TITLE: Ad Astra per Aspera
AUTHOR: Charlotte Unsworth
E-MAIL ADDRESS: CMUnsworth@aol.com
SPOILER WARNING: An AU from "Requiem", so everything until then fair game.
AUTHOR'S SITE: http://www.unsworth.org.uk/jaw
FEEDBACK: Loved as much as chocolate, to CMUnsworth@aol.com

SUMMARY: Following the events of "Requiem", the end of everything and a new beginning. AUTHOR'S NOTE: The title means "through adversity to the stars. Many, many thanks to Jeanette for the constant and tireless beta!

Light blinds her as the dark falls sharply away. She blinks against it. She walks across the gently yielding sand, warm waves washing across the beach. This place is always as she remembers it, yet she marvels that she can find solitude here, where she spent so long agonising over his illness and whether he would ever recover.

He comes up behind her, slipping his arms around her waist. As she tells him how beautiful it was she knows he is thinking how he wanted to see it with her and she smiles, comforted by his presence. She misses him. It has only been a few days but his absence weighs down on her.

They fall silent. Words will not break the barrier between them - they have never been good with words. The only action that will do so is his return and he cannot promise that. The only sound around them is the waves crashing onto the rocks. She turns slowly, half afraid that she will wake up and he will be gone. But he remains, his arms linked across the small of her back. She tells him what she learned only a few days before. She is pregnant. A smile comes across his face but as he touches her wind blown hair from her face she can sense his concern, matching her own.

She can't tell him how. Part of her doesn't want to know, scared of what she might find. Part of her doesn't care, happy only to have this dream realised.

"You're here early." Skinner stood in the doorway.

"I couldn't sleep," Scully replied absently. He sat on the edge of the desk, gaining her attention. She wanted to hate the casual way that he did it, as if even though he was her superior he could be a caring friend as well. She wanted nothing more than to lock herself away in the basement and get on with things. She didn't want the intrusion. She wanted to hate Skinner for letting Mulder slip away from him, for not watching out for him as well as she would have done.

"You weren't at home last night. I tried to call you."

"I was at Mulder's," she admitted shortly. "I had a lot to do."

"Thinking about the baby?" His words made her hesitate. It was odd, to hear somebody else say it like that.

"I want - I don't know what's going on." He covered her hand with his own, the uncharacteristic gesture surprising her and giving her a spark of hope. "Do you know something?"

She couldn't hide the sudden flicker of emotion and it made Skinner feel worse as he tried to reassure her with words he knew to be meaningless.

"He will come back, Scully."

"Do you think - there was any part of him that wanted to go?"

"No." The hesitation before he spoke was oddly comforting. She had hated to consider the possibility, but looking through some of Mulder's things the idea had come to her. That, perhaps, he had been offered the opportunity to know the truth that he had been looking for his entire life and jumped at it without a second thought. "Perhaps six, seven years ago he might have," Skinner continued. "But not now. I can't believe that." Especially not when he knew Scully was sick at home. Mulder had been almost silent on their way to Oregon, commenting only that he had told Scully to stay because he was concerned. That had been his word, 'concerned', but it did nothing to hide the fact that he was obviously terrified something was about to happen to her.

Scully was exhausted, sick of the endless questions, tired of everyone wanting to know how she was and what she was feeling. As if she would suddenly drop all the defences she had somehow erected over the years and confess her emotions to anybody who showed the slightest interest.

Forbidden to work overtime for at least two weeks, she'd simply planned to work at home. Until she discovered Skinner had instructed the gunmen to keep an eye on her. His protection was frustrating, and even the gunmen overrode her objections to send her to her mother's with promises to call immediately if anything appeared. She ignored the glances they exchanged plainly stating how doubtful they were that would happen.

Visiting her mom was long overdue, she had to admit. She still hadn't told her of her pregnancy, or Mulder's disappearance. It hadn't seemed right to do it over the phone. Her heart sank as she pulled into the driveway and recognised Bill's car. She hadn't known he would be there but she could imagine the way the evening would go. It had been a deliberate attempt on Margaret's part, Scully was sure, to make her children reconcile their differences. An attempt Scully was beginning to think was futile, and certainly their problems wouldn't be solved in one evening.

Conversation at dinner flitted surprisingly easily from one conversation to another - one of Bill's recent tours, Tara's parents' new home. Scully listened to it all, distant and subdued. She left the table as soon as possible, escaping to the kitchen to wash the dishes and listen to Bill and Tara talking in low voices. Margaret came in as Tara took Matthew up to bed. She watched for a few minutes as her daughter meticulously dried each plate and replaced it. "What's wrong?" Slowly, she folded the tea towel and placed it on the sideboard.

"Mulder's missing." She looked up, trying to keep back her tears. Margaret embraced her comfortingly. "He's just...gone. I don't even know what happened. I wasn't there," she finished quietly.

"That's not all, is it?" Scully shook her head.

"I'm pregnant."

Margaret struggled for something to say. "I thought the doctors said - is it possible?"

"I know. But it's true."

"Mulder is the father?" As Scully nodded, sympathy filled Margaret. "Oh, Dana," she murmured, touching her daughter's face with compassion.

"You're got to be kidding me." The harsh interruption from the doorway startled them both. Bill stood there, staring at his sister in disbelief. "You're actually *sleeping* with him?"

"Bill, don't," Scully said softly. She couldn't find the energy to be angry with him.

"How can you defend him, after everything? You've changed, Dana, and he's come close to destroying this family."

"That's not true," Margaret argued.

"By the way, Dana," he continued regardless, "why isn't he here to break the happy news? Does he even care?"

"Stop it!" Margaret had never heard her son speak so harshly about anyone. Scully leaned back against the wall, arms folded around herself as she stared at the floor.

"Are you even in a relationship? Or was it just a one night stand?" "Stop it, Bill." He was taken aback by how vulnerable she sounded, her voice a shaking whisper. "I don't know where he is. He's being kept somewhere - against his will - and there's not a damn thing I can do." When Scully left soon after, the goodbyes were left short and tense.

She walks towards him, conscious of every small breeze. Beside the water he stands, sometimes stooping to pick up a stone and skim it across the river. She watches with a smile on her lips. He continues skipping the stones, oblivious to her presence.

It isn't until her shadow falls across his path that he looks up, a lop-sided smile crossing his face.

They walk together across the grass, his arm around her waist.

And as always, she wakes alone.

Every spare moment was spent co-ordinating the search for Mulder. Fighting against agents and supervisors who thought her time could be better spent. Many nights she sleeps at her desk, exhausted from hours of organising leads and dead ends. Skinner watched her anxiously, knowing that to interfere would be to make her reluctant to turn to him when she needed to. His concern showed itself not in questioning her about her hours and occupation, but in calling her each day and bringing her coffee when she worked late.

The darkness when they meet confuses her. Usually they are outside, the sun shining. Now she shivers in the cold and frost begins to form on the window.

They have no idea, she tells him softly. No idea about what the world is really like. He replies that, surely, their world is however it appears to them. Truth is created by our imagination of it. She smiles a little, too tired for complex thoughts. Sadly he tells her that she must consider them; it is only by understanding that she can believe.

She argues that she does believe. But what does she believe *in*? he asks. An idea or a fact? The metaphor is not the truth. She doesn't understand him and he cannot explain. She must discover it on her own. They stand in silence, watching the people in the cold streets below. Then he tells her gently to stop worrying about things she cannot control, and concentrate on what she can. Her brother. Forgive him, he urges. He is only trying to protect you. Make the first move, make him understand.

Scully's mother took her shopping but while Margaret picked out baby clothes Scully watched with amusement. When, laden with bags and exhausted, they came to a small cafe she became aware of being watched herself.

"What?" "You're not into this at all, are you?" Margaret gestured to the shopping at their feet.

"I'm not that enthusiastic about anything right now," she apologised. "The official search has been called off. Skinner told me...he kept it going much longer than it would have..." she shrugged and took a sip of coffee.

"He's taken good care of you."

"Yes. Him, Frohike, Langly, Byers. I'm lucky to have them"

"But they're not Mulder," Margaret added softly.

"No." Silence fell between them as mother watched daughter, trying to breach the subject on her mind.

"Have you spoken to Bill recently?"

"No." Her answer was curt, clearly telling her mother to back off. It was a lie; he had called her several times but only to ask when she would come to her senses and realise what a mess she was making of her life. Margaret continued relentlessly.

"He *is* sorry, Dana. He's in Washington this week, maybe you could..."

"He knows my number."

"You know what Bill's like. He's ashamed of how he behaved. He just wants to protect you, that's all. Make the first move, make him understand..." she stopped as Scully looked at her in surprise. "What?" Scully shook her head, bending to pick the shopping off the floor.

"Nothing. I'll call."

The next evening she arrived at where Bill was staying, knocking nervously. A tall, blond man opened the door and looked at her curiously. "Can I help you?"

"I'm here to see Bill. I'm his sister."

"Oh, right. I'm Michael. Come on in." He led her into the apartment. "Bill? Your sister's here." Bill emerged from the kitchen.


"Hey." The tension between them was unmistakable. Michael glanced at each of them.

"I'll, uh, I'll be in the other room." He left quickly, but neither paid any attention.

"How are you?" he asked softly.

"Fine." The echo of the familiar word made her smile wryly.

"This isn't like you."

"What isn't?"

"You look exhausted." She smiled tiredly, tucking her hair behind her ears.

"That is like me, Bill. And I'd be surprised if I didn't. I've been working."

"In your condition?" Scully stared at him incredulously. "I just mean...you should be careful." They stood in awkward silence, Scully gazing around the apartment. Neither wanted to meet the other's eyes.

"Bill, this is ridiculous," she said finally. "I'm not going to apologise to you for my relationship with Mulder..."

"I wish you had told me," he interrupted, and she suddenly understood.

"That's what really bothers you." She should have seen it. It had always been her and Bill, looking out for each other while Melissa and Charles were the same. "You're angry I didn't tell you we were together. But can you blame me? "You have to understand *my* reasons..."

"No, I don't, Bill. I'm an adult, I make my own decisions. Mulder hasn't done anything wrong."

"He destroyed our family, Dana. He..."

"This is ridiculous. How long are you planning to blame him?" He stopped and looked at her. "If you hold him responsible, you know it has to be my fault too."

"That's not..."

"I could have left. I could have taken the reassignments or teaching jobs they offered me. Is it because I didn't that Melissa died?" Bill didn't answer. "Mulder isn't guilty, Bill, and neither am I." Her use of the present tense caught him off guard. He'd believed Mulder was considered dead by the Bureau by now. Obviously his sister didn't share that belief and he couldn't decide if it was denial or if she was really right. He didn't ask himself which he would prefer.

"If you ever need to get away from Washington for a while, you're welcome to come up to San Diego." She knew that was as close to an apology as she was going to get from him.

"Thank you."

She felt better when she left, though her spirits fell as she drove back to her apartment. It felt so empty. So she didn't go home.

She had been to Mulder's apartment only once since his disappearance. The gunmen had been keeping it up and she knew they couldn't afford to for much longer.

Scully wandered through the rooms, sometimes reaching out to wipe a touch of dust from a surface and brushing it off her hand onto her skirt. Finally, she stepped slowly into the bedroom. Curled up on his bed, she inhaled the lingering scent of him. Of them.

They had been shy lovers at first, making up excuses to go to one another's apartment and stay until it was too late to go home. It had felt like such a long time before they finally admitted they were in love. She smiled a little at the recollection, at how unlike them it sounded. It had been more of an admission than a declaration, made sleepily as they lay together on the couch. That she had been the first to say it had surprised them both. Mulder had kissed her softly.

"I love you too."

"I know," she had replied, and then fallen asleep. She didn't stir when he moved her. She woke the next morning in his arms.

Months later, she still found herself missing him. She bought baby clothes and toys, a cot and a pram but they didn't help her. She tried to keep looking but months of dead ends revealed nothing. The smoking man was dead, Krycek and Marita had vanished the same night. The Oregon forest revealed nothing and too soon she was unable to fly there to go over their movements herself.

Four months after Mulder went missing, she was informed there would be a review on the progress of the X-Files. Skinner told her personally.

"I expected it." He just looked at her. "Mulder fought for them, he protected them. I was just assigned. And there's nobody to pull strings for him anymore." She got up slowly, replacing the reports she had been working on and flipping through several other documents.

"You think you'll be closed down?"

"Don't you?" She held out an envelope to him. "This is a report I prepared. Could you give it to whoever is heading the review?" Skinner nodded his assent.

The informality of the room when she arrived for the review surprised Scully, but did little to calm her apprehension. Her superiors were already there, including Skinner, though he had already told her his presence would have little effect. She slid into the empty seat.

"Agent Scully, thank you for joining us. We've heard from AD Skinner and looked over the report you submitted but, frankly, our decision had already been made." The agent glanced down the table. As Scully followed his gaze, she couldn't decide what the panel were thinking.

"Sir, I..."

The blonde agent on her left interrupted. "Given Agent Mulder's disappearance, the numerous case-files and witnesses of various phenomena," her bored and reluctant tone made Scully's heart sink. "It would appear that there is a need for the department to remain operational."

The meeting broke up quickly, the details agreed. Scully would take a teaching position at Quantico for the duration of her pregnancy, and as long as she wanted afterward. In the meantime, she would choose two agents to run the X-Files reporting directly to her. She herself would remain supervised by Skinner.

Scully chose two agents who had graduated from Quantico barely three months ago. She had met Mark Lawson and Nicole Stewart when they attended a lecture Mulder gave several weeks before his disappearance. She remembered how nervous he had been, asking her to come for support. As soon as he began to speak, she had known her presence was unnecessary. Nicole and Mark had come to talk to him at the end, not on the subject of his lecture, but on his views about the paranormal. He'd laughed and joked with them, glancing at Scully and actually enjoying himself. It was past midnight when the four finally parted. In the car, Scully turned to him.

"The legend lives."

Mulder had laughed.

"It's nice to meet someone who's open to new ideas," he said, glancing slyly across at her. She simply smiled and slid her hand across his. It had been the first time he had mentioned leaving, casually suggesting they would be good replacements one day. He evidently hadn't been joking as she had assumed at the time. What he said in Oregon...she shook herself out of the recollection to read their first report, and smiled. They were a good choice.

The watchman called Skinner when he found Scully asleep on her desk. The next day, he went to see her. He arrived near the end of her lecture. He'd been to a couple before, varying from forensic medicine to her more unusual cases. It had been a surprise how young she looked in the more casual clothes she taught in, with her hair tied back. But she lost none of her confidence for it. She delivered her address in a clear voice, answering questions as they arose, joking with some of the students. She was evidently nearing the end as he slipped into the lecture hall, unnoticed.

"And for that reason," she continued," it's irrelevant..." she stopped, and a strange look passed over her face. "I'm sorry," she muttered. Her lips moved slightly and she ran through the last few words in her mind. Skinner frowned. In the several lectures he'd attended she had never even hesitated. That look crossed her face again and, as if in slow motion, she fell to the ground. The hall erupted. Several front row students rushed forward. Skinner strode through them all, moving them back and checking her pulse.

"Call an ambulance," he instructed harshly, and glanced up to see one student already on a cell phone.

"No," Scully murmured. "I'll be fine in a minute."

"No," he replied adamantly. "I'm not taking chances. You're going to the hospital." As he spoke the paramedics came through the door, lifting her onto a stretcher despite her weak protest. He began to follow, pausing only to dismiss the lingering students.

He was several hours in the hospital before the doctors would let him in to see Scully. She was sitting up in bed, her hands playing with the edge of the bedclothes and a rueful smile on her face.

"The doctors say I'm fine," she began as he walked in.

"No, they don't," he interrupted. "I just spoke with them. Scully..." he hesitated, not wanting to be right in what he was thinking. "Losing the baby won't bring him back."

"You think - god, how dare you..."

"Wait." He held up a hand to interrupt her. "The fact remains, if you continue the way you've been going, you're putting both of you at risk. Late nights, skipping meals, you're working yourself to death..." he faltered.

"I only skipped breakfast."

"I'm not surprised. The lecture was at nine and you didn't leave your office until half eight. Oversleep?" he asked lightly. So he knew she'd been sleeping at the office. "They're going to keep you in a couple of days. If you promise to look after yourself you can go home then. But I promise you, Scully, if I have to I will make you stay here for the next seven months," he finished grimly. He touched her hand briefly as he turned to leave. Her voice stopped him at the doorway. "Next week, I - I have a birthing class."

"You need the time off?"

"I need a partner," she replied hesitantly. He considered her for a moment, hiding the beginnings of a smile.

"I'd be honoured."

The room was empty when he left, oppressive. She had avoided being alone for too long, and the forced inactivity only drove her mind towards things she hadn't wanted to think about. She had experienced so many emotions, she didn't quite know what to feel anymore. Grief, despair, guilt and anger had all become familiar. In the early days scenarios had filled her head. The image Mulder had described to her on their return from Antarctica haunted her. //I saw it generate a new life inside you// It was as tortuous as the continual 'what ifs'.

What if she had stopped him going, if she had called him in Oregon. If she had collapsed earlier would he have stayed. If the gunmen had focused on contacting him instead of worrying about her. Pulling herself back from those thoughts was difficult, but she had no other choice.

Their first weekend together had been completely spontaneous; so unlike them it made her smile now to think of it. He had picked her up to go on their first proper date, at his insistence of wanting to 'do things right'. When he took her home, he came inside and didn't leave until Monday morning.

When he made love to her he was gentle and soft, in a way she had never expected. He kissed her, telling her she was beautiful and he loved her. He teased and captivated her, in a way she couldn't remember any other man doing, before finally allowing her release. She remembered his hands on her waist, her hands holding his face and how she had kissed his closed eyes while he moved in her.

They had changed that weekend. From the shy and cautious lovers they began as emerged two people completely confident and secure with one another. Mulder had been ambitious, she remembered, to 'christen' every room in her apartment. The recollection of how they nearly pulled the sink from the bathroom wall raised a smile from her even now. When they came back from a nearby restaurant, he began kissing her in earnest in the elevator. His hand slid up her thigh regardless of where they were, and even before the door swung shut in her apartment he had pushed her hard against it, kissing her with a ferocity that took her breath away. She clung to him, a moan escaping as she reached to unbutton his shirt. His hand pushed under her skirt again, pulling aside her underwear. She gasped as he touched her, reaching for his trousers. In a few seconds they and his boxers were gone, his erection pressing insistently against her, hips thrusting into her as he kissed her hard.

"Maybe we should move," she whispered breathlessly. He didn't reply, his hands moving to caress her ass then slipping down. Suddenly he grasped her thighs and lifted her, using his torso to press her against the door. Her eyes went suddenly dark and he was in her, pounding her into the door, his face in her neck as she wrapped her legs round his waist. He pushed into her faster and harder, she took him deeper as he slammed her back against the door in urgency.

Slowly, he let go and put her back on the ground. They leant against the door breathing heavily, his body covering hers as his forehead rested on the wood above her head.

She was released from hospital a couple of days later. Skinner picked her up, driving her home. He insisted on cooking for her and wouldn't leave until she had eaten it all. She sat back on the sofa, exhausted.

"Thank you," she said suddenly. Skinner looked at her curiously from the kitchen.

"What for?"

"Being here."

When she fell asleep soon after he didn't have the heart to wake her. Instead, he covered her with a blanket and slipped quietly out of the apartment.

They went to the class together the next day. To his surprise, it wasn't as awkward as he had expected and he quite enjoyed it. But Scully couldn't stop imagining Mulder behind her instead.

That night she dreamed, watching herself and Mulder from a distance.

It was near midnight when she arrived at his apartment. Mulder had been waiting to hear from her all afternoon, since she left early for a hospital appointment. Despite her reassurances it was simply a check up, her face now told him otherwise. Scully couldn't speak as he asked her what was wrong, couldn't think what to say.

Mulder watched in horror as she began to cry, her efforts to fight the tears back failing. Her hands covered her face, trying to stop her sobs. He enfolded her in his arms wordlessly. She crumpled against him and silently they slid to the floor. He rocked her as she sobbed against him, terrified of what this meant, murmuring words of meaningless comfort simply because he didn't know what else to do.

When she eventually stopped he led her to the sofa. She sat quietly, ignoring the tears that were now drying on her cheeks. He offered her a handkerchief but she turned it over and over in her hands nervously. Mulder sat beside her, desperately wanting to ask what was wrong but scared to. He didn't have to. She spoke in a low voice, so quiet he could barely hear her even in the silent apartment.

"I went to the hospital this afternoon." Fear gripped him.

"Scully, you're not..."

"I'm still in remission," she assured him softly. "I'm fine."

"What happened?" he answered, ignoring her over-used reassurance.

"I saw a lot of doctors, had a lot of tests. The result, is that I'm no longer capable of conceiving a child."

"Oh, Scully." She leant her head on his shoulder, exhausted. He put an arm around her, not knowing what to say.

"I never - as a kid I was never one of the girls with dolls in prams. I was always more into baseball and climbing trees. But...I always assumed that I would have children one day. And now - I never realised how much I wanted that."

He steals up behind her, placing his hands on her waist to turn her around. Don't watch that, he tells her softly. It's in the past, it doesn't matter now. She smiles as he rests one hand on her stomach. God, you're huge. She laughs, making him smile. He hasn't seen her smile in a while, he tells her. Their surroundings fade slowly away as his hands settle in an arc on the small of her back. You never held me like this before, she says sadly. Sure I did, he replies, not understanding her sudden mood change. In their apartments, but not in public. He asks her if she remembers the park and she smiles again, but it is gone quickly. She wishes they had told their friends and family, had been able to be a couple around other people. Actually, he tells her, slightly embarrassed, the guys knew. She pulls back slightly; why didn't he tell her that? He doesn't know. Silence falls between them until he changes the subject. She's due soon, isn't she? He loses track at the moment, time slips away from him in this dark place. Just under two months, she replies.

As her due date grew nearer, the search for Mulder virtually stopped. There was nothing new to look into, and Scully occupied herself in preparing for the baby. She found she loved her new teaching job at the academy. It was an unexpected thrill, to see in her students' faces when something clicked. They talked and joked easily with her after lectures and there was never a shortage of things to keep her busy and her mind off Mulder.

Darkness presses in on her. Suffocating. She can't breathe. She panics, unable to move. Flashes of light fly before her eyes, alternately blinding her and illuminating the scenes of terror surrounding her. She feels sharp pain across her back, then another stinging her skin. She can't cry out, only sobs silently. Sensing someone over her she feels a sharp sensation in her arm, followed by the unmistakable feeling of liquid injected into her vein. She wakes screaming.

Scully sat back, her hands on her stomach as she smiled.

"That was great. I had no idea you guys could cook."

"Hidden talents," Langly replied with a smug grin.

"*My* hidden talents, you mean," Frohike interrupted. Scully smiled as their banter continued. It was good to see them again. She stood, picking up the plates and walking over to the sink. She took no more than a few steps before an excruciating pain hit her, making her feel faint. The plates fell to the floor as she doubled up in pain, gasping for breath. The gunmen surrounded her instantly, half carrying her to the sofa. She heard them shouting, heard Byers calling an ambulance and Langly calling Skinner. Frohike stayed by her side to try to calm her.

"Something's wrong with the baby," she whispered breathlessly. Frohike was frightened by how pale she had become in just a few moments. She saw the fear in his face, and it scared her. She bit her lip to keep from crying out as a fresh pain hit her, she felt Frohike's hand on hers as her world went black.

Skinner arrived seconds after the ambulance, in time to see her being carried out on a stretcher, neighbours standing in their doorways curiously. He took her hand.

"Scully?" She was white as a sheet, her face damp as she looked absently at him although her hand was freezing.

"Don't let me lose her." He jumped into the ambulance as the paramedics pulled away, leaving the guys to follow in his car, panic stricken.

They wheeled her quickly down the corridor, Skinner walking beside her to reassure her. He didn't know if Scully heard him. Her eyes were vacant, and as he took her hand she whispered Mulder's name.

It's okay, Mulder tells her. He'll be with her the whole time. She tries to talk to him, to tell him how scared she is, but the words don't come out. He soothes her, touching her hair gently. She is aware of Skinner beside her but can't understand what he is saying. It doesn't matter, Mulder tells her, holding her hand.

She freed her hand from Skinner's, reaching beyond him, fingers curling slightly. He was forced to stay in the waiting room, losing sight of her around the corner just as the guys arrived.

"How is she? What's going on?"

"I don't know." He was still staring through the window. "They just took her in there, didn't say anything...I need to call her mother."

"Did it on the way. She's in San Diego right now, figured she'd have time before Scully was due. She's getting the first flight back," replied Frohike.

For the first time in years, Skinner prayed. The nurse hurrying to and from the operating theatre couldn't tell him what he wanted to hear, only that the procedure could take several hours. He left the gunmen sprawled anxiously across the chairs to wait for Margaret Scully and began walking towards the small chapel.

It was quiet, a subdued calm in the air transcending the busy hospital just outside the chapel doors. He made his way carefully past the empty pews to the altar, kneeling in front of the rail. His hands rested on the smooth wood of the rail, reminding him of countless Sundays as a child. He remembered the smell of the church and the rhythmic cadence of the priest's voice, the choir and the silence as each person prayed.

He prayed now, that for once she would be permitted something in return for the anguish she had suffered since he had known her.

He asked for her life, and for that of her child.

The gunmen found him hours later, asleep in front of the altar. They woke him, falling over themselves to tell him that Scully was out of surgery, and they were both fine.

Hours later, he was allowed to see her. She was forced to lie down, her blood pressure and heart rate constantly monitored by a steady stream of nurses in and out of the room. When she saw him she smiled weakly.

"All those birthing classes for nothing, huh?" he joked. She laughed, but the laugh became an alarming fit of coughing, racking her body until she lay back exhausted against the pillow.

"Probably not...a good idea to make me laugh right now" she gasped, still breathing hard. "Have you seen her?"

"Not yet," he replied.

"Me neither." She could only manage a whisper. "They won't let me out of here yet, and she's in an incubator so they can't bring her here."

"Maybe you should get some rest," Skinner suggested.

"'Kay," she breathed. Her eyes were already drooping shut as he bent to kiss her on the cheek.

"Congratulations," he whispered into her ear.

He's so proud of her. Her and their child. Mulder sits on the edge of her bed, kisses her hand softly as he asks what they should call her. Scully begins to suggest Samantha, or Melissa, but he silences her with a kiss. No, he replies softly. A new name for a new life, one without painful memories. Meghan, she suggests. He considers it for a moment, a half smile touching his lips. Perfect, he murmurs as he leans in to kiss her one more time.

The doctors examined her until she was sick of the constant interruptions and tests. She had a permanent headache and was too tired to do anything but stay in bed and stare out of the window. The pills they gave her to help her sleep meant she didn't dream.

A couple of days later, she was allowed out of bed to see Meghan. Skinner went with her, supporting her down the corridor to the nursery. The doctors had reassured him she would be fine in a few days. He didn't tell Scully he had taken a week off work to spend time at the hospital with her, and she didn't seem to realise that he was always there. He sat by her side while she slept and joked with her when she woke up. He stood outside the nursery window, gazing at Meghan. He had no illusions as to what Scully would have to cope with; he knew how tiring a child was and had no intention of allowing her to talk the doctors into sending her home early.

It was nearly two weeks after Meghan's birth that they were allowed to leave the hospital, with the condition imposed by Skinner that she stay with Margaret, at least for a while.

Scully was surprised to see Skinner when he arrived on her doorstep two weeks after she came home from her mother's. She invited him in, and he stood uncomfortably in the hallway as she returned to the kitchen.

"I just came to drop off some mail posted to your office." He placed it, unnoticed, on the table.

"Do you want to stay for dinner."

"No, I - I don't want to put you to any trouble."

"Not at all," she smiled. "I'd love some adult company." He returned the smile.

"Then I'd love to. Anything I can do?" She shook her head, and continued with her preparations.

He watched her as they ate. She was slim, possibly even thinner than before her pregnancy. It was the only indication that she may still have been unwell following the surgery and her illness. As if on cue, when they had finished a thin wail came from the bedroom. "I'd better go." Skinner nodded, watching as she left. In moments the cries stopped and he could hear her murmuring in low tones. Slowly, he cleared the table and washed up before beginning to straighten up the living room. He couldn't decide what the change in her was, exactly, but she was different. When she returned, Meghan nearly asleep on her shoulder, she was overwhelmed.

"How long was I gone? You didn't have to do this."

"Just trying to make myself useful." He made a dismissive gesture, then held his hands out to Meghan. "May I?" Scully hesitated only a moment.


Scully sat down, watching her boss's face soften as he held Meghan in one arm, her fingers clasping his other hand. He muttered softly to her in gibberish; Scully had to stifle a laugh. "You're good with her."

He glanced at her. "I've had a lot of practice. Sharon and I had a son," he explained in response to her enquiring look.

"I had no idea."

"It was a long time ago. Most people at the bureau don't really know, or don't mention it. Sharon - she had complications during the pregnancy, spent the last three months in hospital. She hated it," he recalled softly. "Said it made her feel useless, not being able to do anything."

"What happened?" Scully asked gently.

"Jake had a weak immune system. He was always getting infections, getting sick. We spent most of his life in hospital with him. When he was eighteen months, he caught pneumonia. He died a couple of days later." He shrugged, almost defensively, and Scully suddenly regretted asking. "Sharon and I had problems coping. She was on anti-depressants, and I somehow got promoted. I threw myself into the work, started keeping things from her to try to protect her. We just - we just drifted too far apart." Scully stood, touching his arm,

"I'm sorry." He shook his head.

"I didn't tell you for sympathy, or...I - you're a friend."

"I know," she agreed quietly.

"And you look exhausted," he continued briskly, the moment lost. "I'll look after her for a while, you go get some sleep."

Scully had spent Christmas with her family; she called Skinner late on Christmas night, talking to him for hours. She told him about the way her niece and nephews adored Meghan, how Meghan had loved all the attention. But Margaret called him later that week, telling him how concerned she was. Scully had been withdrawn with them all, except Meghan, and she had left early to spend New Year's Eve at home. Alone.

It was a lonely night. With Meghan in bed, the television was the only thing to keep her company and for a moment she regretted not taking up her mother's offer to stay.

As Dick Clark, joined by thousands, began the enthusiastic countdown to the new year, she raised her glass to the silent room and the photograph of Mulder that stood, as always, on her desk. "Happy New Year."

Scully soon returned to teaching at Quantico. She enjoyed her students' company, the way they never fell silent when she entered a room for fear they would say something about Mulder that would upset her, as other agents did. Margaret looked after Meghan during lectures. Skinner attended some, sitting quietly at the back of the hall, watching her. At first Scully resented the constant supervision she felt from them both and the never ending speculation of others in the bureau. She grew used to it.

Scully threw herself into her daughter, and her work. In the seven years she'd worked with Mulder she had published two papers. In the two years he had been missing, she had published three and was almost finished with another. In her work she could, for a few precious moments, forget that he was gone.

Further down in the FBI, people began to talk. Those who remembered Mulder at the academy, and worked with him in Behavioural Sciences, remembered how closely he had been watched as the most promising agent they had. A few of them recalled how changed he had become, once he worked out that he did his job best by immersing himself in it completely, to the exclusion of everything else in his life. These few men agreed her daughter kept her grounded, for now, but they also saw Scully heading the same way. Unknowingly she gained allies among these men, who had always admired Mulder for his talent even as they were frustrated by the way he flouted the rules and didn't seem to give a damn. They watched out for his partner.

When the gunmen called with news, Scully left Meghan with her mother, left Skinner a message and was on the first flight. When she returned subdued with reddened eyes, neither commented but both watched her. It happened more often after that; most of the time she appeared happy, lecturing, joking with students and colleagues. She saw Skinner and Margaret often, and spent as much time as she could with Meghan. But occasionally she would see something in Meghan, in her smile or her dark eyes, that reminded her painfully of Mulder. Finally, after months of torturing herself over the possibilities, Scully had gathered the courage to order a DNA test. It took longer before she found the nerve to open the envelope and learn the truth. The sense of relief was overpowering.

Her mask slipped only after the gunmen called her with a lead. They continued to search, but told her about their leads only occasionally. Invariably she left Meghan with Margaret and left a hurried message on Skinner's voicemail, promising to call when she reached her destination. She never found anything.

The last time, it was a body. Unidentified male discovered in Wisconsin, cause of death as yet undetermined.

It hadn't been him.

Alone on the flight home, she stared out of the window. On their first flight she had learned that he lay across all the seats. Even when the plane was full, he somehow managed to find the space. On the way to Oregon the last time, they had sat together. She felt his body beside her even when they weren't touching. It had been the only time they had acted as a couple in public, allowing her to lay her head on his shoulder, him to kiss her forehead as she fell asleep. Both blissfully unaware of what was waiting for them.

"Miss?" With surprise she realised an attendant was looking at her in concern. The other passengers were leaving, but she sat motionless. "Are you okay?" Flushing in embarrassment, Scully brushed off the tears. They were a luxury she wouldn't allow herself in private and she was angry with herself now.


It was dusk when Scully arrived at the Hoover building, but the security guard told her that yes, AD Skinner was still in his office. He looked up in surprise when the door quietly opened, his expression quickly becoming sympathetic when he saw her weary, tear stained face.

"It wasn't him."

Skinner nodded slowly. "You could have told me that over the phone."

"Yeah." She began to leave but paused. "I don't dream about him anymore." Skinner looked at her curiously. "I lied to the committee after New Mexico. I lied to you. I knew he was alive."

"He spoke to you."

"No. It sounds ridiculous, I know," she told him quietly. "But I dreamed he was okay. And when he went missing, I dreamed about him so vividly. He spoke to me - he reassured me. I haven't spoken to him in two months." Skinner wondered if she had noticed the way she phrased it. She hadn't. It hadn't struck her till that moment how she had depended upon those dreams as her only connection to him, and how bereft she felt when she no longer had that link.

"Do you think that means something?" Skinner asked.

She tried to explain as she sank into the chair, avoiding his eyes.

"I wanted it to be him today. Do you know what it feels like to wish the person you love is dead? I hate it. I hate myself for wanting it to be." She shook her head slightly. These moments with Skinner were all too similar to those she used to have with Mulder. The overwhelming need to tell someone what she was feeling took over and she told everything. They left her drained, and self conscious.

"I can't chase around the country on the chance I may find someone who might know something. I can't keep leaving Meghan, I don't want to."

"Do you think Mulder is dead?" he couldn't help asking.

"I don't think I'll find him. Not until I'm supposed to."

Even as he watched her leave, he knew that while she might think she knew what she said, the moment the Gunmen called with information she would forget it all and be on the plane. He called them


"Don't call me that," he protested once more, knowing they would whether he liked it or not. He assumed Mulder had told them the nickname, and he found himself oddly drawn to the three of them, what they did and how they lived. And strangely enough they never questioned him; that Mulder and Scully trusted him was enough.

"What's up?" He waited until he heard the click of the tape recorder being switched off, and the hollow sound of the speaker phone.

"I just spoke to Scully. There was nothing in Wisconsin." Silence came from the other end.

"It was a long shot," Byers said eventually.

"I don't think you should tell her anymore. Not until we've confirmed something." It did not go unnoticed that he included himself in their group.

"She wanted to be told everything," Langly said uncertainly.

"You've seen her when she gets back, though" Frohike argued. "She's depressed."

"Her lows get worse each time, and her highs are never high to begin with. Each of these journeys just...they just make her worse."

"You think she's that bad?" Byers couldn't, or didn't try to, hide his disbelief.

"No...I just don't want her to go through it any more."

Scully looked around at the students in the lecture theatre. They all appeared intent, some watching as she spoke while others took notes. She smiled slightly to herself as she noticed that Matt Jenson had found himself a seat in the front row. He'd placed a tape recorder on the slight ledge in front of him, leaving him free to sit back with his feet up, hands linked behind his head as he watched her.

He was one of the few students who attended every lecture she gave, regardless of the topic, and he always did something slightly unusual. The first he had been to, he was on time and constantly asking questions - apparently the perfect student. The second, he arrived ten minutes late. He rode through the double doors on a unicycle - to the applause of the other students. He cycled up to her, circled her once and produced a daffodil from behind his back before riding to the front row and vaulting over the ledge into his seat. She couldn't help smiling.

He followed that stunt with many others, and she found herself looking forward to her lectures to see what he would do next. Sometimes he got the others in the class involved too, even finding out when her birthday was to organise a surprise for her. Her students liked her, and she appreciated that.

Today Matt was uncharacteristically silent during her lecture, but as she finished and students began to file out he approached her.

"Agent Scully?"

"Are you okay, Matt?"

"Fine. I saw AD Skinner this morning. I thought he was going to come in, I've seen him a couple of times, but he got a call. He looked pretty upset. He wanted me to ask you to wait for him."

"Did he say what was wrong?" Scully was instantly concerned. She'd been expecting Skinner, too, and had been surprised when he hadn't been there. Matt shook his head.

"Nope. Just told me to ask you to wait."

"And he didn't say anything else?" Matt shook his head apologetically, beginning to say something else but stopped when he saw the look on her face, and caught sight of the door opening over her shoulder.

"There he is."

"Who's with him?" she breathed. She felt the familiar feeling as soon as the door opened.

"I haven't seen him before. Tall guy - agent Scully, are you okay? You look..." Matt trailed off.

She turns slowly, afraid to believe until she sees him. He stands in the doorway, t-shirt hanging off his thin frame and a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He sees her expression change. Hey Scully, he greets her, voice hoarse and roughened with emotion. She chokes back a sob and moves towards him.

Mulder stared down at her, absorbing every detail, every emotion on the face he had pictured so many times. Slowly she reached to touch him. Tracing his cheek and jawbone her touch was fleeting against his skin.

Matt met Skinner's eyes, seeing in them the same sense of voyeurism he felt. The two figures in the middle of the room didn't even register their presence, staring at one another. Matt had heard the rumours, that Scully had become involved with her partner and when Mulder had heard about her pregnancy he had disappeared. Looking at them now he believed that nothing could be further from the truth. As Matt slipped quietly, unnoticed, out of the door, the almost reverent look in the assistant director's eyes as he watched the pair in the middle of the room confirmed his opinion. Mulder dipped his head to kiss her, barely grazing her lips with his own before resting his head atop hers.

"I missed you," he whispered into her hair. Finally, reluctantly, Mulder pulled back. She kept hold of his hand, linking his fingers with her own in an uncharacteristic gesture. He led her out of the lecture theatre, Skinner following them.

"Where do we go now?" Scully asked.

"Home," he replied. She began to agree, but suddenly corrected herself.

"Mulder, you can't go home. You have to go to the hospital, get checked out, I..."

"It's done. I woke up there this morning," he explained. "I was signed out a while ago, basically ok. I didn't call because - well, what would have happened if I'd just called and said 'hey, Scully, how you doing?'" Scully smiled slightly.


"Scully? Can I have a word?" Skinner gestured for her to move away. She nodded, keeping hold of Mulder's hand for as long as possible while she went towards Skinner.

"What is it, sir?"

"You can't go home," he told her urgently in hushed tones. His meaning hit her. Meghan. As soon as they entered her apartment, Mulder would realise, and she wasn't sure she was ready to broach the subject. She couldn't even begin to think what she would say to him.

"You're right." Skinner dug into his pocket, handing his keys to her.

"Go to my apartment." She took the offered key tentatively.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'll find somewhere to sleep tonight. Don't worry about it."

"Thank you."

She felt Mulder watching her as she drove towards Skinner's apartment, his intense scrutiny making her a uncomfortable.

"What is it?"

"Nothing," he smiled. His expression changed as they pulled up outside Skinner's apartment. "Why are we here?"

"Because I need to talk to you, and I don't want to go to my apartment." She hesitated as they entered the elevator. "What did Skinner tell you - about me?"

"He said you lecture at the bureau, that there are two agents you supervise on the X-Files." He paused. "He said you looked for me."

"I did." The doors opened and she led the way, unlocking the door and flicking the light switch on. "Do you want a drink?" Her casual manner worried him. On the surface, she was completely calm and accepting, but he could feel the undercurrent of emotion she was hiding from him.

"No. Scully - what are we doing here? Why can't we go to your apartment?"

"It's a mess," she replied quietly. She was following a routine, drawing curtains and switching on the lamp by the sofa. He laughed at the matter of factness in her response.

"That doesn't matter."

Scully crossed over to him, hesitantly raising herself onto tiptoes to kiss him. She leaned into him, tasting him, feeling him. His hands were in her hair as he kissed her back, sinking into her. She ran her hands through his hair, holding his face between them as she deepened the kiss, his hands on her waist.

Finally he pulled away to rest his forehead on hers, breathless. He smiled softly. "Scully..." She silenced him, pressing her hands flat against his chest to step out of his embrace. When she looked at him again he could see the rigidity in her body, the effort it took to keep her emotions under control. It scared him. "What's going on?" he asked in as neutral a tone as possible.

"I can't do this." Her eyes were closed and her voice choked. When he tried to touch her she stepped away. "Scully, you're shaking." He didn't understand what was happening, couldn't comprehend the tear falling down her face and the oppressive silence in the charged atmosphere.

"I need to tell you..."

"What?" The first question he had asked Skinner had been whether Scully was ok. Her sickness in Oregon left him afraid the cancer had returned. Skinner had assured him, though, surely he wouldn't... He watched as Scully struggled to find the words to tell him, growing more scared with every failed attempt to speak. "Scully, you're scaring me. What do you need to tell me?"

"I had our baby girl nearly two years ago."

Margaret Scully opened the door hastily to see her daughter on the doorstep and, beside her, Mulder. She embraced him.

"It's good to see you, Fox." The warmth in her voice was unmistakable. Scully turned to him.

"I want to talk to her first." He nodded.

"Don't take too long, okay?" Margaret led him into the kitchen as Scully went upstairs to find Meghan.

"How are you feeling?" "It's a little confusing."

"Meghan?" The morning light came faintly through the thick curtains. Scully saw the little figure sit up in bed as she entered.


"Hey, honey. You have a good time last night?" She softened immediately as her daughter held out her arms for a hug. She squirmed onto Scully's lap, facing her.

"Grandma let me stay up," she said proudly.

"We'll have to talk to grandma about that later. I have something to tell you, about why you stayed here last night. I was talking to your daddy, Meghan."

"Daddy?" Her face lit up, as it had on countless occasions when Scully had told her of her father and shown her the picture beside her bed.

"Yes. And guess what?"


"He's waiting for you downstairs."

The silence was broken by a wail from upstairs. Tiny feet raced across the landing and down the stairs, headed for the kitchen. They heard Scully calling Meghan back as they left to see what was going on.

"Daddy, daddy!" Meghan flew down the stairs and flung herself onto Mulder. He knelt in front of her, holding her back to look at her. The look on his face when he hugged her was indescribable.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, not really sure who he was talking to. "I'm sorry I wasn't here."

It wasn't until they reached her apartment that Mulder realised how much had changed for Scully. The place was almost unrecognisable. She didn't say anything when she handed him some of his things from a cupboard with the explanation that the gunmen couldn't afford to keep his apartment up for long. She refused to meet his eyes for more than a moment.

Margaret and Skinner watched them from a distance, and everything seemed fine. But in the apartment, with nobody watching them, Meghan clung to her father as though she could sense the tension between her parents. Mulder and Scully felt awkward, distanced from one another. It hurt and caused them to see things that weren't there. Mulder spent each night on the sofa, not seeing the look on Scully's face when he asked for a blanket, not knowing she lay awake for hours listening to the television in the living room and hoping he would come in.

He was silent on the subject of his abduction. Scully tried not to push him into talking about it, but she was desperate to know what had happened to him, where he had been. When she asked him if she could look at his hospital records he flatly refused, shouting at her angrily when pressed. He lost his temper more easily nowadays. Somehow, the two of them reverted to their old partnership. They didn't communicate, not properly, hiding their feelings as they always had. Meghan felt it, though, clinging to Mulder. She refused to go to Margaret's when Scully was working, pleading to stay at home with her daddy. In the end, Scully had to agree. Mulder didn't know how to deal with a child, indulging her until Scully told him not to, allowing her things Scully never did.

One evening, Meghan was in bed and Mulder had thought Scully was in the bedroom. He didn't realise she had come out and was behind him. He slipped off his shirt to change, wincing as the fabric rubbed his back. He heard her gasp and turned to see her standing with a look of horror.

"It's not as bad as it looks," he said shortly. She didn't reply. Slowly, Scully walked around him, reaching with trembling fingers to the scars on his back. Jagged lines criss-crossed his once smooth skin, some healed to leave only a silvery mark, some much more recent.

"What did they do to you?" she breathed. She felt, rather saw, him tense up under her touch, and withdrew her hand.

"I'm gonna take a shower." She watched helplessly as he walked into the bathroom, locking the door behind him.

The water stung his back, but he was past caring. Trying to hide his scars from her, to pretend they didn't exist, didn't work. They hurt every time his clothes brushed against him, every time Meghan hugged him. And every time he felt that jolt of pain he was right back in the room.

Surrounded by darkness suffocating him, noise distant and muffled. He was unable to move, unable to see what held him down. Flashes of light blinded him, accompanied by stinging pains on his back and on the insides of his arms as they injected him.

He never saw Them, could never make out a recognisable figure in the shadowy nothingness. Time lost all meaning in that place, he had no way of measuring it and it wouldn't have mattered if he did except to impress upon him how long it had been since he had seen her.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, one day the pain stopped and things became clearer. He was left in a large room, stretching out for what seemed like miles. People lined the walls. Sometimes some were taken; some returned, others did not. They never knew what happened to them. Krycek and Marita found him lying there, incoherent. They moved him to a far corner and looked after him, hiding him as best they could when They came again.

Krycek and Marita. Possibly the last people he had imagined seeing here, looking pale and sick. They told him in hushed tones that he had been singled out, remaining away far longer than anyone else. They did not know why. The Project had crumbled, those involved turning on one another and the men they had worked with.

They told him what they knew, which was not much, and cared for him when he was taken for more testing and returned. Some others around them gathered the energy to glance at them curiously, but not many. Quiet sobbing filled the room until it became an unnoticed background noise. Perhaps that was one of the worst things. That in this place other people's suffering meant only that it wasn't you.

Scully heard him, his choked sobs not quite drowned out by the water. When she tried the door she discovered it was locked, and covered her face with her hands. He had shut her out, again. Despite being separated only by a few inches of wood she felt more lonely than she had in the years he had been away. She leant her head against the door, needing to hear the cries he was evidently trying to muffle, to hide from her.

When he emerged, Mulder caught sight of her lying on the bed, her light on. "Scully?" She didn't answer. Quietly, he went in to look at her. The stains on her cheek were immediately obvious. Tenderly he brushed them away but swiftly pulled his hand back when she stirred. He wanted her. He wanted to talk to her but couldn't, needed to touch her but couldn't bear the thought she would reject him. She had seemed to welcome him back, but he wondered if it had been a reaction borne simply of relief. He questioned now if this was really what she wanted.

It was cold, Scully realised blearily, the bedcovers having slipped off. But that wasn't what had woken her. Catching a glimpse of the clock beside her, reading 3 am, she heard the stifled sobs in the living room. "Mulder?" She reached to touch him but he let out a shout, a wordless cry of pain as he fled past her into the bedroom. She fell, her head ringing as she hit the floor. She blinked against the sudden pain, feeling the cut on her forehead as she stumbled after him. "Oh my god," she whispered.

Mulder was stood in the middle of the room, total bewilderment on his face. "Mulder?" she asked tremulously. Turning towards her, his face was blank and he wordlessly moved towards her. His hands were infinitely gentle as they cradled her face. Suddenly he fell to his knees, burying his face in her waist as his arms clasped her, pulling her close.

She held him that night. As he told her in a broken voice of what he had experienced, the terror and torture he had been through. That Marita and Krycek had been there didn't surprise her; she had realised they had gone missing the same day. Mulder wept in her arms like a child until he fell asleep, exhausted.

Skinner found her sitting alone at the back of the lecture theatre. "I'm fine," she said softly as he sat beside her, before he uttered even a word. "Of course," he agreed. "When I'm fine I sit alone in a dark room too." Scully lifted her hand to her head to rest it, but drew a sharp hissing breath as she knocked the cut, and lowered her hand again. "Robert called me. He said you looked hurt...were you attacked?" Despite Mulder's return the security guards and agents continued to look out for Scully. She shook her head in answer to his question, no. Skinner held her back her hair to examine the wound, the blood drying over it. "Are you sure you don't need stitches?"

"It'll be okay," Scully insisted.

"How did you do it?" he pressed. "Scully? Did you fall? Did someone hit you?" Her lower lip trembled slightly, threatening to betray her as she looked at him.

"It wasn't his fault".

"I don't understand..." as he looked at the intense pain in her eyes, masked by the half shadows of the lecture hall, comprehension slowly dawned. "*Mulder* did this to you? God, Scully."

"He was having a nightmare. I've been pressing him too hard, pushing him to talk to me."

"Did he?"

"Yeah. When he woke up properly. He - he was right. I'm lucky not to remember."

They left as the first students began to arrive for the first lecture of the morning. Skinner began to walk up to the apartment building with her but a quick glance from her deterred him, though he watched until she was safely inside before driving away.

Their apartment was silent, Meghan obviously still sleeping. It took only a moment to find what she wanted in the medicine cabinet. Gingerly she dabbed at the blood on her forehead, wincing as the wet cloth touched her.

"Where've you been?" Mulder's voice made her jump and drop the cloth into the sink.

"You scared me."

"Sorry." She didn't move, and he looked up. Caught sight of the cut in her reflection. Wordlessly he reached in front of her to retrieve the cloth. Placing a hand on Scully's shoulder, he turned her around and gently cleaned it. Scully flinched but didn't say anything in response to his murmured apology. "What happened?" he asked softly when he'd finished. She stared at him in surprise.

"You don't remember?"


"Your nightmare. You, you told me everything that happened to you."

"I hit you," he said, in a tone of disbelief as it came back to him. "I'm sorry." But he remembered doing it. Remembered feeling confused, frightened that they were coming for him again. Seeing her fall and not caring.

She found the paper a couple of days later with apartment listings circled in red. Mulder came up behind her as she looked at it. "I was going to ask you about that, if you would come with me. I'd like Meghan to be there."

"You're moving out." "I've been here too long. I, uh, I'm crowding you." He pointed to one. "Sounds nice. Come with me?" "Sure," she replied shortly, and left the room.

They went the next day. It was near his old neighbourhood - he told her how he had tried to get his old apartment back but apparently his landlord had sounded rather pleased when he told Mulder it was impossible. Meghan liked the one they went to see, running around the empty rooms, twirling in the middle until she was dizzy and fell over. Mulder picked her up, talking to her and asking if she would like to stay sometimes. Scully watched them, wondering sadly how they could make her feel like such an outsider.

"We're living here?" Meghan asked. Mulder glanced at Scully but she looked away, a clear message that he was on his own.

"I am, Meghan. You and your mom are staying at home. You can come over whenever you want - I promise." "Like Emma?" Mulder looked back to Scully helplessly, not knowing who she was talking about. "Emma's mom and dad shout."

"We won't shout, sweetie," Scully replied softly from the doorway.

In the car, Mulder glanced across to her.

"Who's Emma?" he asked, quietly so Meghan didn't hear him. "She lives on the fourth floor. Her parents are divorced; it wasn't exactly amicable.

"I guess that's where the shouting came from." "Lou's husband was screwing around," Scully said bluntly. "Anyone who would have him, and Lou put up with it for a while until he tried to have someone who didn't want him." "Rape?"

"He tried. She fought him off. Lou sued for custody, and won; Jack still used to show up once a week to demand visitation rights until Lou told him I was an FBI agent."

"Would you stop me seeing her?" She looked around to see Mulder emerge from Meghan's room.

"Of course not." He turned off the television and sat down beside her.

"Are you sure?" "We don't need this conversation."

"Scully, don't avoid the subject!" He was growing angry, she could see - something that seemed to happen more and more often. "Would you?" "Okay." She put her book flat on the floor, half turning towards him. "Why should I?"

"Hypothetical scenario...you meet someone. How could I stop you, I don't have any rights..." she stood up, searching through her desk for some papers. She threw them at him, one at a time.

"Birth certificate. Father - Fox William Mulder. DNA test. Father - Fox William Mulder. Of course you have rights. In your 'hypothetical scenario', I couldn't stop you even if I wanted to." She stormed out of the living room, slamming the door behind her.

The next morning, Mulder waited until Meghan was out of the room before drawing Scully into the kitchen and making her sit down. "Why did you have a DNA test done?" "Why do you think?" She was still angry over what he had said the night before, and it showed. Her tone was like ice, her arms crossed defensively. "I had to know." He reached out to touch her but she drew away.

"I'm sorry about last night," he told her with difficulty. "It's just...what she said kind of hit a little too close to home." Scully stared at him impassively. "When my parents were getting divorced, things at home were - pretty unbearable. My dad went out when he got angry, started drinking. He broke a lot of furniture. Better that than us, huh?"

His tone made Scully look at him. "Of course I didn't understand that at the time. I spent all my time in my room, or at the library. Alone. I was depressed after Samantha's disappearance and...it didn't help. My friends drifted away and my parents didn't notice a thing. I don't like to think of the effect what happens between us has on her."

"I'm sure it's no worse than being without a father for two years." The words were out before she even thought about it. "I didn't mean that, Mulder, I..." he glanced down at the table, apparently absorbed in scratching at a mark on the surface.

"It's ok. Never mind." There was awkward silence; Scully didn't know what to say. "How is this going to work?"

"What do you mean?"

"The situation, with us and Meghan." Scully looked at the table as she replied.

"You move into your apartment. I look after her when I'm not at work, you have her when you can. Mom's happy to keep her when we're both busy. And you can see her whenever you like. How's that?"

"Fine. Thank you." He pushed the chair back abruptly and walked out.

The tension between them eased when he was out of her apartment, though Scully didn't like to admit it. She had wanted him to stay. She tried telling herself it was unreasonable to expect him to leap into a family life with no preparation, and perhaps it wasn't what he had wanted after all. She didn't want to *be* reasonable.

There were awkward moments, when one picked Meghan up from the other's apartment they made small conversation that made each aching to say something more substantial and afraid of the consequences if they did. Yet, alone in their apartments, they could talk to one another as they had done before.

She reached out sleepily for the phone.


"Are you psychic or what, Scully?"

"It's 3 am. No-one else calls this late. Or is it early?" He laughed softly. She sat up, smiling into the phone

"So what's up?"

"Nothing." His reticence made her sit up.

"You had a nightmare."

"I was there, Scully. Back in that room, and I couldn't..."

"It's okay, Mulder" his voice had grown panicked, worrying her. "You're not there. You're safe."

"Am I? We don't know that, They could come back."

"I wish I had the answer," she admitted. They both sat in silence, staring into the darkness and holding their phones as though they were a lifeline connecting them.



"Who told you I was gone?" She sighed; he'd never asked her about it and she had assumed it had never crossed his mind.

"Skinner called into the bureau. They sent out a search party from the nearest field office, and they sent someone to see me. He worked in, uh, violent crimes, I think. I'd never seen him before, I never even knew his name. He just said it, as though he was telling me your flight had been delayed. I wasn't supposed to take it badly," she said, unable to hide the bitterness in her tone.

"Did you?"

"Of course I did. I'd just found out I was pregnant. I'd tried to call you but..."

"I forgot my phone." He said softly.

"I know. I found it when we were cleaning out your apartment." He fell silent and they remained still, content just to listen to the quiet on the other end.

"I thought you would want to know," Skinner told her. "He came to me this morning."

"Thanks." Scully held her emotions in check until she reached her car, taking out some of her frustration on the steering wheel. Mulder was obviously expecting her when she arrived at his apartment. He'd realised Skinner would not keep his promise not to tell her first. Mulder hadn't understood until he saw the look on his supervisor's face how close the two of them had become. He hadn't expected Scully to look as angry as she did. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"


"Skinner told me you're being reassigned to the X- Files. Why?"

"I would have thought that was obvious." He spoke in a level tone, determined not to get into an argument and still not understanding why she was so upset.

"Not to me."

"I've been thinking about it for a while. I want to do this. I thought you'd..."

"I'm not coming back. I like my job, having time to spend with Meghan and not spending half my life in dingy motels! And I don't enjoy putting my life on the line for nothing!"

"Is that what you think we've achieved? Nothing?" He was stunned.

"We have, but it's over. I'm not doing this."

"I should have expected that, I guess," he muttered.

"What does that mean?" "They were never your quest, Scully." He was trying to be conciliatory, she could tell. But, god. He was so condescending, as though explaining something to a child.

"That's what you think."

"Isn't it true?" "No. Mulder, I gave everything to the X Files. You can't seriously be saying you think they mean nothing to me." He sank to the sofa, looking at her in confusion.

"You gave them up."

"I had a child to take care of! I couldn't go across the country on a moment's notice, not like before. I left them in the most capable hands I could find, and I supervised them." Scully glanced at him. "I struggled with that decision, Mulder, it took me a long time to make it." Mulder nodded.

"I'm going back." His quiet words shocked her into silence. She hadn't expected that he would give in so easily, or that he would go back without her. "I need to."

"God. I'd forgotten what a selfish bastard you can be," she spat out.


"How do you think this won't impact on Meghan and I? Have you given that any thought?" His silence gave her an answer. "No. I've spent two years learning how to be a mother. It's been hard, Mulder, and I would have given anything to have someone to do it with. But you haven't given me the slightest thought, have you?" She took a step back, shaking her head. "I'll see you later". He began to follow her as she stormed out of the apartment but thought better of it and just watched her go.

Scully didn't meet his eyes as he picked Meghan up the next day. She followed them to the car, but he held the door back before she could close it.

"Do you honestly think I'm being selfish?" he asked.

"I understand. It's nothing to do with me anyway."

"It is. I can see why you don't want to work there. You have a job you like, no-one would give that up to do something they didn't believe in."

"I've believed for a long time," Scully responded softly, closing the door and walking back to the apartment before Mulder could say anything.

"It's difficult," she admitted. "I don't quite know what is happening between us, or with Meghan. We're in a kind of..."

"Limbo?" Karen suggested when the silence stretched out. "You're not sure whether to go back or progress forward." Scully nodded. "I haven't seen you for some time, after you refused counselling when your partner went missing. I take it your relationship with Agent Mulder had progressed?"

"We were - involved, yes."

"And how were things between the two of you?" She watched closely as Agent Scully visibly relaxed.

"They were good. We had some doubts at the beginning, about our friendship. But it was - I was happy."

"When he returned, what did you think would happen?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "I knew it would be difficult, I just didn't know how hard. Mulder stayed with us for a while, then he moved out."

"How did that make you feel?" Scully closed her eyes. These sessions had always been difficult for her, knowing everything she said and did was being analysed yet at the same time she felt as though Karen was one of the few people she could talk to in absolute privacy without judging her.

"Like, he didn't want me. He doesn't want me."

"Dana, we've talked about your relationship with Agent Mulder before." Scully nodded in agreement. "You have a singular relationship, with a closeness I rarely see even in married couples. Working in the bureau does create a dependence between partners, one that stretches the limits of every other relationship that comes into contact with it. I've spoken to both of you on separate occasions - I'm not going to tell you details," she added as she saw Scully's curiosity. "and you share one problem - the lack of communication. You know what one another thinks but not what they feel. Talk to him."

She tried, but there seemed to be no opportunity to talk to him. Their work schedules clashed, leaving them only the time when they were picking up Meghan or dropping her off to see each other. When he called her, late each night to tell her how things were going, she got the feeling he was waiting for her to say she would return to the X-Files with him. Equally, she felt that she never would - she could simply no longer picture herself there. She never found a moment to talk to him about anything that mattered, and it frustrated her. The calls always ended the same way, with a disappointed goodbye.

He called her from the first case he went on, giving her the impression he was nervous, worried about how he would do and if he was too out of practice. She answered his questions all the time knowing she was only providing reassurance for what he already knew. He returned within a week, smiling broadly as he told her of his success.

It was good to see him like that again.

Dark corridors span for miles. She walks blindly down them, feeling her way along the wall. It is cold and she feels herself shaking. A door gives way on her right, spilling dim light in front of her. Within, she shields her eyes with her hand to filter the glare. The room is empty save a table in the middle, a figure lying spread eagled upon it. With a start she knows what the vision reminds her of, and again it is him on the table. A sense of deja vu assaults her as she approaches him, leaning over to see his face. She speaks his name softly as she touches his cheek to gain some response. His eyes open at the contact. Full of terror he does not see her, staring past her towards some horrific image beyond her imagining.

She can hear him, though.

She hears his moans of fear as he tries to move but finds he is held down invisible hands. She shakes him, hearing his name in a shrill voice she dimly recognises as her own. He is shouting now, writhing on the table with his eyes closed once more to block out the horrors only he can see. His hands are clenched tightly at his sides as he struggles and she sees a glimmer of gold across his fingers. Clutching at his hand she discovers the thin chain of her own necklace cutting into his skin. Suddenly, the shouting stops and his eyes fly open.

"Mulder." She had known it would be him even before she picked the phone up. For a few moments she heard only his harsh breath as he struggled to gain control.

"They were here," he breathed. "In my apartment."

"No, Mulder. It was a nightmare." Somehow this had become her role, calming him after his dreams, encouraging him when he was afraid he wouldn't be able to solve this case. "Just a nightmare. They weren't there."

"No. Okay." His breathing was back to normal now. "I'm fine."

"I'll talk to you tomorrow." Gently she placed the receiver beside the bed. By accident one night she'd not replaced it properly. Later, he told her that he went to sleep with his phone by his ear, just listening to her sleeping. That it gave him something to hold onto when he felt the nightmares coming.

He was trying, so hard, but They kept pushing. His hands were clenched though he could not lift them. He looked down to see his left hand shaking with the effort it took to resist as They tried once more to prise his fingers open. He wouldn't let go, he vowed. He would keep it, a tether to her, to keep them connected and remind him of what was waiting for him. To give him the strength to survive this. He felt the metal dig into his skin painfully, the chain wrapped tightly around his fingers until he felt the circulation being weakened. Still he refused to relinquish it.

Finally, They seemed to understand. He was returned to the room. From then on he left it with Marita and Krycek. They promised to guard it for him, neither comprehending his need but understanding that it kept him alive.

Charles invited all of them to stay with him over Christmas. Mulder drove them up there, the journey taken up with giving him directions and entertaining Meghan. Occasionally Scully would glance across at him and wonder if now would be the right time to talk to him, but then Meghan would say something and the moment would be lost.

Late that night, the children were in bed while the adults remained around the dinner table. While most of the family had greeted Mulder with enthusiasm Bill had barely said two words to him. Charles had just stood to get a new bottle of wine when Margaret asked how work at the FBI was going for the two of them.

"It's good," Mulder agreed as Charles filled his glass. "It's been difficult, starting over." He smiled across at Scully. He was taken aback when she looked away. "I've been staying close to home for a while, so I can see Meghan more often."

"You think that makes up for it?" Bill sat casually in his chair staring straight across at Mulder.

"Bill!" Tara moved her hand away from her husband's, embarrassed. Scully kept her eyes firmly on the tablecloth, blocking out her brother's voice.

"No, Tara, you've told me to be quiet about this for too long. You're a psychologist, Mr Mulder, why don't you tell us what long term effects the first two years of a child's life has on them?"

"Now isn't the time," Margaret interrupted.

"Mom, I'm sorry. I don't want to ruin this family gathering I really don't. But he swans off somewhere for two years, reappears out of the blue one day and we all just accept that this is the way things are? How can you, Dana? How can you be sure that when he's had what he wants from you this time he won't be off again?"

Without a word, Scully pushed her chair back and walked quietly out of the room. Mulder glanced at her mother, gaining tacit approval to follow her.

Outside, the cold breeze stung her cheeks. She stared into it, feeling the tears spring to her eyes. She didn't blink them away. Wrapping her arms around herself she rubbed her hands up and down her upper arms in some attempt to warm herself up, cursing Bill for making her so angry that she left without a jacket.

She was on a raised porch, the garden stretching out behind the house in front of her. Swinging her legs over to the other side she sat on the wall, feet dangling towards the lawn. She didn't hear Mulder come outside and only realised his presence when he draped a jacket across her shoulders.

"You should go inside." She didn't move, so he sat beside her.

"In a little while. He just gets me so..."

"I know," he agreed. "I don't blame him, though. If the same thing had happened to my little sister.." he hesitated. "Well, I'd probably be thinking the same things. You ok?"

"Yeah," she said slowly. "I should check on Meghan." She was nearly at the door when he turned to follow her.

"I'll go in the morning." Scully turned back.

"You're leaving because of what he said?" Mulder shrugged.

"Meghan's having a great time. I'll call her Christmas day, I'll see her at New Year. She won't miss me."

"I will," she said softly. "I do." He stared at her blankly, not understanding. She shook her head. "Never mind - just go." She began to go inside but he grabbed her arm, pulling her back. She stumbled slightly, losing her balance but he held her up.

"What do you mean?" She looked up into his face.

"You're hurting me." He loosened his grip, but didn't let go altogether.

"What did you mean?" he repeated fiercely.

"You're a million miles away, Mulder. You've changed. You're colder. Even more guarded with your emotions, and I didn't think it was possible but even more willing to accept guilt for events you had *no* control over. A few years ago you wouldn't have let what my brother said drive you away, and you wouldn't have dreamt of hurting me." He let go of her arm as though she had burned him, and she took advantage of it to hurry inside and up the stairs. He followed her but heard her in Meghan's room, talking in a low voice to get her to go to sleep.

She couldn't sleep. Her arm ached where he had held it; it felt as though he'd burned his fingerprints permanently into her skin. A little past midnight, she gave up trying to sleep and threw back the covers to make her way downstairs.

She was quiet, trying to avoid disturbing Mulder sleeping on the sofa next door as she got a glass of water. It obviously didn't work. Either he had already been awake or she had woken him because when she turned round he was standing in the doorway.

"Jesus! You scared me."

"Sorry." His breath caught as he saw her nightwear, an old T-shirt of his that barely covered her underwear. He felt the familiar stirrings of desire as he looked at her. "What are you doing?"

"Couldn't sleep," she replied simply. "No nightmares, though." He smiled a little, understanding the relief there was in a peaceful night even if it was a wakeful one. "Goodnight, Mulder." She went to walk past him. He side-stepped, blocking her way. Stepping to the side, he imitated her and blocked her again. Frustrated she took a step back. "What are you doing?"

"It can't be me, Scully. New Year, when you got back from Africa, and... I can't do it this time." He walked swiftly past her through the kitchen. Slowly she began to walk up the stairs, not understanding what he had meant. Then she realised. She turned back and into the living room.

He was lying on the sofa, the television on but sound down all the way so he wouldn't disturb anyone upstairs. As she came around the sofa in front of him, he switched it off. The remote fell useless to the floor as he sat up.

"What is it?" Wordlessly Scully knelt in front of him. She reached forward and touched his face, her fingertips just resting for a second as she looked at him with a strange intensity in her eyes. Hesitantly, she leaned forward and brushed his lips with her own. When she drew back, her eyes closed, her hands were shaking. Mulder saw them, and covered them with his own. "It's ok."

He kissed her back, feeling her mouth open under his and her tongue tentatively caress him just as it had done the first time they kissed. He slid down to the floor beside her, his hand holding hers. "Why didn't you say something before?"

"Like what?" she asked huskily. "Like, 'Mulder, I want you. I want to be with you'?"

"That would have done it faster than anything," he agreed. "Or how about this" He kissed her again, deeply as she leaned into him. His hands slid up the back of her - his - t-shirt, then around to cup her breasts. He heard her small gasp as his fingers skimmed across her nipples, gently teasing. With an effort she pushed his hands away.

"Not here." He sat back for a moment.

"Why not?" She couldn't come up with an answer quick enough. He took hold of her, his mood changed from softly tantalising to urgent as he lifted the t-shirt slightly to pull off her underwear. Given up to him now, she lifted herself up to help him. He kissed her, using the kiss to lever her down to rest her shoulders against the edge of the sofa. Scully made an effort to push him up, her hands flat against his shoulders.

"Mulder," she murmured. "Not here."

"Why not?" he asked again, his words punctuated with kisses.

"I have no idea." There was no method to him; she remembered now more than ever. He had no way of making love to her, no rules to follow. His mouth wandered where it would, his hands followed. There was something wanton in what they were doing, on her mother's living room floor. She resisted his attempt to remove her t-shirt, instead reaching towards him. He blocked her hand and instead ground his own palm against her. His eyes were still on her face as he determinedly stroked her. He saw the look in her eyes he recalled so well, she was close. As she arched against his hand, breathing hard, she suddenly slipped. The sofa she'd been leaning on without warning slid backwards slightly causing her to fall, her back hitting the floor.

"Ow! Damn," she swore softly, reaching behind her. A smile crept across her face and she started to laugh softly. Mulder pulled her up. "Mulder, I don't want to have sex on the floor like some horny teenager."

"You're not horny?" The mock disappointment on his face made her laugh again as she pulled him to his feet.

They lay side by side, carefully touching. Scully felt awkward, strangely shy as he kissed her again.



"Is this really what you want?" The anxiety in his face revealed what he wanted the answer to be.

"Don't be an idiot," she said softly.

"Not really what I want to hear in bed." She laughed again. Had it always been this fun, making love with him and being able to laugh? She found it sad that she couldn't remember every detail as she had a year ago. Mulder caressed her, concerned by her mood change. "What is it?" She shook her head.

"I wanted you. When you were gone. I guess I thought that, when you came back...we'd just carry on, I suppose."

"I - I thought you'd moved on. We didn't - and then you didn't stop me moving out." Realisation came to him. "God, we're both so stupid."

"So much time wasted." He shook his head.

"No." Gently touching her cheek, he corrected her. "Not wasted. Not with you."

Swiftly she kissed him, pulling him on top of her and guiding him in. He moved slowly at first, conscious of every movement. He shifted slightly and was rewarded with a gasp as he hit her in just the right place. He pushed faster, watching her face until she came, causing him to fall with her.

He woke up before her the next morning, kissing her awake.

"Merry Christmas." She smiled sleepily back.

"Is it?"

"Yeah," he laughed. He held her closer, breathing her in. "I love you." Scully looked up at him.

"Love you too...I missed this."

"I know. I just..." whatever he was about to say was lost as the door was flung open and Meghan ran in, jumping on the bed. She was quickly followed by Matthew.

"Happy Christmas"

"Get up! You're missing it!"

"Christmas, mommy." Mulder and Scully exchanged a glance, half amused, half annoyed.

"Can't you go and wake up Bill and Tara?" Scully asked.

"Mom and Dad are downstairs. Uncle Charles said to come get you," Matt explained.

Their arrival downstairs caused a few knowing glances. Mulder clasped her hand, suddenly feeling very exposed in front of her family.

"So you two are finally up, huh?" Charles said with a grin.

"Yes, thank you for arranging our wake up call," Scully replied sarcastically. But she was smiling as she spoke.

"What is this, the first year you haven't been first to the presents, Dana?"

"Looks like you've passed it on," Charles joked before she could answer Bill. Meghan stood in the doorway holding a small gift.

"That's our cue." Mulder hung back as the family jostled their way through into the living room. Bill sat beside the tree as usual, passing out presents to each person. Scully stopped, noticing he wasn't following.

"What is it?" Mulder pulled her back to him, kissing her softly.

"You get me a present?" he asked as he pulled away. Scully stood on tiptoe to whisper huskily in his ear.

"Baby, you carry on like that and I'll give you a whole lot more than you could ever imagine." She turned and left before he could say a word, smiling broadly at the thought of the look on his face. She loved surprising him like that.

When they went home a few days later, Scully was nervous. They left Meghan in the apartment unpacking the presents she had been given while they went to get the rest of the things from the car. As Mulder locked it to head back upstairs, Scully stopped him.


"Yeah?" He smiled at her.

"What are your plans now?"

"I don't understand."

"Meghan's been through so much. She's adjusted fantastically, but I - I don't want...she'd like you to come home." He put the suitcase he was holding down on the sidewalk. "What do you want?"

"I don't want to be disappointed again." Mulder leaned down to kiss her softly.

"It's the last thing I want."

He kept his own apartment but Scully suspected it was more out of habit than anything else; he practically lived with her and Meghan anyway. She loved waking up with him, knowing he was beside her even before she was fully awake. She'd missed the sex, too, she admitted to herself, though they weren't as desperate for one another now as they had been in those first frantic weeks. Mulder had asked her once if she missed it. With only a moment's thought, she replied,

"No. Everything I have now is perfect." While she meant it at the time, there were occasions Scully wasn't so sure. There were still nights when Mulder woke beside her shaking in fear, still nights he spent on the sofa to stop himself hurting her. Scully didn't believe it would happen but he couldn't trust himself.


TO: foxmulder@fbi.gov FROM: aka@hotmail.com Mulder,

Trials continue as before, findings due any day. Will contact later with more. _____

It was on one of those nights when she too had been unable to sleep that Scully found him sitting on the sofa, hunched over a photograph album she had given him. He didn't look as though he had slept at all, still wearing the jeans and crumpled shirt he'd had on that evening. Leaning against the doorframe, Scully watched him. He gazed intently at every one, committing them to memory. Occasionally his finger would stray to one, trying to see behind the camera, the reason it was taken, the story behind it.

"Scully," he said brokenly.

"Yes?" The look on his face as he turned round revealed her mistake: he hadn't known she was there. Quietly she came to sit beside him.

"I missed so much," he said. "Everything." He had read the diary Scully had meticulously kept, detailing Meghan's first years. It read almost more like a field report than a diary, but she couldn't disguise the emotion behind it. He'd never found the courage to ask her why she kept it. He stopped looking through the pages on a picture of Meghan's christening.

"That was a strange day," she said quietly, but lightly, trying to lighten his mood. She hadn't looked at the pictures in a while. In the one Mulder held, Scully was holding Meghan and trying in vain to control her red curls, much shorter and tighter than they were now.

"Isn't four godparents a little excessive?"

"I couldn't ask just one of them. And I needed Skinner to help keep sanity in her upbringing somewhere."

"Why them?" She came to sit beside him.

"The Gunmen love her, you've seen them. And, although it's the last thing I expected, they are good with her. She thinks they're wonderful..."


"And...they looked after me. All of them, even when I didn't want it. They were in the hospital with me. I owe them a lot."

"You changed." He flicked to the front of the album where a few loose pictures had been carelessly tucked in. He took one out, turning back and held it in front of her at a family party. She was on the phone, turning away from the camera. Scully remembered it had been him on the other end of the line, reminding her that they had a date that night. She was laughing as she waved Bill away. Mulder laid the picture beside one taken the summer before his return. "What happened, Scully?"

"I got older. Having a two year old to chase after takes it out of you." Her attempt at a joke fell flat under his gaze. In response, he reached over to the table and pulled a snapshot from his wallet to place it beside the others.

"Where did you...?" her voice faded as she knew the answer. It was the shot she'd had taken for her ID days before her abduction. The edges were slightly furled, the photographic paper coming apart slightly. Put side by side, the differences between them were obvious. "These are years apart, Mulder. Everyone changes." Her words rang hollow even as she said it. By the third picture she was no longer smiling, her face was drawn and there was something in her eyes she didn't want to see.

"What happened?" The question was directed more at himself. In a sudden flash of fear she saw what he was doing.

"No. No," she took his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her. "Don't do this. *I* accepted the risks, every time. Don't, don't..." the last entreaty she whispered in the instant before she kissed him. He was unresponsive, pulling back from her.

Scully snatched away the album, dropping it on the floor. She swung one leg over him, straddling him to kiss his mouth again in an attempt to win him back to her. His hands went automatically to her back, her hair. But it was too mechanical a response.

She kissed his neck, throat, working her way down to unbutton his shirt. Tugging one nipple with her teeth she was rewarded with an involuntary gasp. He was breathing harder now, she was pulling him out from the guilt that had threatened to take him over.

"Scu..." she silenced him with a fierce kiss, her mouth hot and demanding on his as her tongue forced its way inside his mouth. He fought against it for a moment then gave himself up to her. When she felt his acquiescence she pulled back. He was flushed, breathing heavily as he looked at her. His lips were, if possible, more swollen and appealing than usual. She definitely had his attention.

"My choice. My decision."


TO: foxmulder@fbi.gov FROM: lex@hotmail.com

Success. First results indicate considerable turnaround, minimal side effects. Are working on extraction of specifics for further study. _____

Mulder was away for the next week, up near the northern border on a case. He called her, asking questions about a scientific theory or what she would do next if she were there.

She missed it.

Hearing the enthusiasm in his voice only reminded her what it felt like; reading through the case file for the first time and running over possible theories. Thinking of what Mulder's arguments would be so she could have time to work out a plausible argument. And the investigation itself, the mixture of hard science and intuitive leaps, the sensation when everything fell into place and she saw the answer clearly for the first time. Scully saw Mulder working through the case, felt his excitement when he reached that moment, and realised how much she missed it.

Skinner called her late Friday evening to ask her to go to San Diego. She protested at first that nobody was available to watch Meghan and she couldn't be expected to drop everything on a moments notice. Her refusals were half hearted, though, and he knew it. She had complained to him before, not wanting to tell Mulder, that she missed the thrill of anticipation when she started a new case and she missed being an active agent. When Skinner offered to have Meghan, insisting that she should go, she couldn't refuse.

He sent her over the keys to a rental car and the address of a hotel, along with a message telling her to meet someone at a restaurant nearby that evening. She checked her watch, about to leave when she heard a voice behind her.

"Is this seat taken?" Mulder slid into the seat opposite her." "I have to warn you, I'm experiencing violent impulses." She smiled. "You set this up." "Yeah," he admitted. "Are you disappointed?"

"I'll get over it." As the waiter took their order she sipped her wine. "I am curious. Why are we here?"

"I wanted to spend the weekend with you. We never got to do that, just the two of us. Are you angry?"

"I'll let you know."

That night, they sat outside the hotel room Mulder had booked, staring up at the sky.

"Does it change the way you look at them?" Scully asked quietly.


"The way you look at the stars." He shook his head thoughtfully.

"Now I know...how unforgiving they are." She was silent for a moment, regretting any mention of the subject. He could talk about it without bitterness, but he used to be so optimistic, so full of hope. Once he had looked at the stars and seen not their cold aloofness, but their warmth and eternity. "How about you?"

"You changed it. Sometimes I did look up and was sure that not only was there something out there, but that it was looking down on me at that exact same moment." She quoted his words back to him with a smile. "But it wasn't curious about me. You already knew me." They fell into comfortable silence again. As she stared at the sky above she felt him looking not up with her, but down at the ground.

"I dreamt about you." His voice was so soft she barely heard him, even as close as they were sitting. "When They were...I saw you, and it helped. To have something to focus on. Kind of like meditation, I guess." She couldn't stand his attempt to joke his way out of talking about it.


"The strangest thing was, I dreamt about Meghan. I was there, I saw you in the operating theatre and I..."

"I know." Her words stopped him, he looked up.


"I saw you there, with me. And before."

"What do you think that means?" She hesitated; after so long the restraints of logic were still hard to cast off. She shook her head, not wanting to analyse it any further. In one fluid motion he stood, pulled her to her feet and began running.


He dragged her along, not stopping until they were at the very edge of the sea, the tide slowly beginning to come in around them. She pushed her hair out of her eyes laughingly, the seriousness of the moment before momentarily forgotten.

"This is perfect," Scully said sleepily. Mulder, his arms around her, leaned to gently kiss the top of her head. "I could stay here forever."

"You'd get bored," he replied softly.

"Maybe in twenty years or so, then we could - I don't know." He fell silent. He'd never thought about the future in any seriousness. Oh, occasionally he had tried to picture it but he could never quite imagine it. Most of the time, even before his abduction, he hadn't dared consider it. He had been constantly aware that any moment everything could be taken from him.

"You think we'll be together then?" he asked softly. Scully turned, trying to see his face.

"You don't?"

"I didn't say that, I just..."

"Are you planning on leaving me?" He stayed silent, but she knew the reason. "Mulder - you have to stop worrying about what might happen ten years down the line. Enjoy what we have. You'll regret it if you don't." She closed her eyes and leaned against him. She heard his promise muffled in her hair.

"I'm never leaving you."

He watched her intently when they returned. He used to watch her all the time, and wondered now when he had lost that habit. Scully noticed that he seemed distanced, separated from both her and Meghan. When she asked what was wrong, he told her it was nothing. Just something at work. He had intended it to reassure her but instead it made her wonder what he was keeping from her. It hurt that he no longer discussed work - what she still, perhaps irrationally, considered their work - with her.


TO: foxmulder@fbi.gov FROM: cek@hotmail.com

Disturbing news. Small outbreak in N. Canada. No need to worry, will let you know more in the next day or two. As before, trials continue with varied success. _____


TO: foxmulder@fbi.gov FROM: aka@hotmail.com

Sorry for panic, false alarm. Tests have a few problems, but M thinks we're close. _____

Skinner got the call just before he left the office. He tried to convince Mulder to meet him at his apartment rather than making him wait, but Mulder insisted. He showed up less than ten minutes later. Sitting opposite Skinner, he placed his report on the desk. As Skinner looked at it he could see it was simply Mulder's latest field report. "Couldn't this have waited until tomorrow?"

"I thought you wanted it early." "Mulder, it's late. What's going on?" He waited but Mulder remained silent. "I'm not playing twenty questions here." He shrugged his jacket on. "I'll talk to you tomorrow about the report." It was as he reached the door that Mulder found his voice.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" "I reserve the right not to reply, but go on."

"How did - uh, how did things start to go wrong with you and Sharon?"


"Did you lie to her?" The agent looking up at him was so serious, so anxious that Skinner sat heavily on the edge of his desk.

"Not exactly."

"But you kept things from her."

"Yes. At first I wanted to protect her from everything I dealt with every day. I thought it would be - she was innocent. I guess I didn't want her tainted by it all. And I needed for her not to know, to distance myself from it. By the time we really needed to communicate, we'd drifted too far apart."

"You wanted to protect her." Mulder repeated softly, a note of regret in his voice.

"Mulder, what's going on? What are you not telling Scully?" The only reply was Mulder shaking his head. "You don't need me to tell you that your relationship relies on trust. If she finds out you've been hiding things..."

"I don't want her to get hurt." Skinner sighed.

"How many times do you have to go through this? She doesn't want protecting." Mulder stood up, going to the door.

"Maybe I don't think she should be the one to make that decision."


TO: foxmulder@fbi.gov FROM: aka@hotmail.com

Getting closer to finalising details. Some reports coming through of an incident in West Virginia. I'll be out of touch for a couple of days, but I'm sure it's nothing. _____

For two days, Mulder waited for the call or email to let him know that everything had been sorted out and there was nothing to worry about.

It never came.

Scully was giving a lecture: her mother was visiting Bill so Mulder had taken the day off to look after Meghan. She'd spent the morning busy in the kitchen with paints and crayons, leaving a mess over the table Mulder was trying to clean up when the phone rang.

"Damn." Quickly wiping his hands, he checked on Meghan - who was sitting happily in front of the television - and answered it.

"Mulder." Instinctively looking around, he lowered his voice.

"What the hell are you doing? We agreed, no phone calls. Why..."

"I'm just leaving West Virginia. It wasn't a false alarm, or a test run." There was a pause. "This is it, Mulder."

"Mulder!" Scully greeted him warmly, kissing him quickly before scooping the folders off her desk. "Where's Meghan?"

"She's outside with Kathy," he replied dully. Scully looked up at him, her smile fading as she saw the cloudy despair in his eyes. She reached for his hand.

"What's wrong?"

"It's started." He watched. Waited for the moment she would comprehend that the world was about to crash around them, that the sky was this time indeed falling. But she didn't understand.

"What has?" The playfulness in her tone, trying to rouse him out of the mood he was in, was more than he could bear.

"The beginning of the end." He saw her face change irrevocably, the papers falling unnoticed to the floor around their feet. "It's being kept quiet - more than quiet."

"Are you sure?" she whispered. Mulder nodded.

"I heard this morning. A small town in West Virginia went into quarantine this morning."

"The virus?" He nodded "What can we do?"

"Leave." He covered her lips with a finger, stopping her protest before it had even begun. "I know it feels like running away, but what choice do we have? It's only a matter of time, and I want us all away from populated areas before we don't have any other options." Swallowing hard, he reached to smooth back her hair. She'd seen the look on his face before, the last time he had told her he was leaving, without her. "I won't risk losing *either* of you."

Kathy barely had time to say anything as the two agents rushed out of Scully's office. While Mulder scooped Meghan off the desk she'd been perched on and into his arms, Scully hurriedly hugged the confused receptionist.

"Take care, Kathy," she murmured before Mulder touched her arm lightly and they walked quickly out. Kathy watched as Meghan was strapped firmly into the backseat and Mulder pulled sharply out of the parking lot.

They made it home in record time. Scully was surprised to see boxes by the door. Mulder sat their daughter on the sofa.

"Meghan, you stay right here for a while, okay? Mommy and I have some things to get ready for our vacation." He spoke softly to Scully. "Pack what you need. I'll take these downstairs."

He turned and walked quickly down the hall. In her room an empty suitcase was laid open on the bed. Hurriedly she threw her clothes into it, leaving what she didn't need on the hangers or discarded on the floor. Thinking quickly through the contents of her drawers she turned away from the dresser, there was no time for what would be luxuries of makeup and jewellery. Her journal and photo-album were thrown in, followed by the pictures of Mulder and Meghan that stood on the nightstand. She looked at the closed suitcase. How could her life be crammed into this small space? There was so much more she wanted to take.

When Mulder returned she was on the phone.

"...Somewhere secluded. The cabin Dad left would be ideal...Mom, you've just got to trust me, please...Okay, good...I love you, mom. Tell Bill and Tara? Bye." The phone rested on her shoulder as she stared out of the window. Mulder heard the dial tone resume as he gently took it from her.

"We have to go." She nodded, looking around.

"I just need to see if-"

"Dammit Scully, there's no time!" he exploded. "We have to leave *now*!" Scully stared at him wordlessly. His mood changed abruptly as he crushed her to him, knocking her almost breathless. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair. "I just want you to be safe."

"I know." She clung to him, regardless of the time they were now wasting, needing his protection. "Oh god," she pulled away, her eyes meeting his. "Skinner."

Meghan was restless. Despite Scully's persistent attempts to reassure her, she knew this was not just a vacation.

"Then you're coming with us," she heard Mulder say. "Pack light, we'll be there in ten minutes.

When they got to his apartment Scully ran inside as Mulder kept the motor running. Skinner greeted her with a hug, then stood back awkwardly.

"Let's go."

Meghan seemed to settle down with him there. He slid into the backseat and handed his goddaughter a book. She opened it eagerly, touching the pictures with her forefinger. Then, when she became engrossed, his attention turned to Mulder.

"What do you know?" he asked quietly. Mulder answered matter-of-factly.

"Newhaven, West Virginia, went into quarantine this morning due to an unspecified contagion. I have it on good authority that it was the virus, and that this isn't a test run. It *will* spread, quarantine or not."

"What do you know about the virus itself? Do you know its symptoms, how it's transmitted?"

"Direct contact. Without body warmth, it dies. There is, uh, a twenty-four hour incubation period before symptoms show themselves. They include dizziness, vomiting, lethargy, often a fever. Nosebleeds are likely and eventually the sufferer will fall unconscious." He glanced in the rear-view mirror, but Meghan was still entranced by the book. "There are two stages after that, I think. Either the victim remains unconscious as a kind of incubator - but that's rare - or the virus takes control of the brain and they become little more than drones. Workers."

"How do you know so much about it?" Skinner asked.

"I spent a day in the lab. We all did," he answered tersely. "They didn't count on our pooling information, and given some of the intelligence They had there we were able to figure out a lot. Of course, that was a while ago. There could be modifications."

"Where are we going?" Meghan's voice piped up behind them. Mulder smiled at her.

"We're going on vacation. There's a cabin in the mountains, with a lake beside it, surrounded by forest. Does that sound good?"

"Yeah!" She was so enthusiastic that Mulder couldn't help but laugh. Meghan leaned back, closing her eyes obediently as Skinner told her it would be a long trip and she should get some sleep. The laughter died on Mulder's lips as he saw Scully. She faced away from him, resting against the seat but her face was visible in the reflection on the window. She stared blankly out.

"Scully." She turned to him. Gently he clasped her hand. "We're going to be okay." She nodded with a sad smile, squeezing his hand in return before turning back to watch the scenery rushing past. Mulder switched on the radio, fiddling through the static until he found something he liked. Skinner was reading to Meghan in the backseat, and a glance at Scully told him that for once she wouldn't turn to him and roll her eyes at his taste in music. He wished she would.

It was getting dark when they heard it. At Skinner's insistence, he was driving so Mulder could rest. Neither of them asked Scully to drive. The radio went silent, cut off in the middle of the song as the station took part in a national broadcast. Even anticipating it, they were stunned as the President announced a national state of emergency. As the president urged people not to panic, not to evacuate towns but to make their way to the town hall or high school, it was a harsh reality. He was dooming people. Gathered together, the three adults in the car knew that they would be easy targets. The virus would spread immediately.

"My God," Scully whispered. No-one could say anything else.

Meghan was sleeping as they pulled up outside the small cabin in the middle of the forest. Scully looked at it in amazement, holding the sleepy child in her arms.

"I'll take her inside."

"I want to get everything inside tonight. Just to be sure," Mulder told her. She nodded, taking the key he offered and leaving him and Skinner to unload the car. Inside, the cabin was clean. Looking through various doors she found that all the rooms were set up and ready for use. She found the room obviously intended for a small child and laid Meghan in the bed. She woke up, looking around her in confusion.

"It's okay. Close your eyes." Obediently the little girl shut them tight. Scully stayed until she was sure she was asleep.

Mulder and Skinner were in the kitchen, a stack of empty boxes on the floor, their suitcases in the hall.

"I'm going outside." Mulder glanced at Skinner before following her. He caught up with her down the path.

"Scully..." She spun round angrily.

"You knew! The whole time you've known what was going to happen, and you never said. This place - "

"What did you want me to say?" He asked simply. "That aliens were going to take over the planet? It wouldn't have made any difference. Nobody believed me before, nobody would have believed me then. Even you thought I was crazy."

"I don't understand how you could have kept this from me. After listening to me talking about plans for the future...you knew. And you didn't say a word." Scully faltered as she thought of Meghan, safely asleep only a short distance away.

"I wanted to protect you." She began to protest that she didn't need it, never had, but he cut her off. "I thought you did. That you deserved some happiness without a shadow hanging over you. That maybe I could give you that. To know with absolute certainty...I wanted to save you from that hell. But I didn't know," Mulder insisted. "I knew that it was no longer a possibility but definite, yes. But not when. I thought it was at least fifteen years away, maybe more. I never imagined it would happen this soon."

"Then why set this up? Everything in there was ready for us." He almost smiled.

"For once in my life, I caught a lucky break," he told her dryly. "I wanted to surprise you with a holiday. This used to belong to my uncle." Scully stood in silence, just looking at him. "Come inside." He took hold of her arm and she allowed herself to be led back to the cabin.

Skinner had left the kitchen when they returned. Quietly, Mulder showed her where their room was and left her to change while he went to the bathroom. She hadn't realised how exhausted she was. She was in bed when Mulder returned. He slid in beside her; she turned towards him.

"I was trying not to wake you."

"I wasn't quite asleep." She reached up to kiss him softly. She felt his hands slip round to her back, holding her close.


"Don't," she interrupted softly. "I just want you to hold me." She needed to feel him, to know he was still there and they were safe. Looking down at her he gently stroked her hair. "Mulder, I-"

"Shh." For hours she lay, listening to his breathing and the beating of his heart. She couldn't sleep, and dawn was coming before she finally dozed off.

They stayed inside over the next week, confining themselves supposedly for their own safety but they all knew it was partly because they were afraid of what they would find outside. The electricity went out after three days.

Scully put Meghan to bed and went outside. The cabin was in the middle of a plateau; as she walked the mile to the edge she was filled with dread. In the bottom of the valley lay her worst nightmare. The village they had passed through was devastated. Even from the height at which she stood she could see the houses, some looked totally unscathed while next door some were - just gone, an empty space where people had lived their lives. In places fires still smouldered, she had no way of knowing how recent they were, or who had set them.

She didn't move for a long time, staring at the ruin below until Skinner came up behind her.

"The radio just went silent," he said quietly. It had been on constantly since they had arrived, emergency broadcasts continuously coming through. Even though she knew it had only been a matter of time until they finished, it still came as a shock.

"My dad was stationed in the north while I was 13. It was really isolated...there was a bonfire every weekend. I always went, and stayed until it was just the embers burning." She gestured to the smoke drifting up from below. "I thought it looked so pretty in the darkness. I was wrong," she said bitterly as she turned away.

"No you weren't. You can't let this destroy your memories, taint them with something they weren't. You're stronger than that, Scully."

"What you think of me...it's never been who I am."

"Right or not, you're here. You're okay. Meghan's okay, and Mulder - I've known him longer than you have, and to have his loyalty and his faith - you're all going to survive this." She considered his words as she stared at him until he felt uncomfortable.

"Maybe." She turned back to gaze over the valley.

"Come inside."

"Give me a minute?" Skinner began to walk away, then turned back. She had slumped to sit on the ledge, arms holding her knees close to her chest, her body shaking. For an instant he considered turning back, but left her alone.

He heard her return later, never mentioned what he had seen. It was difficult, living in isolation without the things they had taken for granted. The cabin often seemed so empty without a radio or television. Meghan was a welcome diversion; she was always asking one of them to play with her or take her outside. They never ventured far from the cabin, not allowing themselves to even imagine what lay beyond the small area.

Skinner was playing with Meghan in the small living room. Mulder had packed a couple of games for her; they were fast becoming boring but they were all there was to entertain her.

"Shouldn't we wake Scully?" It was nearly midday. Mulder glanced over.

"No," he replied tersely.

"You sure?"

"Let her sleep. She's been too tired the past few days."


He thrust the chair back with a force that tipped it over. "Just leave her! She's hard a hard enough time sleeping and it'll be the best gift she gets today." Angrily he stormed out of the room. Skinner sat back and sighed. Absently he continued entertaining Meghan, but his mind was elsewhere. He hated being caught in the middle of whatever tension there was between the two of them. More and more, it seemed as though he and Meghan were isolated from them.

It was two hours before Mulder returned. Skinner had gone out to look for him, only to find that he was standing just a few feet from the door. When he came back in, Scully was in her bedroom while Meghan was drawing at the kitchen table.

"I had everything planned. Months ago. I booked dinner, the guys agreed to baby-sit. Everything was going to be just right. The kind of evening we never had." Slowly it dawned on Skinner.

"It's her birthday."

"I was going to ask her to marry me." Mulder laughed wryly. "I could have on the weekend you helped me arrange. But no. I wanted to wait, and plan it all properly."

"I would have said yes," came a voice from the doorway. Scully stood there looking at them both. "Thanks for remembering."

"Birthday, mommy" piped up Meghan from the table. Mulder went over and whispered something in her ear. She nodded vigorously, then slid off her chair and ran into her room. Scully looked at Mulder curiously but he simply gave her a small smile. Meghan was back quickly and thrust a small box at her mother.

"We thought you'd like it" Mulder said softly as she opened it. On the blue velvet cushion lay a gold necklace, with a circular locket hanging down. She handed it to him; he carefully clasped it around her neck, in place of the cross she had not worn in a long time, and she turned back.

"Thank you."

Mulder put Meghan to bed; even that had become a routine they measured their time by. When he emerged, he came into the kitchen where Skinner and Scully sat. He didn't join them but began to speak, pacing around the small kitchen.

"Before we came here - I was in contact with Krycek". Seeing the looks on their faces he held up a hand. "I know. I know who he is and what he's done, but he helped me. And he was the one who warned me." He told them that Krycek had been continuing the work of the consortium in secret, trying to create a vaccine with information he had stolen from both the Russians and the US. The vague information he had been able to gather on the virus from those who remembered their time in the lab had been useful. "He gave me an address when he called, to meet. He was close to succeeding and wanted to set up some kind of resistance. I'm meeting him there in two days." The other two fell silent as he delivered this news. He turned to leave.

"That's it?" Scully was furious. "You just dump this on us and expect to leave? When?"

"First thing tomorrow."

"It's too dangerous," Skinner objected. "We have no way of knowing what has happened. We've been effectively absent from the world, shut away here. If we..." He broke off as Scully suddenly turned and left the cabin, the door slamming behind her. A thin cry came from the bedroom - the noise had woken Meghan. With unspoken communication, Mulder headed towards the door while Skinner went to calm the little girl.

"Scully?" She was standing a few feet away, arms crossed defensively.

"You can't ask me to take her..."

"I'm not." He said the words more deliberately to make his meaning clear. "I'm telling you that I'm going. Under no circumstances is Meghan coming."

"You're asking me to choose." Her tone was flat. Mulder shook his head. "Yes, you are," she insisted. As he stood, immovable, she seemed to be defeated. Hesitantly he took a step towards her but she didn't respond. "Why does it have to be you?" she asked. "Why do you have to play the martyr in all this? Every time."

He didn't answer and simply turned around to leave her there.

"You need to go," Skinner told her. He sat beside her and for a moment she saw something other than the friend he'd become. He had the aura of assistant director again, giving her orders.

"I'm a terrible mother. How can I leave her?" She spoke with the resignation of a decision already made.

"You love her," he replied simply. "You know you're not a bad mother. You - just have to do this."

It was hours later when Mulder felt her slide into bed next to him, her body cold against his as she shivered. It would have been instinctive to turn and hold her but he resisted, not knowing if she was still angry with him.

"I'm coming with you." The soft whisper had been the last thing he'd expected to her.


"Because you're careless. You get too passionate and you don't think about things until it's too late. I need you to come back safely this time." He turned to look at her; she stopped him speaking. "I can't hear it, Mulder. Just..."

"I know."

They left just after dawn, heading north through the woods. Mulder guided her, his hand on her back as always. As they walked he told her not to look back. Sadly, she leaned into him as he led her away.

She was still angry with him for putting her in this position; she knew it wasn't really his fault but blamed him anyway. He knew she was still wrestling with herself over her decision and let her be.

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog.." Scully heard him murmur the words as he attempted to light a fire that night. She laughed. He turned round at the sound, smiling.

"There's a sound I haven't heard in a while."

"I'm sorry." Mulder shook his head dismissively.

"Don't be. Wasn't exactly often I heard you laugh before, anyway." He came back to her, arms held up in mock triumph as he indicated the small fire he'd managed to light.

"Indian guide skills paid off, huh?" Scully joked. He sat beside her. "I'm okay, Mulder." His question had hung in the air between them. "Skinner will take good care of her, and we'll be back soon." They sat in silence, the occasional hiss of the wood on the fire the only sound. "What was it going to be like?"


"Last night. You said you had it all planned out." Leaning against him, Scully was entranced by the flames. She'd always found it hypnotic.

"I booked dinner at Lamieres. You went there for your birthday one year, with your mom. I remembered you liked it, so...we'd eat, talk. Maybe dance a little. I'm not that good but..."

"I saw you dance with Phoebe once," she interrupted. "We can dance."

"Thank you," Mulder replied with exaggerated gratitude. "As we got coffee at the end, I'd give you the box - your birthday present. You know, I could imagine your face as you opened it. When I saw it in the store I knew it was meant for you." He laughed a little. "That sounds ridiculous."

"I do it too. See things that would be perfect for you - of course, it's usually an alien keyring, but..."

"So you'd, uh, you'd look at me" he continued in a low voice. "I'd ask you. And you'd say yes."

"Sounds nice," Scully said wistfully. Turning slightly, she kissed him. "Does the question still stand?" Her voice was husky, sending shivers through him.

"Does the answer?"

"Yeah." A slow smile spread across his face.

"I'll hold you to that."

"You'd better." He kissed her again, pulling her across him.

They arrived in the town just a few hours after daybreak. The houses stood deceptively empty, the roads clear as though on an early Sunday morning. It could have been a normal day, but for the burnt out car at the side of the middle class suburban road, and the windows shattered, but not boarded up, in the shop on the corner.

Scully approached the address with mixed feelings. Looking at Mulder she could see he was intent upon this meeting despite not knowing what was waiting. She was more apprehensive but nevertheless felt that same thrill as when they had been working on a case; the sensation that things were about to fall into place and any moment it would make sense.

They entered cautiously; the man inside jumped as Mulder said his name.

"Jesus, Mulder."

"Sorry." They all stood warily back, each appraising the other. Krycek looked nervous. His eyes flickered back and forth, constantly moving. It had an unsettling effect. "Where's Marita?"

"Dead," he replied shortly. "Killed a month ago in a raid."

"I'm sorry." That it had come from Scully was as much a surprise to all three as that the sentiment had been spoken at all.

"What've you got?" Mulder asked. Uneasy, he wanted to get this over with, not spend time on pleasantries. Krycek quickly began to explain.

"A vaccine. Based on the version you were given, Scully. This is a stronger version; it can be administered at any time, we think. The longest period between infection and vaccination that we've tried is a month."

"Side effects?"

"Minimal. There has been one adverse reaction but we think that was due to a pre-existing allergy that's rare. The patient may lose consciousness for a few hours, but recovery so far has been complete."

"Who has access to it?" Scully asked.

"It's not widely known, for obvious reasons. It was developed by myself and another scientist. There are a few resistance groups I know about. One here, one near New Orleans. One in Mexico, one in Canada. There could be others, and I don't know how organised or co- ordinated they are. Hopefully we'll be able to get it to them. If they can be trusted. I met..." A crash outside startled him. He looked around, instantly on guard.

Then the siren began.

A high pitched wail, one clear note that went on and on. To Mulder's surprise, Scully pulled out her weapon. He hadn't known she'd kept it, let alone brought it with her. As he went to the empty window to see what was happening, Krycek knew.

It all went to hell.

She hears him shout as the syringe goes in, the cold liquid stinging through his veins.

"It's in you, tavarish." He simply stares, uncomprehending, at the man he had trusted. Slowly, he sinks to the floor, unable to support himself any longer.

"Mulder!" Scully. He grabs at her arms as she tries to support him He just pulls her down with him. Her hands hold his face in a desperate attempt to understand what he is saying, as she tries to keep him focused on her, her eyes, her voice.

His vision blurs as he sees tears fall down her face. She pleads with him, shouts at him, implores him to move, to just look at her.

A flash.

As time slows, a second seems to last forever. The door falls in, shadowy figures highlighted in the entrance.

Then, as if to make up for the moments lost, time quickens. His head tips back, her hands are pulled from his. As his eyes fall shut, the last thing he sees is Scully being dragged away, her screams echoing through the darkness that consumes him.

It took just days for one civilisation to fall and be replaced with another. Fires burned in the streets, children crying in pain. Families were torn apart and the towns rang with the sound of the sobs of the dying and the screams of those left behind. Most stayed near their homes, through loyalty to friends or relatives, pure ignorance or simply because they had nowhere else to go. Those who tried to fight were put down effortlessly. They were no threat, and it was a battle they could not win. Others fled, fighting their own guilt to leave as quickly as they could. They would come back later, to begin the new resistance.

The team left early, just before dawn. Reports had been made by the incoming squad of a hit nearby. A little too nearby, so it had been made their priority. The moved in silence, as one body. Each had been in the team for several months, each attuned to the others' movements. Three held guns while the fourth had at his belt a small radio.

"We've never found no one on one of these things," whispered Anthony. "What's the point?" They had been doing this for three weeks, since the community felt secure enough to even consider hunting, and never found anyone alive. Oh, there were bodies. Not so many now things were finally calming down, but there were still some around. Those capable of moving on had done so.

"The point," Mark hissed back, "is that we might. Now keep quiet. How long have They been gone, Nick?"

"We got the first reports yesterday, they've been gone at least five hours." As they rounded the corner, they saw the door standing open. Carefully, Mark gestured for the others to keep back as he edged into the house. They hung back as he went carefully up the stairs, testing each one before allowing his full weight onto it.

What he saw in the room in front of him made him forget all protocol.

"Get up here now!" Anthony raced up the stairs, surprised by the shout. Usually communication was in no more than a whisper, kept quiet through fear of detection.

A man lay on the bare stone floor, his arms wrapped around himself as he shivered. His eyes were closed, his breathing laboured. Mark bent over him, checking for any signs of life. The man was breathing, barely, shaking violently. He was unconscious.

"We have to take him back."

"Back to the house? No way," Anthony backed away. "We can't. Not until we discussed it with the others." The men behind them murmured amongst themselves, but none offered a direct challenge to their leader.

"You want him to die?" Silence. "Alright then. You lead. I can manage this guy."

When they were seen coming back, there was near panic. It was a strict rule - nobody was to be introduced to the group until there was absolutely no doubt about their loyalty. Meetings were in secret, politics and agendas revealed step by step, always cautious. Those who arrived on the doorstep, whether by predetermination or accident, were kept in solitary until the final test. A cut, across the upper left arm to identify them as a member. It looked like the letter 'N', with a slash running through. Anyone wearing that scar - small enough to be unnoticeable unless it was looked for - was to be helped at all costs. The blood was tested. Any trace of the virus, and they were immediately killed. It had been a difficult decision, but one that had been practically unanimous.

Mark violated all of that.

He insisted on bringing the man in, taking him straight to the makeshift medical room, and ignoring all those around him trying to prevent it.

Darkness. It was cold, and he couldn't move. Panic seized him. They were here. He could feel them, hands holding him down as he tried to get up..

"Ow! Watch it," Frohike exclaimed.

Mulder's eyes flew open. Frohike stood beside the bed, one hand clasped over his eye. "It's good to see you, too, Mulder."

"Frohike?" Sitting up quickly, Mulder embraced the small man quickly. "Is that you?"

"Yeah." He sat on the edge of the bed, beside Mulder. He was thinner than he had been, lines across his face where there hadn't been before. "Byers and Langly are here too."

"Where's here?" "About ten blocks from where you were meeting Krycek. It's a project, set up a few years ago by a gunman subscriber. We didn't really think it would happen but...we had to try." Mulder dropped his head in his hands. He had a killer migraine.

"How did you find me?"

"We go to every capture site. To quarantine, clear up - in your case, rescue. It doesn't happen often," he admitted. "We think Krycek is dead." Mulder nodded slowly as he absorbed the news. With him, Krycek had taken the vaccine that he and various scientists had spent several months creating, not to mention the fifty years of work before Krycek had become involved. Their work had been invaluable, but unless they could find those scientists, useless.

"Where's Scully?" he asked. There was a quick knock on the door, interrupting them so he didn't see the look that crossed Frohike's face.

"Hey." A tall blond man walked into the room, a notebook sticking out of his top pocket. "You're awake. Just came to check you out."

"This is James, our resident doctor." Mulder nodded in greeting, rubbing his forehead slightly.

"You ok?" James asked.

"Headache". Obediently he tracked the light James held in front of him. "You've been out for three days. What do you remember?" He sat back on the chair in the corner of the room. The walls were grey - it looked like a cell. Frohike remained silent as Mulder glanced at him. "Uh, we - Scully and me - were talking to Krycek. We arranged to meet before it happened. He was working on a vaccine for the virus." James leant forward, his interest caught.

"Was he successful?" Mulder glanced at Frohike, unsure how much he should reveal.

"It's ok to tell him. I trust him."

"Yes, he said he was. But we didn't get the chance to go into the details; I don't know how it worked."

The flare of excitement in James' eyes died down instantly, replaced with dull despair. "You need to rest a few days. I don't think there's anything wrong with you, but we need to be sure before you meet the others," James said.

"There's also another issue," Frohike interrupted. "Some of the group feel that you shouldn't be here. They don't understand the situation and things have become...tense." From the look on James's face Mulder could tell this was a huge understatement. "They want to be sure you're not infected." Mulder took this in. The headache was subsiding a little, making it easier to think.

"I want to see Scully." Frohike exchanged a glance with James.

"Scully was with you?" he asked gently.

"Yeah, we were..." the implication of that struck him. "She's not here."

Lying on the bed, Mulder closed his eyes. Scully wasn't anywhere. Frohike had done his best, sending out another team to check the area.

They found nothing.

Mulder reached out, trying to find her. He was assaulted with memories of talking to her when he was missing, memories that he could not be sure were real or imaginary, a way to comfort himself faced with indescribable torment. But he tried.

"NO! He is a danger to us all. We have no way of knowing his loyalties..."

"They're to us, to our cause."

"How can you be so sure?" Frohike looked across to Byers, exasperated. They had been arguing for hours - they hadn't really stopped since Mark first returned carrying a stranger into the building.

"Jo." When Byers began to speak the room fell silent. Somehow he had become de facto leader, his opinion respected. Perhaps he carried more weight, looked more reputable than the other two. "I know Mulder. I knew him long before this happened, and believe me, he is on our side."

"He *was*," the young woman argued. Just 20, she had been at college when the attack came. There had been no time even to call her family; she had no idea where they were now. Few people knew more about her, her slow Southern drawl always containing a hint of sarcasm that kept others at a distance. "But is he still?"

"We got the test results back," James interrupted softly and the room fell silent. "There were some abnormalities..."

"He's infected? And you're letting him live?" Her tone was one of pure panic among the growing murmurs of concern that swept through the room. James held up a hand.

"No. He doesn't have the virus. What he does have, is something remarkably similar." He hesitated. Byers gave him permission to continue. He had been reluctant to share the information before everything was in place, but it was the only way Mulder's presence would ever be accepted. "He has antibodies which, when in contact with the virus, destroy it completely." There was silence as this sunk in, and then all hell broke loose.

It's been three weeks since they left, and there's nothing. They should have been back by now and every day Meghan asks when they will be. I can only tell her 'soon', and hope it isn't a lie. After today, I think my worst fears could be realised. Meghan was sleeping, so I slipped out for a moment to look across the valley. I thought maybe, today, I would see them heading towards us. I wasn't gone for more than five minutes. When I returned, the back door was open. There was a young man in the living room, no more than 25 years old, just standing there.

I've seen that look in his face when he turned and realised I was there. It's the same look I've seen on countless victims, terrified because they thought the nightmare was over and then confronted with it again. The look of a soldier after three solid nights of fighting and hiding with no sleep, knowing that he has to do it all again tomorrow if only he can survive tonight. "P...Please - d...don't...shoot me". I didn't even realise I was holding my weapon.

"Easy. I'm not going to hurt you." He moved suddenly as I approached him. "Who are you?"

"Andrew Thomas."

"What are you running from, Andrew?"

"Them." His look was of pure disbelief that I didn't know already. "I've been running from Them ever since They came." Gradually his breathing became normal and he told me his story. He is asleep as I write this, Meghan colouring no more than three feet away without even questioning his presence. Where he comes from is somewhere unrecognisable to me. And I'm afraid for Mulder and Scully. I wish I knew where they were.

I can hear them arguing down the hall. They want me to leave. Not the gunmen, I'm sure, but the others...I don't think I can blame them. I'm a stranger, and strangers are someone to fear now.

I'm going crazy, in here alone. Frohike told me they went to look for Scully, but I won't feel sure until I've been there myself.

I don't have a clue, and there's nowhere to start.

The past few days, I've been confined to my room on James' orders. I hate to admit it, but he's right - at least if the spinning sensation when I try to stand is anything to go by. It has been chaos here and I'm sure my arrival has something to do with that. It's difficult to get a straight answer from the guys but I think most people would be more than happy to let me leave and look for her. I'll go for them.

I have to see my daughter.

Everyone stopped when he entered the large hall that had become the communal room. It was the first time they had seen him since his arrival days before; the tension and expectancy in the room were evident. Many stared, unashamed of their curiosity. Others glanced up quickly, then away, then back again, trying not to be noticed. A few were openly hostile, muttering to one another softly. Mulder took it all in as he glanced around the room. There were around 60 people there. Seeing Byers in the corner, he made his way over to him quickly and sat beside him.

"Is it me, or did it just get really cold in here?" he asked softly.

"It'll take a few days to get to know them. That's all."

"I don't have a few days. I'm leaving tomorrow."

"What?" Byers couldn't hide his surprise. "Where will you go?"

"I have to go back. Meghan and Skinner will be waiting for me. And Scully..." the sharp pain of that thought made him stop.

"How long will it take?"

"Maybe a week. Will we be able to come back here?"

"Of course." Byers was disappointed that he would feel he even had to ask. He lowered his voice. "Besides, you have something every person in this room wants. Many of them would let you do anything you liked."

"What are you talking about?"

"James tested your blood. You had a small mark on your arm. Krycek injected you with the vaccine he had developed. He's working on replicating it." Mulder stared at him in shock. The searing pain in his arm, travelling through his veins...the memory came back to him.

"God," he murmured. "Uh, how are you trying to replicate it? This place isn't exactly the most technologically advanced location..." Mulder gestured around him in disbelief. He was certain there wasn't much more to the building than what he had seen.

"The guys who set this up were gunmen subscribers, that's how we got involved. They built this place - and installed a lab. It's upstairs. They also contacted a lot of people they thought could be useful. About eighty scientists were offered places." He shrugged. "Five took it up, two actually got here. We got lucky; these guys are good."

In the end, Langly insisted on going with him. They walked for three days, going over the same ground he and Scully and covered just a short time ago. As they neared the valley, Mulder's pace grew faster as he anticipated what he would find. But as the cabin became visible, he grew still. Langly came up behind him, panting with the exertion.

"Mulder, what's wrong?" As Mulder set off at a run towards the cabin he saw it. From the outside, it was clear there had been a fire but it didn't look too bad. Inside, though, the safe haven in which he had left Meghan and Skinner was black, and desolate. The cabin he had left Skinner and Meghan safely in was burnt to the ground. Langly came after him, supporting Mulder as he wavered.

"What the hell happened?"

Mulder just shook his head, unable to say anything. Taking a quick look at him, Langly left him standing in the middle of the room to check the cabin. There was no-one there.

They stayed on the site for nearly a day at Mulder's insistence. Meghan and Skinner didn't come back. They didn't answer the shouts and there was nothing to indicate where they would have gone. Mulder allowed himself to be pulled away as it grew dark. Even through the night as they walked he kept looking for them.

"Why would they leave? He knew we were coming back. That no matter..." Keeping his gaze on the track at his feet, Langly replied

"He had no choice. My guess is They hit hard."

She had been here before, in this white, cold and sterile place. Only this time there was no Penny Northern to offer her comfort, no Spender to protect her for obscure reasons known only to himself. And Mulder...Scully turned her head as though to avoid looking at him. She was only alone for a moment.

She struggled as They held her down. Wires were attached across her body, the cold metal stinging. She felt a moment of triumph as her arm connected with something and she heard a muffled cry. A sharp blow dealt to her head a moment later in retaliation killed it. Head spinning, she lost her defence momentarily and They took advantage of it. The mask placed over her mouth knocked her out in seconds.

And the images came.

The system had taken years to develop, even for Them. Scully saw herself. Dressed in a pale blue floor length dress that she had never seen before, it was as though a camera examined every inch of her. The view panned across the plunging back, down her body to focus briefly on the silver chain around her ankle. And with the images came understanding. Of herself, her position, what they wanted from her and what would happen should she not comply. She felt violated in the worst way and unable to breath.

When convinced she unconscious and absorbed in the images before her, They turned her over. One long slim cut across the back of her neck and the device was removed, placed in a safe container. It nodded to one standing beside it, who carefully ran one long finger over the cut. It healed under the touch to leave a tiny, barely visible scar. A silver chain was tied around her ankle to finish her preparations.

Tears ran freely down her face, confusing those standing beside her. She was being offered the most wonderful of opportunities. A high standing, privilege she could only have dreamed of in her previous incarnation - the opportunity to fulfil the destiny they all knew was hers. One touched her face, the tears dampening its fingers.

It could never understand.

Their return prompted yet another debate over the stranger who had come in uninvited and immediately broken some of their most vital rules. Mulder ignored them. He went straight to his room, followed by Byers. Mark saw them leave and went after them, wanting to talk to this man.

"They were gone."

"I figured. I'm sorry."

"What can I do, John? I have to find them."

"Get over it." The blunt voice at the doorway startled them both. "They're gone. Dead, or captured. Either way you can't do a damn thing about it." Mulder's fists were clenched tightly beside him. "Deal." Mulder lunged at Mark, pinning him against the wall.

"Shut the fuck up."

"You can't do anything!" he thrust Mulder back. "Except fight them." Byers turned in surprise.


"Come on, John. It's what we all want to do and are all too scared or disorganised to do. Him? He can shoot. He's got pretty good reflexes and I'm guessing he's seen a fight or two."

"You could say that," Byers admitted as he turned to Mulder, a question in his eyes.

"So train them. The scientist blokes can work on their vaccine but it won't do the slightest bit of good if we can't administer it."

It took them some time to persuade Byers to put the idea forward. There were people he had risked everything to get to and would risk everything to keep safe. He finally agreed to let them vote on it.

He waited until the weekly meeting, held to discuss issues that arose which couldn't be dealt with simply by informal talking. A rundown of the week went first, then new people were introduced. This time Mulder was included. The new ones always looked nervous, hopeful of their acceptance but uncertain. This week, when the regular formalities were dealt with, Mark stepped up.

And he talked. Somewhere along the line he had learned to speak in a way that rose a crowd's heartrate and inspired them to follow where he led. He told them that it was possible. They could fight back and they could win. With the vaccine, and the weapons they had found on so many recon trips they had the equipment they needed. He never made it sound easy. Over and over he told them it would be a long process that would be hard on them all. But the vote was almost unanimous. They would fight.

"Ok, Jo. Go for it." They circled slowly in the makeshift training circle that had been set up. Her left hand was steady as she held the knife, tightly bound in cloth so it wouldn't cause any injury. Her long blond hair was tied back, but once in a while she would unconsciously reach up to push it away. Mulder watched her carefully, waiting for her to make a move. Instead, she continued to circle. He ignored the audience that had somehow built up around them as he weighed her up. She wasn't going to make a move, she was just in a defensive stance waiting for him. He thought quickly. "Come on, Jo, what's the matter? Scared I'll beat you?" Her eyes narrowed. "Who did you leave?" His conversational tone threw her for a moment, the confusion showing in her eyes. "Mother, father, sister...boyfriend?" Mutters swept the edge of the room as Jo struggled to hide her shock, betraying herself. "What was he like, Jo? Do you think about him a lot?"

"Mulder..." Byers took a step forward. "Keep out, John," Mulder shot out, focussing on Jo once more. "What do you think they're doing to him now?" "He's dead," she hissed. "Are you sure about that? Consider the possibility if you're wrong. If he's in one of those labour camps? Tell me, Jo. What do you remember?" His voice was deadly soft. "The way he looked at you? The way he kissed you, how he spoke when he answered the phone? Or perhaps you've realised it's getting harder to picture his face." He paused. "How long do you think it took before he forgot you and found someone else?"

That was it.

She ran at him, aiming the short dagger at his stomach. He deftly defended himself, side-stepping, but she came after him again. And again. As he kept moving she followed, each time getting closer to what they had decided would be considered a direct hit. He continued to taunt her, asking where her parents would be, what her little sister was going through down in the darkness wondering why she had been abandoned. Finally, Jo raced at him, her knife connecting hard with his stomach. She knocked him over, and was immediately on top of him, attacking him with the hilt of the knife now, and slapping him repeatedly.

Mulder grabbed her wrists, using all his strength to throw her off him. He managed to flip her onto her back, straddling her until she stopped fighting. There was silence in the room around them.

"Bastard," she whispered. The corner of his mouth curved up slightly.

"*That's* what you need. Remember this anger, how you feel right now. Remember what They've done to you when you fight Them." With that, he got up and stalked out of the room, leaving her lying on the floor.

When there was a knock on the door, she invited him in without a second thought. There was an unspoken rule that all members were open with one another. Of course they were allowed their privacy, but most were always glad of someone to talk to. As Mulder walked in, she turned away. "I have nothing to say to you." He closed the door behind him. "Didn't you hear me?"

"You're a good fighter. You need practice, though." Jo looked at him carefully, searching his face.

"That's what two years of self defence will do for you. Are you offering?" Mulder smiled a little. "Yeah, I guess. If you want to." She nodded slightly. "Was that all?" At the return of her hostile tone, Mulder opened the door to leave. "Who was she?" He turned back. "What?"

"The woman you left. I figured you probably know what you're talking about," she explained quietly. Mulder considered her for a moment, then shut the door to talk to her.

"Her name is Dana Scully. We worked together for years, and then we started seeing each other."


"No. We have a daughter."

"I heard. You didn't find her." Mulder wondered just how much of his life these people knew, considering how little he knew about them. "What's she like?"

"Meghan? She's, uh...a little over three years old. Loves colouring, can't get enough of it. We just started reading the Narnia books to her, and she loves them. I shouldn't have left her." Jo glanced at him awkwardly. She still wasn't sure of him, and couldn't decide whether he was truly sorry for what he had said. But she couldn't let it go.

"You had no way of knowing."

"I've only known her a little over a year. If..." Jo's curiosity got the better of her.

"Where were you? If you don't want to say, it's okay," she added quickly. Suddenly she wasn't sure she wanted to know. There was something unsettling about this man. He'd experienced something that had marked him deeply.

"Not right now. Maybe sometime I'll tell you, but...

"I understand." He turned to go. "Mr Mulder? If is a dangerous word. It'll control you if you let it." He nodded briefly, then she watched him leave, curious about what he had been about to tell her but uncertain she was ready to find out.

The talent among them varied, from some highly qualified in self defence to some who had never been in a fight in their lives. But all agreed to take any training they could, and teach others what they knew.

Except two.

They arrived at the first meeting they had after the vote and made their feelings perfectly clear.

"We're not doing this. We signed on for patrol, and indoor duties. I'm not playing superhero just 'cause some guy's decided it would be a good idea to try suicide."

"What about her?" Langly gestured at the smaller girl at her side. "Doesn't she speak?"

"She feels the same as me."

"If you're scared, it's okay..." one woman began, but faltered under the harsh look she received.

"I'm not scared. I could take any one a you, any time. I've been fighting for years and it got me nowhere. Why should this be any different?" Defiantly she took hold of the other's arm, dragging her out of the room and down the hallway to their room.

He found them staying in the far end of the building. On asking around, he learned that they had arrived on the doorstep two days after the invasion, and the open door policy demanded that they be allowed to stay when their results came back negative. They were two of the few residents who kept to themselves. While the majority spent time in the communal room, there were several who remained in their rooms except for mealtimes and when forced to take part in patrols.

"You're the new guy," the oldest said, looking him up and down. "The hotshot who's got them all fired up to be massacred. They've probably never been in a real fight." Her sarcasm made him wince. Jude looked about eighteen but with her hair cropped close to her head, and a tattoo of a snake visible on her upper arm, she had obviously matured beyond her years. She sat on the edge of her bed, leaning against the wall with her friend leaning against her. The other girl had spoken once to introduce herself as Terri then leant back, just staring at him. Their constant scrutiny made him uncomfortable.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"What d'ya want?"

"Where were you before here?" Mulder didn't get the surprised reaction he was expecting. After his confrontation with Jo, people were wary around him and didn't like to bring up the past. It was better not talked about, in their opinion. Talking made it too difficult to concentrate on the present.

"Running for our lives, you?" he recognised the insolent tone. He'd interrogated so many teenagers who were scared, and alone. Covering up how scared they were by pretending they were capable of handling anything. No matter how young they were.

"What about before that?"

"34th and North," Terri said softly. "There was a coffee bar there. On...on the corner? Not real nice or anything, b...but they let you stay most of the day with just one cup." She rested her chin on her knees, drawn up to her chest defensively.

"You were on the streets?"

"Yeah." Jude spoke this time, gesturing to Terri to stop speaking. "What's it to you? Probably passed a dozen kids like us on the way to work every day and never gave it a second thought." "I didn't," he admitted. "But maybe you guys can help."

"The Feds want our help?" She was openly sceptical.

"The Feds don't exactly exist anymore. What kind of fighting were you talking about? You kids use knives?"

"Knives, bottles, fists. Whatever keeps you going with a safe place to sleep. And we're not exactly kids." Yes, you are, he though. Perhaps you don't act like it, but that's exactly what you are.

"Think you can take me?" His tone was deliberately baiting her. Jude looked him up and down, wetting her lips, her hands defiantly on her hips. She wore the denim shorts and white t-shirt that were the only clothes he'd ever seen her in. There was a bracelet around her wrist, made of brightly coloured threads weaved together. It was old, fraying in places but had been tied together with newer cotton.

"Absolutely." He stood, gesturing at the door.

"Lead the way."

She gained attention as she walked down the hall, there was no doubt about that. Her hips swayed provocatively as she walked, every movement accented in her tight clothes. Evidently she'd been used to using whatever she had to get what she wanted. Mulder was willing to bet she was pretty good at it, too.

Once in the communal room, they entered the circle together. Jude faced him, a small smile on her lips.

"Bring it on." He hesitated.

"I don't want to hurt you." She looked at him. And laughed.

"Oh, don't worry, old man. You couldn't if you tried."

"Old man?" That smile again, driving him on. He took a swing at her. She blocked him, pushing his arm almost to the ground as she jumped back. She was just standing, waiting for his next move, but every muscle was taut and ready to move. Terri watched breathlessly from the sidelines. Mulder tried again, with the same result. "No holding back, Mulder. That's the rule of street fighting. Give it everything." He considered her for a moment. His next blow was a direct hit to her stomach, pushing her backwards, but she never lost her balance. Encouraged, he tried again but she slipped onto the floor, sliding down to pull his legs from under him.

The blow to his back when he hit the floor knocked his breath from him and he lay winded for a moment. She wasn't even breathing heavily. He admired her fitness, but was beginning to seriously wonder if he could do this for long. She came at him this time, striking him hard across the jaw before he had time to react. By the time he struck back she was three feet away. He remained absolutely still while she inched towards him, both waiting to see who would be the first to move.

It was him.

She grabbed his arm as he hit out and pulled him to her, twisting it behind his back and forcing him down to his knees as she twisted harder. Suddenly he felt cold steel at his throat. Where the hell had she gotten a knife from?

"What do you think, now, fed? Can I take you?" She pushed him forward. He managed to turn and instead hit the floor on his back. As he looked up at her, she had that same smile again, carefully tucking the knife into the back pocket of her shorts. He hadn't even noticed it.

"Congratulations," he said dryly. Much as he hated to admit it, he'd been beaten. She cocked her head to one side dismissively. Her lips were slightly parted, her tongue against the edge of her teeth as one corner of her mouth slowly curved into a mocking smile.

"I'll help you." Jude brushed past him on her way out, motioning for Terri to follow her. The path to the door cleared in front of her.

Their first assault was terrifying. Mulder, Mark and Jo went to a formal function they had heard of a few days earlier. Getting in was easier than they had anticipated and as the first shot rang out, Mulder raced unnoticed among the panicking crowd to the exit. He saw Mark and Jo do the same.

He met them two blocks away. Jo ran up to him, flinging her arms around first him and then Mark in exhilaration. "We did it!" she cried excitedly. "My God, it actually worked!" Despite himself, Mulder smiled as he urged them back to the safe house.

"The business two nights ago was most unfortunate," It said quietly. "We believe there is a rebel organisation operating somewhere within the city boundaries which, needless to say, is somewhat disturbing." This, then, was what Alumari had been called to discuss. She had been present at the event when the shot rang out from the balcony, she had seen the speaker topple from his podium.

"I understand that. I have not heard anything." It regarded her for a moment as though weighing her statement for truth. It nodded.

"There may be an attempt to contact you...or you may become a target."

"I assure you, I have every precaution possible and should such an attempt occur I will of course do my duty to the Alliance." She rose to her feet, inclining her head slightly in a gesture of parting before she left.

The hall rang with noise, talking and laughter masking the more serious conversations which took place beneath them. Several danced, more simply stood and talked. At one table to the edge of the podium, Alumari sat staring blankly at the scene before her. Anyone watching her closely would have seen the slightly bored expression on her face.

Across the hall, Jo raised one hand in the agreed gesture. Mulder did the same, followed by Mark. Jude sat quietly with Mulder. He wasn't entirely sure how she had talked her way into coming with them but she was there all the same. "Go," he whispered to her.

"We're not done."

"You are. Jude, I want you clear of this building before Jo fires, is that clear?" His tone left no room for argument. With an exasperated sigh, she began towards the exit. When he saw her slip out the way they had come, he raised his hand again. He was moving before the shot went off, not stopping to see the man fall or the crowd begin to panic.

Meghan is tired, though she complains little. For the past two miles I have been carrying her and before that, Andrew had her on his back as we walked. It has been more than difficult and there have been so many times I felt like giving up - I have seen the same feelings in Andrew. Yet there is nothing else to do but walk until we reach the city that was Mulder and Scully's destination.

Andrew is slowly coming to trust me. Having Meghan helps, somehow, and she is so trusting and accepting herself it's impossible not to be that way with her. When she sleeps, he tells me horror stories of what has happened since we have been absent from the world. A new society created, a new government and social hierarchy. Labour camps were quickly established with people taken to them for no apparent reason. Stories spread faster than the camps were created and people are scared to death of them. Even if the reports are wildly exaggerated they are places I would rather be dead than be in.

Meghan no longer asks for her parents. I don't know whether she knows she'll receive the same answer each time, if she is beginning to forget, or she somehow understands that there are no longer any answers to give. She has photographs in her small rucksack which she shows to Andrew but they are ragged and have been handled too often. What can a child make of this situation? She accepts it completely, and never questions that she has been dragged from her home and her family. But she is still innocent, and still smiling, which is a great comfort to Andrew and myself.

The party went on until the early hours of the morning. The second successful hit had everyone psyched for more, but Mulder was firm that they lay low for a while. It would give them more of an element of surprise, and time to train and regroup.

Byers found him as people were beginning to wind down, alone in his room. "Are you okay?" "Yeah. Party over?"

"Pretty much." Byers sat on the bed beside him. "What happened tonight?

"You know what happened." "I know what you said. But there's more to it, I'm sure. I've known you for years, Mulder, I can tell when you're holding something back."

"I thought I saw her." The soft admission hung between them in the silent room. "She was, uh, she was beautiful." Mulder smiled regretfully, shook his head. "I suppose it's to be expected. God knows, when she was abducted I saw her everywhere. I just miss her."

"Mulder!" His door was thrown open, Frohike standing there as he tiredly opened his eyes.

"It can wait till morning. God, Frohike - "

"It can't. Something's wrong with Terri, she's fitting or something, I don't know." Mulder was running down the hall, firing questions before Frohike could say anything else. "Where the hell is James?"

"He's there, but Jude won't let him anywhere near. She won't let anyone in the room. Keeps screaming, over and over." Mulder could hear her now. He pushed his way past the people gathered at the end of the corridor and into the room.

"Jude?" She was still screaming, holding Terri in her arms, rocking backwards and forwards. "Jude, listen to me. You have to let James in." He approached her softly as Jude suddenly fell silent. She was intent on the girl in her arms, gazing at the unconscious face. "Jude, give her to me." Mulder stretched out his arms to take Terri but it started Jude crying again. "No no no no no! You can't take her again, you can't have her!"

"Jude it's me!" Mulder was shouting now. He couldn't see Terri moving at all now, not even a slight movement of her chest. "Jude!" With a sudden jump he grabbed Jude by her arms, pulling her away from Terri. James took the opportunity to get into the room and began calling to her. There was no response, and she wasn't breathing. He began CPR. Frohike, having moved the others away with a promise to talk about it in the morning, came to help while Mulder fought Jude. If she'd been thinking clearly, he had no doubt that she would have won. After a few moments, though, she fell back against him. He wrapped his arms around her as she watched in terror as James worked on Terri. She clung to him, her fingernails digging into his arms.

It took so long, Mulder was sure that she was dead. But finally, James indicated to Frohike and they sat back. He nodded to Mulder.

"She's breathing. We have to get her into a comfortable bed, away from any kind of trauma." Slowly, she was moved onto a sheet that was used as a makeshift stretcher and taken out of the room, down to the far end of the building that had been designated a sick area. It was the quietest, most secure area.

Jude shook against Mulder. She began to cry, heaving sobs that racked her body uncontrollably. Gently he turned her around, and she locked her arms around his neck, grateful for the support. She cried herself to sleep, but wouldn't let go. When James came back in the morning, Mulder was sat with his back against the wall, Jude wound up lying beside him, her head in his lap.

"How is she?" Mulder asked quietly.

"Stable. She's awake, and doesn't seem to have sustained any kind of damage."

"What caused it?"

"I don't know. The speed with which it seems to have been brought on is worrying. I spoke to her just two hours before the attack and she was fine. There were no signs of lethargy, disorientation, dizziness. She didn't complain of any kind of fever or sickness."

"Would she come to you?"

"Terri, yes," James nodded. "Jude would rather die than ask for my help for herself, but she's the first to push Terri in my direction if she's even coming down with a cold." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "If we were in a hospital, I'd be running CAT scans, looking for some kind of brain trauma. Possible a development of epilepsy or - but we have no facilities at all. There's nothing more I can do right now." Jude started to stir on Mulder's lap, slowly sitting upright.

"Can I see her?" James looked at her.

"You have to understand, she's vulnerable. She can't be excited, or agitated in any way. None of your usual tricks, ok?" Jude agreed, subdued. "I'll go tell her you're coming. Ten minutes."

Jude wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "She's gonna be ok?" Mulder reassured her as he stood up. "I do love her, you know."

"Have you known each other a long time?"

"We were on the streets for four years before this. Builds relationships. Faster than they would otherwise. Her parents were - her mom was ok, but her dad had a drinking problem. She couldn't handle it, coming home after school and seeing her father lying unconscious with a bottle in his hand. It's not like he even tried to hide it."

"What about your parents?" Mulder asked softly. Jude stood up, pushing her hair back. "Can I see Terri now?" Mulder got the message loud and clear.


Mulder wanted to go alone to the next appointment. Jude was with Terri and he was reluctant to allow anyone else to accompany him. But in the end Frohike insisted. He was used to Mulder's way of working and the secrecy came naturally. They got in surprisingly easily; Mulder had expected security to be tighter after last time but nothing had changed. There was a covered passage at the back of the hall, just far enough above the crowd. Mulder and Frohike stood in the shadows, waiting for the right moment. The speaker stood, and Mulder felt a thrill of anticipation, almost excitement as the adrenalin flowed through him as Frohike aimed the shot.

It was the walk that made him notice the Alumari. The way she held her head high, even now, and walked with complete confidence. She was beautiful among the crowd, slowly meandering around the room. She would stop to talk to someone, nodding and smiling in agreement before moving on to the next.

Mulder froze.

It was her, he had no doubt this time. He was vaguely aware of the shot being fired and of people below beginning to move. He felt Frohike pulling at him trying to get him to leave, before they were discovered by the security guards that were certainly already searching. He couldn't take his eyes off her. Frohike followed his gaze.

"Jesus," he whispered. It was incredible, but... "Mulder, we have to go." He pulled again and Mulder saw the panic unfolding in the main room. He allowed himself to be dragged away, safely back to the building.

"This is bad." The words were Langly's only contribution to the discussion so far. He had listened in silence as Frohike recounted to him, Byers and Jo the events of the evening. Including seeing Scully. Mulder had been silent. He understood why they wanted to know but didn't see the reason for the secrecy, why the meeting had to be called with just the four of them in the middle of the night.

"So what do we do?" Byers asked the rest. "Frohike, did she see you?" Frohike shook his head.

"Nope. Got away clean." The tone of his voice told the gunmen how close they had come to discovery but Jo didn't catch the inference.

"That's something," she said in relief. "Then I think it's clear there's nothing to be done. We lay low for a while, and then keep going exactly as we are."

Mulder stared around at the group in confusion. "I'm not leaving her there." His words stopped them in their tracks. "You can't seriously be asking me to."

"We're not asking," Byers explained sympathetically, but with a firm tone Mulder had rarely heard from him. "We're expecting."

"I won't...what aren't you guys telling me?"

"She's an Ilenti! You can't make contact with her, if that's what you're thinking. There's absolutely no way we will ever let that happen." Jo's words mystified him.

"What's an Ilenti?"

Byers sighed.

"I keep forgetting you don't know how this works," he said almost to himself. "The Ilenti are a group of - people. They have certain privileges. Fancy houses, servants, cars, all the luxuries and security they could ever want." "Collaborators?" Mulder asked.

"More than that," Langly joined in. "We don't know everything, but there's some things that have slipped through. They use a process of aural, visual and mental stimulation along with various medications."

"It's a mind altering process," Frohike clarified. "Thought processes are changed, beliefs undermined and replaced. They're not who they once were."

"But Scully..."

"She's not Scully," Jo told him. She placed one hand on his on top of the table. "She was wearing a long blue dress?" Mulder nodded. "And a silver chain around her ankle. They're the symbols of an Ilenti. That chain does not come off, and it marks her. The Ilenti aren't collaborators as such. They're more than that." She tried to find the words to explain. "They're almost a race apart, with complete faith in the Colonisationist ideology and revered among them for their humanity. I'm sorry, Mulder, but there isn't one person in this building who will let you see her again." Quietly she stood and left the room. The meeting was over.

She watched their movements with a peculiar detachment, as they hurried around her and fussed over her. Eventually she became tired of it.

"Go," she commanded. There wasn't even a moment's hesitation before they acceded to her demand. Nicholas was at her side even as the door closed, arms ready to catch her as she wavered and nearly fell. Carefully, he helped her to sit down.

"You took a message for me?"

"There's an occasion next week. You are," he smiled at the idea. "*Commanded* to be in attendance." She managed a weak smile in response, looking up at him. Nicholas was tall, with near jet-black hair that kept falling into his eyes, causing him to have to push it back.

"Really? By who?" The look Nicholas gave her was all the answer she needed. "I see."

"He treats you badly," Nicholas burst out. Alumari looked at him in surprise. "You're Alumari and he takes it upon himself to command! Who gives him the permission, the authority?"

Languidly, she stretched a hand out to him, inviting him closer. He took it and allowed himself to be drawn in.

"Don't trouble yourself, Nicholas. He's inconsequential to the design and will not be permitted to remain above his station for long. But I don't want to talk about him. I've had a long day." He sat beside her. "And I need to relax before the conference tomorrow." In one swift movement, he had pulled her onto his lap so she was straddling him, and was kissing her.

We're getting close, now, and I know that troubles Andrew more than he would admit. He's told me what we'll find but I'm sure he hasn't told me the whole truth of what happened to him. Perhaps he never will.

Meghan is good for him, I think, giving him something to concentrate on, something to take away the nightmares. He falls asleep every night holding her like a lifeline. I'm not entirely convinced the dependency he's developing is a good thing but it helps him survive. And that's essential.

Meghan is a mystery to me. Every day she retreats into herself, becoming less responsive to both Andrew and me. This morning she asked me what would happen if she stopped walking and just stood very still forever. It chilled me, such words coming from such a little girl.

"I can trust you, can't I?" Suddenly the question was absurdly important to her. Ridiculous at the same time - she wouldn't be lying here in his arms if she couldn't trust him, surely.

"Of course you can," he assured her. "Why do you even ask me?" Alumari was reluctant to confide in him at first. He knew there had been something pressing at her for days, maybe even longer. He had known her so long he could read the signs of anxiety easily by now.

"Sometimes," she began hesitantly. "Sometimes, I think I can remember - before I was Alumari. I was someone else." Nicholas was startled by the admission. The Ilenti weren't supposed to have any memories, they had all been erased. If Alumari could remember, something had gone very wrong. "I dream about it sometimes, so vividly."

"What do you see when you dream?"

"Vague faces." She closed her eyes, trying to see them again but the images wouldn't come. "Mostly men who I - I *know* them, but I can't remember." Her breathing was suddenly fast in a pattern he knew all too well. "Alumari! Look at me." He took her face in his hands as she gasped for breath. He could see the fear that always overtook her with these attacks. "Breathe with me. In. Out. In. Out." She tried to follow his directions.

"I can't...Nicholas!" Clutching her hand, he reached swiftly for the drawer beside her bed, pulling out the syringe that lay ready.

"Is this okay?" She nodded, falling back against the pillow as she struggled for breath. He plunged the needle into her arm, pressing down until all the liquid was gone. As soon as it entered her body she began to shake. He held her to him despite the convulsions that racked her body.

Five endless minutes later she lay still in his arms, exhausted. The medication made her drowsy and weak, added to the convulsions which were a terrifying side effect for those around her. She was never aware of them when she came to. Nicholas didn't know whether the panic attacks were a result of the treatments, or something she had been afflicted with before They took her again. She had not had them before They came, he knew that.

"Nick?" Her whisper made him pay instant attention.

"I'm here. Are you ok?"

"Yeah. Just...shaken, you know. I hate this. Why does it happen to me?" Nick just shook his head. "I forget everything while it happens. I hate losing part of myself like that."

"I'm sick of waiting," Mulder said impatiently. "I want to find Meghan, I want to get Scully back. Now."

"Mulder, I know you do..."

"Frohike, come on. There has to be something I can do. I can't just wait and hope that something miraculously happens!" Frohike was sympathetic.

"The project begins next week. We can..."

"No." He avoided Frohike's stare as he tried to explain. After all, he had been the one to push the hardest, plan everything and train the hardest. "I'm sick of it. Of always being the one to pay the price, the one to risk and lose everything. Even before They came, I was doing that. I just want to stop. Take my life back."

"Maybe this is the way to do it."


The others looked at It in agreement, but with a measure of doubt. They were all aware of the problem; this was a new and unexpected threat.

<> One asked. <>

<> One broke in with satisfaction. <>

Alumari sat quietly, listening. The atmosphere in the conference room was always eerily silent. She heard them talking, but never a word was spoken. She didn't know why the conferences were conducted in a language she could understand, or why they allowed her to see through their mental defences to what they were saying. She did not contribute, that wasn't why she was there. She knew she was invited purely out of courtesy, and because they had a sort of strange respect for her that sometimes she felt was more like fear. She didn't know why.

<> As a group they mentally turned to the One at the head of the table.

<> It added something in Its own language, and the others' thoughts were suddenly filled with dry humour. Alumari was struck. She'd never heard them amused before.

She was escorted to her home, where Nicholas was waiting for her. The sessions exhausted her, the mental concentration involved for such long periods. She signed the papers that had been waiting for her without glancing at them, listened to what she had to do over the next two days without really taking it in. Nicholas remained beside her, remembering it all for her. She trusted that he would tell her what she had to do and when.

When she had finished, he helped her upstairs to bed.

Alumari leaned back against the pillows, handing the empty glass back to Nicholas. The pills always made her feel funny, as though she was distanced from herself and everything she was doing. Whatever it was, she thought faintly, it felt really good.

Nicholas traced patterns across her skin idly with one hand. "So beautiful," he murmured to himself and looked up at her. "You should stop taking those things."

Alumari looked at him. "What do you mean?" "The medication. You are a brilliant, intelligent woman. It dulls you, makes you - I don't know, different. Whenever you say something or act in a way They don't like, They increase your dosage. You should stop taking it." He couldn't quite believe he was advising this, he had no idea what the effect would be or whether it would bring her memories back.

For some reason, he wanted her to be herself again.

It happens tonight. I'm not convinced it's the right thing to do, not now, but Mulder is adamant and the others agree. Frohike, Langly and Jo that is. None of the rest of them here know, with the possible exception of Jude. She spends so much time with Mulder it's impossible to imagine she doesn't know.

There's a meeting. At a major building in the centre of the city, what used to be an opera house. A big place with more than enough room for Their parties. Several of the men have been working non stop for the past few days in preparation.

Mulder is the most troubling aspect of it all. The entire project hinges on him, and if he falls apart...he's always been a risk taker and that hasn't changed. When Scully's involved, he's even more reckless. If he decides now if the time to resurrect that instinct, we could all be in a lot of trouble.

Everyone was in position.

Mulder ran the arrangement over again in his head, for at least the hundredth time. They would leave immediately as the shots were fired, circling around the city to get back the building, ensuring they weren't followed. He doubted they would be but the precautions had become second nature and they knew they could not afford to become complacent.

The man came round the corner so suddenly that Mulder and Jude didn't have time to move. Jude instinctively flattened herself against the wall. When Mulder saw the brief look of fear cross her face before she pushed it down, he reminded herself she was just a kid. She had no place in this kind of business. Then he saw who it was who had emerged from the shadows.

"Alex," he hissed. Krycek turned in surprise, and saw them. Gathering himself quickly he gestured silently for them to follow him. Jude hung back warily, waiting for Mulder's reassurance. He guided her down the hall after Krycek, who led them into one of the disused rooms coming off it. From the look of it now, it had been one of the boxes before. The circle and stage area it overlooked had been ripped out to leave a huge circular area, now filled with people - and Them - for the evening. The three in the box now were hidden by the curtains still hanging, parted only slightly in the middle. As Krycek shut the door behind them there was a moment's silence. Mulder embraced him swiftly, a little awkward.

"I thought you were dead, Alex."

"Likewise." Mulder didn't appear to notice the hostile tone, but Jude looked up at him in concern.

"What happened to you?"

"What are you doing here?" This time Krycek's tone caused Mulder to fall silent, very aware that the question was being avoided. A smirk gradually came across Krycek's face as he glanced out at the crowds. "I should have known," he murmured to himself. "So," addressing the question to Mulder. "How does it feel to be the mysterious assassin? You've been driving Them crazy, They can't figure out how you get in. Your years of breaking and entering government property are paying off admirably, aren't they."

"Mulder - " Jude broke in. "Time's nearly up." Krycek looked appreciatively at her. She moved a little closer to Mulder. "You're going a little young these days, Mulder. She's pretty though." He glanced sideways at Mulder. "Get sick of searching for Scully again? I assume this one's not a vampire." Jude looked at Mulder. He was ashen, something between horror and surprise on his face. "Why are *you* here?" he asked slowly. Krycek glanced towards the chink in the curtains. "Scully's not - she's...They took her." "So you know? Well," the smirk was back, a knowing smile. "Let's play I Spy." He gestured Mulder over to look through the gap at the people below. "The far side, over on the left. Talking to the old one." He watched Mulder intently, waiting for the moment he spotted her. Mulder saw her moments before Krycek murmured her name to him. "Alumari."

Mulder stared, drinking in the sight of her, for a moment able to ignore the man at his side. She was surrounded by people, a crowd clamouring to be near her and hanging on her every word. He had rarely seen her so at ease, so happy and confident. Krycek laid a hand on his arm just as she shifted slightly to reveal It behind her, touching her back, and Mulder's joy drained away to leave him pale.

"Your hand..." Krycek held it up, flexing his fingers into a fist and out again. "Yeah. Good as new. It's incredible what Their technology can do." It took Mulder a moment to realise the full implication.

"You're working for them?" He heard a sharp intake of breath beside him. "That's your reward for betraying everything we worked for?" "Betraying?" Krycek's tone was one of pure disgust as he shook his head in disbelief. "Mulder, we're not on some holy crusade. I do what's right for me. I always have done." "It's not right."

"Right? You haven't changed. Goddamn colonisation by aliens, and you still love to play the martyr." He noticed Mulder's expression. "Don't pretend you don't. All those years, the endless guilt trips, beating yourself up because you couldn't find the Truth. Well there it is." He flung his arm out to indicate the crowds below them. "There's your Truth, Mulder, and what do you do? You go into hiding until you can destroy it. Before, you wanted killed me, given the chance. Do you know why you didn't?"

"I was a fool," Mulder choked out. "I should have shot you when I could."

"You never could. You destroy me and you destroy the one physical thing you're fighting against. Without me, you're fumbling in the darkness for something to hold onto, to focus that death wish on." Krycek looked him up and down, his voice becoming smoother when he spoke. "We're two halves, Mulder. You need me."

"Jesus and Judas," Mulder mumbled, a conversation he had had with Scully - God, it seemed so long ago - coming faintly back to him. Krycek let out a harsh laugh.

"With yourself cast as the Almighty? Hardly. Mulder, the thing that I love is that you *had* it. The key to everything you ever wanted to know and more. You let it slip away."

"What?" "In her. She was it." His gaze flicked to the gap in the curtains for a second and his voice resumed its mocking tone. "Why'd you wait seven years? She's fucking fantastic." He leaned forward, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "And I do mean *fucking* fantastic."

In anger Mulder rushed him, shoving him against the wall. Jude let out a frightened cry as a gun appeared from nowhere, clapping her hand to her mouth to stifle the sound. Krycek flattened to the wall as the cold metal pressed up against his ribs. "I should kill you now," Mulder hissed. "I wish to god I'd done it years ago." Krycek laughed, deliberately looking towards the curtains.

"You want to start something *here*, Mulder? I'm Alumari's bodyguard. If you kill me, you won't get out of here alive." Mulder pushed the gun harder into him as he released the safety, causing him to gasp. "Maybe I'm willing to take that risk."

"Are you willing to risk her life?" He jerked his head to the girl standing silently beside them.


He had forgotten her standing there, staring with terrified eyes onto the scene playing out before her. Reluctantly he pulled back, tucking the gun into his jeans pocket. He kept his eyes on Krycek.

"Jude, what time is it?"


"Get her out of here," he said quietly. Krycek looked at him blankly. "There is a bomb in this building, set to go off in fifteen minutes. I can't disarm it and I will not tell you where it is. I want you to get Scully, and take her to the memorial. I'll meet you there."

"I can't," Krycek shook his head. "She's the guest of honour, she's not permitted to leave until they give her express permission." "There has to be something you can do." He placed his hand on the gun. "Or I will tell Jude to leave and shoot you right now."

Krycek strode out of the box and down the corridor, every step carefully calculated. To appear to hurry would be fatal. He went straight to Alumari, who didn't notice him approach as she spoke and laughed with several others around her.

"Excuse me." Krycek placed one hand on her arm. "May I steal her for a dance?" The others nodded permission, moving closer together in order to close the gap her departure had left. Alumari smiled a little as she allowed herself to be lead onto the dance floor.

Krycek moved her closer, so she was pressing against his body. "Listen to me, Alumari. Don't say anything..." she began to take a step away, he pulled her back. "Don't move, and don't show any sign of me saying anything unusual. Do you understand?" She nodded, a movement imperceptible to anyone else. "Something's happening tonight, and we have to leave." This time he allowed her to move back to see his face.

"I can't leave until the ceremony's over." Krycek looked down at her, a peculiar expression in his eyes.

"Do you trust me?" he asked softly, echoing the question she had asked him only days before.

"Of course."

"Then I promise you everything will be all right." Once more he drew her to him, closing his eyes. He felt her flinch as he raised one hand, unnoticed by anyone on the crowded dance floor, and pushed. The needle went into her shoulder and she fell against him, shaking violently.

Almost immediately the floor was cleared, Krycek and Alumari left alone in the middle. She fell still, but her eyes were closed. Hurriedly he picked her up, carrying her out to the ambulance that had just pulled up outside. He glanced around as he climbed in. The paramedics set to work immediately; once they saw the dress and the silver bracelet they wouldn't dare do otherwise.

They heard the blast two blocks away, saw the flames that spread rapidly through the area. The driver stopped without even thinking about it, intending to return to help. Krycek shot him without a second thought. He threw the other paramedic out of the back and locked it, turning back to the woman lying on a gurney beside him.

He pulled a small bottle from his jacket, hunting in the ambulance cabin for another needle. He ripped it from the packet, drew the liquid from the bottle and pushed it into her. Looked at his watch. The longest she had been unconscious with a seizure before was five minutes. They were already past that point.

"Come on, come on," he muttered. Scully's eyelids moved, her eyes darting rapidly side to side, slowly opening them.

"Nicholas?" He moved his hand to her wrist, checking her pulse quickly. It was slightly quickened, but steady.

She barely had time to register the cloth over her face before she passed out.

The memorial park was eerily still. Since They came, it had been left empty. No visitors, and the gardens were no longer tended, angrily vandalised in many places in protest against Their sensibilities of beauty. The memorial itself was left untouched, its weathered stone one of the few things held sacred in the city as it stood overlooking the derelict park. Mulder stood waiting anxiously. He had sent Jude back with instructions to tell Byers, and Byers only, what had happened and what he was doing. Standing there now, alone, he didn't know if he had done the right thing. To trust Krycek, after everything that had passed between them...he hated to feel that he was indebted to Krycek for anything.

The feel of cold metal against his temple made him curse.

"No need to get excited by things you can't control," Krycek's voice came softly. "Get in." He pushed Mulder round to see the ambulance standing just a few feet away. He made Mulder get in, while he climbed into the passenger seat, all the while aiming for Mulder's head. "Drive."


"No?" Krycek casually unlatched the safety, enjoying a fleeting moment of satisfaction when Mulder flinched.

"Where's Scully?"

"Through there." He gestured to the back.

"You're not coming."

"You're not in a really strong position here, Mulder. I'm the one with the gun. I'm the one who knows what they did to her."

He stayed with her. Despite all Mulder's resistance, he had to admit that Krycek was the only one with any idea what Scully had been subjected to. James did the best examination he could while she was unconscious and could find no trace of physical illness. He persuaded Mulder to leave the two of them alone.

Krycek demanded a solitary room at the end of the building, into which he took Scully and locked the door behind them. He refused to allow anybody in or out for three days. Sometimes screaming or shouting could be heard from inside and it was all anybody could do to stop Mulder breaking the door down and hauling Krycek out. At other times the only noise was an indistinct sobbing. These occasions would find Mulder sitting in the hallway leaning against the door. Just listening, his eyes closed. Most of the time, though, there was silence. Nobody liked passing that room. They'd all been informed of Scully's arrival and what was happening, all given the chance to object. Strangely, nobody had.

After three days, Krycek emerged. Exhausted and drawn, he carefully avoided Mulder and found Byers. "She's sleeping." Without another word he turned and left. Frohike, not quite knowing why, followed.

Krycek didn't even glance his way as Frohike came out. It was freezing, their breath curling away in tiny tendrils. Krycek inhaled deeply on his cigarette, then watched the smoke float away. He threw it to the ground. "I haven't smoked in ten years," he muttered. "Three days with her like that and..."

"What did you do?"

"Detox," he replied shortly. "She was on high dosages of several drugs, she needed them washing out of her system."

"Will it help?"

"It should do." Krycek drew a deep breath. "She used to experience periods of lucidity, of memory recall. Always when she was on a lower dosage." Frohike's interest was caught. "What did she remember?"

Krycek shook his head regretfully. "We never got a chance to discuss it properly. It was small things, I think. Faces, or an image of a place. Bastards always upped her dosage before I could talk to her about it." The vehemence in his tone was unexpected. "Did they hurt her?" There was a pause.

"In more ways than you could imagine." Krycek pulled another cigarette from his pocket, raising it to his lips. As he cupped one hand round the flame from the match Frohike realised it was shaking. He stayed for a moment then left Krycek staring into the distance.

Andy snuck back into the abandoned building, carefully checking behind him. Meghan sat on Skinner's lap as he sat beside them. She was playing some kind of game with coins, arranging and rearranging them on the floor in front of her.

"I don't like being here." Skinner looked at him in surprise. It was the first time the younger man had made any comment about their movements or questioned Skinner's leadership.


"This city...some of it's burned out, like this neighbourhood. Other places, it's more spectacular than it would ever have been before. Except..." "What?"

"The centre of town. I backpacked through here - five, six years ago. There was an arts district, a little way out of the centre. It had been rebuilt, I think. I guess they could have renovated before They came but - it just looks like their style."

"I'll take your word for it."

"It doesn't make sense," he continued almost to himself. "They like culture, art, won't live anywhere that doesn't look good."

"You know a lot about Them," Skinner commented softly. He leaned forward to move one of the coins Meghan was playing with. She glanced up at him before stubbornly moving it back. "I spent a year running from them!" Andrew suddenly shouted. "I had to learn fast!" At his harsh tone Meghan suddenly wailed, a high pitched shriek. Instantly Andrew dropped to his knees. "I'm sorry, Meghan. I won't shout." He looked back at Skinner.

"I could be wrong. It was a few years before..."

"What is it?" "There was an opera house, or theatre or something. Out by the water. Beautiful, actually. Exactly what they liked, what they would have kept." "I don't understand." "It's gone. In the middle of all that new building, the one thing they would have kept has been burnt down."

"Any idea what happened?" Andrew shook his head.

"Place looks like a bomb hit it." Both men fell silent.

I don't know what he did to her, but I have this overwhelming feeling that it's not *my* Scully sitting beside me. I even spoke to Krycek about it; all he would say was that she needed time.

How the hell would he know?

He presumes to know here, to know how she thinks and feels, but he couldn't. She's changed. In the years we've been together there's just something different. I couldn't define it but it's there, almost perceptibly under the surface. He couldn't possibly know her like I do.

The patrol was closing in. He could feel it. They'd been surprised the day before, a brief moment when their guard was down destroyed by the high pitched wail of Their siren.

They'd been running since, with a growing sense of fear and inevitability. The city was closed, guards around the perimeter. Troops worked their way inwards. Skinner could feel Andrew's increasing panic threatening to break at any moment. Even Meghan was afraid. She'd been ok, treating it as an adventure or at least appearing to accept this strange new life. Now her face was haunted.

The three of them had paused to gather themselves, plan rather than run blindly. But the patrol was catching them up.

Skinner made a decision.

He kissed Meghan swiftly, thrusting her into Andrew's arms. He loaded his gun. It and the spare ammunition went into Andrew's pocket before he could protest. "Meet me tomorrow night, 8 o'clock at that old opera house. More than an hour and I'm not coming so *don't* wait for me." The younger man began to argue. "Promise you won't wait." He nodded and Skinner was gone.

He ran. Without looking back, without thinking, without stopping. He knew that They were following him. He knew it as instinctively as he knew the thudding beat was his own heart beating, matched by his feet against the road. So he ran, leading Them as far away from Meghan and Andrew as he could.

Scully sits and listens to the noises outside her door. People pass by in the corridor, talking and laughing as though things have never changed. Her life has been so quiet for so long that she feels intimidated by the thought of so many people all in one place. The room becomes claustrophobic as she thinks she can feel them pressing in on her. Mulder sits beside her. As though from a distance she notes how quiet he always is, talking in a monotone whisper as if he were afraid of speaking too loudly. Perhaps he is afraid. She is surrounded by fear.

"Mulder!" The interruption as the door is flung open is so startling she jumps, a soft cry escaping. "Krycek's gone."

"Nicholas." She whispers so quietly that neither man appears to notice, even when she corrects herself with a slight shake of her head. "Alex."

"When?" Mulder is suddenly leader again, taking control as she has rarely seen him do.

"Maybe a few hours ago. We don't know. Mulder - Jude's gone too."

They sent out a few men looking for them, enough to cover the city in a couple of hours. The gunmen, Jo and Mulder went to the small room they used to talk privately to discuss what they needed to do. Whether Krycek would have gone to Them and revealed their position, and whether they should leave, trying to establish how much information Krycek had about them and what he wanted with Jude.

Mulder couldn't focus on any of it. The arguments flew past him as he stared down at the table, hearing Scully's voice over and over. "Nicholas." He had heard that tone from her before. Filled with longing and the kind of betrayal that can only come from a close relationship. With her voice came Krycek's. "Why seven years?...fucking fantastic." Scully's whisper had been like a knife between his shoulder blades.

Krycek had only gone a few blocks when he realised someone was following him. He stopped abruptly around the corner, flattening back against the wall to wait. As the figure came into the street in the darkness, he pounced. He threw them back against the alley wall, his gun to their head. Then he caught the flash of silver in the darkness as a knife was aimed at his heart.

"Do it," she dared him. He swore as he recognised her voice,

He recognised her voice. Krycek pushed his gun into his jeans and pulled her into the light. Jude stared back. He let go instantly.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"Right back at you." He leaned insolently towards her.

"Go home, little girl. You have no business being mixed up in this."

"You should've thought of that when you crashed out of there. I'm surprised no-one else woke up."

"Why didn't you wake them?" They had moved back into the darkness, hidden from anyone passing by. Jude shrugged.

"No time. And I figured Mulder wouldn't want you roaming the streets on your own." Krycek turned, walking away. She followed him, running a few steps to catch up. "Go home." He never slowed his pace.

"No. Now what?" She enjoyed challenging him, the fear felt in the opera house long since faded. He ignored her, continuing along back streets and alleyways until he reached Their district. He reached for his gun.

His hand was greeted by empty space.

He looked around, and saw Jude a few steps away. Her hand was held out idly, his gun dangling from one finger. "Miss something?" Krycek looked at her with admiration.

"You're good. When did you take that?"

"Five minutes ago."

"Impressive. I didn't feel a thing. Now give it back." He reached for it but she stepped back. "This isn't the time for games."

"I get that."

"Look, Jude, there's something in that building I have to get, and while a gun won't help me with Them, if I get into trouble it'll buy me enough human guards to get me out." She considered his words.

"What do you need?"

"You wouldn't understand." Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she crossed her arms.

"Try me."

"It's a book." Jude was openly disbelieving.

"What, you want a little light reading for those long dreary nights?"

"For God's sake" Krycek appealed to the skies. "It's Their book. Like the Bible, I suppose, only - it's more of a prophetic nature. She stared at him.

"You're kidding me."

Krycek looked apprehensively at the building behind them. He didn't have time to argue about it and without another word he turned and ran into the building, leaving Jude behind. She sighed and followed him. He didn't realise she was there until it was too late.

Krycek had been in the Imperial building many times before, accompanying Alumari to their meetings and functions. He had been watched, of course, but able to gather enough information to work out where the book was being kept. The majority of servants, including the majority of the security guards, were human. It prevented Them having to put themselves in a subservient position, and enabled them to have a ready hostages should they need them.

A quick blow to the back of the head and the guard crumpled to the floor. Krycek didn't feel even a moment's remorse. He didn't even take the time to wonder when human life had become so cheap to him.

The room was still, an eerie calm across it that Krycek had only felt once before in his life. A vague memory of a Russian cathedral came back to him. The sheer scale of the great dome towering above him had been somehow comforting. He had sat there for hours, just contemplating the size of it. He didn't have that luxury here. The book lay in a case in the middle of the room. It took him a few minutes to work the lock enough to get it to snap out of place. He grabbed the book and ran.

Alarms began to ring.

He raced for the nearest exit, ducking into a doorway briefly as a guard ran past him.

Jude was still outside where he went in, waiting for him. "What's going on?" He grabbed her arm, dragging her along beside him. "Damn place was rigged, floor to ceiling. They knew the moment I stepped foot in there." He could hear someone chasing behind them. From the hard breathing behind him he could tell it was a human and for a moment he was insulted that They hadn't even had the concern to follow him themselves. He pulled Jude around the corner, throwing her against the wall with one hand over her mouth. She panicked, struggling under his grasp. As the guard came round the corner she broke free, trying to run away. The guard saw her and fired. She crumpled to the ground.

The guard stood over her, panting unevenly. Krycek crept up behind him, firing point blank to the back of his head.

Dawn was breaking when Krycek staggered into the building, carrying Jude in his arms. He'd taken off his shirt to press it against her. They were both covered in blood. He made his way to the room where Scully stayed, laying Jude down on the floor. Scully was sitting on the bed, staring at the door as they came in. By the time he'd gotten to her room Mulder and the others had followed him.

"What the hell did you do to her?" Mulder grabbed Krycek, pulling him back away from Jude's body. "Langly, get James. Now!" Krycek was jerked to his feet, held securely. Mulder tried to pull him out of the room.

"Scully." Krycek didn't shout her name, there was no need. From the moment he had entered with Jude she had been staring blankly at him. "Scully, come on." He stood firm as Mulder tried to pull him away. With a hard thrust, he threw him off and pulled Scully off the bed, forcing her to kneel down beside Jude. This time both Mulder and Byers grabbed him, hauling him out of the room. "ALUMARI, NOW!" Falteringly, Scully reached out to touch Jude. She took the shirt away, dropping it to the floor. Pressed her hands to the wound.

She was overwhelmed by the sensations that washed over her, through her. The room was snatched away as she saw instead people she had never met, heard snatches of conversations that flashed past her in instants but left a lingering sensation. She felt what it was like to spend a night alone on the sidewalk, when people hurried past with their heads down as though they could make her go away simply by pretending she wasn't there. She felt what it was like to sit in a bathtub with a razor and contemplate what would happen if she gathered enough courage to put it to skin. She felt the sharp pang of broken tile hitting her arm when the razor was hurled across the bathroom in anger. She felt what it was like to find someone who had been through the same thing.

She gasped and pulled her hands away. Mulder let go of Krycek to catch her as she fell back. James appeared in the doorway. Seeing the blood across Jude's body, he got to his knees beside her, checking for an injury. He looked up.

"Where's this blood from?" The guys watched him in confusion. "I can't see any kind of injury whatsoever."

"What the hell happened in there?" Frohike had somehow drawn the short straw in watching Krycek while Byers stayed with Scully and James took care of Jude. Mulder stood in the corner, his arms crossed and one foot against the wall as he stared at the floor.

"She's Alumari," Krycek said as though that explained everything.

"Don't fucking call her that." Mulder's voice was carefully measured, but with a force that made Frohike go cold. Krycek looked at him.

"Not calling her that doesn't make it go away, Mulder. It's who she is. It's ingrained into her as deeply as her sense of morality, her loyalty and her goddamn love for you." He spoke bitterly.

"It's not her."

"Then who is she? You don't understand."

Mulder came forward, slamming his hands down onto the table in front of Krycek. "Then *make* me understand. And what possessed you to take Jude along on your little field trip?" "I didn't. She came; she followed me. This 'field trip' was important."

"Really. I have a hard time believing that it could be important for anyone other than you. It certainly wasn't risking Jude's life over."

"Yes it was." He paused, reconsidering. "What happened was an accident, a miscalculation on my part. But it was essential." He reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a slim volume. He placed it reverently on the table. "*This* is essential."

"A book?" Krycek sighed, moving it closer to open it and read a passage. "The translation's difficult," he explained. "'And lo, for there shall be One who will begin the world anew, and the One will be revered above all, for it is within Her to devastate the whole. For with the Child shall come the - ', uh, it loosely translates as 'cure' or 'healing' I think. ' - and we shall all know an eternity of nothingness'".

Mulder was openly sceptical. "Do you expect me to believe that crap?"

"Does it make more sense when you know that the One is Alumari - Scully - and the Child is..."

"Meghan." Frohike finished.

"You're not buying this, are you?" Mulder asked in frustration. "We have no way to verify the translation!"

"It's why They are so afraid of Scully," Krycek explained. "They don't know she's already had the child. If They did, neither of them would be alive."

Frohike drew Mulder to one side, speaking to him in a hushed whisper.

"What if he's right? If there is some truth in this?"

"I don't think it is."

"But They do," Krycek argued. "What matters is that They believe it, absolutely. They are ruled by what it says in that book. If you know that, you can anticipate them."

Mulder took a moment to decide.

"Translate it for me."

"There's something I need."

"Someone will go with you."

"You want every word? Because I gotta tell you, it's way overwritten."

"Don't miss a single syllable."

It was ten minutes before nine, and Skinner was nowhere to be seen. Andy and Meghan were hidden in the shadows of the building, waiting. Every minute or so Andrew would look at his watch, nervous and worried in case Skinner didn't show and he would have to decide what to do.

It was half past nine when Skinner came around the corner.

"I told you not to wait."

"You knew I would," Andrew replied. "Why else would you have come now?" Skinner nodded, smiling a little.

"The city's been barricaded. I don't know whether they're trying to keep people in or out, but there're guards all the way around. I think we should spend the night here." Andrew agreed, and they made their way inside. They found a small room, probably used to be a dressing room, that seemed secure and safe. Skinner put Meghan on a makeshift bed while Andrew lit one of the last candles they had.

"I want to have a look around."

"Don't be long." Andrew agreed, and slipped out of the door.

The corridors were dark as he walked down them. A smell somewhere between must and smoke still lingered, but only a slight hint. One by one, he opened the doors leading off the corridor. They were almost completely empty, a few had an abandoned chair or desk in them but most had been cleaned out. He was just closing a door when from behind him came a thudding blow.

Krycek was a little relieved when the guy groaned and started to open his eyes. He'd hit him a little hard, and was beginning to think perhaps he wasn't going to wake up. Mark sat beside him, sombre as he watched the young man struggle to sit up. "You shouldn't have hit him," he accused.

"Quiet," Krycek snapped back. The young man was sitting now, resting against the wall. "What's your name?" The man stared back, resolute. He wasn't going to speak. "All right then."

Krycek leaned over to grab his jacket. After Mark had helped him carry the man into one of the abandoned rooms, he'd taken his jacket off to form a kind of pillow for him. Now he searched through the pockets. The man tried to snatch it back but Mark took his wrist.

"Leave it."

Krycek felt a moment of surprise at Mark's apparent defence of his action but continued through the jacket. He pulled out some coins, fairly worthless now, and a box of matches which he pocketed himself. He threw the jacket back to the cowering man, then heard the slight sound as something fell out and hit the floor. The man lunged for them but Krycek was quicker. He caught his breath as he saw the photographs, faded and worn.

"Where did you get these?" He remained silent. "It's ok," he said a little more gently. "I know these people."

"I don't," he spat out. "Stole the jacket from some guy upstate, before I came here. Pictures must have already been in there." Krycek was filled with an inexplicable disappointment. "Damn," he whispered. He looked to Mark for explanation. "If he got them upstate, there's no chance he knows where Meghan is."

"Meghan?" The name was choked out in a near silent whisper before Andrew could think. Krycek jumped on it. "You're lying to me. You know exactly where she is, don't you?" Andrew shook his head, pushing himself up. Krycek shoved him hard against the wall, winding him as he pressed his arm against Andrew's throat. "I've got what I came for, boy, but you WILL tell me where her little girl is."

Scully opened the door slowly, not going into Mulder's room.

"Mulder?" He turned and smiled at her.

"Come in." Hesitantly, she took a step inside. And stopped. Her clothes lay hung over the chair, some of her belongings lying on the bed or sitting on the single shelf.

"What's going on?"

Mulder took her arm, making her sit down on the edge of the bed before returning to shut the door. He sat beside her, still holding her hand.

"I moved your things into here," he said softly. "Scully, I still want you. My question still holds." She stayed silent. "Marry me, Scully." He heard the desperation creeping into his voice and flinched, berating himself for pressuring her. He leant forward to kiss her.

She turned away.

He sighed, bowing his head.

"Is it because of him?" he asked in a low voice. "Is that it?"

"Mulder...you told me what they did to you. And I was grateful that you trusted me enough, but...I can't tell you."

"You don't trust me." She shook her head in denial.

"There just aren't the words." They sat in silence, each consumed in their own thoughts and contemplation of the other.

"I would like to try," Scully said hesitantly. Mulder turned to her, holding up his hand. Cautiously she placed hers on it, watching as he intertwined their fingers.

"I'm not planning to go anywhere. As long as you need me."

Krycek had left Mark with Andrew, giving him terse instructions to watch him and not leave him alone for any reason. The younger man's eyes had narrowed in anger at being ordered around, but he obeyed. So Krycek left on his own, roaming the halls of the opera building that he was so familiar with.

As Krycek came into the backstage area, there was a slight hint of smoke in the air. He opened doors, one by one. Until he came to one jammed shut. He pulled the remains of a chair from the dressing room opposite and repeatedly hit the door, breaking it open.

Skinner was in the corner, Meghan hiding behind him. Krycek nearly laughed aloud. What was he planning to do, fight them? But the relief on his face made Krycek almost pity the guy despite the numerous beatings he had administered over the years. He led them back to where Andrew and Mark waited for them.

Scully sat in the chair, Mulder watching her. She'd agreed to come into his room, as long as he would understand if sometimes she would retreat to her own room when things became too much. She wasn't comfortable with lots of people, and it was only in silence that the crippling headaches she experienced could be stifled. But for an hour, he had just watched her as he used to do when everything was normal, when their lives were their own. She was somewhere else, lost in thought. A soft knock on the door broke into their silence. Byers was outside, excitement in his face.

"There's something you're gonna want to see."

Mulder followed him, running to keep up. Scully was beside him. As they entered the main hall, the people fell silent. He heard Scully's intake of breath as she saw them. With a soft moan she went to Meghan, kneeling to hold her. She hugged her tightly, stroking her hair as she fought back tears. Mulder watched her, unable to move. Skinner approached, greeting him with a brief hug and introducing a young man by his side. Mulder barely heard.

He saw Krycek.

Standing to one side, the man was watching Scully hugging her daughter with a peculiar look on his face, one that Mulder knew was on his own. And at that moment, hatred flared in him as it never had before. He had done the one thing that Mulder had been unable to do - return Meghan to Scully. And Mulder found himself hating him for it.

Behind Meghan and Scully, Mulder saw Skinner. His former boss looked so much older than Mulder remembered. His face was harder, his body tense with suspicion. He had one arm slung protectively around the shoulder of a young man Mulder didn't know.

They were left alone that evening, the three of them sitting in one room. Scully held Meghan in her lap. She didn't flinch when Mulder put his arm tentatively around her. Instead she leaned into him, and he smiled.

It was the first time she'd allowed him anywhere near her since he found her. The first time he tried, she had pushed him away and told him shakily that she wasn't ready. She refused to tell him what They had done to her, and refused to let him in to try to understand what she was feeling. He felt betrayed. As though everything they had gone through meant nothing; it felt like it had years ago, when she couldn't bring herself to confide in him. As she held Meghan, though, her defences lowered.

It was past three in the morning when she fell asleep, Meghan still cradled in her arms. Quietly, not wanting to disturb them, Mulder snuck out and back to the main room, where he knew Skinner and the gunmen would still be waiting. He embraced Skinner, murmured 'thank you' into his ear before sitting down to learn what had happened to them both. As Skinner spoke, Mulder watched the young man sitting on his left. He in turn watched Skinner telling what had become their story, a look somewhere between adulation and nervous exhaustion on his face.

Mulder took his daughter with him to the lab a week after her return. Scully wanted one of them to be with her constantly, borne out of a fear and guilt he easily understood, and had reluctantly agreed to his taking her when he pointed out they both had things to do.

He was impressed by how far they had come along. Just a short time ago when he had visited, the room they used was dark and ill equipped. Now, courtesy of several raiding parties they had enough equipment to fill two of the small rooms and were working on replicating the vaccine courtesy of the information Mulder and Krycek had been able to give them. As much as he hated to admit it, Krycek had given them valuable data and several blood samples into the bargain.

Talking to the scientist in charge, Mulder left Meghan sitting at the bench, shuffling the empty containers around in some kind of game. When she cried out he turned sharply. There was a small cut on her finger, and a smashed bottle on the bench.

"It's ok," he reassured her when she cried that she was sorry, half amazed at how well she could talk now instead of the childish babble she had been speaking when he left. "It's not important." He looked up at Jack and was relieved when he nodded that was true. He picked her up and continued consoling her as Jack went back to work. They were heading out the door when he called them back.

Motioning to the microscope with an ashen face, he took Meghan to allow Mulder to look.

"I don't understand what I'm looking at," Mulder admitted.

"It's the virus. A small sample, but...it's dead."

"What?" He looked again. "How?"

"It's crazy," he murmured softly to himself. "There's no way." He paused, then set Meghan down on the bench. Taking her hand in his, he gently pressed her finger until a drop of blood welled up. Holding it over a dish he dripped it in.

"What the hell are you doing?" Mulder demanded, sweeping Meghan back up off the counter. But muttering to himself, Jack was oblivious.

"Jesus," he said finally when he looked back at Mulder. There was a reverence in his face as he regarded the little girl in Mulder's arms. "She's it."

They worked for hours without a rest to determine if what he had said was true, and then for hours more to put the discovery into use as a viable vaccine. Finally, they sat back and looked at one another in stunned exhaustion. A slow smile began to work its way across Byers' face as he looked around. They made their way to the main room where everyone had been gathering for the past hour, word having spread of what was going on in the makeshift lab.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Byers declared quietly. "Ladies and gentlemen, we've done it." The room exploded into cheers, laughter, celebration and disbelief. He encouraged Jack and five others who had worked in the labs forward to be greeted with rowdy cheering.

Only Skinner, the gunmen and Krycek noticed that Mulder and Scully were absent.

"NO!" Scully shouted at him. "You're wrong!"

"I promise you I'm not. Even if the first test had been a mistake, they went over and over the results...you're welcome to go through them yourself."

"Oh, I will." She headed for the door, stopping suddenly. "Where is she?" she asked more calmly.

"With Skinner and Andy. They're looking after her, and nobody knows the details yet." He gave a short laugh. "Nobody's asked for the details."

"She's just a child, Mulder." She turned to leave. When he went to follow her, she gestured for him to stay where he was. "Go join the party. I'll come in a while."

When Scully saw Krycek standing there she wondered if maybe that was why she came out here. She dismissed the thought as it occurred to her; it couldn't be. Leaning against the wall beside him she didn't say a word.

"They told you?"


"I'm guessing you're none too happy about it."

"She's my daughter," Scully replied. "She's not the second coming."

"Nobody suggested she was." His voice was hoarse, his breath visible in the cold air and mingling with the cigarette smoke. "

"How can he just want to use her like this?" Her question was more to herself than anything but he took the opportunity.

"It wouldn't take much. A couple of drops of her blood is the kind of vaccine we only dreamed of."


He shrugged. "You tell me, Alumari." He felt her freeze beside him at the title.

"Don't call me that."

"Don't start singing Mulder's tune," he warned. "I *will* call you Alumari because it is who you are. You were born to it, and nothing will change it. You can't fight it."

He threw the cigarette onto the ground, scrubbing it out with his boot. Turning, she thought he was going inside.

"What did I sign?" He turned at the question so he faced her, so close that she could feel his body heat. "You brought me papers to sign. I never read them...what were they?"

"You were always too tired," he said half to himself. "How much do you remember?"

I remember this, she found herself wanting to say. Instead she just replied: "Enough."

"What they did to you."

"What you did to me." He nodded, a rueful smile on his lips.

"What I did to you," he repeated as he stepped back away from her. "You didn't sign anything that mattered." "To me or to you?"

His face tightened in anger. "Nothing you signed made any difference in the long run." He moved back in towards her. "Trust me or not, it's your call."

She never knew who made the first move. Would never wonder about whether it mattered. All she felt were his lips brushing hers so gently she couldn't be sure if they had actually touched. He moved his head back just so she could see his dark eyes staring at her.

She made the second move. There was no doubt about it, as she ran it through her head later. She seized his mouth, her hands curling in the hair at the back of his neck, stifling a moan as his hands moved to hold her waist and pull her up on tiptoes to his height in that familiar manner. When they broke apart, his hands remained on her waist and she remained leaning against him.

"I promised him," she murmured softly. "I promised I would go to the party." Krycek drew back.

"Then you should." He gave her a small smile, and walked back into the building.

She nearly stopped and turned back at the sight of the crowded room. She knew full well what some of these people thought of her, what they had called her in heated arguments over what should be done with her. She felt the beginnings of a headache tugging at the corners of her mind.

"Hey!" Byers came up, catching her in an embrace. Despite herself she found herself smiling at his exuberance. She'd never seen him like this. "Where've you been?"

"Just thinking. Clearing my head." Mulder came up beside them, slipping an arm protectively around her waist. //his hands on her waist, pulling her up to him// He knew she was uncomfortable with all these people. She leaned against him.

For nearly an hour and half she stayed with him, Meghan alternately with them and Skinner, and Andy. Mulder's arm was always around her, a frontline against the encroaching migraine. She liked Andy, she decided. He seemed like a nice boy and she told him she was grateful to him for staying with Skinner and Meghan. He blushed at her words and muttered something inaudible, rescued from saying anything more by Skinner's arrival and inquiry as to how she was feeling. She watched him as he watched Skinner, her face softening as she recognised the signs of hero worship, and maybe something more, well masked behind the barriers he had put up.

It was when she realised that Langly had been talking to her for ten minutes and she hadn't heard any of it that she turned to Mulder and told him she was going to bed. He looked at her in concern.


"Yeah," she replied shortly. "I just need some quiet." He followed her a few steps.

"Will I see you later?" he asked softly, his eyes pleading with her not to stay away all night.

"Maybe." She looked at him again. "If it goes away, I'll come in." He kissed her forehead before watching her make her way out of the room. She looked even smaller than usual, her hand to her head making her appear more vulnerable.

He opened the door hoping he knew who he would find. He wasn't disappointed. Scully rose to meet him, her hands locking around his neck as he twisted her around to close the door behind them. "Why are you here?" he breathed, immediately regretting asking in case it made her change her mind.

"You make me feel better," she replied honestly before kissing him again. Their clothes were lost in a matter of minutes, his hands slipped across her skin as she arched against him, lost in sensations. Her mouth hot on his flesh. His hands cool between her legs. Her low moans as he touched her. His whispered 'alumari' when he entered her.

Mulder was half asleep when he felt her slip in beside him. He felt a feather light kiss on his cheek.

"You ok?" he murmured drowsily.

"Mmm. Better." She lay beside him as his arms went automatically around her, her eyes open and staring into the darkness.

The calm acceptance with which Meghan greeted the next few days surprised, and worried, both Mulder and Scully, but not Skinner. She had been the same all the time she was with him and if he were honest with himself, he would have wondered if she had taken it any other way. She watched the needle go into her arm with a vague curiosity, saw the blood flowing down the plastic tube but didn't commented, and accepted the sweets she was given in reward with excitement.

Once everyone in the building had been vaccinated, they turned their attention elsewhere. Meeting, as always, late at night in the main room when they knew they would not be disturbed, it was a sombre discussion.

"What do we do next?" It was the question none of them had asked before. The likelihood of them succeeding in creating a viable vaccine had been so doubtful that they hadn't wanted to plan for events once they had for fear of tempting fate.

"We use it," Mulder replied as though it were self explanatory.

"Convoys come into the city every other month." Mulder's face hardened at the voice from the doorway, and he tried not to notice Scully's reaction beside him. "We don't need your help," he replied in a low voice, avoiding looking at Krycek.

"Then you know the security arrangements for the convoys, where they come in?" At their exchanged looks he smirked.

"You do?"

"It's amazing what you can learn as senior aide to the Alumari." He felt a kick of satisfaction at seeing Mulder flinch when he heard the lilting emphasis on 'senior aide'. Maybe now would be a good time to tell him...the thought lasted only a second before he brushed it aside. He pulled up a chair at the table and began to speak, making quick sketches as he talked.

How do you prepare someone for this? It can't be done, and I know Mulder wouldn't thank me for trying. Shit, he'd probably blow my brains out before I had a chance to explain what I was doing. As I have no doubt he'd do if he ever discovered Alumari was in my bed the other night instead of his.


I can't think of her as anything else, I won't. She *is* Alumari, even if she and Mulder are too scared of the possibility to acknowledge it. No - *he's* afraid. Always has been when it comes to her and that's exactly what stopped him, every time. Every time he was given an opportunity to stop this, to become involved in the project in any way he wanted - and they would have given him anything to get him in - he didn't take it. Despite all his talk of the truth and exposing the conspiracy, he never did when he had the chance. Because of her. And she's so concerned about what he thinks of her that she would never do it herself.

It's so damn frustrating. She has all this power, over them, over anyone she wants - doing anything she wants. She was on the brink of using it when she was with me. Every day I felt her moving just a little closer to the point where she would be able to do it. I felt that for a moment when she healed Jude; that should have spurred her on. Instead it's pushed her back. She's even more afraid of what she can do.

I would kill for the power she has. I *have* killed to protect that power, and I will again.

I want her to use it, for Christ's sake. To use that enormous potential she has that so many men would die for.

She has to use it.

They gathered around the map of the city. It was so familiar, Scully thought. The gunmen, herself and Mulder, Skinner and Krycek. Jude in Marita's place at the table. Mulder kept one hand on her arm. She found it an irritating reminder of his constant presence, his constant need to reassure himself that she was still there. When he listened to Krycek talking about the security protocol involved in bringing captives into the city, his grip tightened slightly. Just enough so that she knew he was insecure about the man standing on her other side.

Unbidden, a smile touched her lips. She could feel Krycek against her, and the contact brought reminders of the previous night they had spent together. She stifled the smile, forcing her attention back to the map and the plans for the next week.

She sought him out. Night after night, she made excuses to Mulder or slipped out of his bed when she thought he was asleep and crept to Krycek. His touch was comforting, bringing her back to herself.

Sometimes, though, she lay beside him and found herself scared.

"He would kill me if he found me here," she murmured one night, having slipped out from Krycek's arms to sit across the room from him.

"No, he wouldn't."

"He would."

"No." Krycek shake his head. "He doesn't have it in him." She went cold.

"You do."

"Yes." He smiled, with a hint of pity, to see her blanch at his casual admission. She would never be able to comprehend his actions. The thought that she may have, however inadvertently, caused anyone's death, still tormented her.

"Does it get easier?" "What?" "Killing people. Knowing - that you've been the cause of somebody's death." He slowly crossed the room to her.

"You assume it was hard to begin with." She flinched at the casual tone in his voice.

"How can you...?"

"It needed doing. It was an act of faith in something I believe in completely." His use of the present tense was not lost in her. He knelt in front of her, taking one hand in his. "Alumari, I have no regrets. How many other people can say that? Can you?"

Her whispered 'no' was lost in his crushing kiss.

It was past midnight when Skinner wandered into the main room. He'd been walking round the corridors for nearly an hour, unable to sleep. It was a habit picked up in the weeks since leaving the safety of the cabin, the practice of sleeping a couple of hours then waking to check that everything was as it had been when he had closed his eyes.

He'd expected everyone else to be asleep but when he saw Mulder sitting alone at one of the large round tables in the main room, he somehow wasn't surprised. He walked slowly in, allowing his feet to tap on the wooden floor to alert Mulder to his presence before pulling out a chair to sit at the table with him. "Hey." The echoing 'hi' from Mulder was listless. He appeared more interested in tracing patterns on the tabletop. "Why are you out here?"

"There's really no reason for me to be anywhere else."

"What's going on with you and Scully?" The bluntness of his question caused Mulder to look up in surprise. He'd seen others wanting to express the same sentiments but they either hadn't or had done so in a way that allowed him to easily evade the question.

"I swear to god, I don't know if she's in love with him, or bored with me, or...I don't know," he trailed off in a sigh. "She barely lets me touch her but she goes looking for him every night." He looked up at Skinner, agony in his eyes. "I can't stand it."

Skinner considered him for a moment. He looked terrible, his hair and clothes a mess, his face was drawn and tiredness radiated from him. Every move he made was listless and filled with the pain he was feeling over Scully.

"Get over it." The shock in Mulder's eyes nearly made Skinner pity him enough to recant, but not quite. "You're onto something here. We're only a few days away, and you need to focus on that. And even forgetting that, you have a daughter who doesn't have a clue what's going on in her life. She needs you."

In another week, they were ready. Using a small quantity of Meghan's blood and Krycek's methods of reproducing the vaccine, they were able to create enough to vaccinate everybody in the building and have enough to mount an offensive. For weeks, they had been stockpiling goods as quickly as they were able, and they were confident they had enough.

They moved out in the early hours of the morning, twenty of them, to reach the edge of the city just after dawn when They would bring more into the city. It happened every month, Krycek had informed them, that They brought people to work for them or as hostages to replace others.

The air was thick with tension. Nobody spoke, they barely dared breathe in case they were discovered. They waited. For an hour, they stayed in position waiting for the signs of the column making its way into the city. Then, the first people were seen. They reached the gates, and It signalled to be allowed in. Slowly the gates swung open - and Mulder gave the signal.

When they were asked later, few people could give a coherent account of what had happened. The people coming in from outside remembered a sudden panic spreading through the group, confusion everywhere as they tried to understand what was happening when It fell in front of their eyes. The city guards sprang into action looking for the assassins, and hastily swung the gates shut, keeping everybody inside.

The guards fell quickly, Mark cutting one down before plunging a knife into Its neck as he had been taught, two other young men tackling the other to the ground. Mulder saw them do it, and felt a rush of pride as he noted how easily they did it. One of the boys sustained a minor injury, but it was quickly bandaged and would be looked after properly when they got back to the building. Mulder climbed onto the guard post, Mark on one side, Byers on the other. The three of them shouted in unison, enough to get the attention of the confused people below.

Quickly, Mark told them who they were, and what had just happened. Anybody was free not to believe him, he said, and they were equally free to leave. But hospitality would be extended to any who wished to take it up, on condition that they administer a vaccine to all who wanted to leave with them, before they left the scene. Nobody declined and Mark motioned to those holding the vaccines to organise their distribution.

They should have moved on, Byers freely admitted later. Should have explained it, and moved elsewhere to administer the vaccine, even if it meant going back and revealing their position to people who could easily have changed their minds and betrayed them all. Nobody blamed him though.

They were nearly finished when it happened. The final doses were being given and small groups of people were being taken back, varying their routes to avoid being followed and drawing attention to themselves. They should have anticipated it.

The killing of the guards had drawn attention to them faster than they had realised, and a troupe had been sent out. They arrived in the midst of the crowd, and the first Mulder knew of it was when the screaming started. Byers, Frohike and Skinner acted quickly, drawing as many people as they could into the nearest building and slamming the door closed, shepherding people through and out of the back door with guides to take them safely back while others fought outside.

Mulder saw Mark swinging his knife at whatever came near him; out of the corner of his eye he saw One fall and shared Mark's look of exhilaration. Then the look turned to horror. Mulder turned in time to see It slashing down at him, and then there was nothing.

Mark fought on, struggling to keep others moving towards the building he had seen Byers enter, and he was dimly aware of them being pushed through and hoped They did not realise it. He knew it was taking too long; a couple more minutes and the guards would reach them before everyone had a chance to get away. There had been six others with him when he started, he was sure. Now, it was him and a handful of people crouching behind a wall praying the guards who paced the square just a few yards ahead wouldn't find them before they had a chance to run for the building.

Then he became aware of another figure crouched beside him. "How long do we need to hold them off?" It was the young boy Krycek had brought back with him, the one who'd been with Mulder's daughter, Mark realised.

"Maybe five, ten minutes. That should give Skinner and John time to get them well on their way back. If they loop round enough, they'll be okay."

Andrew handed him several syringes. As he glanced nervously down at them he saw they were filled with the vaccine.

"I didn't need them all." He gestured to a couple more in his belt, and reloaded the gun he held in one hand. "Do you have anything else?" Mark held up his knife in reply, eyes fixed ahead - on guards closing in on them. Andrew nodded, and turned to the small huddle of people with him. They looked back with scared eyes. Beside him, Mark nodded gravely in agreement.

"I want you to run to that building over there," he explained quietly, eyes never leaving the guards. "They'll get you in, they'll get you back to safety." Quickly he locked eyes with one man behind him. "Take care of them, okay?" The man nodded and Mark turned back. Andrew turned back to look with him.

They waited. It had to be the perfect time, when the guards were distracted for a moment. The moments stretched out as they waited, breath held. Unconsciously, Andrew grabbed for Mark's hand. He clutched back. Then came a sound from their left, and the guards turned. The two of them ran, dimly aware of the others beginning to move behind them. The guards turned, slowly, as though not quite sure what was happened. In moments Andrew and Mark were upon them.

Andrew could see the people they had left behind fleeing, an indistinct movement to his left. He couldn't pay them any attention. It was a blur; pointing and shooting, aware of Mark slashing, lashing out at Them desperately. The brief sense of satisfaction when he heard an agonised cry. The knowledge there were more coming at him. When the bullets ran out he used the gun to hit Them, clawing and scratching, every hatred he had ever felt coming to the fore and fuelling his anger. He turned to Mark. Neither of them heard themselves scream hoarsely as they rushed the remaining guards.

It took nearly two hours for everyone to come back, all taking different routes to avoid discovery. Those who had remained behind during the rescue were busy now, helping the newcomers understand what they had come into. Scully helped James with those who had been injured, but her mind was elsewhere. In all the people flooding into the building she hadn't seen Mulder. Krycek had staggered in fifteen minutes earlier, carrying one child and lending his support to a man who could barely walk. After seeing they were okay, he waved Scully off checking him over and stumbled down the halls to his own room. Many of the rescues had done the same, exhausted and scared.

Byers and Skinner were among the last to arrive back. They found Scully in one of the small medical rooms. She saw the grief and anger etched in their faces.

"What happened?" "Andrew," Skinner replied simply. "He and Mark, they, they tried to take Them on to give the rest of us time and..." There was no need for him to complete the halting sentence, the tears in his eyes did it for him. A sudden chill gripped her.


Then she saw him. Motionless as he was carried in by two others. His eyes were closed, his breathing shallow and slowing by the minute while the makeshift bandage they had tied around his head was soaked in blood. Scully directed them to lay him on the mattress, forcing them out the moment they had laid him down. Taking a deep breath, she placed her hands on either side of his face and concentrated.

Sinking, falling, fading into darkness. She heard voices, echoing whispers in the back of her head. "...separate them...too dangerous...kill them both". Vaguely, she knew the voices belonged to Skinner and Nicholas but she didn't know what they meant. The words became jumbled, tumbling over one another as she focused further, and fell into him.

She felt a twelve year old boy's fear and loss when his sister went inexplicably missing, his anger two years later when his father hit him and how difficult it was to forgive him for doing it, even once. She knew the exhilaration of living in another country, meeting strangers and learning more than he had dreamed of, far away from his troubling family. She saw glimpses of the evil men he had pursued, whom he had become, however briefly, and understood that meant they would always be with him. She felt his frustration when the truth evaded him once more, and the momentary elation in the forest when he finally saw it, and the fear and pain which followed.

But mostly, she saw herself. Arguing with him in his office, fighting him at every turn, she was clinical and scientific in a way that made him crazy. She saw his memories of quirks and mannerisms even she was unaware of. She saw herself, hot and flushed under him, leaning up to kiss him, down with her mouth on him. Sitting in the dark, holding their child in her arms.

Then she saw nothing.

Krycek caught her as she fell backwards, issuing orders to the gunmen Skinner had shouted for. They carried Mulder to his room, where James began checking him over. Krycek laid Scully on the small mattress in the middle of the room. When Frohike returned, he was sitting beside her, his head in his hands.

"What happened?"

"She shouldn't have done it. It's too hard." "What is?" Krycek sighed in frustration at having to explain.

"Healing people is difficult. It's against all laws of logic and physics, and god knows what else. If Mulder's injuries were fatal, she could have killed herself in the process without helping him."

"Then *why* didn't you stop her?" "It was too late." Absently, he took Scully's hand. The gesture didn't go unnoticed by Frohike. "Once she's that invested in something, to break the contact could have killed them both. There was no other choice." He paused, watching her for a moment. "How's Mulder?" "James thinks he'll probably be ok. We'll have to wait until he wakes up, though. And Scully..."

"I don't know. Maybe he wasn't hurt as bad as it seemed..." he trailed off, standing abruptly. "Watch her. Get James in here. I'm going outside."

I've been standing out here for hours, the cold air stinging my lungs and the cigarette smoke stinging my eyes. The ground's littered with the damn things. I've been trying to block her out of my mind, trying to prepare myself for what happens if she doesn't wake up. But she has to. Someone came out a few minutes ago, telling me she looked to be improving.

How the hell do they know?

I'm standing here, trying to get her out of my mind, but it's not working. It's damn unsettling, is what it is. It's like she's pushed her way into me somehow, into my memory, my brain, my very skin. I can't get her out. And it's making me powerless. At least when we were Nicholas and Alumari, I had some measure of control. Now, it's just...too hard.

I've always been on my own. It was the way I had to be, to use everything I could against the consortium and Them. I learned from Mulder and Scully that emotion gave Them power, and I couldn't afford that. Marita was enough of a misstep on that score; we knew just enough about one another to ensure our own safety but something went wrong along the way and things became complicated. I never expected to miss her as much as I did when she was killed.

That's beside the point.

Missing her only confirmed that I was too involved and I - I should have learned *something* from that, surely. Apparently not. Somehow, Dana Scully became Alumari and became important to me. They showed me her, helpless after their treatments and not knowing where she was or why. All I thought at the time was that it was another opportunity to screw Mulder, or to force him into fighting as I had been trying to do for years. I never imagined everything would be so difficult.

Someone's coming. I can hear footsteps tapping down the tiled hallway leading outside. I wonder if it would be too ironic if I, of all people, began to pray that they were coming to tell me she is okay.

Krycek sat by her bed in those early hours when she was still dazed and incoherent. He held her hand, as he had done so many times before when They had increased her dosage. They had done it without warning, and it always left her unable to even move for several days. He found early on that his presence comforted her. Perhaps it was simply having another human there, maybe it was because she knew, somehow, that she had known him before. He had stayed with her then, and he stayed with her now, ignoring others coming and going to check on her - and him. When she finally looked at him with recognition in her eyes, he smiled. And when she fell asleep once more, he quietly slipped out to allow Mulder to take his seat.

Scully didn't see him for three days after that, until James declared she was well enough to get up. When she went looking for Krycek, she was told that he'd gone out with one of the rescue teams and wasn't expected back for hours. She waited for him, ignoring Mulder asking her when she was going to the party they were holding to officially welcome the newcomers to the building. It was late when she realised he wasn't coming and went to look for him.

She found him outside, a small bag at his feet and a cigarette in his hand. On seeing her he threw the cigarette to the ground, grinding it out with his boot as he slung the bag onto his back.

"I..." he faltered, not knowing how to tell her. She only uttered the words when the silence made them inevitable.

"You're leaving." He nodded. "Where will you go?"

"The Canadian group. Then down to Mexico. Maybe from there I can get across to Europe somehow." Scully bit her lip as he took a step towards her. "They need the vaccine, they need to know what's happening here. They'll already know something's going on." He saw the question in her eyes. "Security will be increased, there will have been more arrests. They deserve to know why and they deserve the same chance to fight."

"What if they catch you?"

"I'll destroy the vaccine."

I don't care about the vaccine! her mind screamed. Images of him strapped down as they forced him to speak flooded her brain. A shadowy, hazy picture of a man swaying feet above the ground suspended by a thin, decaying rope. She came to herself with a start, to realise his arms are around her to stop her falling. "Don't go." It came out as a whisper as she stared up at him. She kissed him, feeling a tear start down her cheek and it frightened her. She has a daughter. She has a partner she thought she would die for, yet for a fleeting moment she was willing to give it all up and leave with him. Desperation entered her kisses and she clung to him as though she could stop him going. He kissed her back, then gently moved her away. She kept hold of his hands.

"Nicholas," she pleaded.

"Alumari." His tone was almost stern, hiding the emotion he had felt at her calling him that name. "You may not leave this place. You are needed *here*. And I am not."

"What can *I* do?" He sighed as he reached out to touch her face.

"So much more than you could imagine. You have power that so many would kill for, but you need to learn how to use it, and I - I'm a distraction." He brushed her hair back to look at her as he forced his voice into a lighter tone and continued. "Do me a favour. Don't tell Mulder anything he doesn't need to know. He has a habit of wanting to track me down and kill me, and I have enough things doing that right now. And you'd be miserable, so..." he tried to smile but couldn't quite make it.

He dropped her hands and took a few steps back, his face solemn. He bowed low, then straightened to look straight at her.

"Goodbye, Alumari," he said softly. He turned, and walked away without looking back.

Scully slowly made her way to the room she shared with Mulder and Meghan, hoping he would be there instead of at the part. He stood at the window, staring out across the city. He glanced around as she entered, but on seeing her turned back to look into the darkness. She glimpsed Meghan sleeping on the small bed in the corner. "Hey," she said quietly. He barely acknowledged her as she approached him. "Mulder, I - "

"Scully, don't...don't tell me anything I don't want to hear." She looked at him for a moment, then stepped into his arms, leaning back against him. .

"I was going to say I love you." She was quiet for a minute, enjoying the familiar feel of his embrace as he tightened his arms around her.

"I don't mind hearing that," he murmured into her hair. She turned, not breaking his circle around her but wanting to see him.

"It was nothing," she began haltingly. "Nothing, with him, Mulder. You know that." He looked down at her, considering, his heart in his eyes. Finally, he nodded slightly.

"Okay." She leaned into him again, eyes closed. She felt him rest his head atop hers.

"It's a hard fight, Mulder," she said softly.

"That it is." It took her a moment to say what she had been afraid to put into words.

"Will we win?"

"I think we might." She moved back, enough to raise herself up to kiss him. She felt him smile as her lips touched his, his hands gentle on her back. His tongue, when he pushed into her, was as tentative as the first time he had kissed her. Her fervour soon convinced him she was really back. When he pulled away, breathless, his eyes were soft. "I love you."

"Dance with me," he murmured. Scully looked up at him quizzically.

"There's no music."

"Sure there is. Listen." He held up one finger, and she could hear the faint rhythm of the music from the party downstairs. He held out his hand, and when she took it, pulled her in to him quickly. He kissed her gently, and held her to him.

The city lights shone on their daughter, sleeping peacefully unaware of the war in which she was to play such an integral part. Her parents, holding one another as though they could ward off what was to come, listened to the faint music drifting up from the halls below. In the soft light they forgot, for one night, the battle ahead, and they danced.

The End

Author's Notes: This has been an incredibly long time in the writing, editing and rewriting, and it's kind of sad now that it's over. Huge thanks go out to Jeanette for betaing and rebetaing, and pushing me to finish when I was distracted with other things. Thanks - this is for you.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Charlotte Unsworth CMUnsworth@aol.com http://www.unsworth.org.uk

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