Title: Kodomo Tame Ni
Author: White Star 2
Rating: PG Classification: SA
Distribution: Just ask.
Spoilers: Requiem
Disclaimer: In case you're not certain, Ten Thirteen Productions own the lot and I am shamelessly kidnapping them to write something that the Creator, CC, would never dream of giving us.

Summary: Months after his abduction, Mulder is finally returned, only to find how much both he and Scully were changed by the ordeal. Will this be the end of their partnership?

Author's Notes: The first scene of this wouldn't stop picking at my brain after I saw Requiem. So I wrote it down. The office scene wouldn't stop picking at my brain after I saw Paper Hearts. So I wrote it down. And then I read something that gave me an idea for an ending. So I put them together. And I feel evil. Enjoy, and don't forget feedback! (hila-p@barak-online.net)

I'd like to thank Orit for badgering me 'till I finished it, and Deslea for betaing so thuroughly. And to Aris, for assuring me that it's not *that* dark and sadistic and that I've written far worse.

"Mulder," was the first thing he heard when he realized that there was light behind his eyelids. He'd wanted so much to hear that voice; her voice. He let his eyes flutter open, ignoring the headache that it brought on. Seeing her smile was worth it.

She sat down on the end of his bed, her hand moving back and forth, smoothing out the hospital sheets. She seemed as happy to see him - or see him awake, more likely - as he was to see her. But she seemed nervous, too. As if smoothing the sheets was her means of release for not being able to sit still. He wondered why this moment would feel awkward to her.

He blinked his eyes tightly a few times until he could see better. Now that he thought of it, she did look different. Something in her eyes. She slid her hand across the sheets and laid it on his. He looked at it and smiled. Or tried to smile, at least. It felt like more of a grimace to him, but she smiled back, nonetheless.

He looked at her hand, lying almost still on top of his. That was when he caught sight of her abdomen. Just a slight curve, well disguised by a brown suit. For a few seconds, he told himself it couldn't be - he wasn't really seeing this. It was some trick of the light or a figment of his imagination. But it could be - he'd told her that she should move on with her life. She might have gotten some treatments, or maybe a miracle had come along. Those seemed to be there for her more than he was.

But... how long had he been gone? Long enough for Scully to get married and, somehow, get pregnant? He didn't know. There was no ring on her left hand. Nothing to show for being married. He raised a mental eyebrow. Had the scientific Dr. Scully gone back to reckless dating?

He told himself not to think of it anymore. Answers would come in their own time. He didn't need to think about it at a time when pain was so intense that seconds felt like infinity.

He turned his hand palm up and grabbed hers.

They didn't discuss what had happened to him. He didn't feel ready to talk about it. She didn't ask. She knew what he was going through, or at least thought she did. She didn't push him.

And he didn't ask about her. He was afraid of the answers. And she, in a way, seemed afraid of the questions. The time they'd spent together, first in his hospital room, then in his apartment, was spent mostly in silence. They both knew where any attempt at conversation would lead. They simply took comfort in each other's company - in knowing the other was there, and safe. Nothing else mattered.

Everything changed the day he came back to work. She'd noticed something different about him since he came back. But when he came into the office that day, she could see it in his eyes.

He looked around like a stranger. He was lost in the jungle of his own making. For a long time he stared at the poster on the wall. Little by little, she watched what little life there was behind his eyes die out.

They didn't talk much that day.

It was almost a week before he reached into the filing cabinet of X-Files. He pulled out a few and started reading. When she came back from lunch, he wasn't there. The waste basket was full of files.

She bent down and pulled them out. They were all UFO cases. She filed them neatly in their place.

She couldn't find him for the rest of the day. He didn't come back to the office. His cell phone was turned off, and when she tried to call his apartment there was no answer. She drove over after work. He wasn't home. She flipped through the keys on her keychain, until she found the one neatly labeled 'Mulder'.

The lock had been changed.

Maybe he'd just forgotten to give her a new key. Or maybe he just hadn't had the chance yet. They hadn't made much smalltalk lately and he may have simply forgotten to mention it. He might've changed the lock just recently and hadn't made her a key yet... but she knew it wasn't any of those.

As selfish as she knew it was, Scully felt betrayed. The mere change of a lock meant he was shutting her out. Sure, she didn't want to push him to talk about anything - he'd open up to her when he was ready. But this was more than that. Much more. His apartment was always somewhere she could come. She'd been there countless times when he was gone. It was her connection to him. It was a place to wait for him, to worry about him, to feel safe. Now it was denied to her.

The next day, he came to work as if nothing had happened.

"You changed your lock," she said. He was sitting behind his desk and filling out a form. She was reading a medical journal.

He didn't respond.

She went for a doctor's appointment during lunchtime that day. Blood test, urine sample, no immediate results. Nothing special. But she was worried about leaving him alone. She still wanted answers. Not just for yesterday. For everything.

When she came back, the always-shut office door was hanging in a few inches, inviting a look. It wasn't like Mulder to leave the door open, but then he'd been acting strangely lately. Something crashed to the ground, and she rushed over to the open door. She expected to see burglars, vandals, the smoking man's errand boys... anyone but Mulder.

He was ripping the tacks and pushpins out of the walls of the basement office. Newspaper clippings, pictures, and printouts sank to the floor one after another. Some he crumpled up and hurled away from him.

On the floor, what was once his framed diploma from Oxford lay as ground zero for a floorful of broken glass. Shards of glass were scattered amidst the fallen thumbtacks, pens, and pieces of paper. She stood behind the door, frozen, and watched. She didn't know what to do. Even making her presence known might make everything worse. So she just stood and watched.

One of the pushpins separated from its plastic grip and Mulder growled an almost beastly growl as he pulled his hand back. His elbow, jerking back, pushed a jar of sunflower seeds off the shelf. The pieces and seeds slid across the floor, all the way to her foot, which was keeping the door open to a few inches.

Blood fountained out of his finger. He clasped his index finger for a moment, then reached his left hand for the poster. It separated from the wall with a loud tearing sound, taking paint and pieces of tape along with it. Moments later, it hit the ground in four pieces. The edges were stained with blood.

That was when he finally looked up and saw her. The killer rage in his eyes slowly transformed into a mournful, helpless gaze that sank slowly to the floor. She pushed the door open and took a hesitant step in. He seemed to want to retreat, but didn't.

When she reached and put a hand on his arm, he looked away. She grabbed his hand, to get a better look at it. His finger wasn't cut too badly. She reached into the drawer and got a band aid that she kept for the occasional paper cut.

"Mulder..." She didn't know what she could say. The old Mulder - she'd know what to say to him. But now, she hadn't the slightest idea. She just wanted to make everything go away. She wanted to go back those few exhausting months. Back before everything went wrong. Before the abduction.

Mulder shook his head. "I've seen it, Scully," he said faintly. "I've seen the truth." She gave his hand an affectionate squeeze, but he didn't return it. He jerked his hand free from her grip. He didn't turn away or look away, but it was as though he looked right through her.

He took a long look around the office. It had become the battlefield for the war raging inside him. She understood it all too well. He shook his head and left. She let him go. She had no other choice.

She didn't know him. She didn't understand him. What right did she have to think that she did? Maybe she was close to figuring him out once. She could even predict him occasionally. But she never knew him.

And that was then. Now...

Now it was as if her eyes just looked through him, searching for something that wasn't really there. Not anymore, at least.

How could he explain to her what he felt? How could he do it when he wasn't even sure? All he knew was that he couldn't stand being around those things. Every time he walked into that office he was about ready to have a panic attack. He couldn't take it.

He just wanted to put it all away with everything else he'd spent his life repressing. Forget about the X-Files. Move to the more mundane. He'd spent the best years of his life in a mad goose-chase after flying saucers and little green men. Now his life seemed wasted.

Maybe it wasn't too late to change that.

But Scully... Scully had finally gotten to a point where she was as passionate about the X-Files as he used to be. It had become her quest. It probably only came to replace the career that she'd thrown away. A career she'd thrown away because of him.

He needed her, more than he'd ever needed anyone. Over the years he'd depended on her. He'd drawn on her strength time and again. But like he'd told her, the time to quit had come. It was time for her to build a normal life.

And it was time for him to do the same.

But he could see it in her eyes. She was... almost afraid of him. Disappointed, in a sense. He wasn't the Mulder she'd come to know. He was irrational and unexpected.

It would wear off soon enough and he'd be able to go on with his life like anyone else. A life free of hybrids and abductions and X-Files. Even Kirsch's sky high piles of manure seemed like a welcome change from that office and everything it represented. But...

How could he explain it to Scully? Could she possibly understand that he'd had a change of heart about everything in his life? Everything he'd ever loved or trusted or felt passionate about he now avoided like the plague... except for her. Would she understand that even though his life was shattering, he still felt the same about her? Still respected her, still trusted her... still loved her.

He spent days thinking about what his life would have been like if he had kept his work and his hunt for UFOs separate. He could have had a brilliant career. He could have had a life. Maybe he could even have had Scully.

But the way it really happened, his lovely Mrs. Spooky would probably be leaving him soon enough. He'd told her to. But he didn't realize then how much he would need her - the sturdy voice of reason - in his life.

Sometimes he thought that maybe it was for the best if she left. It would make it easier to forget. It was nothing more than a fleeting thought that he'd push away as fast as he could.

But the two of them grew more distant every day. They hardly spoke. When they did, they tried their best to conceal the real emotions beneath the surface. She was as big of a mystery to him as ever. Never complaining, never resting more than she had to.

Even though he could tell that she was as concerned as ever about him, she didn't see what was happening to him. Maybe she just didn't want to see it. Maybe she didn't believe it. She'd never been a believer in Post-Abduction Syndrome...

He couldn't sleep. That bothered him most. When being awake for so long was voluntary, it was helpful; productive, even. But involuntary, it was nothing short of hell.

Every time he'd manage to fall asleep, he would wake up screaming, and find his pillow soaked from nosebleeds. At first, he'd tried to go back to sleep, but the shapes his mind saw in the shadows around him kept him awake and jumpy for hours. After a few days, he'd given up.

He could've dealt with it if that was all there was to it. But it wasn't.

He would sit at his desk, like always. He would read reports, like always. And he'd look up, even slightly, and see it. A shadow, a shape... a face. A large face, the kind with large eyes and a small body... It was as if the past he wanted so much to forget had decided to haunt him everywhere he went.

So he decided to make the next change in his life in hopes that it would all simply go away.

Scully got out of the elevator at the basement floor. The usual clutter decorated the hall to her left, and to her right, someone was removing Mulder's name plate from the door with special care.

"Excuse me," she said to the short, dark haired maintenance man. (She wouldn't admit it to herself, but he really reminded her of Eddie Van Blundht...) "What do you think you're doing?"

He shrugged. "Just doing what I'm told."

"By whom?"

"A.D. Skinner."

Five minutes later she was in Skinner's office. She was nervous and worried. What had Mulder done to warrant such extreme sanctions? She could explain it to them - he hadn't been the same lately... And why hadn't he told her anything?

Skinner took his time responding to her question. She's seen that expression on his face before. He was looking for the easiest way possible to tell her something she wouldn't like to hear. She wondered whether she should've just asked Mulder instead.

"Agent Mulder came to see me yesterday," Skinner said. "He asked to be transferred off the X-Files."

Scully didn't say a thing. She didn't know how much of the shock she was feeling was conveyed in her expression. After a brief pause, Skinner kept talking. "He asked to go back to working in the Violent Crimes Department. They need the manpower and his expertise. Maybe he just needs some time off from the X-Files."

"I'm sure that's all it is, Sir," she said. But she wasn't so sure. And she could see that Skinner wasn't so sure either.

Mulder was out of town for almost a week, working on a case. After trying his cell phone a dozen times, she assumed he just didn't want to talk to her. So she stopped trying.

Working on the X-Files on her own was exhausting. Until Mulder's disappearance, she'd never known how much of the work he did on his own. Now she was tired and upset, in no state of mind to do that kind of work. All it did was remind her of how obsessed Mulder had been and how he'd given up so easily.

When she'd been looking for him, she hadn't even noticed the burden. She'd just kept going - she'd become as obsessed herself. Even now when he was back, a part of her remained fascinated. But that wasn't enough motivation. Not if she had to do it alone.

Skinner took his time assigning her a new partner. Maybe no one had ticked him off enough lately to be landed a detail like the X-Files. Or maybe he hoped, as Kirsch once had, that she wasn't a lost cause. That she'd decide to move on. But she couldn't give up. Not until she talked to Mulder and got some answers.

She prayed a lot on that week. Despite people's kindness, she felt awkward in church. It was there that she became painfully aware of her state. She was single and pregnant. And alone... Still she was there every day after work, praying until her knees and back ached. She wasn't quite sure what she was praying for. She could only hope God understood.

He came back after six days.

Her heart was in her throat as she made her way through the desks. The life of the room around her seemed the most improper for a group of violent crime investigators. Pictures of stab wounds, gunshots, and a dozen other injuries littered the desks. Suspect lists, evidence bags, enough to make the atmosphere dreary. Yet, the people were cheerful as ever. All but her.

She got a few looks from people leaving for lunch. She assumed they knew her. She knew some of them - classmates from the Academy, students, friends. But she was so wound up that every look seemed hostile to her at that moment.

She leaned against a desk and watched him, deep in his work, in the back of the room. As dedicated to his job as ever. She bit her lower lip. She hadn't realized how much she missed him.

The last person leaving stopped at the door and called out, "Aren't you coming, Mulder?"

"No," he said, looking up, "I'll-" and then he saw her. She tried to meet his eyes. He looked over to the door and said, "I'll get some later."

Then his eyes sank back to the papers on the desk. "Mulder..." He wouldn't look up to meet her gaze. They were both silent for a long moment and she unconsciously raised her hand to her abdomen. "Why?"

He shook his head. "I had to, Scully." He looked up for an instant. "You wouldn't understand."

She did. She really understood. But she didn't agree. Shutting everything out wouldn't do him any good... But then again, she really shouldn't be the one to say. Maybe if she'd tried a little harder, it wouldn't have come to that...

"It was your whole life. Your quest." For the first time she tried to bring out in her voice the admiration she'd felt all these years, watching him keep going, no matter what. He was single-minded and relentless, and she never thought she'd see him give up.

Funny how things worked out.

He looked up in a sharp, almost hostile movement. Behind his eyes was more sorrow than she'd seen in years. "Maybe it shouldn't have been."

"Mulder, I just don't believe you're giving up so easily," she said, frusturated.

He shut his eyes and clenched his jaw. After a moment, he said, "I think you should go."

"Mulder..." she started, but he'd already gone back to his work. She was angry and confused, and there was nothing she could do. She spent a few more seconds watching him work, then shuffled her feet to the elevator. From there, a short, slow drop downward to the basement. She sat there for a long while, alone and hurt. Staring at the white and punctured walls and empty desk, she tried to hold back the tears.

He was in the forest. In Oregon. It was cold and dark. Every time he dreamed of this place it got darker and darker. And he reached his hand into the invisible wall. It started shaking.

A shiver ran down his spine. He reached in further. And further. Finally, he was through the wall, and it wasn't so dark anymore. It was calm and silent.

The circle of light was straight ahead of him, and they were all there. Billy Miles, Theresa Nemman, Ray Hoese. They were all smiling at him. Inviting him.

He advanced slowly, still unsure. This would be it - his proof. His way of knowing, of being sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt. But what good was the proof to him if no one else saw it? What good would it be if Scully didn't see it?

Hesitantly, he stepped into the light. No turning back now. They knew it, too. They smiled to him and tried to make him welcome - a touch of the arm, a nod of the head. They tried to make it easier.

He knew he probably wasn't coming back. And he knew he wasn't going to see Samantha again. So he just looked up into the light and tried to let the beauty and the tranquility take over him. It really was beautiful. It was so incredible...

Until it stepped in.

The bounty hunter. All that beauty, that serenity, was just an illusion. It was just as painful a realization now as it had been the first time he experienced it, on that night in the forest. And soon he'd be waking up, still afraid of that unknown behind the illusion...

A scream pierced the air as he began to ascend. It was never there before. It wasn't his. It was distant, almost unreal. It was a cry of fear and pain, and he felt it in his bones.

His eyes flew open with a gasp. He mouthed Scully's name, and with what had become instinct in the last month, he brought his hand up to his nose. It came away clean. But he still felt uneasy. He could still hear that scream. And he worried, because he had a feeling, one stronger than instinct, that it was hers.

The phone rang.

He jumped up and fumbled around in the dark. He grabbed the reciever, almost in panic. He did his best to shake off the dream, but it wouldn't give him rest. With his breath still labored, he pressed the reciever to his ear. Through it came Scully's choked and muffled voice. "Mulder?"

There were three rushed knocks on the door. Then a pause and three more, louder and more urgent. She felt a bit of relief. He came... She wanted to get up but couldn't move. Hell, just getting the phone had been overwhelmingly painful. She'd never been so afraid in her entire life.

The lock turned, and the door flew open. "Scully?" She choked on her reply. "Scully?!"

The bedroom door opened. She looked up through teary eyes. Seeing the blood everywhere - on her clothes, on the sheets, on the floor - made her pain worse somehow. But Mulder seemed to ignore it, and looked at her with such compassion in his eyes... She just huddled up in the corner of the bed, her back pressed to the headboard, and hugged her knees to her limp stomach.

Mulder's eyes traced the thin trail of blood on the floor and stopped at his shoes. She buried her face in her knees and tried very hard to pull herself together.

She lifted her head at the touch of his arm. He'd sat down next to her on the bed, still disregarding the blood everywhere. He cupped her chin in his hand and wiped at her tears with his thumb.

He covered her hand with his other hand. Slowly, she let go of her knees. She turned her hand palm up and took his. He released her face and moved his hand to touch her abdomen. She gasped in pain and pulled her knees into her stomach.

She knew the look on his face without having to see it. It was the silent questioning he'd given her so many times. She wanted to answer. She wanted to tell him, but... she couldn't. He didn't want to hear it. She shouldn't have called him, but she didn't know what else to do.

But when she looked up into his eyes, she saw the Mulder she knew peering back at her. Maybe calling him wasn't such a mistake after all...

"They they were here."

She hadn't felt so hurt in her life. She was small and frightened, robbed of the two things she'd come to care about - her partner and her baby. He wrapped his arms around her, and she tried to take some comfort in the fact that one of the two might be coming back.

At least she had that.

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