Title: Brave New World
Author: Meredith
Written: September 2000
Spoilers: "Requiem." Wait! Aw, come on! Please come back!
Rating: R
Classification: a, MSR
Distribution: OK for Gossamer and Chronicle X. Anywhere else, please ask first.
Disclaimer: Mine.

Author notes: My betas are so fantastic, they might not even recognize this final version. Praise to them and gratuitous blathering at the end.

Feedback would be wonderful, and as always I'm open to constructive criticism. I'm at meredith_elsewhere@yahoo. Thanks!


Love turns one person into two and two into one.
-- D. Isaac Abarbanel

June.

Rice Krispies. Cheerios. Fruit & Fiber. Count Chocula. Malt-O-Meal.

If she were back in D.C., the decision would be easy. Frosted Mini-Wheats, bite-size, then on to the canned soup.

But Scully seemed to have used up all her decisiveness in the flurry of packing, moving, and settling into her new apartment in Portland, because the simple task of picking a breakfast cereal was currently an exhausting decision. Had there always been this many brands?

The past week had been a whirlwind of change. Waiting 72 hours for the results of chorionic-villus sampling to tell her what she already knew -- the child she carried was purely hers and Mulder's. Plowing through all Mulder's files on abductions to digest the statistics and plan her next move. Convincing Skinner that moving here temporarily was the best thing for her now. Running away, in all actuality, from her former life.

Her gut had told her to come back to the northwest, and Mulder's files had validated that decision. After crunching the numbers, she was faced with hard proof, the kind she rarely ignored.

Ninety-five percent of all abductees he kept records on were returned to a location within 50 square miles of where the disappeared. Sixty-three percent of abductees returned with impaired memory and moderate-grade amnesia. Eighty percent of those individuals eventually regained most of their memories. Forty percent returned undernourished, scarred, or in deep emotional distress.

Three percent never returned.

After being informed, by memo from Louis Freeh's office, that she was banned from working on Mulder's case, all the decisions she needed to make solidified into a dark mass of angered purpose. She had to be in Oregon, as close to Bellefleur as possible, when he was returned. Better yet, she had to find him herself.

Which currently left her nowhere, caught between Lucky Charms and Special K.

Her hand gravitated toward the Fruit & Fiber, but stalled inches from the box when an old memory surfaced of Mulder joking about her "nuts and twigs" breakfast. What would Mulder choose? She thought hard, but couldn't come up with anything. She'd never seen him eat cereal. He might not even like cereal.

She tamped down a wave of sadness. She knew him so well, and yet not at all. When she pulled him back to this world, their new lives would be uncharted territory, spent either together or apart. She tried not to admit the latter was a possibility.

The grocery store was deserted at this time of night, so her paralysis in aisle 6 wasn't noticed. She'd left the office late after taking the time to run an anti-bugging software program, courtesy of the Lone Gunmen, through her hard drive at work. Skinner had grudgingly pulled strings and secured her a temporary position as a forensics advisor to the FBI offices in the Pacific Northwest. The X-Files were closed until further notice, thanks more to the recent audit than Mulder's disappearance.

As soon as she told them of her plan to move, the Lone Gunmen had left the safety of their insular warehouse world, flown to Portland, and installed a security system, tracer lines, and a complex computer system in her new apartment before she'd even arrived with the first of her suitcases. All to keep her connected to the ongoing investigations, both official and unofficial. And to keep her safe.

Through the wonders of technology, every morning she was able to scan the latest listings of missing persons, John Does, and amnesia victims across the country. If someone showed up in a public place unconscious and without identification, and if any official in any state was subsequently notified, she knew about it before she even had her morning cup of decaf.

And she needed to get more coffee. And cereal, milk, bananas, and toilet paper. Life marched onward, and even though she wanted to turn back time more than anything in the world, Dana Scully had to march as well. She threw a box of Shredded Wheat and a box of Fruit Loops in the cart and forced herself to keep moving.

She hated the game, but she played it well. Until she could do something else, she would wait.


July.

Her new workspace in the Portland field office was bright, cheerful, private, with a door and three windows that let in sunshine now and again when it stopped raining. Today it was especially sunny, and light streamed in, painting the papers on her desk with warm, bold strokes.

All of which made her incredibly irritable.

She was grateful to have the job, however. It kept her mind occupied from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but left her enough energy to continue the search for Mulder on her own time.

Advising suited her well. The pace was hard, the work challenging, and the human interaction minimal. Consults with investigating agents rarely ran more than a few days per case, and much of her time was spent in the morgue or reviewing evidence. This morning's file, however, was replete with shoddy investigative work, and the longer she stared at it the more annoyed she became. When the phone on her desk emitted an electronic bleep, she snatched the receiver, grateful for the distraction.

"Dana, honey? It's mom."

Something in her stomach flipped, and she placed her hand over her abdomen. "Mom?"

"I'm sorry to call you at work, but every time I call at night your line is busy. Is this a bad time? I just wanted to catch up with you," Maggie replied.

"No...no, I could use a break. I'm sorry, but I'm on the internet a lot at night, Mom."

"I understand, believe me I do. But your brother called me last night, and he's confused as to why you're not returning his calls."

Scully winced, realizing it had been a few weeks since she'd checked the messages on her machine back in D.C. Knowing Bill, 'confused' was most likely a euphemism for 'pissed.'

"What I don't understand is why you don't want tell him you're on the West Coast, Dana. I don't like lying to him. I know you're busy searching for Mulder and couldn't go to San Diego, but why all the secrecy? Bill is on shore leave and he could easily come visit you. I would think you'd appreciate family around you right now."

She ignored the concern and hurt edge to her mother's voice. "We've already talked about this, Mom. At this time, I can't tell Bill I'm here. If he asks, tell him I'm on a long-term assignment, and that I'll call him when I can. And I promise to watch my messages closer; I don't mean to put you in a difficult position."

Her mother sighed. "I'm sorry Dana. It's just that, well...I've been having these dreams, and you know how I get. I miss you, honey. This is difficult for me, not knowing when you'll be back."

Tears sprang to her eyes, but she blinked them back and rubbed her hand protectively over her stomach. She couldn't tell her mother. She couldn't tell anyone; the risk was too great. She couldn't explain the meaning of this inopportune miracle even to herself, much less anyone else, even her closest family. So for now, she lied to protect what was hers.

"It's hard for me, too, Mom," she whispered into the phone. "But as soon as I can come back, I will."

After saying a quick goodbye, Scully put the receiver back into the phone's cradle. Telling her mother she was pregnant, with Mulder's child, was an inevitability. But for now this miracle was hers and Mulder's, and she couldn't bear to tell anyone before she had a chance to tell him. That sort of public knowledge would be an invasion of her privacy, to secrets of her heart that she was only beginning to comprehend.

Being thrust into a role she thought she'd never assume was disconcerting. She was amazed by the intensity and speed at which her already captured heart had made room for another. But the mass of cells that dominated her life was co-created by the most important person in her world, and she protected it with a dark, feral love. It was a curse, she knew, as well as a gift. Because nothing this miraculous could be bestowed without exacting a price.

She was willing to pay whatever the cost: family, career, or security.

As long as the price wasn't Mulder.


August.

It was difficult to ignore time passing, considering her body had become a living calendar. She had to start wearing pants she hadn't worn in three years. She stubbornly refused to shop for new clothes, determined to wait until the last minute when she couldn't fit into any of her older outfits. Her defiance was more a denial of precious time lost than a matter of vanity.

She tried to ignore it, she really did. But the significance of the date, combined with uncontrollable hormone surges, ganged up and taunted her with the facts. He'd been gone three months. She'd been returned at three months. Some of the longest abductions in the files lasted three months.

It was difficult not to let hope flounder, when all of her interviews of former abductees, trips to UFO hot spots, and constant vigilance had so far led nowhere. Yet she refused to think of Mulder as anything but alive, waiting for her to rescue him.

When dawn was still an unfulfilled promise, he was especially real. When the light of a new day crept into the bedroom that was still unfamiliar, she could almost feel him on the bed next to her. She kept her eyes closed and imagine him breathing deeply, peacefully. In a haze of longing, she dreamt of confessing to him the miracle growing within her body. But as the weight of unburdening the secret began to lift, he drifted away as well, giving no clear indication of joy, regret, disgust, or ambivalence. She reached out, desperate to pull him back for an answer, any answer. But instead of his warm palm, her hand closed upon the ringing phone.

"Hello," she mumbled.

"Dana?" Frohike's tinny voice buzzed on the line.

"Yeah."

"Sorry to call you so early your time, but we need you to check something."

"What is it?" she snapped, instantly awake.

"Adult male, found wandering near Multnomah Falls. Dark hair, hazel eyes, doesn't know his name but asked for 'Agent Scully' before he passed out in the ER."

She drew in a sharp breath. "Where?"

"University Med Center in Eugene. I don't know, Dana, the report says he's only around thirty years old, and they haven't transmitted a photo through the national databases yet. It may not be him, although..."

"It doesn't matter. I can leave in ten minutes." She pulled the phone away from her ear, then caught herself. "Frohike?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you. I don't tell you that enough. Thank you."

Frohike cleared his throat on the other end. "No problemo, sweetheart. We'll be in contact."

She barely heard a muffled sniff before they disconnected. No time to think, no time to hope or pray.

No time.


She knew the moment she stepped foot in the hospital. She was getting used to being buffeted by her moods and hormones, but the aura of failure was even stronger than the smell of disinfectant. Her instincts said it wouldn't be him, that getting him back would never be as easy as receiving a phone call. But she followed the charge nurse's instructions to the unidentified man's room anyway, flashing her badge wearily.

At first glance, she was thrown back seven years, a feeling she was beginning to tire of. Billy Miles looked almost the same as when she'd first seen him, a pale boy with hollow eyes in a vegetative state, disconnected from the world. His hospital bed was angled up, but he slumped forward as if unaware of the support. He stared straight ahead, his gaze falling well below the television set bolted near the ceiling. He didn't turn or move as Scully opened the door, and he didn't acknowledge her presence when she took his cold hand in her even colder one.

"Billy, can you hear me? It's Agent Scully. " Her voice was calm, soothing. He continued to stare at an invisible spot on the sea-green wall.

She waited in silence for several minutes, absently rubbing his hand and trying to hide her disappointment. He eventually twitched, then blinked several times, as if clearing an irritation from his eyes.

"They're not coming back," he whispered. "Ever again."

Scully's heart rate accelerated into triple digits. "Billy? Who's not coming back?"

"Them. They're done. That's what I'm supposed to tell you."

"Tell me?" She felt thick, answering questions with questions. But to admit she understood him was unthinkable.

He finally turned toward her, resignation etched on his face. "They killed my father. Just to get us one last time. For no reason other than that."

A wave of impatience roared in her brain. She was sick to death of the misplaced guilt of sons.

"Billy." She fought to keep her voice even. "We don't know that your father is dead. He is missing, but..."

He continued as if she'd never spoken. "He's dead. I knew it when that thing stole his face. It took my father's face... it led us all there. Teresa, Gary, Agent Mulder..."

"Agent Mulder?" She squeezed Billy's hand, too hard. He didn't notice. "What about Agent Mulder? Did you see him?"

Billy nodded. "That night. It led him to us. I could hear them talking...no. Not talking. I could hear them thinking at each other, and then he stepped into the circle. He was the last one."

"Did you see him after that? When did you last see Agent Mulder?" She knew the question to be selfish; there were other babies missing fathers, missing mothers. But she couldn't see straight enough to ask about the rest, not with Billy here, maybe the last human being who saw Mulder, after Skinner lost him.

Billy shook his head slowly, as if something precious inside his skull was tipping. "Not after that. I didn't see anything after that. No one. Just the black. All I saw was the cold black..."

He fell back against a pile of pillows, a tear slipping out from under his closed eyes.

"I wish they'd never brought me back."


Byers picked up the phone on the second ring.

"Scully? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm fine. I need to contact Alex Krycek."

"Well, we've only got one route, and it's a self-kill connection..." he stammered.

"I've got a lead, Byers. This may be the one chance I'll get." The steel in her voice was magnetic. "Can I talk to him directly?"

"Um....no... We courier a message," he murmured. "It's not that we don't trust you, Scully...it's that, well, he doesn't."

"Smart man," Scully snapped back. "I'll give him that. He's a smart man."


September.

She lowered herself to the soft earth with a sigh, ankles and back aching slightly. Her hands, while steadying her frame on the ground, crushed a few fragrant leaves that released a pungent, rich tang to the humid air.

She exhaled, closed her eyes, and finally relaxed. If she was destined to fritter away time until Krycek deigned to contact her, she might as well do it here.

When she could, Scully came to the clearing where Mulder had been lost. The long walk through the damp, dense trees was invigorating, and sitting amid the ferns and mosses for a few hours was a balm to her mind. She bore no ill will to the forest that was the site of her worst nightmare. In some ways she felt closest to Mulder here, as if he'd left a piece of himself behind for her to find.

They had at least been here together once, not like any of the locations she haunted during the long hours of her day. The office, Portland itself, and her apartment all felt less than real because he'd never been there.

And it was so green here, so alive.

She reached up to push back her hair, which had curled into unruly ringlets in the heavy mist. She wondered for a moment whether their child would inherit the waves she stubbornly blew dry every morning, or Mulder's stick straight hair. Red, brown, or blond locks -- blue, brown or hazel eyes. She smiled, a rare luxury in the city, but an action common here, where sometimes she felt a semblance of peace.

It was easier to dream in this clearing. Her apartment felt accusing, half-empty, personified by a sense of everything it was lacking. Her rocker and bed were there, photos of family and a few cherished belongings. But Mulder's couch, his eclectic book collection, the fish tank -- items she associated with the essence of him were still in D.C. She had brought some of his clothes, blankets, and pictures, but not enough items to fill even the smallest of voids his absence had left in her life.

Here, she felt almost light; there, her heart was almost too heavy to bear.

She unzipped her small backpack, taking out a bottle of water and a Powerbar. Sitting indian-style, she munched her snack, confident in the fact that being well into the second trimester her stomach wouldn't have the urge to bring food back up 15 minutes later. Morning sickness had been tiresome, to say the least.

As she put the empty wrapper back in the pack, Scully noted the item that she continued to bring here each time she came, but never had the courage to open. Today, she reached in and closed her hand around it.

It was a beautiful book, its cover a pattern of watercolor autumn leaves. It was blank when she bought it two months ago, and it was still empty now. She had meant to keep a record of this miraculous nine-month journey. For herself, her child, maybe for Mulder. But picking up the pen and starting had thus far been too difficult. Separating the emotions of pregnancy from the feelings of loneliness and isolation had proven to be impossible. If she dared write a sentence about the dark, secret joy she felt at being an expectant mother, it would be followed by two sentences of misery due to Mulder's absence.

And once that torrent began to flow from her pen, she wasn't sure she would have the will to stop it.

She flipped through the creamy pages, grateful that their blankness didn't seem a chastisement. She had enough of that at home, where the white, sterile second bedroom had been equally ignored. Empty, undecorated, without any sign that a baby might soon be occupying it. She usually kept the door to it closed.

The room signified the future, and to alter it in any way seemed hasty, premature. It was a constant reminder of the fact she was straddling two worlds, not yet brave enough to choose between them. The longer Mulder was gone, the harder the decision became: stay here in the northwest for the long run, or admit defeat and return to D.C.

Blank books, empty rooms. No matter how much she wanted to ignore them both, the clock was ticking.

The decision would have to be made before their child was born. But not now, not when a break in the search glimmered faintly on the horizon. If she found Mulder, she might be able to share the joy of preparing for this child with him, and not have to discover that motherhood was the bittersweet consolation prize for losing her partner forever.


Two weeks later, her patience was rewarded.

His voice was barely audible over the static on the line. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

"Yes. Where are you calling from, Istanbul? I can barely hear you."

"If you could hear me well, then so could the rest of the free world. Listen up. It ain't gonna happen, Scully. "

"Are you telling me there's no way to contact him? That there's no way I can communicate with him?"

"As far as I know, the only time you run into the Bounty Hunter is when your karma's taking a nose dive. If he's in the same zip code, you're about to be royally fucked."

"Don't tell me it's impossible. Don't you dare lie to me."

Krycek was silent a moment, and the warped echo of a conversation in static-laden German buzzed through the cellular line. "I'm not saying it's impossible. It just hasn't been done. He answers to whoever he damn well pleases. Makes me look like a god-damned patriot. He works only for the current highest bidder, and money isn't what he's paid with. You don't even have the currency he's looking for."

"I don't care. I need a meeting. Neutral territory. You're the only one who can set it up."

"If you're trying to flatter me, you've got five years of bad blood to make up for."

"This isn't personal, Krycek," she replied, gritting her teeth together. "I'd like to be petty regarding whose blood is on whose hands, but I can't. I need to talk to the Bounty Hunter. In person."

His laughter was loud, with jagged edges. "It's a shot in hell, Agent Scully. And, by the way, I have a price for my services as well."

"Fuck you."

He cackled, but then the flippancy in his voice froze into shards of ice. "Nah, I don't like being second choice. Just take care of yourself. My price is that you guard what you've got. Guard it with everything you have."

He disconnected.


There were times, as she knew there would be, when all she wanted to do was give up.

She blamed the whims of hormones for her recurring bouts of pessimism. Skyrocketing levels of estrogen often left her tearing up at television commercials featuring plastic families living out some consumer fantasy of the American Dream. Or puppies. The sight of puppies made her want to curl in a ball and sob.

Other times her libido went into overdrive, and she suffered through nights worse than she ever endured during 7 years of near-celibacy. She had become addicted to Mulder in the most primal of ways, after only a few short weeks together.

When all attempts at distraction failed, she allowed herself to remember.

The night Mulder had returned from England had been about mutual seduction. About promises and change. Truth, or dare. She had stood in the dark, rumpled in his bedroom doorway, intending to say goodnight before leaving. But with clear eyes staring straight into her soul -- and a promise untainted by guilt, or fear, or desperation -- he extended his hand. And she had dared.

At their first touch, they found another truth just under the surface, waiting all along for the right time. It finally had been the right time.

He was a shy yet confident lover, a natural at seduction but unaware of the power behind his touch. There was no way he would know how different she was with him compared to other men, how he evoked an intense passion and abandon that she'd never experienced before. He freed her from constraints with which she had unknowingly shackled herself. It was a better beginning to a new life than she'd ever dreamed.

The second night had been about escape. About illusion and fantasy, in the wake of genies and wishes. She had given up trying to see the humor in a lame Chevy Chase movie about slacker caddies when a glimmer of insight flickered in the back of her mind. Oh, right. This is how the boys do it. It had been so long she'd nearly forgotten. The protective tease: an invitation to play while minimizing the risk of a broken heart.

So, after yet another pathetic scene centered on a stuffed gopher, she had leaned in to whisper something and ended up licking his earlobe. Five seconds later she was straddling his lap, their mouths hotly fused, while he pushed every button on the remote in blind desperation to stop the tape without having to break their kiss.

That night they had played and laughed. She knew then, without a doubt, he was happy too.

The third night, in Bellefleur, she laid in his arms after taking one of the biggest steps of her life. She was afraid, she felt peculiar, and she had come to him for comfort. In the grand scheme, knocking on his door was one of the bravest moves she'd ever made.

"It has to end," he had whispered in her ear, kissing her cheek, embracing her completely.

She allowed a few silent tears to fall on their entwined hands, then grew cold at the finality of his words. She turned in his arms.

"It won't end like you want it to, Mulder," she whispered. "I'm not going to walk away without you. It's not about me, and it's not about you. We deserve so much more. We are so much more than this." She raised her hand to his jaw, noting the stubborn darkness that pooled in his expression.

She could see the struggle behind the concern in his eyes and recognized what he was hiding. A plea to be released, to be rescued. He knew she was worth saving, but he wasn't convinced he was. He had been taking steps closer and closer to a new life, and she had finally joined him on the path. But to be thrown back into the fire, back into a world in which the human race was a breath from extinction, had shaken them both to the core.

They made love for hours that night, unaware that a new life had already been formed, one that would irreparably complicate their future. For just the two of them, the choice of paths had been clear: stay and fight, or retreat.

Yet for three, only one truth remained, its echo to last much longer than seven years. The path away would always be folly.


October.

On that night, she dreamed of fire.

The smell of burning flesh invaded her dreams of indigo water in a deep and profoundly still lake. The odor was an intruder, pungent and stomach-churning and unwelcome. The serene, waveless water in her dream shimmered under a full moon, then roiled from fathomless depths until acres and acres of blue boiled and churned, exploding like liquid gunfire. Hovering above, she never saw the flames, but the smell, the smell; she never wanted to experience that rankness again.

So she ran.

The path was black glass, shards glittering with points like knives. She ran with none of the trancelike, leaden gait of dreamers, but with speed and propelled by an unnamed fear. Down and down and down the obsidian path, running too fast to stop.

Until she woke up with a shriek lodged in her throat, standing at the front door in her pajamas, her car keys in hand.


It didn't occur to Scully until she was an hour out of Portland that there wasn't even an Oregon map in her car. It had seemed clear enough when she'd thrown on sweatpants and a jacket: she needed to go, so she went. It didn't seem odd to be racing down Interstate 5 at 2 a.m. Driving was simply the best and quickest way to get where she had to be.

Two blank and empty hours later, square road signs for Roseburg loomed alien green in the shadowed night. State highway 138, Crater Lake National Park, 65 miles ahead. She turned, knowing yet not knowing.

The park road was pitted with smaller versions of the crater it led to, potholes and frost heaves that hadn't been repaired during the brief summer. No street lights, no other cars, the only light source the brilliant spread of the Milky Way frosting the remote night sky. The silence was broken occasionally when she drove blindly into another hubcap-clanging pit.

She reached the end of the service road and was met with a gate barring entry after 5 p.m. Scully left the car, the door ajar, headlights on, and the petulant chiming of an automobile abandoned by its driver but not by the ignition key. Glare from the halogen headlights lasted until she was around the gate and down the rest of the road, which ended at a small parking lot. She didn't have to pull the mini Maglight out of her windbreaker pocket to read the sign ahead; the clear night illuminated the Obsidian Trail marker and lit the way.

If the night had been cloudy instead, the smell would have done just as well.

It was as if she had entered the dream that began all those hours ago. Every step forward on the glittering, slick path was excruciating, taken in a fugue state that enveloped her as soon as she stepped off the asphalt and onto the volcanic wasteland. Within a few feet, sheer black cliffs rose up on either side, their glassy surface reflecting the moonlight.

Despite her slow pace, Scully reached out unconsciously to the natural wall for balance, dragging her fingers against a jagged edge. She drew back in surprise, then rubbed at the burning sensation at the back of her neck, leaving a swipe of blood along her skin.

The bodies were twenty feet ahead.

Five in all, unidentifiable as to age or sex. A hulking figure stood at ease next to them, as if there weren't a pile of smoldering corpses at his feet. He stared straight at Scully as she approached.

All feeling drained from her body. No fear, no anger, no astonishment. Only numbness remained.

"You will come when I call you, like tonight." His accent was thick, as if the act of speech itself was more foreign than any particular language.

She opened her mouth to speak, perhaps to argue, but no sound came out.

"The day is near. This," he gestured below him, "is the future of your race."

"What...what do you want?" she croaked.

The Bounty Hunter stared at her for a long moment, his eyes as cold as the obsidian that surrounded them on all sides. "When the day comes, you need to be on the right side." He stepped over the smoking remains of human life, and stood a foot in front of her, towering. He cocked his head, deliberately, like a large bird of prey. "Your loyalty, in exchange for what you want."

She should have been wary, or at least terrified. How dare he ask for her blind cooperation after all he'd done, all he'd murdered. Her pulse thudded unevenly. But a strong, echoing kick registered in her abdomen, the first solid kick she'd received from their child. It woke her to her real purpose at this site of smoldering death.

She nodded.


November.

T.S. Eliot had been wrong: November was the cruelest month.

It rained perpetually. Temperatures were in the 40s, and no matter how many blankets she huddled under, Scully never felt warm enough or dry enough.

Her belly was the size of a volleyball, and although her OB said she was small for this late in her pregnancy, she still felt like a hideous bow-legged monster. Today's indignity of not being able to reach a body for autopsy while standing right next to it, no matter to what level she adjusted the steel table, was nearly the final straw. She almost marched out of the bay and filed papers to go on leave right then and there.

She hated maternity clothes with a passion. Most were either floral prints or fussy styles. Or worst of all, bright colors. She greeted the limited wardrobe hanging in her closet every morning with a snarl, and fought the urge to throw all the semi-acceptable pieces she had found into the wash with a few packages of black RIT dye. She knew she was feminine despite her appearance. She didn't need a pink dress the size of a small tent to prove it to the world.

This particular Friday, in this particular month, had been particularly cruel.

Alone and helping cover the Bureau's morgue for the regular pathologist who was extending the Thanksgiving holiday into a long weekend, it had suddenly become obvious to some of her coworkers that something was not quite right with Dr. Dana Scully. A now obviously pregnant woman, alone and working through the entire holiday weekend, still burying herself neck-deep into her consults with no sign of stopping. Scully was aware of the new sidelong glances, the quizzical looks. It had hurt more than she expected.

Tonight she had plans, however. "The Philadelphia Story" on video, fettuccine alfredo from Favazza's, and a soft, navy-blue polarfleece blanket of Mulder's. It would be the first night she'd taken for herself since she'd moved to Portland.

The fettuccine was cooling on the coffee table, and the video just starting to roll when the first wave of heat hit. It struck the back of her neck like a branding iron, searing enough for her to cry out and stand up quickly, the blanket pooling at her feet. She touched the spot over her chip gingerly, but the skin was cool.

Sweat broke out along her forehead when the second blast of heat struck, and she began to shake.

She wanted desperately to cry, to purge herself of the sudden terror that gripped her throat in an invisible vice. Instead, she stumbled to the door, put on shoes and an overcoat, and went out into the stormy night, heeding the call to Bellefleur.


An icy rain pelted her cheeks heartlessly until she felt her face freeze into a cold mask of weariness. Habit drew her feet into the clearing she'd visiting dozens of times during the last seven months. She had worn her own private path there long ago. Now too big to sit on the ground, she was forced to stand on aching legs and do nothing but wait.

She had no reason to trust the Bounty Hunter. If it were a trap, it was too late to care.

Staring through the black night rain, she saw nothing. One blink through icy water, rivulets burning, emptiness. Two blinks through stinging eyes, a shadow appeared. She gasped, and walked forward thirty paces.

He was sitting on the ground, rocking and muttering, drenched like a banished Boy Scout. Clothed only in a tattered long-sleeved dark t-shirt and jeans, less than half of the outfit she'd bidden him farewell in. Even in the dark she could see the wasting in his face, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, bloodied knuckles clenched into defensive fists in front of his shivering frame.

The pounding of the rain disappeared with the screaming in her mind, and she could hear him urgently counting under his breath. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. And back again. One. Two. Three.

She was on her knees in the mud in front of him before she thought to be afraid. "Mulder," she whispered. "Mulder." Louder, yet quavering. Touching his knee carefully. "Mulder, it's me. It's Scully. "

"Four. Five. Six..." Puffs of breath freezing into numbered clouds.

"Mulder, can you hear me?" She stroked his blue-tinged cheek, wiping water away in a futile gesture from under his pinched eyes. First tenderly, then desperately.

"Seven. One. Two. Three..."

She was too terrified to notice she was sobbing.


"We need to give him a sedative -- he's too rigid to get into the van," the medic barked at her. "I'm not going to stand out here in the pouring rain in the middle of the fucking night and argue with you about whether or not this is a psychotic episode."

Scully felt a burning rise up from the vast store of anger she'd been hoarding. "We don't know what this is. We don't know what drugs might be in his system already, what toxins--"

"Tough shit. I need to pry his damn eyes open to check responses and unfold him onto the gurney. End of discussion," he shouted above a clap of thunder. "It'll be all right," he added more considerately after a pause, gripping her shoulder. "We've just got to get him out of here as soon as possible. The exposure hasn't made things better."

She exhaled and nodded curtly in acquiescence of the situation, water sluicing off her nose and chin. As she awkwardly bent back down to the ground to whisper in Mulder's ear, the medic suddenly grabbed her upper arm again, having just made out her shape under the overcoat.

"Jesus Christ, lady! Speaking of exposure, what the hell are you doing out here? You've got to be six months pregnant!" he yelled.

"Eight," she replied, her voice as icy as the rain. "And I'm fine. Just take care of him."

Sighing in frustration, he injected the drug while she held Mulder's wrist. In a few moments Mulder's numerical mantra slowed, then stopped as his head fell to his chest, his face finally lax. The Emts picked him up and put him on the backboard for the hike back to the roadside. The rain continued to fall.

By the time they reached the hospital, Mulder was in a coma.


He lingered for three days at the edge of an abyss. They performed continuous electroencephalograms, watching in consternation as his brain functions rocketed from baseline to grand mal seizure level and back again, without any discernible pattern. But at roughly the 72-hour mark, it was as if someone, or something, had flicked a switch -- and he crashed headlong into the waking world.

Scully was at his bedside, where she'd been almost constantly, when his eyes opened.

He blinked, staring straight up at the ceiling. She waited, feeling fear hum through her body and into the hand that gripped his fingers so tightly. From here, the chasm of the future yawned ahead, threatening to swallow her tenuous hopes whole. Who this Mulder was, or could be, was a frightening unknown.

He blinked again, then swallowed with obvious pain and instinctively tried to move his arms to sit up. "Shhhh..." Scully whispered, caressing his arm until he relaxed back into the pillows. "It's OK, Mulder. You're home. Everything's all right."

At the sound of her voice, he turned his head toward her. "Scully," he whispered hoarsely, then smiled. After a long pause he continued, moving a weak hand toward his neck, where her cross still gleamed. "You were with me."

Tears of relief sprung to her eyes, and she didn't bother to wipe them off her cheeks when they fell. "You left something with me, too." She smiled. As his eyes closed again, she brought a hand up to caress his stubbled cheek.

Whatever else she needed to tell him would have to wait.


December.

Mulder awoke, sensing a fundamental shift in his world.

The urge to pee was overwhelming now that the catheter had been removed. The linoleum was cold on his bare feet, and he struggled to remain upright for a few moments before walking unsteadily to the bathroom. He raised the lid without sparing a glance in the mirror and emptied his bladder. He felt like hell. No need to confirm he looked it.

Above the toilet on a small shelf he found ancient grey sweatpants, a pair of boxer-briefs, socks, and a well-worn t-shirt, all his. Blessing his partner, he pulled off the backless papery gown and struggled to put on familiar clothes.

He had left something with her, too, she'd said.

A wave of loneliness swept over him, and he sat down hard on the toilet seat. He had been barely coherent when he'd awoke before; he had no idea how long ago that was. He had no idea how long he'd been in the hospital. He had no idea how long he'd been gone. Time had held no meaning during his captivity, and he honestly didn't care if 10 days or 10 years had passed. He had come to believe he would never be returned.

He had seen her face through a haze of awakening, and to his extreme relief she had looked the same as in his precious memories. Almost...maybe.

She said he had left something with her.

The artificial darkness of the ICU told him it was night, and he hoped Scully had gone home to get some sleep. He had waited god knew how long to get back to her, he could wait until morning to see her again. But his chest still ached.

Mustering the strength to stand, he rustled in the vanity and found a toothbrush wrapped in plastic and a tiny tube of Crest. He remembered Scully and how to pee and brush his teeth, so the grey fuckers who'd poked around in his brain until they got bored and shoved him in cold storage couldn't have messed him up too badly. The bubbles and mint tasted unbelievably good on his tongue.

He hadn't been able to escape, and he hadn't been of any use after they determined his brain had been wiped of the oilien courtesy Daddy Dearest. He hadn't even been worth making the trip back to earth to dump his sorry carcass in a ditch. So somehow he'd been sprung. But who had done the springing? Scully?

He'd left something with her, she'd said...her face had been radiant.

He could wait to see her. He now knew he could wait an eternity. He clicked the light off in the bathroom and went to lie down before the physical exhaustion overtook him again.

But she was there, sleeping quietly, facing him, in the other bed. A small overhead light was on above her head, causing her auburn hair to glow, attracting him like a frail insect to flame. He walked silently to her side, relief seeping back into his aching bones.

A foot away, he stopped and waited for the world to right itself.

He'd left something...he'd left something...he'd left something...

Mulder remained standing despite the tsunami of emotions that washed over him, a pounding crush of unforgiving sensation. His brain staggered to function as his eyes raked over her. Her shape under the oversized beige sweater. Her aura of happiness despite the fatigue etched on her rounded face. He couldn't catch his breath for the tide of fear and love that nearly knocked him to the ground.

He extended a shaking hand and placed his palm on the impossible.

Something dark and primitive stirred deep within his soul. A rumbling of unfamiliar violence, a burning, choking determination he hadn't known could exist within anyone. Certainly not within himself. A strange, instantaneous emotion that hit with force and procured an unspoken oath he swore without even thinking.

To protect what was his.

He swallowed and slowly closed his eyes. He swayed. He smiled, just a little.

He opened his eyes for the first time in a brave, new world.

END.


As long as there is life, there is hope. -- The Talmud


Notes:

It's seems there may be more to this story. If a sequel is of interest, I'd appreciate hearing so. I'll see what I can do.

Thanks to Scullysfan, JET, Revely, haphazard method, MCA, and Justin Glasser. I owe an extreme debt of gratitude to these betas. They all bravely hacked their way through The Worst First Draft Ever Written (TM). Their thought-provoking and astute suggestions made this story palatable (I hope). Also thanks to Vivian Wiley for the world's most creative stalking. Thankfully, the fanfic community has been the beneficiary of her threats. :-)

Thanks to U2 (Pop) and Moby (Play) for the soundtrack.

And thanks to you for reading. Feedback would be a cherished gift. These days I'm at meredith_elsewhere@yahoo.com.

Come visit my home, which Analise made: http://members.xoom.com/Meredithfic/
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