so close, yet kept them from getting closer. They knew too much about each other now.

She tried to picture him now with his date. In her mind, the woman was tall and brunette, with deep brown eyes that enticed Mulder. Maybe he was regretting his arrangement he made for Dana to interrupt him. Poor Mulder -- never a break. Maybe he would try to tell her covertly that her rescue attempt was no longer required.

She was still marveling at the fact that he had a date at all.

Weren't they both supposed to be such workaholics that their personal lives were non-existent?

[Maybe you just wish you had a date, too,] Scully chided herself.

She had met interesting people at work, some lab techs who weren't too geeky, some agents who understood the nature of her work. But no one with whom she really clicked.

She clicked with Mulder, but, well, that was just not an option she had allowed herself. Her reservations against getting involved with her partner went beyond Bureau protocol. It was easier to be with someone who didn't know all your demons.

Someone who couldn't use them against you. No, she just never thought of their relationship that way.

Regardless of how they looked at each other sometimes, or their nearly telepathic communication, or the way he had grabbed her hand in the cab.

Between them, they had demons enough for their own private hell.

In fact, they had begun to share some. Scully's thoughts returned to earlier that afternoon when she had fallen asleep at Mulder's apartment. The dream that had made her cry, made her scream, was a familiar one. [Light, bright as staring into the sun, but tinged green and without warmth. Only the fear reminded her that she was still alive. The window was open. She couldn't stop the light, she couldn't stop them from taking her. She couldn't save her.]

[Samantha.]

Scully squeezed her eyes shut, then blinked them open, staving off tears.

[Stop. It's nothing. He's told you the story so many times...

you've just filled in the blanks,] she told herself.

[*Balance*.]

She got up from the bed and strode into the bathroom. She scrubbed her face clean again.

She wasn't ever going to tell him, so there was no point in thinking about it. She watched herself in the mirror as she put on moisturizer, a little mascara and lip gloss. It seemed ridiculous to worry about her make up, but in the back of her mind, she understood why it mattered to her. It gave her control.

It restored her and protected her.

[There. All done,] she concluded. [No one will know.] She returned to the bed and forcefully immersed herself in the vapid book.


Before she knew it, it was 9:15. She reached for her cordless phone and dialed Mulder's cell number.

"Mulder," he answered.

"Mulder, it's me. Still in need of rescuing?"

"Yes, right away."

"Consider yourself saved. You'll have to think of your own excuse."

"No, no, it's all right. I'll be right there."

"Here?"

"Yes."

"Then bring dessert."

"Okay."

Scully hung up and then wandered into the kitchen. She pulled out a bottle of wine from the refrigerator and two glasses from the cupboard, then went to the couch, poured herself a glass and waited for Mulder.


He arrived with chocolate fudge cake.

"So what'd you tell her?" Scully asked from the kitchen as she got plates and forks.

"Oh, just a generic ritualistic murder. I didn't want to scare her," Mulder answered, pouring himself a glass of wine.

"Right," she answered, coming back into the room and sitting next to him.

Scully began to cut the cake.

"Aren't you gonna ask me what she was like?" Mulder asked.

She half-smiled. "Well, I didn't want to pry."

Mulder remained silent, and she prodded him. "So?"

"She was okay. Well - she laughed at everything. I think she was nervous."

"She know what you do for a living?" Scully asked, handing him his dessert.

"Just that it's FBI. I don't confess much more than that on the first date," he said, lifting a forkful of cake to his mouth.

"Mmmmmm," Scully groaned as the chocolate hit her taste buds. She closed her eyes and swallowed. "Mulder, this is *incredible*..."

Mulder stopped chewing. Her face was glowing with something akin to ecstasy and her voice was low and husky.

"It seems to be having quite an effect on you," he managed to quip.

Her eyes flew open.

"Oh." She smiled a little out of embarrassment.

He smiled back reassuringly, and they sat quietly eating their cake. Scully started in on her third glass of wine and realized that Mulder was staring at her.

Instead of questioning him, she matched him, meeting his gaze quietly with equal intensity. He did this sometimes -- just openly stared at her. Watched her, actually. Observed her like he was trying to solve a mystery about her. Usually she was nonchalant, behaving as though she didn't realize he was looking at her. But she always knew. She could feel it on the back of her head, like a physical touch. It unnerved her. So, this time she met his gaze, and he turned away first.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Yes?"

"Scully, I feel like I've ruined your life," Mulder said softly.

"You sure know how to start a conversation."

He looked at her again. "If it wasn't for me..."

She knew where this was going. "I'd be bored."

"You'd be safe."

"I might be dead."

"What?"

"It all depends on what point in time we're talking about, Mulder. And I *am* my own person. I may not have known initially what I was getting into, but it didn't take long to figure out," Scully teased. Inwardly, she couldn't help wondering why she professed to have no doubts when only hours before she had been thinking the same thoughts herself. [No need to add to his suffering,] she reasoned.

He didn't look convinced, so she continued. "Besides, what would I be doing instead? Poking bodies all day with very standard, boring causes of death. It would become as routine as brushing my teeth. With you, it's always a challenge."

She made sure to meet his eyes. "And to me, that is worth the risk we take. So there," she concluded with an air of finality.

"There what?"

"So guilt on your part for supposedly dragging me into this will not be tolerated," Scully clarified with a half-smile. His smile did not follow, signaling that he still doubted.

He still felt responsible.

"Mulder, for all of the things that have happened to me because of the X-Files, I blame only Them. Not you. Ever."

It was enough. His face relaxed and she heard him sigh softly.

The moment between them didn't last long. It never did. They were usually interrupted or distracted and couldn't focus on emotions or insights. But now, she purposely pulled back, sitting against the back of the sofa and preparing to change the subject.

"So now what?" Scully asked.

A thoughtful look passed over his features. "I don't know. I kind of like this."

"This?"

"Talking. You know, what two normal friends would do."

"Friends?"

"Why are you repeating what I'm saying?" Mulder asked, a puzzled look on his face. She realized how dense she sounded. She placed her glass on the coffee table firmly.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I guess I'm just always expecting us to get called away, or attacked, or... something," she said with a weak smile. The wine was making it hard to think.

"We are friends, aren't we?" Mulder asked, suddenly serious and with an intensity in his eyes. He knew that with anyone else, he would have sounded adolescent, but she knew what that look meant.

"Yes. We're partners."

His serious tone left him for a moment. "What, don't you think I would have charmed you off your feet even if we weren't partners?"

She gave him one of her rare, broad smiles. "Maybe."

"And maybe not," he rejoined, his mood shifting again.

Disappointed. Moody.

"Mmmph," Scully huffed suddenly.

Mulder was surprised. "What?"

"I wish you wouldn't do that. It's very unsettling."

"What?"

"Change moods at the drop of a hat. You've done it since I met you -"

"And you're only mentioning it now?"

"- and it's just a trick to make me guess if you're serious or not," she finished, ignoring his interruption.

"Sorry, Scully. I don't mean to unsettle you." His voice was serious, but his eyes laughed at her.

"You just did it again. From teasing, to serious, to hurt, to insinuating," she blurted. She wondered why she was talking so much.

"Insinuating what?" he asked, teasing again.

Leave it to Mulder to focus on that. "Something less than professional," she said. "And more than friendly."

This intrigued him. "Like what?"

"Just something," she answered vaguely, suddenly shy and wanting to change the topic. [What are you doing, Dana? What are you trying to get him to do?] she asked herself.

"Oh, try harder, Scully. It's no fun if you don't play too."

She pounced on the comment -- it set up her argument perfectly.

"That's just it, Mulder. You're *playing*." She leaned in closer to him, her eyes sparkling in the half-light. "You don't mean it.

You don't follow through," she said softly.

Mulder was speechless, and she saw that she had his full attention. He stared, dumbfounded, as she leaned in further and continued in a low voice. "You're just doing it to get to me, but you know it's safe because I won't react."

She sat back against her end of the sofa again and sipped a little more wine. [Did I really just say all that?] "You're right. It's very safe," he said evenly.

She matched his tone. "That's the way we want it."

There was only the slightest hesitation in his reply. "Right."

Mulder looked confused and uncomfortable. Scully was beginning to wonder what he thought she was implying, but before she could form a coherent question he was standing up and putting on his overcoat.

"I think I should go home."

It was her turn to be confused.

"Okay," she answered. She didn't know what else to say. She was sure that questions would make things more awkward.

"I'll see you Monday," he said curtly.

"Bye."

He fumbled with the door and then escaped into the hallway. He stood quietly at the door, waiting until he heard her turn the deadbolt behind him. After he heard it click, he strode quickly down the hall, breaking into a half-jog by the time he reached the street where he had parked.

Safe inside his car and away from the source of his consternation he began to panic -- just a little.

It sounded as though Scully regretted that he didn't follow through on his sexual remarks. But that didn't make any sense.

[You're reading too much into it. She was drinking. She didn't mean it that way.] What exactly had she said? 'You're just playing.' 'You know it's safe because I won't react.'

That wasn't sexual, was it? It just meant that she was sick of him playing games. Sick of him being a moody bastard.

[Okay? So calm down. It didn't mean anything. Not anything like *that*, anyway.]

Satisfied for now, Mulder started the car and drove towards home.


Chapter 4

Friday -- 10:30 P.M.

After Mulder bolted out of her apartment Scully shrugged to herself and got ready for bed.

[Oh, well.] She hadn't meant to scare him off, she just wanted to show him that she could play his game as well as he could. He'd get over it. It was always a toss-up when they ventured into topics beyond work: either they'd feel awkward and avoid conversation, or they'd get a little glimpse deeper into each other.

Little glimpses. That's all she'd ever gotten.

Until now.

Now she was having his nightmare. Now she knew how he felt when he woke up. She knew why he called her once the tears had stopped and his breathing returned to normal. He needed someone to bring him out of the dark.

Yet, for all her newfound sympathy, she couldn't tell him.

She steeled herself against the tears and switched on the television in a futile attempt to divert her attention. She poured another glass of wine and promised herself that she wouldn't think about Mulder again that night.

She might as well have promised not to breathe.


Monday -- 7 A.M.
Scully's Apartment

The weekend passed uneventfully, and by Monday morning Scully was fairly sure that Mulder wouldn't mention Friday night's conversation. He would see it for what it was. An aberration.

She sat quietly at her kitchen table, scanning the Washington Post and picking at her breakfast of a bagel and orange juice.

Normally, she grabbed breakfast from the cafeteria at the Bureau in order to hoard as much sleep as possible, but after waking up from nightmares at 4:30 that morning she couldn't fall back asleep.

Some of the visions were familiar now. The Samantha Dream. The Abduction Dream. Sometimes they all melted together, and Duane Barry and Donald Pfaster would mesh with other monsters from her past. Some dreams were strange and new, but with similar themes fear, confinement, powerlessness.

She sighed to herself and focused on the paper. A photo of a man in a suit caught her eye, and she recognized him as the man she'd seen in the bar Friday afternoon.

"Man Dies in Crash, Suspected Suicide

Thomas Roberts, 40, a former partner in the law firm of Baker, Johnson, and Milaney, was killed Friday night when his car plunged into a freeway center divider. Roberts had been fired recently and was having difficulty finding a job, family members said. The victim was a recovering alcoholic. An autopsy will be performed to determine if Roberts was intoxicated at his time of death."

"Oh God," Scully said softly to herself. She had guessed everything correctly. Her chest tightened, and she felt like she'd been kicked in the belly.

"Oh God, oh God..." She couldn't get enough air. Her pulse raced beneath her skin.

She covered her face with her hands.

[Stop. NOW.]

She sat up in her chair and raised her arms above her head, a trick she knew to allow more air into her lungs. [There was nothing you could have done,] she told herself. [He would have thought you were a lunatic if you had said anything to him.] Her breathing slowed, but her hands shook slightly as she folded the paper and cleared the table, dumping the dishes into the sink. She gathered her things for work and glanced at the clock as she strode to the door.

[Shit. Don't be late. He'll wonder what's wrong.] She slammed the door behind her and threw the lock as though trying to trap something inside.


Monday - 8:10 A.M.
X-Files Office

Fox Mulder looked up from the file in his hands when she came in.

"Good, you're here," he said, as though he were worried that she wasn't coming just because she was ten minutes late. Scully ignored him for a moment and put her things down at her desk. He waited.

"What's up?" she asked, facing him and leaning against her desk.

He handed her the file. "Kidnaping in California. Boy, nine years old, named Kiko Mendez. Hispanic, his parents died when he was two. He was taken two weeks ago from a church-run orphanage and found four days later in an Oregon forest. No physical injuries beyond some scrapes and bruises, but the kid's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

"I don't think they call them orphanages anymore."

"Whatever. A half-way house, then."

"What does he remember?" Scully asked.

"Not much, and there were no witnesses. From what we can get out of him, it seems that this may have been an abduction."

Naturally. Couldn't possibly be anything else. At least he said "it seems" it "may" be an abduction. She let it slide for now.

There weren't enough facts to argue with his conclusion yet.

"Skinner give you this?"

"Yeah."

He could see she was a little surprised that the case had actually come through proper channels - or as proper as channels ever got for them.

Mulder continued. "San Francisco field office passed it along when the leads got cold." He looked at Scully carefully where she stood flipping through the file. She looked okay. She didn't seem concerned about their conversation on Friday at all. In fact, she looked a little bit distracted and tired. As though she had many other things on her mind besides him and the X-Files. He wasn't used to it.

"Scully, you okay?" He was asking her that a lot, lately.

She should have known better than to think she could hide things from him. She smiled a little to reassure him.

"Fine. When's our flight?"


Monday -- 3 P.M. (Pacific Standard Time)
San Francisco, CA

Scully and Mulder were greeted at the airport by Agent Bryson, a prematurely gray-haired man who looked more like a politician than an FBI agent. His suit was good, and his cologne smelled expensive. He briefed them on the details of the case as he drove them to the San Francisco field office. He said the child was afraid of being alone, but he wouldn't speak about the incident and he couldn't function enough to go to school. Every time they questioned him he would curl up into a ball on the floor and start screaming.

"The only person able to make him talk about it at all is Dr. Banks. She's a child psychologist with the Bureau. She's been up there with him this whole week," Bryson explained once they entered the building and walked towards his office. They sat in the standard-issue office chairs in front of his desk. Bryson made a point of shutting the door before he spoke.

"Now, I think you know why you were called in on this."

Mulder just waited for him to continue, but Scully was a bit annoyed. She preferred plain talk over all this secrecy. Bryson walked leisurely to his chair and sat, facing them. Scully thought he looked distinctly out of place, like filet mignon on a paper plate.

"This case is unsolvable using conventional methods. You'll see for yourself when you get up there. Agent Banks will meet you at the orphanage tomorrow morning..."

Mulder felt more than witnessed Scully tuning out as Bryson continued to talk. She wasn't asking questions. She sat quietly, attentive at first glance, but it was obvious to him that her brain wasn't looking for holes, questioning the assumptions, figuring out the puzzle. She was just listening.

Something was definitely wrong.


Monday -- 6 P.M.
Mendocino, CA

By the time they reached the small Victorian town on the rugged northern California coast they were both exhausted. Thunder pounded above as they parked behind the small hotel, and they plodded wearily inside with their luggage as the first heavy raindrops began to fall. They had been given two small rooms on the second floor of the remodeled Victorian house.

"Hungry? I'm getting pizza," Mulder called through the open connecting door.

"Sure," she answered as she finished unpacking. Since they weren't going out again until the morning she changed into jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and collapsed on the bed.

She woke up to the smell of pepperoni being waved in her face.

"Thanks," she said, taking the piece from Mulder's hand. She smiled at him, and he was glad to see her in a better mood.

"You zoned out in Bryson's office today," he said abruptly. Her mouth was full of pizza, but she expressed her displeasure at his statement with her eyes. He continued, "In fact, you've been pretty out of character lately."

She swallowed. "I know I have, Mulder. I've been thinking a lot lately. About life in general," she answered casually, hoping that hand-waving explanation would soothe him. It didn't.

"Any conclusions?"

"I think too much." That got a smile from him.

"I'm used to you arguing with me. You haven't said one word about this case yet today."

"I argued with you on Friday," she replied, in the mood to make him uncomfortable. It worked. He visibly blushed and then stared at the floor.

"Don't worry about it, Mulder. I was just teasing you. Giving you a dose of your own medicine," she said.

He looked up. "I deserve it. But I 'm talking about more than just Friday."

[Damn.] Scully tried to think of a line to feed him. "I think I'm a little overwhelmed, is all. I've been holding a lot of things away from myself until I had time to deal with them, and I think they're finally not going to wait anymore," she said softly. It wasn't really a lie. She just downplayed the severity of it. And avoided the empathy subject.

"If you ever need to talk..." He left it unfinished.

She looked at him tenderly. She knew he cared about her, and she'd been making him worry. "I know, Mulder. I know."

She sat up a little and reached for another slice of pizza. "I think I'm just not at the talking stage yet."

He nodded. It meant give her space, something she often gave him when he was troubled.

"So, anything good on TV?" she asked.

"'The Blob,'" he answered, grinning.

"Perfect." She grabbed the remote and turned it on.


Tuesday -- 8 A.M.
St. Eugene's School For Children

Moira Banks was using one of the empty offices of the orphanage for her extended investigation. She led in Agents Mulder and Scully and motioned for them to sit in the dusty wooden chairs in front of her sea-foam green metal desk.

"Nice digs, eh?" Moira commented as she sat in a creaky leather chair. The light was terrible and the window was partially blocked by piles of boxes.

They both smiled politely and thought of their dungeonous basement office. At least here there *was* a window.

"Well, where should I start?" she asked.

"What was he like before the ... kidnaping?" Mulder asked. He'd almost said abduction, but working with Scully had curbed his tendency to reveal his theories haphazardly.

"Kiko was the epitome of normal. Good to average grades, stayed out of trouble. A nice, sweet kid. Grew up here since two years of age. Don't know anything about his parents except that they probably spoke Spanish, since that was all he could speak at the time that they found him. Never could find adoptive parents.

Town's too small. He seemed happy. Healthy." The last word was tinged with sadness.

"So what happened the night he was taken?" Mulder continued.

Moira proceeded to recite essentially what was in the report they'd already read.

Scully wondered why Mulder bothered asking her about events she hadn't witnessed, but instead of interrupting or taking over, she felt it happening again. She tried to focus on something concrete, but found herself centered on Moira.

She was pretty - a brunette of average height, nice figure, green eyes. She looked like someone's sister, someone's best friend.

Approachable. Candid. Scully could sense what Moira thought of Mulder right away: cute, but too smart for his own good.

Dana decided to try a test. If this empathy was going to continue, she might as well learn to control it. Direct it. She focused on what Moira felt about her. Wariness. Concern.

Moira's head snapped towards Scully and she stared for a moment, as though Scully had done something incredibly rude but she didn't want to bring attention to it.

"Um, I'm sorry. You were saying?" Moira asked Mulder, turning her head towards him but keeping an eye on Scully.

[How interesting,] thought Scully, feeling rather surreal.

"There isn't very much in the reports about his experiences while he was gone. I'd like to interview him," Mulder said.

Moira gave him her full attention.

"Did Agent Bryson tell you what happens to Kiko when people try to talk to him about it?" she asked suspiciously.

"Yes."

"Do you think you are an exception?"

"Yes," Mulder answered calmly, with confidence. Scully was only slightly surprised at his arrogance, but Moira didn't even blink as she answered him.

"And what if you're wrong, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder bristled. "Agent Banks, I'm a psychologist myself-"

"Good," she countered. "Then you'll understand why I have to protect this child's health."

That made him think a moment. He evaded it. "I only want to ask him a few ques -"

"No. You may watch the video tape I made of him last week. It's the only session in which he didn't either go catatonic or fly into a terrified panic."

Mulder didn't like no. He wasn't used to getting no, especially from a pretty woman. The color rose a little in his face, and Scully decided to diffuse the situation.

"Mulder, why don't we watch the tape first and then see if we still need to talk to him?" she suggested quietly.

He didn't like it, she could tell, but he was willing to concede for now.

"All right with me," he said.

"Good." Moira stood and walked towards the door. "The VCR's down the hall."

She left, walking briskly, and the two agents lingered behind her.

"You sure know when to jump in," he half-whispered to Scully in a sarcastic tone.

"Excuse me?"

"I need you in the room with me, Scully. No more staring at the wallpaper, okay?" he asked softly, and not without concern.

Scully looked up at him. "I promise."

He nodded slightly. "Good."


Moira was right. The boy only answered questions once, when he'd been given a small sedative to help him sleep through his nightmares. He said he'd been awakened by a bright light. He knew he was out in the redwoods. He knew that they'd hurt him.

On the tape Moira offered him a stuffed animal rabbit and the boy began to cry plaintively for her to take it away.

Moira paused the tape on a close-up of the rabbit.

She started speaking softly. "When the memories are triggered he reacts with nightmares and emotional episodes."

"How so?" asked Mulder, humbled by the terrified little boy he'd seen.

"He'll be completely non-responsive to avoid remembering, or he'll have disproportionate reactions to everyday items or events. For example, he hates this rabbit now." She pointed to the screen.

"It used to be his favorite. It was found outside the door of his room after he disappeared. He becomes physically distressed by it."

Scully focused on the screen. "It couldn't protect him," Dana murmured. Mulder stared at her, but her eyes were glued to the frozen image of the yellow bunny. "He trusted it, and it betrayed him."

Scully's voice was barely above a whisper but Mulder felt every word like a punch in the stomach.

"Makes sense emotionally for his age," Moira concurred. She turned off the equipment and stored the tape. Mulder composed his face before the women turned to him.

"Unfortunately, because he was sedated at the time, this tape would probably be contested in court," Moira said.

"We need a suspect first," Mulder pointed out. Moira and Scully gave him the same look: don't be a smart-ass. He tried another approach.

"Have you tried hypnotizing him?" he asked.

"I've thought about it."

"And?"

"It's unreliable. And completely inadmissable as evidence," Moira answered, reluctant to admit she wanted to try it.

"Well, you don't have to decide now. It may help us get some leads. At any rate, I think Agent Scully and I should examine the area outside where he disappeared," he said courteously.

"All right," Moira answered with more warmth than she'd shown him all morning.


"Good boy," Scully teased as they walked behind the old, gray building.

"What?" he asked, feigning innocence.

"Leave the decision up to her, give her back the control you challenged - you're learning," she said approvingly.

He answered seriously. "I have a good teacher."

Instead of the smile he was expecting from her, he was assaulted by the intensity of her stare.

"Except now you do it to me, too."

He stopped walking and faced her, a quizzical look on his face.

"You don't push me anymore. You try to protect me from you. You already think that you've worn me out," she asserted softly.

Her faraway, ice blue stare was blinding him, and there was something else -- she was searching him. He could almost feel her poking around in his head. Snooping.

He reached out his hand and gently covered her eyes. He felt her close them, eyelashes brushing softly over his palm. He moved his hand, pausing over her hair, and then pulled away. Fire and ice together in her, always.

Scully still stared at him, but without prying. She was fascinated by his apparent ability to feel her probing him.

Although he reacted as though it bothered him, he did not seem surprised that she was able to do it.

Mulder suddenly felt very tired as he spoke. "Back to the case, Dana."

He turned from her and walked on, deeper into the forest.


Chapter 5

Monday -- 9 P.M.
Mendocino, CA

Back at the hotel, Scully and Mulder went over their notes. They had learned nothing new. The forest had shown no signs of an abduction, and even Mulder was beginning to admit that it may have been only an elusive kidnapper.

She sat on the bed in his room as he hunched over the laptop at the small antique table. Even with his glasses on he was still squinting at the little screen.

"Ugh," Mulder groaned softly. He removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

Scully looked up. He was obviously tired, and the lack of leads for the case was frustrating for them both. She stood and walked over to him, looking over his shoulder at the screen.

"Did Agent Banks say she would hypnotize Kiko?" she asked, standing behind him.

"She still doesn't think it's a good idea. But she said she'll let us talk to him." He dropped his glasses on the table and leaned back in the chair, his head almost resting against her breasts. He opened his eyes when he realized how close he was to her, but she hadn't moved away. In fact, she seemed to move in closer to him just the tiniest bit.

[Or are you just hoping she did?] Mulder asked himself.

"Tired?" she asked softly. The tone of her voice conveyed the intimacy of the moment, and he knew she was feeling the same strange pull that he felt. Ordinarily, she would have pulled away by now, stepped aside, made a joke... something.

"Yeah," he answered, closing his eyes again. Damned if he was going to pull away. He'd felt so removed from her lately that he welcomed the contact, however unusual or brief.

He was surprised to feel her fingers snake into his hair, and he tried not to move as she rubbed his temples gently, lest he spook her. Little glimpses into each other...

She stopped after a moment and laid her hands lightly on his shoulders.

"Maybe we should call it a night. Not much else we can do until we talk to the boy," she said. He nodded, and she slipped away as silently as she'd come, walking back to the bed to pick up the papers.

He debated starting a conversation with her about her attempt to invade his thoughts that afternoon. He knew it would upset her, but in the end, the need to know won over.

"Scully?"

"Yeah?" she asked, having put the files away in her briefcase.

"I think you should know something," Mulder began. She looked at him to continue.

He turned his chair so he could sit facing her straight on. "I could feel what you did today."

He waited to see if she understood. If she would admit to it.

She bent her head, breaking their eye contact. "I know you did, Mulder."

"Why didn't you do that before? The first time we talked about it?" he asked. He regretted that he hadn't followed up when she'd told him her experiences were out of the ordinary. He had wanted to think it was something simple. Something that would pass with time. This afternoon had shown that her abilities were beyond normal.

She looked up at him from where she sat on the edge of the bed.

"I didn't know I could until I tried it," she said very softly.

"Before today, I was at its mercy. It just hits me sometimes, like..." she trailed off.

"Like what?" he prompted lightly.

"Friday, in the bar, when I was staring off into space?"

He nodded.

"I was actually immersed in the thoughts of a man at the bar. Out of the blue," she explained. "But today, I learned that I can direct it. I tried Agent Banks first. I don't think she knew what I was doing."

She paused, and a wistful expression came over her face. "But you knew right away, didn't you?"

"Yes. And honestly, Scully, I didn't like it," he told her firmly. She looked surprised, and he explained himself. "It felt... invasive. If you want to know something, I'd rather you ask me, okay?"

She nodded her understanding. "So, you believe me now?" she asked cautiously.

"Did I not believe you before?" he replied.

"I think we were both eager to conclude that it was nothing out of the ordinary."

He marveled at her calm demeanor in the face of such a blatant violation of her belief system. She should be denying it, arguing with him, telling him that it wasn't even remotely plausible "Don't let this carefully constructed facade fool you, Mulder."

Empathic or not, Scully was able to read his mind.

"What do you mean?" he asked innocently, warning himself to be more careful with his thoughts. He always managed to show everything to her on his face.

"I feel like I'm in a car with no brakes," she said, clearly fighting to keep her emotions in check. "As long as the road is straight and level, everything's fine. It's the curves that I worry about."

"I'm sure there's a reason for this, Scully," he said quietly, but without much promise.

She nodded. She looked like she was about to cry, and Mulder wondered if he should try to comfort her, but she made the decision for him. She stood up from the bed determinedly and grabbed her briefcase.

"Goodnight, Mulder," she said, silently thanking him with her eyes for not pursuing the issue.

He answered with perfect understanding. "Goodnight, Scully."


Wednesday -- 9 A.M.
St. Eugene's School For Children

Scully and Mulder followed Agent Banks to the recreation room where Kiko Mendez was playing. It was the same room he had been videotaped in. A small observation room was adjacent to it.

Scully stopped Mulder by touching his arm. He turned to her.

Moira disappeared into the observation room to give them privacy.

"Maybe I should talk to him alone," Dana suggested.

He was surprised. "Why?"

"Because maybe I can... communicate with him better."

"Feeling maternal all of a sudden, Scully?" he teased.

"All of a sudden? I believe I've kissed your boo-boos more than once," she shot back.

He smiled outright and laughed softly.

"Anyway," she continued, "I think the fact that I've been in a situation similar to his will help him open up to me."

"But you don't remember -" Mulder stopped mid-sentence when he saw the look in her eyes.

"I remember more each night," she said quietly, trying to control her tone, her face, before it betrayed her.

[Good, Mulder, make her cry, right here in front of another agent.]

"You're right. You should talk to him. I should have thought of it sooner. Do you want me to tell Agent Banks?" Mulder asked, hoping he didn't sound patronizing.

She nodded. "Yes. Thank you."

Mulder slipped quietly into the observation room. Scully could barely hear their voices as the two agents spoke, and after a moment Moira emerged.

"Agent Scully?" she asked to get Dana's attention. Scully met her green, kind eyes. "Are you ready to meet Kiko? He's right inside the play room here."

Scully smiled a little, genuinely glad that whatever Mulder had told Moira had not resulted in pity or apprehension. "Yes," she answered, and she followed Moira into the little room.

The walls were painted a bright yellow, and the carpet was royal blue and industrial grade, like the carpeting they use in motel hallways, Scully noticed. Toys were scattered about the room, and the boy sat in the center of the floor with a set of Lego building blocks.

Moira approached him.

"Kiko?" she asked, taking the boy's attention away from his Lego toys.

"Hi, Moira."

"I want you to say hi to Dana Scully."

Scully waved a little and smiled.

"She's with the FBI, too. She wants to ask you some questions," Moira explained in a friendly, straightforward manner. "Okay?"

"Okay," Kiko said nonchalantly, turning back to his building blocks. Moira retreated back to the observation room with Mulder, where they both stood watching Dana and the boy.

"Hi, Kiko. I'm Dana." Scully put out her hand to the sitting child, and he took it warily in his, shaking it once.

"May I sit with you?"

"Sure." Indifferent. He continued to play as Dana sat cross-legged next to him on the carpet. She noticed that he wasn't really building anything, and he glanced at her sideways from beneath long, angelic eyelashes, like he couldn't help being interested in her.

He looked at her directly for a moment. "You have red hair."

"I do."

"You're here to help me?"

"Yes, I hope so."

He turned back to the toys. Scully tried another tactic. "You know what? I don't know very much about you, but I think you're very brave. Do you know what brave is?"

"What?"

"When you're afraid of something but you face it anyway.

Something bad happened to me and I try to be brave. But sometimes it's hard."


"Perfect," Moira whispered to herself, impressed with Scully's ability to think on a child's level.

Mulder watched silently.


Dana had Kiko's attention now. "What happened to you?" he asked.

Scully paused. "I was taken away. I don't know who took me or where I was. I thought they might kill me," she answered, matter-of-factly. "I was very scared."

"But someone found you."

"Yes."


Mulder cringed inwardly at the memory of Scully's return. To have her back only to see her struggle with where she'd been, what had happened to her, tore his emotions in opposite directions. [Story of my life,] thought Mulder bitterly. [The beautiful and the sublime inextricably linked forever.]


"They found me in the forest. In Oregon. I've never been to Oregon," Kiko added.

Scully nodded. "How are you feeling now, Kiko? Now that you're back?"

The boy shrugged, entranced again with the Legos. He stopped abruptly and looked at her with open, warm brown eyes that had seen too much.

"Do you have nightmares?" he asked softly.

"All the time."

"Do you... remember?"

"Not very much. It comes back in pieces."


Moira noticed Mulder shake his head a little and her concern overtook her tendency to stay out of other people's business.

"Does she have nightmares often?" she asked.

Mulder nodded. His voice broke when he tried to speak, and he cleared his throat. "They've been getting worse lately." The one he'd heard her have only hours ago had made his heart stop.


Kiko glanced at the toys again, then sighed softly. "I remember lots of light. And a nice lady, like you. And a man." He paused.

"He wasn't nice. He tried to hurt me, but she wouldn't let him."

Scully remained perfectly still, hoping he would go on.

"She helped me get back."

"Do you remember what they looked like?" Scully prompted.

"Not really."

"Why didn't you tell Agent Banks about the lady and the man?"

"I dunno."

"Did you just remember it right now?"

"No. I just... I'm *supposed* to tell you."

Scully was confused. "Why?"

"She told me to tell you. The nice lady with the long brown hair."

Scully still did not understand, so she decided to try another approach. "Kiko, are you still scared to talk about what happened to you?"

The boy looked down at the floor.

"Kiko?" Scully reached out and gently touched his shoulder.

"I'm not so scared now," he almost whispered.

He looked up at her again, and she smiled. "Do you think you could do something for me?"

"What?" he asked.

"I want you to tell an artist what you remember about the nice lady and the man. So we can draw a picture of them."

He considered it. "Will you be with me?"

"Sure, if you want me to."

He decided. "Okay."

"Okay. Good." She smiled at him again and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. "Thank you."


Wednesday -- 1 P.M.

Moira and Mulder disappeared when the sketch artist suggested that the fewer people in the room, the better. Dana stayed patiently with Kiko, often holding his hand as he described the features of the man who had taken him. He was unable to remember enough about the woman who had helped him escape to design a detailed picture, so the artist focused on the man's portrait.

After a few hours of the painstaking process, Dana was more than happy to break for lunch. The artist suggested it when Kiko had become fidgety. Mulder and Moira had reappeared, and Moira took Kiko with her to go to MacDonald's -- a special treat for when he'd been good.

Mulder approached Scully as the room emptied.

Dana looked up to him from packing her briefcase. She smiled weakly at him. "Hi." He noticed that she looked tired. "What have you and Agent Banks been up to?" she asked.

"Not much," Mulder said casually. "Just waiting around."

She clicked the locks on her case shut and pulled it off the table. "Lunch?" she asked.

"Sure."

They walked downstairs to the cafeteria in silence, but it was not their usual quiet companionship. Their last conversation in the hotel room had given Mulder little comfort and he was fairly itching to confront Scully about her empathy.

She sensed his agitation, though he gave only a few outward signs. He didn't try to charm the girl at the register. He didn't start babbling about the remaining holes in the case. And he didn't meet her eyes until they sat at one of the long metal tables in the dining hall.

Even then, he just started at her.

"Spit it out, Mulder."

He didn't try to hide his purpose. "I believe you now, Scully."

She looked at him impatiently to continue.

"I just still don't understand how it works."

She sighed. "I don't either." She was happy that her gift had served her well with Kiko and had been hoping that she could learn to control it if she experimented with it. She was conducting her own investigation and didn't want Mulder's help.

If she could explain it scientifically, or at least, with reason, she could conquer it.

"Or what it feels like," Mulder added softly.

She looked up at him with her serious icy gaze. "It feels like love." She had determined that the morning before when she had tried to read his thoughts.

He blinked at her in astonishment.

"It's frightening in its strength. It's uncontrollable. I can know what makes someone sad or happy, disgusted or aroused, as though I had known that person intimately for years," she answered solemnly.

His eyes were wide, and his lips parted slightly.

"The way I know you," she added enigmatically.

He swallowed. [She can't possibly think this is funny.] He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when she fixed her warning gaze on him.

"The way I know you want to ask me a million questions right now that I don't have any answers for," she said firmly.

He let the frustration show on his face.

"I have to ask you not to push me on this," she insisted.

It was the one thing he couldn't promise.

"Promise to *try*, then," she said softly.

Her apparent telepathy unnerved him. "I'll try," he answered reluctantly.


Wednesday -- 7:30 P.M.

The three agents sat in a booth at a dimly-lit seafood restaurant, safe from the pelting rain outside.

"So, does it rain here *all* the time?" Mulder asked Moira, only half-teasing.

"No, just for you guys," she answered glibly. Their waiter appeared out of the shadows and passed out menus as he rattled off the specials.

"Anything to drink?" the waiter asked.

"Are we off-duty?" Mulder asked Scully.

"I won't tell if you don't," she answered, and Moira laughed at them.

"Yes, they'll have drinks," Moira replied, "I'll have a vodka Collins."

"Scotch."

"Rum and Coke."

The waiter nodded and left them to peruse the menus.

"So what's good?" Scully asked, looking forward to a good meal in contrast to the usual slop they ate on assignment.

"Catch-of-the-Day is always wonderful. The crab legs are very tasty, and the shrimp with angel hair pasta is great. Basically, you can't go wrong here, unless, of course, you don't like seafood."

"Not a problem," Mulder answered. He was also glad to be eating well tonight, but anxious to get Scully alone. Despite her warnings, he had a lot of questions for her.

"Agent Scully -" Moira began.

"Dana."

"Dana, I just wanted to tell you again, you were wonderful with Kiko. You established trust right away. That really helped him open up to you," Moira said.

"She's good at that," Mulder answered when Dana just smiled.

Moira had been more thankful than they had thought; they had expected resentment about the fact that they'd accomplished what Moira had not.

"So, did they get the sketches out to the media?" Scully asked.

"Yes. It'll be on the news tonight and in the morning papers. We should be able to take it from here," Moira answered. "You leaving in the morning?"

"Around noon. We have a four o'clock flight out of San Francisco," Scully replied, still scanning the menu.

Mulder took advantage of the distraction to observe Scully. She looked better now than she had in weeks. Her single-handed breakthrough with Kiko had done her good. But he still worried.

Even now as she chatted easily with Moira and sipped her drink, he felt he wasn't looking at the same old Scully he knew and loved. While this Scully seemed more relaxed, she was also more vulnerable. Softer and deeper.

And still troubled, more than he'd ever guessed.

He had heard her crying out in her sleep again, more disturbed than when she'd been napping at his apartment.

He had sat frozen in bed, unable to decide whether to leave her alone or go to her.

He knew now what he'd do if it happened again.


Chapter 6

Wednesday -- 10 P.M.

Dinner with Moira had run late, and Scully had gone straight into her room before Mulder had a chance to question her.

"Goodnight, Mulder," she had said quickly before disappearing.

[Maybe for you,] Mulder thought bitterly to himself as he flipped through channels in the darkened room. It would be a good three hours before he contemplated sleep.

He settled on a very bad vampire movie, and soon his attention drifted.

He would have liked to be talking to Scully about her newfound gift of empathy. He believed her now, but didn't know why it happened. He wanted to talk it out with her, for his own benefit as well as hers.

[But she's not a talker, any more than you are,] he reasoned.

Now it was affecting her work. Even if it had helped them to get the little boy to talk, Scully had never allowed her emotions to interfere with her job. He was worried about her. She *knew* he was.

And she had gone to bed, just like that. Escaped him with two words.

[Goodnight, Mulder.]

Said so casually.

He couldn't decide if he was angry or scared.


In her room, Dana changed for bed. She stripped quickly out of her trouser suit and pulled on a purple men's pajama top and some flannel boxer shorts.

She looked down at her clothes, laying in a lump on the floor.

She should hang them up. She should at least fold them.

[Fuck it.]

Dana climbed under the covers of her oak canopy bed and snuggled under the down comforter. The rain still pounded outside, and the thunder and lightning made falling asleep a challenge. After everything she'd been through today, God, or whoever was controlling her life lately, still wasn't going to let her get a decent night's rest.


Mulder saw the slit of light underneath the connecting door disappear. The images from the television flickered against the walls in his room, and played across his face.

Mulder was stone in the chair, his mind consumed and seething. He wanted to talk to her. He should have said something before she slipped away. Just a short comment before she had closed the door.

But what could he say? She clearly knew that he wanted to talk, and she had purposely avoided it by accepting Moira's dinner invitation and keeping them out so late.

Goodnight, Mulder, she had said firmly. What she meant was Don't bug me. Don't call us, we'll call you.

He wasn't sure how much longer he could wait.

After another ten minutes of sitting in the achingly empty room, Mulder pulled on jeans and a sweater and left. The mousy-looking night clerk gave him an odd look as he headed out into the rain without an umbrella, but Mulder ignored him. He battled the weather outside and jogged over to the coffee shop a few doors down. Muddy and wet he slipped into the door, wiping his shoes on the mat as best he could. The building was constructed in the proper Victorian imitation style, but the menu was the same as any truck stop diner. Faded signs declared STEAK & EGGS $4.99 and HOT FUDGE SUNDAE $1.79.

[My kind of place,] thought Mulder, sliding into one of the booths. A waitress wandered over leisurely and he ordered French toast and coffee. He was so distracted he didn't even recognize Moira until she tapped him on the shoulder.

"Hi," she said nicely. "Didn't you get enough at dinner?" She had changed into casual clothes as he had, but had been smart enough to wear her raincoat.

He managed to smile for her, though he hoped she would leave him alone. "Apparently not. What about you?" he replied.

"Couldn't sleep. Storm, I guess. Plus, they have the best apple pie here I've ever tasted and I had a craving for it. Care to join me?" she asked.

Mulder paused. He didn't think she was hitting on him. She seemed like just an honestly kind person who was being nice to him. He didn't encounter many people so inclined, so he set aside his irritation and answered, "Sure. I just ordered. Have a seat."

"Thanks."

Moira removed her rain coat and hung it on the back of a chair at the counter, then sat across from him in the booth. "I'm all wired about finding this creep now," she said, settling into her seat. "Now that he has a face."

Mulder nodded. The waitress returned with coffee for both of them and took Moira's order for pie. Mulder thought of attempting small talk, but knew it was doomed to fail. Moira seemed to understand. She let the steam from the coffee warm her face as they sat in silence. Though Mulder was across from her, his eyes focused past her, and Moira studied him for a moment. The puffy skin around his eyes made him look tired and older than he probably was. His brows knit together slightly in concern, causing him to squint, and his lips were pursed in thought.

"So, Mulder," Moira began. He seemed surprised to hear her speak, as though he had forgotten she was there with him. "How'd you sleep last night?" she asked casually.

He met her eyes and smiled slightly. "Storm kept me up a bit," he answered simply.

Her curiosity was threatening to get the better of her, but she resisted it.

"Yeah, it's been sporadic lately. It rained hard the night Kiko was taken - washed away a lot of possible evidence. Then we had a nice couple of weeks until you two showed up," she teased.

He laughed a little. "Yeah, we don't tend to spread sunshine."

"So I'm told," Moira said cautiously, gauging his reaction. His smile disappeared and he sat back a little on the vinyl seat.

[Oops.]

"I don't put much stock in Bureau gossip, though," she added, nonchalantly stirring cream into her coffee. She met his wary eyes. "I prefer my information from the horse's mouth."

Mulder's expression changed subtly. Her challenge intrigued him but he remained guarded.

"Curious, Agent Banks?" he asked directly.

"Naturally, Agent Mulder," she replied honestly.

He relaxed his posture and waved a palm at her. "Ask away."

"Is this case an X-file?" she began, staying away from personal questions for now.

"Yes."

"Because certain details suggest extraterrestrial involvement?"

"We -- I thought so. I'm not sure now."

"What sort of cases are you usually given? Is this a typical one?" she asked.

"Pretty much. We get the dead ends. The unexplainables. The extreme or paranormal cases, including UFOs and alien abductions," Mulder explained, knowing that Moira probably knew these things. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Sounds interesting," she commented.

"It is."

"And stressful."

"It can be," he conceded.

She measured his discomfort and began a different approach.

"I wonder which is worse."

He looked puzzled, so she continued. "To hunt known monsters or new and different ones. The criminals I deal with are sometimes all too human. Theoretically, with a genetic mutation or one definitive experience, anyone could do the things they've done.

And I think to myself, if I understand them, how much better am I than them?"

She saw that she had struck a chord with him and expounded on her thought. "I study them so that I can explain and know them, and presumably capture them before they do harm. But then, when I can see their thoughts in my head, only two steps separate me from them."

Mulder nodded compassionately. "To believe it. Then, to act without remorse."

Moira met his eyes with her own. "You've hunted both now. Which frightens you more?" she asked quietly, her coffee forgotten as she focused on his hazel gaze.

Mulder did not hesitate. "The ones I can't know. The ones I can't predict."

"Can you predict the one that took Kiko?" she asked, bringing the topic back from the abstract.

"To an extent. He's probably just a hired goon: the one to take him, but not the one to give the order. If you find him, he'll keep quiet. It's likely he's done time before to protect his bosses," Mulder said, relaxing a bit as the conversation latched onto something tangible.

"What about the brown haired lady Kiko mentioned to Agent Scully?" Moira said, carefully returning to the events of that morning.

"I don't know. He said she helped him get back. Maybe she was a reluctant participant in the abduction," Mulder offered.

Moira nodded and returned her gaze to her cup, fiddling with the spoon.

"She was incredible with him." She snuck a glance at him. Instead of looking pleased, worry returned to his face.

"How long have you been partners?" she continued cautiously.

Mulder tried to neutralize his expression. "Four years."

"What happened to her, Mulder?" Moira asked softly.

There it was - the other shoe. Mulder locked gazes with the woman, fully prepared to be angry with her. Normally, he would clam up at this point, but he hesitated. Across from him, he saw a woman he hardly knew who was genuinely concerned for him. The curiosity in her green eyes was overwhelmed by the honest sympathy. In a way, her willingness to listen and her desire to understand reminded him of Dana. Should he tell her?

"Oh, God," he sighed, realizing that he was shaking.

Moira hadn't known what she was tapping into.

Mulder gripped his coffee cup tighter, but his other hand still shook. She placed her hand over his, rubbing it softly to still the little tremors.

"It's all right," she said, back-pedaling. "You don't have to tell me. I shouldn't have pried," she said soothingly.

He hunched over the table and his fingers intertwined with hers.

"Mulder?" she asked hesitantly.

He lifted his head and looked at her, his eyes bright with unshed tears.

"If you want to know," he whispered hoarsely, "then, I think I want to tell you." His expression was tense but unreadable.

"Okay," Moira agreed.

He released her hand slowly and took a moment to compose his face again. He was mortified that he had reacted so strongly to her inquiry in the first place, but his emotions had been unbalanced further lately by his lack of connection with Scully. He sorely needed another opinion. Was she crazy? Was he losing it? Was he the cause of her sudden affliction?

It would be good to talk about it, especially with someone he would probably never see again after this case. Someone who would listen without judgement and who was ethically bound to confidentiality.

As Moira waited patiently for him to start, Mulder considered how to begin his story.

"I met her on a Thursday..."


Scully stirred under her blankets. She was sweating lightly and she wanted to moan, but she couldn't, something was in her mouth, a gag, and it was dark, so dark, and she couldn't move her arms, the bastard had fucking left her there in the dark, in that tiny, tiny room...

She heard something. Someone at the door.


2 A.M.

She woke to silence. When the knock came again, she realized that the knocking in her dream had been real. And it was coming from the side door.

"It's open," she said gruffly, wondering why Mulder felt a need to disturb her already tenuous slumber. She emerged from the bed, watching the door as best she could in the darkness. The only light came from the smoldering embers in the fireplace of her room.

The door opened cautiously and she stood near it. He was dressed, she noticed, and his hair was sopping wet. He stayed in the doorway, and she looked at him questioningly.

"At the talking phase yet, Scully?" Mulder asked pointedly.

Her open gaze narrowed into an angry glare, but his eyes accepted her challenge.

"Excuse me?" she asked calmly.

He knew from her look that the conversation wasn't going to go well, but held his ground. "We need to talk."

"No, *we* don't."

"Fine, *I* need to talk. And I need you to listen to me. Now."

The last word said firmly.

"No." She turned and strode back into her room, pushing the door shut behind her. Mulder put out a hand to stop its motion and the door popped open again. He followed her.

"You're keeping things from me," he accused, irritated that she refused him.

"Mulder, I can't talk about this with you right now," Scully insisted, now fully awake and pacing the room.

"Why not?" he demanded, coming closer to her.

She looked up at him and the pain in his gaze struck her. [I cannot lie to this man.] She stopped pacing.

"Mulder," she said softly, "it can only hurt you."

"You're already hurting me," he answered, his voice strong.

She opened her mouth to object, but stopped abruptly. He took advantage of her indecision and came forward, placing his hands on her upper arms.

It was unsettling to have him so close. She felt surrounded - and that was exactly what he had intended.

"Just. Tell. Me."

They stared at each other for a moment.

When she began, she didn't know if she was telling him more out of regard or anger.

"I'm having nightmares," she answered, meeting his eyes steadily.

"It's more than that, Scully. I heard you last night."

She drew her breath in slightly.

"You were screaming in your sleep," he continued, his voice almost pained. "You yelled my sister's name."

She looked away from him and he tightened his grip on her arms.

"Why?" he asked firmly.

She did not respond.

"Scully. Look at me. Why?" he demanded.

His tone made her snap her head towards him.

"Because I'm having *your* nightmare, Mulder."

His face changed subtly, his widened eyes signalling his shock.

His grip on her arms loosened.

He whispered. "Are you sure?"

"It's exactly like the dream you've described to me and in your hypnotic regression tapes." Scully paused before adding deliberately, "But with more detail."

Confusion marred his features until he realized what she was trying to tell him.

"You dream about that night as though it were a real memory for you?" he asked, incredulous.

"Yes," she answered simply, still holding his gaze.

He broke the contact and shot away from her, stopping to lean against the bed post.

"How do you know that you're not just reconstructing events from her file, from what I've told you?" Mulder asked, still unable to look at her.

"Because there's too much detail. I can see what was on the television, I can see what she's wearing, what I'm wearing -"

"What *you're* wearing?" he blurted, turning around to her.

"It's from your point of view. I'm *you* in the dream, Mulder," she said. Her voice was unsteady as she continued. "They take her, and there's nothing I can do. I'm frozen. They're telling me it's okay. That they'll bring her back. And all I can think is that I should have stopped them. I should have been able to save her."

Unbidden tears began to slide down her cheeks and she wiped them away impatiently. She needed to tell him everything now. She could cry later. Mulder stood transfixed as he listened.

"Why didn't I do anything?" Scully continued miserably. "What if they lied, and I'll never, ever see her again?" Her sentence ended in a sob. Disgusted with herself, she tried to control her emotions. There was more to tell him. If she didn't keep going, he would think this was all of it.

He sank back onto the mattress as though his legs could no longer support him. He stared at her in amazement.

"Scully, I -" He lowered his gaze and wiped his face with his large, now clammy hand. "I wouldn't wish those nightmares on my worst enemy," he said raggedly.

"I know, Mulder."

He looked utterly lost as he tried to fathom the meaning of what she had told him. "Is this part of... your ability? The empathy?"

"I assume it is. But the dream is changing now."

His expression remained confused.

"Sometimes I'm *her.*"

"Samantha?"

"Yes. Sometimes it's from her perspective. That started just recently, the last couple of nights," she explained, remaining matter-of-fact and composed. It was the only way she could keep herself from breaking down in front of him.

Mulder turned his head from her and covered his face with his hands. Sometimes it was just... too much.

"It's not your fault," Scully said softly, misinterpreting his gesture.

He sighed heavily and lifted his head. "I know." He paused briefly before adding, "I just want to know why this is happening to you."

"So do I." She plopped down on the bed next to him and ran her hands through her knotted auburn hair. A thought occurred to him, but he hesitated.

"Scully?"

She looked at him. "Yes?"

"Do you think this could have anything to do with your abduction?"

"What do you mean?" she asked warily.

"Maybe your subconscious is trying to remember what really happened -"

"Mulder, I know what happened," Scully interrupted, though she was not at all sure of her assertion.

He ignored her. " -- And maybe you've just identified with Samantha as a parallel to your own experience--" He was on a roll, but this was one possibility that Scully did not want to contemplate.

"Mulder," she began warningly.

"Scully, think about it. Even if you think you *know* what happened to you, what do you honestly and clearly *remember*?"

Mulder paused and studied her face. [Why is she looking at me like that?] She seemed astonished and hurt, as though he had just slapped her.

"Mulder, I don't have to tell you any of this," she began, near tears again. "I didn't tell you so that you could tell me what it means, or treat me like a mental patient, or a victim. I told you because you're supposed to be my friend."

Suddenly, he understood why she had looked at him that way, betrayed and bewildered. The last thing she needed was for him to exacerbate her suffering with theories that could only disturb her. Now he felt ashamed.

"Scully, I *am* your friend," he said softly.

"Then make me feel better," she answered, her voice wavering. It nearly broke his heart to see her suffering, and he had augmented it. One silent tear fell along her cheek, and, instinctively, he pulled her into his embrace.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he said against her hair. Her arms slipped around his waist as she cried softly against him. He stroked her back soothingly.

"Scully, you're my glue. My anchor," Mulder said quietly. It seemed selfish to him to mention it now, but he felt lost.

She sniffed, and spoke against his chest. "Well, right now you need to be mine."

He nuzzled closer into her, and she tightened her hold against him. She was really crying now. Though she tried to be quiet, he could feel the sobs shake her body. She had only let him see her this way once before, when it had been too much to bear alone.

"We'll figure this out," he whispered near her ear. "You'll be okay. I promise."

After a few moments she extracted herself from his embrace. She climbed back into the big, antique bed, and he said goodnight, squeezing her hand a little before he wound his way back to his own bed. He left the connecting door open. Just a crack. Just in case.


"Fox!"

Mulder burst out of his light slumber and ran through the connecting door into Scully's room. She was in the middle of her nightmare, shifting beneath the sheets and moaning softly.

"Fox," she cried again, plaintive and frightened, so like the night his sister had said his name for the last time.

He sat next to her on the bed.

"Scully, wake up," he said, touching her shoulder. Her cheeks shone with tears and her breath was fast and raspy. He gripped her arms and shook her.

"Dana, it's me, Mulder. Wake up," he said, raising his voice.

Her eyes shot open and she fought to remember where she was.

"Fox?" she asked shakily, in a young voice.

"Dana, you're okay, you're here in the hotel with me, remember?"

he asked, trying to keep his voice calm.

Realization dawned on her and she curled up around him.

"Oh, God," she sobbed, clutching the edge of his shirt. She tried to catch her breath, to make it normal.

"Oh, God, Mulder, make it stop," she whispered. He slid his body down next to hers, facing her with one hand comfortingly on her shoulder.

"It's okay, Scully, it's okay," he said softly, and she buried her face into his chest. He slipped his arms around her and held her gently, and her crying began to lessen. He smoothed her hair with one hand, pushing it away from her face. She closed her eyes and allowed him to touch her, to stroke her cheek lightly, to trace the muscles in her back with his hands. [Just make it go away,] she pleaded silently. [Make it better.] Through his careful, controlled movements, Scully could sense him beginning to feel uncomfortable on the bed with her, and she sought to reassure him. Above all else, she wanted him right there, doing exactly what he was doing. [Just for a little while,] she told herself. She lifted her chin slightly and met his eyes with her own..

"Stay with me?" she whispered, her warm breath against his face.

"Yes," he answered simply. Relieved, she closed her eyes again.

His grip tightened on her, bringing her body closer to his. She felt his lips press against her eyelids, and again, softly and hesitantly against her cheek.

He moved his mouth close to her ear, and the sensation as he spoke sent a shiver down her side.

"It's okay," he whispered, and placed a kiss on the soft skin of her earlobe. "It's okay."

She sighed a little in response, and he thought he felt her back arch a bit beneath his hands.

He knew he should stop. He knew she wasn't entirely herself. And neither was he.

And then he felt her lips against the corner of his mouth barely a kiss at all, just an extreme closeness. If he moved his head the slightest bit --

But then she burrowed her face into his neck, breaking the contact of their lips. He resumed smoothing her hair down, and softly kissed the top of her head. She calmed herself in his arms, suppressing all thoughts but the comfort she felt from being held so tenderly. He felt her muscles relax, and he knew she was falling asleep.

[It's good, being the glue,] Mulder thought to himself. [It means she needs me.]


Chapter 7

Thursday -- 6:30 a.m.

The agents slept peacefully, still entwined and facing each other. Scully was cradled inside Mulder's arms and her leg had slipped between his.

So when the noise began, they weren't quick to recognize it.

Scully grumbled, unwilling to open her eyes. She felt so warm and toasty; so safe. Mulder grimaced when the noise blared again, and after a moment, he realized it was the phone ringing.

He reached over Scully to her bed table, squeezing her closer to him in the process, and answered the phone.

"Mulder," he mumbled gruffly. Scully snuggled into him more as he leaned over her, enjoying the smell of his skin.

He listened for a moment, then answered quietly, "Sure. We'll be there. Thanks." He replaced the receiver in its cradle, then replaced his arm around his partner, who still had not opened her eyes.

"Who that?" she whispered sleepily, her face tantalizingly close to his.

Mulder smiled at her. She was beautiful, her face calm and smooth, her hair spread out like flames on the pillow. As soon as he told her the nature of the call, she would wake up completely.

"It was Moira." He could have told her more, but he wasn't ready to stop looking at her this way.

His vagueness roused her a bit more, and she turned her head up to him. Her eyes fluttered open and she gave him a small smile.

"And?" she asked.

"They found a suspect. She thinks it would help Kiko if you were at the line-up at 8:30," he told her.

"Okay," she said simply. He still hovered above her, his arms around her, and her delicate hands rested lightly on his waist.

He met her eyes and they stared at each other for a moment.

[How the hell did we end up like this,] thought Mulder, unable to move. He couldn't break the contact between them for the life of him. [A month ago I never would have had the thoughts I'm having now,] he reminded himself, wondering exactly what he felt towards his partner. His feelings were apparently evolving without his knowledge or permission.

She was falling into his gaze, and she let herself enjoy it for a moment. [He can be so tender, so loving, when he tries,] she thought, remembering his soft lips delicately tracing her tears.

Though laced with an unintended sexuality, the kisses had been meant as a comfort, and that was how she chose to think of them.

She held his gaze. "Thanks, Mulder," she said softly. Her bright eyes were unreadable to him, but he knew her thoughts were favorable.

"Anytime, Scully," he replied. They smiled at each other. She tensed her thigh slightly against him and he rolled away from her.

He watched her sit up, stretch her arms, and then make her way to the bathroom, where she disappeared behind the door.

Mulder sighed and shook his head. This was dangerous territory for them. He had always thought of Scully as a friend. A bright, beautiful, sexy friend, maybe, but nothing more.

He swung his feet onto the floor and sat up. Their partnership had eliminated any thought of romantic involvement even before he'd met her. He didn't need another reason to incur the Bureau's wrath. And once he had realized that he had finally found someone to be a true partner -- someone he trusted with his life and his secrets, someone who would be loyal to the death -- he knew he would never chance it. He knew how rare and precious their relationship had become, and sealed off all thoughts of physical intimacy with her. He was sure she had done the same.

[Last night was an exception,] he reasoned, [brought on by extraordinary circumstances that stem from her suffering.] By allowing them to be so close, Scully had reinforced how much they cared for each other and needed each other. They were each other's anchors.

Mulder smiled as he pictured himself as a boat with a little Scully tethered to him. Sometimes he felt more like a kite, straining against her deft control of the string, even knowing that if he succeeded in breaking it, he would inevitably end up caught in a tree or crashing to the ground.

He heard the shower turn off in Scully's bathroom and pushed himself off the bed. [Enough. Everything's fine.] He wandered back to his own room, closing the connecting door behind him.


Thursday -- 8:30 A.M.
Mendocino Police Station

Mulder sat uncomfortably with Moira in the hallway outside the line-up room. She had said very few words to him, yet kept glancing at him sideways when she thought he wasn't looking.

He caught her stare and she turned away.

"What?" he asked defensively.

"Nothing," she answered innocently. She gave him a fake cheerful smile, which faded when Mulder did not smile back. She sobered her expression.

"Just tell my dirty mind that it's not what I think," she said seriously, meeting his hazel eyes with her green gaze.

Mulder's posture stiffened immediately in anger. He realized she was referring to his answering the phone in Scully's room that morning, and he replied with barely checked emotion. "It's not even remotely what you think."

"Good," Moira said simply.

Mulder felt the need to continue. He lowered his voice and dipped his head nearer hers. "And I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention it to anyone," he added in a fierce whisper, his face invading the air near her own.

It was her turn to be offended. "I wouldn't," she answered, matching his intensity.

He pulled back a little. "Good," he echoed.


Scully held Kiko's hand and assured him once again that the men on the other side of the glass could not see him.

The boy pointed with certainty and Scully beamed at him.

"Good job, Kiko. Good job."


The agents said their goodbyes in front of the station with little fanfare. Scully, exhausted, felt no need to delve into the reasons why Mulder and Agent Banks had pulled on their superficial professional masks again after three days of friendly banter. He wouldn't tell her if she asked him, and though she could have attempted to probe their emotions, she really didn't care. She just wanted to get into the car and sleep while she could.

Mulder naturally gravitated to the driver's side of their quintessential rented Taurus. He slid easily into the seat as Scully settled in next to him. He waited for her to put on her seatbelt, then pulled out of the parking lot onto the road that lead to the highway. She was asleep before they reached the onramp.


Thursday -- 2:15 P.M.

San Francisco, CA

[Hmm,] thought Mulder as he cruised through a neighborhood resembling a Mediterranean riviera town. [This looks decidedly unfamiliar.]

He distinctly did not remember having passed through an area of cliff-top villas on the way *out* from the airport. He wound his way along the residential streets until he found an outlet onto a thin strip of highway that twisted its way down a hill towards the ocean.

It was gorgeous -- a dramatic landscape -- and probably nowhere near the airport.

Mulder debated inwardly a moment, then slowed the car and pulled over to the parking lot of a restaurant perched majestically overlooking the sea.

Scully stirred awake as the car came to a stop. Her blue eyes glanced outside, then turned to Mulder.

"Where are we?" she asked, her voice husky from sleep.

Mulder leaned forward to read the name of the restaurant. "Um, The Cliff House."

"Which is near the airport?" she asked hopefully.

He gave her his best smile. "Possibly."

She smiled back and shook her head a little.

"Hang tight, I'll get directions," he said, patting her hand quickly and exiting the car. She watched him walk over to the entrance. The wind pulled at his trench coat and he cinched it tight around his waist as he disappeared inside the large double doors. Her attention turned back to the landscape in front of her.

Her gray-blue eyes followed the highway down the hill where a narrow strip of beach ran parallel to the road. Beige sand met gray water, their colors dulled by the overcast sky, and the stormy, churning waves turned in circles.

She couldn't help but lapse into introspection when confronted with the potent image of the sea. Beyond its literary meanings, it tied her to her father, and brought his memory back to her full-force. She watched the waves pound mercilessly against the shore, and an analogy formed in her mind as she silently addressed Ahab.

[I used to be a Rock, Daddy. I was this *cliff*. I defied the strength of the ocean. Now I'm a grain of sand down there, bewildered by the power of the water, pulled and buried by it and unable to escape it. How did I lose control? How do I get it back?]

She knew she was being dramatic. She knew part of her wanted to be that grain of sand. Because it was easier than trying to figure out what she needed to do to be the Rock again.

She could almost see Ahab shake his head at her.

[Starbuck.]

[Yes, Daddy.]

[You know what to do.]

[Yes, Daddy.]

But did she really? She wasn't sure. But she felt better.

She sensed more than saw Mulder emerge from the restaurant. He had been gone about the right amount of time, she reasoned. [A good guess is not ESP.]

He opened the driver's side door and plopped into the seat. He moved to pull the door shut but her hand on his right arm stopped his motion. He looked up at her and was shocked by the color in her face.

"Can I drive?" she asked very sweetly.

Doubly stunned, Mulder smiled crookedly. "Sure," he assented, happy that her sleepy, listless demeanor had left her. "Sure," he repeated softly as he retreated out of the car.

Scully scooted over behind the wheel as Mulder climbed into the passenger seat.

He flattened out a scrawled-on napkin on the dashboard.

"Okay, just go down the hill here, towards the beach," he instructed.

"Aye, aye, Captain," she replied with a little grin.

He glanced at her sideways, half-masking his dumbfounded look.

She only called him Captain when she was in that happy, teasing mood -- it was a half-sincere, half-sarcastic nickname that she used occasionally since the crazy alligator hunt in Georgia.

Lately, he hadn't heard it at all. As she started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, he turned a suspicious eye to her.

"What?" she asked without even looking at him.

"What's up with you?"

"Nothing," she answered innocently.

He persisted. "You know something I don't know?"

"I know *lots* of things that you don't know," was the smart-ass reply.

He just smiled.

She continued driving down the hill, squinting as the sunlight emerged between the clouds, illuminating the scene before her.

The color returned to the beach, and it reminded her of warmer, Summery days. Vaguely, distantly, a memory struggled through her overtaxed mind.

"Didn't there used to be something down there?" she asked him, knowing that he probably had no idea what she was talking about.

"Something?" he asked, criticizing her vagueness.

"Like a park, or a fair?"

"Oh. Yeah. It was an amusement park. I think they tore it down in the seventies. Um, 'Play'-something," Mulder said, amazed at what managed to survive in his memory. He'd only been nine years old then.

"My Mom would know," Scully added. "She and Ahab met out here.

Her parents lived here."

Mulder encouraged her conversation. He'd been listening to her sleep, and listening to his own dark thoughts for three hours.

"You probably came here as a kid a couple times."

She nodded. "Probably." The highway leveled off as it twisted along the coastline and Mulder referred to his paper napkin again.

"In about five miles this will hook up with the highway we were *supposed* to take, and you'll want to go east," he explained.

"Well, we can't go west from here without a boat," she teased with a hint of a smile. He grinned back at her, still marveling at her change in attitude. It was almost like having the old Scully back, but only a moment passed before he realized it was an illusion. His smile fell as he remembered that her problems were far from resolved.

"It'll be okay," Dana said abruptly, shaking Mulder out of his thoughts.

"It?" Mulder asked softly.

"Everything," she clarified, smiling serenely as she faced the road before her.

He was fascinated and envious of her certainty. "How do you know?" he asked, unable to resist the question.

Her expression remained the same.

"I just know."


Chapter 8

Friday -- 8 A.M.
X-Files Office

The phone was ringing as Fox Mulder approached the door of his basement office, and he hurried inside to answer it before voice mail kicked in.

"Mulder," he said quickly into the receiver.

"Mulder, it's me," answered Scully's voice.

"Where are you?" he asked, surprised she hadn't beaten him into the office already.

"If it's okay, I'm going to take a couple of days of vacation," she said.

Mulder was instantly disappointed but tried to hide it as he answered.

"Okay, but I can't promise what condition the office will be in when you get back," he teased. He paused a moment before asking, "How are you?"

On the other end of the phone line, Scully smiled. He hadn't bothered masking the concern in his voice at all.

"I'm good, Mulder. I'm going to spend some time with my Mom. And spend some time alone. Try to figure some things out," she explained.

"Okay," Mulder answered reluctantly. He didn't like the idea of her spending time alone for some reason. He didn't want her to isolate herself.

"Don't worry. I'll call you Sunday," Scully assured him.

It was too long, but he agreed. "Okay."

There was silence on the phone for a moment, and Mulder felt an intense need for her to know that he cared about her -- enough to let her separate herself from him for a while if that was what she needed.

"Call if... if anything," he said lamely, his usual articulation abandoning him.

Scully smiled again. "I will. I promise."

Another silence came between them, hanging strangely in the air with an energy of its own. Things were changing.

"Bye, Scully," he said softly.

"Bye, Mulder."

He waited until he heard her disconnect, then hung up the phone.

Dangerous territory.

He stared at the phone a moment. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spent an entire day at the office without her. Not since she'd been missing. He walked around his desk and settled into his chair, flicking on his computer. Email was a good distraction. Paperwork could wait. It always did.


Scully woke up around 10:30, having fallen asleep again after phoning the office. She had decided that on her first day off she would start slowly. Maybe a manicure. Definitely a bath in warm, scented water. A racy book and Chris Isaak crooning moodily in the background would make for the perfect evening home... alone.

She shook the negativity out of the statement. [I *want* to be alone. I *need* to be alone,] she stated firmly to herself. She needed time to recover from San Francisco before beginning her attack. She could allow herself one day to relax. One day not to think about it.

And that had required getting away from Mulder. He was too worried about her. She couldn't think straight around him. And then there had been that kiss that wasn't really a kiss. Sort of.

Dana sighed audibly. No more wasting time. She headed for the shower.


Friday -- 2 P.M.
X-Files Office

Assistant Director Walter Skinner stood quietly in the doorway, waiting for Agent Mulder to realize his presence. The agent was staring intensely at his computer screen and tapping his arrow keys frantically as various bleeping sounds emitted from the machine's speakers.

"Dammit," Mulder cursed as the computer made a wilting sound.

"Did you die?" Walter asked.

Mulder looked up to the doorway and saw Skinner giving him a crooked smile. "I did."

Skinner entered the office and leaned against the edge of Scully's desk.

"How was San Francisco?" he asked directly.

"Okay. I'll have the full report to you today. Basically, they apprehended a suspect based on a composite sketch Scully convinced the kid to do."

"Agent Banks called me a few minutes ago to let me know that the D.A.'s filing charges based on the information you and Agent Scully were able to gather from the boy," Skinner explained.

"Well, she should have also told you that I had nothing to do with it. Scully deserves all the credit on this one," Mulder replied strongly.

"I understand. Agent Banks told me that Scully used her own experiences to establish trust with him."

Mulder was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "She did."

Skinner shifted his weight and lifted his eyes to meet Mulder's suspicious eyes. "Is that why she's taking this vacation time now, Mulder?"

Mulder was tempted to answer that it was none of Skinner's business why Scully chose to take a vacation but resisted. No need to antagonize one of the few people on his side.

"I'd say it brought up memories she'd rather not deal with right now, but she didn't elaborate to me," Mulder said, lying easily.

[She's falling apart, but there's nothing I can do. It's my fault anyway...] He was fairly sure Skinner wouldn't want to know the details of the previous night.

"Anything a couple days off won't cure?" Skinner asked seriously.

Mulder detected the concern lying underneath his professional tone but viewed it for what it was -- the semi-paternal urge Walter Skinner felt for both his emotionally besieged agents.

"She'll be fine." [I'm so good at lying,] thought Mulder.

"And you?" Walter asked softly, allowing Mulder an opening.

"Oh, same as always," Mulder mumbled, averting his eyes. Mulder's mental state was definitely not something he should be discussing with Skinner. He was worried that he had single-handedly caused all of Dana Scully's emotional problems and had become oddly attracted to her as a result of his need to help her.

"You may as well take a vacation, too, Mulder, for all the work you're getting done," Skinner teased, referring to the earlier game of Space Invaders.

"That's not a bad idea," Mulder replied, surprising both Skinner and himself. He laughed. "Let's face it -- without her around I can only get into trouble."

"You seem to get into trouble regardless," Skinner rejoined easily with a slight smile. "But please, take a vacation. If you ever quit, we'll owe you a year of vacation pay."

"Yeah. If I ever quit."

Very few events could occur that would allow Fox Mulder to resign, and they both knew it.


Scully wandered the mall aimlessly, picking up bath salts at an overpriced bath shop, finding an erotica anthology she had peeked in at Mulder's apartment once, and making an appointment at the nail salon for later that afternoon.

She had dressed casually in a floral-patterned dress that fell just above her knees and a button-up chocolate colored cardigan to keep the chill out. She was going from one heated environment to another, so she hadn't worn her overcoat. She'd forgotten that she'd left it in the back seat of Mulder's car when he gave her a ride home from the airport the day before.

She hadn't meant to get sidetracked, but she'd always had a fondness for velvet. Especially black velvet. The form-fitting, short little dress beckoned her, and she realized she was hesitating. She felt a little silly being so frivolous, almost as though someone might catch her in the act of being normal and feminine. Once the decision was made, however, action was not far behind. Dana walked purposefully into the store and the saleswoman was on her in an instant.

"Can I help you?"

[No, not me; see I'm an FBI agent. A doctor. And this simply won't do...]

"Yes. That black dress in the window? I'd like to try it on."

In the dressing room, she looked at herself in the full-length mirror. Hair messed, no nylons, barefoot. Creamy skin poured into black velvet that hugged every curve. She almost purred.


Mulder stayed at work until five. He had completed the report on their San Francisco trip and placed it in Skinner's in box as he left the building. He walked uncharacteristically slowly to his car and settled into the seat with a grunt. His hand moved to turn the key in the ignition but paused as he reflected. He wanted to see her. He wanted to help her. He wanted to hold her in his arms again. He wanted to --

[Stay away from that,] he chastised himself. [Go home and take a cold shower. What's wrong with you anyway? She's your partner.

She's suffering. Don't add to it.]

Lips so soft, barely brushing against his, then turning away.

[Turning *away*. Because she didn't mean it that way. Get over it.]

He had to stop having these dialogues with himself. He turned the key and started the car, tires protesting as he pulled roughly out of the parking spot.


Friday -- 7 P.M.

Dana Scully entered her apartment and dumped all her purchases on the floor in her living room. She glanced at the answering machine near her phone. No blinking red light.

She pouted a moment. No messages. She had expected him to call, in a way. Even though she'd told him she would call him Sunday, she would be surprised if either of them could wait that long.

[Fine,] she thought peevishly. [Then I won't call him a minute before Sunday,] she resolved.

She decided to try on all her new things at once, including the red lipstick she'd bought to match her new manicure. Just to see what it would look like.


It was dark and thunder in the distance signaled the coming storm. The Friday traffic ate away the time, chewing the seconds meticulously. It didn't matter. No one was waiting for Mulder to get home. Not even Mulder.

When he finally parked his car on the street outside his building, he realized that Scully's overcoat was in the back seat. He grabbed it, along with his own, and brought it in with him, tossing them both on the couch.

Rain threatened, but Mulder decided to go for a run anyway. Only Mulder would take a jog in the rain in the dark. If he got pneumonia, at least his body would feel as wretched as his brain.

And he'd get to wake up to Scully's sad little smile as she sat by his hospital bed.

[You are a sick man.]

He shoved his key into the pocket of his sweats and shut his front door. He was halfway down the block when his phone rang.


Friday -- 8 P.M.

Dana lay on her back on the floor of her bedroom, shoes and accessories strewn around her. Diamonds sparkled at her ears and her throat, and one hand smoothed the front of her dress as she dialed the phone with the other. Red fingernails moved up her body again and pulled at one red curl of hair.

"Mulder... Muuuuuuuuuul-derrrrrr... are you there? Are you there?" she cooed into the phone. She could hardly hide her disappointment. "I wasn't going to call you until Sunday, but...

"She trailed off, not concerned that moments of silence were being recorded on the other end of the line.

Her voice felt low in her throat, and unusually breathy as she continued again. "I got all dressed up, but now you're not home.

Who am I gonna go out with now?" she asked in a little girl's voice. She felt surreal, her perception skewed and softened by her restless, aroused mood. "Well, I can't stay home. Not now.

Mmmm," she moaned softly as she rolled over onto her stomach. "I guess I'll go out without you. Don't wait up, okay? Okay." She hung up the phone sloppily, lazily, the rolled onto her back again. Time to go.


Friday -- 9 P.M.

It was raining again. Fox Mulder tried to get his brain to shut down as he jogged his tired muscles mercilessly around his block.

Vacation was a foreign concept to him, as it was to anyone whose work was their driving force in life.

[Running in circles. How appropriate,] his brain interjected, not content to let him exhaust himself into oblivion.

"Fuck you," he sputtered out loud, wiping the rain and sweat away from his eyes as he continued on.

[You're lucky, Fox. You get to follow your quest and get paid for it.]

"Yeah. Lucky," he mumbled bitterly. [No life, dragging Scully along, not one step closer to finding Samantha. Lucky me.] He shook his head. [Stop it. Vacations are not for self-induced depression]

He found himself back at his building.

[What are they for then, Mulder?] It was *her* voice in his head this time, taking up the argument.

Showers. Renting movies. And pizza. In that order.

He entered the apartment and headed straight for the bathroom, not even glancing at the answering machine. Why reaffirm the thought that she didn't want to be around him?


Dana sat at the bar, quietly sipping her third drink. A few men had looked like they might approach her but then mysteriously lost their nerve. She didn't realize how formidably beautiful she looked -- the dress, the hair, the make-up -- it added up to a dare.

Meanwhile, her hormones raged. She had willed herself to exude a maximum level of sexuality, but so far not a nibble from the tepid pool. She sighed and turned back to her Margarita.

[Trying too hard, I guess. Scaring them off,] she thought. She stopped mid-sip as she felt eyes move over her body. Normally such a blatant assessment would offend her, but tonight she had showcased herself specifically to elicit that hungry, testosterone-induced stare.

She turned her head over her shoulder slowly to meet the greygreen eyes of the handsome man raking over her. She smiled just a little.

[Come into my web, said the spider to the fly.]**

Friday -- 10 P.M.

Mulder dropped the cold slice of pizza back into the box and dropped the whole thing onto the coffee table. It was suddenly as appetizing as a sweat sock, and the inane comedy he had rented from the video store was fast losing his interest. He turned over on the couch, away from the television, and then he saw it.

A message. A *message*?

He flicked off the power on the television and hit "play" on the answering machine.

"Muuuuulllderrrrrrr," purred Scully's husky voice. He froze, astounded into stillness. "Are you there? Are you there?"

Oh, God, she'd been looking for him! All he wanted in the world was to see her.

"I got all dressed up, but now you're not home..."

And he could have seen her in something other than those awful, institutional suits. He ached with lost opportunity.

"Who am I gonna go out with now? Well, I can't stay home. Not now."

Now that what? She sounded restless. And more than that, she sounded... wanton.

"Mmmmmmmm..."

Oh, *God.*

"I guess I'll go out without you. Don't wait up, okay? Okay."

NOT OKAY. Not even remotely okay.

[Excuse me, isn't she a single, grown woman who can do whatever she pleases?] his brain interrupted.

"Fuck you, brain," he growled, reaching for the phone. Speed dial wasn't nearly fast enough. After an eternity her machine answered.

"Dana. Pick up. Scully." She wasn't home. She was out. Without him. God knows where. With God knows who. He hung up and grabbed his wallet and keys as he scrambled for the door.

He drove too fast on the slickened streets, but he didn't care.

Where did she go? Was she all right? What would have happened if he had been home when she called?

He knocked out of courtesy at her front door, but when no answer came he readily used his key to enter. No signs of trouble.

Everything in its place.

His idiocy hit him then. Did he really think she was in danger?

Or was he just hoping that she had changed her mind and stayed home, and then he could see her? What was he thinking, driving over here like a maniac? As though he expected to find her hurt or in trouble, the only rational excuse for her not being with him right now. He moved over to her bedroom, intent on searching for signs of foul play.

Clothes were strewn on the floor and the light was on in the bathroom. He sank down onto her tidy bed, laying back against the ivory colored pillows.

Mulder closed his eyes and sighed loudly to himself. He knew his behavior bordered on that of a jealous lover. He knew that his attraction to Scully had blossomed at some indiscernible point in the past. It had now grown to the point where he had allowed himself to spend the night with her in his arms. That uninvestigated desire, mixed with his concern over her current emotional problems, meant that he was thinking about her constantly.

He knew he should go. Leave no trace that he was here. If he stayed, she would come home, and there would be questions.

He settled into the bed. Since when was Fox Mulder afraid of questions?


Chapter 9

Saturday -- 2 A.M.

Dana Scully stirred awake with a strong urge to go home. She glanced at the clock near the bed, realizing that she'd been asleep for almost two hours. Though still a little drunk and beginning to get anxious, she took stock of the situation almost mechanically. The full meaning of what she had almost done threatened to surface, but she pushed it down again. The goal now was to get home.

She looked a the man asleep beside her and wondered if she'd ever see him again. It didn't matter.

Carefully, she slid out of the bed and dressed in the dark.

Everything was harder than it should be - zippers, straps. She couldn't find her pantyhose... Oh, well. Concentrate, Dana.

Shoes. Purse. Out, out...


Mulder heard a key in the lock and snapped out of his slumber.

His eyes blinked open as he realized that Scully must finally be coming home.

She was having trouble with the door. After a third, decisive attempt, the lock surrendered and she half-stumbled inside. He waited patiently for her. No need to rush the argument.

She dropped her purse and wrap on the floor and was halfway to the bed before she saw him laying there. She stopped.

"Oh."

Now he knew she was drunk. She should have started ranting immediately -- Mulder, what's wrong? What are you doing here? Are you okay?

Instead she collapsed on the bed next to him.

"Scully? Are you okay?"

"Dana," she corrected sleepily. She tapped a finger on his chest for emphasis. "Not Scully."

He smiled a little in spite of his concern.

"Okay, *Dana*, are you okay?"

She closed her eyes. "Yeah."

"Where you been?"

"Mmmm. Guess," she said with a smile, rolling onto her side towards him.

Oh, good, she was going to be cute about it. He looked her over.

She was obviously not hurt, just drunk. And something else. All dressed up. Except her hair was fantastically messy and her nylons were missing.

"Scully, you've been bad," he managed to whisper.

She giggled and sighed at the same time, making a deep sensual sound in her throat. "Oh, Mulder, I tried, I really tried," she said, snuggling closer to his warmth.

He found himself with his arms around her. This was not going the way he had planned. He had wanted to talk to her about everything - the empathy, his attraction, the details. Instead, he was overwhelmed by her supple form finding new ways to test his resolve. The scent of her skin teased him, and the way she was burrowing her lips against his neck and shoulder tormented him.

He groaned audibly, unable to restrain himself, and he pulled her closer to him.

"Scully..." It was a warning.

"Mulder..," she answered in the same breathless tone. He loved her throaty, drunken voice muffled against his neck. "Mulder, I'm a little drunk."

"I'm aware of that." [That's the only reason I'm not taking this further.]

She pulled her face up from his skin a moment and opened her eyes to his. Barely restrained hunger met her gaze, and he made no attempt to hide it. She smiled oddly at him, then moved her gaze to his lips, which were slightly parted as he breathed raggedly through his mouth. She moved in quickly, kissing him before he expected it, and he drew in air sharply through his nose.

Her lips were soft and swollen beneath his, and he kissed her back in earnest. She sucked softly on his lower lip, capturing it gently between her teeth, then moving to the upper one. He moaned into her mouth, knowing he should stop her before they went further but unwilling to pull himself from her. Her arm slipped under his shirt and traced the muscles up his back till she settled her hand at his shoulder, fastening him to her. His hand, previously positioned chastely at the small of her back, slowly moved towards her hem.

The feel of Mulder's fingers hesitating at the edge of her dress nagged at Scully's alcohol-impaired consciousness. A thought fought through the haze.

[Stop.]

She felt so warm, and ... ready.

[This is Mulder. And you're Scully when you're with him, not Dana.]

"Humph," she grunted discontentedly. His hand immediately returned to her back, and she remorsefully pulled her lips from his.

"What?" he asked innocently.

She kissed him softly, quickly, then began to sit up, disentangling herself from his arms. "I can't sleep in this dress," she said, "it's new." She sat at the edge of the bed, facing away from him, and Mulder felt a profound sense of dread come over him.

"Mulder?"

He answered without facing her. "Mmm?"

"Would you get me some water?"

"Sure."

He rose slowly from the bed, heading out of the room without a word. Scully sought refuge in the bathroom.


In the kitchen, his panic seized him. He'd ruined everything.

Tomorrow she would tell him, nicely and oh-so-compassionately, that she didn't think of him that way. That she was sorry if she had ever given him that impression. He knew the speech by heart.

He'd given and received it enough times. It didn't matter that she had kissed him first. She was drunk; he should have stopped them.


Scully scrubbed her face clean and brushed the curl out of her hair. She changed into her pajamas, hanging the dress up on the back of the door. She stared at it for a moment. It had served well as a lure, but lacked follow through. The gray eyed man from the bar seemed promising... until they were in bed and he seemed unable to perform, and when she questioned him about it he told her she looked exactly like his ex-wife... they had fallen asleep waiting to see if his resolve would return.

Dana sighed. She had been lucky that nothing happened, but she couldn't help being disappointed.

Mulder returned from the kitchen with the glass in his hand. He noticed her in the bathroom and stopped in front of the doorway.

She looked almost normal - except for a little wobble in her walk.

"Here you go." He handed her the glass. She leaned one hand against the doorway to steady herself, which prompted him to ask, "You okay?"

"Ever notice, we're constantly asking each other that?" she asked, suddenly serious. She was looking intensely into his eyes and he matched her with his own gaze. After a moment she smiled softly and put her hand on his neck. Something in her needed to touch him again, needed to let him know it was okay.

"Goodnight, Mulder."

Like a ghost, she seemed to move into him. Her body pressed against his as she kissed him once, quickly and softly, then she moved past him and got into her bed.

"Goodnight, Scully."

He left the room quietly, took his jacket from the couch, and exited the apartment. He locked the door carefully behind him, then leaned in against the front door. He had to stop seeing her like this. It was too hard.


Saturday -- Noon

Scully woke up with a bowling ball where her head should be. Four Advil and two glasses of water later, she fell back into bed. The thought of breakfast made her nauseous, even though she knew she should eat. She set her alarm for three o'clock. She'd feel better then.


Mulder logged off his web browser and picked up his phone. No tell-tale stutter tone to signal that he had messages. He signed on again. He wasn't going to be the one the call first, he wasn't. She might not even remember.


Scully remembered. In aching, lusty detail. Her subconscious reminded her with fitful dreams in which she tried to finish what she had started. The alarm went off just as she was imagining the look on his face and the tension in his chest muscles beneath her hands as he came.

She batted resentfully at the offending noise, succeeding in silencing it only after she'd knocked it off the night stand.

Mulder? Kissing him? Dreaming about him? Where was it coming from? And she had been the one to start it, rushing towards his lips before she could stop herself. Not wanting to stop herself.

Kissing him again before he left, to reassure him that she wanted it.

She rolled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom, rubbing her eyes vigorously. Her head was going to punish her all day, it seemed. She stripped and stepped carefully into the shower.

The warm water washed away the smell of smoke, alcohol and sex that had clung to her skin from the night before. She wondered what Mulder had thought she'd done on her night out. He probably thought the worst. He must have assumed something dangerous from her message or he would not have come over, she reasoned. Or, had he come over to stop her before she did something stupid? In which case he had been too late.

Or had he come over to meet her? Because he wanted to see her that way.

Cooing and purring.

[Oh, God,] she sighed with the embarrassment of it. Rolling around on the floor no less. What was she thinking, leaving him a message like that.

This hormonal roller coaster perplexed her more with each passing day. Just when she thought she had a handle on things, just when she had told him that things were going to be okay, her body sent her on a man hunt, further confusing the situation. Did she really want a physical relationship with this insane, infuriating man, or was this new rush of emotion another symptom of her larger problem?

Again, no answers.

She turned off the water and stepped out of the tub, drying off mechanically and pulling her terry robe around her. She went back into the bedroom, heading towards the closet, but stopped when she glanced at the phone.

It still sat sprawled on the floor, the cord twisting into a figure eight against the carpet. It looked decidedly out of place, and she moved to pick it up and place it back on the night stand where it belonged. She hesitated a moment with her hand on the receiver.

No. She shouldn't call him until she knew what she was going to say. She knew he wouldn't call first. He was waiting for her reaction. She didn't know which one to show him. Or which one was real.


They spent the remainder of the weekend in the usual fashion.

Laundry was done. Grocery shopping accomplished. Leftover pizza eaten and rented movies returned. Reading the Sunday paper cover to cover took up a nice chunk of time. The phone was not touched.

That is, until around three o'clock Sunday, when Margaret Scully called her daughter. Dana accepted her mother's invitation to dinner gratefully. So gratefully, in fact, that Dana knew her mother would be curious.


Sunday -- 6 P.M.
Margaret Scully's House

It had gotten harder to spend time with her mother after Melissa died. Margaret had so many questions that Dana couldn't answer, and the answers she did have were more disturbing than comforting. They had to side-step certain topics, or one of them would end up crying and the other would feel guilty for making her cry.

Dinner started simply enough. Dana helped her mother prepare roast lamb, rice, and salad, and they discussed neutral topics as the radio played big band music in the background. They had to have the music on sometimes so that the pauses in conversation were filled.

Scully and her mother sat down to eat at the small table in the kitchen, a table that would have been too small when her father and Melissa were there. Dana silently wondered if the dining room would ever be used again. Her mother never entertained, and her two brothers hardly ever visited.

"So, how's work going?" Margaret asked, breaking into Scully's thoughts.

"A little slow, actually. I decided to take this next week off.

Try to recover a little balance," Scully answered thoughtfully.

"How's Fox?"

Scully returned a sour look. "Weird," she blurted out.

This wasn't Scully's usual response, and Margaret was surprised.

"Weird?"

"Well, he just.. I mean..." Scully, who was rarely speechless, found it almost impossible to express what she was feeling for Mulder lately. "He's behaving oddly. And honestly, so am I."

"Maybe because he still behaves as though he has to protect you."

[Trust Mom to get to the heart of things] thought Dana.

"Maybe. But I understood where those feelings were coming from, why he felt that obligation. I often feel the same way towards him," she answered thoughtfully. "I think it's that he's realizing that I face the same demons he does - and some that are worse."

Margaret waited. There was more to this. Something had happened.

Dana was agitated and distracted. Margaret had learned that it was in her daughter's times of quiet anxiety, like this one, that she was beginning to lay the groundwork for an important decision in her life.

"I don't know," Dana said lamely, and she took another gulp of wine.

Margaret placed her hand gently on top of Dana's. Dana looked down at their hands. The same, but one young and one old. One with a wedding ring, one without. One that trembled and one that didn't.

"Dana, honey, whatever it is -- you can always tell me."

Scully let out the breath she'd been holding in a burst and brought her eyes up to meet her mother's concerned, open gaze.

"Mom, I kissed him," she admitted softly.

Margaret's eyebrows raised, but only slightly. Dana was waiting for her guidance, and as often as Margaret had thought she might be having this conversation with her daughter someday, she still wasn't quite prepared for it. She considered it with the seriousness it deserved. Her words came only after a moment of silence.

"You're a good woman, Dana. And Fox Mulder is good man."

"I know," Dana said softly and lowered her gaze. "But he's also my partner."

Margaret stared at her daughter until she lifted her chin to meet her gaze again. Satisfied that Dana was listening, she continued.

"They can't force you not to care. They can't force you not to love him."

Dana's eyes stung with sudden tears. Her voice weakened mid-syllable. "I know."

"You know he loves you, don't you?" Margaret asked as a tear escaped Dana's eye.

"I know. When everything else falls down around me, that's the only thing I know for sure. Who loves me." She squeezed her mother's hand, and Margaret reached out and brushed the tear from Dana's cheek.

Dana smiled a little and sniffed. Realizing she needed a tissue, Margaret was up and fetching some from the bathroom before Dana could protest. Her mother placed the box on the table and Dana smiled gratefully.

"There's something else," she began, feeling a need to confess everything at once while she was at it. Margaret sat down again at the table.

Scully took a breath and steadied her hands in front of her.

"I've been having... dreams. Nightmares, really. And I've been...

well, Missy would call it psychic or ESP, but that's not really it." She looked up again, striving to find the right way to say it. "I've been able to discern the emotions of complete strangers. And I've sort of learned to control it. I don't want to sound dramatic, but it's like nothing that's ever happened to me before," Dana explained.

"Sweetie, does this scare you?"

"Only because I don't know what it is."

"Have you tried to find out?"

"I sort of talked to Mulder about it last week. The dreams have involved his sister. At first it was from his point of view, during her abduction, but now, I'm Samantha in the dream. I don't know what it means. It can't possibly lead to anything, I mean, I wasn't there when she was taken." Dana paused and shook her head with the impossibility of it all. "I don't really know if what I'm dreaming is real or my own creation. But it feels real."

"How can you find out more about the abduction? How can you find out more about people who have experienced what you're feeling?"

Margaret asked, catering to her daughter's pragmatism.

"I should do some research. I'm sure there have been other cases, other X-files..." Her voice trailed off. It meant going into the office. Facing Mulder. She hadn't figured out what to tell him yet.

Dana slumped against the back of the wood chair. "Melissa always pushed me. Said that if I didn't show my feelings, they'd come out in other ways," Dana said softly. She fought the tears mightily, and only a few escaped. Dana took a deep breath before finishing. "And now she's not here to help me. I should have listened to her."

Margaret latched on to an idea that she felt would help her daughter -- if she'd just be open to it. "Dana, she'll be here if you want her to be."

Dana glanced at her mother with a puzzled expression.

"Come with me." Margaret stood from the table and offered her hand, hoping her daughter would take something she usually refused -- help. For once, Dana let herself be led.

They went upstairs to Melissa's room, left much in the manner it had been in since they were children. Missy's room had always felt grown-up and exotic to Dana, and very feminine, and she sometimes felt that she'd become a tomboy simply to differentiate herself from her sister. Missy was always crying, or freaking out, or fighting with her latest boyfriend. Things were always wonderful or awful, with no calm in between.

Margaret took a match from Melissa's dresser and lit a candle for them to see by. The two women then sat back on the double bed.

Glow-in-the-dark stickers twinkled at them from the ceiling.

"Her own universe," Dana mumbled, smiling. "She got mad when I tried to tell her that her constellations were all wrong."

"She wasn't mad. She was trying to make you understand that she was creating her own system. But you two were always having that conversation."

"Up to the day she died," Scully noted, without sadness. She was finally getting to the point where remembering her sister was more poignant than painful.

"Dana, I think you should sleep here tonight. On this bed. Think about all the things you've told me -- and the things you haven't," Margaret suggested carefully. "I think you'll see, this is something you've experienced for a long time."

Dana turned her head on the pillow to face her mother.

"What do you mean?"

"You were always a very emotional child, Dana. I don't think you remember, because once you started going to school you became more and more like your father every day. Calm. In control at all times. The soothing voice of reason. Even at six and seven years old you were remarkably rational and well-behaved."

Dana grinned sheepishly.

"But you have a flame underneath. Your protective instincts. Your occasional temper, when it does flare, is formidable. Your compassion. Your love. Your empathy. I know I've told you this before, but when you shot that snake, when you and your brothers went hunting and playing around, it was as though you were living the experience of that snake. We couldn't make you stop crying.

"And I think your ability to feel others' pain may be one of the reasons you chose pathology instead of another specialty. The stress of experiencing patients' problems day in and day out might have driven you out of the profession altogether. I don't think your father understood that at first, but he did, in time."

Margaret reached for Dana's hand.

"You also told me about the dream you had, when you thought that Fox had died. You told me he spoke to you in the dream, and told you he was coming back to you. And you believed, Dana, you did."

Scully's tears ran down her cheek silently. She nodded. "I did," she whispered.

Her mother continued. "So I think what you're going through now is an extension of that. A stronger dose. And I think, if you sleep here tonight, some of the explanations that you need will come to you."

She hugged her daughter close for a brief moment, then placed a kiss on her forehead. She sat up from the bed and walked towards the door.

"Goodnight, sweetheart."

"Goodnight, Mom."

Margaret pulled the door closed behind her.

Dana sank into the bed, admittedly exhausted. She pulled an Afghan over herself and snuggled into it. It smelled comforting -- that mixture of detergent, dust and something distinctly "home." She buried her nose in the knitted squares and closed her eyes.

To sleep, perchance to dream.


Chapter 10

Sunday -- 9 P.M.
Office of The Lone Gunman

Mulder was nursing his beer. He had accepted the one Byers had offered him almost an hour ago and was still pretending to drink it, though it was now warm and flat. He didn't want to seem rude.

"I have Coke, too, you know," Byers said quietly, motioning towards the little refrigerator he and his colleagues kept in the office.

Mulder grinned sheepishly and reached for the door, pulling out a bottle of soda.

"Thanks. Cool, bottles," he commented, twisting off the cap. He leaned back in the chair and took a long chug of the sweet, cold liquid, enjoying the feel of the bubbles running down his throat.

"You eat dinner already?"

Byers nodded.

"Where are the boys?" Mulder asked, referring to Byers' almost constant companions Langly and Frohike.

"Trekkie convention."

"So, now that you have the office to yourself, you decided to let your hair down and dress casual, eh?" Mulder teased. Instead of his usual suit, Byers was wearing jeans and a pinstriped dress shirt -- tucked in, of course, and his belt matched his shoes.

Byers smiled. "You laugh, but there's a reason I dress the way I do, Mulder."

"Geek code?"

"Persuasion. Theories like ours are best sold with conservative packaging," Byers replied.

Mulder nodded. "True. Not that it's helped me much."

"Perhaps it's your choice in neckwear," Byers returned and Mulder laughed appreciatively.

"Plus," Mulder added, "someone's gotta look respectable around here. Frohike's a bit fashion-impaired and Langly... well, Langly's wardrobe is right out of Wayne's World."

"Careful, now, I'm sure they've bugged the office to catch us in just this sort of conversation," Byers warned, taking another sip of his beer. Mulder looked at him with a questioning glance and Byers smiled.

"Just kidding, Mulder. Take it easy."

Mulder laughed it off, but not as quickly as he should have.

Byers had sensed Mulder's odd mood the minute he appeared at the door. It wasn't unusual for Mulder to visit unannounced with official reasons, but he normally didn't stay so long and not get to the point of his visit. There had been no questions about current theories or rumors, no asking to use this or that piece of equipment nor requests of any kind. Byers decided to press him a little.

"So," he began, letting the word hang in the air a bit like a question.

"So," Mulder echoed after a moment, knowing Byers was looking for an explanation. He met the other man's gaze with his own serious eyes. He decided to bite the bullet.

"If we were kids, I'd make you triple swear not to tell," Mulder prefaced.

Byers answered, "I understand."

Still unable to truly admit anything, Mulder cloaked his confession. He didn't understand even why he felt a need to discuss it with someone, other than the fact that he was boiling from not being able to talk to Scully herself. He had called her around seven but had gotten her machine. Afraid, he hung up before leaving a message.

Mulder cleared his throat and looked away from Byers. "I did something I should not have done. With someone I should not have done it with."

Byers attempted to decipher the information. From Mulder's demeanor he assumed it was something serious.

"A woman?" Byers guessed.

Mulder shook his head a little. "*The* woman." The other man's eyes widened a little but he neutralized his face quickly. Mulder had not looked up to see his reaction, choosing instead to examine the floor.

"Would you take it back if you could?"

"It depends on what the other person thinks," Mulder answered honestly.

"Have you talked to the other person about it?" Byers asked with caution.

Mulder laughed nervously, oddly unable to control his reaction.

"Um, no. No, I haven't."

Byers considered his options. He could give Mulder his opinion, or remain neutral. Mulder looked like he wanted pushing. He began carefully. "Fear is not your usual response to a challenge, my friend."

Mulder looked up at him, and Byers was surprised by the troubled look in his hazel eyes. "I've never been this terrified in my life. I'd take it back if it means that I've ruined something," Mulder answered, his voice softer and raspier than it had been only a moment ago.

Byers didn't have to ask if Mulder loved her. He had seen the bond between them every time they were together. To know it had passed to a physical stage of some sort was surprising only because he knew how adamant they were against it philosophically.

Byers also knew that it wasn't a bureau rule that was keeping them apart. It was something simpler, more universal. Fear of rejection. Of failure, or loss. He sought to reassure his friend.

"Mulder, something tells me you're about to embark on something wonderful. Something you've never allowed yourself to have." He paused thoughtfully, leaning forward in the chair. "I know you don't know whether I have the experience to back up this advice, but I say tell her the truth. If she does the same, then you can make a decision."

Mulder watched his friend with an odd expression.

"What?" Byers asked.

"Who would have guessed under your calm demeanor lies the heart of a lover?" Mulder teased lightly, surprised by Byers' sage advice.

"Ah, but it's a broken heart, Mulder," Byers quipped, smiling.

"I'm much more compelling as a tragic figure, don't you think?"

Mulder nodded. "Aren't we all."


Sunday - 11 P.M.
Margaret Scully's House

Dana Scully's eyes darted beneath her eyelids as she dreamt. In the dream she was a little girl, and she was fighting with Melissa.

[That's not the bracelet Daddy bought you,] Melissa accused, pulling at her sister's arm and exposing the silver charm bracelet.

[Let me go! It is *to* the one Daddy got me,] Dana insisted, yanking her arm away from Melissa's grip.

[Liar.]

[Am not!]

[Are to!]

[Am not!]

Their father, hearing the raised voices all the way downstairs, started coming up the stairs. Both girls froze.

[Please, please, Missy, don't tell.]

[Admit you lied.]

[I lied, but please don't tell. I traded with another girl, the one I went to the fun house with.]

[You don't even know that girl!]

His footsteps stopped outside the door.

Dana pleaded silently with her sister.

[Girls, do I need to come in there?]

Melissa sighed. [No, Daddy. We're okay.]

Dana chimed in. [Yeah, we're okay.]

[Good.] He descended the stairs again.

[Thank you, Missy, you're the best sister in the whole world.] [Oh, God, Dana, you're so easy to please. Now who was this girl you traded with?]

[Her name's Snow White.]

[Sure it is.]

[It is! She has brown hair and blue eyes and she's from Massachusetts.]

Dana awoke with a start, half-sitting up in bed.

After glancing at the clock, she wrapped the Afghan around her shoulders and padded hurriedly down the stairs, hoping to find her mother still wake.

Margaret Scully was sitting at the kitchen table reading, her glasses slipping halfway down her nose. She heard Dana coming down the stairs and looked up to see her confused expression as she stood in the doorway.

"Hi, sweetie," she said.

"Mom, I need your help. I need to remember some things from when I was a kid."

Margaret nodded. "Sure."

Scully sat down quickly in the chair she had occupied for dinner and began her questions. "I had a dream, about being in a funhouse with a little girl, and we traded bracelets, one that Daddy had bought me, and Missy was going to tell, but then she didn't. Does that sound familiar?"

"Well, you've been in plenty of fun houses, Dana. And your father has bought you more than one bracelet, I'm sure. Do you know how old you were in the dream?" Margaret asked.

"I dunno. Maybe 7 or 8. I was in the San Diego house."

"Well, maybe it was Disneyland."

"I don't think so."

"Playland, then."

Dana's ears perked up. "Playland?"

"They've since torn it down, but we went up there one Summer, before your father was transferred to the East Coast. It was in San Francisco, Playland at the Beach. I used to go there when I was in high school all the time, and I wanted to take you children there. I think you were the only one who really enjoyed it. Charlie was mopey that day and Melissa was griping about us dragging her along."

Scully struggled with the connections in her head. She and Mulder had driven past the site where the park had been built. Mulder remembered it. She was remembering being there with a little brown haired girl from Massachusetts. Trading bracelets.

"Mom, do you know, if I had gotten a bracelet from Dad then, where would it be?" Dana asked urgently.

"Oh, honey, somewhere in that mess of an attic upstairs, I guess.

Do you even know what it looked like?" Margaret asked, hoping they weren't going to be searching for a needle in a haystack.

"I think it was silver. And it had little charms on it, that dangled."

Margaret shut her book. "Well, we better start looking."

Sifting through items in the attic tempted Dana to sit and reminisce about simpler, happier times, but a voice in her brain urged her to press on until she found what she was looking for.

Her mother searched through boxes at the other end of the attic, calling her over each time she found a bracelet of any kind.

In a crate full of Barbies and storybooks, Dana found a small jewelry box with pink unicorns on it. It had been Missy's box, one of those with the plastic ballerina inside that would turn as the music played. Missy had passed it along to her, but Dana hadn't liked it much. She opened the box, and the ballerina turned slowly as Brahm's Lullaby played at half-speed. Dana shoved through plastic rings and clip-on earrings to the bottom of the box, where it lay.

The silver bracelet, too small for her grown wrist, twinkled at her from under the worthless trinkets. She pulled it out, dumping the jewelry box back into the crate, and held it up to the light.

Little sea shells dangled from the delicate chain. A small, flat piece of silver near the clasp was stamped with the words "Playland at the Beach -- San Francisco."


Chapter 11


Monday -- Noon

Scully, exhausted, slept at her mother's until late morning. The two women went out to brunch, again avoiding the topics that might upset them. When they parted, Margaret went on to a doctor's appointment. Scully headed determinedly to the office.

The little silver bracelet was tucked inside the wallet that held her FBI ID.

Dressed in the same jeans and a pale green sweater she had worn the day before, she trudged unobserved to the basement office, reaching the door without having encountered anyone she knew.

The door to the office was locked. Mulder was probably at lunch somewhere, she figured, grateful that she would have a little time to herself in the office. She didn't want to answer any questions right now about why she was looking through his sister's file. She would rather talk about the kiss than that.

The Kiss -- that was how she had begun thinking about it. Oddly, her anxiety about it was ebbing as time passed, and she found herself more excited than nervous about talking to Mulder about it. She had an unfair advantage in this situation because she was aware of Mulder's thoughts before he was. Though she had promised not to pry into his thoughts, she had been unable to block the rays of caring and attraction that he'd projected. And she knew him. The last four years were proof that this moment had not been arrived at lightly.

[Soon,] she thought. [Soon he'll come through the door and it will all come out.]

She placed her purse on her desk, then moved over to Mulder's quasi-alphabetical files, digging for the specific ones she needed.

Householder, Lucy
Jacobs, Amy
Empathic phenomenon
Mulder, Samantha

From the bookshelves she pulled Social Psychology in the 20th Century, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, and ESP: Fact or Fiction? and set everything in a pile on her desk. Thus ensconced, she began to read.


The rain stopped long enough for Mulder to walk over to the middle school near his apartment and shoot some baskets. The ball smacked against the puddles on the asphalt, flicking muddy water over his feet, and his hands were soon grimy from gripping the dirty ball. Normally, he would have given up and gone home, or gone for a run instead. But today he stayed. Running was too simple - his brain still functioned at full speed. Here he would have to think about form, distance, arc, force, angle and height.


It was four o'clock when Scully emerged from her study.

Nothing. Not one helpful thing in the whole pile. The Householder and Jacobs cases had been hopeless even at the time. She had remembered Mulder trying to explain the link between Lucy and Amy, how one victim had taken on the pain and experiences of the other. He hadn't had anything concrete to give her then, not even noting other cases of empathy or psychic bonds. The case files were equally unsupported.

Samantha's file was also vague and contained nothing she didn't already know. She looked at the photo of the smiling eight-year-old on the top of a slide and wondered what she would look like now. Medium framed. Probably tall, if Mulder and his mother were any indication. Brown hair, blue eyes. Full lips and a bright smile.

She'd probably be beautiful. Headstrong. Sarcastic, like her brother. Scully was hit suddenly with the image of a grown-up Samantha, sitting in a living room and laughing, and Mulder sitting next to her. She has just teased him mightily for something. She reaches for him and gives him a quick kiss on the cheek as an apology and she is instantly forgiven. She turns to Scully, who is sitting opposite her in an armchair, and says, "See, he's easy." Scully smiles at both of them, then gazes again at the diamond on her finger. When she looks up again, Samantha is giggling at her for not being able to stop staring at the ring.

Dana shuddered, shaking out of the day dream. Was that her future? Could that level of happiness possibly await her? She shook her head, willing the vision away. It was sheer fantasy.

She crushed the idea and buried it beneath the rational part of her brain. Empathic skill was one thing -- telling the future was another. It was cruel hope and wishful thinking that made her dream of these things. She wouldn't believe them -- no matter how much she wanted to.

Samantha back, when she was as lost as ever? Her and Mulder engaged, when only one kiss had passed between them?

Mulder.

He should be back by now.

She glanced at her watch, noting that she'd been sitting alone in the office for over four hours now. It was time to talk to him.

She needed to tell him what she was thinking. Where could he be?

He never would have gone on a case without telling her. Lunch could not have lasted so long.

She reached for the phone, though her nerves protested.


5 P.M.

Mulder stepped out of the shower just as the phone rang. He wrapped a towel around his hips and hurried his sore muscles to the phone.

"Hello?"

"Where are you?"

He was struck by the urgency in Scully's voice, and its emotional tone. She'd been looking for him. He smiled a little as he answered, "You should know; you dialed the number."

"I mean, why aren't you here?"

"Where are *you*?" he asked, confused.

"Um. I'm at the office."

"You're supposed to be on vacation."

"And you're supposed to be *here*," she answered, stronger than she intended, he could tell.

"Aw, I knew you couldn't live without me," he cooed, unable to resist using an intimate tone with her. He paused a moment, then answered seriously, "I decided to take a vacation, too. No fun chasing wild gooses without you."

There was a pause. Then, "Geese."

"Pardon?"

"Wild geese. Not gooses."

He laughed. "I give you a compliment and you correct my grammar.

Lovely manners, Agent Scully."

She allowed herself a little laugh, almost a snicker, and he pounced.

"Is that a giggle?" he asked with feigned incredulity.

"Maybe," she replied coyly. He marveled at her - he was flirting with her and she was letting him. Incredible. He had been sure she would be awkward, embarrassed after what had happened Saturday night. Instead she was looking for him. Encouraging him.

"So, what are you doing at the office, Dana?" He knew the use of her first name would unsettle her.

"I don't know, *Fox*." Right back at him. He smiled.

"Hey, I'm just complying with your request from the other night."

He wondered if she remembered laying next to him, tapping him on the chest. [Dana, not Scully.] He wondered if he had just made a horrible mistake by bringing it up.

"That was the other night. My alter ego."

What the hell did that mean? He'd pursue it later. Right now he had to figure out how to see her.

"Okay. What are you doing at the office, Scully?"

"Lots of things. Looking for answers. Looking for you."

His chest tightened at her honesty. Admitting it! So easily, like it was nothing. But it wasn't nothing and they both knew it. She was trying to be clear about her intent.

"Why?" he managed, after a pause.

"It's awful. The waiting. Trying to figure things out. If I go home, it follows me. If I sleep, if I come here, it's all around me," she answered slowly, in a soft voice. He could picture her lips moving against the receiver, slack against her perfect teeth, forming the words of her unhappiness as she sat, legs drawn up against her chest.

"I must be contagious," he murmured, with very little humor.

"Hey..." He began to offer an invitation, then stopped himself.

[You'll scare her off. It'll sound like... it'll sound like exactly what it is.]

"What?" Scully replied as encouragingly as possible.

"Let's wallow in our despair together."

"Won't that be just like work?" she teased lightly.

"It won't be at all like work," he answered deeply, letting desire enter his voice. She should know what she was getting into.

"Where?"

"Here."

"I'll be there soon."

He waited until he heard her hang up, then set the receiver down on the phone. Soon.


Monday -- 5:30 P.M.

Scully groaned as she sat in traffic. She could see the street she needed to turn on to reach Mulder's apartment, but the endless rain had traffic snarled in all directions. Each green light allowed only two or three cars through the intersection.

Her agitation grew exponentially as each moment passed, and she could barely breathe from the fluttering in her body as she thought about Mulder waiting for her. It was only a few blocks, and she had been sitting in the same spot for over ten minutes.

The light turned red again.

Scully pulled over to an empty parking space and turned off the car. She shoved her wallet deep into the pocket of her jeans, then got out of the car and locked it, the key nearly slipping from her hand in the rain. She abandoned the car and hurried to the corner, turning right and running towards Mulder's building.

A block away, she was winded and soaked through, and she slowed down. No point in hurrying. She couldn't breathe and she couldn't get any wetter if she jumped into a pool. She pushed her sopping hair back out of her face and wiped her eyes, then pushed herself to jog up to his building.

"Hi," she said simply when he opened his door. Her hair was darker and plastered against her head, and her lime green sweater was now clinging to her torso like a second skin.

"Hi," he answered after a pause, clearly startled at the sight of her in such disarray. He stepped aside to let her pass, then locked the door behind her.

"Do you have something I can change into?" she asked, nearly shaking. "I forgot my umbrella." And ran four blocks because I couldn't wait to see you.

"Sure, sure," Mulder answered, ushering her towards his bedroom.

"Anything." He withdrew quietly, shutting the door to give her privacy.

Scully pulled khaki chinos and a white dress shirt from Mulder's closet and scooted into the bathroom, peeling off the drenched sweater and her itchy wet jeans and hanging them over the shower rod. Her underwear and bra were hopelessly wet and she added them to the rod, then toweled her body off, shivering as the air invaded her skin. She pulled on his clothes, tucking the shirt in and holding the pants up with one hand and grabbing a fresh towel with the other for her hair. She went back to the closet for a belt and socks. She put on two pairs -- her feet were freezing and then laid the towel around her shoulders to catch the water from her hair.

She emerged from the bedroom to find him in the living room with coffee. He had turned the heat up, too.

"Better?" he asked, handing her a mug.

"Much," she said, taking it from him. "Thank you."

She moved to the couch and settled against the cushions, her legs tucked up underneath her. After taking a long sip for the coffee, she set it down on the end table and toweled her hair a little.

It was already beginning to dry. She set the towel down on the floor and looked up to see Mulder staring at her from the armchair opposite her.

She raised an eyebrow at him.

"Either you don't really remember or you didn't mind, because I'm still alive," he said.

She answered seriously. "I remember everything."

He turned his eyes from the intensity of her gaze and rubbed his mug with his thumb. Staring at the coffee, he asked, "So what now?"

She could smell his fear, taste it against the roof of her mouth.

He was on the verge of jumping to the wrong conclusions. She knew the best way to reassure him, but he was on the other side of the room from her.

"Maybe everything's happening the way it's supposed to. Maybe we shouldn't worry about it so much," she answered, hoping he would look up at her. Her eyes were saying it more clearly. [Come over here.]

His eyes remained down. "There should be a dictionary for comments like that."

"You could just ask me questions, Mulder."

He laughed nervously. "Yeah, but you might answer."

She realized she would have to be more direct. "Mulder. There's a natural hesitancy. An urge for everything to stay the same. But that's not going to happen." He watched his thumb stop moving against the cup. He was making the worst assumptions. She continued, "My hesitancy is an invitation to persuade."

That made him look up. He was so sure that she was about to tell him never to touch her again that he clearly didn't believe what she had said.

"Is that what yours means?" she asked, allowing a glimmer of insecurity to show itself to him. The fear in his features melted as he looked at her.

"You have to ask?" he asked raspily.

"*I'm* the one sitting on the couch."

He blinked in disbelief. He let out the breath he didn't even know he was holding, and got up from the armchair in a wobbly movement.

She wanted to laugh at the expression on his face, he looked so confused and happy at the same time, and she couldn't help smiling as he managed to sit next to her on the couch. She turned to face him.

And instantly felt incredibly awkward.

He saw it immediately, before she could hide it, and she cursed herself. What happened? She'd been so ready, so calm!

Irritation crossed his face and he reached out and poked her on the nose.

"Hey!"

"You're not ready for this, Scully," he accused.

"Me? you're the one with the dopey expression on your face," she said, a little irked because he was right.

He smiled one of his teasing, charming smiles. "Too bad, really; you talked a good game."

"I meant it!" she said, indignant, pushing her face closer to his.

"I don't doubt it," he said, then inclined his head towards hers.

"But your alter ego knew how to follow through," he whispered, devilry in his eyes.

Fire glowed in her eyes. "I didn't see you hesitating then," she growled back, leaning up on her knees and towering over his sitting frame. It wasn't often she could use height to an advantage with him. Her hand on the back of the couch supported her and her eyes flashed down at his.

She felt his hand press flat against her belly and took in her breath sharply, suddenly aware of how close together they were.

"Anyone ever tell you," he said softly, his hand moving up the middle of her abdomen, "you're sexiest when you're angry?"

The force was gone from her voice, but she kept her eyes focused on his intense stare. "None lived to tell about it," she said breathlessly as she felt him unfasten the top few buttons of her shirt. He smiled at her then, and, with his eyes still on hers, slipped his hand gently inside her shirt.

She fought to keep her composure as she felt him cup one firm, rounded breast in his palm. She bit her lip as his thumb came to brush against her hardened, sensitive nipple. His other hand continued unbuttoning the shirt down to her waist, then snaked under the gaping fabric to mimic the first hand's motions.

Her eyes widened and her breath escaped her as she still tried to hold his gaze, but her eyes were glazing over from his touch, and her lips were parted as she breathed roughly through her mouth.

Still not a sound from her, and still looking at him as he looked up at her.

He wanted to make her moan.

Eyes still on hers, he moved forward slowly until his mouth kissed the hollow between her breasts. He moved slowly, his chin nuzzling against one breast as his hand still caressed the other.

Still, her eyes were open, but he felt her sink, just a little, into his frame.

His lips danced with her nipple, coming closer and closer, until he finally captured it, and heard her gasp. He suckled from her, pulling her skin into his mouth, and she closed her eyes.

"Oh, God," she whispered, her voice as soft as a breath, and Mulder smiled against the warm, flushed skin of her breast.

Her hand came to rest on the back of his head, her fingers weaving into his hair, and she pushed his mouth against her. He moved his lips to the other breast, teasing it in the same manner, then fastening upon it.

Finally, she moaned, low and deep in her throat, and gasped with each new kiss upon her nipple. His arms slipped around her waist, pulling her closer to him, and she sank against him, unable to stand the tension he was building inside her body. His mouth fell from her breast as she pressed him back against the couch, and her lips met with his in an urgent, pressing kiss. He placed one arm over her back as his other hand burrowed into her hair, holding her head as they kissed again and again.

Her body settled against his, pressing deliciously against his groin. She could feel him, hard against her, and she moved her hips slowly in an all too familiar rhythm.

Her damp hair tickled against his face, but her kisses were so urgent he didn't dare stop. Her lips pulled on his and he answered back, thrusting his tongue into her mouth, sweeping it over her teeth, letting her take it, then tempting her to do the same. She responded instantly, mimicking him. He took her between his teeth and nibbled.

Oops. Maybe bit.

"Ow," she said, pulling her head from him sharply.

"I'm sorry," he said instantly, relaxing his hold on her hair. He watched her suck in a little. "Are you bleeding?" he asked, incredulous.

"Only a little," she answered, swallowing and wincing slightly at the metallic taste of blood. Mulder's brow furrowed in guilt.

"It's okay, Mulder. Bound to happen the way we were going at it," she said, smiling down at him.

He grinned back. "Yeah, well. We haven't had much practice."

Her smile expanded and she leaned in, kissing him sweetly on his swollen lips, then pulled back again.

"Maybe slower?" she suggested.

"Good idea," he said. He let her slip out of his arms and they disentangled their legs as she sat up and rebuttoned her shirt.

Mulder sat up again as well, and reached for her hand as she finished.

"What?" she asked when he didn't say anything.

He stared at her. He almost said it, but it was too early.

"Nothing," he said, grinning like an idiot.

She smiled softly back.

"Hungry?" he asked abruptly.

[So this is what it's going to be like,] she thought. [As crazy as everything else is.]

She nodded. "Yes."


Chapter 12

Bamboo Palace Restaurant
Monday, 7:30 P.M.

They went to a nearby Chinese place and sat in a dark, u-shaped booth in the corner with a high back that kept them hidden from view. Not that anyone was around -- only Mulder would suggest going out in this weather.

Moo goo gai pan and lemon chicken arrived silently within moments. They were known there. The waiter slipped away without a word, knowing that he would get an extra twenty from Mulder for the privacy.

They served themselves quietly, allowing the food to be the reason they weren't talking.

After a moment, Mulder began. "Scully."

His serious tone irked her so she answered, "Yes, Lover?"

It worked. He was instantly uncomfortable and giddy, smiling and frightened at the same time. It took him a full minute to compose himself.

He went straight into the question this time. "I want to know what you want."

Her expression sobered. She put down her chopsticks.

"I need to know what this means to you."

She answered honestly, "It's everything. And nothing."

He narrowed his eyes and shook his head slightly at her. "You frustrate me to no end," he growled playfully.

She smiled, then clarified. "I mean that it's the most amazing thing between us and yet I'm not surprised or worried at all.

Like I said -- maybe it's all happening as it should. As it's meant to."

"Like a Divine plan?" Mulder scoffed lightly. He regretted his tone when he saw how serene her expression had become. Her eyes met his and held them. Her voice was near hypnotic as she spoke.

"Mulder, I've lied for you. I've saved you. I've dreamed of you. Crossed the earth for you. Cried for you. I've loved you, in one way or another, from the beginning."

Oddly stunned and calm in the same moment, Mulder let out a shaky breath. "Why?"

She shook her head even as he continued.

"I've only brought you pain."

She reached out to him, touching his cheek softly with her hand.

"You're an idiot."

He was taken aback slightly.

"I knew you would think that. You don't even know what you've given me." She smiled sweetly at him, letting her hand slide down to rest on the warm skin of his neck. "I'll tell you now."

She inched closer to him until his arm wrapped around her waist.

She kissed him on his neck, where the muscle began at his shoulder.

"I'll tell you tomorrow, when you wake up and think this was a dream," she said softly, then kissed the soft skin in front of his ear. He could feel the sudden sting begin in his eyes.

"I'll tell you ten years from now when you're still amazed that I'm with you," she whispered fiercely.

She kissed his lips briefly and they trembled beneath hers. Then she leaned in and murmured exactly why she needed him more than air, and he wept.


The thoughts nagged at them. Why was it happening now, when she was most vulnerable? Was it real, or a need to end the desperation? Would They use it against them? Would it ruin everything?

For now, it didn't matter.

For now, it was enough to wander through the apartment together as if conjoined as he turned off the lights and closed the curtains. It was enough to touch each other in the darkness of his bedroom with soft lips and exploring fingers. It was more than enough. It was everything.

The sound of the rain was finally gone, and the rustle of clothes and kisses filled the room. Funny, how the awkwardness dissolved into nothing. There was only warmth, comfort, an insanely sweet tension. It became too much: she fell around him, and he took the lead. At the peak they clung to each other like it was the end of the world.

They collapsed wordlessly into sleep, arms clutching each other even as consciousness slipped away.

Claiming each other.

*Mine.*

Now. Tomorrow. Forever.


Tuesday -- 4 A.M.
Mulder's Apartment

Dana woke slowly. She wanted badly to just stay nestled in Mulder's arms and fall back asleep -- but she really had to pee.

Her urgency increased and she reluctantly left the warmth of the bed, pulling on the black wool Henley he'd been wearing earlier, then padding over to the bathroom in the dark.

Love.

Unbelievable.

She knew she was glowing with it. It was unlike her. She didn't let it happen very often. It was particularly dangerous now.

With him. Him.

She washed her hands, splashed her face and emerged again. He slept crookedly on the bed, having sculpted his body around hers.

His face was angelic, cheek against the pillow. No sign of his usual troubled brow or sarcastic smirk marred his smooth features. No nightmares. She wanted to take credit for it, but stopped short of declaring she'd cured him. She knew the nightmares would return for both of them.

Restless now, she wandered into the kitchen. She sat at the table with a glass of water and thought about her situation.

Situation? Dilemma, more like it. Disaster. Her rational mind quoted chapter and verse about why every decision she had made lately was wrong. The emotions surged in response to defend her.

You love him. You need each other. You deserve each other.

Anyone who tries to stop you can burn in hell.

But it complicated everything. The empathy, the dreams, the bracelet... she should have waited until they had figured it out.

Then they could have proceeded from normal.

[Huh. Normal,] she thought. If she had waited to do this with him, it would have never happened. They would have gone back to the basement, back to the old behaviors, back to denying everything between them.

The all too familiar sound of her cell phone ringing interrupted her thoughts. She sighed a little and hurried to her purse to answer it. Phone calls at 4 in the morning were never good news.

"Scully."

"Dana?" asked a small, scared voice that Scully recognized immediately.

"Kiko? What's wrong?"

"It's happening again," the boy whimpered. "They're coming again."

"Kiko, it's all right. Calm down. Who's coming again?" Scully asked, trying to get her own heart beat under control.

"The bad man. The bad man."

"But Kiko, he's in jail."

"There are *more*. No matter how many are in jail, there are *always* more," Kiko wailed, the hysteria entering his voice.

"The nice lady told me they're coming again!"

"When, Kiko? When are they coming?" Scully asked, keeping her tone even.

"I don't know! I don't know!" Kiko was nearly screaming.

"Shshshsh. Honey, it's okay. It's okay. Where's Moira? Did you tell Moira?" Scully asked.

"She doesn't *believe* me! She doesn't *know*!" he shrieked.

"Okay, Kiko, I'm coming, okay? I'm coming. I'll be there as soon as I can, okay? Go find Moira. You'll be safe with her.

I'll be there soon," Scully said, already digging around for her clothes in the living room.

"Hurry. Hurry," he whimpered, only slightly less hysterical.

"I will, sweetie, I will. I'm going to the airport right now, okay?" she assured him, pulling on the socks and pair of pants she'd borrowed earlier from Mulder.

"Okay," the boy answered reluctantly. "Bye."

"Bye." She disconnected and shoved the phone into her purse. She pulled on her still damp sneakers and her brown overcoat that was hanging over Mulder's couch. She grabbed her purse, moved to the door, and froze.

Mulder.

If she woke him up, he'd want an explanation. Or to go with her.

And she didn't have time to waste for either.

She decided to more than he ever did. She left a note taped to the door.

"Went to S.F. Call me."


Chapter 13

St. Eugene's School For Children
Tuesday, 12 Noon PT

She pushed through the double doors and they swung wildly behind her as she hurried towards Kiko's room.

She could hear him screaming.

She could hear Moira's strained, controlled voice as she tried to reason with him.

She burst into the room. It was in shambles. Toys were strewn everywhere. the sheets were in a lump on the floor. Kiko was red-faced with clenched fists and Moira was on the verge of tears.

"*Kiko*." Dana spoke firmly.

He spun to face her, pausing only briefly before launching his tirade anew. "She doesn't believe me! He's coming-"

"*Kiko*," Dana repeated sharply without raising her voice. He was silent.

"I believe you."


He arrived three hours later. Moira heard him as he jogged down the hall. She wasn't surprised. He looked as awful as she had.

"Where is she?" he asked simply.

"At the hotel. Napping," Moira answered, choosing not to remark on his lack of courtesy.

Knowing Scully was safe, he allowed himself another question.

"What happened?"

Moira gave him the short version. "Kiko called her. He's convinced they're coming again to get him. When she got here he was in the middle of a tantrum. She calmed him down. Gave him a sedative. He's sleeping. I'm supposed to call her when he wakes up."

Mulder nodded, then ducked into the hall again, leaving as quickly as he came.


It was nice what an authoritative tone of voice and an FBI ID could get you. He pushed the key into the lock of Scully's room and turned it quietly. He slipped inside, then locked the door behind him.

She was shifting in her sleep, the sheets twisted around her.

She still had her shoes on. He crept over to her, then knelt at the side of the bed.

He reached a hand out slowly and moved a lock of her hair away from her brow. He didn't want to wake her, but he wanted more to touch her. His fingers glided lightly over her tangled hair, her tear-stained cheek and along her jaw.

She stirred slightly and sighed. She pushed into his hand a little, her lips kissing his palm gently, and then she opened her ice blue eyes and looked at him.

"I thought I said 'call me'," she whispered against his hand as she kissed it again.

"Really?" he answered softly, cradling her face in his fingers.

"I read it 'follow me'."

He felt her smile against his skin. She reached up with one hand and clasped his neck, bringing his face to hers. He met her lips in a soft, chaste kiss.

He stopped. They were new to all of it. He didn't know what to give her. What would make her push him away. She pulled him to her again and they kissed, in the shy, hesitant manner of new lovers, over and over. She wouldn't let him think it was a mistake. Ever. She met his soft lips with her own in a series of short, sweet kisses as her arm snaked along his back, pressing lightly. He slid onto the bed with her in a fluid movement and they molded to each other effortlessly. His fingers moved in her hair and along her back, and his kisses lengthened and deepened.

She fitted her body to his, holding him to her with her hands on his neck and the small of his back, and opened her mouth to his.

Their breathing quickened and they forced the air roughly through their noses as their mouths connected relentlessly.

He felt like he could be with her like this for hours, just kissing her, touching her over her clothes and feeling her pushing herself to him as much as he pushed towards her. With each kiss he began to utter to himself, [I love you, I love you, I love you, love you, love you, love you ...] And then he felt her tears.

His eyes flew open and his lips left hers for moment. "Scully?"

Her eyes, bright with tears, met his, and he saw it, before she said a syllable, he saw it. Her hand moved to his face and she rubbed her thumb on the apple of his cheek.

"Mulder. I love you."

His eyes went wide at the pure joy that assaulted him at hearing her say it out loud. Speechless, he pulled her to him fiercely and buried his face in her hair, clutching her in a bear's grip.

"Oh God," he cried softly into her neck. "I love you so much I was scared to tell you," he said in a rush. "When I woke up and, and you weren't there-" His voice broke around the words.

"I know, I'm sorry, I'm sorry-"

"I was so afraid that you thought we'd made a mistake-"

"No, no, not ever." Her lips found his neck and sucked gently on his silky skin. She felt drowsy with him, drunk from kisses and words that made her heart leap to him.

His mouth moved to the soft skin behind her ear and nuzzled her as he whispered. "You're the most precious thing on this earth to me, Scully. No matter how big an asshole I am later, remember that I said that, OK?" A kiss on her earlobe punctuated his question and she sighed her answer.

"Yes."

His kisses turned to nibbles, and soft breaths at her ear electrified her body.

"Yes."

His hand moved along her side, setting her skin tingling in response. He moved his kisses down her neck and she moaned softly, lifting her head to let him kiss the delicate v of her throat.

He half wanted to slow down, but he could do nothing with patience with her. She tempted him with every sigh and moan that came from her perfect, perfect lips. He pushed his mouth to hers again, pushing, pushing, and she thrust her tongue into him, moving over his teeth, the roof of his mouth. Insistent.

Everything was too slow. She couldn't get him close enough. Her hands slipped under his shirt to grip the muscles in his back, then shoved under the tight, rough fabric of his jeans to clutch the round of his ass, pressing him further against her.

He groaned at the contact and rolled her over until his body lay evenly over her, his lips never leaving hers. The weight pushed deliciously against her, and she shifted to accomodate him. Her hands pulled out from the jeans to his hips, then slid achingly over the sides of his body, pulling the shirt up. He stopped kissing her only long enough to tug the shirt over his head.

Inspired, she pushed against him to roll him over until she was straddling his waist. She rubbed her groin against his, happy to see his eyes flutter in reaction, then let her hands drag down his chest lazily. She pinched his nipples gently, eliciting a soft grunt from him. When he opened his eyes again, she moved her hands to her sweater and slowly lifted it over her head, luxuriating in the feel of the rough wool against her sensitized skin.

Mulder reached out a hand towards her, but stopped short. The backs of his fingers brushed teasingly over her nipple. It stiffened towards him, and Dana arched to press her breast against his hand, but he pulled away. His other hand moved to her neglected breast, spiraling lazily towards her nipple with his fore finger and running chills up her spine. He stopped before reaching the center, and she nearly pouted, but then cried out softly when he pinched the nipple roughly between his fingers.

She pressed herself against him again, feeling him hard between her legs. She wanted to grind herself against him, but she felt his hands at her belt and stopped. He undid her pants and soon slipped his long, supple fingers inside the fabric, cupping her gently in his hand. She bit her lip in anticipation, the tension already having readied her for his entrance. Two fingers pushed up inside her and she gasped, her own eyes fluttering this time.

His thrusts were gentle at first, but increased in power as she contracted her muscles around him. Her breath was ragged, and she moved her hips to meet him.

He moved his thumb over her clitoris as she rubbed herself against him and she growled, collapsing down on him. Skin met skin in an explosion of sensation. Lips locked, their hands reached for each other's pants, pulling frantically at the fabric, until they finally succeeded in freeing themselves.

"I want you," she whispered fiercely.

Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.

He smiled against her mouth. "I love you."

Kiss. Kiss.

"*Now,*" she answered in a voice unlike her own.

He met her eyes, as wanton as his own, and swiftly rolled their bodies until he was poised above her. Hands on either side of her shoulders, he pressed his hips between her legs until she settled around him, then slowly, teasingly pushed himself into her. She sighed deeply, but it still wasn't nearly enough. He pulled out slowly and lingered at her entrance, and she halfwhimpered, her full, swollen lips protesting his delay.

He had tried to slow himself down on purpose, but now the sight of her, her red lips, her hair flaming in all directions, and the feel of her beneath him, as her breasts brushed gently over his chest and her hips rose to meet him, urged him on. He entered her with force and speed. She cried out in surprise, and he quickened his pace with long, hard strokes. She clung to him with her heaving body and her living sheath contracted snuggly around him. He felt her close in towards her peak as her breath became shallow and fast, and the sounds he had only heard from her once before began again. He closed his eyes as he began to relinquish his control. He felt her explode around him, hearing her sudden, stifled shout of pleasure as she came a second before him. His own orgasm overtook him, and he buried his face into her shoulder as his groans overlapped with hers and they shared the tight, bright moment of connection.

Spent, they sagged against each other in heady exhaustion. After a moment, she shifted until he was curved around her. He slid a protective, possessive arm around her waist as she fell asleep.

After a few moments, just when Scully thought she might drift into sleep, she heard Mulder speak behind her ear.

"About the other night..." He paused.

She grinned. "You'll have to be more specific now," she said.

"When you came home and found me in your bed."

"Mmm hmm," she hummed sleepily.

"Where were you?" he asked.

She considered lying. Decided there was no point. "Trolling," she answered.

"Catch anything?" he asked after a moment.

"Yeah," she said. Then, "But I threw him back."

He nodded against her neck, and she snuggled further into his embrace, smiling. She dozed off thinking his arms would protect her from the nightmare.

She awoke in a sudden burst, sitting up rapidly and breaking free of Mulder. Her pulse raced beneath her skin and she realized she was almost hyperventilating. Mulder shook awake and focused completely on her.

"What is it?" he asked, sounding calmer than he really felt.

Her eyes were stinging. "They were hurting me. Her," she amended.

He looked away from her. "Samantha?" he whispered.

She avoided his gaze as well. "Yes." She hesitated briefly.

"But... someone made them stop. Someone said anyone who hurt her would be killed. Someone who loved her-" Dana stopped abruptly, realizing the damage she'd done in saying too much.

Mulder faced her. "Who?"

She backpedaled. "Mulder, it's just a dream. It's the result of an overactive, twisted imagination. It's not the truth."

His eyes pierced her. "*Who*?"

She found the courage to meet his stare. It couldn't be true, it couldn't. He wouldn't believe her. "Him," she said softly.

Mulder's eyes widened. "*Him*?" he whispered.

"The cancer man," she answered softly.

He expelled air in a puff from his mouth. He was silent.

"Mulder, it doesn't mean anything-"

"Let's get out of here," he interrupted, turning away from her and moving off the bed.

Scully's face wrinkled in confusion. "What?"

"I'm claustrophobic all of a sudden. Let's go take a walk," he explained, collecting his clothes and starting to put them on.

She decided not to question him. She pulled her sweater on over her head, then scanned the bed for her pants. They lay in a tangled lump near where Mulder was sitting at the end of the bed.

"Can you hand me those?" she asked. She pointed to the pants and he lifted them to her by the legs. As she took them from him, her wallet fell out onto the bed. The bracelet she had tucked in behind her ID slipped out, but she turned from him and didn't see it fall.

Mulder reached for it, intending to hand it to her, but the charms caught his eye.

Seashells.

Seashells.

Why the hell would Scully have...

Holy shit.

He remembered.

["Fox! Give it *back*!"]

["No way, buttmunch. You're in trouble -- you lied to *Dad.*"] ["Nuh-uh, Dad knows I traded."]

["Traded? With who?"]

["That little red-headed girl from the fun house."] Mulder narrowed his eyes. His voice came like smoke.

"How long have you known?"

Scully looked over to him, startled by his voice, only to be confronted with pure anger in his face. She saw his fingers clench around the delicate bracelet.

She bought herself some time. "What?"

"HOW. LONG. HAVE. YOU. KNOWN."

He was seconds from erupting.

Only the truth would do here.

"Sunday night. I had a dream about the bracelet. Mom and I searched the attic for it," she said, meeting his intense gaze.

"Since Sunday..." he trailed off. His eyes seemed to focus past her. She could almost feel him receding from her.

"Mulder-"

His eyes met hers again. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked in a raspy voice, his tone half hurt, half accusatory.

"Because I wasn't sure. I'm still not sure. I don't really remember. They're just dreams, Mulder." She realized she sounded like she was pleading, but she couldn't help feeling that she was losing him somehow as he made leaps of logic in his mind.

"They're just dreams," she repeated weakly. [Dreams that don't feel like dreams. Dreams that feel like memories,] her emotions protested.

His face soured. "I think you know that's not what's happening to you."

She recoiled a little. "Do I? I don't think I understand it at all." She was starting to get irritated by his instant anger.

Was it only an hour ago that he had told her he loved her? That she was the most precious thing in the world to him? She turned from him and pulled on her pants, feeling vulnerable enough without being unclothed as well. She got up from the bed and took a few steps away, running a hand through her hair.

He continued to push. "Maybe you don't understand. But you know it means *something*. It's not just a dream."

She sighed and turned to face him. "Mulder-"

"Why, exactly, are we here, anyway?" he asked, suspicion entering his voice. "I mean, what does a little boy in California have to do with my sister's abduction?"

She resisted. "I don't know."

His eyes were steel. "Come on, Scully. Try harder. You suspect something, or we wouldn't be here." He moved closer to her, and she watched him with a wary eye.

He lowered his voice. "Moira could've handled this. There's a reason you came all the way here. There's a reason you left our bed in the middle of the night and didn't tell me you were going," he accused.

He'd chosen the perfect sore spot.

She lifted her chin and centered her blue stare on him. "Must've been a shock. I realize that's usually *your* M.O. At least *I* left you a note," she answered cooly.

"You're avoiding the question," he countered.

"I came here because what he said scared me," she answered truthfully.

"Care to be more specific?"

"He thinks they're coming again. Some one warned him."

"Who?"

She avoided his eyes.

"*Who*?"

She stared at her feet.

"Goddamnit, Scully-"

She saw his hands ball up into fists.

"Mulder, how do you know any of it is real?" She looked up at him, pleading with her eyes. "How do you know what he sees or what I see is anything but horrors born out of a terrible experience?"

He couldn't stand it much longer. He actually raised his voice at her. "How do you know it *isn't* real!"

She wouldn't get into a fight with him. She wouldn't. She strained to keep her voice calm. "Mulder, I know you. I know that if I tell you the things I've seen, the things I suspect, you'll go off half-cocked-"

"Who are you to keep this from me?" he growled, his face inches from hers. "She's *MY**SISTER*."

"Which is EXACTLY why I didn't want to tell you anything until I was SURE!" she yelled back. So much for not fighting. His face contorted in frustration and he spun away from her.

He faced the wall near their bed. Anything not to look at her right now.

She was angry. Terrified. He was running from her.

Instinctively, subconsciously, she reached out to gauge what he was feeling.

He could feel her in his mind like a physical touch, and he snapped his head around violently towards her.

"Don't."

She didn't pretend not to know what he was talking about.

He took a short step towards her. "I told you before, if you want to know something, ask."

"So tell me," she answered firmly.

He shook his head slowly. "Don't go into my head, Scully. It's a dark place. And by invitation only."

She wouldn't let him hide. "Are you saying there are thoughts there you don't want me to see?"

He simply glared at her. She took several steps closer to him.

"Well?" she pushed. When no answer came, she again searched him, this time deliberately and he felt it like the point of a dagger.

"Dammit, Scully. Do it again and I'll-"

"You'll *what*?" she asked, incredulous. Was he threatening her?

His face turned grim. "All right. You want to know? I'll tell you. I hate you for keeping this from me."

She was stunned, as surely as if he had struck her. Her breath abandoned her. "Wha... what?"

Her surprise at his anger only fueled him on. "You betrayed me.

You *know* how important she is to me! How *DARE* you keep this from me!" He was advancing on her now, and even in his anger, he had to admire her for not backing up as he invaded her. "How *DARE* you. You have no right to decide whether I'm mature enough to handle the information-"

"Good God, Mulder, listen to yourself! How self-righteous can you be? You who told me NOTHING, for YEARS, you who kept me in the dark about SO MANY things, and for MY own SAFETY?"

"I was trying to protect you."

"You were PATRONIZING me."

"This is DIFFERENT." His hands flew up around her. "How can you COMPARE *this* with *that*?"

"Mulder, they're dreams. Feelings. They're not proof! I didn't want to lead you on."

"YOU AND YOUR REASONS WILL KEEP ME FROM FINDING HER," he yelled, inches from her face.

"ME AND MY REASONS WILL MAKE SURE YOU'RE NOT CHASING IMPOSTERS!"

Their words came quick and loud.

"-- extreme rationalization, to point where you're lying to yourself-"

"-- jumping to conclusions before you know what's going on-"

"-- it's not your job to protect me from-"

"-- from yourself?"

"Dammit, Scully, it's my decision. It's my sister. It's my life!"

"It stopped being just you when this partnership started -- don't you get that yet? It's OUR life, mine and yours, INEXTRICABLE!

Forever until we find her."

"You did this to teach me a LESSON?"

"Goddamnit, Mulder, why are you assuming the worst about me?

When have I EVER, EVER done anything to hurt you? When have I EVER acted in anything but your best interest, regardless of the sacrifice to myself! Mulder, I love you."

He scowled. "Don't say that," he growled, lowering his voice.

"I don't believe you. No one who loved me would have kept this from me."

She almost doubled over. In an instant she felt the tears spring to her eyes, the air escape her chest, her heart stop beating...

She made a soft, gasping sound that might have been a cry if she had been able to put more power behind it. Instead she expelled a breath like a death rattle. Her arm hung protectively around her stomach, and she turned from him quickly, nearly running out of the room.


Chapter 14

Tuesday -- 5 P.M.
Outside The Hotel

Scully ran out of the room, down the stairs, out into the rain that insisted on its constant drizzle. The more she thought about it, the more her hurt turned into anger.

How DARE he, how DARE he say he didn't believe she loved him...

He could rot in HELL, he could fall off a CLIFF and fucking DIE for all she cared...

He was behind her, she could hear him jogging after her in the sloshy mud. She couldn't believe it.

"Scully-"

She whirled around, still backing up away from him. "Don't you fucking come near me," she sputtered. He still followed, and she turned again, increasing her speed. She didn't know where she was going. She wasn't thinking straight. She just wanted to hurt him.

He had to have a reason for coming after her. Guilt. Anger.

Curiosity. Whatever he wanted, she wasn't going to give it to him.

She was headed crookedly through the field behind the hotel, slashing through weeds that came up past her knees.

She felt his hand pull on her shoulder.

She froze and faced him, her eyes pure venom. "DON'T. TOUCH. ME."

His hand pulled away from her as from fire -- and her heart broke. She realized the only thing she wanted in the world was for him to take her in his arms. The hurt entered her face and she couldn't stop the tears this time. "Don't touch me," she repeated weakly, and she turned her face from him before he could see her cry.

She pounded on through the grass. Away. Away. Away.

"Scully! Just... just stop," Mulder pleaded.

She froze a few steps ahead of him, hanging her head low and balling up her fists.

This is the part where you apologize, Mulder.

He couldn't believe he had fucked it up so badly, so quickly.

Because he couldn't control his temper. He had no idea what to say -- and he had to say it now.

"Scully, I'm sorry. I am. I wasn't thinking straight, I was just so mad, I couldn't stop myself. I wanted to hurt you."

WELL, YOU DID, she thought to herself. But she wouldn't give him the pleasure of a response.

"It's the stupidest thing I could do, and I did it. I'm just...

I'm still angry at you. But I don't doubt your intentions. I know you had my best interests at heart," he said. He knew it wasn't enough, even as he said it. [Swallow more pride, Mulder, if you ever want her to forgive you.] He continued. "I know you always have. I know you wouldn't hurt me."

Just TRY me, she fumed silently.

She heard him step closer to her. She tried, she really tried to count all the way to ten.

"Scully-"

She turned and aimed her fist as some point behind his head. Her knuckles connected with his jaw in an sickening thud, and he stumbled back in pain and shock.

"What the HELL-"

She came after him again, ignoring the pain in her fingers, but he ducked away.

"I hate you, Fox Mulder-" she cried, feeling like a blubbering idiot and absolutely mortified that she was allowing him to see her cry. It was beyond her control now. The tears flowed freely.

"I HATE you! This is all YOUR FAULT, ALL of it!"

He stood his ground, and she smashed into him with force, pushing her fists against his chest. She beat against him senselessly, and he struggled to put his arms around her to still her movements, but she was furious.

"Everything that's happening to me! Whatever's fucking WRONG with me, because of YOU. Oh God," she sobbed, losing control by the moment, "Melissa, Samantha, me, Godamnit, ME!"

His arms tightened around her. He deserved it. He really did.

Everything she said was something he already had told himself a million times.

"You've RUINED the WORLD for me, Mulder! I used to feel *safe,* *confident,**loved,* and now, and NOW-"

She had to stop to catch her breath to keep herself from shrieking. She wanted him to hear it, every word. She still squirmed in his arms, ceaselessly shoving against his hold on her.

"NOW I'm this AWFUL, horrible MESS of a person, and Godamnit, Mulder, I BLAME YOU!"

She was astounded she had actually said it.

She met his eyes then, and saw something that astonished her.

He loved her more now. She didn't think it possible. He was angry. Upset. Hurt. And hopelessly in love with her.

She stopped moving against him. What to do? How could she answer that look in his eyes?

"I hate you," she mumbled, losing all conviction in her voice.

His eyes would give her no peace.

"No, you don't," he said firmly.

"I do," she said weakly, beginning to succumb.

"No, you don't. You love me. And I love you. No matter how much we try to hurt each other, it's still there."

She exhaled sharply, as though all her breath had suddenly left her. He felt her shift beneath his hands. He saw her belief return in her eyes.

She uttered an odd, soft cry, and rushed towards him as he met her lips with his own. They kissed hard, urgent, bruising kisses with loud and panting breaths through the nose. His arms crushed her against him, and she wiggled her arms up around his neck, pushing her fingers through his hair.

[So violent,] she thought.

His hands roamed her back. It wasn't enough. He felt her sink against him, and he pushed her down into the grass, her back against the mud. She grunted into his mouth as she hit the ground and he lay his body evenly upon hers. In the back of his mind, he half-realized he might have hurt her, but then felt her frantic, determined movements to remove his pants.

[So destructive,] he thought, pushing up her sweater to her neck, his hands reaching for her breasts. [So exquisitely destructive.] She succeeded in unfastening his clothes, and his hands moved to remove her own pants, shoving them roughly down her legs.

[So absurdly perfect,] she thought, opening herself to him, wrapping her legs around his waist.

There was no time for patience. He held her tightly against him, kissing her temple, and she bit softly at his shoulder as he moved within her, firmly, quickly.

She began to tense around him, the last straw to his resolve, and together, again, they shone.

[It's sick,] she thought, panting to regain her breath. [And I don't care.]

In the rain and the mud and the grass, she held him tightly. She felt him sob suddenly against her neck, and she was glad he couldn't see the surprise on her face.

"I'm sorry," he rasped against her ear. "I'm sorry," he repeated, sounding all of ten years old.

She said the only think she could think of. "I know." She kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry, too."


They snuck back into the hotel through the back stairwell, managing to avoid the curious gaze of the desk clerk.

Muddy clothes pooled on the floor of the bathroom.

They washed each other gently, chastely.

Each stroke a healing apology.

When they were finished, he wrapped her in a huge white towel and rubbed her till she was pink.

"I brought you some clothes," he said. "They're in my bag."

It bordered on the nicest thing he had ever done for her. She gave him a bright, genuine smile for it. "Thanks."

They dressed quietly, slowly. Their silence felt like a recovery.

Eventually, they sat on the couch, a safe distance from the bed, and faced each other.

She knew it was killing him not to ask her. So she made a decision to tell him.

"I'm just going to say all of this, whether it makes sense or not, and then you can ask questions, okay?"

He just nodded.

"I've been having this problem for a while now, as you know, but it has gotten worse since this abduction case."

She knew it was killing him not to ask her. So she made a decision to tell him.

"I'm just going to say all of this, whether it makes sense or not, and then you can ask questions, okay?"

He just nodded.

"I've been having this problem for a while now, as you know, but it has gotten worse since this abduction case. I'm not sure why.

But I suspect. I believe that the long-haired nice woman that Kiko described is somehow involved with your sister."

His eyes widened, but he limited his reaction to that.

"I have no proof. I have no evidence. All I have is what I feel and what the dreams are telling me. I was trying to ignore them.

But the bracelet..."

She paused, afraid to say it out loud. To make it real.

"The bracelet tells me that there's more to this than what is in my consciousness. I've met your sister, Mulder. The *fact* that it happened is as clear as day. But the memory is faded, and it scares me to think what else there might be that I am forgetting.

"I'm starting to think that maybe I've met her in another place.

While I was gone. And I don't know why I think that. Or in what context I may have seen her, or how I even knew it was her. But that's what I feel, in my heart, has happened."

She stopped, and he wondered if that was all of it. If that was the sum total of the information she had kept from him. He remained silent. Prodding her would only make her clam up more.

She swallowed, still hesitant. This was the part that could be cruel, but she had promised herself to tell all.

She said softly, "I feel like she's very near."

She dropped her eyes from his.

"I feel that I might see her again. Soon. I think she may be responsible for warning Kiko that he may be taken again. And I came here to see if I could stop it."

She looked up at him. The tension on his face was exquisite. She added strength to her voice again and said in a rush, "I don't know if it's true, Mulder. I don't know what any of it means. For all I know, I'm just losing my mind-"

"You, Scully?" He finally spoke. "Unlikely."

She smiled weakly.

"Were you so afraid that I would lose it that you couldn't tell me this?" he asked gently.

She answered honestly. "It would be unforgivable to give you false hope."

"Do you believe what you're feeling? Seeing?"

"I don't know what to believe. But my subconscious seems to be pushing me in a certain direction," she qualified.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, removing all accusation from his tone. It was a simple question, really, and he suspected the answer was simple as well.

She looked sheepish for a moment, and suddenly found herself near tears again. She blinked determinedly and answered him in a wavering voice, "I was afraid."

She wiped at her eyes quickly, disgusted with herself for all this crying. "I was afraid to death that you wouldn't believe me," she said, awaiting his reaction.

He stared at her. The corner of his mouth turned up slightly, then he returned her somber expression. "Also unlikely," he said fiercely.

He drew her to him easily, letting his arms curve naturally around her body as she came to him. Their hesitancy at touching each other vanished, and she let him hold her, for once. A relaxed, exhausted Scully snuggled into his embrace, and he held her close.

She pulled her head from his shoulder and looked up to him.

"Don't you have questions?"

"A million. But I don't think you know the answers."

"How can we get them?" she asked, innocently hoping he had a plan.

"Wait and see," he answered. He pulled her against him again.

He whispered into her hair.

"Wait and see."


Chapter 15

Tuesday - 7:30 P.M.

She followed him submissively. He led her by the hand up the steps of St. Eugene's School for Children and knocked on the large double doors.

Moira Banks opened the door for them. She smiled inwardly to see them holding hands, at the same time realizing that if Scully was allowing him to, she was bad off. Any idiot could see that circumstances were far from normal.

Mulder met her eyes unashamed, but it took a moment before Scully looked up at her.

"He's been asking for you," Moira said nicely. She stepped inside to let them pass.

"How is he?" Scully asked, dropping Mulder's hand.

"Scared, put not panicky. He's in his bedroom," Moira said, leading the way down the hall. Mulder followed behind, feeling superfluous.

Dana knocked on the bedroom door lightly and opened it -- and was rushed by Kiko, who flung himself at her legs.

"Dana!"

"It's all right, Kiko. It's all right," she said soothingly, rubbing his head. "Is it okay if we all come in for a few minutes?"

He looked warily at Mulder for a moment from around Scully's legs. Mulder felt for a moment that the child recognized him, but the moment passed, and the child simply nodded.

There were two single beds in the room, and Moira and Mulder sat uncomfortably on the edge of one while Dana and the boy took the other.

"Kiko, this is Mulder. He's a good friend of mine," Scully introduced easily. She paused briefly, considering the best way to start. She took the little boy's hand in hers.

"I know you're scared. But we need your help. I need you to remember some things," she said. "Can you do that for me?"

Kiko nodded.

"I need you to tell us about the nice brown-haired lady."

Mulder's breath caught. He hadn't expected Scully to push the child in order to get information about Samantha. Somehow, he thought she would object to it, and he had resisted asking her to do it. He doubted Kiko would remember much from his abduction at any rate.

"You said she helped you get away from the mean man. How did she help you? What did she do?" Scully asked gently.

"She... she was like a witch. Like the good witch, in 'Wizard of Oz.' She made a bubble, kind of like a tunnel, and we went down it together. When I woke up, I was in the forest, and the police were there."

"Can you tell me more about the tunnel? What did it look like?

What did it feel like?" Scully prodded.

"It was kind of cold, but there was lots of light. It felt like we were floating. It felt like when they took me, but she told me we were going back, that she was taking me home," Kiko explained, leaving his hand warmly in Scully's palm.

"What else did she tell you?"

"That you would come to talk to me. And that I should tell you everything," Kiko said simply, as though it were an obvious fact and Scully hadn't been paying enough attention.

Scully tried to hide her astonishment as she calculated the meaning of this. She glanced quickly at Mulder, who wore a blatant expression of surprise. Moira sat riveted as well. She turned back to Kiko.

"How do you know she was talking about me?" she asked.

"She said you were short and had red hair, and that you had met her once before. That she had helped you before. She said you probably wouldn't remember her yet, but you will soon," Kiko explained. "I guess you don't remember her yet."

"Not yet," Scully admitted. "But I'm trying to. That's why I'm asking you these questions. You said she warned you that they were coming again. What exactly did she tell you?"

"She said it will be tonight. But she said that if you were with me, I shouldn't be scared. They won't take me if you're with me," Kiko said, and he looked up at her gratefully.

"She said that?" Scully asked weakly, her eyes showing a hint of fear.

The boy nodded, and a mask of guilt came over his face. "I'm sorry if I scared you. I just, I just wanted to make sure you would come-"

He was unsure if she was angry with him for making her come so far for him.

"No, it's all right, Kiko, you did the right thing," Scully said, putting an arm around him. He sank against her in thanks, and she embraced him naturally. She looked over his head to Mulder with bewilderment across her face.

"She knows you," he said softly, shaking his head in shock. "She knew you would come. We would come."

"I don't remember," she whispered.

He moved to speak again, and thought the better of it. He gestured towards the door. She nodded.

She disentangled herself from the boy, letting him know she'd be right back, and she and Mulder stepped out into the hall.

"What?" she asked when he didn't begin right away. He was fidgeting.

"What if -- what if this is a trap?"

She looked at him to continue.

"What if They are involved. What if this is their way of taking you again," he reasoned.

"But Mulder, if you believe what's been happening to me is real, this may be a chance to finally see your sister, to know where she is," Scully argued, wondering what he really believed.

"I know, Scully," he answered impatiently. He turned from her for a moment. "I know that," he said softly, as though to himself.

"But?"

"But if I lose you again..." It was barely a whisper. He would not look at her.

"If I lose you again, it *will* kill me. I won't give you up for her. I didn't before, and I won't now."

She couldn't help smiling, just a little. He really thought this was his decision. She placed a hand on his shoulder until he turned to face her. His tortured features sobered her, and she spoke firmly.

"I want -- I *need* to do this, Mulder. I need to protect this child. I need to face this challenge. And I need to know what's really happening, and why. And none of that will happen unless I stay here tonight with this boy. I know something's going to happen. Something that will resolve at least some of our questions. I *need* to *try*," she said earnestly.

He hadn't expected any less from her, but it still filled his heart with fear. "Scully, we just barely-" He broke the sentence. "We're just barely starting to scratch the surface of what we are together." His hand reached to her face, cradling her jaw. "You can't let anything happen to you. There's too much left to do," he said simply, as though logic would keep her safe.

"Nothing's going to happen to me," she said as sincerely as she could. "I'm going to sleep in that bed with Kiko, and you're going to sleep in the room with us. And Moira will guard the door. Everything is going to be fine," she said firmly.

"Swear," he demanded.

"I swear."


Wednesday -- 4 A.M.
Kiko's Room

He couldn't sleep. He couldn't watch TV. Scully and Kiko had fallen asleep a little after midnight, but he lay in the dark and waited.

He checked his gun every few minutes, although he knew it probably wouldn't work, if his experience in Puerto Rico was to be believed.

He was constantly aware of the time, each passing red digital number on the clock radio etching itself into his mind. It would be important to note the time loss, he thought abstractly.

It was silent outside, except for an occasional owl hooting.

Sometimes he heard Moira shift in her folding chair outside. Turn a page in her book.

Moira needed No-Doz to stay awake, unlike Mulder's built-in insomnia.

Then he heard it. A low, electrical hum.

"Scully," he hissed.

She shifted on the bed.

"Scully!" he said again.

She sat up, shaking herself awake, one arm still draped over the sleeping boy.

Mulder glanced at the clock, and then the room exploded into light.

Mulder would remember none of it later.

The hum turned into a squeal, assaulting their eardrums. Moira was pulling on the door, but it wouldn't give.

The boy huddled behind Scully, hiding from the pale green light streaming through the windows.

"It's okay, Kiko," Scully said automatically, her gun steadied at the windows. Mulder was directly in the path of the light, blocking Scully's view. He fired a test shot - and the trigger clicked ineffectually.

He glanced over his shoulder at her. She pointed her own gun at the ceiling, away from them and fired. Click. Click. She lowered her arm slowly. And the buzzing increased.

Kiko was hyperventilating. Moira was banging on the fucking door.

The windows rattled violently and imploded, a thousand little shards of glass flying into the room.

Kiko ran.

His little hands managed to turn the knob of the door. Moira nearly fell on top of him and he scrambled around her, running frantically down the hall with his hands over his ears.

Scully ran after him without a moment's hesitation, ignoring the glass in her hair, on her clothes. Mulder followed her like a bullet, with Moira behind.

Kiko had reached the front door, running blindly away from the room, as though his terror was spatially contained there, and if he could just get far enough away from it, nothing would happen to him.

He flung open the front door.

The light was waiting.

He ran right into it, unable to stop his momentum.

Scully skidded around the corner and saw him, his small, fragile frame suspended in the doorway, and she leapt She could feel the fabric of his pajamas fill her hands.

She felt their bodies collide, and they were falling together, down, down, down...

To the darkness below.

Scully readied herself for the impact, curling herself and the boy into a tight ball, preparing to roll when she hit the ground.

The ground never came.

Like a dream, the scene around her changed in the blink of an eye.

She was in a rocky alcove on a rugged beach. It was sunny. Kiko lay sleeping peacefully on his bed, positioned absurdly on the sand next to where she stood, the rocky overhang shading his body from the sun. Their clothing remained the same -- Kiko in his pajamas, Dana in her khaki pants, white oxford shirt and the brown leather shoes she had worn to bed.

She peeked around the alcove wall towards a long stretch of beach. It was impossibly sunny, and the waves crashed leisurely along the gravel-like sand. Someone was looking out onto the water. Absurdly, the person picked up a stone from the sand and skipped it expertly across a receding wave.

Dana, sure that Kiko remained hidden, crept out towards the person, advancing slowly.

A woman. Moderately tall. Long brown hair.

Dana stopped a few paces from her. Without turning her eyes to Scully, she greeted her.

"Hey, Rose."


Chapter 16

solitude stands in the doorway
I'm struck once again by her black silhouette
by her long cool stare and her silence
i suddenly remember each time we've met
and she turns to me with her hand extended
her palm is split with a flower and a flame
and she says "I've come to set a twisted thing straight"
and she says "I've come to lighten this dark heart"
and she takes my wrist, I feel her imprint of fear
and I say "i never thought of finding you here"
- suzanne vega, "solitude standing"

Wednesday -- ?? A.M.
Robertson Beach

It was absolutely impossible. Logically, this could not be happening. Yet, Scully knew exactly who was before her and what it could mean.

"Samantha," Dana said simply.

"The one and only," the woman answered, glib but with the same pain that often crossed her bother's face.

"What is this? Where are we?" Scully asked calmly, unable to untether her brain from her heart.

"You're asking the wrong questions," Samantha admonished gently.

Scully set her jaw. "All right. Where have you been for the past 22 years?"

Samantha nodded her approval, then looked down to her bare feet on the coarse sand. "They've moved me around a lot. All over the world." She looked up and focused on some undetermined point on the waves. "Never any one place for too long," she said acidly.

Scully pressed on. "What happened the night you were taken?

Mulder thinks-"

"Fox," Samantha corrected absent-mindedly.

Scully frowned. "He doesn't let anyone call him that anymore."

"Not even *you*?" she asked, genuinely surprised.

"No. Only my mother sometimes, and his... your mother."

A cloud passed over her features. "Yes. Our mother," she repeated with unveiled bitterness. "She's wrong to keep things from him.

He's the kind that needs to know, no matter how bad the truth may be."

Scully felt pressured for time. "He thinks aliens took you. He believes your father chose you over him to be the one taken."

"I know he does. I've-" She paused a moment, then met Dana's eyes fully. "I've been seeing his dreams, Dana. Through you."

Samantha watched as comprehension and confusion struggled over Dana's expression.

"Through me..." Dana repeated softly. "You're... the empathy?"

"An interesting side-effect to my efforts to communicate with you."

"Communicate?" Dana felt ungrounded as the conversation turned to herself.

Samantha smiled sympathetically and moved to sit on the sand, folding her long legs beneath her. She reached a hand to Dana.

"Maybe you should sit down."


As soon as his face hit the light, Mulder knew he would forget everything. He felt Moira collide into his chest as he turned away from the source, and then felt nothing as they fell to the floor together, unconscious.


Dana took the hand of Mulder's sister and settled onto the beach next to her.

"The dreams, the visions you have been experiencing are a result of me trying to contact you. To see through your eyes. And to open your mind, so that I could tell you how to meet me."

"But *how*? *Why*?" Dana asked instantly and firmly.

Samantha appeared to know better than to hesitate when Scully was asking questions in that tone of voice. "Let me start at the beginning. When you were taken, I knew about it. They had warned me not to contact my brother. I had tried, and their punishment was to take you from him, and let me watch your loss devastate him. To watch him blame himself in a terrible echo of the guilt he felt over losing me.

"I was raised in their custody. I showed a preference for medicene and they trained me to be a doctor. They've coerced me to work for them by threatening the life of my brother. Just as they control him by withholding information about me.

"But I've made friends. People who are also here under duress.

People who helped you get back. And people who let me see your charts. I know what has been done to you," Samantha said grimly.

Dana looked up at her with widened eyes. "What?"

"Nothing irreversible, except the branched DNA that they detected in your system after you were returned. It is what has enhanced your senses, and allowed me to communicate with you nearly telepathically."

Samantha saw the skepticism pass over Scully's face.

"I know you don't believe in that sort of thing, but I can tell you that I know it's possible. That creatures unlike ourselves communicate almost solely in that manner, and that you and I have had their DNA grafted to our own."

Dana ignored the impossibility of it for a moment and asked, "What else will it do to me?"

Samantha frowned. "I don't know. They removed most of it from your body. They didn't want it detected, but obviously it has had a residual effect on you, since you have been experiencing these episodes of empathy since your return. For me, the effects have been increased intelligence, strength, and psychic ability. But they haven't removed it from me.

"It was their biggest mistake. They gave you the same strain they had given me, and it gave you the empathic and telepathic abilities inherent to alien physiology. Of course, you couldn't have known this, and your abilities lay dormant until I began trying to reach you."

Dana nodded mechanically. "Of course."

Samantha wrinkled her brow. "You don't believe me."

She shook her head a little and dropped her head down. "I don't know what to believe. Mulder would eat this up, but I..." She looked up again. "I need proof."

Lightning quick, Mulder's goddamn, sadistic sister reached out and pinched her arm so hard that tears sprung to her eyes. She yanked her arm away and scrambled up from the sand. Samantha stood quickly and both women faced each other defensively.

Scully felt positively betrayed and very wary.

"Tomorrow you'll see the bruise and know that this was real."

"I'll see the bruise for more than a day, thank you," Scully answered spitefully.

"And when he asks you how you know it was really me, you'll show him this," Samantha said, reaching into a pocket. She pulled out a small charm bracelet. Silver. With little sail boats on it.

Scully eyed it guardedly.

"He's been fooled before, you know," she said carefully.

Samantha look stung. "That blasted redhead who didn't look anything like me?" she fumed. "The ones who ran away? You saw the vengeance they took for that, didn't you? Killed every one of them. And what did she know? Things that *I* had told her. But who knows about these bracelets, Dana? Who knows that we met, once, incredibly, before any of this happened? Who have you told?"

Scully was unconsciously shaking her head. "I didn't even know until... until the dream reminded me."

"And who have you told?" Samantha asked insistently.

She stopped moving her head as she began to understand. "Only him. Only him."

"And I haven't told anyone. It's the one thing they could have never guessed. The one thing they could have never known. If they had, would they have ever allowed the two of you to be partners?"

[Oh, God,] thought Scully. [It's really her.] Doubt shed from her face, revealing relief beyond measure, and she rushed towards the woman who before this moment had been a fiction to her.

Samantha grunted softly at the contact, then wound her thin, strong arms around the other woman.

"Oh! It's you, it's really you," Scully whispered fiercely, ignoring the tears that began to spill crookedly onto her cheeks.

Samantha, more stoic than her brother, refrained from crying, but the relief invaded the very marrow of her bones, and she sank into Scully's embrace.

"Yes," she replied softly, her eyes closed. "It really is me."


Mulder stirred.


The women pulled apart.

"We have to hurry," Samantha said.

"He's waking up," Dana said softly, understanding. For once, understanding everything.

Absurdly, Samantha produced a hypodermic needle and a piece of plastic tubing.

[For blood?] Scully asked silently.

[Exactly. You believe me now. Later you'll want the science to support it,] Samantha reasoned.

Scully acted quickly, tying the tubing expertly around Samantha's forearm. The woman made a fist a few times to help Scully find the vein, and soon the small plastic vial filled with rich, red blood. She screwed on the cap firmly, then untied the tubing.

"And now?" Dana asked, holding the tiny vial in her hand.

"You'll return unconscious. You don't know who'll find you first," Samantha warned.

The gears turned. "How long until I wake up?"

"Two hours four at the most. I'll try to put you in a safe place, but it's not an exact process."

Scully nodded. Four hours. She knew where the safest place would be.

"Cheers," she said wryly, then promptly swallowed the entire vial.

Samantha smiled. "Somehow I knew pragmatism would win over squeamishness in your case," she teased. Out of nowhere she again produced a curious item. It was a smooth, pecan-sized pellet encased in latex.

Scully looked up at her hopefully.

"A letter to my brother," Samantha explained.

"I was going to ask you if you had a message," Scully said, nodding.

She took the pellet from Samantha's palm and swallowed it as well with no hesitation. Samantha snickered a little at the sight of her eagerness to do something most people would find incredibly distasteful.

The hum began, and Dana could feel the rumble beneath her feet.


Mulder's eyes darted beneath his lids. Self-awareness returned to him as sleep began its retreat.


The skies grumbled overhead, and Samantha started. "The bracelet!

Do you have it?"

Scully searched her pockets frantically, then produced the silver trinket with sea shell charms, too small to fit on even Dana's petite wrist. The rumbling increased beneath them, and they struggled to keep their balance. Samantha took Dana's bracelet and found her own, then linked the hook of one bracelet to the eye of the other.

"Give me your arm," she shouted to Dana over the din. The weather changed abruptly above them. The light of the sun faded out and the never far away rain clouds faded in, inking the sky.

Dana lifted the cuff of her shirt and offered her wrist. Linked together, the bracelets bought for little girls of 7 fit loosley but securely on the wrist of a 32 year old woman.

"You have to go now," Samantha yelled to Scully through the unnatural wind that blew around them now. "We won't be able to do this again for a long time maybe years but the dreams, Dana, the dreams are real, remember that!"

Dana nodded emphatically as the rain began to fall. "I promise!"


Mulder woke up.


Lightning crashed above them, around them, and light engulfed them. They flew from each other violently, in opposite directions, but Scully swore she could hear one last syllable from the woman who had eluded tangibility for 22 years: "-- real-"


Chapter 17

here I stand and I'm waiting
here I stand with my heart in my hands
here I stand with my world gone wrong
here I stand and I'm waiting
i dreamt that I held you and I lost you again
-- chris isaak "waiting"

Wednesday -- 9 A.M.
Robertson Beach

She felt comfortably warm. Her skin tingled from the sunlight.

She heard something like a freeway nearby. No, not a freeway it didn't smell like a freeway. It smelled salty. [Downright briny,] she thought.

She sniffed experiementally and was rewarded with sand in her nostril. She snorted and spat, lifting her head, and something next to her stirred. Her eyes shot open.

Kiko.

He layed curled against her belly, sleeping peacefully.

She looked around her. They were a safe distance form the waves, enclosed again in the alcove where she and Kiko had first "landed." Scully laughed. [Not an exact process,] she remembered Samantha saying. Samantha was pretty good at this it seemed.

Sitting up, she checked Kiko's breathing and pulse. He seemed all right -- just sleeping deeply. She checked herself. Full of sand.

One nasty bruise that hurt just thinking about it. A stomach full of... truth?

She stood up slowly, her muscles stiff from sleep. She stretched and her spine cracked. She yawned.

She heard voices.

"But, sir-"

"KEEP. LOOKING."

"Yes, sir."

One set of scurrying feet.

[Of course it's him. Naturally it's him,] she thought to herself.

She peeked her head around the the rocky wall of the alcove.

He stood 20 yards away, facing the ocean, worry gouging the expression of his face. Inconsolable. She hadn't seen him up there on the mountain, the first time she was taken, as he stared up at the stars with his heart in his mouth, sure that the sheer pain of her absence would kill him. But she saw it now.

Her heart lept to him, and as she started out from the alcove she telegraphed to him like a ray from the sun. [I'm here, lover, I'm right here, and I'm fine, I'm fine...]

Puzzlement crossed his face, and when he turned toward her she was nearly to him.

He bolted to her, crossing the distance in an instant, and collided with her as their arms intertwined.

"Oh God," he breathed hoarsely into her hair, squeezing her in his arms as though she might suddenly dissipate into the warm morning air.

"I'm fine, I'm fine, Mulder," she managed, not daring to tell him to loosen his hold.

He pulled away from her embrace for a moment, and frantically started looking her over. Touching her here, there, reassuring himself that it was really, truly her. His Dana. His love.

"What did I just say, lover?" she teased, breaking out into a million little smiles at the love his worry proved.

He reflected her smiles with his own through the uncontrollable joy and relief that seized him. He pulled her in his arms again and kissed her fiercely, making her breathless and giddy and they almost forgot themselves; who might be watching; and where she'd just been.

"Mul--"

Kiss. Kiss.

"Shut up, Scully."

Kiss.

"Mu -- Mmmmmmm."

Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.

Hopeless to stop. It really was.

He was pulling on her pants. Wait. No, both his hands were in her hair. Yet, tug, tug on her pants. She turned her head slowly to look down, Mulder's kisses simply migrating to her cheek, her ear. And there was Kiko, pulling on her pant leg.

"Oh!" she cried, causing Mulder to open his eyes and see the little kid looking up at him.

They straightened a little. Mulder ran a hand through his thoroughly mussed hair, and Scully bent down to talk to what Mulder was beginning to think of as her sidekick.

"What is it, Kiko?" Dana asked her charge.

"Did you see her? On the beach?" he asked, excited.

Dana grinned, first at the boy, then at the man standing next to her, a picture of nerves.

"I saw her."

The sounds of assorted agents rushing towards them kept them from saying more.


Wednesday -- 10 A.M.
Mendocino County Hospital

Doctors buzzed around her. Mulder hovered nearby with an anxious expression, hardly able to stand waiting for them to be alone; his stare alternated between the bracelets linked on her wrist and her eyes, eyes that told him there was more to tell. Moira recovered Kiko and took him back to the school once the doctors had declared him no worse for wear.

"Okay, I think that's it, Agent Scully. Other than that soreness in your arm I don't see anything unusual. Maybe we should take an X ray just to be sure," the well-meaning doctor suggested.

"I appreciate the effort, doctor," Scully answered smoothly, "but that won't be necessary. Nothing broken here."

The man smiled. "We make the worst patients, don't we?"

"We do," she agreed.

"Well, I'm glad to say you seem fine."

"Thank you, doctor."

The two shook hands and he was gone, and Mulder rushed to her side, his face busrting with questions.

"Not here," she said. "Let's go back to the hotel, Mulder."

He hustled her out as fast as he could.


After an hour of waiting for Scully as she putzed around the bathroom, Mulder was pacing. He had built a fire, packed his suitcase and now walked back and forth between the sofa and the bathroom door.

"Are you... done yet?" he asked impatiently.

"Workin' on it," was all she said.

There was silence for a long time, then the water running in the sink for a long time, and then, without warning, the door burst open and Scully stood in front of him, her hand open and extended with two odd little things resting in her palm.

"Is that... blood?" he asked, wondering what the hell she'd been doing in the bathroom.

"It's *hers*."

His eyes widened, and his gaze turned to the weird-looking pellet. "And... that?"

"It's for you," she said with a smile. It looked like a slimy little egg.

"Gee, thanks."

"It's a letter from her to you," she clarified.

He actually wobbled. Her hand closed around the objects and she reached out with the other hand to steady him down into the sofa near him.

"I'll get my medical kit, and we'll find something for you to open it, okay?" she asked, her hand on his shoulder. He nodded dumbly, and she was back in a moment with her bag, extracting a scalpel, tweezers, a magnifying glass out onto the coffee table.

She waited for him to pick up the instruments, but he was still.

She looked up at him.

"You do it, Scully." He didn't trust his hands right now.

She nodded and took up the knife and tweezers, carefully slicing a small incision into the latex covering. The taut plastic shed away, revealing a cotton-like surface. She pulled the cotton out and poked inside it with the tweezers until she pulled it away to show a tightly balled up wad of paper. Mulder's quiet breathing mingled in the air with the crinkle of the paper as she tried to un-wad the note without ripping it. Enticing snippets of text looked back at them, the words so small that the magnifying glass would definitely be required. After much teasing, a 5 by 7 inch piece of paper lay fairly flat on the table with words in what must have been 4 point type.

Scully handed him the magnifying glass, and his breath came out in a whoosh. He leaned over the table carefully, and, without her even asking, began to read out loud.

Fox,
I've written this letter a million times over the last 22 years, hoping at several points that I might actually get it to you somehow. But each time I tried, they've made me regret it. Not by hurting me -- that would be simple, and easy enough to bear. No, they would hurt others, you, Mom. They knew it would stop me.

When they took her from you, it was to punish me for trying to reach you. But at the same time they punished me they unwittingly gave me the key to contacting you.

When they took her from you, they showed her to me, told me who she was, and what it was doing to you. I swore never to break the rule again. Then they gave her back so you could watch her die.

But she recovered, and I've been trying to reach her ever since - in her dreams, in her subconscious self.

I've been seeing your dreams, your thoughts through her, through her dreams, her unconscious. Her struggle with her empathy is a result of my attempts to communicate with her through her unconscious. The dormant, branched DNA that they detected in her system is the same strain they have left active in me. It enhances the senses, increases physical strength and psychic ability. But her ability remained dormant until I tried to reach her.

What you need to know is that my abduction was inevitable. There was nothing either of us could have done to avoid it. It had been planned the minute you were born. Children as leverage.

I was raised by them after they took me. I remembered our family, but as time went by I couldn't remember what was real and what was a dream. A rich, privleged family raised me and I flourished under a different name, a different identity, but I had powerful "uncles" that one day revealed to me that they weren't uncles at all, that they had engineered my life, my existence from the day I'd been taken to the day I graduated medical school to now. They own me. They've coerced me to work for them by threatening your life, just as they control you by withholding information about me.

I've made friends. People brave enough to try to escape. But I fear the consequences of any outright attempt to reach you. I despaired of ever letting you know that I was alive, all right, nearby even. But through her, you and I have found our connection. I can see you through her whenever she focuses on her inner self, meditates, attempts to project her thoughts. In the same manner that she feels what others may feel, I can sense her thoughts. I see how she cares about you, how she loves you, everything she has done for you. I know I can trust her with my thoughts.

I know proof is necessary. If everything went as planned, she'll have my blood for a DNA test, which, though it will contain anomylous structures, will show enough of a match to prove that I am who I am.

The bracelets -- you remember, I know; you always remembered everything -- they are further proof. I don't know how I managed to keep it all this time. I had snuck back when I was 18 into Mom's house, snuck back when I was brave and stupid, and stole some things out of my old room. The bracelet was one of them.

Much later, once Dana had been taken, I started going through her mind for information about you. One of the strangest things happened. One of her memories matched my own. It was a fluke, one of those things they could have never known. Another mistake, and it gave me the chance I had been hoping for.

I am human, despite the DNA cocktail I've been given. I am healthy and intelligent and strong, if not happy and free. I am even living a fairly normal life from day to day, though it is interrupted by odd jaunts to strange parts of the world whenever they feel you've gotten too close. But I roam this earth with you. I always have. I have never forgotten you. I have always known who you are, what you do, where you are. I've always loved you.

Given that, it's time to go. I know you're aching for details. I know you want my false name, the city I live in. But I fear them, Fox. I don't know what they'll do to you, to her, to me. And we've all seen what they are capable of. But you'll know from now on, Fox, if I'm all right. She'll know. She can feel it. And that is the only gift I can give you after so long an absence -- the gift of knowing.

I love you.

Samantha.

Scully had heard this from Samantha herself, but she began to realize its fuller implications as Mulder read. She was a human conduit for Samantha's emotions now -- for many people's emotions. She had become some sort of psychic telephone for Mulder and his sister, and she was both grateful for and disturbed by the idea of her body and mind connecting the two of them.

If it was true, it would bind her to him forever, because she would never deny him, no matter what else might happen in their lives -- because she remembered how much she ached for her own sister.

Mulder, face expressionless, movements mechanical, stood from the sofa, the note clutched in his hand. With only a moment's hesitation, he moved to the fireplace and dipped the note into its flames.

The fire crept along the edges, through the center of the paper, closing in until the note was consumed. Scully watched quietly.

She knew it was necessary -- Samantha could be in danger if anyone discovered evidence of contact -- yet she mourned the note's death, the fact that it had to be burned at all.

Unsure of his reactions, she instinctively reached for him mentally, letting gentle tendrils of thought ask for entrance.

He let her in.

She saw chaos, a churning of emotion beneath the stoic face. He wanted to know the whys and hows, but relief washed over him to know she was alive and relatively normal. As his thoughts turned to the DNA in her blood, in Scully's blood, he became angry, and yet it was what made this amazing connection between them possible. For a moment, he resented the need for mediation, that he couldn't speak with her directly, in the open air, without fear. He marveled at the energy, time, money, and lives expended to keep them apart. He wanted to know why Scully had this power that he did not. And then he felt angry at his sister, angry that she had made him dependent on Scully, made Scully tied to him forever without considering the consequences.

"Mulder," came Scully's voice, clear and soft. He turned his ear to her. "I was bound to you forever before this happened."

He turned a bit more, and his eyes shone dark.

"And you were bound to me. Because of who we are. Because of what we've been through. And if this doesn't work, if this had never happened -- I would, I *will* always be with you," she concluded, and her eyes penetrated him when he looked at her.

She held his gaze, and it pulled them to each other, as it always had.

Like honey they flowed into each other, slow, rich and warm.


Epilogue

Friday -- 5 P.M.

X-Files Office

The debriefing with Skinner had gone well -- or as well as they ever went. They were victorious in preventing a second abduction attempt, if you believed in that sort of thing. Kiko was safe and sound and seemed magically cured of his post-traumatic stress issues. Agent Moira Banks had sent along nothing but glowing reviews and earnest thanks. Skinner dimissed them with a terse "good job" and the agents escaped back to their dungeon.

Scully packed up her briefcase quietly as Mulder stood at his desk, watching her.

He began softly. "For all the emphasis I put on truth, it's hard for me to find a reason to tell anybody about..." He left it for her to finish.

"Me either," she answered. She clicked the case shut and walked towards him, stopping only within inches from him. Her gaze traveled from his chest, to his neck and jaw, slowly up to meet his gaze. His skin flushed.

"It's private," she said in a whisper, and he couldn't stop looking at her. He nodded, understanding completely. There was no need for anyone to know that their relationship had progressed.

Some already suspected, expected it. Some would only be hurt by the knowledge.

"Let's go home, Mulder," she said serenely, and he followed her.


Saturday -- 7 P.M.
Scully's Apartment

Dana Scully took another swig of wine, letting the warm, red liquid linger on her tongue on its travels down her throat. Fox Mulder poured her another glassful.

"You trying to get me drunk?" Dana accused coyly, her eyes flirting with him accross the coffee table.

"You think?" he teased.

She just grinned anyway, forgetting her natural annoyance with him.

He sobered a little, putting down his own glass. "Not that I don't love the pink flush it gives your skin," he said, "but I think it might help... with this."

She nodded. "Probably. Wanna start?" she asked.

He nodded, and they moved away from the table to a hearth rug in front of Scully's fireplace. They sat together on the floor, facing each other, and Scully took matches from the hearth and lit the one large candle on the floor between them.

She reached out to him just as he made a movement towards her, and their hands clasped around the candle.

"What do we do?" Mulder asked.

"Concentrate, I suppose. Think about her."

"And then?"

Scully shrugged a little.

"Wait and see," she said, and he smiled, remembering. "Wait and see."

The End.


Comments to Raquel at RLMontoya@aol.com

Okay, here's my sad confession:
started in February 1996
finished in January 1999

Three years! How sad is that! Thank you to everyone who encouraged me along the way and wrote me and pleaded for me to finish!

This intro is from when I started:

I've been lurking... but now I'm not.

This is my first attempt at an X-Files story, but not my first attempt at creative writing, or even fan fiction. I used to write stories about the A-Team and Airwolf in fifth grade...

This started out as a character study, a relationship study. It became a monster, full of angst (mostly Scully, although Mulder gets his share), UST, a dash of conspiracy, and even an X-File.

It morphs into a hopefully realistic Mulder-Scully romance as well. Essentially, I tried to do *everything* in one story, and I have no idea how it turned out, so *please* write and tell me what you think. I'd mostly like to know if I've got good plot and characterization -- that's what I worried about the most.

Extra note: I've been writing this for so long now I feel like an entirely different person than when I started! But I will finish it now, because so many of you have written to me and encouraged me! Please let me know what you think -- as so many of us do, I live for feedback!

Historical note: The prologue scene takes place at Playland at the Beach in San Francisco, CA (which was actually demolished in the late '50s or early '60s, but I'm extending that a little for creative

purposes).

Thanks to: the wonderful authors on a.t.x.c. for inspiration; to MaryKate's eXtreme Possibilities and Dean's XAngst Anonymous for comments and patience as I inconsistently submitted pieces of this thing; and especially to Melissa Rabey and Sonia, who edited and helped make sure I didn't forget what I was trying to say.


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