Title: Accountability
Author: Pam Gamble
Timeframe: End of the 5th season
Category: MSR, XA
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were
Archive: Fine, just let me know

Summary: Mulder and Scully are assigned to a kidnapping case.


"For our work to be conclusive, we must proceed according to schedule." The voice emanated from the dark corners of the smoky room.

One man stared out the window, his back to the others. "It's too early," he intoned.

"No," said another voice. "We must move now. The timing is crucial."

"Very well," said the man, pivoting, stubbing out his cigarette. "Take her."


 

Hoover Building
8:47 a.m.

"Hello, stranger. Long time no see," Scully smiled as she quietly shut the office door.

Mulder glanced up from the file he'd been reading. "Two hours and twenty-one minutes," he stated, his eyes glinting happily from behind his reading glasses.

Scully sat down across the desk from him, leaning back to rest her arms in her lap. "New case?"

He nodded. "It was on my desk when I came in. Missing Persons is officially assigned to this, I don't know why we..."

"Missing Persons?" She reached for the manila folder and flipped it open. Mulder stood and shrugged his coat on over his shoulders. "7-year-old girl taken from her home in Cumberland, Maryland."

He stood before her, running a finger over the crinkle in her forehead, silently asking her what was wrong.

Scully tilted her face up to his. "Why us?" He reached for her hand and she followed his up, standing at his side. "Let's find out."


Mulder's arm snaked across the armrest to grasp Scully's hand. It may not have been very professional, but these days they took what they could get.

He squeezed her hand, tacitly asking again what was bothering her about this case already. She'd been fine the night before. A tiny smile crept across his face as he remembered just *how* fine.<Focus,Mulder>

Scully sighed, gently rubbing her fingers along the inside of his palm. Her other hand fingered the tab on the folder. The little girl's class picture slid out, and Scully traced the proud smile, the beautiful green eyes. She slid it back inside, smoothing her thumb over Mulder's handwritten label. "Harrison, Lauren J," she said aloud, and shrugged. She tightened her hand around his, reassurring him. Momentarily pacified, he concentrated on the road before him.

The truth was that she did have a sense of foreboding about this case. She stared out the window at the bare trees and dormant fields that dominated the landscape here, outside the reach of suburban sprawl. She suppressed a shiver, and closed her eyes, trying to imagine what it must be like to lose a child. Of course, she knew. But she had only known Emily for a few days. She knew the connection and the pain and the grief she'd felt at her death was nothing compared to what Amanda Harrison was suffering. All the memories, the loss of a small hand in yours, the empty bedroom...

Emotion flowed over Scully, catching her off guard. She'd never had the chance to know her own child. To buy her clothes or find out what foods she hated, to brush her hair. That opportunity had been taken from her, just as Emily had been. And she vowed to do everything in her power to see that this woman didn't go through any more pain.

"A child needs her mother," Scully said quietly, unable to stop a tear from running down her cheek. She wiped it away before turning to look at Mulder, who pretended not to notice.

He nodded. He didn't have to ask if she was thinking about Emily. He'd been reluctant to even take this case. But since they'd never been officially assigned, he couldn't exactly turn it down.

Mulder couldn't begin to imagine the feelings she associated with that little girl. But he had seen Emily, and he had loved her, too. Because she was a part of Scully. And he'd fought for her, even if in the end it wasn't enough...

"We did everything we could," he said aloud, surprising even himself.

Scully nodded.

"Are you going to be okay with this? I can do it alone..."

She shook her head. "No, Mulder." She cleared her throat. "I'm fine."She pulled his hand to her mouth and rested her lips on the back of his hand. "But thank you for asking."

She let their hands fall to the seat again, twining her fingers with his. Silently, Mulder celebrated having done something right.

As they neared the house, Scully transformed herself into professional mode. Pushing aside all emotion, she ran down the facts one more time for the both of them.

"Lauren Harrison, age 7. Last seen Sunday afternoon on the sidewalk in front of her parents home wearing a blue corduroy jumper and white turtleneck, white tennis shoes. Height 31 inches, weight 42 pounds, brown hair, green eyes. No suspicious activity reported in the neighborhood recently."

Mulder nodded, turning onto Blair Street. Several police cars and two unmarked cars already filled the driveway. A TV newscrew sat at the curb, engrossed in a game of poker. Their heads swung around in unison as the sedan doors slammed shut, then turned back to their game. "We must not look newsworthy," Mulder rumbled into Scully's ear.

Nosy neighbors appeared occasionally at the windows of the small, neat homes up and down the quiet street.

Mulder rang the bell, and they flashed their badges at the distraught man who answered the door.

"I'm Agent Mulder, this is Agent Scully. We're with the FBI. Could we come in?"

The man nodded as he opened the door. "I thought you guys were already here. Did you find her?"

Scully cringed at the desperate edge of hope in his voice.

"No, sir, I'm sorry. You're Mr. Harrison?"

The man nodded, struggling to hold onto his composure. "David Harrison."

Scully shook his hand. "I know this is hard for you." She looked around to see Mulder conferring with the two Bureau agents already present. "I promise you we're doing everything we can to find Lauren."

Voices rose from the dining room table, which had been set up as a temporary command post. She didn't even have to turn around to know it was Mulder arguing over who had jurisdiction. Officially, they didn't have a leg to stand on--this wasn't an X-File--but she knew he could talk a good game. She looked up at Mr. Harrison.

"Were you home when Lauren disappeared?" He shook his head. "No, I was at my son's ballgame. My wife was here, but the police have already talked to her. She didn't see anything."

"Would it be alright if I spoke with her?" Scully thought one of them should be doing something productive, since Mulder was still involved in a pissing contest with the agents from Missing Persons.

"I guess it's okay for a few minutes. She's refused tranquilizers from our doctor, but they told us if she gets hysterical again we should sedate her." He led Scully down the hallway and into the kitchen. The woman's back was to the door, and she didn't turn, even at her husband's voice. Scully could sense her hopelessness before a word was spoken.

"Amanda, honey? This lady is from the FBI. She wants to help us, can you talk to her for a few minutes?"

Long brown curls danced up and down on her shoulders as she nodded.

Scully circled the table to face Amanda Harrison. She looked as though she would shatter with a touch. Her eyes, infinitely sad, were red and swollen. She looked straight through Scully, her hands clenched around a white ceramic coffee mug.

Scully felt an odd twinge of recognition, as though she'd seen this woman before, but rationalized that Amanda resembled the photograph of her daughter.

Scully took the chair across from her, facing the door. She sat down softly, afraid to cause yet another ripple in the atmosphere surrounding this fragile woman.

"Mrs. Harrison, my name is Dana Scully. I'd like to help you find your daughter. Can you tell me what happened?"

The woman looked up as though waking from a dream. "She's gone. Someone took her away."

Scully's heart twisted. There was nothing worse than seeing a strong person rendered powerless. "And we're going to find her," she placed a hand on Amanda's arm.

Tears began to fall, following a well-worn path, as she spoke in a trembling voice. "She wanted to walk to her friend's house, they're just 3 houses down. She wanted to be grown-up, and go by herself, so I said it was okay," she sniffed. I watched until she was at the sidewalk, and waved to her. Then I came back inside to make lunch." She hiccupped, her breath coming now in short gulps. "And the neighbors called half-an-hour later to ask where she was, and I didn't know...I didn't know." Amanda lay her head down on the table. "I want my baby back," she begged in a muffled sob.

Scully tightened her grip on the woman's arm as the kitchen door opened. Once again, Amanda didn't even turn to see who it was. Mulder silently asked for Scully's permission, then walked around the table to stand beside her. Scully gently squeezed her arm, and Amanda raised her head.

"Mrs. Harrison, this is my partner..."

The look on the woman's face stopped Scully cold. Her eyes had widened in what seemed to be...fear? She began to shake again. "What are you doing here?" she asked in a hoarse whisper.

Scully looked up at the mask of hurt and confusion that had settled on her partner's face. His mouth fell open as words forced their way out. "I, I didn't know...I didn't know it was you..."

"Fox, I told you I needed time. Please, don't do this to me now." Amanda stood and ran out of the room, her sobs trailing after her.

Scully shot Mulder a questioning look, but he stood motionless in the center of the room. <Fox. How many old girlfriends don't I know about?>

Mr. Harrison entered the door his wife had just passed through. He quickly descended on Scully. "What did you say to her?"

Scully looked to Mulder for support, but he seemed frozen. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean to cause your family any more trouble. We'll be going." She propelled Mulder by the arm, and he managed to make it out the door on auto-pilot.

She waited until they were at their car, before turning to him. "What the hell was that all about?" she snapped.

Her partner was gasping for air, staring back at the house in wide-eyed disbelief. "I didn't, didn't know," he stammered.Finally, he blinked hard, focused on Scully.

She was waiting impatiently, cocking an eyebrow.

"Scully," he told her with a look of infinite sadness, a look she recognized the instant before he said the words.

"That's my sister."  


Chapter 2

The grey Taurus flew down suburban streets, past a thousand identical houses, each flanked by a standard issue green minivan. Scully thought they must be traveling in circles, except that the cutesy street names kept changing, and she could actually feel them getting farther away from that house.

After about five miles, she pulled over into a quiet church parking lot, abandoned on a late Friday afternoon. People needed time to commit the transgressions they would ask forgiveness for once the weekend was over.

She really just wanted to get him home, but first she had to know how he was dealing with all of this.

His gaze was focused somewhere outside the window, or maybe on his reflection within it. Her own eyes fell closed as she pictured the woman she'd spoken with. She still couldn't force her mind around the concept of that woman being Samantha. The Holy Grail. The truth of all truths. Drinking coffee in her kitchen. Crying over her daughter.

Mulder's neice, she realized. Mulder had a family, one he didn't even know. A family that had been simultaneously given and taken away. Her heart ached for him, knowing how long he'd lived with that very possibility.

Her sympathy for Amanda--Samantha--abated somewhat in the face of her resentment, on Mulder's behalf, of being shut out of her life.

Slowly, carefully, Scully touched his hand, ice cold fingers instinctively clenching her own.

"Mulder, you're in shock. It's an understandable.." Bright, unfocused eyes turned to meet hers. He shook his head, mimicking his own movements outside the house. "I didn't know," he insisted.

She nodded, raising her voice to be heard over the thousand voice Vienna Boys' Choir of Guilt that resounded in his head. Everything is Mulder's fault, alleluia.

"I know you didn't,Mulder."  She reached to feel his forehead, brushing the hair away. "I need to get you home. Just hang on for me, okay?"

Scully made record time flying through the nauseatingly pleasant housing developments, circled the Beltway and joined the stream of cars crossing the Key Bridge. The sedan climbed the hills behind M Street, shuddering to a relieved halt in front of her building.

A frigid wind whipped her hair as she stood on the sidewalk, waiting for her partner to get out of the car. He stumbled past her through the front door and into her apartment, disappearing wordlessly into the bedroom.

When you first fall in love with someone, the hardest thing you must come to realize is that you can never be everything, fill every need, for another human being. That no matter how much of a soul you share, there are some corners in which there is only room for one. As much as it hurt her to watch him retreating, she knew he was at the very threshhold of his pain right now.

She had once accidentally put her hand on dry ice. It seemed to burn her at the slightest touch, until her brain had time to register it as cold.

Her first instinct was to go to him, but she was wiser now than she had been in the past. He needed her so badly, and her first attempt at comfort would warm him momentarily, but then it would damage his raw, exposed emotions. Then he would push her away, unwilling to expose her to the full array of his sorrow.

Wiser now, she would wait.

After almost an hour, she heard a tiny noise from the bedroom. She moved to stand in the doorway, shrugging off the coat she had never thought to remove.

He lay across the bed, his back to her. A low moan reached her ears, drawing her to him as surely as if he'd called her name.

Pulling the comforter over him, she folded her legs and settled herself on the bed behind him. Without looking up at her, he shifted his body so that his head was in her lap, and she felt the tears riding waves of shivers as they left his body.

Her fingers buried themselves in his hair, drawing the thick strands away from his face. She leaned down to kiss the paths her fingers had traced.

His hand came up to rest on her knee, gently circling her kneecap.

She looked down at him, at Mulder: Version 2.0, to which she owned the exclusive rights. No one else would ever be allowed to see him like this. She felt alternately blessed and cursed by that distinction.

As his soundless tears were seeping through her pantyhose, she made a mental note to find out first thing in the morning who was responsible for assigning them to this case.

It was obviously someone who'd wanted to hurt him, make him bleed to death and kick the body. Looking down at his beautiful crumpled form in her lap, she vowed that, before this was over, whoever they were, they would pay.


Chapter 3

3:37 am

Scully knew her Mulder-gauge was reading empty the second before she woke up. Startled, she rose and pushed the comforter off her still-dressed body.

No particular sound was coming from the living room,or maybe she could hear his breathing. Maybe it was just a sense of his presence. But he was there.

Silhouetted in the moonlight, he stood, clad only in striped boxers, staring into the night.

She crossed the room to stand behind him, noticing the tension in his shoulders and feeling it in the air around him. She reached her hands up and over, and down his folded arms, as though she could purify his skin with her touch, drawing away the sadness like moisture. Watch it evaporate into thin air.

If only it were that easy.

Her hands found each other and connected, linking around his waist. Her lips placed gentle kisses on his back. She felt his large hands come to cover hers.

Leaning her face against him, she could track the shiver that traveled along his spine.

"You're cold. Come to bed."

The muscles beneath her cheek quaked slightly as he shook his head. "I'm not cold." He ran his fingers over hers as if each one were a note, and he was playing a song he knew by heart.

"I just love you so much, sometimes it surprises me," he whispered.

She smiled, squeezing more tightly around his bare waist. Their feelings for each other were rarely a topic for discussion. Much like everything else they'd done together, words seemed painfully inadequate. Even his moving in was a simple matter of her making extra room in the closet and bureau. Watching her that morning, he'd left, returning with his clothes and fishtank, and it was done. Looks and gestures had served as their romantic currency, and they were both the richer for it.

Still, it was nice to hear.

He turned in her arms, scooping her into him, surrounding her with the only security she knew.

One deep breath, then she pulled away, pulling his hands with hers towards the bedroom. "Come back to bed."  He nodded, and lay down, watching her undress and pull on a baby-blue t-shirt. She joined him, turning on her side as he pulled her back against his hard stomach. She felt his grip tighten around her, and she placed her smaller hands atop his, drifting to sleep with the staccato sounds of his heartbeat dictating her own.


Chapter 4

7:01 am

Since Mulder had lived and breathed while invading her personal space, it had come as no surprise that he slept there as well. Rare was the morning that she awoke alone on her own pillow, instead finding his face only inches from hers. While it had scared the hell out of her the first time, she'd grown to savor it.

She could feel deep, even breaths warming the back of her neck, and decided to stay where she was, not risk waking him. She couldn't bring herself to steal his temporary serenity, and hoped his mind would allow him the same reprieve, not torture him with unanswerable questions.

Mentally, she composed a to-do list for the day. 1. Track down the source of that case folder. It didn't jump on Mulder's desk by itself. 2. Talk to the agents officially assigned and try to weasel information from them; she was pretty sure Mr. Harrison would have issued shoot-to-kill orders should they come back around the house. 3. Restrain Mulder from looking for Lauren Harrison on his own. They had absolutely no idea what they were dealing with yet. Maybe she could lock him in a room and convince him to profile the kidnapper. 4....

"Are you awake?" The words rumbled into her ear, like the echo of an avalanche.

"Mmm.."

"I hoped maybe it was all a nightmare." She turned to face him, his haunted gaze pleading for a lie from eyes that had only ever told him the truth. "But it's real, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"Scully, of all the ways I imagined finding her...I thought, if she was dead, that would hurt the most." He closed his eyes. "Even with my talent for self-inflicted torture, I never could've come up with this one."

She reached up to touch his hair, and he turned his head into her palm like a kitten. She indulged herself for a moment, then kissed him softly, watching his eyes blink open.

"She just needs time, Mulder. You've always had the hope that she was out there somewhere. She had that hope taken away from her. You can't blame her for that."

He shook his head, morning stubble rubbing like sandpaper on cotton. "I don't blame her. I blame him." She felt his body tense in a familiar posture. "He took her away." One tear, defiant in its sudden freedom, made its way down to stain her pillowcase. "He took you away too." He ran his hands up her sides and through her hair. "It would have killed me if you'd come back and not known me. Not wanted me. Because I didn't look hard enough for you. Didn't try hard enough to get you back."

She shook his shoulders gently, tilting his chin down so he was looking her in the eyes. "Hey, I'm here. We're not talking about me, Mulder. I came back, remember?"

Mulder smiled, warmth like a sunrise melting away his tears. He reached for her, holding her securely to his chest. "Yeah, I know which one you are Scully. You're my one in five billion."

She lay quietly, drinking in his strength, cautiously feeding it back to him. They would need every bit the two of them had to get through this together.


Ch. 5

10:27 am

"Sit."

Mulder suppressed the urge to bark.

He sat.

Skinned loomed over his desk, daring either of them to question being called in on a Saturday morning.

"I'm going to assume you both know why you're here. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as enlightened as you seem to be at 9:00 this morning when I got a call at my home."

Expecting a little squirming, Skinner was disappointed to note only calm resgination in their postures.

"From the Director."

He waited a beat.

Nothing, save two pairs of raised eyebrows, more from curiosity than any fear of reprimand.

"He ordered me to order *you* off the Harrison kidnapping case. Which I would do, except that I never *assigned* you to the Harrison kidnapping case."

Scully spoke. "Sir, if I may?"

"No, you may not." Skinner lowered his body and his voice simultaneously. "I know that we have at times had a tenuous working relationship, and I know that you have occasionally had reason to question my integrity."

Scully flushed, and found she couldn't meet his gaze.

"However, when you are on official business, I expect to be informed of your actions." He sat back in his chair, wondering what it would take to intimidate these two. "You seem to have forgotten how this chain-of-command concept works. Technically, I'm supposed to *dictate* your actions."

Mulder looked over at his partner, a momentary glance all they needed to concur that they'd both received the same message.

In some bizarre way, they'd hurt his feelings. Left him out of the loop.

Mulder barely nodded at Scully, and she leaned forward to speak.

Skinner found himself once again amazed at the nuanced conversations they seemed to hold with their eyes.

"Sir, the truth is, before you called us in this morning we'd planned on getting in touch with you."

Mulder interrupted. "We don't know where that folder came from. It was on my desk yesterday morning."

Scully took over. "We assumed until now that it was an assignment from you." She paused. "Well, actually, we realized yesterday afternoon that it wasn't."

Mulder began to speak and Skinner felt like he was watching a slow game of Pong. To keep from giving himself whiplash, he looked down at the file on his desk.

"When you called us in, we further assumed that you didn't know how it ended up in our office either."

Skinner turned the few pages that comprised the entire case. "Why would someone want you two on this kidnapping? There don't seem to be any unexplainable phenomena." He looked up at Mulder. "Did they want a profile?"

Mulder shook his head. "No." His mouth went dry, useless. Scully touched his arm, so quickly Skinner wondered if he really saw it. Whatever she did, Mulder gratefully passed the baton to her.

"Sir, you know that while I was ill Agent Mulder made contact with a woman who claimed to be Samantha."

Skinner nodded. It had been sort of a peace offering between the three of them, after everything that had happened. They'd sat in her hospital room and Mulder had told them both, knowing how crazy it sounded, knowing it was probably the sanest thing any of them had to hold on to at that moment. People were dying all around them, but maybe, just maybe, he'd found his sister.

"You also know that she asked that Agent Mulder make no further effort to contact her. We knew she lived somewhere in the area, and with our resources we probably could have obtained her current identity and whereabouts, but Agent Mulder chose to respect her wishes."

Skinner thought he might throttle her if she didn't get to the point.

"What does any of this have to do with...?" He lifted up the folder, dropping it unceremoniously back onto his desk. The copy of the little girl's picture came loose from the paperclip, and it surfed out over the edge of the desk. Mulder dove to catch it, but instead of returning it slid it into his jacket pocket.

"Sir, the little girl's mother, Amanda", Scully took a deep breath.

"What?" Skinner asked, exasperated.

"She's my... Samantha," Mulder said, without raising his head.

Skinner remained poker-faced, but this whole conversation had exhausted him.

He looked to Agent Scully for confirmation, her weary glance telling him it was as true as anything else they'd been told.

Skinner exhaled, mentally counting the years he had until blessed retirement. Then he reminded himself of several occasions upon which, if not for the two people before him, he wouldn't even have made it this far.

His words crossed the desk, falling heavily before them.

"The Harrison family has requested you not work this case. The Bureau has had enough public relations problems," he tapped his fingers together, sighing. "Our public image is in the toilet. I can't...go against their wishes. I'm sorry, but it's out of my hands."

Scully rose, and nodded. "Yes, sir, thank you, sir."

After a short pause, Mulder stood and parroted her words. "Thank you, sir."

As they left the office, Skinner had to wonder if she could do that while drinking a glass of water. It was the only thought all day that had given him reason to smile.


 

Ch. 6 11:51 am

Scully sat at her desk, on hold for the third time that morning. She'd been trying to contact the agents on the Harrison case, but they'd been putting her off with vague answers and questionable leads.

After meeting with Skinner, she and Mulder had discussed how they would proceed. Mulder agreed that they would keep their distance, keeping tabs by phone. Mulder, meanwhile had locked himself in an empty conference room to work on a profile, which was fine by her. She would have never admitted it to him, but sometimes he really scared her when he did those things.

It always seemed to be a quid pro quo. He could get into their minds, but it also seemed to give them open access to his. It was at these moments, when his entire being was focused on the intentions of evil, that he'd had his greatest moments of weakness. Roche. Modell. Barry. Names that haunted her. Lived in his nightmares too, she knew.

The analytic part of her mind had once believed his obsession with aliens to be some sort of stress reaction to working in the torture chamber of the VCS. An enemy he didn't have to profile, couldn't begin to explain.

Then she came to know his mind.

<Leprechauns> She smiled at the thought.

And finally, she came to know his heart.

Knew its infinite capacity for kindness, its every ridge and scar from being broken time and again. Knew its desires, its steady determination, and its groundshaking fears.

She was afraid, too. Afraid that he would go so deep into the abyss of evil that he would be unable to pull himself out. That not only would he not answer her, but he wouldn't even hear her calling his name.

Slamming the phone down, Scully grabbed her keys and started for the door when the phone clanged to life.

She hesitated, then snatched up the receiver. "Scully."

There was a deep breath on the other end, then nothing.

"Hello?"

"Agent Scully?"

"Yes?" She strained to hear the woman's shaky voice, knowing who it had to be.

"This is Amanda Harrison. I was, just, ummm..." Scully listened to her quick, shallow breathing.

"I, just, umm, wanted to apologize for yesterday."

"You don't need to do that, Sa--Mrs. Harrison."

Another deep intake of breath. "I'd really like to talk to you, if that's okay."

Scully felt a twinge of relief. "Of course, we'll be there in about.."

"No," she answered too quickly. "I...just you. Please?"

Scully hoped the receiver wouldn't pick up the sound of her heart shattering. She nodded, then reminded herself the phone was not a visual medium.

"Sure." She replaced the receiver, almost to the door before she realized she hadn't left him a note.

Her hand hesitated over the Yellow Post-it before she decided he couldn't divine the truth from her handwriting.

"Be back this afternoon.--Me"


Ch. 7

1:14 pm

"You work with Fox?"

Scully had been led once again to the kitchen by a very suspicious David Harrison, who'd lurked by the door until his wife asked him to leave. Amanda seemed the tiniest bit stronger today, somehow. Maybe her situation hadn't changed, but she had at least decided to take control of it.

Scully nodded, stopping herself from the nominal connection she'd so long made from habit.

<Not Fox, Mulder>

"I saw him once before. Did he tell you that?"

Scully nodded again.

"It was right before my father died."

Scully's eyes widened, but she said nothing.

"And now this." She shook her head. "I feel so useless. There's nothing I can do. I don't even understand who half those people are." She nodded toward the living room, a low steady hum of noise seeping beneath the kitchen door.

"I know it can be very overwhelming, but they're all working to find your daughter."

Scully felt the same sense of irrational anger she'd felt before at this woman. Why had she summoned her here? Why alone?

"I want her back."

"I know you do," Scully reassured her with all the gentleness she could muster. But inside her mind was screaming. <What if she came back and didn't want to see you? What if she pushed you away? How would you feel?>

"Do you have children, Agent Scully?"

Scully started, looking away quickly to mask any reaction her face might have already revealed. "No. No, I don't." An easy answer, maybe, but not altogether true.

"Do you think she's dead?" <Emily? I know she is> "No, I don't. I think there's an excellent chance we'll find her."

"One of the agents out there told me about Fox, Agent Mulder." Her chin rose slightly, as she waited to be challenged, but Scully waited patiently.

"He said he worked with Fox before. That if anyone could solve cases like this it was him. That he might be a little..."

"Spooky?" Scully supplied.

Amanda nodded, surprised. "Yeah, that's exactly what he said. Spooky. But that he--and you--had an excellent record with cases like this."

Tears welled up in Amanda's eyes again, and Scully handed her a tissue. "I know Fox is, upset with me. Disappointed. And I know I don't have the right to ask, but do you think he'd consider..."

Scully felt an urge to reach out to her, taking her hand. "I know he'll do anything he can do to get Lauren back to you. Believe me. He's very determined when it comes to the people he loves." Scully considered her next words. "And he's always loved you."

To her surprise, Amanda didn't draw away, but nodded. "I know that," she whispered. "I just can't deal with this right now, not, not now."

Scully rose, opening the door a crack to get another look at the agents in the other room. She wanted to thank whoever had stood up for Mulder, add him to the Christmas card list. At the moment it was a short list.

"Mrs. Harrison?"

"Amanda, please."

"Amanda. Do you mind if I ask who you spoke to about Mulder?"

Amanda shook her head. "I didn't catch his name, but I don't think he's here anymore." She crinkled her forehead in thought, and the gesture reminded Scully of her partner. "He was a big man, bald. Wire-rimmed glasses. Does that help?"

Scully pressed her lips together in a tight smile, and nodded, showing herself to the front door.


Ch. 8

2:44 pm

The electronic bleating of the cellphone was almost muffled by the vinyl seat, but she caught it on the fourth ring.

"Scully."

"Hey, where are you?"

"Ten minutes from the office. Something wrong?"

"I just talked to Agent Kramer. He's heading up the search. He said there had been a formal request made for me to work on the case."

"Yeah, I know. I was just up there, actually."

"I thought so. Scully, I wish you wouldn't have done that."

"It wasn't me, Mulder, she asked for you."

Nothing.

"Mulder?"

"She did?"

"Mmmhmmm."

Scully could read nothing into his silence.

"They think they might have a lead. Somewhere in Southeast DC. I'm on my way to meet them."

His sudden professionalism was covering something he wasn't ready to deal with yet.

"Okay. Well, I'll see you tonight."

"Yeah." Click.

She shook her head and dropped the phone back onto the seat, doing her best to pretend she wasn't the least bit worried about him.


Mulder ducked under the yellow police tape and pinpointed Agent Kramer under a haze of cigarette smoke.

After flashing his badge, the older man nodded, pointing to the gurney being wheeled into an ambulance.

"It's not her."

Mulder nodded, waiting.

"8-year-old girl. They found her body in the stairwell. Beaten. Can't find her family, but neighbors said the stepfather and a few assorted boyfriends the mother kept around were abusive." He dropped his cigarette butt to the ground, stamping it out with the heel of his cheap loafer. "Makes you wonder why nobody did anything about it. I'm sick of this shit."

He looked over to see that Mulder's gaze was no longer meeting his, but was focused intently on the ground. Without a word, Mulder returned to his car and sped off.

Agent Kramer watched Mulder fishtail back onto the main road, as he lit another cigarette. "Now I know why they call him Spooky," he muttered to himself.

In the car, Mulder pulled out his cellphone, then thought better of it. He'd tell her in person.

Maybe then she'd believe him.


chapter 9  

6:50 pm

Christmas.

Why did these things always happen around Christmas?

Scully's God obviously had some end-of-the-year clearance on misery. Maybe there was some quota he and Scully hadn't met. <See, they were too happy here in March. Let's nail them.>

Her father had died around the holidays. Then Emily. And it had never been a Hallmark holiday for him either. Maybe when Sam was around...had she still believed in Santa before she...?  He couldn't remember.

He *could* remember sitting alone in his apartment at Oxford, after convincing the few friends he'd made that he had *big* plans for winter break. He didn't mind being alone, it was better than going home. He just didn't want anyone feeling sorry for him. He could do that for himself.

The TV announced that "It's A Wonderful Life" was airing next week. Mulder snapped off the TV, sitting in darkened silence.

He didn't need a little old angel to tell him what life would have been like if he'd never been born. There would be no X-Files, and the most beautiful woman he'd ever known would be married to a brain surgeon with 2.6 children. Advantage: Scully.

What if Scully had never been born? That was an easy one. He'd be dead. End of story. Frank Capra would not be pleased.

He heard the lock tumble, admitting her into the shadows of his darkened mood. He wasn't sure if it was his good angel or his bad angel who occasionally tried to force her to leave him. Obviously, one of them was bent on self-preservation, because it would kill him if they succeeded.

"Where have you been?"

She was startled, even though, having worked on the X-Files, she was accustomed to the darkness having a voice.

"Mulder, you know where I've been. I talked to you two hours ago. Why are you sitting here in the dark?" She clicked on the small lamp be the door.

He wouldn't look at her. She hated that. It was as though someone were speaking to her in a foreign language and she couldn't find an interpreter. His eyes always told her what his words could not. It made her feel a little off-balance, and she decided she wasn't going down alone.

"Since when do I need your permission to leave the grounds, Agent Mulder?" Her arms came across her chest as she prepared for battle.

"Why did you go up there?" He was still staring straight ahead, apparently arguing with the TV screen. But Scully was the one who was about to blow a fuse.

"Because she asked me to come, Mulder". Her tone sent a chill through him; Mr. Freeze had nothing on Scully in an argument.

Finally Mulder swung his head around. "What did she say?"

Scully's eyes were narrowed at him, her lips tight, and for the first time he saw her resemblance to Bill Jr.

"I'll just type it all up in one of my 'little reports' and leave it on your desk," she hissed.

Scully walked around the sofa to stand in front of him, daring him to speak. Instead, he picked up a sheet of paper and held it up. She raised her eyebrows in a question.

"Profile," he offered. Just as Scully reached for the paper, he snatched it back, crumpling it in one large hand.

"What did you do that for?" her voice tight with the strain of desperately trying not to strangle him.

"Because I know who did it. I know who took her."

Scully sat down on the coffee table. "Who?"

Mulder's face twisted with sarcasm and rage. "Dear old Grandpa."

"How do you know?"

He lowered his head. "I just know."

Scully sat back with a resigned sigh. "So you don't have any proof."

He looked as though she'd slapped him.

"He has Lauren, Scully. They're probably running tests on her right now. Do you want to find her now or be polite and wait until they're finished?"

He stood, circling the couch in two steps and reaching for the phone.

"Who are you calling?"

"My sister," he growled, "if that's alright with you."

"Mulder, wait. You can't do that," she paused. "She thinks he's dead."

"I wish she was right," he said coolly.

"Mulder, don't do this to her now. There's absolutely no rational reason to tell her your suspicions. She still thinks of him as her father. Do you want to hurt her even more?"

She had meant 'more than she's hurting already', but she knew he hadn't heard it that way. She knew he would take full responsibility for a natural disaster if he could just get hold of the paperwork.

His entire body tensed, and he slammed the phone down onto the base. He knew she was right, just as he knew he couldn't stay in the same room with her for another second. He would say something to hurt her. He stalked into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.


Chapter 10

Is this a place I can rest my poor head And gather my thoughts in sweet silence? And is this a place where feelings are dead From an overexposure to violence? Is this a place I can slowly face The only one I truly can know?

These are tears from a long time ago I've got these tears from a long time ago And I need to cry thirty years or so These are tears from a long time ago.

                           -John Hiatt

Rubbing her eyes, Scully stood and paced the room. She wanted to march in there and fight with him, but something held her back. Frustrated, she jabbed the button on her answering machine, listening to the overly polite voice tell her she had no new messages. She rolled her eyes, wondering why she even had the damn thing. She knew there had been a time when she'd had other friends, other things to do. Actual appointments to keep. A time she could have become something else, anything else. When she was just one star in the universe.

Until Mulder's gravitational pull had become too strong. He'd almost crushed her, but instead she'd pulled too, exerting her own force. Now they were like binary stars, orbiting around each other continuously.

She could feel it even now, as her steps kept taking her back to the bedroom door. <He's hurt, that's all, resentful, angry. So why can't he just say that?> Finally, she gave up and slumped back onto the couch. She knew she was right, she just wasn't sure how to convince him. <Story of my life>

Leaning sideways she inhaled the scent of him that lingered on the cushions. She'd just close her eyes for a minute, then they would work this out...


Heaving a sigh, Mulder flopped down on his couch. Yes, his couch. The one piece of furniture he'd decided to bring into this place. Scully had refused to let him keep it in the living room, but consented to the bedroom out of some weird sense of nostalgia. At times when he needed to reconnect with himself, he gravitated there. He never slept there anymore; the alternative was just too tempting. Of course, tonight could be a first. <If she had any sense she'd throw me out on my ass> He lay back on the couch, wallowing in leather and self-pity.

<Scully.

Who needs her.

I was doing just fine before she came along anyway.

Okay, maybe fine isn't a good word.

Semantics.

Shitty. Shitty would be a better word. I was alone and miserable and hated the world.

I saw only the slimmest chance that I would do some good, be a benefit to somebody, sometime in my life. Samantha. Maybe if I could save my sister it would be okay. It. Everything. My Life. Of course I never sat down to figure out exactly how her recovery would restore me, but who had time? I had a purpose now, a mission that necessarily started and ended in a basement office.

I did know what I was doing, I just didn't care. I would sift through this excrement from the bowels of the FBI for as long as they would let me. If they stopped paying me I'd do it on my own. I'd pictured myself as a modern-day Howard Hughes, paranoid and reclusive up until his last days.

Fuck everybody else. I was gonna walk right into that oncoming train. If it took an hour or a day or a week or a year, I'd keep walking.

The few friends I had left sounded warnings. "Mulder, come on back to VCS. We need you." "Mulder, you play poker?" "Mulder, we've got an extra ticket to see the 'Skins lose. You interested?" Sometimes it was hard to ignore them, but I just stayed focused. One-track mind, so to speak. I would find her or die trying. And to tell the truth, at that point it didn't matter which.

And then Scully walked right into my suicide mission of a life.

Like a wounded animal, incapable of understanding its own need for help, I frightened her a few times. But she doesn't spook easily. She reached out a hand and waited calmly for me to come to her. To curl up and lick my wounds and hope that she would love me. Or at the very least not hurt me anymore.

And just about the time she'd made me want to live again, she was gone. I was in the fetal position for longer than I care to remember. And this time there were no half-forgotten friends to pull me out of it. Sleeping with Kristin, I could hear the blaring of the train's whistle in the distance.

Until they brought her back.

Even when she was dying, at least I knew where she was, and was able to make feeble, rejected attempts at comforting her. The not-knowing was the worst.

I know how you feel, Sam. I just wish you didn't have to go through this.>  

Mulder rolled off the couch. He wasn't going to get any sleep anyway. He smiled, remembering what he used to watch when he couldn't sleep. He had better things to watch now, if he could just come up with a decent apology.

He slowly opened the bedroom door, fully expecting a pointy projectile to bounce off his head. When none came, he was sure she'd left.

Then he saw her.

Curled up tightly on her couch, breathing deeply. Alone. <Now, what's wrong with this picture?>

He sat down in the chair near her, turning off lights as he went. Her eyelids fluttered as she moved about in a dream.   There should be some justice in dreams, he thought. If bad things happen to you when you are awake, you should be allowed happy dreams. Of course, he knew from his own case that that wasn't true.

<I wonder if she sees her sister.

I see mine.

I wonder if she sees her father.

I see mine.

What are you dreaming, Scully?>


Midday sunlight filtered through the leaves as Scully ran across the yard. Looking around, she stopped, hands on hips, calling out a little too loudly. "Come out, come out wherever you are." She could hear a girlish giggle not far away, and turned in its direction. "You're such a good hider! I'll give you a prize if you come out right now!" She smiled, seeming to know this would work.

Another giggle, this one behind her. She turned again, saw nothing. Peering behind the bushes, she wondered how such a small child could hide so well for so long. "Emily, come out now. I'm tired of this game."

This time she heard the giggle above her. She peered up into the tree, squinting into the sun. When she looked back down, her yard was filled with men and women in business suits, looking at charts and files.

She shouldered her way through the faceless crowd. "Emily...Emily." She asked a man near her, "Have you seen a little girl?" But he didn't answer her, just turned away.

Frantic now, she was yelling. "Has anybody here seen a little girl? Somebody has to have seen her! Can someone please help me look?"

No one answered her. No one even turned to look.

In a blink, she was standing in a church. A tiny coffin right in front of her. There was a man standing there, somehow she knew he'd been in her yard too. His face was passive as he placed a hand on the coffin. "We found her."


With a start, Scully sat straight up, the quiet darkness robbing her of all sensory input. Like a sailor fixing on the North Star, she latched onto the one compass point that could show her the way home.

"Mulder?"

And in an instant he was there. She heard the crinkle of the cushion from the armchair as he got up, suddenly surrounding her body with his.

His arm left her for a moment, reaching around to turn on a light.

With a sob she slumped into him. "She's gone." Something in her tone told him she wasn't talking about Lauren.

"Emily?" he murmured into her hair.

She nodded, and he held her tighter, forcing away the demons that had dared follow them into their private haven.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I was an asshole before and I'm sorry." He rubbed his fingers down her arm. "And I'm sorry I didn't think about how hard this is for you, too."

Scully rubbed her head into his chest. "We can't let this tear us apart. If we do that, they win."

He kissed her temple. She looked up at him, her heart still pounding. "What are you going to tell your sister?"

"I don't know yet." He kissed her softly on the lips. It was just like her to slap band-aids on his wounds while she let herself bleed to death. "Tell me about your dream." She hesitated, and he felt her shiver.

"Please."

And she began to speak, quietly, of light and dark, of fear and sadness, of dreams that frightened her, and of dreams that had died.

Mulder snapped off the light, and she sank into him. Taking back control over her mind, and over the night.

As her voice lowered to a whisper, her words began to lull him to sleep as well. His drowsy voice slid in between hers, a lullaby in two-part harmony.

The rhythm of his breathing, the air filling his chest calmed her, and she was reminded of listening to the ocean in a seashell. As her half-awake brain made these random connections, her thoughts spilled uncensored from her lips.

"When I was little, we spent a lot of time at the beach. We were always near the water."

"Hmm."

"I remember my mother telling me I could hear the ocean if I put a shell to my ear. I liked that. It made me feel closer to my father when he was away."

"Mmm-hmmm."

"That was always such a fascinating mystery to me. How the sound of the waves could be stuck inside all those shells.  I remember when I got older, and found out it wasn't really the ocean at all. Just the echo of the blood running through your ears."

"Science has all the answers, huh?" he said, fighting to stay awake.

"Yes, but..."

"But sometimes, you wish you could still believe."

She didn't answer, didn't have to.

"Sometimes it's okay to want to believe in the ocean, Scully."

"Even when I know it's not true?"

"'specially then," he mumbled.

The sounds that pounded in her ears were the ocean and his breath, the waves and his heartbeat, the surf and his voice.

And she fell into a dreamless sleep, wanting to believe.  


Chapter 11

12:02 AM

He stepped into the operating theater, averting his eyes from the tiny body on the table.

"Why is it taking so long?" he demanded.

"I wasn't aware there was a deadline," the surgeon retorted.

"You have been paid well for your services. Your gambling debts have been erased, have they not?"

The man whirled around, indignant eyes flaring over a surgical mask. "I was never told that I would be working on children."

"Would you prefer to stand trial for surgical malpractice?"

"What? You can't..."

"Oh, but I can. Evidence can be uncovered. It can also be arranged." A twisted grin crossed his face. "I can choose your victim, down to the color of their hair, the amount of blood loss, even your blood alcohol content at the time of the patient's death."

The surgeon paled visibly. "I would never..."

"It doesn't matter. *I* would."  He turned to leave. "Now, let's move this along. Get busy, *doctor*."


5 AM

Mulder rubbed his eyes, and reluctantly lifted Scully's warm body from his own. She sighed and snuggled into the cushions.

Still wearing the clothes he'd fallen asleep in the night before, he picked up his cell phone and tiptoed towards the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

He hated himself for betraying her like this. He desperately hoped he was wrong. But as he enjoyed pointing out to Scully, he rarely was.

But he could never go to her without all the facts. Scully wouldn't let him. And maybe even then...

"Frohike, it's me...Early? It's not early. Besides, you can probably squeeze a nap into your hectic schedule. Listen, I need you to do a background check for me..."  


Chapter 12

They arrived at the Harrison's a little after 8 the next morning. They found his sister sitting on a small patio out back, on floral cushions that spoke of spring, but which were now damp and cold. She was wrapped in a large coat, but couldn't keep her hands from shivering.

She stared up at them, nodding at their perfunctory greetings. Then her gaze drifted away, and took her mind along for the ride.

Mulder stood helplessly for a moment, until Scully led him by the arm back to the house. "Let me talk to her for a minute, okay?" He nodded and went inside.

Scully paced back across the yard, half-frozen grass crunching with every step. She was already too cold to even contemplate sitting on the bright yellow chair beside her, so she crouched down on her left, balancing herself on the arm of the chair.

"You did a good job with the makeup," she said gently. "You almost can't tell."

Amanda sniffed, her hand flying to her cheek, then falling guiltily away. "He has never hit me before. I know you don't know me, but I wouldn't be married to someone like that."

Scully nodded, her fingers clenching the arm of the chair. "I believe you. Stress can affect personality, change behavior."

Amanda concentrated on twining her fingers together on her lap.

"Please don't tell Fox."

Scully shook her head.

"He cried. He promised he would never do it again. That he didn't want to hurt me anymore." She looked up, and if she had any tears left she would be crying them now. "I don't want to lose my family."

Scully rested her hand on top of Amanda's. "You've been together a long time. You've raised two children. You can get through this. It won't be easy, but it would be a lot harder if you didn't have each other."

Amanda nodded.

"Where is he now?"

"He took our son to school. He's worried about his sister, but he's just a little boy. He needs a routine, needs to be around his friends. We're trying to make things normal for him." She stood, pulling her coat tightly around her, as if noticing the cold for the first time.

"Come on inside, I'll make some coffee."

The two women walked into the house, passing through french doors into the family room. Mulder was there, holding a picture of the Harrison family. He looked up when they came in. Sheepishly, he put the picture back on the bookshelf. "Sorry."

But Amanda walked over and picked up the picture again. It was a studio portrait, perfect lighting, everyone carefully posed and smiling. The two children sat on their parents' laps, laughing at a corny joke the photographer told them.

"This was taken last year." She pulled the back of the frame off to reveal several copies of the same picture. Sliding one out, she handed it to Mulder. "Here, you should have one. We sent them to everyone in the family."

He reached for the photo, a questioning look in his eyes. The same eyes that met his with the answer.

"Thank you."

Scully slipped out of the room, wiping away a tear she would never acknowledge.

Amanda sat on the sofa, shedding her coat in favor of a blue and gray flannel blanket. The noise from the other room had become so familiar she almost didn't hear it anymore. Almost.

"I don't know exactly how to do this, but I'd like you to be a part of our family."

Taking a big chance, Mulder took her hand. "I'd like that, too."

"So, this is what you do, find lost children?"

He nodded. "It's a part of my job, sometimes, yes."

She took a deep breath. "Is that because of what happened to me?"

Mulder squeezed her hand. "Maybe. Probably. I don't know, it's what I'm good at."

He leaned in to kiss her cheek, and could have shot himself when she jerked away. "I'm sorry."

"No! I mean, don't be. It's not you, I'm just a little tense, that's all."

He nodded, backing away, still clasping the picture carefully in his hand. "Okay. I need to follow up on some things. I'll stop by later. Scully will be working from here, if you need to reach me."

Amanda nodded, folding her arms tightly against her chest. "I like her."

Must run in the family, he thought. Mulder chewed his bottom lip, unconsciously mimicking Amanda. "Scully? She's a good agent. Good friend."

"How long have you worked together?"

"Almost seven years, give or take. Why?"

She shook her head. "Just curious."

Mulder looked at her suspiciously, and if he didn't know any better, he'd have thought his sister was trying to play matchmaker.

"I gotta go."

He walked out of the room, through the house, and toward his car. The picture rested carefully in his briefcase.

And for the first time in over a week, Fox Mulder really smiled.

He had started the car, and was pulling into the road when he saw Scully running from the house. He rolled his window down, but she ran around the car and yanked the passenger door open. He knew from the look on her face, before he saw the other suits come pouring from the house.

They'd found her.


Chapter 13 Any law enforcement officer can tell you how much drudgery and footwork is involved in making their job look easy. Record checks, witness interviews, lots of legwork, and yes, even wiretaps. Unless you're Jessica Fletcher, the bad guys don't usually just fall into your lap.

Of course, those same officers will tell you that sometimes, they just get lucky.

Red and blue lights illuminated the shabby rowhouses on this run-down Baltimore street. A routine raid on a suspected crackhouse had turned up a little more than expected.

Mulder and Scully jumped out of the car, immediately cornering a member of the Baltimore PD.

"Officer Ramirez," Scully barked. "We're with the Bureau. We got a call you found a child."

He nodded. "Weirdest shit I ever saw. Six strung-out addicts hiding this little girl in a back room. The ones that were coherent claimed they didn't know she was here, thought maybe she was a runaway or something."

"What did the girl say?" Mulder asked. It was the best way he could think to ask if she was alive.

"Nothing. She was unconscious."

"Where is she now?"

"We sent her to the hospital."

"And you're sure it was her--the missing girl?"

"Are you kidding? Little white girl goes missing?" There was some resentment in his voice. "We've had her picture plastered everywhere for a week. I'd know that face anywhere."

Mulder relaxed visibly. "There are some other agents right behind us. They'll need the hospital information to give to the girl's family. They're going to want to be there."

He turned slightly to Scully. "Agent Scully and I are going to have a look inside."

The two agents stepped across the rotting wood doorframe and were immediately assaulted by the stench. Urine, human or animal, they weren't sure. Probably a mix of both. Rotting trash covered every open space. There didn't seem to be any electricity, several candles were spread around the house.

Slapping on rubber gloves, Scully flipped on the faucet in the kitchen. "No running water, no heat."

"So this is the glamourous drug scene," Mulder called from the other room.

Broken glass was everywhere. Mulder carefully picked his way through to the back of the house. A stained mattress lay on the floor, surrounded by bottles, drug paraphanelia, and assorted fast food wrappers.

"This must be where they found her." Mulder turned to see Scully standing in the doorway, afraid to even lean on the decaying wood. He put his hands on his hips.

"So--are you buying this?"

Scully stared blankly for a moment, wanting just one thing to be easy. Then she sighed. "Not really."

"Drug addicts would do anything for money. If they've had her for a week, why didn't they call for ransom?"

Scully nodded. "And how did they get to a suburb that's over an hour away? I don't think there's a running car on this street, especially one that wouldn't be noticed in Sam's neighborhood."

The clink and crash of glass crunching preceded Officer Ramirez' arrival. "Find what you're looking for?"

Scully raised her eyebrows. "Officer, what condition was Lauren in when you found her?"

"I told you, unconscious."

Mulder kicked a path through the room. "Dirty, injured?"

The officer shook his head. "No, actually she looked like she'd been pretty well taken care of. Have to wait to hear from the hospital, though. She could have been drugged, internal injuries. Nothing obvious, though."

Mulder looked around the room, vainly staring down a rat that had sauntered out a hole in the wall. He blinked at Scully as she followed his gaze and shook her head.

They turned to follow Ramirez out of the house. As he passed her, Scully caught his arm. "I don't suppose knowing she's safe is enough."

Mulder shook his head stubbornly, and honestly she hadn't expected anything less.

"First of all, we don't really know that. Someone is covering their tracks. She wasn't kept here Scully. I have to find out who took her and what they did to her." He began to pull away, but she held tight, with her fingers and her eyes.

"Good. Because so do I."

They walked back to their car, sitting in silence while the news blathered in the background, giving the details of the Harrison case.

"So, now what?"

Scully's voice was quiet, calming. "I thought you would want to go to the hospital."

He nodded, staring down at the steering wheel. "I do, I'm just not sure it's a good idea." He shook his head. "I don't belong there. Not right now."

Scully stared out her window. "I'm not going to tell you what you should do as her brother, Mulder. But as an agent, you have an obligation to observe the victim's condition, and try and bring the kidnappers to justice. I can do that if you want..."

"No." His head snapped up. "I want to do it. It's just..." He took a deep breath. Honesty was still difficult for him, even now. "I want to be there. But I'm not really family. Not any family she knows, and..."

"And you want her to want you there. I know how you feel."

She did, he realized. Knew what it was like to want to comfort a child to whom she was a total stranger. To try and become family when years and lifetimes had been taken away from you by men with their own agenda. To name an emotion you weren't even sure you were capable of feeling.

She *did* know.

As the frenetic police activity dissipated around them, Mulder turned to look into her eyes. He knew she would never think less of him if he let her take over now.

But he would think less of himself. And he owed it to his sister, to find the truth. They'd been lied to for so long.

Scully leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes as Mulder wordlessly drove towards the hospital.


Chapter 14

Mulder and Scully tapped down the long, echoing hallway to the tiny alcove of the waiting room. So often they were in this position alone, while one or the other lay amid a swarm of doctors. Scully ran her hand over Mulder's arm for reassurance that he was there, alive and breathing. The warmth of his skin beneath his overcoat seeped into her hand, and she folded it within her palm, saving it in her clenched fist.

Only glancing at the door with the makeshift label reading "Harrison", the two settled themselves in the little room across the hall. The droning television suspended in the corner was their only other companion in the muted silence.

Mulder sat for a moment, then began restlessly pacing the worn green carpet. Scully's eyes flickered toward the set, where an impossibly thin blond girl cried crocodile tears and confessed that she had slept with her husband's brother. The times she'd been home on medical leave Scully had flipped past soap operas on television, and never really understood the attraction. Now she realized that was probably because most people used these shows as an escape, while her own real life was more complicated and bizarre than any their best writers could create.

Mulder jumped as a door opened, and he heard his sister's voice echo in the hallway. "Thank you so much, I appreciate everything you did." She was talking to the doctor beside her, tears still glistening in her eyes.

"It's just my job, Mrs. Harrison. Why don't you try and get some rest? She's going to be fine. She's a very lucky little girl." Amanda nodded and began to turn back to the door when Mulder found his voice. He was still torn about what to call her, so he settled for "Hey".

Samantha turned, and Scully felt her entire body tense. <God, please don't hurt him again> She could practically see the pain swirling around him, ready to pounce.

Amanda hesitated for a moment, then flew across the hallway and into her brother's arms. Mulder seemed to squeeze the tears from her body as he held her so close, soaking the shoulder of his trenchcoat.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you". She pulled back and smiled at him, then at Scully. "Both of you."

His back was to her, but Scully could still sense his smile. Mulder pushed his little sister's hair behind her ear, and Scully felt herself imitate the gesture.

"We didn't do anything, really," Mulder insisted, still unable to release his hold on her. Not surprising, since he'd been reaching for her for years.

"But you did. You helped me get through this. And I owe you everything for that."

Mulder shook his head. "You don't owe me anything, Sa-Amanda. How is she?"

"She seems fine. They're running some tests just to be sure. She doesn't remember anything, but the doctor said that's normal for a child who's experienced trauma." She reached for Mulder's hand. "Come on, I want you to meet her."

Mulder pulled back on her hand, unsure. He looked over at Scully, inviting her with his eyes. She shook her head. "No, it should be just family now. I'm sure I'll have time to get to know her."

Mulder smiled and trailed his sister across the hall. Scully watched them go, then wandered down the hall in search of a ladies' room.

By the time she got back, Mulder, his sister and her husband were back in the hallway. A young boy she assumed was Lauren's brother was standing with them. David was doing his best to recount to Mulder the doctor's exact words about Lauren's condition, when Scully felt the floor sway beneath her, and she fell headlong into darkness.


Chapter 15

<not cancer not cancer>

Mulder tried to imprint the words onto his brain, willing himself to believe. Believe the words the doctor had said, believe they were not just an effort to placate a hysterical man convinced he was losing...everything.

<not cancer not cancer>

In his mind, the words captioned a continually looping image of Scully's pale face, eyes rolling back in her head as her body swayed, then wilted to the floor an instant before he lunged for her. Shouting her name, trying vainly to be heard over the fierce pounding of his own heart.

As she had fallen, the heel had broken off her right shoe, and Mulder still held it in his palm like a talisman. He could fix it for her. Repair it so there would be no sign it had been broken.

No sign. They had told him there was no sign of her cancer. Once nearly three years ago, as he'd sat on what he'd believed to be her deathbed, hands clasped beneath the sheets away from her brother's prying eyes.

And again, a few minutes ago, as the doctor delivered results of a preliminary blood test.

There had been such a tiny window of time, maybe their first two or three cases, when she could have walked away from him, her presence barely registering on his radar. After that, there was always a sense of her, hovering in his peripheral vision. Now he no longer thought of their time together in terms of cases, but of long days and sweet, sleepless nights. He realized he could live without her, but couldn't fathom why he would want to.

She'd asked him once if he didn't feel as though they had given up, some days, when mundane office tasks filled their schedules. He'd told her no, he'd just found something he didn't know he was looking for.

There was a shift in the air, her energy swirling around him once again. He looked up from the requisite bedside chair to see her head turn slowly on the stiff white pillow.

Drowsy eyes were drawn to the half-sunlight peeking through the blinds. She didn't have to look for him. She just knew.

"Wha 'appened?"

He stood, bending low at the waist to press his lips to her forehead, lingering there, inhaling her. "I love you." A dark chocolate voice, rich and sweet, saved for words that were normally taken for granted.

Mulder settled at her side, absorbing her existence, and wondering how things could go so badly so quickly.

"I don't know. We were talking to my sister and her husband in the hallway outside Lauren's room." The statement came out as a question, and she nodded.

"And then you just..." He drew his fingers through the hair above her ear, eyes closed as he watched it all happen again. "You just slumped over. You said 'No', then you were on the floor." He bit his lip, stilling the panic that threatened to revisit him. "There was no blood. I had them do tests, so far they've all came back negative." He wanted to be angry, to feel anything other than fear. "You should have told me you were sick, Dana."

He hated the disoriented look on her face. Especially in this setting, where it was too familiar. "But I wasn't Mulder." She searched her mind for any sign that should have warned her. "I haven't had so much as a headache in weeks." She gave him a tiny, ironic smile. "I really am fine."

He rose and stalked to the window. "Well, obviously you're not."

"I'm sorry, Mulder, I don't have a good explanation for this, but I feel fine now." She rubbed the spot on her arm, sore from the prick of the needle while she was out.

He turned quickly, dragging a hand through his hair. "You're not leaving until all the test results come back."

Scully raised an eyebrow at him, daring him to give her an order again.

"I am not laying in this bed when there's nothing wrong with me." She'd had enough of hospital beds for one lifetime, thank you very much.

"Dammit, Scully," he reached into his jacket pocket for the discarded heel of her shoe, fidgeting with the useless piece of rubber and plastic. "Do you know how much I envy you?" He'd never seen quite that shade of surprise on her face. "If something happens to me, you know how to fix it." He was back at her side, desperately trying to make her understand. "I don't know how to...to put you back together. I just feel so fucking lost when you're sick."

The door opened, admitting the same doctor Scully remembered from the hallway. He flipped rapidly through her chart, rattling off numbers and words Mulder didn't understand. He did catch that they had run a pregnancy test, which obviously was negative. Had to cover all the bases, though.

Scully nodded, throwing a sympathetic glance at the man by her side. "Which, when translated, means, I'm fine."

"If she just fainted, why was she out for so long?" Defiantly begging for an answer he could accept.

"Sometimes these things just happen. Stress, lack of sleep, diet." He shrugged almost happily. Mulder's wary glance told her that he didn't think these things 'just happened' to Scully.

"So I can go?"

"I don't see why not."

The physician rushed out the door as quickly as he'd come in, thrilled to lessen his caseload by one.

Scully swung her legs over the bed and began to dress. Her partner slumped down on the edge of the bed, on sheets still saturated with her body heat.

Once she'd dressed, Scully stood between his knees in her stocking feet, giving her the rare experience of looking him straight in the eye.

Her hands wrapped around his neck, cool fingers smoothing over the crazed rhythm of his pulse. Worry and relief warred in his eyes, and as much as she wanted to be angry at him, she couldn't. In his shoes, she'd have felt the same way. Knew that feeling very well, actually.

"I know you're scared," she sighed. She nuzzled his hair, and his forehead fell to her shoulder as his arms circled her waist.

Her warm breath caressed his earlobe, her head tilted just a fraction to rest on his. "And I love you, too."   ** 

Chapter 16  

"The tests indicate a great deal of genetic carry-over from the first subject to the second. Heritability seems to be consistent over all of the chromosomal abnormalities. Overall, I'd say the results are excellent. Better than what we predicted."

The smoking man nodded, ignoring the copy of the charts which had been placed in front of him. Another man in the room spoke up.

"We need to temper our optimism with caution. Remember, gentlemen, this was a carefully controlled experiment. Our test subjects were screened for confounding factors, and have been monitored on a daily basis. One cannot expect such ideal results once we begin field tests."

The man with the clipboard, from his seat at the center of the long mahogany table, nodded. "True, but valid medical researchers have done field tests with less substantial preliminary data. In my opinion, we can green-light the experiment."

The grey-haired man at the head of the table blinked once, tapped his cigarette into the silver ashtray before him. His voice held no doubt, no hesitation. "Then do it."


Mulder was watching the door to Scully's bathroom close in his face as his cell phone rang. "Mulder."

"Hey, G-Man. We got that information you were looking for. How soon can you get here?"

Mulder's brain took half a second to register Frohike's voice, and another half a second to remember what he'd asked for. It seemed redundant now, made him feel more than a little paranoid. Besides, he was busy hovering over his partner, and so far she was tolerating it.

"Actually, Frohike, I don't think it's really that important. I hope you didn't cash in any important favors."

There was a pause on the other end. "Mulder, you're going to want to see this."

All of Mulder's senses went on full-alert. "What is it?"

"I can send you an encrypted e-mail. I take it you're at the lovely Agent Scully's?"

Mulder actually blushed. "How did you know that?" His mind immediately went to the extensive tracing equipment the boys owned, but Frohike surprised him.

"Only reason a man turns down a hot lead is because he has one of his own."

At that moment, Mulder's hot lead came out of the bathroom, practically knocking him down where he stood blocking the hallway. Mulder took one look at her face, and decided maybe she *did* need a little time alone.

"On second thought, I'll be right over."


Scully exhaled, taking guilty pleasure in the empty echo of her solitude. But Jesus Christ, he was driving her crazy.

She leaned back into the couch cushions, letting her mind drift over the events of the day. So much had happened so quickly, and she hadn't had time to digest it all. And there was the irritating sensation that she was forgetting something.

As a precautionary measure, she flipped open her laptop, and began writing up the details of Lauren's reappearance, as far as she knew them. She hoped it would help her to reach out to the shred of memory that dangled just beyond her reach.

But when she had finished dictating her and her partner's actions into text, she was still no closer to reaching the elusive thought. She had long ago taken to documenting as much as possible, since evidence had a way of slipping through their fingers.

She considered calling the hospital to get an update on Lauren's condition, but decided first to detail what she remembered from the doctor. Most of the information had come second-hand, from Lauren's father, so it's reliability was questionable. Still, she knew her chances of getting the doctor on the phone were slim, and something questionable was better than nothing.

<What had he said?> It was a little hazy, but she could replay most of the conversation in her head. 'She has a few scars, nothing substantial...think she was drugged, probably recently...still seemed to be under the effects...risk of infection...' Scully typed dutifully, watching the words color the screen before her. She wished she had Mulder's memory--maybe he would be able to fill in the gaps later. She pressed play again on her mental tape recorder, recreating David Harrison's voice in her head.

<'...and I think that's all. They just want to keep her here to run some tests...'>

And that was all it took to snag the loose thread of thought, and weave it darkly into the fabric of her conscious memory.

Like flashbulbs popping in her head, Dana Scully remembered.

Bright lights.

Cold.

Scared.

Alone.

And that voice.

'...run some tests'

*His* voice.

"Oh my god."


  Chapter 17

As she drove, flashbacks ripped into her conscious memory like a demented slide show. Tumbling out in no particular order, some silent, some in full stereo.

Bouncing against the shabby carpet and metal of a car trunk, the road humming beneath her.

<not gonna take Duane Barry again>

Screaming into her phone for Mulder.

Blades and drills and men in surgical masks.

<just going to run some tests>

Terror, squeezing her heart like a fist.

Cold metal tables beneath her chilled skin.

Restraints pulling her down, keeping her still.

<If you move, you could die. I wouldn't recommend it>

Needles.

The insanity in Duane Barry's eyes.

Helpless. Powerless. Forsaken.

From numbness to pain to numbness, not knowing which was worse.

Drugged nightmares, colored with darkness and Mulder screaming her name.

God, no wonder she hadn't allowed herself to remember.

She had wanted these memories back. Now she wasn't so sure.

Tears mercilessly blurred her vision as she grasped the steering wheel, concentrating on not blacking out again. But it seemed that had been a one-time event, her mind's last ditch effort at protecting itself.

Exhausted, Scully pulled onto the shoulder of the road, her forehead falling onto the textured softness of the steering wheel.

"Oh my God."

She was losing her mind. That was all. Really bad timing, too. Mulder needed her on this case, needed her support and...

Support. What evidence did she have to support her belief? Was it enough to deliberately destroy the family he had worked all his life to find?

Forcing her mind to slow down, she ran over the facts as she knew them.

Memory is a terribly inaccurate thing. Ephemeral, morphing over time to fit our best representations of what we think happened, not what *actually* happened.

Repressed memories have been shown to be even more inaccurate. Their admissibility in court cases debated for decades.

<Would *I* believe me?>

So despite the fact that she could see his face so clearly in her mind, Scully resolutely decided once again not to believe.

Not without proof.

Dizziness swooped over her again, and she lowered her window, hoping the frigid air would keep her alert.

Arriving at the Gunmen's, she waited impatiently as the deadbolts slid away one by one. When the door opened, she found herself staring into Mulder's pained face, dark eyes that seemed born to sadness. She didn't want to add to that pain, but had a professional obligation to put the case above all else, even him.

"What?" Not rude, just a comfortable shorthand. She could read everything else in his troubled expression.

She was shaking, and he eased her down onto a low stool by the counter. Scully cursed herself for not gaining more control before getting there, but each time she would assimilate one image a new one would leap out at her. It was like watching a videotape of herself when she didn't know she was being filmed.

"Mulder, I..." She vaguely noticed that the actual inhabitants of this shadowy burrow had scuttled into the other room. "I don't know where to start." She hated this weakness, the insecurity her memories delivered to her.

She took a deep breath, but couldn't stop the tears that began to flow once again down her cheeks. "Shit." She defiantly wiped them away with her fist, then began to speak. "I've, I think I have, remembered some things. About what happened to me, while I was...gone."

She looked up, unprepared for the calm expression on his face. He nodded, squeezing her hand. "Tell me."

She managed to stagger through the emotional minefield without exploding, although her steps and words were cautious to the extreme. Mulder could see her analyzing every word for clarity, conciseness, and objectivity and knew that as hellish as it sounded, she was not exaggerating. If anything, she wasn't telling him the whole truth.

"I think that's what caused me to black out, Mulder. David's voice triggered that memory. I remember those words, 'We're just going to run some tests.' And there was a man..." She choked, feeling her chest constrict at the memory. Black spots danced in her vision as she gasped for air. "He could have had similar physical characteristics, or the same cadence to his voice..."

He wanted to give her time to let her feel everything she needed to feel. To cry and scream and rage and cry some more. But they did not have the luxury of time at the moment. One day there would be time to expose her scars (and his) to the open air, allowing them to begin to heal.

But right now, they had to draw a line between their personal needs and their professional obligations, even if that line was only a shimmery mirage in the sand.

He touched her face, lightly. "You don't believe that. You think it *was* him."

It wasn't just that he trusted her judgment, although he did, implicitly. It was a leap of logic he wouldn't be able to document in a case file, would have to chalk up to intuition.

He had seen that look on her face before.


They'd been having sex, playfully rough, and he'd grabbed her wrists, forcing them over her head. Holding her in place with one hand, he'd looked into her face, seeing not love or passion or even anger, but absolute terror.

Before he could ask, she'd begun kicking fiercely at his lower body, trying to push his weight off hers. "Let me GO!" Stunned, it had taken him a moment to move, then he'd rolled over and away from her, lifting his hands and eyebrows in complete surrender.

As her heartbeat had slowed to normal, she'd turned to him, not quite understanding what she'd done. "I'm sorry."

He shook his head. "Don't apologize. It was my fault."

The certainty in her expression convinced him. "No, no, I don't know what that was, but I do know it had nothing to do with you."

He'd reached out tentatively to put an arm around her shoulders, and she crushed herself against him, reassuring herself as much as him.


Scully's shaking voice brought him back to the present.

"Everything is so hazy, and it was so long ago, I can't be sure of anything. I don't know for sure that he was there. I don't have any proof, Mulder."

He moved his hand away from her face and onto the counter, and she noticed for the first time the manila folder lying there.

"Maybe you don't. But I do."


 

First of all I just want to say thank you to everyone who is still reading this, and who has taken the time to let me know you liked it. (Or kept your mouth shut when you didn't:)

WARNING--temporary POV change. Please keep all hands and arms inside the car until the end of the ride.

Chapter 18

Black formica.

Shiny. Surprisingly clean in a room more often swept for bugs than dirt.

I can just make out the shadow of my reflection in the countertop. Just see Scully's arm jerk away from the folder. I want to tell her it won't hurt her, remember it already has.

Black formica shows no emotion when I mention the background check I asked the boys to run on David Harrison. Its cool surface shows no pain when I speak of his connection, hidden but undeniable, to Rousch. I don't have to look at the drawn pained expression in its eyes when I briefly describe the evidence of tests I found in Lauren's medical records.

Black formica supports me as I slide Lauren's X-ray film in front of her. Similar in color but less substantial, it offers her not the escape I have found here, but proof. A stark white shadow.  The frighteningly familiar outline of an implant, matching the one that will tie her to this little girl, and so many other strangers, forever.

I had hoped to be wrong, but I had expected to be right. Play the odds.

I consider entertaining her with theories of David's being blackmailed into working for them, with them, but I refuse to insult her intelligence. I know without asking that she has already entertained and dismissed these ideas.

I hadn't considered the possibility of his involvement in Scully's abduction. Would I have made that connection if she hadn't?

There is enough in the way of surveillance photos and wiretaps for us to determine the degree to which he orchestrated the kidnapping of his own daughter. Unfortunately, none of it is admissable.

I always wanted to have one more day with my father. To ask him why he made the decisions he made. To give a man I had once loved the chance to redeem himself. To let go of the hatred I hold for the part of myself that is him.

Maybe that is why I feel the need to confront my sister's husband with this information. To retrieve an answer to questions that were asked before I was born.

There is a baser part of me that simply wants to avenge the woman I love, and a little girl I hardly know. But I have always been fueled more by the search than the goal, and if he can point me in the right direction before I kill him, then his life will not have been wasted.

Kill him.

I run my fingers over the ebony gloss, and notice the tiny, invisible pits in the surface. Imperfections, that, in a clearer medium, would distort my reflection.

My sister has lived in the dark for so long, what right do I have to drag her into the light?

What right did I ever think I had, to do this to anyone?

Because of her training, I know Scully is considering similar scenarios, running through all the possible consequences.

Of maybe she isn't.

Maybe she is still studying the faces of the memories she will never again be able to erase.

I hope that she will be able to see a way out of this, for all of us.

Because all I can see is black formica.


  Chapter 19  

No lights shone from any of the homes on the street, including the Harrisons. Only a tacky red plastic Santa, forgotten in the last minute bedtime preparations, still brightened and darkened in the needless glow of the streetlights. It was only then that Mulder remembered.

It was Christmas Eve.

*Fuck. How much more can I take from her before she has nothing left?*

His partner seemed transfixed by the keychain dangling from the ignition, where it would stay. Standard operating procedure. The untimely jingle of a car key in a dark room could alert the wrong person of their location; hardly worth the risk for a fleet sedan too ugly to be stolen anyway.

Mulder ducked his head to catch her eye. When she'd recognized that doctor from the autopsy video, she'd been distant. Not just physically, but emotionally. Not that he'd been any more capable of giving her support that she had been of asking for it. "It's different now," he muttered, not meaning to speak the words aloud.

"What is?" she asked, refocusing on him.

He hesitated, knowing he was really offering her a way out. "Scully, if you can't go in there with me, I'll understand."

He was trying so hard to get a handle on this, to get a sense of what it was like for her. She understood that now. She took his hand, shaking her head fiercely.

"No, I need to do this. I need to face him." The fiery independence that had once held her so separate from him paled in comparison with their combined strength. She understood that now, too. "I need to do this... with you."

His eyes widened. He knew the effort that had taken.

"But I am going to need some time, after all this, to come to terms with everything. To understand it all."

Her eyes asked what her pride would still not allow her to speak.

And he answered her now, because he could.

He squeezed her hand tightly. "Just let me know. I'll give you anything you need, baby."

She nodded and he watched as she abruptly shifted back into Agent Scully. He'd always marveled at her ability to compartmentalize her feelings. It helped to know that they would come out eventually.

Approaching the house Mulder nodded towards the open garage door. The van was missing. They must have spent the night at the hospital. With a bob of her head Scully indicated she would enter through the front door, while Mulder ducked into the side door in the garage.

In the spirit of suburban complacency, neither door was locked. In less than a second there was no movement outside the house, save for the light and dark dance of the discount Santa.

Mulder felt his way through the kitchen, maneuvering from memory. As his irises were expanding in an effort to suck in all the available light in the room, he began to make out shapes and shadows. It was just then that he heard his partner's strangled cry from the front of the house.

"Mulder!"


Chapter 20  

Blood has an unmistakable smell.

The beam from Scully's flashlight splayed across the front hallway from its position on the floor. At its current angle it served only to illuminate one corner of the ceiling.

Scully's elbow dipped into the beam, and Mulder strained to combine disparate images into a coherent picture.

His shoe slid into the warm sticky ooze and he stepped back immediately, finally remembering his own flashlight dangling at his side.

The beam traced over the dark maroon pool at his feet, to land on the waxy startled face of David Harrison. Lips slowly pressed together, trying to form what were surely last words.

Even in the half-shadow, he knew what his partner was doing. She was a doctor. She was trying to save the life of the man she came here ready to kill. Mulder wondered how Hippocrates would feel about that.

"Son-of-a-bitch, don't you die," muttered Scully, as though reading his mind.

Mulder dropped to his knees, mentally writing off another Armani.

"They know..."gasped the man on the floor.

"Know what?" shouted Mulder. "Still....here..., he hissed, a limp hand landing on Mulder's knee.

*still here* Mulder's mind raced, and he fumbled for his gun, jumping to his feet. He slid only a little before regaining his balance and swinging his weapon around the room.

"Get up, Agent Scully. He's dead anyway."

Scully could sense Mulder's finger tighten on his weapon as she rose through the haze of cigarette smoke wafting over her head. She could feel white hot anger blazing from her partner in waves, but wouldn't take her eyes from the gun barrel pointed at her. Scully couldn't help her irritation as Mulder shifted slightly to move in front of her. He might have blocked a bullet, but she certainly wasn't going to let him do this without her.

"Why did you kill him?" she demanded, moving from her partner's shadow.

His lips curled evilly upward. "We live in such a wasteful society, Agent Scully. We dispose of things when they have outlived their usefulness."

"He was her husband."

"He was because we chose him to be. You don't think we would go to these lengths to manipulate people and not have some sort of control in place, do you? You're the scientist, Ms. Scully. You can see that we couldn't very well contaminate our genetic creations with unknown DNA."

"What did you do to those kids?" Mulder snarled.

"Nothing actually. We did our experiments only on your sister, and only before she'd reached puberty. The children seem to have accepted the hybrid gene with no ill effects."

"Then why kill him?" The room was heavy with death, with the absence of a soul.

"He wanted the tests to stop, and we couldn't allow that. It became too personal. He was no longer loyal to us." The old man took a long drag on his cigarette. "After all, he is the one who sought your help in locating his daughter, when he knew exactly where she was. He wanted you to find her, Agent Mulder. He wanted *you* to stop us."

Scully shuddered, and ripped up her mental scorecard.

"Too bad, really. We'd put a lot of effort into this one. We're going to have to relocate her. After all, her husband was gunned down by professionals. Any concerned mother would allow the government to take over from here. Perhaps we can even convince her that my recent death was part of the plot against her family. That would be a nice touch, don't you think, Mulder?"

Scully's eyes widened at his implication. Even with only his back visible to her, she could see the look on Mulder's face.

"You're not taking her away again," Mulder's voice shook, as did the hand with the gun.

"You can kill me, Agent Mulder, but you can't stop what we have created. It may make things even easier for us." He gestured toward the body on the floor. "Her husband and her father killed by the same man. We wouldn't have to take her away then. She'd never have anything to do with you."

Scully knew he could do it. Manipulate the ballistics evidence, make Mulder look like the shooter. He'd go to prison, if he was lucky. She hadn't even stopped to wonder what CancerMan had planned for her, but it was obvious he was leaving no witnesses.

Scully stepped around the body, lowering her weapon as she touched Mulder's arm, asking him to do the same.

Which made the bullet that flew through the darkness that much more of a mystery.


 Chapter 21

The bullet whizzed by Scully's ear, materializing again in Cancer Man's chest. Fresh blood mixed with old in a morbid geyser, causing his skin to pale noticeably as he fell back against the wall.

His gun dove from his hand, tired bones sliding down the wall as life rapidly drained from him. His eyes flashed weakly, questioningly, to Mulder, then Scully, guns warily raised once again.

Standing sideways, one eye on the fated corpse before him, Mulder turned to identify the source of the shot.

Scully wasn't startled by the voice that emanated from the hallway. But then, nothing startled her anymore.

Mulder's jaw, however, was close to scraping the floor as his sister stepped from the darkness, leading with her gun.

"Amanda?" gasped the thready voice from the floor.

Amanda looked down for only a moment at the body of her husband on the floor, keeping her gun trained low and straight. Her voice was at once empty and filled with hatred.

"David told me what you did. What you made him do." She choked back tears. "He was wrong, I know that, but he did what he did to protect me, us. I believe that. He did it because he loved me." She stepped closer. "You never loved me." She pulled back on the trigger slightly. "You took me from my family. You took my husband. You lied to him like you lied to me."

Tears broke free, streaming down her face. Mulder had lowered his weapon to his side, Scully uncertainly did the same, ready in an instant to finish what Amanda had started.

"You took my baby. Were you going to keep her too? Lie to her? Or..." Her body was shaking so badly Mulder didn't know what would happen if she were startled.

"Amanda", he whispered softly. "Put the gun down."

"David taught me to shoot, told me I'd need to protect myself." Her face crumpled. "But I never thought I would have to protect myself from my own father." She let out a low whine as her knees hit the floor before him. "I loved you."

Blood coursed from his chest, and Scully found she had absolutely no desire to stanch the flow this time. She quietly reached into her pocket for her phone, requesting an ambulance. Two bodies. No rush.

A frail hand reached out. A hand which had once controlled so much, which had taken so many lives, in its last moments trying to grasp the instrument of its destruction, the one thing it may actually have been able to love.

"Amanda..."

And in the end, she would take that away from him too.

Mulder willed him to hear her strong, deliberate, words, before beginning his descent into hell.

"My name is Samantha."


EPILOGUE: Perfect

Three Months Later  

He knocked.

A superfluous action, serving only to announce his arrival.

He'd been out of town for eight days on a VCS consult, while she'd stayed behind to run the office and have her way with a few cadavers. Yesterday on the phone she had even conceded her "time as a universal invariant" theory, as she was sure this week had lasted a year.

He'd missed her so much there were no words. Luckily, they wouldn't be needing those for awhile.

When the door creaked open he could do nothing but exhale loudly. <Home> his body screamed. <I'm home>.

"Hi," she purred, all wicked innocence.

"Hello," he panted, and in one step was inside, slamming the door into the frame and her body into the door. A teenager at the end of the school dance, overwhelmed with hormones and heat.

Her hands sunk into his skin, kneading him like a kitten. Her lips hummed over him, happy little noises as she consumed his smell, his texture, his taste.

"God, I...missed...oh, god, Scully." Her fingers were blindly wrestling with his belt buckle, and he yanked her hair back as her hand made contact through the interfering fabric. Wild eyes met, and he decided the words could wait.

He'd just become dreamily aware of her foot trailing up and down his leg, when a tiny sound resonated through her body.

Knocking.

Door.

Shit.

Scully's eyes flew to his. She shook her head, resting a finger against his lips. Maybe they would go away.

They didn't knock again.

They pounded.

Heaving a disgusted sigh, Scully pressed her hands to his chest, pushing him firmly away. She twisted until she was eye-level with the peephole.

Never one to let opportunity escape him, Mulder pounced on her neck, sucking and biting and burying his face in her hair. He felt her body stiffen as she reached behind her, patting her waist, realized she was looking for the gun that wasn't there.

His arousal dissipating like a spring rain, he quickly took his own weapon from its holster and placed it in her hand. She motioned for him to look, and he realized what had panicked her.

Nothing.

He couldn't see anything. Just hallway. Whoever it was must have been waiting for them around the corner, pressed up against the wall, ready to move when the door opened.

Fighting his alpha-male instinct, he moved back as she slowly turned the doorknob, gun raised to shoulder level.

His heart thudding with fear and residual lust, he backed across the room to retrieve her weapon from the endtable. Frantically, he tried to remember if he'd been shadowed in the parking lot. Would he have even noticed in his condition?

"Hi!"

In an instant he was behind her, snatching the gun from her hand. An embarrassed smile crept across his face as both of their faces tilted downward.

"Hello, Lauren." Scully slumped back against him in amused relief, looking up and down the hallway. "Where's your mom?"

Scully knew where she wasn't--in jail. When you have two FBI agents attest that a shooting was in self-defense, no one asks too many questions.

"She's coming. She told me to wait until she got here, but I knew this was the right number." The child was beaming, impressed with her own ingenuity.

"Lauren!" Samantha hurried down the hallway, Jason in tow, wearing the bored-with-life expression common to most 10-year-old boys. "Didn't I tell you to wait for me?"

"Yes!" she announced, thrilled to supply the right answer.

Jason thunked his sister playfully on the head. "You gotta listen to mom, pipsqueak," he said sternly.

"I do listen to mom, buttmunch!"

Jason's arm reached behind his mom to whack his sister on the butt. She turned to stick out her tongue, then glanced back to the two startled adults still hanging out of the doorway.

One grin and Mulder felt his heart burst.

"Enough!" whispered Sam. The two kids called a temporary truce, but promised each other with their eyes that this matter would be settled at a later, more appropriate time. Possibly with a pillow fight.

The authority in her voice turned to hesitation. "Well, now that we've completely invaded your space, I was actually just in the neighborhood, and thought I'd stop by to see if you wanted to join us for dinner. Nothing fancy, just pizza...unless you already had plans?"

Scully blinked, her mind trying to assimilate the barrage of sensory input. Children fighting, dinner invitation, Mulder's hands in warm and inviting places. Overload. She turned to him, the light in his eyes answering the question for her.

"We'd love that."

"Great! We'll wait downstairs. Come on guys."

"Actually, why don't you come in and we'll order takeout?"

"Oh. I, well, are you sure?"

With whoops of victory the two kids disappeared into the darkness of the room, plopping down in front of the TV. Mulder watched them, making frantic mental notes of things he would need to hide if this was going to become a frequent occurrence.

He stood by his sister as Scully circuited the room, turning on lights and relocating breakables with the grace of a seasoned pro. <Probably from babysitting Charlie's kids> Finally, she picked up her gun and motioned for Mulder's, removing the bullets and carrying them both towards the bedroom.

"How are you doing?" he asked quietly.

"I'm okay, most of the time. My therapist is great."

He nodded. "So, you were in the neighborhood?"

Sam nodded. "David bought the van from a dealer down here, and there was a recall on some electrical doo-flotchy. Didn't take too long."

He grinned at her. "Is that the technical term? Doo-flotchy?"

Her eyes shone. "I believe it is, yes."

"Don't let him fool you, Sam," Scully warned as she returned to join them. "The only thing he knows about cars is how to change the radio station."

He smirked at her. "Are you challenging my manhood, Scully?"

Any witty remark she came up with was lost forever to the sound of splashing from across the room. All three adults looked up to see Lauren up to her elbows in the fishtank.

"Lauren, stop pestering the fish," Samantha ordered as she quickly closed the distance between herself and little Jacques Cousteau.

Mulder's hand slunk around Scully's waist. He could feel the longing that tightened her chest. They had to talk about this. Soon, if this was something she really wanted.

But there would be other nights for that.

"Sorry about tonight," she whispered, clutching his fingers within her own.

He smiled into her hair. "No," he said, squeezing her tightly back against him. They watched in amusement as Sam settled Lauren back onto the sofa. Jason had found Mulder's basketball, and was dribbling away on the hardwood floors. A steady rhythmic thud slowing pounding hearts to 4/4 time.

"No." He ducked to kiss her neck. "This is perfect."

The End

 


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