Title: Redefinition
Author: L. N. McKnight
Written: March 2002
Classification: S, R, A
Keywords: MSR, romance, angst
Rating: PG for adult language and situations
Spoilers: Story takes place after Existence with a single element from the Season 9 premiere thrown in.
Archive: Okay with these headers attached. Just let me know so I can visit.
Disclaimer: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, and all the characters appearing or mentioned on The X-Files are used without permission and are the property of Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen Productions, and the FOX network, although I believe they also belong in no small part to the wonderful actors who portray them. Lyrics from "Who Am I?" by Nathan and Christy Nockels are also used without permission. I mean no infringement and am receiving no financial compensation from this effort. All other characters and situations are my own imaginings.

Summary: After their separation, Mulder and Scully try to get a life.

He waited and watched, his pulse quickening as he anticipated the moment when she'd appear in sight.

Any minute now.

His eyes darted to the left. Was that a flash of red hair he saw out of the corner of his eye? No. Wrong direction anyway. He slowly pulled his gaze back to the right, searching the far corner of the park. He glanced at his watch. 8:35 AM.

Where is she?

His mind started conjuring up all sorts of dire reasons for her not being there. Patience, he counseled himself.

Everything's fine, she's just running late.

He continued his vigil, but the fingers of his left hand began a nervous dance on his knee. 8:40 AM. The minutes slowly ticked off.

Then he saw her, appearing exactly from where he expected. She moved at a quickened pace looking slightly flushed but not panicked, efficiently covering ground.

Okay, she is just running late.

He let out a soft sigh of air, not realizing that he'd been holding his breath.

God, she's glorious.

She was petite, but well proportioned, crowned with a shoulder-length bob of titian colored hair that danced with her strides. He was mesmerized by the way she moved, fluid and graceful, even with the baby carrier strapped to her back. He noticed that she was nearly back to pre-pregnancy shape except for a little extra fullness that lent her a slight voluptuousness.

Breathe, Mulder.

His gaze lingered on her face trying to determine her mood. He pulled up the field glasses for a better view. Even though he knew her mom was helping out, he also knew that she was stubborn enough to do too much herself. Were those dark circles under her eyes, he wondered.

She hesitated and slowed her forward momentum, critically scanning her surroundings. Did she sense he was here? Even in casual attire she had a presence that belied her small stature. She exuded competence, a self-assurance that had only been a facade when they'd first met. That was eight years, and several lifetimes, ago. She'd been fresh and eager, safe in her temple of known facts. Then he'd introduced her to a world of unexplained phenomenon, conspiracies, and deception.

A less selfish man would have distanced her from his nightmares, but he'd needed her. She'd become indispensable to him, but the price had been way too high for them both. His fault. Now she was trying to recover the normal life she'd lost. Without him. That truth stabbed his soul worse than any of the other's he'd found or sought. For their mutual safety, she'd sent him away, thus this clandestine surveillance.

Damn it, Scully.

His whole being burned to step out from cover, cross the distance to her side, and never leave it, but he still couldn't afford to risk their safety. He could live with the threat to his own, after all he'd stepped into hazardous situations before. Some would say he recklessly ran into hazardous situations. Hell, she'd say it.

She continued on her journey across the park plaza, returning to her earlier pace. She had classes to take, shopping to do, and baby errands to run, just like normal people. As he watched, William's tiny hand grabbed a fist-full of her hair pulling it toward him. Her tresses weren't quite long enough to reach his mouth so in frustration he wrapped them around his fingers instead.

Yeah, buddy, I know how you feel.

Mulder wished he too could caress its softness. He also wished he could feel those tiny fingers wrap around his larger ones. He had tried to be indifferent, imagining this baby as simply a special gift for Scully rather than as an individual in his own right. But then, William had become infinitely precious to him in an incredibly short time, sliding through all the fences Mulder had placed about his heart. Just like Scully had.

She'd been desperate to have a child despite the doctors' initially declaring her barren, a crime perpetrated during her abduction early in their partnership. She'd placed her faith in medical miracles and sought his contribution for the in vitro fertilization. Less than enthusiastic with the request, none-the-less he'd been honored that she'd asked him and not some more worthy specimen of humanity. As her partner, he should have protected her, so how could he deny her her hope for a child now?

Then science had failed her. She'd come to him with the news, vulnerable and hurting with an ache he longed to erase.

"This was my last chance," she had whispered, in too much pain to speak at greater volume. She'd seemed unusually frail, so he'd held her lightly while she leaned her head against his shoulder, tears finally slipping past her self-control. He had needed to find a way to give her hope, so he reached for the other place she placed her faith.

"Don't give up on a miracle," he'd told her, then leaned down and gently kissed her lips, crossing past safe boundaries. He thought he'd said it for her, but he realized the words were for himself as well. In that moment, he too believed. A silent wordless prayer escaped his core as he held her. They belonged together. They'd always belonged together. They'd finally found healing comfort in each other's arms that night.

The next day, though, she'd tried covering over their indiscretion, chalking it up to overwrought emotions. He knew better, but let her deal with it in her own way. They'd pretended to go on with their professional partnership uninterrupted, but they'd both become more preoccupied than usual. There was a good reason that romance between partners was taboo.

Mulder, however, tightly clutched the memory of that sacred night to his breast, afraid that somehow his enemies would take it away as well. He'd been torn from her soon after, before they could resolve this new twist in their relationship and before either of them knew of her pregnancy. Their separation was even more bitter, because she'd had to face her fears and the rumors solo. He hadn't been there to guard her back, and consequently her defensive walls had grown even stronger.

At a nearby intersection, a car horn sounded, jerking him back from his reverie and into the present. Scully and William were nearly out of view.

"See you soon," he whispered to the air. "Daddy has work to do."

"Time to take back my life", he thought vehemently to himself, as he strode purposely off in search of answers.

Scully was entering her small office at Quantico a few weeks later, nose buried in a sheaf of papers from this morning's class, when she heard her office mate, Celia Robertson, pointedly clear her throat. She lifted her gaze to Celia who in turn tilted her head and gestured with her eyes to Scully's desk. Atop the desk stood an irregularly shaped object wrapped in waxy decorator paper. By its shape and the glass peering through the bottom, it could only be flowers.

Who'd be sending me flowers?

"Special Occasion, Dana?" Celia queried.

"Not that I'm aware."

"New date? Secret admirer? Congratulations for finding the cure for the common cold?"

"No. I doubt it. And you'd be the first one I'd test my cold cure on."

When Scully had first moved into the office, Celia complained between sniffles of being a cold magnet. Scully had instantly warmed to the tall blonde's easy- going manner but just the same, had been cautious of exposing her new son to possible infection.

"Well, are you going to unwrap them before I die of curiosity, or do I have to give into my baser urges and do it for you? It's taken all of my self-control not to peek," Celia confessed.

"How'd they get here anyway? Security's not supposed to let them deliver inside the building."

"Well," Celia hesitated for a moment, then positively gushed. "Davis was on duty, and you see, he's kind of a romantic underneath that muscle-beach exterior. When you didn't answer the phone, he figured that you were in class or the lab. Then he thought it would be much more fun for you to walk in on them here rather than to have to fetch them from security, so he enlisted the help of yours truly to play courier. I, of course, jumped at the chance to let everyone think they were for me. So, will you open them already so I can at least enjoy them by association, since heaven knows Mark doesn't even remember my birthday unless I send him reminder notes starting a month before hand."

Scully figured Davis must be the tall African-American with the intimidating Rambo physique whom she'd noticed the past few mornings. She certainly wouldn't have pegged him for the romantic type, more likely the 'Me, Tarzan. You, Jane.' profile. There were still too many new faces and personalities to absorb readily with this new job assignment. As for Celia's husband, Scully didn't think Celia was being fair to Mark based upon some of the phone conversations she'd overheard. They sounded like any other normal married couple with their own rhythm of romantic and platonic moments. Celia sat on her hands leaning on the edge of her desk rocking forward in anticipation.

"all right already, Celia. See, I'm opening them."

She was actually impatient herself. Being able to resist an unopened package was not her strong suit. Scully set her papers down on the desk and reached for the wrapping, gently prying open the crimped seal at the top, then ripping down the length of it in a single motion to expose the prize beneath. She gently removed the split paper, absently dropping it into the trash receptacle, as she gaped at the massive spray of deep purple and cranberry calla lilies now uncovered.

"Wow," Celia exclaimed in appreciation from behind her, "so who's the special man?"

Scully reached for the small card tucked amongst the blooms and carefully slid it from the envelope. It read simply, "7pm dinner Friday. Ask the guys where."

"They're from my mom, wishing me luck in the new position."

"Right," Celia challenged, "And I blush when I open gifts from my mom, too."

She deliberately ignored Celia's dig and tucked the small card into her jacket pocket, still gazing at the flowers in amazement. They were simply breathtaking, even more so, since it was so unlike Mulder. He was a beer and posies kind of guy, but there was no question in her mind that these were indeed from Mulder. If this was to get her attention, he'd certainly accomplished that.

She shouldn't go to this meeting, she thought, even though she knew without hesitation that she would. Friday was only two days away, not much time to make arrangements. She'd have to call her mom to take William and, from a more private location, The Lone Gunmen. Only two days away, but it seemed like forever.

The next morning, Scully noticed Davis's imposing presence behind the reception desk. At the sight of her, a half-smirking smile crossed his otherwise serious face.

"Morning, ma'am."

"Good morning, ...Davis, is it?"

"Yes, ma'am. Did you get your delivery all right yesterday?"

Did he actually just wink at me?

"Yes. Thank you. It was a pleasant surprise," she replied, her eyes not meeting his. "Glad to be of service, ma'am."

Cupid with an Uzi. Go figure.

Anticipating tomorrow, Scully headed back to her office willing the day to go by at a faster pace, anticipating tomorrow. She'd told her mom that she would be visiting with an old friend and didn't know how late she'd be. Even though her mother had fished for more information, Dana hadn't been forthcoming with any more data. Luckily, they'd been doing this dance since she'd left for college, otherwise her mom would have been more tenacious with her questions.

Her mom was more than willing to take William for the night, and had even talked her into leaving him through Saturday and the bulk of Sunday as well. She smiled as she recalled the way she let her mom manipulate her. Margaret Scully, despite the stubborn streak she passed on to her children, still managed to get her way in matters regarding her grandchildren, somehow managing to nurture both generations at the same time.

"I'm glad you're getting out again, Dana. It'll do you some good. You've been keeping entirely too much to yourself. William and I will have a great time. Besides your Aunt Mary has been after me to take this little angel down for a visit if you'll let me keep him for the weekend," her mother soothed. "You could use some time for yourself away from the duties of the office and being a new mom. Lord, knows when you kids were each babies, there were days when I just didn't feel human anymore. Why don't you spend the rest of the weekend pampering yourself? Have some fun. You sound a bit weary. Besides, if you go into baby withdrawal, you can always come visit with us old biddies and collect him."

Weary was right. She was grateful that William was 'a sleeper' as her mom put it, but even so, he still had her waking every few hours, which was wearing her nerves thin. She loved her time with her son, but she hadn't fully appreciated the demands of being a single parent until she was living it. There was no relief team when you reached the end of your patience or stamina. And William was such a good baby. She couldn't image the horrors of a colicky infant.

Coming back to work was both easier and more difficult than she had expected. Her maternity leave gave her some welcome transition time between fieldwork on the X-files and teaching at Quantico, but it had been too short to truly get used to motherhood. It seemed that William changed in some way every single day and she didn't wish to miss it. At the same time, she was anxious to feel useful in the world of adults again. She felt her most capable when challenging her intellect. That was part of what she missed most about Mulder. He frustrated and infuriated her, but sparring with him kept her synapses sharp. It didn't matter if it was poking holes in his baseless theories or trying not to react to his double entendres; she felt she was at her keenest when she was around him.

Teaching was safe, and she needed safe right now. She'd earned safe, paid her dues. Even Mulder had told her that when she'd left the X-files. So why did she feel so guilty?

Scully took a stroll along the jogging path on the Quantico grounds for a late lunch between classes. Thursdays were lab days, so she looked forward to the fresh spring air. Warmer weather had finally arrived and the trees were covered with tiny buds. She headed over to what was starting to become her usual bench, located slightly off the path beneath a large cherry tree. She couldn't wait to see it in full bloom, expecting it to be spectacular. Lunch was practical and portable
yogurt, an apple, bottled water and a small piece of carrot cake from her last visit to mom's. She ate without noticing tasting, lost in the scenery and her thoughts.

She missed Mulder. They had been warned that he was in deadly danger, but it was more unsettling not to know the specifics of why or by whom. Sending him away had been the right and necessary decision. With one Fox Mulder out of the picture, she and William wouldn't be considered threats or targets. Yet, without him, if felt like she had lost a part of herself.

The unspecified danger was an obvious holdover from their investigations into the X-files. That had been his quest, no, his life. Did he even know who he was without them? Maybe not. Getting kicked out of the Bureau had directly resulted from his pursuit of an X- file case even though not assigned to it. In the process of tracking that case, Mulder had critically instructed his successor in the reality of some of the "extreme possibilities" contained in those files. In the end it had cost him his job at the FBI.

Mulder's quest for the truth still defined him. She just wasn't sure which truth it was he was seeking now, and she was weary of her life being one unending X-file. For a while, it'd become her quest too, like when her heart had first fixated on having a child and she'd needed to find answers to her abduction. It wasn't a Mulder kind of quest, truth for truth's sake. Rather it was her own quest for healing. She'd yearned for a small life to personally validate the goodness in the world. It wasn't a rational desire; it was visceral.

Dear God, thank you for my son.

Scully assumed Mulder must be safe, otherwise he wouldn't have tried for a meeting. She hoped he wasn't being careless, wondering what shades of meaning he thought he was sending her with his outrageous delivery. Extreme possibilities indeed, she mused. A smile tugged at her lips as she pulled out her cell phone and dialed, thinking of the floral display gracing her desk. The phone was answered on the second ring.

"Lone Gunmen."

"Frohike, it's Scully. Turn off the tape."

"Anything for you, Doll Face. Hey, Mulder left us a message for you."

She breathed a sigh of relief. She'd only been able to get the answering machine last night, and felt it better not to leave a message. It was always best with The Lone Gunmen to get a real-time response. You never knew what kind of mischief they'd get into with a recording. Besides, they would know if the message was truly from Mulder or from someone simply pretending to be him. Paranoia was their forte.

"That's why I called."

"And here I thought it was because you couldn't get enough of my irresistibly sexy voice."

She stifled a snort and shook her head at the remark.

Poor Frohike. Got to love the guy for trying.

She could hear Langly's voice in the background, clearly making a rude retort, a muffled "Shut up Bean Breath" from Frohike, and something else indecipherable from Langly. If she didn't break this up soon, they'd go on at each other for hours.

Too late.

"Hello? Agent Scully?" Beyers' calm demeanor came through the line a few seconds later having rescued the phone from the combatants. Beyers was the seemingly normal one of the trio with his conservative suits and non-confrontational demeanor.

"Yes, Beyers, it's me."

"Mulder asked us to tell you to meet him at the east parking lot of Selwyn Park. He also mentioned that you should wear jeans, comfortable shoes, and a warm jacket."

Hmm. Selwyn Park was at the outer edge of the city.

"Did he say anything else?"

"Oh, yes. He strongly suggested that you don't use your own vehicle. When I asked him when you should meet him, he said that you'd know already. Is everything all right, Agent Scully?"

"I think so. Did he give you any reason to think things aren't all right?"

"He seemed a little agitated, is all. You know... intense." She could hear his questioning look and understated concern through the phone.

She stifled her pride and asked the question, "Has he been staying in touch with you three?"

"Not really. He asked us to run some database searches a few weeks ago and drop the results off at a bus storage locker, but he hasn't been by to see us
 not since he moved out of his apartment. He's called in, but
Email is the only way we can contact him these days."

The background argument quieted, sooner than she anticipated. They must not really be in the mood, she thought. Worried for Mulder, maybe? She hoped it wasn't with good cause.

Scully's mind kept straying from the lecture she was giving. Good thing today's topic was on basics that she could have recited in her sleep. She glanced at the clock adorning the back of the room. Only fifteen minutes remained before class officially ended. Since it was Friday, she could probably end early without it causing any undue comment. Most students would likely welcome an early dismissal.

"Okay. That's all for now," her closing more a sigh of relief than the confident rap-up she had hoped for. "If there are no further questions, please drop off your assignments at the front of the room on your way out." There was a prompt rustling as people scrambled to depart. It was one mass exodus. "They are as anxious to get out of here as I am," she thought, guiltily hoping it wasn't due to today's teaching skills.

She reached for the stack of papers putting them to order, getting ready to bolt herself when she was stopped by a pleasant tenor from near the back of the room.

"Dr. Scully?"

The query came from a lean, attractive man standing near the rear wall. Dana looked up into his bright, earnest face as he walked down the steps to the dais where she stood. Something about him tugged at her senses. She'd briefly noticed him before among the sea of student faces. His tall sleek build and handsome good looks would cause him to naturally stand out in a crowd, but what caught her attention now was his overall presence. He seemed both confident and tentative at the same time. She sensed a keen intellect behind the attractive exterior, brimming with unrealized potential. This man would be one to watch. Or maybe what arrested her was simply the intense way he looked at her, like she held the keys to the mysteries of life.

Is this how Jack thought of me?

The realization hit her hard. Jack Willis had been her mentor and lover during her first time teaching at Quantico. Surviving the academy and the FBI weren't the only secrets Jack had taught her. For a fleeting moment she relished the irony of the possible role reversal.

"Yes, Mr. Perry?" She was grateful she'd conscientiously memorized the class roster. She held the neat stack of papers out for him to place his assignment with the others.

"Dr. Scully," he began again, "would you mind acting as my counselor?" His expression was hopeful, but his eyes held a barely concealed wistful smoldering look.

Brown eyes. Deep brown eyes to go with his deep brown hair.

"I have to let the office know by end of day Monday," he continued.

She should say no. Mild warning bells were going off in her scull, but there was something intoxicating about this young man. With one gaze, he made her feel powerful and in control, mistress of her own destiny. She was intrigued with his potential, and found herself wishing to see it blossom. Besides, hadn't her boss recently lectured her on the need to spread counseling duties across the staff, explicitly implying that she had less than her fair share this first session?

"I'd be honored, Mr. Perry. You can have the office send the paperwork over to me. If you need to discuss something in particular, you can call or stop by my office on Monday to set up an appointment."

"Thank you, Dr. Scully. I'll stop by Monday morning." He headed toward the exit, his pace at odds with the earlier haste of his classmates. As he passed through the door, he took a backwards look in, with a final "Thanks again, Dr. Scully. I really appreciate it." and then he was gone.

She felt a mild regret at his leaving.

What's gotten into you, Dana?

She mentally shook herself. Then with one last look at the clock, she swiftly headed to her office. If she hurried, she could get the papers graded before needing to pick up William. Otherwise, she'd be working over the weekend again, and she had no intention of working this weekend.

Scully realized that she had pulled a small miracle getting ready for this meeting with Mulder: all but three papers graded which she could finish Monday morning; William picked up, fed, bundled, and delivered to doting grandmother complete with luggage; driving between all the destinations in Friday afternoon traffic, with just enough time to change clothes and have a few minutes to primp. It wasn't really primping she thought, merely getting presentable after a long day of work. She congratulated herself for having the foresight to prep most things the night before.

Thankfully her mom hadn't pressed too hard when she'd asked to swap cars at a nearby fast food restaurant. Years as a navy wife had taught Maggie Scully patience, discretion and duty. This followed by years of her daughter's unusual behavior related to her bizarre case assignments had then taught her that it was indeed discretion that was the greater part of valor. She also knew that her children each needed to follow their own path, difficult as it may be for those who loved them. Even though she was careful with her critique, Dana knew her mom worried. She'd probably thought that this type of conduct would end with her daughter's return to teaching. She'd wonder what kind of 'friends' her little girl planned on seeing tonight. Her mother wasn't a fool, she simply knew when it was useless to keep asking. With the limited clues and Dana's barely contained skittishness, she figured her mom would put two and two together and realize that Fox Mulder was likely involved. Even so, without a concrete admission, it was deniable, and Dana was glad not to have to lie to her mother.

Scully was fairly confident of not having been followed, but added a few more evasive maneuvers to be sure. She pulled into a parking spot at Selwyn Park just before 7 pm to find Mulder already waiting at an unobtrusive bench by the parking lot. He was dressed in a plain black T-shirt, jeans, and a leather jacket with a backpack slung over one shoulder, also black. His wind-tossed hair lent him a boyish charm.

Why does this man have to look so sexy in jeans and a T-shirt?

"Where's William?" Mulder asked in bewilderment, talking to her through the open car window and peering into the backseat.

"With my mother, visiting my aunt for the weekend."


"If you wanted me to bring him, Mulder, you should have mentioned it." After so much worrying and anticipating, she found herself unreasonably irritated by his initial words. She had envisioned a much more intimate greeting to erase the loneliness.

He crossed around the back of the car and rapped on the truck signaling for her to open it. She punched at the release lever in annoyance.

Gee, Mulder. It's good to see you, too.

He swung the backpack from his shoulder into the trunk, then quickly crossed to the passenger side and climbed into the back seat.

"Mulder, what are you doing in the back seat?" Her annoyance was building steadily.

"You always tell me that when I'm not driving, I'm back seat driving, Scully." His deadpan flippant answer was a poor deflection of her question. "Why don't you just get us out of here?" he said as he lay down across the seat.

Okay. I'll just get us out of here.

She grit her teeth, put the car into reverse and backed up out of the stall. From long years of experience, she knew it was better to trust now, demand answers later. She would definitely demand answers later.

"Do you mind if I ask where I'm driving to?"

"Not at all. Just go back to the park entrance and make a left onto the main road. Go straight for about 15 miles and make a right at the traffic signal where Smitty's Bar is. Big red blinking sign. Can't miss it." She glanced at him in the rear baby-view mirror attached to the passenger side visor. He shrugged and adjusted about, obviously trying to get his long frame comfortable. "I'll just take a little nap until we get there." His yawn for emphasis actually sounded genuine. Probably not getting enough sleep again, she thought.

"We're not eating at Smitty's Bar, are we, Mulder?" she asked cautiously, trying not to whine, but remembering that he had requested her to wear comfortable clothing. Smitty's Bar didn't sound like the kind of evening she had in mind, but it would be so, well, Mulder. She wasn't sure what kind of evening she had expected, but this wasn't it.

"Relax Scully, the place we're going makes Smitty's look civilized."

Great. Just great. Why do I let this man do this to me?

She drove on in silence alone with her thoughts. They ran through a gambit of emotions: frustration, anger, loneliness, fear, worry, tenderness and love. Mulder's soft snores drifted to her from the back seat, a testament to her earlier suspicions about his lack of sleep. In his vulnerability, she found she could no longer be angry with him. All that remained was an aching loneliness, a hole where he belonged.

The drive wasn't a straight shot. The road ambled over and around a number of low-lying hills. She finally spotted Smitty's Bar up ahead and turned right onto a narrow unlit road. A short distance down the road, she pulled off to the side past a small bridge, turned off the car's headlights and just sat for a minute. The road was deserted. Outside it was pitch black, except for a patch of sky to the east that had an orange cast. DC must be that way, she thought to herself. Her stomach growled at her, reminder that she hadn't eaten in a while. Mulder had promised dinner. She unbuckled her seat belt, turned around, and reached for Mulder's arm in the backseat.

"Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. I've run out of directions and my stomach's protesting that it hasn't been fed as promised."

"Mmmm. Scully. Oh yes." Mulder roused himself. He sat up, got his bearings, then climbed out of the car on the driver's side. He opened her car door and gave a grand sweeping gesture with his arm. "Pardon me, Miss Scully. May I have the pleasure of driving you to your dining destination?"

Well, well. This is more like it.

She relinquished the driver's seat, traveled around the front of the car through the cool air and settled into the passenger's side, for a moment perversely thinking about climbing into the rear seat to see his reaction. It took a moment for him to adjust the driver's seat to his liking. He took the opportunity to fully wake up as well. Of course, the cooler night air helped. His mouth formed a smirk as he noticed the baby-view mirror and realized that it offered a full view of the back seat. Dana smiled to herself. How someone could be so self-deprecating, and yet so full of himself never ceased to amaze her.

Mulder edged the car back onto the road and headed forward, fully confident of where he was and where they were going. The little road headed upward through wooded hills, winding around the topography. She noticed that there was no traffic. Except for an occasional gravel side street
 or were they driveways?
 it might as well be the road to nowhere. Finally Mulder turned onto a small gravel road, its only marking was a lone mailbox with the words "Bear Hill" engraved in the support post with a small silhouette of a bear walking on all fours carved below.

"Are there really bears out here?" she broke the silence.

"I haven't seen any, if that's what you're asking," he replied. "Anyway, we're here. Welcome to Chez Rustic!" He gestured to a quaint old cabin tucked in amongst the dense trees. A warm glow seeped from the windows. He popped the trunk, exited the car, and tossed some keys to her. "Why don't you go on in and take a look around?"

"Do you want me to bring in your bag?" he added with a sideways grin.


Obviously, he had noticed the small overnight bag she had stashed in the trunk, probably when he threw in his backpack. She had told herself that it was for the trip down to visit her aunt, then, that with Mulder, it was best to be prepared for anything. Who knew what kind of wild goose chase they'd end up on?

"Sure," she responded in a voice she hoped sounded nonchalant.

While he gathered their things, she entered the cabin. Although exhibiting years of wear, it appeared to be well cared for. Inside it was warm and inviting with a large stone fireplace and rough-hewn wood panels covering the great room. Her stomach responded instantly to the fragrant aroma coming from an alcove that must be the kitchen. The smell had a spicy hint to it that promised to be appealing. There were four other doors on the same wall as the kitchen which she guessed led to a bathroom and utility spaces, maybe a small bedroom. She took in the pleasantly set table near the front door complete with wine glasses, candles and a small centerpiece of violets and lavender. At the other end of the great room was a comfortable looking living space, the kind where you could curl up with a good book and a cup of cocoa next to the hearth on a rainy day. The bedroom was nestled beneath the peaked roof over top of the living space. It was an open loft area with a post railing at the ledge and a steep stair to gain access from below. The building was roomier inside than it appeared from outside. Overall, the cabin exuded a sense of peace, safety and refuge.

"Mulder, it's wonderful!" she breathed as he walked in with the luggage, "However did you find it?"

He smiled a boyish grin, clearly delighted by her praise. "It's a long story. I can tell you later if you're still interested. I'm glad you like it. Why don't you make yourself at home while I check on dinner? Hopefully we can feed that monster growling in your belly soon before it eats you from the inside out," he teased over his shoulder on his way to the kitchen.

Unfortunately, his comment brought back bad memories when that unlikely scenario was a real possibility. During her pregnancy, she had had many nightmares about the new life growing within her. Mulder's current jest had been one of her disturbing fears then. The mantra "he's just a healthy normal baby" had been a background prayer throughout that stressful time. The circumstances of William's conception had been uncertain, and certain parties had believed that he was anything from alien progeny to a super-human. Thankfully all tests proved her mantra to be vindicated.

Just one more fear of the past. You're safe. William's safe. Let it stay in the past, Dana.

She managed to bury those thoughts before Mulder returned bearing a dewy bottle of white wine and a corkscrew.

"Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes. Is wine all right or should I pull out the sparkling grape juice instead? I wasn't sure if wine would be okay."

"A little wine won't hurt, besides, William's almost fully on formula now." She'd wanted to breast feed him longer, but her schedule hadn't provided the necessary allowances to continue. It was one of the many concessions she found herself making in order to have a child and a career. "Shall I pour the wine while you get dinner?" she offered.

"No, I've got it. You could find us some background music though. The radio's by the sofa."

She moved to comply, unsure whether to be ticked off at his dismissive behavior or delighted by his attentiveness. He was the only person she knew who could do both simultaneously. Once again he seemed certain of his role while she floundered about uncertain of hers. It was a decidedly uncomfortable feeling.

Mulder ducked into the kitchen, a crease of worry furrowing his brow. He should have had an appetizer ready, he concluded. Scully was always a bit peevish when she was hungry. Perhaps dinner would help. Things weren't going as well as he hoped. She looked slightly drawn and melancholy. He'd imagined that they'd fall easily into the rhythms they'd established during their time as partners, that he'd be able to start from there, but too much had changed. Instead, they'd have to find their way back to common ground before moving forward.

These last few months had hammered home to him that the only life he wanted included Scully and William in it. They were his family, his only family now. If she gave him a chance, any chance, he was determined not to blow it. Now he just needed to convince her to give him that chance.

He hoped she noticed the effort he was putting forth. He'd agonized over the flower arrangements, both to send to her and for the table tonight. Instinctively knowing that roses would be the wrong choice, he'd picked the calla lilies because they reminded him of her, vibrant, stately and elegant with an underlying sensuality. He hoped their meaning was clear, yet respectful. They were meant to be an invitation. Tonight however he was striving for coziness and comfort. He wanted her at ease and had spent a good amount of time getting everything ready to that end.

Dinner was another feat. The Chicken Kiev he pulled out of the oven would have been far beyond his culinary talent if it wasn't for the gourmet-on-the-go section of the local grocery store. He'd even done a trial run of this evening's meal earlier in the week just to be sure of himself and to get the timing down. He placeed the chicken on a plain white serving platter and carried it out to the table.

A light and slow jazz number was playing on the radio.

Good pick, Scully.

Maybe she was relaxing after all, although it could just be a reflection of her earlier frame of mind. He found her crouched beside the fireplace lighting the small logs he'd left there and took it as a good sign. He lit the candles on the table, poured the wine into the glasses, and turned off the overhead light.

"Madam, your dinner is served."

"Ummnh. Looks and smells delicious. I didn't know you could cook, Mulder."

"I have many talents you haven't fully discovered," he quipped.


The dinner conversation was amazingly sparse, a companionable silence, almost like old times. She complimented the meal and seemed to genuinely relish it in its entirety, eating as though famished. All during the time he'd known her, she had amazed him with her eating habits, alternating between a football player's appetite and barely picking at her food.

"Save room for dessert," he lightly admonished, "I'd hate for it to go to waste."

"That depends on what's for dessert."

"Oh, you'll want this. Trust me," he stated as he began clearing the table.

"Want help with the dishes?" she offered.

"No. You just get comfortable in the living room and I'll bring dessert out to you. No peeking, now." She complied without comment, and he briefly wondered if that should worry him.

He returned several minutes later brandishing two bowls to find her in a corner of the sofa staring at the fire with her legs tucked up under her. She perked up at the sight of him, trying to peek into the bowls he held. How long can I milk her curiosity, he wondered. Probably not long without irritating her, he decided. He waved a bowl quickly under her nose, then relented and placed it in her outstretched hands, studying her face. He was rewarded by her quickly indrawn breath and girlish delight as she recognized its contents.

"My favorite!" she beamed up at him.

He sat down on the other side of the sofa while she dug into the coffee chocolate chunk ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup. He examined Scully as she closed her eyes in bliss, fully savoring each spoonful.

Swish. Nothing but net.

She finally scraped out the last bit of ice cream, placed the empty bowl on the coffee table then leaned back into the cushions, contented. Her tongue flicked out to lick off a small spot of chocolate syrup dotting the corner of her mouth. He in turn settled into the middle of the sofa, edging slightly closer to her. Her next words caught him off guard.

"Mulder, what's going on? Is it safe for us to be here...to be together? First you're acting all cloak and dagger, then like there's nothing in the world to worry about."

Penalty called. Tread lightly, Fox.

He slowly leaned forward, hands between knees and stared at the fire, trying to gage his next words. "I believe we're safe here, for now."

She waited in silence for him to continue.

"I don't think anyone's been tracking me for at least the last month, and I was rather careful about our arrangements tonight. You in turn, have been the model FBI instructor, giving them nothing of note for which to be concerned. I believe you may have bored them into abandoning any surveillance." This last was said in a sly tone, hoping to distract her into defending herself.

"And...." she finally prompted, refusing to rise to the bait.

"I've been tracing several leads. All but two sources have been eliminated."

"Eliminated. By who?"

"I believe, by each other." He turned to watch her reaction. "Scully, I think that the remaining factions are in the process of annihilating everyone in their opposing parties."

"So what makes you believe we're safe now? We've been batted about as pawns before." Her voice took on a hard edge, "Especially what makes you think we're safe enough for me to have brought William out here with me?"

What had he been thinking? He'd been thinking that he just wanted time with them, away from conspiracies and deceptions, away from tragedy and loneliness. She was probably right, but he didn't want Scully mad at him right now. He wanted her to melt into his arms and make the rest of the world go away, but he knew he'd have to address her concerns first if he wished to move forward.

"Well, first, virtually everyone we knew associated with the shadow government is dead. Second, neither one of us is part of the X-files anymore nor has the resources to pursue them independently. So, we're not in a position to expose anyone to anyone that matters in any way to be taken seriously. Third, William isn't who they thought he was, and they know it. He's just a baby, therefore, only of importance as leverage against us. But to what end? As I just said, we're not important to anyone anymore. In short, we've been neutralized and anyone who really cares about our involvement is dead."

"Then why the threat to you? It feels like the mafia. Once a player, can you safely get out of the game?" Her voice held a very tiny hint of desperation, unnoticeable if he didn't know her so well.

"That was over three months ago. A lot of players have been taken out of the game since then. I've kept an extremely low profile, just as we agreed." He lightly touched the back of her hand lying on the sofa cushion. Hopefully he was appeasing her fears adequately.

"Then how do you know all this," she challenged, pulling her hand away from his touch.

"A.D. Kersch."

Her eyes flashed at the mention of the Assistant Director. "Mulder, you know you can't trust that man!" She was adamant.

"You trusted him enough to take his warning regarding my safety seriously," he threw back at her.

"That's different."

"How so? I'll admit that Kersch has never been on my list of favorite people, after all, he had it out for me long before finally firing me. However, helping me in this serves his own interests too well. I do trust him to care about his own neck."

"Why not go to A.D. Skinner?"

"Skinner's no longer in the loop. I think he's being watched, not informed. Besides he has his hands full with Doggett, Reyes, and the X-files."

"So what does Kersch have to say?"

"Not much really. Like informants of the past, he's given me pertinent newspaper clippings, internal memos, and the like. He lets me find out the rest myself. If I'm lucky, he will occasionally confirm my conclusions. From what I can piece together, there's been quite a bloodbath going on."

"Scully," he paused briefly before continuing with his assessment. "Kersch is career FBI. He's made his own questionable deal in order to keep where he is with the power struggle going on over his head. He does what he must, but I believe he chafes under the command. He doesn't like me, we both know that, but he doesn't want to see any of us dead either. Dead agents violate his sense of honor and personal pride, not to mention damaging his clout. We always found his actions to be obstructionistic regarding the work, but they always erred on the side of keeping us alive. That he warned us fits that same profile. I feel that his helping me track when I can come out of hiding is similarly motivated. His goal has been to deactivate us, not destroy us."

He rose from the couch and went into one of the side rooms, returning several minutes later with an unkempt stack of papers. "Here's the data I have regarding names, places, and incidents concerning their sudden demise. We can go through it item by item if that will help convince you," he offered.

"No. I don't need to do that now, Mulder. I trust you," she replied sleepily.

He studied her, body curled up into the corner of the sofa, head drooping. Somewhere during his discourse, the impassioned energy had drained out of her leaving her worn out. It had probably been a very long day. He was weary himself.

"Scully, you're practically asleep already. Why don't you take the bed upstairs? I can sleep here on the couch."

She nodded her head feebly in agreement, and with a twinge of regret headed toward the loft. Exhaustion was plain in her slumped posture.

Oh, well. Tomorrow is another day.

REDEFINITION (Part 2 of 3) by L. N. McKnight

 Scully awoke to bird song and a clear bluish light streaming in through the loft window. She lay still, trying not to break the peaceful moment, fully drawing its joy into her. She was warm and cozy underneath the bed covers. The air beyond, although cooler, felt crisp and clean. It was good to be alive. She wondered how long she could stay this way, wishing time to freeze in its tracks so she could savor it longer.

She rolled over onto her side taking the covers with her and surveyed the loft decor. She'd been too sleepy last night to properly absorb her surroundings, being only interested in the soft bed beckoning to her tired body. The loft was a pleasant space, neither hunting lodge nor frilly country fair. It was sparsely furnished with just the bed, two nightstands with lamps, a wingback chair and her overnight bag sitting atop an old hope chest. It could probably use a few more wall hangings. Even so, it was simply... homey, she decided. If she stood at the front of the bed, she would be able to see the far end of the dining space below, but chose instead to study the ceiling line from where she lay.

She'd slept surprisingly well, whether due to exhaustion, the comfortable bed, the peaceful atmosphere, or a lack of interruption, she wasn't quite sure. Much of her tension from last night had dissipated with the good night's sleep. She wondered fleetingly about what this day would hold. The facts of her life hadn't changed from the night before, but now she felt a greater sense of equilibrium with which to deal with them.

Okay, Dana. Time to rise and shine.

She slid her bare feet into her slippers, grabbed her toiletries and a change of clothes and walked to the loft edge, peering over the balcony rail.

No movement from below. Good.

She crept carefully down the steep loft stairs so as not to wake Mulder sleeping on the living room couch and headed for the bathroom. She reemerged several minutes later, toweling her damp hair. A brief glance at the couch told her that the bedcovers were as she saw them prior to entering the bathroom. She headed toward the kitchen with a sly smile on her face. She would make him a breakfast worthy of the dinner he served last night. She just hoped the kitchen was stocked adequately to the task.

The kitchen was larger than expected, outfitted with full sized appliances including a dishwasher, plenty of cabinet space, and a block worktable. She opened the dishwasher and found their dishes from last night, clean. Funny, she didn't remember hearing a dishwasher running last night. It must be one of those ultra-quiet models. She pulled a skillet, two plates, a mixing bowl and utensils from the dishwasher and set them on the counter. She noticed a fully outfitted spice rack on the wall. It looked new.

Well, if there's any real food in here, at least I can get creative.

She padded over to the refrigerator, prepared for the worst, swung the door open and stepped back in surprise. Mulder must have done some recent cleaning and shopping because everything looked fresh and edible. Surveying the contents, she gathered the ingredients for what promised to be a very appetizing omelet. She pulled two glasses from the dishwasher and poured some orange juice, putting his into the refrigerator and taking hers to the block table with the rest of her booty. She found a set of carving knives holstered at the table's side, chose one long- bladed knife, and quickly set about dicing ingredients.

She was startled by the sudden sound of the front door opening and closing with a bang. In a flash, not thinking, she whirled and headed out of the kitchen.

"A little jittery, are we this morning?" Mulder greeted her from the door, carrying a small load of wood in his arms. She stared at him dumbfounded, looked at the rumpled bedclothes on the sofa lying just as she remembered them, and back to Mulder. Obviously, the couch had been empty the whole time she'd been awake.

Got to work on those observation skills.

"Do you mind putting down the knife, or have you reconsidered letting me live?" His voice was expressionless, but his hazel eyes positively sparkled.

The unexpectedness of the intrusion had caught her off guard, and she resented it. But the mental image of herself standing there with a kitchen knife armed against a wood-laden Mulder was funny. She dropped her guard and giggled.

"How long were you gone?" she queried.

"About twenty, maybe twenty-five, minutes."

"So what were you doing out there all this time? It couldn't have taken you that long to get a load of wood."

"Checking out the property. Come on, I want to show you around after breakfast."

"It was a case of serendipity really," Mulder explained as they walked the grounds. "A basketball buddy of mine
his parents retired to Florida and were looking to unload their cottage. He convinced me, and I think anyone else who'd listen, to have a look at it. The place was awful. He's probably still trying to unload it. But in the process, I drove around the area and liked the surroundings. Occasionally I'd drive through here for the atmosphere. Then a month ago I saw a small For-Sale-by-Owner sign on Bear Hill and checked it out.

"Basically, I ran across this place by accident and fell in love with it," Mulder continued while gingerly making his way down the rocky slope to the creek side. He extended his hand to help her down the steep bank. Muddy patches caused their footing to be a bit treacherous along the path where the grass had been worn and washed away.

"Think I should change the name to something else though. Spooky's Hideout perhaps?" The famous Mulder grin spread across his face. He'd been dubbed 'Spooky' Mulder long before she'd become his partner, a name he found painfully belittling of his theories. That he'd make a joke of it was heartening.

"I like Bear Hill," she stated.

"Not even Area 51, Mulder's Madness or Fox's Folly?"

She raised an eyebrow at him in response. "So how could you afford this place. Banks like to lend to people who are employed, Mulder." It was incredulous that he'd bought this lovely property. She'd figured he'd rented it or it belonged to a friend. Buying it was so...well...permanent.

"I sold the house in Chilmark."

She reeled in amazement. His family had held on to his empty childhood home for decades hoping for his sister Samantha's return. They hadn't wanted her to find some other family living there. After years of tormented searching, he'd finally found the evidence of her demise two years ago.

"Why? Why now?" she asked.

"It held too many old memories, one's that need to be completely put to rest. It was time to finally bury the past, time to consider a new future." His gaze held an intensity she'd long associated with Mulder- on-quest, but his tone was more hesitant.

Bear Hill was enchanting with its wooded hills, meandering creek, and snug cabin. She could easily see how he fell in love with it. It was secluded without being thoroughly isolated. Even though the air held a chill, the spring growth was well under way. Wild flowers pushed up in bundles. Buds and early blooms speckled the branches everywhere. Birds and small mammals bustled about preparing nests and burrows.

The creek was large enough to wade in, but too cold to be inviting this early in the season. She thought back pleasantly to warmer childhood days. "Looks like you could float a shallow raft down here. Where's the creek go?"

"It runs a horseshoe around the hill. You could put a raft in here, float downstream around the horseshoe, get off at the other side, and have a reasonably short jaunt back to the house. Perhaps we could try it with William when he's a bit older." It was the first concrete mention he'd made of a future with the three of them together. She turned her face away so he couldn't see her conflicting emotions and continued walking along the water's edge and up onto another path through the trees.

She still wanted him. Their shared magnetism was as intense as ever, but she didn't trust that their happiness could be anything but brief. Their track record wasn't good in that regard. Besides, she was a mother now and needed to consider what was best for her child.

Be honest Dana. You're still trying to protect yourself.

Fox Mulder wasn't stable. He didn't have a job. He attracted danger like a magnet. His idea of entertainment included an extensive collection of pornographic videos. He was irreverent and disrespectful. He'd sacrifice anything for the truth... He was also devoted, fiercely loyal, and she trusted him implicitly. God help her, she loved him wholeheartedly. Seems like she'd loved him forever. She just couldn't have him the way she needed. There was too much in the way.

In her reverie, she hadn't realized that she'd stopped in the path. He stepped up behind her, placing his left hand at her waist and his right hand at her shoulder. His thumb gently caressed the side of her neck under the hairline as he leaned forward and spoke softly in her ear.

"Please, Dana." The uncommon use of her first name held her attention more than his proximity. "I'm tired of hiding. I need to be with my family. You're all that matters anymore."

She turned to look up into his face, silent tears clinging to her eyes. He must have found approval in what he saw, for he leaned down and captured her mouth tenderly with his. Time suspended itself while her brain tried to catch up with her body. She wanted to drown in his kiss, never rising to the surface.

He released her lips, ripe from the pressure of his. Mulder's hand gently tucked an errant strand of hair away from her face. Her mouth formed a tight-lipped half-smile, her quivering lips betraying her. He looked down on her upturned face and then pulled her into a deep hug, full of all the ache and longing of the past few months. She buried her face into his chest, like so many times before, seeking solace. They fit so well together.

"I bought this place for us," he whispered into her hair. "It spoke to me of refuge and safety, and... home. I want this to be a place uniquely ours without any baggage from the past." He hesitated just a moment before adding wistfully, "Share it with me."

It was a statement and a question at the same time. She was stunned by the magnitude of it, unprepared for his offer and frightened that he was being reckless again. She tensed and stepped back out of his embrace, searching his face for confirmation of his words. It was there. His whole being was open to her. He looked at her with earnestness, tenderness, and a bit of fear. When he'd finally committed everything, would she reject him too?

Please God, don't let me hurt him.

"Mulder, I don't know what to say."

"Then don't say anything right now," he cautioned, his protective covering starting to slide back into place.

"It's just, it's just, so unexpected," she hedged.

"Don't." He put his hand up to stop any further words.


"No. Don't." He quickly cut her off, turned and headed back toward the house.

"Mulder," she called to his retreating back. No response. She hurried after him.


Lunch was a joyless affair, cold sandwiches and iced tea, reflective of the mood. Several times she tried to initiate a conversation, but Mulder only replied with terse one-word answers.

How did we get here? Everything was going so right, and then...

And then what, Dana? He offered you his heart, no, more than just his heart, and you hesitated. You turned away. Again.

Guilt tugged at her. She hadn't meant to turn away, had she?

His restless movements reminded her of a caged animal.

"I need some air?" he asked brusquely as soon as their brief meal was finished. He grabbed his jacket and swiftly exited the building, not waiting for her response.

Mulder was hurt, thoroughly and to the core. He hadn't trusted himself with more than monosyllabic utterances after Scully's rejection, fearful that he'd unleash the rage boiling below the surface. He was angry with her for not being able to take the final step; angry with himself for pushing too soon, being too needy.

That was the trouble, he needed her more than she needed him. She was entirely too self-sufficient. But super woman wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He'd seen the toll going it alone had taken on her. Why didn't she see it? He could be there for her. He wanted to be there for her. Why couldn't she admit that she needed him too?

Why couldn't she need him as much as he needed her?

He picked up a loose twig and swatted it at a nearby shrub. The effect was less than satisfactory. He wanted to break something. Something big.

He progressed down hill, haphazardly wandering through the trees, hitting the trunks with the stick as he passed. When that stick snapped, he found another, continuing along his journey until it too perished. Then another. And another.

All his romances had ended badly. Phoebe and Diana were particularly painfully, but those losses were the pain of betrayal, realizing he had been a manipulated fool. Scully was different. She was an integral part of him, inseparable from himself. Damn, this was even worse than loosing Samantha. At least Sam had been stripped from him unwillingly. Scully walked away.

Wrong answer, Scully!

His current stick broke in two with an unexpected 'whack'. The tip flew over the underbrush, taking the rest of his anger with it. He surveyed his surroundings and realized he'd walked all the way to the base of the hill near where the creek pooled into a small pond. It would be a long uphill walk back to the cabin, so he decided to make his way over toward the road for the return journey.

The slower pace uphill gave him a chance to regroup. Scully needed facts, a concrete and tangible plan of action. She needed to see the path in front of her to feel confident traveling it. But, to fulfill his own needs, he'd asked her to take yet another leap of faith. Trust him. Love him. Share with him. She'd been unable to accept his offering. Solo was preferable to life with Mulder, at least for now. She'd trusted him before, so why not now? Because this is permanent, the answer came to him, and all he'd managed to truly give her had been pain.

I can change that Scully. I'll do everything I can to change that.

If he tried again, would she decide in his favor or was this response her ultimate decision. He couldn't believe it was final.

Pick me! Chose me, Scully.

His soul pleaded to the empty air, and he knew he had to try again. Try until they got it right. Maybe she didn't realize what he'd sacrifice for her. No, that couldn't be right. He'd put himself on the line for her time and time again, and she knew it. She'd done the same for him. Perhaps it was something more tangible she needed
like how much he was willing to bend so that they could have a real life together. Could he truly settle down? He felt ready. More than ready, he craved it. So, how to convince her?

He trudged up the road, resolve strengthening his steps. As with their cases, his intuition took the leaps before Scully's science could verify his theories. He just needed to give her time to catch up, time for her methodical reasoning to come to the same conclusions.

I want to believe.

When Mulder stormed out of the cabin, Scully debated following him but knew there were no way that her shorter legs could catch up with his headlong rush. Even if she caught up with him, what would she say? Her own thoughts and emotions were too muddled to communicate to herself let alone to him. They'd never been good with words anyway. Glances and touches were their language, speaking volumes, yet deliberately ambiguous and deniable.

She sat at the table studying her clenched hands. He'd be back, she knew. But when? It could be a long wait.

To distract herself, she wandered about the cabin inadvertently exploring, not knowing what else to do and not wanting to think about what had happened between them. Her investigation started with the familiar territory of the kitchen as she cleared the remains of their lunch. She decided that she liked this kitchen even though it was smaller than she preferred. It was laid out for efficient use and had a large pantry. The butcher-block table made up for an otherwise lack of counter space.

From room to room she wandered, touching the various surfaces, unconsciously seeking tangible evidence of intangibles. She found the house to be better designed than she originally thought, reluctantly admiring Mulder's taste.

In addition to the kitchen and bath, the side rooms included two small bedrooms and a tiny utility space with laundry hookups but no appliances. One of the bedrooms was outfitted as an office complete with Mulder's old aquarium bubbling contentedly in a corner. No fish though. The office had a hatch that she figured went into an attic crawl space above the side rooms. The second bedroom was bare except for a small dresser and some boxes.

She returned to the great room, looking at it with an investigator's scrutiny. Much of the furniture was recognizable as having come from Mulder's old apartment. There were old but unfamiliar pieces and new items in her favorite colors. Rather than emptiness, the sparse furnishings gave the impression of waiting for new companions to complete the setting. It finally struck her...Mulder was nesting.

Oh dear God. He really means it.

It wasn't just his loneliness speaking or expressing a desire of the moment. Despite his earnest offer, she hadn't truly believed it was real. It wasn't that she doubted his words. She just couldn't internalize them as facts, figuring he'd regret them later. Like so many of his actions, he hadn't thought through all the ramifications.

I'm not ready to deal with this!

Although not normally prone to panic, in this instance, she found the need to flee overwhelming. Dana Scully hurriedly packed her bag and headed to the car.

Mulder continued the steady climb up the road. The downhill trek hadn't seemed nearly so long. The slow pace allowed him to study the properties that he normally whizzed by on his way to the cabin. He stubbornly refused to call it 'home' until Scully and William joined him there. He stifled a moment of panic that they'd never come.


Most of the houses were tucked back from the road access, hidden from view. Walking allowed him to glimpse details. Construction styles varied widely. So did yard debris, but the lush wooded growth remained consistent. Street-side mailboxes were decorated to reflect each Owner's personality with monikers such as Reily's Refuge, San Simeon, and, ugh, Ewok's Paradise.

And Scully thought my names were lame!

It was beginning to get late, and he still had a long way to go.

How did I get so far away in so short a time?

It was a question of both distance and relationship. No answer was forthcoming to either.

He wondered what she was doing in his absence. He shouldn't have left her, he thought, but if he'd stayed, he was afraid he would have throttled her. How Scully could still deny their love after all they'd been through amazed him. She could be so infuriating!

He rounded another bend and spied his destination up ahead.

Ready or not. Here I come...again.

Scully sat slumped in the car, her packed bag in the trunk and keys in the ignition. When she'd reached the keys to start the car, she'd only managed to turn the radio on, not having the heart to actually start the engine.

Be rational, she chided herself. She'd spent a lifetime priding herself on staying grounded in reality, and here she was running like a frightened animal. She couldn't leave. Not like this. If she left now, she may not ever see him again. Then it dawned on her that she hadn't seen his car here. The storage shed didn't look big enough to be a garage. She hadn't seen it at the park either. If she drove away, she'd probably leave him stranded.

Poetic justice!

She marveled at the vehemence of the thought, wondering at its source.

Ditched. Abandoned. Alone.

Her buried thoughts rose to the surface. How many times had Mulder run off in pursuit of one thing or another, leaving her behind to clean up and wait? Even though this time she'd been the one to insist that he go for all their safety, part of her resented him for not staying. Scully women were used to being left alone for long stretches of time. She'd resented her father's naval career for just that, but it was also responsible for her independent nature. In fact her self-sufficiency had become a source of pride.

I am strong. I am invincible... If I have to, I can do anything. The Helen Reddy song from her youth sprang to mind, taunting her.

Her mom once confided to her that the waiting was the worst. The state of unknowing froze all decisions perpetually at crossroads. Dana silently agreed. It wasn't fair. She'd vowed that she wasn't going to fall for the same kind of man. It hurt too much. So much for her vow.

No one else but Fox Mulder could generate such powerful emotions in her. He was brilliant, amazingly intuitive, and blindingly intense. She felt dim by comparison. He'd been her only choice as father of her child. She just wasn't sure she could live with him. She couldn't be without him either.

As her unresolved thoughts wound down, her attention was drawn to a soothing song coming from the car speakers. She hadn't been aware of the radio during her internal tirade except as a background hum. Now, the music acted as a balm to her tense nerves as she noticed the lyrics.

Over time You've healed so much in me And I am living proof That although my darkest hour had come Your light could still shine through Though at times it's just enough to cast A shadow on the wall Well I am grateful that You shined Your light on me at all

Who am I That You would love me so gently? Who am I...

Who am I that you would love me so gently?

The song continued, but Scully remained fixated on the chorus's beginning, turning the line over and over with an emphasis on a different word each time. It was humbling, and she became overwhelmed with shame. Mulder, although repeatedly hurt and betrayed, loved with an enormity that she couldn't match. She didn't deserve the gift nor the trust.

Approaching footfalls caught her attention, but she didn't lift her head at the familiar pattern. Instead she tried to blink back her unshed tears and train her expression.

"Since when did you start listening to Christian Rock?" Mulder asked, his tone deliberately light.

Christian Rock?

She listened to a few more words and realized it was a love song of a different nature. At the time, she'd heard only the words that she'd needed. Flustered, she resisted an urge to change the station. Instead she fingered the tiny cross hanging from her neck and felt a tiny kernel of joy sprout within her. She realized that she liked the music. The melodies weren't unlike those played on the contemporary stations she frequented. Besides, she resolved, if God was going to help them here, a little praise in the background couldn't hurt.

"Since I borrowed my mother's car," she answered.

Mulder squatted down so his head was even with Scully's in the car. He wanted to reach through the open window and wipe away an errant tear clinging to the outside corner of her eye, but restrained himself. Instead he studied her expression looking for clues as to what conclusions she'd drawn while he was away.

"Does the fact that you're still here in the driveway mean that you'll stay for dinner?"

"Only if I can help cook," she teased softly. Then she added with more conviction, "I suspect that marvel you pulled off last night was a one-shot deal."

If she felt up to baiting him, he figured that things would be all right. He just needed to let her set the pace.

"So you're not going to give me another try?" he ventured with mock hurt. She paused a long time, her face becoming more serious. "Mulder, it wasn't rejection. It was hesitation. There's quite a difference."

"I know."

Her eyes glistened with clinging tears and her mouth quivered as she searched his face.

"I love you." She stated it simply, her voice barely above a whisper.

"I know that, too," was his soothing reply, realizing how difficult the admission was for her and marveling that she'd finally made it.

He stood in a single fluid movement and opened the car door. She removed the car keys and took his proffered hand, allowing him to assist her. As soon as she was standing, he wrapped his arms about her protectively, holding her tightly to his chest.

"I'm glad you didn't leave," he spoke into the top of her head.

"So am I." They reveled in the safety of the embrace, not wanting it to end.

They stood that way for several more minutes, secure in the moment. Finally, he ventured, "Let's get inside. It's getting chilly out here." He slowly removed one arm, but left the other one about her shoulders as he began escorting her toward the house. She shivered at the partial loss of his warmth.

"My bag's in the trunk," Scully began to pull back toward the car.

"Leave it. I'll get it later." Wrapping his arm tighter about her shoulders, he led the way back inside.

Scully checked in with her mother. William was fine. Aunt Mary sent her love, and gushed about "Dana's Little Angel" offering many words of advice for the "new mother" which Scully bore patiently. She missed William, but was glad of this time alone with his father. Tomorrow would be here soon enough. She was tempted to try to get William to make sounds into the phone for Mulder to hear, but he was too young and her mom didn't officially know she was here with him. It wasn't yet time to let their guard down, even with family. She looked forward to the day when she could be with both her men at the same time without fear. Now, she at least had hope that that day would be soon.

They worked as a team in the kitchen, creating a dinner of spaghetti, salad and garlic bread. The effort was punctuated with small touches and caresses. Their teamwork fell into a pattern at once familiar and now provocatively new. All through their partnership, Mulder had invaded Scully's personal space more intimately than mere friendship would dictate: placing a guiding hand at the small of her back, repositioning an errant strand of hair, linking a few fingers by way of encouragement. He had wonderful hands, amazingly sensitive. Now, given some mild encouragement, he crossed that line further, inch by tactile inch. It was a dance of proximity and separation. Each time he moved away, she anticipated the next encounter. Would it be hand, shoulder, waist, cheek?

He'd opened a bottle of red wine to make the sauce, pouring them each a glass to enjoy while they cooked. Even though she sipped hers faster than intended, the wonderful heady feeling wasn't from the wine.

She went into the great room, tuned the radio to a classical station, and set the table, lighting the candles remaining from the night before. The setting had a sense of deja vu, but the mood, at least hers, was altered. Her eyes followed the flickering light that played across the walls and ceiling. They settled on the bedroom loft for a brief moment before turning away, heart quickening at the possibilities.

Mulder came to the table carrying the salad and bread.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied after a brief hesitation. She went with him back to the kitchen to retrieve the rest of their meal, his hand once again at the small of her back. A small shiver trailed up her spine.

Mulder thought the spaghetti was superb, different than either of their normal recipes due to reciprocal modifications. This new thing was uniquely theirs by combined effort and compromise.

By unspoken mutual agreement, they avoided talk of conspiracies and threats instead speaking of ordinary events. Scully recounted William's latest milestones and her wonderment at each new change. Mulder spoke about his plans for the cabin.

"The empty bedroom would be for William, of course. I've got a basketball hoop in the shed that I plan to put up. It'll only be good for shooting practice until I can get a half-court blacktopped." But I'm not ready to invite contractors out here yet.

He hesitated before diving in further. "I've been considering my finances, Scully. So far, I've been living off my savings and some past investments. And there's my inheritance. I still have Mother's bungalow in Greenwich and Dad's house in Martha's Vineyard, both of which rent out for a reasonable amount. Soon though, I'll need to get a job."

Scully seemed to consider this new topic carefully. Income and finances had never been something they discussed before. They'd spoken of their careers in terms of fulfillment and duty, not income. Except for an occasional extravagance and perhaps some wardrobe choices, they were both fairly frugal with their personal spending. Their salaries had never allowed otherwise.

"I've been reviewing my finances of late as well," she tentatively offered. "I didn't fully realize how expensive a child could be."

"Scully, I want to help."

"You misunderstand me, Mulder. I wasn't asking for help. I can do it. I thought about the money. It's just...I wanted a child so desperately. Finances weren't something I'd fully considered ahead of time. William's worth every penny, though."

"But, Scully. I want to help."

"I can manage."

Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.

"Okay, so you can manage. Would you allow me the privilege of assisting?" He's my son too!

"So what kind of job would you get?" The shift back in topic wasn't lost on him. At least she hadn't said no.

"I was thinking of teaching and writing."

"Not at Quantico." It was half statement, half question.

"I don't think they'd have me." His lips pursed into a wry smile. "No, I was thinking more like George Washington or University of Maryland. GW's thinking of broadening the horizons of its psychology department. It might not be the X-Files, but it would allow me to pursue certain aspects of the work."

"But would that make you happy?" She spoke the question softly, her eyes trying to seek the truth in his.

"Being with my family is what would make me happy."

His response must have come too swiftly. She looked at him with a mixture of longing and pain, obviously doubting his words. He walked over to her and squatted down beside her chair, taking both her hands in his and capturing her gaze to further emphasize what he needed to say next. "Look, Scully. They've taken the X-Files from us before, and it seemed that the work was all that mattered. I needed to find the truth, and it seemed to lie in those files. This last dismissal finally let me see the real truth...and it wasn't in those files. The real truth is in you, and me, and a tiny child. You are my touchstone. Without you, I can no longer find a reason to continue the work.

"My quest started as a search for my sister and a need to make sense of what had happened that night. That led to deeper paths and the need to know what parts my parents played. What would be so important that it would be worth them sacrificing my world? I needed to know who or what was responsible for all the pain and destruction. I needed to place blame. I needed to understand. My quest was always a search for the family I'd lost. I just didn't realize it until I'd been separated from you and William. Those ghosts of the past are now buried.

"I still wish to explore extreme possibilities, but it doesn't consume me the way it once did. Doggett and Reyes have the X-Files now. Whatever personal demons they need to exercise, we both know that they'll honor the search.

"Scully, the world's always been an unsafe place to travel through life. All that makes it worthwhile is knowing that at least one person cared enough to journey with you. William. You. I. Together. That is what would make me happy. That is what I need to be whole. Even though you don't actively practice medicine, you are a healer, Scully. You've healed me."

Her mouth quivered and her face contorted as she fought to hold back the welling emotion. Not her most attractive, she thought. He'd never seen a sight more lovely.

She lifted his hands to her face and placed her cheek against his fingers. He gently removed one hand and pulled her tight to him, leaving her cheek against the remaining palm, stroking her ear.

"Mulder, I want that too. I want it so badly, that I'm afraid to taste its sweetness for fear that it'll crush me when it's gone. I can't lose you again. It'd kill me."

He pulled back slightly and held her eyes. "You can't ever lose me, Scully." He touched a palm to the top of her head, "I'm in here," and then over her heart, "and here". "Our next separation will be brief, I promise. I'm not going anywhere."

"I wish I could believe that."

He rose to his feet, pulling her up with him. His voice was husky as he responded, "Then borrow the convictions of my belief." His lips fell full upon hers, parting them. She responded immediately, her need meeting his own.

There was nothing delicate or reserved about this kiss. They'd both held back for so long. Now the floodgates opened. He wrapped his arms tighter about her, stroking her back and sides. She untucked his shirt to access the skin along his back. He undid the buttons at her neck, moving his lips to her fully exposed throat. She let out a soft moan as he trailed kisses along the sensitive skin.

"Scully," he breathed her name into her ear, giving it a gentle nip before moving his mouth down to her shoulder while his hands loosened her blouse enough to expose more skin. He trailed one hand across the curve of her breast on its way down to cup her hip. One of her hands wound its way underneath his shirt, gently toying with the hair across his chest, then his nipples and sides. The result sent shivers straight to his groin.

Do you have any idea what you're doing to me?

His mouth returned to hers capturing it with a fierce passion as his hands took care of her shirt's remaining buttons. She lowered her arms so that it could drop to the floor, then reached up behind her back and undid the clasp of her bra. A simple shrug and it joined its companion on the floor. His lips left hers for only the brief moment it took to pull his own shirt over his head and drop it crumpled next to hers. He trailed the back of his fingers from her waist up to her breasts exploring the full soft curves. She hooked her thumbs in the back of his jeans' waistband holding his hips firmly against her.

"Mulder?" She breathed rapidly.

"Should I stop?"

"No...don't ever stop."

He kissed her even more deeply and clasped her firmly against the whole length of his body. If she had any possible doubt of his arousal, it was erased. He was tempted to lift her into his arms to take her to the bed. The theatricality of it felt right, but he didn't trust his balance on the steep steps. Instead, he reluctantly separated from her, took her by the hand and led the way up to the loft.

Mulder awoke with Scully's naked form nestled against his side. He lay on his back watching the streaks of moonlight across the ceiling. The cabin was dark, the table candles having sputtered out several hours ago. He breathed in the heady scent of her hair, luxuriating in her presence. How many times had he woken similarly, dreaming of having her tucked beside him? Now it was real.

I could die happy right now.

She murmured in her sleep and buried deeper into his side seeking warmth. A small thrill crept through him, and he told his nether regions to behave. One of his arms was wrapped around her torso partially pinned beneath her body. With the other, he shifted the covers up to better protect them from the chill air, trying not to disturb her. Even so, he couldn't resist a soft caress of her upper arm.


"Hush, Scully," he whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep."

"No. It's all right." She rolled onto her other side, getting more comfortable. He shifted in response, cradling her back against his chest.


"Yes, Mulder?"

"I love you."

"I know." Even though he couldn't see her face, he could hear her smile as she echoed his earlier words back to him.


"Yes, Mulder?"

"Would you marry me?"

He felt her slight stiffening. She turned and propped herself on an elbow in order to see his face in the moonlight.

"Mulder, we can't afford to make those kinds of plans."

"Okay, Scully. Let's suppose for a minute that we could. Let's suppose that I wasn't still in hiding, that there were no threats, and that there are no conspiracies. I know it's hard, but just erase them from the equation for a while." He paused and took a deep breath, gazing up at her. "Dana Katherine Scully, I love you. Will you marry me?"

"Why, Mulder?"

He shifted his position to mirror hers. "What do you mean, 'Why, Mulder'?"

"Why do you want to marry me? And don't tell me, it's to make an honest woman of me."

"I do want to make an honest woman of you," he replied, the tip of his finger caressing her shoulder. "I also want to make an honest man out of me. I love you, and I don't want anyone to be able to deny or question my right to be with you. Or William."

He thought about those times in the past when he could bulldog his way to her side with a flash of a badge and the excuse of being her partner. With that credential lost, he risked their separation during precious times when they'd need each other most. "I don't want to have to justify our right to be together."

"Those are negative reasons," she chided.

"Scully," his voice indicated his exasperation. "How many ways do I need to say this? I want to build a life with you. I don't want to apologize to anyone for being by your side. I want the whole world to acknowledge what you and I already know, that we belong together. I want to be there to rejoice in the good times. I want to be there to comfort you in the bad times. No questions. You are as essential to me as air. And even though you could go on without me, I would do my very best to make you happy."

"Mulder?" She leaned forward and breathed the question on his lips.

"Yes, Scully?"

"Why won't you let me call you 'Fox'?"

The question surprised him. He gave her a quick peck on her soft lips to cover his discomfort, then his face broke into one of his quirky half-smiles. "You can call me 'Fox' if it'd make you happy." His fingers traced small circles on her hip.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it...Fox."

How to explain to her the impact of hearing his first name on her lips? A name that had brought him such ridicule as a boy, rang of disapproval from his father, and had caused no end of embarrassing explanations as a man, sounded tantalizingly seductive coming from her now.

The first time she'd called him Fox, it'd felt too intimate. He'd known then that he was in danger of loosing his professional detachment, so he'd told her some crap about how he didn't even let his parents call him by his first name. Fox and Mulder seemed like two different people now. Mulder was the capable professional adult. Fox was the vulnerable little boy. He trusted her with Fox, but he'd rather be Mulder.

"Your lips are distracting when you say that, Scully. You'd better stick to 'Mulder' in polite company."

"But I'm not in polite company, am I," she responded tartly, rubbing her thigh against his.

"Woman, would you just answer the question?"

"The name is Dana, not Woman. Which question would that be, Fox?" she asked with mock innocence.

"You know damn well which question." He snatched her wrist to stop her hand from playing with his chest hair. He didn't intend to be distracted and his patience was straining its boundaries.

"Oh, that question." She looked away for a moment, gradually schooling her playful manner into an earnest seriousness. Her eyes searched his for what seemed like eons. He held his breath.

"Fox William Mulder. Father of my son. Partner. Lover. Friend. If the world would let us, I would be honored to be your wife."

His heart exploded with pride and awe. She'd said 'if', but he didn't care. He could deal with 'if' later.

It was a bittersweet morning. Scully woke with Mulder's arms draped about her. They lingered in bed and made love slowly, savoring every touch, every moment, knowing it might be their last. Voicing their commitment last night brought with it a sense of peace. All too soon, however, that peace would disappear. The world couldn't be held at bay much longer.

Oh, why didn't I just dive into his arms at the start?

Regret wouldn't make things any different. Moving forward was the only option, and as always, she'd do what she must. Her colleagues at FBI headquarters had called her "The Ice Queen" behind her back. It wasn't fair considering the chaotic fire that burned behind her calm exterior. She'd cultivated that protective front in order to shield her vulnerability from public spectacle, a necessary survival trait growing up as a navy brat. She'd perfected the skill during med school and then working at the male-dominated FBI. The other agents had also called her "Mrs. Spooky" when she'd begun working with Mulder. Scully had chafed at the pejorative, but now thought of the nickname with a touch of fondness.

Not wishing to be apart, they shared a shower, an intimacy somehow greater than sharing the bed. They lingered there as well, but couldn't postpone the inevitable. It didn't take long to gather her belongings and pack the car. Mulder busied himself preparing the house for an extended absence including loading the perishables from the refrigerator into a large cooler. She watched him with a quizzical look. This domestic attention to detail was out of character, not that he'd ever been all that untidy, just that he didn't usually pay attention.

"How long do you expect to be gone?" she asked his back.

"Not long I hope, but likely long enough for this to become a putrid mess if left behind. I'm only packing the things that'll spoil. I hope you have room in your refrigerator." He hoisted the cooler and headed out to load it in the car.

She poured herself a cup of the remaining coffee, realizing he'd just taken the milk out in the cooler. Instead, she used the powdered creamer she found in the pantry. She sat down at the dining table and looked about the great room. The house seemed lonely now. It had lost some of its cozy quality.

Mulder entered the house, stomping his feet at the entrance to remove the dirt from his soles. "Any coffee left?" he asked.

"Enough for another cup or two."

He ducked into the kitchen and returned shortly, settling himself at the table across from her, cup in hand.


"Yes, Mulder."

He hesitated. "About last night. When you agreed to marry me, you said 'If the world would let us'. What's really stopping us? We could hop a plane to Vegas and make it legal before anyone would be the wiser." She felt the skin pinching about her features, then he quickly added, "You're not holding out for the full regalia, are you Scully?"

"Mulder, you and I are not the only people this impacts. Even if I were inclined to say 'I do' in some cheesy casino chapel with an Elvis impersonator as chaplain, I feel that I owe my family some sort of conventional ceremony after they've put up with my unorthodox life decisions. With Melissa dead, I'm the only daughter with whom my mother will ever be able to plan a wedding. I can't deny her that. She's dealt with so much already." Scully stared into her coffee cup, gently swirling its contents. "I don't know, Mulder. Somehow, I'd always expected Missy to be the one to fulfill that obligation."

He reached over and placed his hand gently on her wrist, his expression softening. She knew Mulder was fond of the other Scully women. He had told her of how her mom and sister had both challenged and comforted him during her coma. Melissa's murder half a year later had been the result of an assassin mistakenly thinking she was Dana. Although she hadn't known it, Missy had likely saved both of their lives through her actions and sacrifice.

Amazingly, Margaret Scully hadn't blamed them for what had happened. Mom's steadfastness had been a consistent pillar of warmth and strength through each tragic turn of events during their time as partners. In fact, when she really considered it, her mom had probably been a better mother to Mulder than his own. Just because he no longer had parents and siblings to consider, didn't mean they could ignore hers. His thoughts must have followed a similar tangent for his face developed that guilty look she recognized.

"It's okay. Your mom deserves to be a part of it, but does Bill have to walk you down the aisle? I don't trust him not to throw a final punch at me when he gets the chance."

"It'll be far worse for you if he doesn't. My older brother doesn't take kindly to being denied his duties." Bill Scully had rigidly followed his father's path into the navy. Unlike her mom, he had not been forgiving of Dana's choices of career or companions, blaming them for many of the recent misfortunes in his family's life. Dana knew Bill loved her in his own overbearing manner. They just didn't understand each other. Bill thought of the world in absolute black and white terms; Dana had learned to see the world in its various shades of gray. Mulder simply considered him a bully.

"So we wait," Mulder sighed.

"I think it's best," she replied. "A wedding should be a celebration of life and joy, not some clandestine assignation."

"Soon, though."

"As soon as it's safe enough."

"I'm taking that as a promise." When she didn't reply, he stood, picked up the cups and headed to the kitchen to wash them as the final act of closing up the cabin. He returned to find her still seated, staring at her hands on the table. "It's time to get you back. Unfortunately, we need to go, Dana."

She gazed up at him with a neutral expression and headed toward the door. When they reached outside she looked up at him and asked, "So where's your car, Mulder? It's not here, and I don't remember any other cars when I picked you up."

"I parked on the west side of the park and walked over to meet you," he replied, "just in case".

The ride back to Selwyn Park was spent in thoughtful silence. She pulled into a space next to an unfamiliar car. It was the only one in the lot, partially shielded by overhanging tree branches.

He pulled her hand from the steering wheel, placed a folded piece of paper into it, and then carefully folded her fingers over the paper. "This is my new PCS phone number. Use it if you need me. It should be more secure than my last cell phone and the cabin line only hooks through to the computer. Besides I'm still not there very often."

Her eyes were downcast, staring at the paper in her hand. He reached over and gently lifted her chin until her eyes looked into his. His hazel eyes were warm as they tried to impart the importance of his message into her blue ones. "Scully, use it if you just want me or need to talk. It's okay. You don't need to go it alone." He punctuated his words with a kiss that was soft and uninsistent, a tender promise.

When he pulled away, he once again saw the beginning of unshed tears. She blinked them back and said softly, "You'd better go, Mulder. I need to go get William."

He quickly exited the car and stood there, his gaze following her car's retreat until it was fully out of sight.

REDEFINITION (Part 3 of 3) by L. N. McKnight

 Scully resolutely tried to wade through the last few papers left from before the weekend, but her mind wouldn't focus on the task. The lure to mentally relive the weekend's intoxicating moments was strong.

"Dana?" Celia caught her attention and motioned toward their office door where the handsome Mr. Perry was hovering.

"Is this a good time, Dr. Scully?"

"Sure, Mr. Perry, come in." She gestured to a side chair.

He walked toward her, surreptitiously taking in the office. His gaze lingered on the flowers gracing her desk slightly longer than the rest of her workplace's contents. Their initial glory was just beginning to fade.

Celia was preparing to leave when he stated, "I prefer Andrew, if you don't mind." Dana viewed Celia's raised eyebrows past his shoulder, amusement plain on her features. She was obviously torn between continuing on her errand and sticking around for the entertainment.

"Andrew's a nice name, but Bureau protocol would frown on the familiarity, Mr. Perry," Scully replied. With that, Celia ducked out. Dana noticed his chagrin at the rebuke and softened her expression to ease some of its sting. Even so, he took his seat a bit awkwardly, a small blush creeping up his cheeks.

"I thought I'd bring by the papers myself rather than having the office forward them," he recovered. "I wanted to be sure they arrived safely and that everything was in order."

"That kind of personal attention can often pay off in field work," she encouraged.

"I'm looking forward to my first field assignment, but that won't be for quite a while yet." He seemed eager and wistful, two traits she was readily identifying with him.

"Well, you still have to get through my class first." What was it about this man that made her so giddy? This wasn't like her.

Watch out or you'll embarrass yourself, Dana.

"I can't help notice your flowers. They're very lovely." His gaze bore into her. It was magnetic and inviting.

"They're from a friend."

"Nice friend," he deadpanned, watching her carefully.

Mildly distracted, she managed to recover. "Was there anything else you wished to discuss, Mr. Perry?"

"Not now, I've got to go. But, uh, I was hoping you could spare some time after class on Wednesday to review poison and parasitology detection techniques. I'm a bit confused and was hoping you could help clarify things." His puppy dog look touched a compassionate nerve in her. She felt a slight flush under her skin.

"I've got a staff meeting then, but I could spare some time early Thursday if that suits you."

"Could we get a conference room or someplace more private to talk?" He gestured toward Celia's desk. "I'm a bit uncomfortable with the arrangements here and don't think I'll be able to concentrate."

"We can use the debriefing area outside the autopsy suite if that'd make you more comfortable."

"Thank you Dr. Scully, that'll be fine. I look forward to your help." He rose and left her staring wonderingly at his back. His lean frame reminded her of Mulder.

I must have a thing for tall, dark and slightly lanky.

 After forensic class, Andrew Perry found a secluded space on the Quantico lawn. When he was sure there were no eavesdroppers, he placed a call from his cell phone.

"It's me," he replied after it was answered on the second ring.

"Do you have the information?"

"Not yet, but I think our enigmatic Dr. Scully has recently been in contact with Fox Mulder." He smiled to himself recalling her vague change in manner both this morning and during class.

"You're sure."

"Not positive. Let's just call it a very good hunch."

"Does she have it?" the voice asked.

"I don't know...yet."

"Well, perhaps I should pay her a visit."

"No. That won't be necessary. We have a date on Thursday."

"A lot can happen between now and then."

"Patience. These things take time." He tried to convey confidence and reassurance through the line.

"We don't have a lot of time."

"I know, but a little finesse goes a long way. Give me until Friday."

"You have this week, unless there are other developments."

"Then it's agreed."

As usual, they hung up without any pleasantries. Andrew withdrew a small vial from safekeeping, hidden within his inside jacket pocket. It was a little less than half full of a deep amber liquid. There was just enough of the artificial pheromone concoction for four small doses or two intense ones. He smiled a feral grin, contemplating his next private meeting with the lovely Agent Scully.

The motel room was unremarkable, alike so many others Mulder had occupied over his career. He sat on the bed, back propped against the headboard, papers strewn neatly around him. The document he'd been reading rested on his chest. His eyes looked heavenward, but his mind was focused inward, processing the disparate bits of data, searching for patterns. He'd been through most of the stacks several times before, but his intuition nagged that he was still missing something.

He absently removed a sunflower hull from his teeth having extracted the meaty nut from within. Scully once asked him why he didn't just buy the shelled variety, but he preferred to crack the hulls with his teeth. It helped him think.

Pinck Pharmaceuticals again.

Pinck Pharmaceuticals had been a front organization for much of the underground research concerning human cloning and alien-human hybridization projects. Despite the coaxing, his mind wouldn't add any further insight.

He picked up a gold CD ROM in its case that was lying by his hip and twirled it through his fingers nervously. He'd only been able to get a few of its files to run on his laptop, nothing seeming of value. The rest were encrypted. He wondered if it was worth the risk to pay The Lone Gunmen a visit with his latest find. Their hacking skills had proved highly valuable in the past. In fact it was the information he gleaned from their last database search that had led him to the disk's discovery in the first place.

He set the CD down and picked up one of the smaller stacks of papers. The top few sheets were a handwritten list of all the individuals and organizations they'd ever suspected of being involved in the shadow government. Some of this data had come to him through anonymous channels, some from Kersch. Most of the names he'd drawn lines through; they were the deceased. Another sheet, looking like a Venn diagram, held graphic scrawls indicating known affiliations and loyalties of the various parties.

Mulder knew his data wasn't complete. It never could be, but in the past he'd accurately deduced more from less. He had confidence in his abilities to do so again. He had to. He vaguely wished he'd had a roadmap like this eight years ago. Would he have made the same choices if he'd known the depth of the conspiracy's complexity then? The need to know had teased and tantalized him when he'd been too naive to truly calculate the personal cost, not just to him, but to those around him.

It had been a noble quest. He still believed that, but now he understood the true magnitude of the sacrifices and wasn't sure he could honestly say they'd been worth it. Somewhere along the line this network of scientists, conspirators, power brokers, and yes, even idealists, had devolved into little more than gang warfare. His entire FBI career had been about bringing the worst criminals to justice. It was his way of limiting the evil in the world. But how do you bring shadow people to justice when they are also behind the very framework that metes out justice? How do you do it without a badge? Perhaps you just try to stay out of the way and let them destroy each other.

Passivity, however, was not in his nature. He'd set about a reconnaissance trip this morning after tracking a local news story. It was about a recent fire at an abandoned warehouse formerly owned by one of Pinck Pharmaceuticals' subsidiaries. Upon investigating the property he discovered that the warehouse area was rather limited in size, just a front for a large laboratory and a small office space. He'd found the CD secured in a small firebox in a false back of the desk in the office. If he hadn't noticed that the drawer at the bottom was fractionally shorter than the others, he never would have found it.

Along with the CD had been two small vials of a thick amber liquid one labeled with the symbol for male and the other with the symbol for female. He'd opened the male-labeled vial, briefly held it under his nose, and cautiously took a sniff. He'd found the smell to be vaguely repugnant and quickly recapped it. Footfalls in another room had urged him to a hasty departure with his prizes.

Now he was trying to figure out what he had in his possession, and what it could mean to his future. He dearly hoped he had a future.

He waited and watched, his pulse quickening as he anticipated the moment of action. Even though Andrew chided him otherwise, Vincent Gilbert did indeed know patience. He'd patiently and methodically outlived his colleagues in this dangerous high-stakes game for the future. Andrew thought him merely a hired gun, and a buffoon at that. Vincent knew that ego was a weakness easily exploited, so it didn't bother him that Andrew took him for a fool. He planned to make use of the characterization when the time was ripe. Vincent believed that appropriate impatience was the key. Everything had its time.

He heard a key turning in the lock and the apartment door swing open. The sound of fumbling and a steady one-sided conversation came to him slightly muffled due to his concealment.

"Just a minute, William. I know you're getting hungry, but Mommy needs to unload a few things before we can get dinner. It'll only be a moment."

Scully placed the baby carrier on the floor by the sofa and returned to close the door where she dropped her purse, briefcase, and coat in a pile. Her high heels quickly joined them. She moved to go about her chores, paused, then removed her gun from her purse and placed it on the top of the entertainment console cabinet. William was getting ready to crawl, so it was best not to have her weapon in his reach. She'd have to think of a better place to secure it, but for now, this should do. The baby's fussiness became more insistent.

"Let's get you out of this confining contraption, okay?" She gently removed the safety straps of the car seat and eased his tiny arms out of his outdoor gear all the while clucking and gurgling to her son.

"Thank you, Mommy. I feel so much better now," she cooed, placing a small kiss on the crown of his head. If Mulder were here, she thought, he would have some sardonic witticism regarding her rapidly devolving conversation skills. Said with his wonderful quirky smile of course.

With William propped on one hip, she padded into the kitchen to start a bottle of formula warming slowly on the stove. On her way back to the living room she loosened her blouse from her pants and prepared to put William to breast. Her body wasn't producing enough to keep him satisfied, but she wasn't ready yet to terminate the intimacy. The bond she felt with her son at those moments was indescribably tender and infinitely precious. She indulged herself the brief fantasy of believing Mulder was here with them in her apartment, a scene of peaceful domesticity.

Too soon though, it became time to resort to the warmed bottle. She propped William in a high chair and set about preparing her own quick meal consisting of the weekend's leftovers. She was halfway through her dinner when the baby scrunched up his face concentrating, then gave her a wide-eyed bemused look when his posterior let out a noise disproportionate to his small size.

"Well! We'll have to teach you better table manners, little one."

He began to cry.

"Now, now, William, dear. I love you, but do you suppose that once in a while you could let Mommy finish a meal?" She let out a resigned sigh. "Oh well. Let's go get you changed." Scully scooped him up and took him to the changing table set up in a corner of the bedroom.

Clean and sweet smelling once more, she placed William down on the carpet and ducked into the bathroom to wash up. She paused a moment and peered at her reflection in the mirror. She seemed both tired and keyed up at the same time.

One more paradox of my life.

As she dried her wet hands she was startled by a sharp creaking sound in the bedroom.


She whirled and ran back through the door stopped short by what she saw. Two booted adult male feet stood on the carpet where William was supposed to be. Her gaze quickly tracked up the intruder's long legs and massive torso to where a bemused William was secured with one arm. A gun pointed at her heart was in the intruder's other hand.

"I believe you have something of mine."

Panic froze her thoughts.

Think, Dana. Detach and think.

She took a quick mental inventory. William, unhurt, so far. Gun, loaded, atop cabinet in living room. Second gun, not loaded, on bedroom closet shelf. Cell phone in purse. House phone in living room and here in bedroom on other side of intruder.

"And what would that be?" She honestly didn't know what he thought she had. William fussed looking like he was getting ready to cry. She prayed for him to keep silent so as not to tip the delicately balanced scales. Mommy's coming, darling.

"The contents of a small firebox removed from a burned-out warehouse in Virginia."

Mulder. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Ah, but I bet your partner does."

"Ex-partner. He left a long time ago. I don't know where he is or what he's doing."

"But you know how to reach him."

"...I wish I did." The man shifted his grip on William who began to cry in earnest. "Stop. You're hurting him!"

"Give it up, Agent Scully. You're a poor liar. I know you have been in contact with Fox Mulder. So, either you return my property directly or get me in contact with him or I silence this loud little fellow."

She closed her eyes briefly and let out a shallow breath. "202-595-1222." It pained her to realize how easily she gave up Mulder's new phone number. William was here and helpless. Mulder would know it was a trap and take appropriate precautions.

A self-satisfied Cheshire cat grin spread across his broad face. "It's been nice doing business with you, Agent Scully. Now slowly back away from the door."

She backed gradually into the living room angling toward the entertainment console. He followed carefully maintaining his aim at her heart. It was as if there was an invisible tether between them preserving a consistent distance. With each step backward, he advanced in kind.

"Keep away from the front door," he commanded gruffly.

She inched further toward the console.

Just a few more steps.

He surprised her by quickly broaching the remaining distance to the front door, his back to it. His gaze never left hers and his aim never wavered.

What now?

"In future, you may want to keep a better eye on this little guy." With that final comment, he lobbed William into the air, grabbed the door handle with his now free hand and departed abruptly.

Instinct took over as Scully lunged after William, headless of any obstacles. He bounced off a bottom sofa cushion and into her arms. It was a clumsy catch, but a catch none-the-less. She doubled over his small form, relief washing through her. William, for his part, was startled out of his bawl and even giggled at the new sensation.

She eased him to the floor, scrambled to retrieve her gun from its perch and ran to the exterior hallway. As expected, the corridor was empty. She drew back into her apartment, scooped William back into her arms and huddled over him sobbing uncontrollably.

Fox Mulder's cell phone, resting on the side table, sprang to life.


"Well, Mr. Mulder," an unfamiliar baritone greeted him. A deathly chill ran up Mulder's spine.

"How'd you get this number?" Mulder asked, afraid of the answer.

"Your luscious partner and I had a little chat."

Rage flashed to the surface. He knew Scully wouldn't expose him lightly. "You, bastard. If you hurt her, I'll kill you."

"How very noble of you. I assure you, however, that Ms. Scully has come to no harm... so far."

A hostage exchange, then. "So what do you want?"

"I desire a certain item currently in your possession."

"And what item would that be?"

"A computer disk, a gold CD ROM. Do you recognize the description?"

"Perhaps. What if I do?" His fingers clenched the disk case.

"I would suggest that it would be worth your while to return it."

"Why?" He needed the voice on the phone to explicitly state the terms of the exchange without his influencing that information.

"Well, Mr. Mulder. In the game of cat-and-mouse, the mouse eventually has to come out for food. The cat, however, has the luxury of waiting in comfort. I can offer you a house free of cats."

Some of his internal tension released. The caller didn't offer up Scully, so he must not have her. The threat was still real, just not imminent.

"How can you assure that and why?"

"Let's just say that we share a common dislike for cats, and that the contents of that disk would permit their eradication."

"If that's true, then I could just use the data myself."

"Ah, but you don't have, nor can you get access to, either the encryption codes or the proper hardware to utilize it. Hang on to it, and it's nothing but a worthless piece of junk. Besides, I doubt you have the stomach to do what is necessary."

"If it has value to you, it will have value to others."

"True. True. But the others are all cats, just waiting for a tasty morsel such as yourself to arrive near their swift paws."

This guy was starting to annoy him. "So how do I know you're not a cat, too?"

"You don't. Believe it or not, our interests are quite compatible."

"I could just destroy it."

"That too would be unwise."

"Cut the crap. If I give you the disk, how do I have any assurances that you and your ilk will leave me and mine alone."

"Did I mention that there were two liquid vials in the container with the CD? I'm assuming you have those in your possession as well, since they too were missing. You can keep them as an insurance policy. Put them someplace very safe where they can get both media and prosecutorial attention in the event of unfortunate circumstances."

"What if I simply do that now?"

"It surprises me that a man of your intelligence even asks that question, Mr. Mulder. Of course, all assurances of safety will necessarily be withdrawn."

Mulder eyed the vials in their case on the table across the motel room. "So, what are they?"

"I'll explain when I have the disk. Meet me at 675 Alexandria Way, Baltimore in four hours... with the disk."

Mulder recognized the address from his printouts. It was another property belonging to Pinck Pharmaceuticals.

"I'll be there." The line disconnected.

Mulder knew that by accepting the time and location restrictions that he'd admitted to being in the vicinity. However, he suspected that the caller knew this all along. He could only hope that he'd been told enough of the truth for it to be worth the risk. He was ready to go for broke.

Pick up. Pick up. Mulder impatiently willed the phone to be answered.

"Scully," she responded on the third ring.

Thank God. "Scully, it's me," he said in a rush.

"Mulder! I've been trying to get a hold of you, but the line's been busy. Don't listen to him Mulder. It's got to be a trap."

"Are you and William all right?"

"Mulder, are you listening to me?"

"First, I need to know how you two are doing."

"We're fine, Mulder."

"You're sure?" How many times had she told him that she was fine, when she was anything but.

"Yes. A bit shaken is all. You're not going to walk into his trap, are you?"

"We have to end this some time, Scully. How else can I come home?"

"Then I'm coming, too."

"Scully," his tone was mildly reproving.

"If it's a trap, you'll need someone to cover your back," she insisted. He lacked the will to argue with her, knowing she was right.

Mulder was early. 675 Alexandria Way was a non- descript warehouse on a non-descript wharf. Rather than menacing, it was somehow comforting. Funny, seems he'd spent more than his fair share of time around dilapidated warehouses like this one.

Scully would arrive soon. He should probably wait in the car. Instead, he turned off the engine and decided to take a look around. He heard the sound of a car engine coming from the other end of the building and headed in that direction to investigate, careful to hug the building's perimeter. He crouched down and cautiously peered around the corner when he reached the building's end.

Two sleek black limousines idled nearby, their demeanor at odds with the grime and decay of the surrounding structures. Three disparate men stood talking by the cars. The eldest was thin and stately, dressed impeccably in a designer dress coat and expensive shoes. His grim expression was that of one holding back unpleasant news. The youngest looked not much more than a boy really, wiry and full of unleashed energy. His jeans, leather jacket and sneakers matched Mulder's own current attire. The third man, however, was the one that held Mulder's attention. He was massive, like one solid muscle, his demeanor embodying physical power. He looked like he was capable of extreme acts of violence when he let the reigns loose. The amber glow from the sodium security lights intensified the eerie tableau.

Muscle man gestured toward the warehouse and the three walked toward it. The limousines departed shortly afterward, presumably to return later. Mulder rounded the corner of the warehouse. The men could have disappeared into any of several doors in its side. Time to go back and wait for Scully, he decided.

She was already there and climbing out of her car when he rounded the building. He placed a cautioning finger to his lips even though he knew she was too much of a professional to break the silence unnecessarily. If the occupants hadn't noticed their arrival before now, there was no need to further broadcast it. She already had her gun out and cocked although pointed toward the ground.

He crossed the remaining distance toward her and spoke softly. "Three men entered the building from the rear. I'm guessing one of them is our appointment. We're still early. Perhaps we can both look around a bit. I'll keep the appointment. You see if you can find out what the others are up to."

She nodded consent and they headed toward the warehouse together, sliding easily into old routines. Backing each other up was second nature.

Mulder winced at the squeal of the door as they entered. Their footfalls seemed magnified by his adrenaline-heightened senses. He headed forward into the center. Scully slid to the right, following the perimeter.

Only a couple of the overhead lights were on. It was enough to forego the use of their flashlights, but the contrasts were too great to be comfortable. Mostly, it was dim with the interior obstructions creating deep shadows. The building was an unremarkable, medium-sized warehouse filled with tall racks loaded with anonymous boxes. He was tempted to open one at random to determine its contents, but was drawn instead toward the brighter light at the far end of the racks. He approached cautiously, frustrated by his constricted view. He'd lost sight of Scully almost immediately. When he reached the end of the row, he stole a look around the edge.

Mulder registered only a millisecond of surprise before he slid into his well-cultivated mantle of arrogant self-assurance. He quickly raised his weapon, training it on the individual who startled him. It was the massive one of the threesome.

Don't let him see you falter. The stakes are too high.

"Well, Mr. Mulder
I see that you are punctual, an admirable trait." The baritone from his earlier phone call was seated behind a large wooden table with an open laptop in front of him. A single data cable ran from the laptop to a jack in the adjacent wall. Mulder couldn't see the screen, but it cast a bluish- white light onto the man's face.

"Who the hell are you?" Not his best line, but it would set a tone. Mulder was pissed, and he didn't care that it showed. Better anger than fear.

"Oh, didn't I introduce myself earlier. Pardon my manners. You may call me Vincent, Mr. Mulder. Please lower your weapon." Mulder was having a difficult time reconciling Vincent's cultured manner to his massive frame.

"Okay, Vincent, why shouldn't I just put you out of my misery now?" It was an idle threat. Although he'd been close a few times, Mulder couldn't bring himself to kill a man in cold blood no matter how tempting it seemed.

"Simply put, pull that trigger and you'll never be safe again. Go ahead and kill me. I'm not afraid to die. You really want to stop this now? Then allow me to finish my work."

"And what work would that be?"

"Why, saving the world from cats of course."

There he goes with the darn cats again.

Mulder lowered his weapon. Vincent appeared to be unarmed and perhaps he'd be more forthcoming without a gun aimed at his head. "And how do you propose to accomplish that?"

Vincent smiled a tight-lipped predatory grin. "Did you bring the disk?"

Mulder reached inside his jacket pocket and produced the item in question. He hesitated a moment before placing it on the far end of the table and sliding it over to the seated man. In the process he shifted position, trying to see the screen in front of Vincent. Unfortunately, he was at too much of an oblique angle to view anything.

Vincent gingerly removed the CD ROM from its case and loaded it into the laptop. His eyes appraised Mulder, assessing whether he'd pose a distraction, then returned to the screen. Vincent became intent as his fingers flashed across the keyboard. The predatory grin slowly broadened.

I hope I've done the right thing.

A few more minutes passed by as Mulder waited in silence. Finally Vincent looked up at him, a full grin on his face. "Mr. Mulder, you are free to go. May I suggest you live a nice quiet life, never forgetting to appreciate the beauty of ordinariness."

What? This is too simple. Something's not right.

A smaller hopeful voice told him not to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Wait a minute. I still need some answers. How do I know that now it's safe out there?"

"It's never safe 'out there', Mr. Mulder. It's just safer for you, or will be in a day or so, than it was a while ago."


"How isn't important. It is done."

"Then, why? Why do this? Why help me?"

"I already told you. Our interests are compatible."

Oh yeah, back to cats again. "Why threaten Scully's baby, then?"

"I needed to get your attention. No harm came to the child."

"You don't know that."

"I know what I'm doing Mr. Mulder. If any harm came to the baby, it was because Mommy put her priorities elsewhere."

Dead end. "So tell me about the vials. What are they?"

"Ah." His face positively beamed. The image was unsettling. "One of man's Holy Grails. The ultimate aphrodisiac. Essence of attractiveness. The perfect perfume."

"But it stinks."

Vincent chuckled low in his throat. "You obviously sniffed the wrong vial, Mr. Mulder. It also needs to blend with the proper gender's human chemistry to be effective."

"Besides a little R&R, this helps me how?"

Suppressed mirth crept across Vincent's face lending a sparkle to his hard eyes. "I'd suggest rather small amounts if you're planning on using it recreationally. I'm surprised a man of your appearance would even consider the need. Having difficulty getting a date, Mr. Mulder?"

So nice to know that I amuse you.

Scully inched along the inside perimeter of the warehouse careful of where she placed her feet. Her eyes were having trouble adjusting after she accidentally looked into the glare of one of the lights. She heard a small shuffling sound to her far left, figuring it was Mulder making his own way through the dim facility.

Up ahead she noticed light pouring through a transom window of what she supposed was an office area. Gun at the ready, she angled up to the door then peered through the small window in its side. Beyond was a brightly lit, empty hallway. She opted to check it out.

Stealthily walking through the corridor, a sudden crash led her to the men's bathroom. She entered, unannounced with her firearm positioned straight out in front of her. A well-dressed elder gentleman lay in a heap on the floor, a metal trashcan rocking in an arc nearby, its contents strewn across the floor. She rushed to his side and rolled him over. His face had a bluish tinge. She lifted his eyelids verifying his non-responsive pupils. A quick check of his other vitals confirmed that he was dead.

Well he's not going anywhere.

She left the bathroom and headed back down the hall. Most of the rooms were small empty offices. The door up ahead had a sign reading 'Private'. She opened the door and stepped in to what appeared to be a gentleman's club. It had nearly all the accoutrements: mahogany wood paneling, wet bar, expensive paintings, and plush furnishings. All that was missing was a fireplace.

A few empty glasses sat forlornly on the tables. Picking up one with melting ice cubes, she sniffed cautiously. It smelled of Whiskey with maybe a trace of something else. She couldn't be sure. She returned the glass and walked to a door at the rear of the room. It opened onto a darkened anteroom with one-way windows looking into the warehouse.

"If any harm came to the baby, it was because Mommy put her priorities elsewhere." She stopped dead in her tracks. It was the voice of this evening's earlier nightmare.

"So tell me about the vials. What are they?" Mulder's voice came to her clearly from above. She looked up and noticed two speakers mounted at the corners of the anteroom, the source of the sound.

A movement outside the window caught her attention. Someone was quickly headed down one of the rack aisles. She left the anteroom and followed swiftly, trying to stay silent.

With blood pounding in her ears and her breathing coming in shallow gasps, she took a few precious seconds to take a quiet deep breath before whipping around the end of the rack, gun at the ready. The sight of Andrew Perry standing there with an automatic weapon trained on an out-of-view target knocked the air back out of her lungs with a rush. She stood there stunned.

What's he doing here? Where's Mulder?

Without loosing his aim, a mere twist of his head indicated that Andrew registered her presence. The quirk of his lips told her that he too recognized her in the gloom.

"Federal Agent, put down your weapon!"

Mulder dropped instinctively to a crouch beside the table and whipped his head around trying to locate the owner of the voice he'd recognize anywhere. A quick
Series of gunshots pelted the air as he dove completely under the table, aiming his gun toward the sound of their origin.

Damn! Can't see a thing.

A thud to his left caught his attention. Vincent's body lay on the floor, dead. A quick check indicated that although several bullets had hit their target, heavy body armor had deflected them. It was the one to the head that ended his life. Then the firing suddenly stopped.

"Scully!" Mulder called as he climbed out from under the table.

"I'm okay," she responded and relief washed over him. The shout was closer than her original challenge.

"What about our shooter?" he called back, fairly certain of the answer, but using the sound of his voice for her to home in on. It was even darker than earlier. At least one of the lights had been taken out during the shooting. The laptop, however, seemed miraculously undamaged, its internal glow spilling an ethereal light to the surrounding area. He craned his neck to see the display, then walked around toward it, stepping over Vincent's prone body.

"He's dead." Scully was nearer still. He wondered at the peculiar note in her voice when he finally got a good look at the laptop's screen.

Oh, shit!

The center of the display clearly read, "System Armed: 2:56 to Detonation". He was certain in his gut that disconnecting the data line would only change things for the worst.

"Scully! Run! It's going to blow!" He headed full out toward the exit, trusting her to do the same.

"Scully!" he shouted once again as he neared the outer door.

"I'm here, Mulder," came her breathless reply as she reached him. Something was jamming the door closed. He frantically threw his weight onto it. Once, twice, on the third try it broke loose. They scrambled out and headed full speed toward the cars.

Suddenly, Mulder found himself face down thrown into the pavement by the concussion. He rolled over to witness the building behind them turning into a giant fireball against the night sky. His raised arm was feeble protection from its intense heat.

"Mulder, are you listening to me?" Scully touched his arm for further emphasis.

He was trying, honest. He just couldn't stay awake anymore after a week and a half of sleep-deprived nights investigating the aftermath of their warehouse episode. Temporarily bunking with The Lone Gunmen hadn't helped any either. He should have known better even though it had seemed prudent at the time. The trio had been so thrilled to have him around that at times it'd seemed more like a bachelor party than an investigation. Trust Frohike to immediately ask after his video tape collection when in a moment of exhausted weakness he'd let it slip that he'd asked Scully to marry him.

Now, though, it was just the two of them on the couch in her apartment. William was in the bedroom, safely tucked in for the night. It was wonderful just to be able to be in her apartment with his two favorite people and unafraid of lurkers in the night. Despite his unplanned demise, Vincent had apparently kept his word about that. Every indication was that the threatening parties were no more. Their warehouse fire was one of dozens reported that night across the country, all belonging to Pinck Pharmaceuticals or one of its subsidiaries. Every name on his list had been reported either dead or missing over the last week.

More than one way to skin a cat, I guess.

Mulder had gradually lowered his guard with no ill consequences. It was time to take the next couple of steps.

"I'm sorry, Scully. You were saying?"

"I was telling you that we have very little conclusive forensic evidence to back up our story to the FBI's formal investigative team. The autopsy on the elder gentleman's corpse from the warehouse was inconclusive due to the damage from the bombing, although I suspect that he'd been poisoned based upon my cursory check at the time. Also, the two vials you gave me to have analyzed produced nothing in the way of definitive results."


"There were some anomalous unidentifiable organic compounds, but nothing that could be interpreted as a 'love potion', if you will."

"But everything else Vincent said panned out?" If this was false, then his apparent safety may be false also. He didn't want to question his homecoming.

"Mulder, I know you want to believe that those vials were some sort of pheromone elixir, even assuming that such a concoction would be effective on humans. The tests just don't confirm that. What we do know is that they are in fact two separate but similar fluid compositions. They are inert, don't appear to be dangerous or toxic, and they are not terribly pleasant smelling. Some perfumes have a shelf life. It could have decayed."

"But in only a few weeks?"

"We don't know when those vials were originally stored, Mulder. Or, what's more likely is that the heat from the fire in the warehouse where you found them effectively cooked the contents and altered the chemistry significantly."

His head found a comfortable spot in the top of the sofa cushion.

"Mulder...I keep wondering about Andrew Perry."

"Umnh?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear this, but she had his full attention.

"When he didn't show up for our appointment, not that I was really expecting him to...although I had hoped I'd been mistaken about that ID at the warehouse, I wondered..."

"You wondered what?" he finally prompted when the pause went on too long.

"I wondered that maybe the attraction properties of your 'love potion' were real. It would help explain part of my reaction to him."

"But not all."

"I checked him out, Mulder. Great mind. Fine record. He would have made an outstanding agent."

"Not the kind to get relegated to the basement, you mean." He couldn't hide the twinge of renewed irritation he felt from her earlier confession regarding the now-deceased Mr. Perry.

He felt her weight shift on the sofa. Her warmth settled against his side. Her mouth was only millimeters from his own. She brushed their lips together as softly as a butterfly's wings, before whispering in his ear. "Mulder, I don't need a pheromone elixir to find you irresistible."

How could he argue with an apology like that?

She waited and watched, her pulse quickening with anticipation. The tip of her thin veil gently tickled the tip of her nose. Funny, the butterflies in her belly seemed worse than any she'd felt canvassing a perpetrator's hide out.

Relax, Dana. You're finally coming home.

She looked up into the face of her older brother, Bill. In full naval dress uniform, he looked even more like she remembered their father.

"I'm happy for you, Dana. Truly I am." He even smiled when he said it. It was as close to a blessing as she and Mulder would ever get from Bill. Because she wasn't expecting his endorsement, it made the day even more special.

She dared a glimpse down the aisle. Mulder was breathtaking in his black tie and tails. He looked so calm and confident, no indication of any last minute hesitation. It made her lightheaded just to look at him.

This is really real. No bees carrying alien viruses. No undead zombies. No conspiracy threats. Just her, Mulder, their family and friends. All human and friendly. It was enough to make her even more lightheaded than she already was.

Finally, it was time. The music swelled and the guests stood at attention, waiting for her entrance. She started down the aisle only aware of the look of undisturbed joy emanating from Mulder's smile as she approached. She watched his eyes, her gaze never wandering from his. Their hazel depths radiated love.

Now was the moment of truth. Even though they'd committed their lives to each other numerous times before, never had it been as unambiguous as this vow in sight of both God and family. Although many words were said, "I, Fox William Mulder, take thee, Dana Katherine Scully, to be my lawfully wedded wife" were the only ones she really heard. They were branded on her heart and symbolized by new rings of gold on their hands. No more mixed messages. No more second- guessing. She certainly had plenty of witnesses to provide her proof should she still need it.

Their kiss by the altar placed a tender seal on their promise. Turning as one, they strode out between the well-wishers to define their new destiny together.

He sat discretely in the balcony surrounded by invited guests, easily blending in. It was your typical wedding, he thought, except for that the bride and groom were anything but typical.

He was happy for them, truly he was. He'd been watching them for years, carefully staying out of their notice, unlike his associates. With their new life ahead, he figured they'd be busy with the more mundane business of life. He envied them this fresh start, he supposed.

If he was honest, he'd admit that they'd posed a challenge that he would miss. Instead, he merely told himself that he was glad that they wouldn't be interfering with any of his new plans. It was time to define a new era.


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