Title: Partnership II: Reconstruction
Authors: Glymax and Anne Cologna
Rating: PG-13 for language
Classification: S/X A
Archivists: This is the second installment of a serial entitled Partnership. Follows The Partnership I: Dissolution
Spoilers/Time line: You *MUST* read Partnership I: Dissolution to know what we've done with our heroes. Essentially, just pretend that everything after Paper Hearts (US mid-season 4) never happened.
Relationship: Platonic We'd like to campaign for a category called MSP, for Mulder-Scully Partnership - see author notes in the final post of Dissolution for explanation.
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the television program "The X Files" are the creations and property of Chris Carter, Fox Broadcasting, and Ten-Thirteen Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended, nor do we intend to profit from this work.

Summary: The search for Samantha continues and has serious implications for the future of Mulder and Scully's partnership. Writing Note: It is easier to destroy than to create.

Yo dude, you remember that two-fer, man, the one with the boxcar, and the lots and lots of files? That was pretty cool, wasn't it? Yes, but there was a middle piece to the trilogy, one of some intense character exploration and explanation. This is very similar. This is not the action of Dissolution - we're getting to that in part three. This is the set-up to that, including something nearly as memorable as Skinner's kissy-kissy line to Cancer Man.

This is our attempt to reconstruct what we rather gleefully tore apart in the first installment. They put this partnership together in four seasons (or five years, Mr. Carter - tsk, tsk, tsk), and we're trying to resolve it in 250 K. And, gee, didn't someone else have a similar idea about one supposedly betraying the other? We just know we saw that somewhere recently? chuckle

Character Note: We have taken nearly the entire cast of XF characters at the time of Paper Hearts. This includes perhaps the most controversial character on the show, and we don't mean Queequeg. For some of you, seeing her name will result in the instantaneous striking of the delete button. sigh Okay, we know how you feel.

We didn't create her, we didn't cast her, and if we had, we sure would have given her much better writing and direction. We have personal thoughts on the character of Marita Covarrubias not necessarily reflected here, but best summed up as, "If you make her more than just set dressing, there's some potential there." Rather than just strike her from our memory, which blots out Herrenvolk, Tunguska, and Zero Sum, we have implemented her in ways we *think* are tolerable.

May we beg you to stick with us for a while? You might like it :-)

It's hard to use a character so controversial and make her an intricate and vital part of the story, but there she is. Our opinion? We're going to explain the conspiracy - and we're using as many people as possible to do it. Our goal is to make something CC should have thought of. The way to break Mulder and Scully up is from the inside - wait! Didn't we just see that a couple of weeks ago! snicker just had to say it again.

Acknowledgments - Still quoting the Bible and Anne's favorite singer. And a HUGE thumbs up and grateful bow to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, Melinda McGraw, Sheila Larken and others, who's wonderful portrayal of these characters helped us relieve our stress and work through our own angst, as well as give us a few chuckles.

And to Elizabeth M., whose short story sent us off on a wonderful adventure.

BIG THANKS to Jeannie, Emily, Je Nie, Grace and Miki, our incredible Beta Readers. It is amazing and humbling that you have encouraged us and challenged us with so much enthusiasm and sincerity, significantly impacting the final product. We Love You Guys!

Author's Notes - our final installment to this is a further explanation of our collaboration and what we were trying to accomplish. If you're one that wants insight into the creation of such an animal or if you desire to give feedback, check out the last section.

Finally, to Kathleen Lietz - "We're Back!" A Beta Reader's Circle collaboration


"It's time."

"The date is near."

"You know the importance of this work to our project."

"It'll be taken care of."


Friday, January 1, 1999

It had been a long time since she had encountered the familiar stomach-plummeting that accompanied descending into an airport. Not a long enough time, but in a perverse sense, she missed her old traveling days. Scully gripped the armrests once more, noting the location of the airsick bag just behind the SkyMall catalog. So good to be heading back, finally heading home after a long, lonely absence. Even if her assignment had been cut short unexpectedly - a lack of funding, the memo had said - she could not deny that she needed the security of her family.

She had spoken with her mother during her layover in San Francisco, and knew that she would be greeted by that familiar smile and welcoming hug. It had been nearly two years, longer by far than any other time in her life without her mother. Or any family member. She had relegated herself to one monthly call supplemented by daily e-mailing, and her mother had picked up on the computer age faster than she had expected.

I'm a different woman now. But the differences weren't necessarily good ones. More intense, more suspicious, more wary of risks. Certainly more alone. She had been overseas in Moscow for twenty-one months, three months short of the original assignment to assist in instructing forensic investigative techniques.

In the early months of 1997, the FBI had grown more and more nervous about the credibility of their pathology department after several very public gaffes were disclosed, including doubts about the work performed on the Oklahoma City bombing. Scully had served as a diplomat, a professor, a public relations specialist for post-Cold War collaboration, a poster girl for the FBI reputation back in the States, and a student - but not an agent. She hadn't carried a gun at all, much less a cellular phone, even thought she had been offered one. Too many memories.

Despite her extensive travel in the United States, Scully had never been in another country. She discounted a long-ago trip to Norway, shoving that to a seldom-visited stash of mental images that she did not want to dredge up now. Her tourist instincts had been rusty, and her lack of travel companions combined with her reluctance to wander had left her in solitude for much of her time. She had visited some museums and historical sights, but had never mustered much enthusiasm for them. Her colleagues had regarded her as the consummate professional, but described her as aloof and private. She spent an inordinate amount of time at the hospital research library, using the computer to navigate the Web to keep up on the latest events.

The flight attendant stopped by once again with a tray filled with cocktails, the final offering before landing. Scully had upgraded her ticket to first class, moreso to be among the first off the plane than for the fancier food and beverages. As she finally felt the wheels reach down to embrace the runway, she took a quick inventory of the packages she had stored under the seat, presents for her nephew and godson and, of course, for her mother. The announcement of the flight attendant reminded everyone to remain in their seats, despite the clicking noise of the passengers unfastening their seat belts. She stood up simultaneously with the bell signaling their arrival at the gate, and was the first in line when the door opened.

Her walk down the red-carpeted runway was brisk. She wanted to see her mother, not murmur her thanks and 'Happy New Year's' to the flight crew. As she reached the waiting area, she was momentarily distracted by a crying little boy whose leg was stuck between two chairs, screaming loudly as a maintenance worker lowered a saw to the chair. Just behind the maintenance cart though, was Margaret Scully, holding her arms out to receive her daughter.

"Oh Mom, I'm so happy to be home," she said, surprised to find her voice catching in her throat. She couldn't hear her mother's response, but clutched her tighter as she fought tears.

Her mother's hug was strengthened by another arm, definitely male, accompanied by a small hand tangling in her hair. "Welcome back, sis," a deep voice said.

Scully looked up to see her brother Charles nearly drop his armful of little boy.

"Dana! Dana! Dana!" Her nephew was wriggling furiously in the grasp of his father, trying only to thrust himself in the arms of his aunt. She recognized his tear-streaked face as the mischief-maker who had required the demolition of two waiting room chairs.

Scully laughed and leaned over to give the toddler a quick kiss on the head. "Did you get stuck in the chair Billy? You've changed so much I barely knew you."

The little boy nodded. Now convinced that the spotlight was off him, he tucked his head under his father's chin with a yawn.

Maggie Scully looked at her grandson with a knowing smile. "Too much excitement for him today. Let's go get your bags, honey, while Charlie goes and gets the car."

They separated and moved to the escalator to the baggage claim. Scully did nothing to stop the satisfied grin on her face, feeling an overwhelming combination of relief, fatigue and a twinge of anxiety. So long. Too long. She remembered her certainty, her absolute belief on that April morning that leaving was the correct step, the only step, for her to take. She hadn't anticipated how much she was leaving behind, nor how much she would miss it.

Her mother linked arms to maneuver through the crowds, keeping an eye out for the carousel with her daughter's airline logo above it. Maggie Scully had once been used to the long absences of her husband when he sailed with the Navy, but her daughter had never been gone more than a semester at a time. She noted the longer hair, a bit darker and curlier than she used to wear it, framing a face that showed traces of worry and fatigue. Her slight frame was swallowed in her customary bulky trench coat, but she suspected there was "less meat on her bones", as Bill Scully used to tease. Maggie sighed, wishing that her daughter's assignment had presented an opportunity for less stress, more relaxation. Perhaps her earlier difficulties had been replaced by different ones, no less bothersome, just different.

Scully disengaged herself long enough to snag her two large bags that had luckily been among the first out of the chute. She quickly attached the long shoulder strap the garment bag and pulled on the handle of the other, wanting to get out of the crowd of people. Her mother reached over and took the handle from her, leading her to the exit and a shiny new Jeep Cherokee outside the door.

"Nice car, bro! When did you invest in this one?" Scully handed over her bag to her brother for storage in the back of the vehicle.

"Oh, a while back. It makes sense for us, now that the family is growing in number." He looked over at Scully, waiting for the comment to register.

"Congratulations, Charlie! When is she due?" Scully reached up for a kiss on his cheek.

Her brother blushed warmly, his grin as endearing as the match between his hair color and skin tone. "Sometime next month. We didn't tell you because we wanted it to be a surprise when you got back. Now that you're back early, well, you can get in on the big event. Emily is waiting for us back at the house. She wanted to come, but she was tired and I made her take a nap instead." He swung the back door open to allow Scully to climb inside. She looked at the now-sleeping child safely fastened in his car seat and tried not to jostle him as she reached for her own seat belt.

She made quiet conversation with her brother and mother in the front seat as they traveled back to the Scully home. As her brother turned off the freeway and navigated the Jeep through the commercial district, Scully grew quiet, losing herself in her childhood remembrances. She took a deep breath and felt a gentle smile cross her face. So many thoughts jumbled her mind that she moved to the odd idea of issuing them tickets to wait in line for proper consideration.

She had the weekend to recover from her impending jet lag, nurtured by her mother's cooking and the closeness of her family. She also wanted a long hot bath, the Sunday newspaper, and a good long session on her mother's couch with her grandmother's afghan wrapped around her. Maybe even a football game or two.

She roused herself from her plans when the Jeep turned into the driveway to her mother's home. She turned to Billy, who had nearly swallowed his thumb and hand, it seemed, and shook him gently.

"Don't worry about him, Sis," Charlie met her eyes in his rearview mirror. "I'd like him to sleep a bit longer if we can manage it. I'll get your bags. Mom can get him."

Scully stepped onto the driveway and gazed at the house. A burst of energy propelled her to run up the steps and into the kitchen, taking in the smell of spicy chili and cornbread and the sight of a very pregnant Emily removing sugar cookies from the oven.

"Welcome home, Dana!" Scully leaned in carefully to hug the woman, not wanting to jostle her too much or transfer the flour dust littering Emily's maternity top to her own clothes.

"Congratulations on the little one. How are you feeling?" Scully replied, hanging her coat on the rack next to the door.

"I'm doing okay. A little tired, and definitely ready for this guy to make his entrance. Want a cookie or something to drink?"

"No thanks, I'm going to hold off for a bit." Scully sat down at the table, absorbing the myriad sounds and sights that represented contentment. Home.

Finally.

The weekend swiftly passed, filled with her mother's attempts to remind her stomach of the goodness of home cooking and her siblings' telling of current events. Scully related accounts of her experience in Moscow, while leaving out the nature of her work. Her nephew punctuated the stories with various gifts of welcome - a rock, his just-chewed piece of gum, a crayon drawing of his cats Jack and Jill, and a snapshot of him and his aunt on his second birthday, two years before.

Through it all, Maggie watched her daughter with accumulating concern. She had grown noticeably thinner, and Maggie had waged war against her daughter's thin frame with Dana's favorite meals. Her appetite had grown a bit with each sitting, but she still was not satisfied.

What worried her more was her restlessness. Dana was obviously glad to be home again. It wasn't that her experience in Moscow had been negative; Dana had repeatedly stated how fortunate she was to have been given the opportunity and how well her superiors had complemented her work there. She had not mentioned any close acquaintances that she had developed, and Maggie was fairly certain her daughter had not found many chances for companionship. She also suspected that Dana would not have explored any avenues of friendship beyond the most casual.

On a number of occasions, Maggie had seen Dana lost in thought, pretending to read a paper or listen to music. She had asked her once what she was contemplating, but her daughter had declined to tell her, blaming it on fatigue. Maggie had her own ideas of the thoughts in her child's head, but resolved to be patient.

One habit she had never relinquished was her Sunday evening ironing, although she would have to forego her favorite television show, as the television was in the living room. Scully finished ironing her blouse and hung it carefully in the closet. She unwrapped the red suit, her favorite, from the dry cleaning plastic, deciding to wear it on her first day back to work teaching at Quantico. Unpacking and arranging her old room had taken all evening, as her mother had insisted on her staying here until the sublet agreement was up on her old apartment. She had been fortunate that her mother was able to arrange for a reliable young couple to take over the apartment, furnishings included, while she was gone, but her early return left her homeless for three months.

Standing on tiptoe, Scully looked on the shelf in the closet for the small box that contained the shoe polish her heels desperately needed. In the back corner of the closet sat a box she remembered packing just before her departure. The dust accompanying the box's descent from the shelf caused her to sneeze twice, and as she pulled a tissue from the box on the dresser, she visualized packing up this specific box. This was her box of special mementos, photo albums and scrapbooks. It had been the last of her packing because it was the most difficult. They were Melissa's.

Scully hesitated before pulling up the flaps of the box. She could see the scarf she had placed on the top, but she hadn't remembered putting the cassette tape on top of that. In fact, she had deliberately put the scarf on top to prevent dust from getting in the box.

Oh well, must have forgotten.

The cassette was a simple blank one, similar to the ones Missy had throughout her music collection, preferring to dub from friends' compact discs instead of buying them herself. This one wasn't marked, but the tape was spooled about halfway through. Scully debated for a moment, but decided that she could handle the emotion that listening to her sister's music would undoubtedly bring forth. She popped the tape into her old tape player and pressed the Play button.

A soft piano marked the introduction of what seemed to be an acoustic piece. A woman's voice sang, her voice angelic...

"Hold on. Hold on to yourself. For this is going to hurt like hell."

Scully turned sharply as she heard the words, her body stiffening to an extent that was rigidly painful. Her breathing came in short gasps until it combined with a nausea that doubled her over. She sank to the floor and tried not to moan loud enough to draw attention from her mother. The song continued on, but she could only hear those first lyrics repeatedly, haunting her.

Scully waited nervously until she felt her stomach ease enough to allow her to stand. She switched the tape recorder off and sat on the bed, knowing with resignation that the past would engulf her. Why this particular song had triggered them was a mystery, but she recognized that her weekend-long effort of denying what she would face the next day was now over. She would embark once again on the journey she had forced herself to forget, the memories she had determinedly shoved aside when she left twenty-one months ago. Though not the memories of Melissa.

These would be memories of Mulder.

She had always considered him a man of subtlety, one who never revealed emotions without a price. Some might even call him passive or wooden, but she had spent too much of her life learning the finer points of his expression and emotion.

The skepticism - could that possibly be the right term for Mulder? - on his face when she had first entered the basement office nearly seven years ago.

Excitement when he explained his theory that the catatonic Billy Myles could not only walk, but he could also kill.

Disgust at finding bile on his fingers in Tooms' nest.

Concern and kindness when her father died.

Blinding intensity when he believed in the skillful lies Deep Throat had sown.

Wavering self-doubt as he was forced onto meaningless and condescending assignments that insulted his abilities.

Relief when he handed her a silly video.

Painfully searching a riverbank for any clue of the whereabouts of the woman he thought was Samantha.

Fevered grief amid his blood-covered shirt when his father died.

Compassion and understanding kneeling next to her in a hospital.

Fierce anger when demanding explanations and even apologies for atrocities she could not fathom.

Sensitivity to a young woman who most of society would merely step over or ignore.

Tortured, fatigued and wandering, as he sought approval from a man he once admired, even worshipped, before arresting him for murder.

A pleading, lost man sobbing at his mother's bedside, blaming himself for failing at a task that had no hope of success.

The devoted brother, holding a small plastic bag containing perhaps the only evidence of his sister, giving up the link to her to save another.

And finally, the last time she had seen him, furious and lashing out, gouging wounds so deep that she had to run away to protect herself.

A man of complex emotion, whose actions had once propelled her to decide that a continent and an ocean were necessary to effectively drive him from her life.

But that effort had failed. Her final computer search in Moscow, the one she had conducted when she received the memorandum ordering her to report back to the States, revealed that their geographic separation was over.

Agent Fox Mulder had been assigned to the FBI National Academy at Quantico.

 


Monday, January 4, 1999 8:30 a.m.

Scully moved through the halls of the pathology section at Quantico with an outward poise she did not feel. She was exhausted, having fallen into a fitful sleep just scant hours before. She had had a nightmare, her first in a while. Only one vision remained, a swirling pattern of letters set to the music she had heard on the tape.

Her eyes followed the drab colored walls at Quantico, noticing the changes in various lab rooms and cubicles. She reflected on the early morning phone call ordering her to report to the pathology lab instead of to the teaching lab of the Academy. She had not been surprised at her assignment to supplement the full-time pathology staff, although she hoped that she would soon be able to report on her efforts in Moscow. So much for her wardrobe attempts - she would be in scrubs for the rest of the day.

She had not seen anyone except the clerk when she had reported to the autopsy bay. A quick check of the faxed memo confirmed both her return to the States and her mandate to appear at Quantico almost immediately upon her return. "Staffing shortages" had been the cursory explanation, but she wished she could have also read the phrase "temporary relief" to allay her fear that the assignment would become permanent.

The body on the gurney was male, a John Doe, approximately 60 to 70 years of age. The cause of death was obvious; the bullets had obliterated much of the man's head. Still, she heard a soft voice in her head reminding her that the obvious was not always the accurate.

Scully grimaced softly as a dormant expectation grew inside her head. At one time, she would have had to marshal her arguments, prepare her counterpoint, and she had utilized that as a welcome relief to the routine of the autopsy procedures. Today, however, she was the only one making the conclusions, and the desired satisfaction from that point was substituted by disappointment.

She switched the tape recorder on and slipped on her gloves, catching her fingernail on the latex and snapping it painfully. Another comment she did not want to remember stubbornly played in her ears. Enough of the reminiscing - there was a job to do.

Two hours later, Scully was waiting for results from the labs she had ordered, including a set of X-rays to identify any remnants of ammunition in the body. She was sitting at an unclaimed desk in the clerk's office, not wanting to ask for an office that might invite a longer stay at Quantico. Newsletters from the past year were spread in an organized line, and she concentrated on reviewing the material she had not been able to obtain overseas.

"Agent Scully?" a male voice interrupted her reading.

It took her a moment to respond to the title, having long grown accustomed to the "Doctor Scully" by which she had been addressed for the past twenty months. She looked up to see a familiar face, still boyish and shyly offering admiration as always.

"Agent Pendrell, it's good to see you." Scully stood and crossed the room to offer her hand in greeting. "What are you doing here at Quantico?"

"I was reassigned here about a year ago. That sheep cloning breakthrough generated some interest in DNA research. No money, of course, just interest. I'm here now instead of in DC, which is fine by me. Less of a headache to get to work."

"I hadn't realized you had returned until your lab request came through this morning. I thought I'd bring the results by and welcome you back." He handed her a manila folder and looked at her, seemingly hesitant about his next statement.

"Agent Scully, would you like to have lunch?"

She stopped for a moment, not sure how much she wanted to traipse down Memory Lane on her first day back.

"Of course, I understand if you already have plans."

She looked up at him, recognizing that the obvious crush that had once existed quite plainly had faded somewhat. Kurt Pendrell was just simply a very nice man, and at this moment, Scully decided against her plan of skipping lunch.

"If we could stick to the cafeteria, Agent Pendrell, then I would like that."


Well, the nutritional value of the staff cafeteria had not improved. It may be true, Scully mused, that it has declined about as rapidly as my appetite. She headed for the salad bar, comforted by the repeatedly-proven belief that not even the dingiest of food service providers could mess up a salad bar.

She had been more interested in scanning the tables for familiar faces. Several agents and technicians nodded at her, but their names had not caught her attention. That was probably just as well, as she had not wanted to draw attention to herself at all. She had been tense since leaving her work area, hoping that she would not be recognized.

Pendrell had engaged her in conversation about her work, proving to be not only a good listener, but also one who offered more insight into developments about techniques she had been passing along to the Russian scientists. He had recently been promoted to a supervisory position that had allowed him more flexibility in the research topics he was pursuing.

"It's really quite fascinating. With the rapid advances made by using RFLP, we are much closer to understanding not only the function of individual genes at a specific loci, but also how these genes are linked and passed on during reproduction."

A slight blush crossed Pendrell's features when he realized what he had said. He looked away for a moment, struggling to regain his composure, and nervously cleared his throat before continuing.

"But we are attempting to take that idea one step further. We can already glean a multitude of information from a single DNA sample; gender, genetic abnormalities, et cetera. But what if we could actually match certain genes with absolute known characteristics? Take height or the predisposition for obesity, for example. Agents could bring a sample to the lab and within a matter of hours we could give them a complete description of the individual they are investigating."

"The applications of the research are numerous. It's truly on the cutting edge." He then smiled nervously, hoping he hadn't been rambling on and boring her.

"You're obviously well-suited for it," Scully offered a smile, then noted that she had relaxed for the first time since entering the cafeteria. She looked at Pendrell and decided to turn the conversation in a different direction.

"I realize now that it seems like a mundane request for you, given all you've just described, but were you able to identify the John Doe from this morning?"

"Not yet, but I requested that the information be forwarded to you as soon as possible. It should be available this afternoon."

"Thank you for the quick turnaround on this. I hope that - "

Her sentence dangled abruptly as she watched a tall man enter the cafeteria. His back was to her, but the resemblance was, for lack of a better term, spooky.

"Agent Scully? Are you okay?" Pendrell leaned over and lightly touched her hand.

The physical contact startled her from her trance, and she raised her napkin to her lips to conceal the shock she knew she had conveyed to Pendrell and anyone else looking her way. "I'm fine, just not quite used to the food yet."

Had she looked, Scully would have seen a near-perfect imitation of her usual skepticism on Pendrell's face. "You were quite pale there for a moment."

The man started to turn to pay the cashier, which would give Scully full view for confirmation. She looked around nervously and decided she needed a quick exit before she lost her lunch. "I'm okay now, but I would like to leave the lovely cafeteria odor. Would you excuse me?" She got up almost before she had finished the question.

He rose as much as he could before his tray threatened to spill in his lap. "Of course, Agent Scully. Take care now."

She smiled in response. "I will, and thanks for lunch."

Pendrell watched her walk out of the cafeteria, then saw another man also watching her exit. Fox Mulder turned to look at him with a questioning look on his face, one of disbelief. Pendrell, usually finding his emotions on display as if he were a billboard, was careful to keep his expression studiously blank, hoping that he could transmit a "don't even go there" stare without causing laughter. Mulder apparently received the correct message, moving to a window table and staring absently at the clouds, all but ignoring his lunch.


Mulder's Office at Quantico 1:12 pm

Mulder closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, trying to shake the headache that had developed since lunch.

So the rumor was true. Special Agent Dana Scully was back in town.

Not only back in town, but right here at Quantico.

He had been waiting for this day for a long time. Almost two years. And he had nearly convinced himself that they would be able to reconcile when she returned. Perhaps some of the wounds would have healed a bit and they could resolve the misunderstandings that drove her away.

Misunderstandings. A pedestrian word that inadequately labeled the events that had divided them. Shattering. Life-altering.

He had hung on after she left, collecting the remnants of his life as if swept into a dustpan. Very little dignity, even less self-respect. But he had his truth. His pursuit had run its course, leaving him in pieces.

He had managed to glue the shards together again, with help. His home was now a place of light and peace, fewer and fewer nightmares punctuating the night. Still cluttered, he admitted, but he had always scoffed at those who said he was messy, bristled at the cracks about unfed fish. A sense of humor characterized as sarcastic and self-deprecating had shifted, no longer masking the loneliness. He could almost describe himself as selfless now, not quite there yet, but he had found a sense of purpose in focusing his attention outside himself.

At work he had almost achieved a point of no disdain; eighteen months of nearly infallible profiling had restored his credibility among his supervisors. He'd even earned a reassignment aimed at utilizing his talents, a welcome change from being shipped off to worthless posts just to get rid of him. A few agents had admired and respected him enough to earn the label 'colleagues'.

But not 'partner'. No, never a partner. Only one person deserved that honor. And judging from her reaction in the cafeteria this afternoon, she couldn't stand to be in the same room with him.

He had only caught a fleeting glimpse of her as she hurriedly walked out the door, his eyes still unconsciously scanning the crowd to focus on any red-headed female. It had been so strange right after she left. He thought he had seen her several times, standing at a bus stop or walking the halls of the Hoover Building. Deep down he knew it was just his mind playing tricks on him, but it never failed to give him that quick rush of adrenaline.

He had felt that again today and had almost dropped his dinner tray with the shock. But this time she was no illusion. She was real and she was here.

Mulder rubbed his hands over his eyes. God. Why did this have to be so difficult? Why had he let himself be suckered into false hopes?

It was obvious that Scully was not ready to deal with him yet. He wasn't too sure if he was ready himself.

At first, he had thought maybe she hadn't seen him. But the warning he had read from Pendrell's eyes had told him differently. She had seen, and she chose to walk away.

So where does that leave us now, Scully?

Mulder opened his eyes and looked around the tiny office that would become his new home away from home. Not as spacious as the basement had been, but certainly better than the desk in the middle of VC's bullpen. At least here he could find some peace and quiet. Could get his thoughts in order without having the added pressure of blocking out loud voices and ringing telephones.

Not that he would be writing that many profiles anymore. His new assignment was to mold the minds of young, baby-faced, wanna-be agents. Teaching the innocent to think like monsters; to get inside the head of a maniac without losing sight of reality.

The idea had been instantly appealing. He was getting burned out floating from one profile to the next without the luxury of a break. This position would offer him the opportunity to pursue other areas of interest.

Just not the X-Files.

That order had come from the Director himself. Mulder was free to delve into any other areas of psychology and criminology that would enhance his lectures.

A sly grin crossed his face. Fortunately, I have never been one to adhere to the strict letter of the law.

Mulder rose from his chair and stared at the boxes lining the back wall. How could one person manage to accumulate so much stuff? At the rate he was going, it would take him a week just to weed through all this junk.

With a sigh of resignation, he pulled a box from the top of the stack and opened it with his penknife. A familiar face greeted him from the confines of a picture frame. Mulder couldn't help but smile as he carefully placed the picture on his desk. With that simple gesture, he transformed four walls and a door into *his* office.


Pathology office in Quantico 2:00 p.m.

Strange how two years could simply dissolve in one instant. The moment she had seen him, she had been driven back into the basement office of the Hoover building, seeing him on the floor with her X-File spread around him. She could feel the anger, the bitterness of his betrayal.

The sorrow at losing his friendship.

She had wandered for twenty months, seeking a connection to her surroundings, to her co-workers, to her life. Yet she was missing an essential component. She knew it existed but she had directed all of her considerable powers of denial against reviewing it.

The phone rang, its rather odd bell sounding like a beacon, ending her reverie. She picked up the phone and answered in her best professional voice, "Pathology."

A female voice. "I'm looking for an Agent Scully."

Scully tamped down on the relief and disappointment that the caller had not been male. "Speaking."

"Agent Scully, this is Agent Davidson. Agent Pendrell referred some fingerprint work to me, and I wanted to discuss the results with you. Do you have a moment?"

"Yes, I do."

"I'd like to discuss the results with you in person. Would it be possible for you to come to my office? I'm located on the fourth floor."

Scully looked around the lab to find the clerk that handled assignments. He was back from his lunch break and could reach her by pager.

"I'll be right up."


Scully was surprised to see Pendrell waiting with the woman she assumed to be Agent Davidson in the office. They were deep in conversation, stopping abruptly when Pendrell noticed her arrival.

"Agent Scully, this is Agent Davidson. She did the work on the fingerprints. We have found something - well, something unusual."

Pendrell led her over to the computer monitor showing readouts of personnel files. "Agent Davidson," he said, "why don't you explain what you found?"

The young woman looked nervously from Pendrell to Scully, then focused on her keyboard. Scully could not pinpoint the exact emotion in the room, but she sensed that a significant event was approaching.

"Agent Scully, I have been able to locate a match of eight points of the index finger with an old personnel file. As you know, according to Bureau standards, it takes ten points to confirm the identity satisfactorily. I am working with the other prints to establish a more definite match." Davidson stopped, looking at Pendrell anxiously.

He remembered having the same doubt when presenting material to Scully, always double-checking and triple-checking his facts before calling her, not wanting to embarrass himself. He took a deep breath.

"Agent Scully, I'm sure that Agent Davidson will be able to complete a ten-point match soon. However, it's the preliminary identification that is unusual. We thought you should know about it right away."

Scully stared at the computer screen, looking for the file they were so worried about. "What exactly are you referring to?"

He looked at her carefully, trying to anticipate her response. "The man's name is Randolph Foster."

If he had expected a revelatory moment from Scully, he was mistaken. She looked up at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue. "I'm sorry, I don't recognize the name."

He started for a moment, not realizing that she would not know the significance of the man. "Agent Scully, Randolph Foster was killed two years ago."

"But you just told me that the fingerprints match the body I did an autopsy on this morning."

"They do. We've almost confirmed that." Pendrell could feel his face begin to flush.

"Then how could they match a man who died two years ago?" For Scully, this was beginning to feel very much like her previous investigations.

Agent Davidson turned from her monitor to look squarely at Scully. "Don't you know the name Randolph Foster?"

Scully looked at the woman almost defiantly. "No. I don't know the name or the man. Is there a reason I should?"

Pendrell counted silently, measuring his words. "I thought you knew, Agent Scully. Your par-, Agent Mulder was accused of murdering Foster in April 1997."

She stared at him intently, willing him to continue.

"He was cleared of the charges eventually. I'm not sure why. But that was the reason they closed the X-Files."

Scully closed her eyes and dropped her head. So much to comprehend. She needed explanations, clarity.

She raised her head and brought a faint smile to her face. "Agent Pendrell, Agent Davidson, it's obvious I have some catching up to do. Thank you for your prompt work on this matter. I'll get back to you as soon as I can." She picked up the proffered file folder and headed out of the office.


Scully maneuvered her car off the street, heading toward the Hoover Building parking lot. She had cleared her agenda for the afternoon, informing the clerk that she needed to gather her files and lecture notes from her old office. The clerk had not offered any objections.

She walked down the hallways, feeling her tension mount as she neared her destination. The feeling of detachment that had tinged every minute of the day grew in intensity. This particular hallway was different, but she soon found the familiar name on the door.

There was no assistant at the desk, and Scully found herself wondering if Jeannie had retained her position. She moved to the door and knocked quietly.

A command from within. "Come in."

She opened the door, greeted again by a picture of President Clinton across the room. This office was different, yet the aura was the same. Walter Skinner always commanded a room, and his serious presence was just as formidable now as it had ever been.

He turned from his paperwork and addressed her evenly. "Welcome back, Agent Scully."

She stepped inside, still unsure if she was invited into the room. "Thank you sir. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I'd like a moment of your time."

He looked at her for a moment, then nodded at the seat in front of his desk.

Scully crossed the room and sat in the front of the chair. "Thank you for seeing me."

"What seems to be the issue, Agent Scully?"

So like Skinner to get right to business. "Sir, I don't know if you knew I had returned - "

"I knew."

She stopped for a moment, waiting for him to continue. His stare indicated that he wanted her to lead the conversation.

"This morning I was assigned to do an autopsy on a John Doe."

"I know."

"And the results are, well, they're a bit troubling." She continued on, wishing he would elaborate on his two word responses.

"In what way." Three words this time, but his voice didn't change its monotone to even register the statement as a question.

She looked at him, trying to gauge his interest, the motivation for his behavior. "The fingerprints matched a person who has been deceased for two years. A Randolph Foster."

He looked at her for a long pause, his expression unchanging.

"You know this man," she challenged, willing him to give her more clues, more information.

He did not respond to her statement, instead, pulling on a set of keys lying on the desk. The key opened a drawer in his desk, from which he extracted a large envelope. He held it out for her.

She looked at him, waiting for him to say more.

"That will be all, Agent Scully."

She stared at him, then slowly stood and took the envelope. Her walk to the door was hesitant, and she looked back at him for any further sign. His attention was focused squarely on his writing.

She sighed and left the office.


Mulder's Office at Quantico 4:53 pm

Mulder sighed as he looked around the trashed office. Stacks of precariously balanced folders and books had replaced the boxes on the floor. Loose sheets of paper and other unstackable objects covered every other flat surface.

In all honesty, this is a real mess.

He had planned on taking the afternoon to get his things in order, but he found himself becoming engrossed in the contents of some of the files. Old cases from his past, but not the files he really wanted to see. The X-Files were off limits. He wasn't even sure what had become of them since the basement office at the Hoover Building had been cleaned out. Had they met their fate in the gnashing teeth of the paper shredder? Or were they tucked away somewhere, seen by only those who knew their true meaning?

He rubbed his face and tried to push the thought from his mind. His first class was tomorrow and he still had little idea where he was going to start. Should he do the expected and dazzle them with his "spooky" ideas or really surprise them and come across as a normal instructor of behavioral science? He idly wondered if that phrase wasn't an oxymoron.

A light rap on the door frame broke his reverie. He glanced up to see Agent Rhodes, a fellow instructor, poke his head around the corner.

"Hey, Mulder. Just came by to see...whoa. Natural or man-made disaster?" he asked, gesturing toward the office.

Mulder grinned as the other man's eyes stared in disbelief. "Completely man-made. No poltergeists or evil demons at work here."

Agent Rhodes shook his head. "That's good. I guess. Wouldn't want to start any rumors on your first day."

Mulder's grin widened.

Taking a tentative step inside the office, Rhodes lowered his voice. "I suppose you've already heard."

Mulder shook is head. "What? I'm not exactly in the inner circle."

Rhodes cleared his throat. "That Agent Scully is back."

The smile left Mulder's face immediately. "Yeah. I know," he whispered.

Seeing that Mulder's good mood had been broken by what he thought would be good news, Rhodes shrugged his shoulders and carefully backed out of the office.

"Well, uh, I thought you should know. Good luck with getting this mess cleaned up. The office, I mean."

With that he turned and fled down the hall.

Mulder stood and brushed the dust from his knees. He glanced once more around the office and knew that there was no way he could get this finished tonight. He grabbed his coat from the back of the chair and turned off the light. Maybe things would be better tomorrow.


5:00 p.m.

Scully pulled her car into the driveway of her mother's house and shut off the engine. She stared at her briefcase, wondering about the contents of the files, what memories she would be confronting that night. But sitting in the driveway wasn't going to solve anything, and neither was speculating on wild hunches.

The sidewalk had been shoveled clear of the latest snowfall, and Scully made a note to bring sneakers to change into before she walked outside tomorrow. She unlocked the front door and was greeted by the unexpected combination of a delicious odor of her favorite casserole and a sharp blow to her knees.

"Dana! Dana! Dana!" Billy had decided to use her as a tackling dummy.

"Billy, do you really think my name is Dana Dana Dana?" Scully looked down at the little boy.

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. Then he giggled mischievously and nodded.

Scully laughed. "Well, then, I'll just have to call you Billy Billy Billy. Let's go see what Grandma has cooking."

Her mother turned her attention from the salad preparations to give Scully a quick kiss on the cheek. "Hi, honey. How was your first day back?"

Scully had prepared herself for that question. "It was fine, Mom. Nothing too interesting, but I brought home a lot of reading to get through tonight. I'm going to go change clothes, and then I'll come help you with dinner."

"I wanna change clothes too!" Billy insisted.

"How about helping me peel the eggs first?" Margaret Scully was a well-practiced grandmother. "Then you can tear up the spinach - you're good at ripping things."

Scully moved into her bedroom and set down her briefcase. She quickly changed into oversized sweats - she had noticed her mother visually measuring her weight the day before - and heavy socks and pulled her hair into a ponytail. Scrubbing the makeup off her face completed the transformation, and she headed back to the kitchen.

"So are we babysitting tonight, Mom?" Scully grabbed the bag of carrots and started peeling.

"Charlie took Emily to her obstetrician for a check-up. They're coming by after dinner."

Scully used Billy's presence to divert further maternal inquiries about her day. She had promised herself not to discuss Mulder, not wanting to give her mother any avenues of questioning. When her brother and sister-in-law arrived, the discussion moved to preparations for the baby, and Billy's unique suggestions of what he wanted to name the baby.

Maggie saw through her best efforts to guide the conversation to safer topics, even though motherhood was a sensitive subject with her daughter. Something had happened at work today, but she decided to wait until the Irish stubbornness receded enough to let Dana talk with her.

Scully grew more nervous as her mother announced the end of the evening. She realized that her efforts to subvert her mother's queries about her work had also delayed the moment she would have to read the files. Now she could no longer avoid it.

(A hot bath first, then I'll be ready.)

She dressed in her flannel pajamas and propped up the pillows on her bed. She had her reading glasses, a radio station playing soft music, and a light next to the bed, illuminating the briefcase. The briefcase tilted toward her as she sat down, and her fingers shook slightly as she unlatched the clasps.

The envelope Skinner had given her was quite heavy, and the edge of the flap sliced into her finger as she opened it. She jerked her hand back and put her finger into her mouth quickly, surprised by both the pain of the cut and by what she saw.

It had been a long time since she had seen an X-File, and there were two of them here. She pulled them out, musing why Skinner had kept these in his desk instead of with the hundreds of files Mulder had accumulated.

The top folder listed the name "Foster, Randolph, file number 42170". She pulled on the edge of it to see the name on the file underneath. Her eyes widened with recognition and confusion.

"Mulder, Samantha, file number 42053"

"Case closed - May 6, 1997."


Case #42170 and #42053 Final Report Submitted by: Agent Fox Mulder

With the discovery of pituitary material confirming the identity of Patient 3456-JK544 as Samantha Mulder, I have come to understand the events leading to my sister's death. She was not an alien abductee as I maintained for so long, but rather a victim of heinous experiments in a scientific project so elaborate and widespread that I cannot fathom how it escaped detection.

On November 27, 1973, my sister was kidnapped from our home in Chilmark, Massachusetts. I remembered little of the incident until I underwent regression hypnotherapy some twenty years later. Even then, my memories of the event were inconsistent. In one recollection, I was in the bedroom next to hers, and then I watched her suspended body move out the window. In a subsequent, stronger memory, she was taken from our living room while I stood, unable to move or to help her.

For twenty-four years, I lived with the belief that my sister was alive. My work with the FBI and the X-Files served as a means to investigate her disappearance, as well as the larger forces of conspiracy surrounding it. In February 1997, I was given information describing a genetic laboratory near Chicago, Illinois, one that had been in operation in the early 1970's. I met one of the scientist's, Randolph Foster, and investigated further, an action that ultimately resulted in Foster's death.

Foster led me to personal journals detailing the arrival of an eight year old girl matching the description of my sister. According to the entry, Samantha died on an unspecified day in May 1974. A sample of her brain tissue remained in the deserted laboratory. Genetic testing confirmed an 85% probability that the tissue sample was a child of my mother's.

Like most of the cases in the X-Files, the evidence and testament of Randolph Foster disappeared on Sunday, April 20, 1997. He was found two days later in the Chicago River, dead of a bullet wound. A corroborating statement from the one witness to this account is attached.

As of this writing, those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Mulder remain at large.

Submitted 5/6/97 Agent Fox Mulder Violent Crimes Unit


Scully stared at the final sentence of the report, wondering how Mulder had felt when he wrote the definitive statement of his lifelong quest. Samantha had died, and he had been strung along for years, a mere puppet for the showman's amusement.

Attached to his report was an official witness statement form, this one written in a woman's handwriting. Scully scanned the text, although it seemed to be nothing more than a restating of the previous account. She looked at the witness' name - Marita Covarrubias.

One does not easily forget such a name, even more than two years later, although she had only heard it once. Scully had once been ordered to look up this woman's name in the government database, and she remembered her problems spelling it correctly. Marita Covarrubias lived in New York City, and she had worked for the United Nations. And she had enabled Mulder to travel to Tunguska. She wrote the name down on the sheet of notes she had compiled, intending to look her up the next day.

Foster's file contained a similar report, with another corroborating statement from the woman. A brief history from a government employment database was included, although the information was scant. Scully looked for pathology reports from the autopsy, but could find only the fingerprint records, not even a picture of the man.

A personnel form fell out of the jumble of papers, and she frowned as she picked it up, wondering what it was doing in an X-File. Skinner's signature leaped out at her, and the short paragraph stated the dates of Mulder's demotion and suspension. Another form was stapled to it, but this signature was illegible. Mulder had been forced to serve the suspension, then assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit under Tom Colton - Scully snorted as she imagined them trading barbs about Reticulans and liver-eating contortionists.

Mulder had been lucky he wasn't arrested on the spot, once the accusation of Foster's murder came to light. Scully made a note to ask Skinner how that had been averted.

The next sheet of paper was a scribbled outline of the events leading to Mulder's discovery of Samantha. He had included a brief timeline of events - trips to New York City and Chicago, a mention of Connecticut, and the address of a hotel in D.C. Scully looked around for a calendar, finally resorting to using the minuscule three-year calendar in her checkbook register.

As she began reading dates and locations, she recognized the first date as one near her birthday. That was around the time of the Shakespeare Stabber case, one they had been uncermoniously dumped from once Mulder had provided the final clue that led to the killer. The agent in charge had blatantly ignored their protests, and Skinner had been of no help whatsoever. In retrospect, Mulder hadn't been all that insistent on pursuing the case; evidently, on the day before their participation was terminated, he had received extensive information about Samantha. They had encountered a string of unsolved cases after that. She flipped to a fresh sheet on her legal pad.

She drew a line down the middle of the paper, writing an 'M' at the top of the right hand column and an 'X' at the top of the left. "Shakespeare Stabber" was the first entry on the left, corresponding to "first contact with Marita" on the right.

After a few moments, the right hand column was full of dates, the itinerary Mulder had pursued for nearly two months. While the realization that she gained was not as instant as a thunderbolt, its impact was as resonant. He had been searching endlessly, blindingly, looking desperately for Samantha. And in the end, he found his sister, dead, a tiny sample of tissue in a bottle. His quest, twenty-four years of futility, ended in a whimper.

Scully rose from the bed and quietly padded out to the bookshelves in the living room, searching for the shelf that her mother had designated for her special mementos. The red journal still rested where she had placed it before she had left. She retrieved it and resumed her position in the middle of the files.

She began to fill in the left side of the paper, blinking back the tears that threatened to obscure her vision as she linked the path Mulder had followed with the divergent path she had embarked upon. He had forgotten her birthday - nothing terribly new there - but had been devouring the four pages of detailed information about a Chicago area lab. They had traveled to Connecticut, moreso to locate information about Randolph Foster than to investigate a case that could only loosely be described as an X-File. He had gone to Chicago - she vividly remembered seeing an airline ticket in his hand as she recognized the first lie she had caught him in - not for his mother but for his sister.

Ultimately when the time to pursue Samantha had arrived, he shoved her aside, detached her from the chain of events. During their very first case in Oregon, he said that nothing else mattered to him. Undoubtedly. He had proven that repeatedly.

Skinner had informed her of the request for her review while Mulder was in Chicago. She had discovered the information he possessed about her abduction.

Those were the events that had driven her across the ocean to escape. She had undergone a full regimen of x-rays to find the implants in her teeth and abdomen, but to no avail. And while she could still feel the aftertaste of the bitter betrayal, she now had a greater intellectual understanding of what he had been pursuing.

Once upon a time, Dana Scully had been a woman of steadfast conviction, with a clear sense of right and wrong. Working on the X-Files had expanded and deepened her involvement with the murky area in between, resulting in her cynical belief that the gray area was bigger than the right and wrong areas combined. Seeking her path through that would be daunting, something she was not convinced she could tolerate.

In her youth, she had easily dismissed those who she felt had wronged her, no ifs, ands or buts. Certain people, Alex Krycek and the Cigarette Man leapt instantly to mind, fit into that category without much consideration.

Fox Mulder? Of him she was not certain.

 


Hoover Building Tuesday, January 5 8:00 a.m.

Scully sat outside Skinner's office, her legs crossed and one foot suspended in mid-air, tapping rhythmically to help assuage her anxiety. After she finally fell asleep, she had experienced another nightmare. All she could remember was a pride of lions circling. She had combated her fatigue with three cups of jet-black coffee.

The hallway door opened to reveal Jeannie Phelps, Skinner's administrative assistant for over four years. Jeannie endured most of Skinner's tirades with a calm tolerance, developing a protectiveness for some of Skinner's favorite targets - Mulder and Scully had been included in her safety circle. She saw the agent, and her face curved into a soft smile.

"Welcome back, Agent Scully. I'm happy to see you."

Scully set aside her frustration and sleepiness to offer a matching smile. "Thanks very much, Jeannie. It's good to be back. Do you expect him anytime soon?"

Jeannie moved behind her desk and checked her telephone. "He's not on the phone right now, but I'll check if you'd like." She pressed a button on the console. Scully nodded and resumed her brooding.

"Agent Scully? He said you can go in," Jeannie angled her head toward her boss' door.

Scully stood quickly and nodded a quick thanks to Jeannie. She opened the office door and fixed her stare on Skinner, ready to extract all the answers to her questions.

If Skinner was worried about the upcoming inquisition, he didn't show it. He leaned back in his chair and rested his chin on his fist, waiting for Scully to cross the room. When she didn't move, he waved his hand to the chair in front of his desk.

Scully strode carefully to the chair, setting down her briefcase and lowering herself without breaking eye contact with Skinner. The emotions of the situation were volatile, and she had to be careful to present herself in a controlled manner.

"What can I do for you, Agent Scully?" Skinner had resumed his relaxed pose, but his eyes were intent, watching her every move.

"Sir, I have several questions about the chain of events in the information you gave me yesterday. Not only does it appear that - "

"Scully, the answers to your questions lie elsewhere."

Scully looked at him and chose her next words carefully. "I believe that I have not been given all of the information pertaining to Randolph Foster."

"Nor will you find that information here." His response was delivered smoothly, almost as if it were rehearsed.

She narrowed her eyes and studied him for a moment. Skinner had never been a man of subtlety, but perhaps he had developed that inclination since her departure.

"Why was Agent Mulder not arrested for Foster's murder."

"A witness confirmed that he could not have committed the crime."

That didn't wash at all. "And you believed that? What about the evidence?"

Skinner snorted. "Evidence has been planted before, Agent Scully."

"And it has also disappeared before as well. Where are the autopsy results from Foster - the first Foster?"

Skinner must have been rationing his words during each conversation, for he met her gaze steadily.

How about a stab in the dark? "I was assigned to Pathology only yesterday morning. Were you aware of that?"

Skinner was not that easily rattled. He simply looked back at her.

"Did you know the body was Randolph Foster?"

Again, no response.

"You assigned me to this case. You knew to whom this could lead," she stated, not knowing what answer she desired.

He shifted to lean forward on his desk and paused.

"I know to whom it *should* lead, Agent Scully."

Scully exhaled slowly and let her eyes drop to the desktop. She stared at the desk lamp, silently pleading for some other way, some other path to follow. She glanced up to find him looking at her. It seemed as if he already knew what her next step had to be and was patiently waiting for her to come to that same conclusion.

She nodded slowly and picked up her briefcase, standing up reluctantly.

Her exit was halted by a final word from Skinner. "Agent Scully."

She stopped, facing the door, away from him.

"Remember that not everything was as it appeared to be."

Scully pulled the door open and stepped into the outer office. Jeannie looked up at her as she shut the door a bit too firmly and then paused, gathering her thoughts.

"Agent Scully?"

Scully looked at the woman, hoping that her face was not too forbidding. Jeannie had to take enough of that from Skinner.

"When you see Agent Mulder, would you give him this file?"

Scully was taken aback for a moment before she could respond. "Why would I see Agent Mulder?"

Jeannie tilted her head in surprise. "Why, didn't Assistant Director Skinner transfer him to the Academy faculty?"

"But why would I see him?" Scully replied, still not understanding.

"I thought - well, he said that you - that maybe if..." Jeannie's voice faded as she realized that perhaps this was not a conversation she was to have with this particular agent.

"Who said? Skinner?" Scully felt like an animal being led into a cage.

"Never mind, Agent Scully, I must have gotten confused. I hope you have a good day."

Scully was about to persist with the questioning when the intercom buzzed loudly. She stared at the assistant for a moment before leaving the office. Jeannie turned away, but not before exhaling a large sigh of relief at her exit.


Scully's office at Quantico 2:00 p.m.

The clicking of the keyboard punctuated her angry mental tirade, accentuated by the occasion "Damn" signaling a misspelled word. Tired and frustrated, assigned to a case she wanted to keep as remote as possible, Scully punched the keys harder than necessary. She pulled up the personnel database and entered the name she had recognized the night before.

Covarrubias, Marita Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Department of State Washington, D.C. (202) 555-8723

Scully pushed another key to access the personal information screen. Her eyes locked on a more familiar name.

Her emergency contact person was Fox Mulder, FBI.


Mulder's office at Quantico 2:30 p.m.

It wasn't quite the truth, what he and his fellow psych classmates had often remarked about their Oxford professors. 'Cush job with office hours from 10:00 to 10:10.' No, his preparation for lectures was nearly as obsessive as his pursuit of an X-File. There was a comfort, though, in knowing that each presentation would result in a definitive ending, nothing unresolved or questioned.

The phone call had drawn his focus away from lesson plans. A surprise at first, but he should have expected it. Skinner had not minced words. Four thirty, his office, don't be late.

Yes sir, drill sergeant, SIR.

And it was painfully easy to slip back into the persona he had tried vigorously to shed. Skinner's voice recalled the despondency, the shame he now associated with Dana Scully. And his former supervisor had made damn sure he would never forget it.

"She's gone, Mulder. She transferred."

After two weeks worth of interminably empty days coupled with fourteen nights of raging insomnia, Mulder had scheduled an appointment with Skinner, hoping to determine his post-suspension assignment and find out where his partner was.

"Sir, all I want to know is where she transferred to. It's not classified, and you approved it." He stared at Skinner's desk, sensing Skinner's unspoken accusation and its cumulative effect on his already suffocating guilt.

"I need to know," he insisted.

"Agent Mulder, I have acted in what I believe are the best interests of my agents." Skinner's tone left no doubt of his opinion of Mulder. "You deliberately cut her off on several investigations and submitted a request for an official review of her performance. For her sake, this transfer was necessary."

Mulder gaped at the man in front of him, stunned by his comment. "What do you mean, I submitted a review request?"

"Knock it off, Mulder!" Skinner flung the paper across the desk. "This is what I mean. Your signature, your request. You forced her to make a choice, and she chose to save your ass. In my opinion, it damn well wasn't worth it."

He stared at the form, feeling the shock reverberating through his body. Was this how Scully had felt when she read this, looking at the signature, the sterile phrases? Had she truly believed this?

Obviously she had. And a phrase she had thrown at him echoed in his head. 'Lack of collaboration.' Right before she had stalked out of the office and left him, surrounded by the evidence of how much she had sacrificed for him.

"I didn't write this," he whispered.

"What?" Skinner was in no mood for games.

"I...I didn't write this. I've never seen this. This isn't my signature." Bile rose in his throat as he fought to retain the sudden urge to yell.

"The hell it isn't, Mulder. Don't play games here." Skinner rose from his chair, hands planted firmly on the desk so he could lean closer to the younger man, a definite threat.

"For Christ's sake, I would remember doing something like this!" He stood, slamming his hand on the chair and nearly knocking it over. "I'm telling you, I didn't do this!"

The two men squared off, a test of wills. One long endless moment. And the doubt, the fear, and the shame proved to be his undoing. He flinched and looked away, feeling the last of his self- respect slither out of his reach.

"Tell me where she is." A whispery, broken plea.

Skinner measured the man in front of him and remembered the similar picture he had witnessed nearly three weeks prior. Same emotion, different agent. A decision, a choice to be made.

"Agent Scully has asked me to keep her whereabouts confidential." The head rose and the eyes transmitted hope and hesitancy.

"And I'm going to honor that request."

Skinner had held to his word. It had been a solid month before he had pestered, cajoled and finally angered a personnel clerk enough to confirm that she had gone overseas. His initial response had been sarcastic - 'couldn't just head west, she had to leave the frigging country.' Then the anger at her unwillingness to confront him head on. The memory curse he had endured since childhood quickly eradicated the thought that she had avoided him; he clearly remembered each and every one of her challenges on that horrible day in the office. It had taken him months to extinguish the feeling of abandonment, to think of her without an acidic reply from his stomach.

Dana Scully represented a failure. No. His partnership with Dana Scully represented a failure. No, that wasn't accurate either. His participation in their partnership was a failure. With all of that baggage, it's a wonder she could have handled their one-minute encounter in the cafeteria the day before.

Was there a way to go forward? Probably not.

He sighed and looked at his watch. T-minus two hours.


Skinner's Office 4:30 p.m.

Scully walked into his office yet again, determined to separate herself from this case once and for all. Skinner followed her in, and she took the seat in front of his desk.

"Thank you for coming on short notice, Agent Scully."

"Yes, sir, I was hoping to speak with you about this case - " but the rest of her comment was then interrupted by the buzz of Skinner's phone.

He picked up the phone and silently waited for the information to be relayed to him from Jeannie.

"Send him in."

With those words, Scully let her composure slip enough to direct her most defiant glare at Skinner, letting him know her fury in one glance.

The door opened, and Fox Mulder stepped inside, stopping short when he saw the redheaded woman seated in front of Skinner's desk. He hadn't known that Scully would be present also. She did not look over at him; rather, she seemed to be shooting a blue-eyed laser beam at Skinner.

Skinner glanced over at him, unperturbed by Scully's demeanor. "Agent Mulder, please have a seat."

Mulder approached the desk cautiously, knowing that Scully was targeting her anger at an undeserving source. Skinner was simply the most convenient bullseye. The chair next to her was where he had been directed to sit, and he was grateful that it was out of her line of fire.

Skinner ignored the energy Scully was aiming in his direction. "Agent Scully, would you inform Agent Mulder of your most recent discovery?"

Scully decided to focus her gaze solely on Skinner, knowing that a glance at the man next to her would prove too difficult. Her anger at the situation only increased in intensity as she began to speak. "I have performed an autopsy on a man identified as Randolph Foster, the same man mistakenly identified to be the victim of a homicide in 1997." She stopped herself from adding any further comment, sarcastic or otherwise, knowing they would serve no purpose.

Mulder looked from Skinner to Scully in disbelief, wondering how many more surprises he would hear today.

Skinner waited for Scully to continue her explanation, but she gave no indication of wanting to offer further details. "Agent Scully, I am assigning you to fully pursue the death of Randolph Foster."

Her anger instantly converted to shock, and she was quick to hide that response to his directive. "Sir, I am positive there are other agents more suitable for this investigation."

"I disagree."

She decided to try another tactic. "My temporary assignment to Quantico - "

"Has been suspended."

Scully concentrated for a moment on her next objection, not willing to give Mulder an opening. "I do not have access to the records - "

Skinner continued on as if he expected her to follow that line of reasoning. "You will have full Bureau resources, including access to all materials pertinent to the case."

Mulder had been unsuccessfully attempting to hide his astonishment, but this last statement caught his attention. He leaned forward, barely daring to voice this hope. "Even the X-Files, sir?"

Skinner shifted his focus to the other agent. "Yes, including the X-Files. And you, Agent Mulder, will provide her with any and all information you can."

Mulder sat back in his chair slowly, not willing to trust this fortuitous turn of events. He looked at Scully hesitantly, wanting to meet her gaze, but she stared resolutely at the window behind Skinner.

"Any questions?" Skinner regained his attention rather abruptly.

Mulder shook his head slowly, still in a daze from the unexpected news.

"That's all, Agent Mulder." Mulder vaguely noted that the statement implied that he was to exit the room. He stood robotically and looked for Scully to follow him. She remained in her chair, still contemplating the view out of Skinner's window.

"Agent Scully, I'd like to speak with you." Skinner looked over at Mulder, expecting him to catch the hint.

Mulder waited a moment for Scully to acknowledge his departure. He opened his mouth to say goodbye, wanting to make some sort of communication with her. But he had underestimated her apparent desire to ignore him, and he silently walked out of the office.

At the sound of the door shutting, Scully moved her eyes from the window to Skinner.

"Why?"

"Agent Scully, two years ago, I acted on what I believed was valid information and approved your transfer and the elimination of the X-Files."

"Are you saying that some of the information was...invalid?"

"Yes, that's what I'm saying?"

Scully weighed this information. "You're saying that you've received evidence that proves otherwise?"

"He didn't write it."

Far be it from Skinner to elaborate, but she knew to what he was referring. "Are you sure?"

An answering nod.

"You spoke with him about it?"

"At the time, yes. I did."

"And you believe him?"

"We had the handwriting tested. Close."

Disbelieving, yet hoping he was telling the truth, she replied, "But not a match."

With his confirming nod, she closed her eyes and felt the import of this information sap her already-depleted strength. Her defiance and coldness had been the only protective measures she could muster up to withstand the two minute encounter with Mulder. Now that anger transformed to a sad resignation of acceptance. Her voice registered defeat.

"Sir, I cannot be objective on this case."

Skinner looked at her, noting the change in her demeanor. He had known that he would have to force her to search for the evidence. And he had not miscalculated the effect it would have on her - he realized that he may have been the only one who understood the impact of her transfer two years prior. He leaned forward in his chair.

"I know that, Scully."

She looked at him, unable to keep the surprise from her face. "Sir?"

"Scully, it is obvious that there were many issues unknown to you. Unknown to Mulder. Things that did not come to light then and remain hidden now." He waited for her to form her next question.

"But you know what those things are. Why not just expose them yourself? Why put me through this?" She tried to keep her voice even, to not sound like she was pleading.

"I don't have all the answers and I don't have access to them."

"But I do?" This was not making sense at all.

"Agent Scully, currently you have maximum potential to understand the larger forces at work here. This is the most opportune time."

Why Skinner was making this offer to *her* still didn't make sense. "What about Mulder? Why not just let him pursue it?"

Skinner hesitated before answering her question, not knowing exactly what information she possessed at this point. "Agent Mulder right now is in a delicate position."

"But he's just teaching at the academy. He's not even profiling or working at VCS anymore." A random comment she had heard that morning clicked into place. "You transferred him to the academy, right? You're protecting him."

He moved his hand to his cheek, resting it there.

"Why?"

At this moment, Scully wanted nothing more than a teleprompter for the thoughts running through his head. She stared at the desk in front of her before rising from her chair.

"Scully."

She stopped, waiting.

"You were assigned to the X-Files to keep an eye on Agent Mulder. He doesn't know it, but it's more important now than it has ever been."

 


Scully's office in Quantico Wednesday, January 6 10:30 a.m.

"Latte for me, double espresso, for you, Dana." Another pathologist, Agent Akimoto, had been dispatched to the coffee stand for this morning's run. She needed the extra caffeine, finding that her addiction to it was growing every hour. Her latest nightmare had her standing in the path of a train, and her sudden awakening left her too keyed up to sleep.

The phone rang, but even that wasn't enough to spark any energy. She picked up the receiver after the second ring, closing her eyes and resting her chin on her hand. "Scully."

There was a long pause before a male voice. "Hey Scully, it's me."

That was enough to jolt her wide awake. She pulled the receiver away from her ear and stared at it in amazement.

"Scully?" She could still hear him and put the receiver back to her head.

"Yes." That was all she could think of for a response.

"I - I was wondering if you wanted to talk. About the case, I mean. I'm sure you have a lot of questions."

I have questions, Mulder, but I'm not sure I'm ready for the answers.

His voice grew more uncertain. "If you're busy, then..."

"No. I suppose I should start with your version of the events." She knew she sounded abrupt, but she didn't care.

"I can come to your office if that's more convenient."

"No." She had crossed the line from abrupt to rude. "I'll come to your office in fifteen minutes."

"Fine." Click.

She hung up the phone and rested her head in her hands. She was not ready for this, but no amount of time would adequately prepare her.


Mulder's office fifteen minutes later

"Let's get started, Mulder. I have to leave in an hour." Scully clamped down on the sadness that had sprung, trying to forge a clear path through the emotion. Set a time limit, keep the boundaries narrow.

Mulder decided to try just once to establish that connection, the one she seemed to be searching for. "Scully, I just want to say - "

"Let's just stick to the case, okay?" Focus, focus, focus. No emotion, not today, just a straightforward investigation. Stick to the wheres and whats.

He winced, his cursed photographic memory kicking in yet again. He had once uttered those very words to a person who had caused him intense pain. Stated them twice for good measure. And he hadn't noted then how cutting the words were, since they were used as a self- defense measure. He had wanted to make sure that Phoebe had no inroads to his emotions, no chance to drive a stake through him yet again.

The fact that Scully had to erect the same barriers to protect herself from him only intensified his desire to knock them down. But he also recognized that he now had frightening potential to cause her more pain, perhaps more severe than anything previous. He had finally learned - too late - but he had learned to navigate his oftentimes blinding passion. Now he needed to demonstrate that to Scully.

He looked at her face, resolute in its cold mask, and he realized that perhaps he could not understand her as well as he once could. For the time being, he would give her what she was asking for, the facts, plain and simple.

"Where do you want to begin?"


later that evening 11:49 p.m.

Mulder put down the book he was reading and sighed with frustration. It was no use. He couldn't concentrate. He had read the words on the page, but his mind was recalling different words from earlier today. Removing his glasses, he rubbed a hand over his weary eyes, willing the conversation running in his head to stop.

Scully had been relentless in her questioning. Sticking strictly to the facts; the who, what, when, where, why, and how. But she had asked nothing personal. Nothing that would let him tell her how he was feeling at the time of the incident or how he felt now. And that's what he wanted most to convey.

He had watched her closely as he told his story, searching for any signs of emotion. How did she feel about this? What did she think? Did she believe he was telling the truth?

He didn't know. Her face had remained frozen in the neutral expression of a well-trained investigator. The look she had given to many a suspect in the past had been used against him. And while she slowly gathered information, he still knew nothing.

Mulder closed his eyes and tipped his head back to rest on the top of the couch. Maybe if he just let the entire conversation run its course, he could get some relief from his memory.


"Where do you want to begin?"

She glanced up at him quickly, and made eye contact for the first time since she had come into the office. But the connection was all too brief. She looked around the office for a moment until her eyes settled on the chair in front of the desk.

"May I sit down?" she asked, searching for permission. Standard operating procedure when questioning a suspect in their personal space.

You don't have to ask, Scully. You know you're always welcome.

He nodded and gestured toward the chair, waiting until she was seated before settling himself in his own seat, pulling the chair out from behind the desk so there would be no barrier. She bent down and pulled the case file from her briefcase. Slow, deliberate movements. Gathering her strength and resolve before beginning.

She flipped open the cover and scanned the page quickly.

"How well did you know Randolph Foster?"

"I met Mr. Foster through a contact. I was told he had new information on an old abduction case." How many times have I answered this question? Ten? Twenty?

"So you had no knowledge of him before this time?"

"No."

"The abduction case you mentioned, was it that of his son... Thomas Foster, abducted from his home in Connecticut in 1972?"

He nodded, forcing her to look up to see his response.

Look at me, Scully. I'm not the enemy.

"And what information did he have pertaining to the case?"

"Foster was working in a hush-hush government funded project at the time of Tommy's abduction. When he began to realize the potential consequences of this work, he asked to be released. His superiors said no, and threatened him with a personal attack if he refused to cooperate. The attack came in the form of the abduction of his youngest child." Sound familiar?

Scully frowned. "So he already knew what had happened to his son?"

"More or less," he said, shrugging his shoulders. Come on, Scully. This is all in the file.

"But he said he had new information. What was that?"

He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk, to make sure he could tell this story as carefully as possible. "Foster suspected that his son had been taken by the same people for whom he was working. Unfortunately, that tidbit of information had been conveniently removed by drugs that have the ability to selectively erase targeted memories. He simply forgot. And didn't begin to remember until he underwent treatment for cancer twenty-five years later."

He had to wait patiently as Scully scribbled a few notes in the margin and flipped through a few pages in the file.

"The police report indicates that you accompanied Mr. Foster to Chicago for the purpose of continuing the investigation. It also states that a Marita Covarrubias was with you. Is that correct?"

He tried to hide it, but a faint smile slid across his face. "Yes. Basically. Actually I met up with Foster in Chicago. It was Marita that brought him to me."

Scully's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Marita? Your informant?"

"At the time. Yes." Dig deeper, Scully.

Scully nodded, but did not acknowledge that piece of information, continuing to read from the file as she spoke.

"Your investigation led you to an abandoned farm site just outside the city. Foster led you here?"

"Yes." Even after two years, the events at the laboratory still haunted his subconscious vision. When he closed his eyes, he could see the bottle, feel it in his hands, like it was yesterday.

"And you found the laboratory sample that corresponded to the description of Samantha?"

You sound so clinical. She had to know, was able to imagine just a shred of the emotion he had felt as he stared at the one remnant of his beloved sister. The bottle he had smashed so many times in his dreams since then, reliving the words of the technician. Mother and daughter. Mother and daughter.

Brother and sister.

He nodded.

"Do you have the sample now?"

No. No. I couldn't keep it. Had there been enough of the tissue sample left, I would not have kept it. It was all I had of her, but I couldn't keep it. Like ashes in a memorial urn. One more physical reminder of my failure, even at the age of twelve. I know now that there was nothing I could have done, but I endured so many sleepless nights before letting myself believe that.

He shook his head, holding her gaze for a longer moment.

"It was here that you claimed Mr. Foster was abducted from the back seat of the rental car by unknown assailants?"

Scully gave him a second before continuing. "You didn't see or hear anything? No indications that the abduction was to take place? Strange vehicles? Anything?"

"No. When we got back to the car, he was gone." And everything with him.

"A second report was filed three days later confirming that the body found on the banks of the Chicago River was that of Randolph Foster. Positively identified by his wife. The autopsy showed that Mr. Foster was killed on April 20; death resulting from a bullet to the head. A bullet that matched your service weapon."

He looked at her, willing her to believe in him as she had the last time he had been linked to a murder through the weapon used. She had gone to extraordinary lengths to prove him innocent then, but he was unable to see if she held the same faith in him now. Her eyes reflected an inscrutable gaze.

"Why were the charges dismissed?"

"The ballistics report disappeared." Don't look at me like that, Scully. I didn't take them.

This time he could read her face perfectly. Skepticism, as strong as it had ever been, transmitted as if it were mounted on a marquee.

"I didn't do it, Scully." You have to believe that.

Scully picked up her briefcase and stashed the file inside. "I didn't imply that you had." She rose quickly and turned toward the door. "Thank you for your cooperation, Agent Mulder. If I have any further questions, I will contact you."

He stood as she made her way to the door. "Scully, wait. I - "

She turned slightly, giving him the tolerant look once reserved for slide presentations and alien abduction diatribes.

He fumbled for words. "Look. I know you probably don't want to be talking with me."

"You're right."

The words and the tone in which they were delivered nearly stopped him cold, but he finally gained his opportunity to speak freely. "I didn't set you up in front of the review board."

"I know."

He stared at her, his mouth hanging open in preparation to handle the expected response of surprise. She knew.

And she didn't care.

"Scully, wait - "


And now the vision of her walking out the door, ignoring his request, was playing over and over in his head. She had resorted back to the formal, almost pretentious "Agent Mulder" before continuing on her merry way.

No, that wasn't fair. She was doing her job, assigned to a case she clearly did not want. It was not something she relished, and even if he had not had a chance to explain his thoughts, both past and present, he knew she was experiencing similar turmoil.

He would, for the time being, curb his almost overwhelming curiosity and anxiety, allowing her to pursue this investigation in her own way. She was certainly a competent investigator, and perhaps her two years removed from the situation would be an asset. His watch reflected the witching hour, and he moved toward the bed that would begin another night's slumber.


2:42 a.m.

Another night, another nightmare. They were almost like clockwork, waking her regularly yet leaving no solid images to relive. Maggie Scully's bedroom was at the other end of the house, which prevented any noise from traveling to her mother's ears. And she had attempted to stay up as late as possible, in the hope that extreme fatigue would send her into a deep enough sleep to ward off the dreams.

That effort had failed again. She had tried several remedies in the previous evenings to regain her sleepiness. Tonight she would try music, selecting the cassette of Melissa's that had foreshadowed the resumption of this web in which she was ensnared.

The poignant melody began, and she recognized it as something she had heard in her dream. But it was not the same song she remembered from the previous week. A frown that had begun to form on her face shifted to puzzlement as she heard the lyric.

"I would like to linger here in silence if I choose to."

She reached out and angrily punched the Stop button, the rewound the cassette to its beginning. She was surprised when the tape stopped quickly, indicating that the song was at the beginning of the cassette. Scully then began searching the individual songs, finally finding the first song approximately halfway through the tape.

But if she hadn't touched the tape in three days, how did it suddenly rewind to another song? She ejected the cassette and threw it across the room, angered that sleep would elude her yet again.


FBI Academy at Quantico Thursday, January 7 3:00 p.m.

"Today's topic - serial killers," Mulder said with a barely contained smile. This was one of his favorite topics. Not because of the crimes themselves nor the sick individuals who committed them. But the slides that went with this presentation were guaranteed to hit ten on the shock factor scale.

It was good for these young people to see what working in Violent Crimes was all about. There was no glamour, no glory; this wasn't the set of some Hollywood movie. These crimes were real and the monsters who did the heinous acts were real. Very real. And some day, it would be their job to stop them. Just as it had been his.

"I'm sure you are all familiar with Charles Manson," he said as a slide popped up on the screen behind him.

"Jeffery Dahmer."

Another slide.

"And Ted Bundy."

Another slide.

"He would lure in young women, sexually assault them, strangle them."

Another slide.

"Then dismember the corpse."

Mulder focused his attention on the student in the third row who began to shift uncomfortably in his seat.

Another slide.

"Often Bundy would return, several days or weeks later, to the place where he had dumped his victim's body."

Another slide.

"And continue the sexual assault on the dismembered body parts."

Another slide. The young man in the third row bolted for the door.

When the buzz in the room had again grown quiet, he continued.

"Blood seems to hold a particular fascination with some serial murderers. Take the case of the Sacramento Vampire Killer, Richard Trenton Chase."

Another slide.

"Using an ordinary household blender, he would prepare human blood and organs for ingestion. Supposedly to stop his blood from turning to powder."

Another slide. More students began to shift nervously in their seats.

"Or maybe a more recent case?"

Another slide.

"The Shakespeare Stabber would use the victim's blood to write obscure lines from Shakespeare as clues for the investigators."

When Mulder turned to glance at the slide behind him, it was his turn to feel a nervous twitch in the pit of his stomach. He had worked on this case. Correction. He and Scully *should* have worked on this case, and they shouldn't have been pulled so some hotshot could claim the glory. But he had been sidetracked by Randolph Foster, or someone who said he was Foster, and he hadn't cared as much as he could have.

The unstoppable images flowed into his brain.

The lab in Chicago.

The jar in his hand. The last remnants of his sister.

The look on Scully's face when she saw him with her file.

Her anger, his inability to answer her charges.

Scully's face as she questioned him about Foster two years later.

Did she believe he had killed the man? Did she think he was capable of committing that act?

Mulder closed his eyes and reached out for the desk in front of him for support. His breath caught in his throat. He couldn't breathe.

The scratching of chair legs on linoleum, the rustling of paper, and the quiet murmur of the other people in the room snapped his focus back to the present.

He cleared his throat and advanced to a new slide.

"The case of John Wayne Gacy is..."


Hoover Building Friday, January 8 4:00 p.m.

Scully walked down the corridors of Central Storage, looking for the tiny numbers specifying the individual file cabinets. Her brow was wrinkled, from both a resistance to sneezing from the musty smell and the worry brought about by her search. Finally, she found the cabinet corresponding to the piece of paper in her hand.

She tugged on the top drawer, relieved that it pulled open. The red and white rimmed folders sat in their chaotic disorganization that she had never truly figured out. The last time she had hunted through the files of individual victims, though, they had been in alphabetical order.

The R - Z drawer was at the bottom, and Scully knelt down to the chorus of popping in her knees. You need to get to a gym, and soon.

She flipped through the files rapidly, scanning methodically for her name. When she didn't find it the first time through, she started again at the beginning. Slower, taking more care to read names. But hers was not among them.

A third and final time through, with the fading hope that perhaps it had been mis-filed. This time she found a piece of paper where her file should have been. She pulled it out, finally relenting to the sneeze that had been building up.

"Scully, Dana, X-File #73317 - checked out April 24, 1997."

Scully slammed the drawer shut and stood up, swaying a bit from anger and the head rush. She wished that Skinner had thought to pull her file when he had retained Samantha's and Foster's. After the week she had just finished, there was no way she could face Fox Mulder tonight.

 


Margaret Scully's home that same evening 6:30 p.m.

Scully curled up on her favorite reading spot in the living room, warmed by the old crocheted afghan she used to have to fight with Melissa for. Her attention centered on the research report Pendrell had completed the previous year.

"Dana?" Margaret Scully entered the living room, bearing two cups of hot chocolate with rapidly melting whipped cream.

Scully looked up and smiled gratefully, reaching to take the nearest cup from her mother's outstretched hand. She took a sip, letting the heat sear its path down her throat. "Thanks, Mom. It's just what I needed."

"I noticed you didn't eat much dinner tonight." The unspoken comment was that she hadn't been eating much that entire week.

Scully paused, trying to find the reassuring words she needed. "I know, Mom. It's been a slow adjustment and it's taking longer than I thought it would. But I'm fine, Mom."

Maggie smiled and laughed softly. "Dana, you should know better than to resort to that old cliche. I certainly heard it enough from you to know that it means the exact opposite."

The whipped cream continued to dissolve before her eyes, although she couldn't tell if it was from the steam or from her intense concentration. All week Scully had sensed that this conversation was going to be difficult to avoid, as her mother could be more persistent than any investigator she'd known. She pursed her lips in resignation and looked up at a worried face so like her own.

"I've been assigned to a case, a murder investigation, and it's - well, it's very sensitive." She ducked her head forward to let the curtain of hair hide her face.

"Sensitive in what way, Dana?"

"Um, Mom, I'd really rather not talk about it. Please." Scully stopped just short of telling her mother it was confidential, as that would have constituted a lie.

"Dana, honey, look at me..."

She slowly raised her head to look at her mother. Margaret reached out her hand to smooth back the hair that blocked her daughter's face from plain view. At the feel of her mother's touch, Scully leaned her cheek into the palm of Margaret's hand, closing her eyes to block the sudden spurt of tears.

"Dana." A soft loving command.

Scully opened her eyes and felt two tears seek a path down her cheek. The week had been a terrible, volatile mixture of emotion without release, and she suddenly felt defenseless and vulnerable. Her fear rested not with her mother's presence, but with the realization that the pain she had shunted aside so long ago was back. And it had multiplied.

"I saw Mulder." The tears came in earnest.

Margaret's face crinkled with the maternal knowledge of the sorrow her daughter felt. She quickly set the two cups on the table and gathered her painfully thin child in her arms. She settled into a soothing rocking motion that she had not been able to give to her stubborn baby girl since her infancy.

After a few moments, Scully cleared her throat and sat up, looking for the nearby tissue box. She debated how much she wanted to reveal.

Perhaps it would be good to pour it all out. "Mom, I've been investigating a case that Mul - that he was involved in after I - *before* I left. He was accused of murdering a man, and he lost the X-Files. The Bureau closed the division and he was suspended. And now I have to keep meeting with him, to find out what happened."

"And you're scared." Margaret gripped her daughter's hand tightly.

Scully nodded, fighting back another current of tears. "I asked them to assign another agent, but my boss...he...Skinner wouldn't let me transfer."

"Dana." Margaret squeezed the hand to gain her daughter's gaze. "What is it that you're afraid of?"

Scully hesitated, not sure how to describe her feelings, not wanting to confirm what she feared. "I'm afraid I'll...that I'll forget what it felt like when I found out...when I left...that I won't be true to myself. He hurt me, Mom, and - " her voice broke and she leaned back into her mother's embrace.

"I know, honey, I know." The rocking motion resumed, both women pursuing their own thoughts privately.

Margaret remembered the sight of her daughter's partner, defeated and repentant. A shattered man, broken not so much by his partner's actions as by his responsibility in her fleeing. Lost and bereft, blaming no one except himself.

"Dana, I want to tell you something." Margaret waited for her daughter to look up again.

Scully blew her nose one last time and balled the tissue in her fist as she looked at her mother.

"The night that you left, Fox came to see me. He was looking for you - he didn't know you had gone. Honey, he was...he was so ashamed of himself, so devastated by what he thought he had done to you."

The red head tilted forward again to consider this perspective. Mulder had learned about Samantha's death. He had been accused of murder. And then he had come to find her. To apologize.

"You have to try to forgive him." At her child's astonished look, Margaret grew more confident in her belief that this was the only course of action. "You need to talk with him. The pain you feel will only continue to grow until you confront it. You need to heal, my daughter. You've already lost too much time."

I've already lost too much time. Three months. Twenty months. They seem to rush by in a blur, no accounting for the moments she had relinquished - once by force and once voluntarily.

"Mom, I don't think..." Scully looked out the window, her hand coming up to touch the gold cross around her neck. Sensations of shame welled inside her, and she clutched the cross tightly.

"You don't think you can?" Margaret finished the sentence. She passed her hand over the red hair one last time and sighed, resigned to addressing the issue one piece at a time. "Dana, you can't go on carrying this inside you. You are a good person. So is Fox. You need to go to him, talk with him."


Saturday, January 9 9:00 a.m.

Scully checked the address from the printout again, positive that she was in the wrong location. She pulled her car to the side of the road and stopped, looking at the simple homes with large snow-covered yards, swing sets and basketball hoops in the driveway. A suburb. Not an apartment building. A place for families. A place for homes.

Not a place for Mulder.

But the address corresponded to the directions, and she looked again for the correct house. Up there, three houses away. Far enough away that she could gather her thoughts before going to meet him.

She inhaled deeply, feeling her chest swell with a courage she did not feel. Her reflection in the rearview mirror was one of disapproval - she was not the type to shrink away from what she knew she must do.

Now was the time to meet with him, face to face, without others around to soften the edges.

Scully let out the breath abruptly and unbuckled her seat belt. The "open door" chimes of the car sounded the mission's commencement. She could hear children playing in different lots, enjoying the latest snowfall. A few strides forward brought her to the best vantage point of Mulder's backyard. And there she saw him.

The tall, dark haired man, whose form she had come to mistakenly recognize in a thousand strangers in Russia, stood next to a fence, laughing at a scene near his feet. His face was relaxed and he looked years younger than he had in the office earlier that week. He bent down, out of Scully's view for a moment. She wondered what prompted his easy laughter, something she had rarely witnessed.

He rose, a bundle of bright blue and red in his arms.

A child.

A little boy, dark haired and smiling broadly. Propelling himself backwards in Mulder's arms, knowing with little boy confidence that he would not be dropped. Enjoying his adventure so much that his laugh was contagious. Mulder's grin widened, and he dipped the boy back even further, starting them both on another cycle of laughter.

Scully stared for a long moment. She had not been prepared for this. A girlfriend or even a wife, perhaps. But never a child. And she was positive, with an innate certainty that left no need for proof, that the little boy was Mulder's son.

Mulder's son. A phrase she had never considered.

'I never saw you as a mother'.

And I never saw you as a father.

She looked at the house again, and a comment of his from long ago came back to her.

'You don't know me as well as you think you do.'

He had done what he had said he would. When he settled down, he chose a place reminiscent of his childhood on the Vineyard, close to his work, but far enough away that he would be home.

Scully watched as Mulder and the child moved to the front of the house, evidently preparing to build a snowman. She stayed out of sight behind a tree in a neighbor's yard. From this distance she could see the child more clearly. His hair was very much like his father's, and although she could not see their exact color, she was willing to bet that his eyes were the same chameleon-hazel shade as Mulder's.

Skinner was right. Not everything was as it appeared to be.

And now things were as she never imagined they could be. She had to reorganize her thoughts, assimilate this new information and evaluate its impact carefully. Samantha dead, the X-Files taken away, accused of murder, a child approaching. How must he have felt?

Overwhelmed. Defeated. Alone.

With that realization, could she begin to understand what had happened to him then? Why he had shoved her away? Perhaps.

But what about today?

She looked again at the first snowball in progress. Mulder looked...he looked happy. Content. The little boy laughed loudly as he dumped snow on his father's head. A lazy Saturday playing with his daddy. Soon they would go inside for hot chocolate and probably a basketball game on television to fall asleep by.

But not a day for confrontations, for questioning. She stood up and walked back to her car.


Sunday, January 10 Mulder's Home 2:03 a.m.

The room was thrown into total darkness as soon as Mulder switched off the television. He sat back in his recliner and relished the quiet and solitude. Once, this act would have thrown him into a state of despair; reminding him of his loneliness, his failures, his inability to cope. Now it wrapped him in a blanket of comfort. It was nighttime, and the house was quiet, just as it should be.

Marita had turned in earlier, succumbing to exhaustion from her busy schedule. But not before she had coerced him into revealing the cause of his moodiness. He had told her of the discovery of Foster's body. Again. The pathology department still working fervently to confirm the identity. The confusion he felt at this startling news. And he told her about Scully and her assignment to find the answers to this unsettling mystery.

He had to admit, he felt instantly better. The novelty of having a human barometer for his emotional state had not grown tiresome. Marita was a vital, almost invaluable facet of his last two years. At his lowest point, he had turned to her. But she hadn't pushed him away, weathering the violent, volatile impact of the consequences of his search for Samantha. And what had begun as a selfish taking slowly changed into an opportunity for him to give again as a person, as he had rarely done in his life.

His evening routine always included a pause at the living room bookcase, a nightly meditation of sorts. The few pictures he had of Samantha, sitting on a jungle gym, playing at the beach, swinging in the old birch tree in the backyard at Quonochotaug. He picked up the nearest frame and ran a finger down the printed face.

Look at me now, Sam. I'm doing okay. Someone you could almost be proud of.

Someone I could almost be proud of.

He hadn't been ready for sleep yet, but he found he could finally lose himself in the late night movie without these thoughts tickling at his subconscious. Now the movie was over and he felt the sirens of weariness beckoning him to his bed. He made his way to the stairs, running his hands along the wall until he found the light switch. He mounted the stairs quietly, fearful of making a noise that would dissipate the peace. Walking down the hall on tiptoe, he stopped in front of the door to the nursery. Carefully he turned the knob and pushed the door open. A smile came to his face as he saw the child sleeping soundly in the crib.

His child.

He had never in his wildest imagination believed that this would be possible. He was not the type of settle down, raise a family. He was "Spooky" Mulder, investigator of the macabre, profiler of psychos. But that was before, that was another Fox Mulder, a man he had left behind. He had gained respect from others and from himself. For the first time in a very long time, he was happy and he let himself revel in that feeling. And his failures and imperfections never seemed to matter when he was in this room.

Mulder eased up to the crib, still marveling in the wonder of this tiny life. He didn't think he would ever cease to be amazed at the complexity that allowed this to happen. He reached out at took one of the little hands in his own. The perfectly formed fingers instinctively curled around his father's.

I almost gave you up, little one. Convinced myself that you were a bad joke, just the final twist of the knife. And that would have been the most selfish thing I could have done.

Mulder closed his eyes and remembered the day his child had been born. Marita's calm voice on the phone, informing him that her water had broke. His initial rush of euphoria, followed quickly by a rising sense of panic. He had nearly run down an elderly lady crossing the street in his haste to reach the hospital. The hours and hours of labor, walking the halls of the delivery wing with his overburdened wife, ice chips, backrubs. He remembered how his hand had ached from Marita's tight grip as he tried his best to coach her through the contractions, urging and encouraging her to push. And finally, the moment when his son's head had poked through, followed quickly by the rest of his tiny body. His heart had soared with joy as his son yelled with powerful lungs to voice his displeasure at leaving the womb.

And in nearly a year's time, the tiny helpless infant had transformed into a person. A small individual with a mind of his own, full of curiosity and mischief.

Mulder brushed a light kiss on the top of his son's head and gently smoothed his dark hair. As he walked back into the hall, he turned around and stole another quick glance. Everything would be okay. It had to be.


Sunday, January 10 Immaculate Conception Church 11:00 a.m.

Scully walked gingerly into the church, finding the blessed water at the entrance to the chapel and making the familiar sign. She knelt briefly and bent her head in homage to the crucifix adorning the altar. Families with small children - the Catholic Church never had much use for during-Mass nurseries - lined the aisles, dressed far more casually than she had ever been allowed to as a young girl.

She slipped her coat and purse next to her on the pew and reached for the kneeler. As she leaned forward and folded her hands, the guitarist began the music signaling the processional. The congregation stood and joined the musician, the voices of the young and the young- at-heart lifted in song, proclaiming their faith to all who would hear.

Scully had avoided Mass the previous week, as jet lag and anxiety took its toll on her energy level. She had gone occasionally during her time in Russia, repeating the creeds and prayers in English that, next to the parishioners' hushed Russian, marked her as a visitor, a foreigner. Today's Mass, with its' psalms, readings of the stories of lions and martyrs and lepers, seemed to echo that sense of an interloper, one who did not belong, one who did not believe.

Her mother came to Mass regularly, always lighting a candle for both her father and Melissa. Scully had always regarded her mother's faith as the source of her strength; the ability to withstand the loss of her husband and daughter stemmed from her belief that a higher good would be achieved. Margaret Scully had an infinite capacity to accept, to forgive and to forget. She lived with love and grace, the embodiment of the acceptance, courage and wisdom found in the serenity prayer.

The group of teenagers next to her stood, marking the end of the collection and presentation of the gifts. A teenage girl, probably about fourteen years old, held out her hand to Scully, a shy smile on her face. Scully stared for a moment, not knowing what the girl intended, then seeing other members of the congregation grasping hands across aisles. She looked back at the girl and reached out her hand.

"Our Father, who art in heaven..."

Scully joined in the familiar prayer, saying the words automatically, not attending to their meaning. Her belief in the Church had been whittled away by the rehearsed, monotone prayers that so many joined in without thinking, almost without realization of what they were saying.

"...and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

Forgiveness. To forgive and forget. Many times in her life, she had encountered tremendous difficulty in forgiving, and, next to forgiving, forgetting seemed an almost impossible task. Yet that was the counterpart of faith. The oft-cited examples seemed almost superhuman - the Pope forgiving his would-be assassin, the story of Jesus forgiving his devoted apostle and traitor Judas.

Was it possible, as her mother encouraged, to be able to look past what she believed had been committed against her? It seemed easier to handle her disappearance, as she could shove it to the recesses of her mind headlined by the neon sign "Denial". The evidence did not substantiate a full explanation - the implant and vault of medical files were simply small puzzle pieces that did not give any hint of the full picture.

Now she had to confront all of it yet again. She had hoped that she had returned from Russia a different person, and in many ways she had. She had found a release from the spectre of the X-Files hanging over her, not worrying about risking her life or drawing her gun or having her phone tapped. Those fears had returned tenfold.

Once she had been able to confront the danger head-on, confident in her quest and the comfort that her search was noble and just. The journey lay ahead of her again, commanding her not only because of a supervisor's assignment but also because her sense of duty would not let her rest. This was a time of maximum potential.

Yet this time she was on her own.

 


Monday, January 11 Mulder's office at Quantico 9:00 a.m.

Scully knocked on the open door, pushing it slightly. Mulder was not in his office, though he knew she was coming. She had found the impetus to call him when she had arrived at work that morning, although she had had to fight off a sudden bout of nausea. Once she had identified herself, he had agreed to meet her to review the case.

She walked into the office, struck by the brightness of the morning light shining through the window. His desk was that same ocean of paper, and she noticed the picture frame on his desk, which was facing away from her. Before Saturday, she would have guessed that this was the picture of Samantha, a fixture on Mulder's desk for several years. Now, she would not be assuming anything about the details of Mulder's life. She reached out tentatively and picked up the frame.

A little boy, maybe nine months old, grinned at her, delighted at some unseen toy the photographer held up to coerce a smile. He was dressed in a bright red outfit, clutching a small, green stuffed animal in his hands. Scully pulled the frame a bit closer and smiled softly when she recognized the toy - Marvin the Martian. Of course.

His hair was the same brown shade, straight like his father's. And his eyes, in this photo, had taken on a slightly bluish hue. But there was no doubt that some furious squalling at a dirty diaper or a late feeding would turn those eyes a blazing green or a deep brown. Just like his father's.

She didn't have an opportunity to put the picture down before Mulder walked in the office, and he noticed instantly what she was looking at. She turned to face him, measuring the in-person Mulder with the Kodak'd version she held in her hand.

He watched her cautiously, wanting to acknowledge this new transformation of his life with the appropriate sensitivity. As he had watched the child grow from a simple heartbeat heard through a stethoscope to a laughing, smiling little person, he had often wondered if Scully would be able to experience the same joy, the infinite wonder he could only have found by creating this life. She deserved to feel the unconditional love of her child.

"Scully?" He was unsure yet of how to convey his thoughts.

She looked at the photo one last time. "He's beautiful, Mulder." She wasn't quite ready to meet his eyes as she handed him the photo.

Mulder. A smile came to his face as he heard her say his name. A small sliver of hope strengthened just a bit at the sound of her voice. He tried to make contact with her hand as they exchanged the frame, but was unsuccessful. He waited, searching for signs of regret or sadness or pain. Her face was drawn in the familiar portrait of concealment, reflecting nothing to the untrained eye.

I may be out of practice, Scully, but I know the signs. There had been many times when he could read her mind as if she had handed him the manuscript. He hadn't lost that ability, especially not when he put his mind to it. In her phone call that morning, she had seemed to want to find a connection again, but had been unsure how to establish it.

"His name is Daniel."

Daniel? She had been expecting to hear the name Samuel. Or William. Or something that didn't remotely resemble any person in his life. But he named his child Daniel. Or perhaps he had not chosen the name. Maybe the child's mother had done so.

He watched her identify that piece of information, comparing to the mental scrapbook of the important people she knew in his life. It was true she would find only one possible reference to the name of his son. He hoped to have the opportunity to explain, but right now, he wasn't going to push her.

"How old is he?" Vital statistics. Courteous yet impersonal. To inquire about too much would be to allow him entrance. But her assignment here was the interviewer, and she stubbornly reminded herself of the Kiss rule - Keep it simple, stupid.

"His first birthday is later this month." He tried to convey to her the pride he held for his son, for his role as a father. His two worlds suddenly joining together as he looked at the picture. He had never expected fatherhood, never thought to hope for it, especially after Samantha's death was confirmed. Yet in his most despairing moments, the arrival of his child affirmed his life in ways he never dreamed possible.

Scully felt a twinge of envy at the emotion in his voice. Those opportunities seemed distant now. She needed to center herself on the task at hand.

"I came to ask you for one of the files."

"One of the X-Files?" He carefully placed the frame on his desk.

"My X-File."

He didn't hesitate before responding, "I don't have it, Scully."

"Where is it?"

He gestured to the boxes lining the walls. "It's not here. They took them all away from me two years ago."

He hadn't realized there was a full spectrum of Scully's skeptical expressions. This one registered off the scale.

"Why do you want it?"

"There's information in there about the possibility of more implants. In my medical records from the hospital."

"Are you sure?"

She shook her head impatiently. "You should know, Mulder. You wrote about it."

Patience, old boy. Here's an opportunity to knock down one more barrier, dropped right in your lap. "Scully," waiting for her to look him square in the eye. "If they had forged one document, isn't it plausible they would forge another?"

A long moment of challenging gazes, unspoken thoughts exchanged, until one relented and nodded.

"And why would they do that?" she challenged.

Very quietly, he answered. "I don't know."

She coughed, clearing her throat. "I'm going to Connecticut."

He looked up sharply, surprise registered on his face. "You're investigating Foster?"

"Yes."

"Why, Scully? There's nothing there any more. All the evidence is gone."

"I'm going over all the avenues of investigation, in case something was missed."

A spark of anger flared without warning. "You mean, in case *I* missed something?"

She took a deep breath. "Mulder, there are lots of questions here that don't track. I'm not implying that you missed something - "

"I know, Scully," he interrupted. "Look, I'm sorry. It's just a bit of a sensitive area for me."

The man was a master of understatement. "I just thought you should know," she offered, then turned and walked out of his office.


Bridgeport, Connecticut same afternoon 2:30 p.m.

Scully stepped out of the car and breathed deeply. The weather was colder than she had expected, and the heater in the rental had not worked properly during the half hour drive from New Haven. She yawned, partly from the cold, but mostly from the hours of rest she had missed out on the last few nights.

Scully had tried to fall asleep as quickly as possible, hoping to stave off another dream. Unfortunately, she remembered this one clearly and it was not from her imagination, but from an earlier case. She had seen the pit of bodies, suffering from the experiments, buried in lime like pictures she had seen of the victims of the Holocaust.

Her brief conversation with Mulder had added to the frustration. A quick call to Skinner confirmed that he did not have her file either, nor any clue as to where it had gone. Another tour of the friendly skies did not help her mood, especially considering she had hoped that her most recent cross-Pacific flight was her last for a while. The broken heater was the final straw.

Strangely enough, however, she had not been assigned a partner, contrary to standard Bureau procedure. Once she had realized that fact, she had been tempted to call Skinner, but held off, anticipating his noncommittal response. If she was truly the only agent he had chosen for this assignment, despite her conflict of interest, then she knew he would not assign anyone else to work with her. And fortunately, he did not assign Mulder.

She walked around the car to get her briefcase, which contained the file she would need to review before she interviewed Grace Foster about her child's disappearance in 1972.

Grace Foster, aged 63, housewife, widow - although she had not been notified that her husband had really died sometime within the last ten days. The origin of that particular order remained unknown, and Scully suspected that someone in the Bureau acted with more sensitivity toward the woman than was the norm. Finding that your husband had been alive but not in contact with you for nearly two years would be cause for divorce for most women. Having that brief hope dashed with news of his death would only increase the pain for Mrs. Foster. Until the body had been confirmed as truly being Randolph Foster, she would not be informed.

The police report for Tommy Foster listed nothing unusual - kidnapped from his bedroom, no evidence, no fingerprints, mother home but asleep, father away on business, sisters at a slumber party. His one brother had been interviewed, and he remembered nothing out of the ordinary about the evening. Mrs. Foster had not identified anyone with motive against her family.

The Foster home was a small cottage, suitable for an older woman living by herself. Scully moved up the sidewalk to the porch and rang the doorbell, staring at the swing that drifted softly in the breeze, wondering yet again what it would be like to have a real home and family.

The door opened, revealing Grace Foster to be a woman who had aged gracefully, a pleasant smile on her face. Scully held up her badge, a smooth gesture even though it had been months since she had been required to identify herself.

"Mrs. Grace Foster?"

The woman's smile faded as she recognized the badge. "Yes. I'm Grace Foster."

"Mrs.. Foster, my name is Dana Scully. I'm here to ask you a few questions, and I'm hoping you can spare a few moments to talk with me."

Mrs. Foster hesitated a bit, scrutinizing the visitor. "What do you want to talk to me about?"

Scully concentrated on setting her earlier frustration aside. Regardless of how poorly her day had gone, this woman deserved her utmost attention and sympathy. "Mrs. Foster, I'm sorry to be asking this, but I would like to ask you some questions about your son Tommy."

The older woman's eyes became instantly wary. "What kind of questions?"

Scully looked at the woman, hoping to convey the sentiment that she was trustworthy and honest. "Ma'am, I'm investigating a similar kidnapping that occurred around the same time as your son's. Some new information has arisen about that crime, and you may be able to shed some light on the situation."

The door swung open, an indication of the woman's decision. Scully walked into the house and instantly saw the gallery of family photos lining the staircase in the foyer. Beautiful children and, guessing from the recent pictures of babies, grandchildren. Scully felt a fleeting twinge of envy of this woman.

Mrs. Foster crossed the entryway to the couch in a bright living room. "Please have a seat, Ms. Scully."

"Thank you. I know that this may be difficult for you, and I appreciate any information you can give me."

Almost in spite of the suspicion she had displayed on the porch, tears came to the older woman's eyes, and her shoulders slumped. "Tommy was just a little boy, and it happened so long ago."

Scully had never pinpointed why interviewing and counseling witnesses had always been difficult. She had been quite adept at comforting others in their grief, but had always felt uncomfortable. She sensed that with this woman, her difficulties would increase. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Foster."

"Some people say it should get easier, but it doesn't. And when I feel a little better, then I feel more guilty that it shouldn't feel better. Does that make any sense?"

Scully blinked rapidly for a moment, not wanting to reveal how accurately Mrs. Foster's statement reflected her own feelings about so many things. Just when the grief eased, guilt stepped in to remind her that she could not ease the mourning. A cycle from which she would never escape.

"Yes, Mrs. Foster. It makes perfect sense."


Mulder's home same day 6:00 p.m.

Mulder winced and cursed under his breath as he ran his hand under the cold water in the sink. Why is it that every time I take something out of the oven, a digit comes away scorched? He gingerly patted his hand dry with a dish towel. Satisfied that the injury was only minor, he went in search of Marita.

He had come home, after picking up Daniel from daycare, to find her dozing on the sofa. Apparently, another severe headache had forced her home from work to seek relief in the quiet of the house. That was the third time this month.

Mulder padded quietly up to the sofa and knelt down beside her. "Hey," he said as he gently brushed a lock of hair from her forehead.

She opened her eyes enough to let him know she was awake.

"I made dinner."

"I heard," she said sarcastically.

He shrugged his shoulders in apology. "Are you ready to eat?"

She just shook her head.

"Come on," he urged. "It's only fish sticks. Not even I can mess them up too badly."

A grimace crossed her face upon hearing his culinary choice for the evening meal. "I think I'll pass."

He ran a sympathetic hand across her cheek. "Let me know if you change your mind."

Suddenly, he stood and looked around the room. "Where's Daniel?"

Marita sighed and laid an arm across her eyes. "He wouldn't leave me alone, so I put him in the playpen."

He turned toward the playpen in the corner of the room, surprised that he had not heard a protest from his son at this unexpected incarceration. It was usually at this time, before supper, that Daniel would make his daily prowl of the baby-proof section of the house. He would inspect everything within his reach; the toys that were too big to be put in the playpen, the magazines in the basket next to the recliner, the fish in the tank that he could just barely see if he stood on tiptoe. There would be games of peek-a-boo and catch-me-if- you-can, much to the delight of both parent and child.

As Mulder walked toward the playpen, Daniel stood and held his arms out, whining a little to make sure that he had his father's attention. "Ready to break out of the slammer, big guy?" he asked as he leaned over and picked up the boy.

He carried Daniel back into the kitchen and sat him in the high chair. After tying a bib around the toddler's neck, Mulder placed the baby plate with fish sticks, green beans, and pieces of banana on the tray.

"Here you are, Monsieur. Fish sticks a la Mulder. Bon appetit."

Daniel expressed his approval by offering him the first taste.

He smiled and took a tiny bite. "Thank you. Now it's your turn."

As Daniel ate, Mulder pushed the green beans around on his plate with a fork. He was worried about Marita. Her headaches had been coming more frequently and with more severity. Whatever medicine she was taking didn't seem to be working as well as it had in the past. She had been to see several doctors, but no one could pinpoint an exact cause. Just stress-induced migraines, they said. An aftereffect of the pregnancy. No one seemed to know for sure. In the meantime, he tried to keep his overactive imagination from conjuring up worst-case scenarios.

When Daniel had finished his meal, Mulder picked him up out of the high chair. Definitely time for a bath. As he walked through the living room to the stairs, he noticed that Marita had left the sofa and the door to her office was shut. He didn't know exactly what she did behind the closed door, and he respected her privacy enough not to ask. But one thing he did know for certain, was that she would not come out again for quite a while.


Scully's Office Wednesday, January 13 4:00 p.m.

Her steps sounded more brisk than her energy level would indicate. She stepped in her seemingly more-permanent-by-the-day temporary office and dropped her briefcase in the chair, switched on the computer, and shrugged out of her coat before heading for the coffee maker in the hallway.

The chime of the mailbox prompt on her e-mail garnered her attention. She gripped the mouse to aim the cursor at the inbox logo, sipping her hot coffee with her other hand.

And she remembered.

She remembered receiving e-mails, anonymous ones that she had never been able to trace. And the lines of the messages had matched the lyrics of the songs she had listened to on the cassette from the week - scratch that - from the hours before. When were the dates again?

Sometime in late March, about a month before she had left. She had sought Mulder's advice, but he had had better things to do. Or so she thought at the time. She knew that he had been searching for Samantha, but unfortunately, the only way he had seen fit to do that was to leave her out in the cold. She had had to turn to other sources.

She picked up the phone.

 


that evening 7:00 p.m.

Before the door was fully open, Scully found herself whisked inside into a bear hug marred only by a faceful of hat. She could see Byers' beaming face and felt Langly's hand on her shoulder once Frohike had released her from his greeting.

"Welcome back, Agent Scully," Byers enthused. "We were really excited to hear from you today."

Scully looked around the office. Nothing had changed here, except the additions of the latest in conspiracy topics - TWA Flight 800, the changes in the Russian government and more that even Scully wasn't quite aware of. The overstuffed file cabinets and sheaves of paper littering every tabletop reminded her of the windowless basement office.

"I'm glad you all could meet me. I wasn't sure if..." she hesitated, unsure of exactly what she should say.

"Nonsense," Frohike stated emphatically. "You're welcome here anytime. We're glad you're back."

"What I came here to ask you actually is rather dated. I don't know if you remember when I asked you if some e-mail messages could be traced."

Langly and Byers nodded simultaneously.

"I never really followed up. Some other things...some other things came up, and then..." she lowered her eyes to the floor.

"Don't worry, Agent Scully," Byers intervened. "I do remember that we didn't find all that much, just that someone with high level access had to have pulled off those tricks. Have you received another one?"

Scully shook her head. "I haven't, but I might have a lead as to the messages themselves. Is there a way to search for certain phrases, like in poetry or literature?"

Langly nodded, "Sure. There are a lot of different search engines out there for pretty much everything. What are you looking for?"

Scully scribbled down the line on a sheet of paper. "I'm not exactly sure about this, but let's try it."

"What's it from?" Byers asked.

She shook her head. "I haven't identified the source, but I'm still working on that."

"Meanwhile, Agent Scully," Frohike approached her, holding out his hand. "May we interest you in the latest copy of the Magic Bullet?"


Mulder's home 7:30 p.m.

The child in Mulder's arms squealed and squirmed with delight as they entered the bathroom. Daniel seemed to have a particular fondness for water and bath time had rapidly become a much anticipated event.

Mulder gently sat the child on the floor and opened the linen closet behind him to retrieve three large towels; one for Daniel, one for the floor, and one for himself. It was hard to say who or what would end up more wet in the end.

While Mulder was busy getting the necessary items, Daniel crawled over to the tub and pulled himself to his feet by grasping the side. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw that the tub was empty of water. Still grasping the tub for support, he turned and stared at his father.

Daniel pointed a tiny finger toward the tub and made a questioning sound, and Mulder tried not to grin at the look on his son's face. He sat down on the floor beside the youngster and looked to where Daniel was pointing. Feigning a look of surprise, he asked "Where's the water?"

The toddler looked back and forth between the man next to him and the tub, clearly not understanding the situation.

Mulder pulled his son into his lap for a quick hug. He didn't like to see Daniel teased, even at this young age. He knew that kind of pain firsthand.

"Let's get you out of these clothes, then we'll make the water come."

He quickly removed the child's playsuit and diaper, still bemused by Daniel, who was keeping a watchful eye on the tub. When he was finished, he stood the toddler on his feet and leaned over to remove the childproof locks on the water faucet. He turned the handle slowly and water began to trickle out. With a coo of approval, Daniel carefully leaned closer to the tub to watch.

Mulder let the water run over his hand as he made minute adjustments to the temperature. When he was satisfied that the temperature was correct, he flipped the lever to shut off the drain. The toddler beside him started bobbing up and down with excitement. "Just a minute," Mulder told him with one hand on his arm for support.

When the water had reached the appropriate level, Mulder shut off the flow and checked the temperature one last time before lifting Daniel into the tub. The child laughed with pleasure as the floating toys quickly followed.

Mulder let him play for a couple of minutes before beginning the task at hand. The front of his shirt was already damp from Daniel's overzealous activities, but he really didn't mind. He squeezed a small amount of baby shampoo into his palm and gently worked it into a lather on the boy's head, trying to keep it from running into his eyes. The bottle said "no more tears", but he wasn't about to test the validity of that claim. He carefully rinsed the shampoo and used a washcloth to finish with the rest of the bath.

Although he had often held to belief that he really didn't care what anyone else thought of him, Mulder couldn't help but wonder how people would react if they saw him like this. Ol' Spooky with a child. He had never made an issue at the Bureau about Daniel's birth, but he knew the word had made it through the underground grapevine. Not that he was ashamed of the fact, but he wanted to protect Marita and the baby from the inevitable ridicule. He still cringed inwardly when someone would joke about his son really being a little green man in disguise. Most of the newer agents had more respect for him than that and would politely inquire about the child. But those few old timers who would not let go of the past served as a reminder that not everyone could be trusted.

By this time, the front of his trousers and his hair were also damp, as well as the surrounding floor. Grabbing one of the towels, Mulder wiped off as much of the excess moisture as he could.

"Okay, young Mark Spitz, I think you've had enough fun for one night."

He plucked the youngster out of the water and quickly wrapped the large towel around him, pulling the tiny body close to his own. Mulder would never admit it to anyone, but this was his favorite part. The smell of the shampoo and the feel of the small child snuggling closer for warmth was something that defied description. It always managed to fill him with a curious mixture of awe and pride.

A vigorous, but gentle rubbing soon had Daniel dry. With skill that he never knew he possessed before the baby's arrival, he quickly put on the diaper and sleeper. Daniel grinned as his father held him up for inspection.

Not bad, Mulder thought to himself. Not bad at all.


Scully's Office Thursday, January 14 3:17 p.m.

Scully poured herself another cup of coffee to momentarily distract herself from thinking about the case. She had mentally began referring to it as "the case". Not Foster's case or Mulder's case. Not even *her* case. It was just an investigation, like the hundreds of investigations she had before she left for Russia. She couldn't afford to become emotionally involved.

The meetings with Mulder had been adequate. Better than she had expected, anyway. He had kept things very professional, answered all her questions to the best of his ability. But it had been difficult to look into his eyes when he pleaded for her to believe that he had nothing to do with Foster's murder. She had heard that tone in his voice before, after his father's murder. He had needed someone, anyone, but especially her, to have faith in his innocence then. He needed that now.

She shook her head to force that memory from her mind. Be objective. Stay focused.

The knock at the door startled her and she sloshed hot coffee on her hand.

"Agent Scully?"

She turned to find Agent Davidson from the fingerprint lab, hesitantly standing at the opening to her office. Scully waved her in and gestured to the chair opposite her desk.

"What can I do for you?" she asked as she wiped the bottom of her coffee mug with a napkin before sitting it on the desk top.

Agent Davidson cleared her throat and fingered the edge of the file on her lap. "I finished the print workup on the body that you autopsied last week. As we suspected, there was a definite match to the prints on file for Randolph Foster. A ten point match on all fingers."

Scully ran a hand over her chin as she considered this information. If the body in the morgue was Randolph Foster, then there had been a serious misidentification of the body two years previous. Mulder hadn't killed Foster, but now there was a new John Doe. And a new murderer.

"Good work, Agent Davidson. I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter," Scully said in the hopes of alleviating some of the tension that seemed to be radiating from the young agent seated across from her.

Davidson nodded her head, but kept her eyes glued to a spot on the floor. "Um...Agent Scully. There's more."

Scully raised an eyebrow as the other agent offered her the file.

"As requested, I ran the fingerprints from the autopsy reports of the man that Agent Mulder was accused of murdering and found something...weird."

Scully leaned back in her chair and opened the file. "Weird? In what way?"

Davidson scooted forward in her chair and leaned over Scully's desk, pointing to the top page of the file.

"With the exception of the left hand index finger, this person's prints are also a ten point match to Randolph Foster. The print that does not match exactly is close. Very close. A match of nine points."

Scully could not hide the expression of disbelief on her face, her brows crinkling as she tried to understand what was being implied.

"How is that possible? Two people cannot have nearly identical fingerprints. Even monozygotic twins have distinct and unique prints. There must be a mistake."

The other agent shrugged her shoulders. "I thought so too, but I ran both sets several times to be sure. There's no mistake."


Mulder's Office same afternoon

Mulder scribbled another note in his lesson plan folder and set it off to the side of his desk. Okay, that was done. Next.

Reaching over, he jiggled the mouse on his computer enough to make the hideous, regulation FBI screensaver disappear. The small clock at the bottom of the screen read 4:15 p.m.

Folding his arms over his chest, he leaned back in his seat with a sigh. He had been putting this off all day; thinking of excuses to delay the inevitable. An unannounced visit to Scully's office.

He had taught two classes, filling up his morning. In the afternoon there had been some reading he wanted to catch up on, and of course there had been the lesson plans. Now all of that was completed. He had run out of excuses.

As he stood and reached for his suit jacket, he was surprised to find that his palms were damp.

Come on. Get a grip. It's only Scully.

He wiped his hands quickly over his pants and grabbed his jacket.

It had been quite a while since he had been to the pathology department at Quantico. Scully had handled all the X-File autopsies in the bays at the Hoover Building. When he was reassigned to VCS, he had chosen those same bays. Strange things happened when a body was sent to Quantico.

He entered through the double doors clearly marked with a sign warning all unauthorized personal to keep out; his footsteps resonated loudly in the sterile corridor. He slowed his pace and looked through the window of the nearest door. An autopsy bay, thankfully not in use. He had always felt a bit squeamish during an autopsy session. He could handle the sight of a dead body in the field, even if it had been mutilated beyond recognition. But to see a human lying in pieces and knowing the person responsible was in the room made him uneasy. Luckily, Scully had never noticed, or if she did, she hadn't made an issue of it. She would distract him from the body as a whole and focus on the specific piece of evidence.

He continued down the hall, hoping to find someone who could send him in the right direction. This was definitely not the kind of place where he wanted to get lost. As he passed by another door, he spotted a man in a white lab coat peering into a microscope. Mulder opened the door quietly and cleared his throat to announce his presence. The man jumped slightly and turned toward his visitor. It was Pendrell.

"Agent Mulder. Can I help you?"

Mulder dug his hands deep into his jacket pockets. "Yes, I think you can. I'm looking for Scully's...Agent Scully's office."

Pendrell regarded him for a moment, staring at him intently as if trying to discern the agent's motives.

"Are you expected?"

Mulder shifted his weight to the other foot. "No, I just wanted to talk to her for a moment."

Pendrell stood and started to remove his lab coat. "I'll take you there."

Mulder raised his hand to stop him. "That really won't be necessary. Just point me in the right direction. I'm sure I can find it."

Pendrell's stare turned icy. "Okay," he drawled. "It's the last door on the right at the end of the hall. Are you sure you don't want me to call her office first? She might be out."

The agent waved as he turned toward the door. "That's quite all right. I'll check for myself."

Mulder breathed a sigh of relief as soon as he shut the door behind him. Pendrell was taking his unofficial job as watch dog very seriously.

He continued down the hall until he reached Scully's office. Her door was slightly ajar and he could hear her typing on the keyboard. Taking a deep breath to calm his ragged nerves, he moved to stand in front of her door and rapped lightly on it.

She looked up immediately. Her concentration broken, the look of surprise showed clearly on her face.

Mulder smiled slightly. "Hi."

"Hi," she replied in a wary tone.

Mulder cleared his throat. "I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by to see how the investigation was going."

Scully leaned back in her chair. "We're making some progress, trying to string the evidence together."

"Have you confirmed the identity of the body? Was it Foster?"

She regarded him with a sympathetic look. "Yes. We have positively identified the victim as Randolph Foster."

Mulder wet his lips. "Then who was the guy that was killed in 1997?"

She hesitated, not having decided how much she would tell Mulder about the latest developments. "We're still working on that. Obviously there has been a mistake.."

He nodded. "Scully, can we talk?"

She inhaled sharply. "About?"

Mulder shrugged. "Your trip, your family, anything."

Scully closed her eyes and blew out the breath she had been holding. "I'm pretty busy right now. Maybe another time."

"How about this weekend?" he asked trying his best to mask the panic and dejection he felt rising in his chest.

She smiled wanly. "I can't. I'm baby-sitting my nephew while Mom's out of town."

Mulder looked away to hide his disappointment. This had been his best chance to try to reconnect with her, but she was deflecting all his shots.

"Okay. Maybe we can do lunch sometime?" he asked with an air of resignation.

She merely shrugged her shoulders in a "We'll see" gesture.

He nodded, looking at her one last time, and turned away.

 


State Department, Washington, D.C. Friday, January 15 2:00 p.m.

Scully sat rather impatiently in the waiting room, repeatedly scanning the entryway for any sign of movement from the persons therein. Nervous did not begin to describe her emotions, and she centered her energy on remaining the utmost professional. She was here to interview a witness to a crime, to corroborate a story. For the time being, she could deny that the person she was about to meet held any other significance.

Denial to Scully was a simplistic term for her technique of compartmentalizing her feelings. When she was working, whether it be an autopsy or questioning suspects, she centered herself on the task at hand. In her studies in medical school, one instructor had lectured sternly on the need for compassionate distance - caring for patients and family without overt involvement that would eventually dissolve one's psyche.

For over eighty cases, Dana Scully had incorporated compassionate distance, reaching out to all from a young boy who had lost his mother to an elderly seer who had lost all hope. An emotional investigator was ineffective, and one who let personal issues sway her performance was one who needed to address the cause and right it. She had segmented her grief to private moments, losing her composure only after facing evil of the least paranormal kind in Donnie Pfaster and after holding a gun on her then-partner and her mother.

The other time she had let go of her self-control had been witnessed by only one other, but it marked the lowest point in her life. She had surrendered to the rage and blinding pain and lashed out at the person she believed was responsible. Despite others' carefully offered advice, she had sought the only method she believed could remove the problem. She could not excise the emotion, so she excised herself. Two years of replaying events in her head had not clearly illuminated the events prompting her departure, but it had clarified the emotions. She felt scared, isolated and betrayed. It had been her worst nightmare coming true.

Since her return from Russia, her resolve to shutter away those emotions had been fragile, defied by the intensity of the whirlwind in which she found herself. She had easily identified that her reluctance to talk with Mulder was prompted by fear. At one point, she believed that he knew information about her abduction that he intentionally withheld from her. She had also believed that he wanted to rid himself of her and had thrown her to the mercy of the Office of Professional Conduct. Reading the files as many times as she had the past week had given her a different perspective on his actions.

And she had been able to accept that, to know that he had not truly been responsible for those actions as she had thought. That acceptance had not come easily, but it had arrived. Intellectually, she knew this. Emotionally, however, she traveled back and forth between hostility and the forgiveness her mother had encouraged.

But what was difficult to pinpoint, and what was more difficult to admit, was that she also felt shame. Shame at her inability to understand what had happened. Shame at her response - she had furiously vilified Mulder without giving him any opportunity to explain. Shame that she had taken a most drastic and definitive method of resolving the issue - she had avoided it. Run away. Fled. Ahab would be most disappointed in her.

This investigation was not only a pursuit of the truth that had affected so many lives. It was also a pursuit to recapture what she had willingly abandoned and what had been involuntarily ripped away from her. She prayed that she had the stamina to persevere.

The door to the office opened and a tall, slim blonde woman walked toward Scully. "Agent Scully," she stated, evidently knowing exactly who she was.

Scully held out her hand. "Ms. Covarrubias."

"Please come into my office," she gestured toward the open door.

The decor of the office was simple, nothing flashy that would incur the wrath of any media article deriding government spending habits. Simple black steel desk and credenza, bland paintings adorning the painted walls. No personal artifacts, no plants, not even a picture of her child. Or the child's father.

"Thank you for meeting me today." Scully offered, as she sat in the visitor chair.

Marita nodded, sitting stiffly in the chair behind the desk. "Whatever I can do to help your investigation."

Scully pulled a file and legal pad from her briefcase. "Ms. Covarrubias - "

"Please," she interrupted. "Call me Marita."

Scully paused for a moment, then nodded. "What I would like is for you to tell me in your own words, the events that led you to Randolph Foster."

"Randolph Foster contacted me in early February 1997. He had been seeking treatment for cancer and the therapy had caused some disturbing memories to surface. Memories about a laboratory project that he had participated in several years prior."

Scully wrote a note to herself on the legal pad. "How did you match him to Agent Mulder?"

At the mention of his name, Marita looked quickly at Scully. "Fox had contacted me previously about a similar project. I suspected that the information might be connected."

"Can you tell me more about the project he knew of?" Scully looked up from her notes in time to see Marita narrow her gaze slightly.

"When he traveled to Canada, he had discovered a colony, a bee husbandry project...with his sister."

Scully nodded, waiting.

"He came to me. I was working for the Special Representative to the Secretary General at that time."

"You gave him information?"

Marita hesitated. "When I could, yes. Not often."

"Why did Foster seek you out initially?"

"I...He had mentioned that he knew my father...he had tried to contact him."

"And your father is?"

Marita stared back at her.

Scully slanted her head, not breaking eye contact with the woman.

Marita crossed her arms and rested them on the desk.

Scully pursued another angle. "How did he know your father?"

"I don't know."

"You never asked?"

Marita dropped her eyes to the desk. "It was not important at the time. What was important was the information he had, not how he came to choose me. He knew of information that led us to the truth about Samantha."

"How many times did you meet with Foster?"

Marita's eyes shifted to a calendar on the desk. "Three or four times. I don't exactly recall."

Scully looked again at her legal pad. "You arranged for the testing of the laboratory sample found in the bottle, correct?"

Marita nodded.

"Who performed the tests?" Scully returned her gaze to the woman.

"An associate of mine," she replied.

"May I have the name?"

"No." At Scully's frown, she quickly added, "I'm sorry. He was killed six months ago by a drunk driver."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Scully offered. "You wrote a corroborating statement to Mulder's account of Foster's disappearance."

"Yes, I did."

Scully leaned forward slightly. "Who do you suspect killed Randolph Foster?"

Marita looked back at her blankly.

Scully looked at her carefully. "You had reason to believe he was being followed, you met with Mulder covertly, to the point that he lied repeatedly about his whereabouts, and Foster ended up murdered. Surely you have a theory as to who might have been behind all this."

Marita's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, then focused on Scully's face. "I knew we were being followed, and I knew that Foster was a target. But I do not know who was instigating it. If I had, I would have stated it then. Fox was almost imprisoned because of them."

"Yes. Yes, he was. Thank you for your time today, Ms. Cov - Marita." Scully stood up and walked toward the door. She was nearly at the exit when she heard her name.

"Dana."

She turned and waited.

"I know Fox is...worried about you. About what you think of him. I just wanted to ask you - "

Scully raised an eyebrow.

"I wanted to ask you how you think he's doing."

Scully laughed mirthlessly. "I think that you would know better than I. Don't you agree?"

A trace of sadness crossed her face. "I would be the last to know."

The silence that followed became progressively uncomfortable until Scully ran out of patience. "Thank you for your time, Ms. Covarrubias."


later that evening Maggie Scully's home 7:30 p.m.

Scully sat on the bed typing furiously on the laptop in front of her, transcribing the interview notes from earlier that day. Her mailbox chime sounded, but she decided to ignore it, wanting to get the report done so she could enjoy the three-day weekend.

The bell sounded again, and she read the address of the sender in the small Mail window on the screen. Her name.

She quickly moved the mouse to activate that window and double- clicked on the new message. She read the identical addresses in the send-to: and from: lines of the message, then moved on to the text.

All the fear has left me now. I'm not frightened anymore.

Scully clicked on the reply function, and swore quietly when she saw her name appear in the send-to: box yet again. She stood up, grabbed her coat and stalked out of the room. It was time to end this charade once and for all.


Offices of the Lone Gunmen 45 minutes later

Scully knocked on the door rather forcefully, her anger barely subsided since she got the e-mail. Langly opened the door and she moved past him and took her coat off.

"I got another one." She felt as if she were spitting the words out.

"Another message?" Byers queried, looking up from his computer screen.

She nodded. "I want this one traced, guys. I'm tired of putting up with this. Someone is playing with my mind."

Byers got up from his chair and invited her to sit in front of the computer. "Telnet over to the Bureau's server and log on to your account. We'll take it from there."

Scully sat and typed in the commands.

"Have you told Mulder?" Frohike joined the crowd around the computer screen.

Scully paused for a moment before looking at Frohike. "No, I haven't. I don't know how it's connected yet and I don't want to involve him."

Finally, the message appeared on the screen. Scully stared at it for a moment. "Langly, have you found the source of that line I gave you Wednesday?"

He shook his head. "I've been looking through the poetry and literature servers, but haven't found anything yet."

"How about looking for a lyric from a song?"

Langly leaned forward and looked at the two-line message. "Well, there is a song lyric server out there in cyberspace. I'm sure we can rig a search engine to see if this is listed."

Scully grabbed a nearby pad and scribbled some more lines down. "Can you look for these as well?"

Langly looked at the paper and nodded. "Not a problem. Shouldn't take too long. Do you want to wait?"

Scully shook her head. "No, I can't. Would you call me though, if you figure anything out?" She looked to see the three men nodding simultaneously.


Saturday, January 16 Margaret Scully's home 10:00 a.m.

"Billy! Be careful with the Rice Krispies! You don't want to spill them before we put them in the marshmallows, do you?" Scully balanced the large bowl precariously between her arm and stomach as she tried to help the four year old with the box of cereal.

"I can get it, Dana. I don't need your help!" Billy concentrated sternly on the plastic bag, using both hands to rip it open without spewing the crispies all over the linoleum.

Scully sighed, relieved that this latest adventure in babysitting had not ended up with the demise of the treats. She poured the cereal in the bowl and began stirring, interrupted only by the ringing phone.

"I'll get it!" Billy yelled, scrambling for the stepladder he would need to reach the wall phone.

"No, Billy - " her response was cut off by the chime of the doorbell. She debated for a moment between telephone and doorbell, but Billy solved the dilemma quickly.

"I'll get it!" Off he went, a blur of denim overalls.

Scully picked up the phone and frowned when she heard the dial tone. Another prank call. Grabbing a towel for her hands, she headed out into the living room to rescue the visitor from a Billy-tackle. She stopped abruptly when she saw the guest.

Fox Mulder knelt on one knee in front of Billy, balancing another boy on his leg. Billy, being the gregarious type, was busy making friends with the shy child, already offering his Rice Krispie treats and the promise of a crayola-fest.

Mulder saw Scully enter the room, and he carefully placed his son on the floor before standing. He looked at her sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. "Nice welcoming committee you have."

She looked down at the two boys, envying Billy's ease with the situation and wishing right now that she could borrow some of it. "He does make friends easily."

Okay, Mulder, take the plunge here. "Scully, I'm...I'm sorry to drop by unannounced, but I was planning to take Daniel to the zoo.... he's never been there...and I knew you were watching Billy...and I thought maybe you both would like to go with us, if you're not doing anything else, that is...I should have called to check first, and I apologize...but you're welcome to come if you want." He felt all of ten years old.

At the mention of the word 'zoo', Billy stood up and clapped his hands loudly, yelling the various sounds of the animals he wanted to see. "Hoo hoo hoo hoo hee hah hah Hah HAH HAAAH!"

Scully had been contemplating a graceful refusal of the invitation, but couldn't stop the laugh that rose. "Billy, is that a monkey sound you're making?"

"Wee Weee WE WEEE!" was the answer, accompanied by an emphatic nod.

"I take it you want to go to the zoo," she responded.

"RRRRRRAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!" Billy practiced his fierce roar, and now Daniel was getting into the spirit too, joining in with several mews and giggles.

"Baaaah raaaam ewe," Mulder chimed in, looking up at Scully with a teasing glint in his eye.

Scully tried again to hold back the laugh, but failed as Billy and Mulder began reciting "Babe." She considered the ramifications of spending a day with Mulder and his child and -

"Marita too?"

His expression fell for a moment. "She's not feeling well, so she's at home resting. So it's a boy's day out," he finished, a hesitant smile coming to his face.

"C'mon Aunt Dana. It'll be fun!" Billy tugged on her hand with a sticky, gooey grip.

She sighed again. Don't think. Just let it go.

"Okay, Billy. Let me get your coat."

Scully walked back to her bedroom, quietly contemplating this decision. Billy would be present, as would Daniel, and she would be able to use the boys as a diversion to any personal conversation Mulder wanted to initiate. Still, though, she was very nervous.

She grabbed a parka from the closet and changed into some warm hiking boots before searching for Billy's coat and boots. She could hear him chattering excitedly, occasionally echoed by Daniel, both entertaining Mulder to a litany of animal voices.

A week ago, she had confessed that she did not know if she could forgive Mulder. Certainly her understanding of the events that led to her departure had changed dramatically. But underneath that realization lay her fear, exposed, raw and vulnerable, that she would only be betrayed yet again. Professionally, she needed him to find the answers to the puzzle she was unraveling. And personally?

Early in her assignment to the X-Files, she had come to accept the reality that her personal life would be sacrificed to the work in large and small ways. Everything from her relationship with Ellen and Trent to Melissa's death represented another piece she relinquished. At times her anger at the situation fixated on Mulder, the nearest target. Even when he seemed to be the moodiest person she had ever met, he transformed into a considerate and charming man deserving of forgiveness..

That was then, this is now.

No more thinking, just go.

 


Mulder let out the air he had been restraining when he saw Scully walk into the living room with her coat. He had convinced himself she would change her mind, preferring to deal with her nephew's dejection rather than his own. She studiously avoided him, kneeling down to zip up Billy's coat and slip on his boots.

When he had checked the weather this morning, he had grown hopeful that he could pull off a casual day at the zoo. Daniel had gotten over the case of the sniffles he had developed earlier in the week, and Marita had experienced more headaches that left her exhausted. After getting Daniel out of his crib, father and son went to the kitchen to find the mother.

Marita had looked at him sadly, with her head propped on her hand. Her headaches had gotten worse, and she lacked the energy to handle the day outside. She had commented that he should call Scully to ask her, the suggestion coming as a bit of a surprise to him. He nodded, grateful that she had mentioned Scully. Since the meeting earlier that week, they had not discussed her interview. Mulder regarded her suggestion as a sign that the conversation had proceeded without any tension.

So he and Daniel drove to Margaret Scully's home. He had never been here for a good reason, and he took a moment to envision the Scully family gathered here for holidays and special occasions. It was a model he hoped to use for his own family.

"Ready to go?" he said, standing up with Daniel in his arms.

Scully looked at Billy, who was already straining for the door, eager to get outside. She gently released him and stood up, looking at the little boy.

"Ready as I'll ever be."


Agreeing to join Mulder on his trip to the zoo had seemed threatening at the time, but now that they were in the park, Scully found herself relaxing enough to actually enjoy the visit. The weather had been surprisingly warm for January and the wind had not picked up to the point of discomfort. Mulder had settled Daniel in a baby backpack on his shoulders, walking slowly enough to accommodate Billy, who had to stop and point at every animal he saw.

Scully directed every comment to Billy, wanting to include him as much as possible to avoid addressing Mulder. He had also done the same, but she suspected that his motives were designed to put her at ease, not to prevent any communication. Billy was enough of a handful to occupy both of them, and now Daniel was starting to get more active, drumming happily on his father's head.

"I have to go to the bathroom!" Billy pulled anxiously on her coat.

Scully looked at the little boy, who was hopping from one foot to the other, and quickly scanned the area for a restroom. Fortunately, there was one a short way down the path, and she gestured to Mulder to head in that direction. "Okay, Billy, just hold on a little bit."

She took his hand and headed toward the women's room, when Billy yanked away and stamped his foot. "I wanna go to the boy's bathroom! Not the girl's!"

Scully turned and aimed a stern look at her nephew. "Billy," she said in a low voice.

"NO! Girls are yucky! I wanna go to the boys!" he yelled, crossing his arms and sticking his lower lip out for emphasis.

Mulder had watched the exchange with amusement, chuckling at his newfound discovery of the one person besides Skinner impervious to Scully's stare. Billy certainly possessed the same Irish stubbornness of his aunt, although he couldn't recall seeing her cross her arms in defiance. He remembered using his pout much more often than she did. This was a golden opportunity to educate Billy on the reasons why girls were not 'yucky'.

"Scully, I could take him to the restroom."

Billy made the decision for her, running over to Mulder and pulling him toward the restroom before she could respond.

"Wait a minute, Billy. Let me leave Daniel with your aunt, okay?" Scully started a bit at this comment, her expression slightly fearful as he turned toward her. "He needs to get out of the backpack for a bit, if you don't mind."

She shook her head numbly, holding out her arms for the child as he slipped the straps from his shoulders.

Daniel looked at him with the same uncertain expression Scully wore, and Mulder gently stroked the child's head. "I'll be right back, okay? Scully will take good care of you." With that, he and Billy headed toward the bathroom.

Scully couldn't decide who was more afraid of the situation, but at the sight of Daniel's face crumpling at the view of his departing father, she swung him around to look at the nearest animal. With the momentary distraction, he relaxed in her arms, and she juggled the child and the backpack, trying to disengage him from the contraption.

Finally, she accomplished that task, allowing Daniel to rest his head on her shoulder through two layers of winter coat. He pointed sleepily at the lion and then pulled lightly on the string of Scully's hood. Scully decided to risk sitting down on a nearby bench to wait for Billy and Mulder. She sat carefully and held Daniel, who seemed to be ready for a morning nap.

His face was soft, lined by the warm knit hat, cheeks slightly red from the cold, with a bit of a runny nose. Long eyelashes lined his hazel eyes, which had finished their suspicious examination of her. Evidently, she had come up clean in his investigation, as his eyelids drooped shut.

It was an unconscious rocking back and forth, one Scully didn't notice she had started until her elbow hit the armrest on the bench. She looked quickly at Daniel, who merely snuggled closer to her, seeking her warmth during his baby dreams. She leaned her head down to rest her cheek on his hair, breathing in the smell of baby lotion and shampoo.

Mulder walked out of the restroom with Billy's hand in his, nodding absentmindedly to the latest lecture of the hazards of girls. He looked around for Scully and Daniel, but was interrupted by Billy's sharp demand.

"I wanna hot dog!"

Mulder looked down at the toddler briefly. "Just a minute, Billy. I want to find your Aunt Dana."

He continued scanning the area, thinking that surely the bright red head of hair still stood out as much as he remembered. Finally, he saw them, Daniel curled contentedly on Scully's lap, her head leaning gently on his. Both had their eyes closed.

Mulder smiled gratefully. He had been uncertain of what Scully's response to Daniel would be. He had seen her with children before - even the most bratty of kids had garnered her compassion and sympathy - and knew that children held a special place in her heart. But he had been worried that because Daniel was *his* child, she would display only a polite disinterest in him, or worse, outright rejection.

So when Billy had insisted on the boys' bathroom, Mulder had taken that gift of a chance to entrust Scully yet again with that most precious to him. Perhaps her acceptance, and her welcoming embrace of the child, symbolized that she was ready to try the same with the child's father. She certainly trusted him enough to let him take Billy off to the restroom, even though she hadn't had much choice in the matter. Still, Mulder had seen her resist the most logical of options - well, logical to *him*, that is - in the past, and she had not done so here.

A warm cocoon sheltered her from the slight wind, bringing about smells of baby. And something else. Something meaty and...something that made Scully's stomach rumble. Her ears caught a small giggle, and she slowly opened her eyes to see Billy, with an adult hand softly over his mouth stifling his laughter, holding a hot dog directly under her nose.

"Ssshhh Billy, don't wake up Daniel," said Mulder quietly. At Billy's nod, Mulder removed his hand to grip the other three hot dogs.

"Aunt Dana, we got you a hot dog," Billy whispered conspiratorially.

Scully glanced down at the sleeping child in her arms, then leaned over carefully and took a bite. "Thanks, Billy. That's just what I needed."

"Let's move over to the table, shall we?" Mulder suggested.

As Scully stood up, Mulder gestured to the sleeping child. "I can take him. He gets awfully heavy."

"No, Mulder, it's okay. If we switch him, he might wake up." Scully looked up at him to see him slowly nod his assent.

"If you're sure."

She smiled faintly and walked over to the nearby tables. Mulder set down his hot dogs and held out a chair for Scully. She rested her arm with the baby against the side of the chair and reached for her hot dog with her free hand. Billy sat next to her, promptly applying the ketchup and mustard to his face like makeup.

"Billy, let's get you some napkins," Mulder said, heading back to the hot dog stand.

Mulder returned to the table with three sodas and a fistful of napkins, most of which were used to clean Billy's face. "A diet for you, Dr. Scully."

Scully took a quick sip, crinkling her face in displeasure.

"What is it, Scully?"

She hesitated, then a small grin crossed her face. "Would you be worried if I said it tasted syrupy?"

Mulder laughed and pulled his soda up for a check. "I agree. Think it's digitalis?"

Scully laughed, "There's probably more bacteria in the hot dog than the soda." She took another bite of her hot dog.

"And yet, you persist, risking your life for the sake of simple nutritional satisfaction?" Mulder countered, enjoying the banter.

"Oh, I wouldn't call it nutritional, Mulder." Another bite. "It's just the way you do things at the zoo."

She was caught off-guard by Mulder's hand extending toward her, aiming for the side of her mouth. She concentrated on not flinching as she felt the napkin wipe her cheek. As she watched the hand move back toward Mulder, she coughed slightly and grabbed her soda for a drink.

Mulder casually tossed the napkin next to the pile that Billy had generated, seemingly unaffected by his gesture. Scully swallowed another gulp of soda, remembering Mulder's natural habit of touching her and how long it had taken her to adjust.

The long moment of silence that followed intensified as both struggled for a safe topic of conversation. Mulder shifted in his seat, averting his eyes from Scully and onto the surrounding landscape.

It was Billy who came to their rescue. "I wanna go play," he mumbled around his last bite of hot dog.

Scully glanced up at Mulder, trying to gauge his reaction to Billy's demand.

Mulder smiled. It was too soon to leave - there was still so much that he wanted to say, especially now that Scully seemed to be ready to listen.

"Great idea. Let's get that mustard off your face and then we'll go." He reached into his coat pocket and produced a small box of wipes. Plucking one out of the pack, he motioned for Billy to come to his side of the table. When the boy's face and hands were clean, Mulder stood and turned toward Scully.

"What?" he asked as Scully gave him a slightly bemused look.

She shook her head. "You're well prepared."

He chuckled. "Better than the Boy Scouts, Scully."

Billy tugged at Mulder's hand. "Come on," he said with little boy impatience. Mulder went around to Scully's side of the table and held out his hand.

"Ready to hand off?" he asked gesturing toward the still sleeping child in Scully's arms.

"It's okay, Mulder. He's tired. Let him sleep."

Mulder nodded and helped her up from her seat, leading her with a hand on her back. The sensation was somewhat foreign, and she moved to her left to remove his hand. He didn't seem to notice.

Billy wasted no time getting to the children's part of the zoo, making a beeline for the first exhibit. He waved a hand toward his aunt and her friend, then disappeared into the giant prairie dog tunnel.

Scully and Mulder made themselves comfortable on a bench nearby. After a few seconds, they saw Billy's head sticking up through a hole in the top of the mound. He waved again and didn't stop until they had waved back.

Daniel had woken from his short nap and was watching Billy's antics from his seat on Scully's lap. He squealed and pointed every time the other child stuck his head out of the hole. Scully couldn't help but smile as she watched Mulder chuckle at his son's reaction.

When Billy moved onto another exhibit, Daniel turned his attention to an examination of Scully's sleeve.

"He really likes you," Mulder said quietly, nodding his head toward his son. "Normally he's very shy around strangers."

"Mulder..." Scully sighed, looking away from his intense gaze.

"I worry about it sometimes," he continued. "Not just the shyness, I think that's probably a typical reaction, but other aspects of his behavior."

Scully frowned. Although she had only been around Daniel for a couple of hours, she hadn't noted anything aberrant.

"What do you mean, other aspects of his behavior? Is he acting abnormally in some way?" she asked with what she hoped sounded like clinical detachment.

Mulder shook his head. "No, nothing like that. It's just..."

When he didn't continue, she raised her eyebrow and prompted, "What?"

Mulder shrugged. "I hope I'm doing the right things, Scully. I don't know anything about raising a child. What's going to happen if I screw it up?"

She smiled at the frequently asked question of many new parents. She had heard her brother voice the same fear to her mother shortly after Billy's birth.

What was a little disturbing in Mulder's case was that Daniel was no longer a newborn. Surely he had begun to ease his apprehension as he watched his son develop. How long had he been harboring these feelings and not discussed it with anyone? Why did he want to bring it up with her? Why not with Marita?

She remembered Marita's final question the day before and wondered with their relationship was like. Each was asking a third party significant questions that they should be directing toward each other.

Scully scanned the area for Billy, who had returned to the prairie dog exhibit. Satisfied that he was safe, she turned on the bench to face Mulder. His eyes locked onto hers, pleading silently for an answer to his question.

"Mulder, I'm not an authority on child-rearing. You know that. But as far as I can tell, you're doing just fine. Daniel seems happy and healthy. He responds to you, looks for you when you're not there. And when he sees you again, his eyes light up. I don't see a problem."

Daniel must have sensed that he was the topic of conversation. He turned toward his father, his arms reaching out for Mulder to pick him up. Mulder obliged and settled his son on his lap.

"He loves you Mulder. Don't doubt that."

Mulder nodded a silent thanks.

 


2:30 p.m.

"Scully, would you mind if I stopped at home real quick? I just want to check to see if Marita needs anything from the store. It's actually closer if I stop now instead of doubling back."

Scully looked at him and shrugged her shoulders. "If it's more convenient for you."

He glanced over at her before heading the Jeep toward the driveway, a frown crossing his face as the garage door swung open.

"Something wrong?" Scully inquired.

He didn't respond.

"Mulder?"

He pulled the Jeep in the driveway and shut the engine off, opening the door almost simultaneously. He slammed the door shut and headed for the front door of the house.

The jarring of the car woke Daniel, who had been sleeping peacefully in his car seat. He instantly wailed, both from the harsh noise and the unfamiliar surroundings. His cry woke Billy, who merely rubbed his eyes before looking around.

"Don't cry, Danny," he said, reaching out to pat the screaming child's head.

Scully unfastened her seat belt and got out of the car to open the back door. Daniel was already worked up in a fierce crying fit, and she fumbled with the latches to his seat, more anxious because of Mulder's swift departure than by Daniel's crying.

She pulled the child from the seat and cradled his head against her shoulder while shutting the car door. "Billy, can you get your seat belt undone and come with us to the house?" Regardless of what Mulder was so upset about, she was not going to sit in the car in the winter chill.

With one child balanced on her hip and the other one leading her by the hand, Scully made her way to the front door, standing ajar since Mulder had forgotten to close it. Billy shut the door behind them as Scully looked around the entryway. She could hear doors slamming upstairs, but she chose to remain on the main level, not wanting to expose Billy to any type of heated situation. Daniel's crying had softened to a whimper, and his face became a mess of tears and runny nose.

"Billy, let's sit on the sofa while we wait, okay?" Scully took Billy's hand and walked to the nearby sofa, sorting through Daniel's diaper bag. Daniel watched her movements with widened eyes, and Scully mused that he had quickly learned that an opened diaper bag usually meant food.

"Here you go, partner." She held up a bottle of juice, nearly dropping both baby and bottle when Daniel lunged for his treat. Scully was pleased that she had been able to effectively distract him from his earlier crying. And from whatever his father was doing.

The door slamming had slowed, but Mulder had not come back downstairs just yet. She considered the potential causes for his actions, but came up with nothing plausible. Only the sense that something was very, very wrong.

She saw Mulder poised at the top of the stairs, looking down at her. She tilted her head to one side and watched as Mulder opened his mouth as if to say something in response. He evidently changed his mind, as he retreated from the stairwell.

Scully frowned and concentrated once more on the baby in her lap. Billy had crawled up on the sofa, leaving his sneakers dangling off the side - both his mother and grandmother had drilled that lesson into him - and was slowly resuming his nap. Daniel's eyes had zeroed in on the playpen in the corner, and he began bouncing up and down in a signal that he was ready to play.

She stood up and crossed over to the playpen, first ensuring that it was set up properly. Daniel stood eagerly in the middle of his toys while Scully removed his coat, then he promptly found a lone pacifier and stuck it in his mouth. He looked up at her, smiled, and sat down amid his Fisher Price kingdom, content for the moment.

Scully removed Billy's coat and shoes, not with the intention of staying longer, but to prevent any damage to the sofa. With that done, she looked up at the spot Mulder had occupied previously. She could neither see him nor hear him, and thus debated whether to go upstairs.

Throughout their working together, she had seen Mulder in a multitude of emotions. Today had reinforced a once-unlikely facet to her list - that of happiness. Despite his own misgivings about fatherhood, he clearly thrived on providing his son with security and love. Anyone who had given them a passing glance could not have missed that. He was content, no longer restless, no longer tormented. She had envied that, and realized with a start, that perhaps they had executed 180 degree turns since they first met - she had had the fulfilling and happy life before walking into the dark world in the basement of the Hoover Building.

With some trepidation, Scully called up, trying not to disturb the children and whatever conversation might be going on upstairs. Mulder walked out of a room into the hallway and saw her on the bottom of the stairs. He looked at her for a long moment, doing nothing to hide the despair in his eyes. She waited for him to say something, and he weakly raised his hand in a signal to come up the stairs. With each step she took, Mulder's anguished face came further into focus. She raised an eyebrow, not wanting to vocalize her confusion.

"She's gone."

Suddenly, he ran for what appeared to be a restroom, and Scully could hear the retching from within. She looked in the room next to it, their bedroom, and could see the remnants of a messy ransacking. Still confused by the exact events, Scully moved into the entryway of the bathroom.

Mulder was hunched over the toilet, struggling with his stomach's betrayal. He clutched the sides of the porcelain, and what Scully could hear sounded more like sobbing than nausea. For a moment, she waited. Another set of heaving propelled her to the sink, where she filled a plastic cup with water and soaked a washcloth.

"Mulder," she said softly, lowering the cup to his field of vision.

He nodded and reached up to take the cup. Scully handed him the washcloth and retreated from the bathroom, hoping to give them both some time to compose themselves.

Even though Daniel hadn't celebrated his first birthday yet, he was enshrined on a series of pictures lining the staircase. She focused on a candid snapshot of Mulder holding Daniel above his head, both of them grinning for the photographer. Most of the pictures were casual shots, but she could not find Marita in any of them.

As she heard the toilet flush, Scully stepped away from the wall and focused on Mulder, who was exiting the bathroom. His features now radiated exhaustion, and he looked at Scully with a sudden question in his eyes.

She knew what he was asking. "He's in his playpen."

Mulder headed down the stairs to the living room. Scully followed at a distance, in time to see Daniel greet his father with a beaming grin and both arms outstretched. Mulder leaned over and picked up the child, hugging him tightly, and kissing him repeatedly on the top of his head. Daniel continued to play with his stuffed animal, oblivious to the fact that his father was now crying softly.

Scully watched the scene from the entryway, attempting unsuccessfully to quash her own sadness. Internally, she was weighing the importance of finding out exactly what happened versus Mulder taking the time to comfort himself.

The phone rang shrilly, startling both of them from their thoughts. Mulder looked at Scully, pleading silently. She nodded and moved toward the phone on the desk next to the front door.

"Hello." She wasn't sure how to answer the phone.

A woman's voice. "Dana, let me talk to Fox."

She locked eyes with Mulder and watched his hazel eyes darken as she held out the phone. He crossed the living room in two long strides and nearly snatched the phone out of her hands.

"Hello."

Scully focused her attention on Daniel, now playing with the telephone cord. A look of consternation came over his face, matched by the anger he could hear in his father's end of the conversation.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Scully looked up sharply at that comment, as did Daniel, who began to cry.

"What about your son?"

For all the anger that Scully had witnessed in Mulder, she had never heard this depth of fury in his voice. His grip tightened around Daniel, whose crying went unheeded. His distress grew as Mulder's arm stiffened.

Scully gently laid her hand on his arm, trying to prevent the rigid jerk that came anyway. His eyes were darting rapidly, and she put both hands on Daniel to indicate what she wanted to do. He stared at her for a moment before releasing the child. She cradled the child and headed back to his playpen. She had successfully quieted Daniel when she heard one final comment from Mulder.

"And what about me?"

Whatever response Marita gave prompted the loud slam of the phone receiver hitting the wall. Daniel began to cry again, unaccustomed to the anger his father had never displayed. Billy also stirred, looking around the unfamiliar living room.

Mulder stared at the three of them, not registering that all three wore the same hesitant expression on their face at the sight of him. Scully's eyes were transmitting sadness and pity, and he wanted neither sentiment at this time. He spun around and headed out of the house, the door closing with a finality he felt in his heart.

He headed down the street, not caring that he didn't have a coat or proper running shoes or that the wind had picked up and it was threatening to snow or that he had left his son in the arms of someone who was a virtual stranger to the child. Scully would manage, he knew, whether she wanted to or not.

Marita had been very concise in her answers, but somewhere in their brief conversation she had conveyed the sentiment that she was not returning to their life together. Too confining, too much responsibility to shoulder the upbringing of a child alongside supporting him during his battle with demons. He had thought the worst was over before Daniel's arrival, but he had obviously guessed incorrectly as to how she felt.

That wouldn't be the first time.

He ran. It was all he could think about right now. Just run and let all other thoughts fall by the wayside. The steady pounding of his feet matching the pounding in his head, drowning out her voice.

After about ten blocks, Mulder stopped to catch his breath. Bent over at the waist, he sucked in lungfuls of air, trying to ignore the stares of the people in the yard across the street. He must have looked a sight; dressed inappropriately for the season and running like he was being chased by demons. How were they to know that was exactly the case?

He walked the next two blocks to the small park where he often brought Daniel the previous summer when he was only a few months old. Sitting down on the bench next to the empty flower beds, he tried to get his thoughts in order.

He had messed up. Big time. His biggest mistake was trusting Marita. He had been vulnerable and had let his defenses down. What had happened to his mantra - trust no one?

No. Wait. He wasn't being fair, the clinical part of his mind told him. It had not been easy for her - Foster, him, the pregnancy, the responsibility of a child. It had all happened so fast, too fast. She just needed time to adjust. And the unexplained headaches had no doubt added to her burden. He should have done more to help.

Mulder's thoughts wandered back to the day that she had finally told him she was pregnant. She had known for three weeks and had said nothing. He had just finished serving time on his suspension from the Bureau and had begun working in Violent Crimes, supervised by, of all people, that ass Colton. He had been in a funk that threatened to pull down everyone who came in contact with him. She had timidly told him the news, unsure of his reaction. And with reason. He exploded in a tirade of expletives concerning her lack of responsibility in preventing this from happening. She quietly retreated to her apartment. Later that evening, he had nearly had his nose broken when she slammed the door in his face after he suggested an abortion.

In a rare moment of childlike regression, he had phoned his mother, seeking advice. He thought she would understand and sympathize with his cause. After all, she knew firsthand the dangers of bringing a child into this hostile world. He could not have been more wrong.

His mother had covered him in guilt for even thinking such a thought. How dare he consider taking the life of an innocent child after what had happened to his sister? Her final cutting remark - he was no better than his own father.

Her harsh words sliced deeply and he hung his head in shame. Was he truly his father's son, sacrificing a child for his own selfish belief?

No, he had told himself. He couldn't live with himself if he was. And as he had many times in his past, Fox Mulder looked deep inside and found himself wanting. He was responsible for that child and he had no other option but to own up to that.

As the months passed and the due date grew closer, a change had slowly overtaken him. He no longer held disdain for his child, but instead actively sought to forge a bond. The first pictures via sonogram had thrilled him more than he thought possible. And the sound of the tiny heartbeat through the borrowed stethoscope had filled him with immeasurable joy.

It was a moment of revelation. He had actually helped to create a new life. A past filled with pain and death had been erased, assuaged with something fulfilling and good. This was right and he was determined to see that it stayed that way.


Scully slowly walked around the living room and rubbed Daniel's back. The crying he had started earlier had erupted into a full-blown wail when the door had slammed behind his father. Daniel gripped her sweater almost painfully and rocked his head back and forth in anger. Billy was sitting straight up, his face still registering surprise and sleepiness.

Scully looked at the clock on the wall and realized she didn't know when Mulder would return. She looked down at the child and saw that her earlier suspicion about his changeling eyes had come true. They were most definitely a brilliant green.

"Sshh, sshh, sshh, Daniel. He'll be back soon." The crying slowed a bit as Daniel focused on her face. "How about something to eat?"

Billy climbed off the couch and took her hand. "Can we get some Mickey D's?"

"No, honey, we need to stay here so that Daniel can see his daddy when he gets back. Let's go into the kitchen."

Scully thought back to Mulder's sparsely furnished kitchen and the number of times they had ordered out when reviewing cases. This version bore the touch of a child - high chair, bottles in the sink, an assortment of baby food jars next to the stove. The refrigerator revealed a small Tupperware container in red and green and blue. Scully opened it to find what looked to be a well-balanced meal for a one year old. Next to it was a package of hot dogs.

"Two in one day, Billy?"

With Daniel and Billy providing a drum beat while sitting in their respective chairs, Scully put together a simple snack for the three of them, with Daniel happily slurping applesauce off the spoon she brought to his lips.

She cleaned up the dishes while the two of them were working on their bananas for dessert. While she was drying her hands, Billy looked at her, his nose wrinkled.

"Something smells yucky, Aunt Dana."

She laughed and headed over to the high chair where Daniel had finished the third of the three functions of babies. "Well, you've slept on my shoulder, and I just fed you, so I guess I get all the fun today, huh?"

Daniel's face was very serious and one hand was clenched into a fist.

"Bet this is going to be a good one," Scully sighed as she swung him into her arms. Billy climbed off his chair, anxious to help.

"Aunt Dana..."

"Billy, let's go see if we can find you a video to watch while I change him, okay?" They headed for the television in the living room, and Scully was relieved to see that Mulder's video collection had gentled in its contents. She popped in a cassette, checked to see that Billy was settled on the floor with pillows, and headed up the stairs to find some diapers.

The nursery was decorated in primary colors, with lots of bright reds and blues accenting the white furniture. The changing table sat next to the lamp, and Daniel waited patiently for Scully to orient herself in the room. Diaper, baby wipes and powder in hand, Scully could only wish for a stuffed-up nose.

"Well, Daniel, for a little one, you sure know how to announce your presence." Daniel cooed happily as she applied the baby wipe to his legs. A Band-Aid that had been applied to his heel slipped off, and she examined the wound carefully to determine if another adhesive strip was needed.

That task done, she looked around the room for a wastebasket. Seeing a picture next to Daniel's crib, she moved closer to the wall to examine it. The picture was of Daniel and his parents, shortly after he was born. Mulder was holding the baby and Marita was standing behind him.

Scully looked closely at the woman. There was a smile on her face and a hand on Mulder's shoulder, but she seemed...distant. Not unhappy, but not terribly comfortable with the scene either.

Daniel's chatter drew her attention back to him. How does anyone abandon their child? He slowly extended his finger to touch the cross around her neck, tracing the chain.

Scully leaned her forehead on his. "You are a beautiful boy, and your daddy loves you very much." But his mother was another story.

 


two hours later

When Mulder's thoughts returned to the present, he was shocked to find himself still sitting on the park bench. How long had he been there? The winter sun was almost gone and any warmth that had been generated during the day was rapidly fading.

He shivered violently as his body finally registered the cold. Standing stiffly, he turned toward home. As he walked, he thought about Scully. He had ditched her again, running away instead of facing the truth, no matter how painful. She deserved better. She had always deserved better, but this time he was determined to tell her.

The house was quiet. It was early evening, with shadows having fallen across the windows. The lights were off, as the darkness aided the slumber of the four year old on the couch. As he let himself into the house, he had nearly expected it to be empty. But once he had quietly shut the door, he heard the rustle of someone standing up and a soft voice.

"Mulder?"

Her red hair was only slightly less brilliant in the dark, and he watched her rise from the couch and move into his line of vision. She kept a distance from him, perhaps unsure of his mood.

"Hi."

He had wandered for hours, trying to escape the reality. The cruel joke still held its devastating punch line. He was alone, yet again. And the last time he remembered standing on the edge of this particular precipice, another woman had intervened.

She stood before him, unsure of what to do, what to say. Much as she couldn't identify his emotions, her own were just as mysterious, as foreign to her. She had played out a multitude of scenarios while waiting for him to return, but now that he was here, her mind was bare.

"She's not coming back."

His voice was husky, soft, but it felt as if he had shouted through a megaphone. A multitude of emotions conveyed. At the sound of his voice, so quiet and plaintive, a thousand responses leapt to her mind. And each one was contemplated, edited and rejected as being too hypocritical, too sarcastic, too patronizing.

So many questions to ask. Where had she gone? Why had she left her son? What drove her away? But she could only muster the courage to give simple acknowledgment.

"I know."

"When Samantha died and you - " he averted his gaze from hers. "When I found out she was dead, I thought it was over. Everything was gone - the X-Files, my sister, you. I wanted it to be over."

How to respond? What to say to someone who had experienced relentless despair, part of which she had caused, only to watch his newfound oasis drift away again?

"I didn't care anymore, Scully. There were no answers, no truth, no justice. Just - "

His head dropped forward.

"Emptiness."

Scully watched him silently, waiting.

"And she was there when no one else was."

Now they stood facing each other, heads tilted forward, enmeshed in their own thoughts, identical thoughts of guilt, shame and sorrow, but for opposite reasons.

"It hurts not to be wanted, Scully."

The feeling she couldn't name earlier, she now recognized, was alienation. How apropos. Rejected, isolated, unloved. Not unlike the brother yearning for his wandering twin. Regardless of our own freakishness, visual or invisible, each of us need to be needed. Need to be loved.

Scully tightened her hands in her lap, strengthening an already painful grip. I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm so sorry.

But all she said was, "I know."

A faint cry sounded in the distance and Mulder found the inspiration for a weak smile. "My son."

Scully looked up and watched his face in the shadowed light from the outside street lamps. He exhaled audibly and turned to go upstairs.

"Mulder - "

"Come with me."

She hesitated, unsure.

"Please."

He led her up the stairs and into the nursery, picking up the crying child and the nearby stuffed rabbit.

"This is Mr. Buns. He was a gift from Frohike."

Leave it to Frohike for a toy name just this side of risque.

Mulder swayed back and forth slowly, comforting himself as much as his child. A vision came to her mind of watching her partner after a nightmare, a continuous motion not unlike what he was doing now. And her soul cried for the man in front of her.

"I named him for you, Dana. Did you know that?"

She shook her head slightly, her breath catching in her chest.

"I needed strength, someone who would believe in me the way you did."

But in the end, I didn't believe in you. "Mulder, I - "

"You are the strongest person I know. And I drove you away."

"But there's - "

"I was wrong, Dana. Back then. I was wrong. I should have - "

"No, Mulder. Don't do this. Please."

He held up his hand to signal her silence. "Let me finish. I lied to you, misled you, and you don't know how sorry I am. I should have..."

"Mulder, it doesn't matter now."

The rocking stopped and he fixed a piercing gaze on her.

"Doesn't it?"

She looked at him, met his gaze evenly as she always had. Another moment in their history where he forced her to consider an alternative. And as it had happened so many times, she chose her own path.

"Mulder, let's not do this. Please."

He turned around and placed his now-sleeping child in his crib, covering him with a blanket. He looked up at her and motioned her to the hallway.

"I'll call you a cab, Scully."

She nodded silently and followed him down the stairs. He busied himself with the telephone as she dressed Billy in his coat. Her own coat appeared next to her, and she signaled her thanks as she shrugged into it.

Billy, his eyes still half-closed, looked up at the tall man. "Can I have a bye-bye hug?"

Mulder looked down at the little boy, seeing himself some thirty- odd years before.. He knelt down and tied the hood, then pulled him into a brief hug.

"Thank you for taking us to the zoo," Billy said.

Mulder stood and locked eyes with Scully at the same time the horn from the waiting taxicab sounded. She slowly extended her right hand, catching just the fingers of his left hand for a brief squeeze, hoping to convey that she cared.

His nod was slight, but enough to let her know that the message was received.


Mulder slowly rocked back and forth in the nursery's rocking chair, cradling the slumbering child in his arms. Daniel had fallen back to sleep shortly before Scully left, but needing the contact of another human being, Mulder had returned to the nursery. He picked up his son, holding him close, seeking comfort in the age-old motion.

Memory after memory flooded his conscious as he maintained the steady rhythm. Had he seen this coming, deep down, in some deeply- recessed corner of his mind? He was a trained investigator, paid to notice subtle clues that others missed. Had he been blind to what was happening in his own home or had he seen and chose to ignore the signals?

She had said it was over. She was not coming back. Did she really mean that or was it overwhelming desperation talking? He had always thought of her as a strong person, not easily overcome by emotions. She seemed capable of dealing with anything he had thrown at her and had stuck by his side in the aftermath of Samantha, when he was sure that he was at the rope's end. He thought again of Scully, another women of strength. He had managed to push her away, why should it be any different with Marita?

But in this case, it was different. It would have been painful if it had been just him that she was escaping, but she was running from Daniel as well. Was he such a terrible person that leaving their child was an acceptable sacrifice to ensure survival?

Mulder sucked in his breath and tried to stop the tears welling in his eyes from falling.. Now was not the time for indulging in self- pity. He was not the innocent victim in all this. He had to think of Daniel first and foremost. He was all that was left and he would do anything to ensure his son's health and happiness.

He thought back to his own father. Would things have turned out differently if he hadn't been willing to make that sacrifice? Would Samantha still be alive? Would his son have grown up without being wrapped in the smothering cover of guilt that had emotionally paralyzed him since age twelve?

Mulder turned his eyes upward, and for the first time in many years, he prayed.

If there is a God and you're listening, please give me the strength to get through this.

 


Sunday, January 17 Mulder's home 11:00 a.m.

Daniel pointed in the general direction of the door as the doorbell chimed a second time. He gripped the top of his playpen and grunted loud enough to wake Mulder, who had nodded off on the couch. He sat up groggily until he recognized the sound of someone walking down the front steps.

Wiping his eyes as he ran for the door, he swung it open in time to see Scully getting into the car parked in the driveway. He stepped outside before remembering he had no shoes on.

"Scully!" he yelled, getting energy from the cold snow hitting his feet.

She looked up and caught his gesture inviting her indoors. It looked to him like she was debating whether to go in, but she quickly opened her car door and got out.

"I should have called first, Mulder," she said as she was coming back up the porch stairs. "I'm sorry for disturbing you."

He shook his head and held the door open for her to enter. She looked over to see Daniel, still holding himself up in his playpen. He squealed when he recognized who had walked in. Mulder crossed the room and picked him up.

Scully stood and watched, deliberating for the thousandth time if this was a good idea or not. He looked like he had gotten about as little sleep as she had, though she hoped he had not been plagued by nightmares also. Her mother's words echoed in her head, ones that she knew she had always believed. He was a good man. And he was hurting.

"I was getting ready to feed him some lunch. Why don't you stay?" Mulder headed toward the kitchen without waiting for her response.

"That's okay, Mulder. I don't want to intrude."

"Scully, it's just sandwiches." His tone indicated weariness, and Scully decided not to protest further.

He moved sluggishly through the kitchen, throwing the bread listlessly on the counter. A pounding headache was drumming in his ears, and his back ached. He leaned against the counter and closed his eyes for a moment. He was so tired.

Scully had sat on the couch, distracted for the moment by Daniel's playing. She yawned and got up, trying to force energy into her limbs.

"Need any help?" she lowered her voice once she saw Mulder sleeping against the counter. A thin layer of perspiration had broken out on his forehead, and she raised a hand to measure his temperature.

Fever. Definitely. She gently laid her hand against his forearm and squeezed.

"Hey."

He opened his eyes and watched as Scully swayed in front of him. Better to keep his eyes closed for a while.

"Mulder, why don't you lie down? I'll make Daniel some lunch." Taking his arm, she led him into the living room and maneuvered him onto the sofa. A flannel blanket resting on a nearby chair served to cover him, and he was asleep almost immediately.

Perhaps some aspirin. After peeking at Daniel briefly, she headed for the bathroom in the hallway she had seen the previous evening.

The mirror in the bathroom didn't conceal a medicine cabinet, so Scully was forced to open a closet across from the vanity. Nothing but Mulder's shaving items, leading her to believe that this was the bathroom he used, typically unstocked. In the hallway, she considered for a moment attempting to respect his privacy while still attending to his illness. She headed into the bedroom.

A master bathroom was at the back of the bedroom, and she pushed the door open. There was little evidence that anyone used the room, but obviously Marita had taken her personal belongings with her. Again the mirror was bolted to the wall, so she pulled open a drawer. A bottle of aspirin rested atop a small calendar, the type various businesses used as promotional giveaways. As Scully pulled the bottle, the plastic stuck to the calendar paper, bringing both out of the drawer. She yanked on the bottle, ripping the paper in the process, and walked out of the bathroom.

Fortunately, Mulder stocked his refrigerator with orange juice, and she poured a small glass to help swallow his aspirin. Daniel babbled at her as she approached the sofa.

"Mulder. Mulder, it's me."

His answer was a moan.

"Here," she said as she propped up his head against a pillow. "Take some aspirin for your fever." She held the glass up for him as he swallowed the tablets.

Mulder slept through the lunch she put together for Daniel, who also promptly fell asleep in his playpen. Scully sat on a nearby chair and watched the two of them sleeping.

Her trip to his home today was prompted by both a concern as to his well-being and a need to share with him her thoughts regarding the investigation. The information about the two Fosters combined with the unsettling discoveries about the events two years prior worried her. And it was a familiar worry, the same trepidation she had encountered so many times when confronting the elements of conspiracy shadowing the X-Files. Other forces two steps ahead, making sure they were shoved three steps back.

A quick check of Mulder's forehead revealed that his fever had dropped somewhat, and she decided to wake him to see how he was feeling.

"Mulder."

He shifted on the couch and pulled the blanket more firmly around him.

"Mulder," she tried again, a bit louder.

He opened his eyes, squinting at the light and focused on Scully. "Hey."

"How do you feel?"

"Like I should have worn my coat yesterday."

She smiled gently. "Do you want to try some lunch?"

He shook his head, grimacing when the motion caused another less powerful percussive beat through his head. "What time is it?"

She looked at her watch. "About three."

He jolted. "Daniel - "

She nodded her head in the direction of the playpen. "Sleeping."

His body relaxed back into the cushions of the couch. "Thanks for sticking around."

"No problem."

By putting his hands against the couch frame, he pushed himself into a sitting position, testing his body's response to the movement. So far, so good.

"Scully, can we talk for a bit?"

Her expression reminded him of a childhood memory. He and Samantha had been on a camping trip with the neighbor's family, and they had decided to explore the woods at night. He had taken a flashlight and found a baby doe less than twenty yards from where he stood. The doe stood frozen for a brief, beautiful moment, then bounded into the woods.

Scully looked ready to flee. He put his hand on her wrist and pulled her down to the couch next to him. She scooted to the end of the sofa and folded her hands in her lap, studying them intently.

Daniel raised his arms in his sleep, attracting the attention of the two adults. He slowly lowered his hands and resumed his steady breathing.

Mulder smiled, his eyes lingering on the child. "I never imagined being a father, Scully. I didn't know what it could be like."

He turned back and tried to see her eyes. "Scully. You probably don't have a very high opinion of Marita right now, but you don't know her, not really. It was hard for her. All of this. Me, the baby, everything."

He waited to see if Scully would comment, but she remained silent.

"It was a difficult pregnancy. Having her first child at thirty- five, the doctors said it would be rough. She was sick all the time during the first trimester. And I wasn't much help to her. I tried to pretend it wasn't happening for a long time."

"She wanted this baby and she said she would have it with or without me. I had asked her to...to consider alternatives. I'm not proud of that, and I'm glad that she refused. But things were different after Daniel was born. It was like she was lost - I can't describe it. Like a postpartum depression but different. It was as if she had done her part, she had given birth, now it was someone else's job to do the rest."

Mulder leaned back and shook his head. "That didn't come out like I meant it. She was a good mother. She never neglected to care for the baby, but emotionally, she wasn't into it. I tried to talk to her, asked her to talk to someone else. She said she was fine."

A slight smile crossed his face as he turned his head toward Scully.

"I'm sorry. I'm rambling. I'm just so confused right now. I think I understand how she feels - he can be overwhelming at times and I know that I can be too - and yet, I can't seem to make myself forgive her. She left me, but she left Daniel too and that's the hard part. How could she do that to him? Maybe I'm being selfish, but I don't want her to have the chance to do that again."

"You know, Scully, I never went through a period of not trusting her, not after I found out about Samantha. That's odd, isn't it? I should have. But I wanted so much to hang on to *something*, someone. I was alone, but she was there."

Scully stayed quiet, her face studiously impassive.

"I think about this, and I wonder how I'll ever learn to trust anyone again. I just don't have the energy anymore. And I can't trust myself either, to make the right choices."

Her voice was just above a whisper. "I know." I know exactly how you feel.

He continued on. "It's hard Scully, not knowing who to trust, not believing in yourself to judge, feeling betrayed by the ones who hurt you the most."

She stared at the tendons in her hands, stretched taut as his words carved deeper into her resolve to remain in her role as listener.

"It hurts Scully. Worse than I could have imagined."

She pressed her eyes shut, trying desperately to ward off the tears. "I know." Her voice cracked. Listen to what you're saying, Mulder.

"I really believed in her."

That was all she could handle. She opened her eyes and looked at him, followed his gaze to the playpen. A nod of gratitude that he could not see the pain his words had caused. She stood quietly and took her coat off the recliner.

"I'm going to go, Mulder."

He looked over at her, his mouth open to protest her departure. He started to get up, but the pounding returned to his head at the same time.

"Scully," he called to her.

She stopped at the entryway, only turning halfway toward him.

"Thanks."

She didn't look at him as she nodded, then headed out to her car.


Monday, January 18 Maggie Scully's home 4:00 p.m.

Scully looked around her room, noting that she had finally gotten what she needed unpacked and in decent arrangement. The day's fresh snowstorm had kept her inside, and she expended the energy working on emptying boxes and doing whatever she could to keep her mind off of the case. Now she had to work on an update for Skinner, and she grabbed her laptop case.

Her mailbox directory indicated a message from an address she didn't recognize, but the nickname read "Warren Commission". She smiled and clicked on the message.

Agent Scully,

I was able to find the three phrases you gave me, all from one disc. I attached a file with all the lyrics from that disc. Let me know if you need anything else.

Langly

Scully scanned through the lyrics listed, seeing the three she had noted from e-mails. Another line caught her eye. She reached for her legal pad and turned to the notes from Marita's interview.

I would be the last to know.

How ironic. That's exactly how I feel.


Tuesday, January 19 Quantico 9:30 a.m.

Agent Pendrell shook his head as he stared at the results of his computer search. Something definitely wasn't right. Someone, somewhere had made a huge error.

He leaned back from his hunched position in front of the computer screen, checking one last time to make sure that he had read the information correctly. Satisfied that he was right, he downloaded the file to a diskette. Depending on the relevance, this bit of news would either make Agent Scully exceptionally pleased or it would ruin her day. He hoped it wasn't the latter.

As Pendrell made his way down the hall to Scully's office, he spotted her standing at the coffee machine with several other people. When she turned back toward her office, he shouted her name in hopes of catching her attention. Unfortunately, her attention was not the only one he captured, as everyone stopped what they were doing and stared, first at Pendrell, then at Scully.

Scully's face was still tinged pink with embarrassment when Pendrell reached his destination.

"Sorry," he apologized, his own cheeks burning.

She smiled. "It's okay, Pendrell. Did you need something?"

He leaned in closer and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Is there some place we can talk? Privately?"

Scully cast him a suspicious glance, her eyebrow cocked in question. Then, feeling the stares of the other people in the hallway, she led Pendrell into her office and shut the door.

"This okay?" she asked, still slightly unsure of his intentions.

He nodded and handed her the diskette. "This is fine. I've got something to show you."

Scully placed the diskette into the drive and clicked on the "run" command. After a few moments, the results of a autoradiogram appeared on the screen. She studied it for a second, then looked over at Pendrell, who had pulled up a chair beside her.

"What am I looking for?" she asked, her hands gesturing her confusion.

Pendrell swallowed visibly, then slowly let out his breath.

"I've been working on the file that you gave me. The one that involved Agent Mulder."

Scully nodded to convey she understood, then waited for him to continue.

"As you know, that file contained two PCR results from a genome analysis, one from Agent Mulder's mother, the other from a sample thought to be from his sister."

Pendrell opened the file he was holding, pulled out the two sheets he had mentioned and handed them to Scully.

"There's something not quite right here, Agent Scully."

She held them up to the light and squinted. "In what way?"

Pendrell's shoulders shrugged slightly. "I don't know exactly. But I pulled up the test number corresponding to Agent Mulder's mother. I didn't assign it to a case, but I am required to keep all records on file for five years.

"Why no case number?"

"He said it was personal and not to file it under any specific case number."

Scully stopped her examination of the sheets and turned in her chair to face the man next to her.

"Personal?"

Pendrell shrugged again. "I didn't ask."

Scully sighed and leaned back in her seat. Mulder had only one thing on his mind at that time, so there must have been a connection.

Her thoughts were broken when Pendrell continued with his explanation. "That's the PCR on your computer screen."

Scully inhaled sharply as she compared the computer version to the sheets in her hand. They didn't match.

Pendrell stood and leaned over her shoulder. "The test I ran was with chromosomal DNA," he said pointing to the computer screen. "The PCR results on the sheet is from a mitochondria DNA sample. It's marked with the same test number I assigned, but I didn't do it."

She looked up at him. "You're saying that this is the same test number but two different results?

He nodded.

 


Quantico 3:00 p.m.

Scully hesitated before knocking on the thick oak door of the laboratory office. The sign affixed to the door read TWGDAM - Technical Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods. Thank goodness for the governments penchant for the use of acronyms. Below that sign were a series of smaller name plates. She scanned through the list until she found the person she was looking for - Dr. Jacob S. Kiley.

Pendrell had been diligent in his effort to help her unravel the mystery of the PCR sheets, insisting that they needed the help of the best expert in the business, Dr. Kiley. Scully was still disturbed by the fact that the sample Pendrell had run for Mulder was completely different from the one in the file, and was not ruling out the fact that the evidence had been tampered with. She had seen it before, many times, during her assignment to the X-Files.

Pendrell had gladly volunteered to contact Dr. Kiley and show him the resulting autoradiograms. An hour later, he had called, his voice breathless with excitement. They had found something unusual, but needed a sample of Agent Mulder's DNA to verify the results. That would be her contribution to this part of the investigation.

Finally steadying her nerves, Scully opened the door. The interior of the office was decorated much nicer than the typical governmental regime she was used to. Deep burgundy and golden oak as compared to the standard sterile white or gray. Obviously there was a difference between being government sponsored and government owned. The receptionist behind the desk looked up from her typing and smiled.

"Can I help you?"

Scully returned the smile. "Yes, I'm Dr. Dana Scully. I have an appointment to see Dr. Kiley."

"Why don't you have a seat and I'll let him know you're here. Would you like some coffee while you wait?"

Scully raised her hand and shook her head. "No, thank you. I'm fine."

As the receptionist picked up the phone to notify Dr. Kiley, Scully sat down on the plush over-stuffed sofa. She dipped her hand into the pocket of her coat and felt for the small container holding the blood and skin sample that Pendrell asked her to bring.

It had not been as easy as she had hoped to obtain these samples from Mulder. He was suspicious by nature under the best of circumstances, but the fiasco with Marita over the weekend had increased his wariness. Scully thought it best not to discuss the matter over the phone, and he had agreed to meet in his office. When she entered, she could see the signs of stress and fatigue in his gait and on his face.

She tried to ease gently into the subject, but he was not in the mood for small chat, so she decided to get straight to the point.

"Mulder, I gave the PCR sheets that were in Samantha's file to Pendrell."

He sat up quickly from his slouched position, clearly ready to protest.

Scully raised her hand to stop him.

"Let me finish. I wanted him to take a look, to see if there was anything unusual; a difference that maybe only someone with his experience could recognize."

"And?" Mulder asked, becoming more agitated and irritable.

Scully took a deep breath before continuing. "And he found something. Not necessarily in the results, but in the sheets themselves. He thought something wasn't quite right, so he pulled up the record he had on file, the one you had asked him to run...Mulder, they're not the same."

Mulder moved to the edge of his seat. "What do you mean they're not the same?"

"The autoradiograms are from two different types of DNA. The PCR sheets in Samantha's file are of mitochondrial DNA. The sample that Pendrell ran for you was nuclear."

Mulder leaned back in his seat, rubbing a hand over his mouth as he thought. After a moment he shook his head. "Help me out here, Scully."

She also leaned back in her chair, thinking of the easiest way to explain this. "The sample that you took to Pendrell was a strand of your mother's hair. Correct?"

He nodded, so she continued.

"You asked him to do a standard DNA screen and give you the autoradiogram from that screening, which he did. Those results show the breakdown banding of a fragment of DNA from chromosomes in the nucleus of the cell. The other two results are from chromosomes found in the mitochondria, located outside the nucleus. It's a different test."

Mulder nodded.

"A mitochondrial DNA comparison will show a genetic link between the mother and child, since it is only donated by the maternal parent. That's why I need to take a sample from you."

"Me?" Mulder asked in a raised voice, sitting once again on the edge of his seat. "Why?"

Scully leaned forward and placed her elbows on the desk in what she hoped was a non-threatening gesture.

"As I said, mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by the mother. All siblings will have the exact same DNA as the maternal parent. If your sample matches that of the one thought to be from your mother, then we will have a better idea if the other PCR is from Samantha."

"Samantha," he said in a brusque tone. "All this is about finding out if that sample is from Samantha? I thought your job was to identify the body laying over there in the morgue, not to re-hash my work from two years ago."

Scully briefly closed her eyes and tried to find a way to make him understand before the situation got out of hand. "Mulder, please. That's exactly what I am trying to do. If the man in the morgue really is Randolph Foster, then I need to find the true identity of the man who was killed two years ago. In order to do that, I need to know all the extenuating circumstances. What his part was in all this; what did he know or do that made his murder necessary? Everything seems to revolve around the sample you discovered in the lab in Chicago, so we have to be certain that the sample is authentic."

Mulder lowered his gaze to focus on his hand resting on his knee, a strange mixture of emotions crossing his face for a fleeting moment, only to be replaced by grim resignation. "Okay, Scully. Whatever you need."

He hadn't said much after that, just complying with her instructions. She tried to inquire about the class he was teaching, but he responded with a mumble, something about cancelling. As she left, she turned to find him buried in some book, perhaps preparing for his next lecture.

Scully's reminiscing was broken by the sound of a familiar voice calling her name. She looked up to see an excited Agent Pendrell beckoning her to follow him through the door behind the receptionist. She fingered the container in her pocket one last time and rose from her seat to meet with Pendrell and his Dr. Kiley.

"Hi," Pendrell greeted. "Did you get the samples from Agent Mulder?"

She nodded and handed him the small container. "100 cc's of whole blood and a skin peel from the index finger. I kept them refrigerated."

He smiled slightly, acknowledging that it had probably not been an easy task. "Good. I'll drop these off to the lab assistant so that she can start the workup immediately."

When that was done, he led her further down the hall to a set of tight-sealing glass doors. He pulled on one the doors and held it open so Scully could enter first. As she entered the room, she was immediately shocked by the cool temperatures and sterile smell, similar to that of the morgue. A short, middle-aged man was across the room, completely engrossed in his study of the transparency sheets taped to a back-lit wall.

Pendrell cleared his throat. "Dr. Kiley?"

The man turned and a surprised grin came to his face. He placed the marking pen he was carrying in the pocket of his lab jacket and made his way toward Scully, offering a welcoming hand.

"You must be Dr. Scully. I'm Jacob Kiley," he said as he shook her hand vigorously.

Scully returned his grip. "It's nice to meet you, sir. I'm glad that you were able to assist Agent Pendrell with this investigation."

The scientist's grin widened. "No. No. It's my pleasure. Fascinating piece of evidence I must say. Did you bring the other samples?"

"Your assistant is working on it right now," Pendrell said with almost as much enthusiasm as the other man.

Scully frowned. They must have found something really unusual to generate this much excitement. It reminded her of the early days in the basement office - Mulder examining a new case file, his eyes gleaming with barely contained exuberance. She would liked to have shared in their glee, but she had the distinct feeling that whatever it was they had found would only help to turn Mulder's already shaky world on its ear.

"Let me give you the grand tour while we wait for the results," Dr. Kiley said as he led them to the back part of the lab.

An hour later, Dr. Kiley's assistant notified him that the sample results were ready. They gathered around the back-lit wall as the older man carefully placed the new PCR sheets next to copies of the ones from Samantha's file. Grabbing the marking pen from his lab coat pocket, he drew circles around the most significant parts of horizontal bands.

"Most definitely a match," he said with assured confidence. He placed one finger next to the amplified DNA segments taken from Mulder, another next to the one supposedly from his mother. "See here. Identical structure."

Scully nodded her head in agreement. "So we can ascertain that these two individuals are mother and progeny. What about the third person?"

"Ah," said Kiley, raising a finger for emphasis. "This is where it gets interesting. As you can see, all three match in the six critical areas I have circled. But there is a slight aberration in the third sample."

Scully turned to look at Pendrell, hoping she could somehow transmit the importance of this finding. "Aberration?"

He shook his head and she turned back toward Dr. Kiley.

The older man, sensing her discomfort, raised his hand in a calming gesture.

"Let me explain. Pendrell told me that the results from this PCR were obtained from a sample believed to be over twenty-five years old. To be honest, I'm surprised that the DNA structure had not degraded to the point where it would be impossible to get any usable sample. So there is the possibility that an error may have occurred in processing. However, it would be unusual for an error to occur in just that minute segment. There is also the possibility that the aberration happened by natural mutation."

Scully closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose as she tried to sort out this information. "So you are saying that all three of these people are related, two siblings with the same mother?"

Dr. Kiley nodded. "I'd say that there is about a 96% probability. But it's the mutation that has me puzzled. The only difference between the three samples occurred in the fourteenth section and upon closer examination we found an unusual repeating DNA structural pattern. If I didn't know better, I'd say that the third sample was the result of cloning."


Margaret Scully's home later that evening

"... the third sample was the result of cloning."

The words echoed repeatedly in Scully's head.

She sat on the bed, stacking and fluffing the pillows next to headboard, trying to get comfortable. Dr. Kiley's simple conjectural statement had far too many implied implications.

Cloning? Not again.

Did the PCR results prove that Mulder had truly found his beloved sister, the sample distorted by the many years?

Or was it another example of how "They" were able to deceive?

The latter made sense in a twisted way. Load the hook with an irresistible tidbit and hope that Mulder took the bait.

But if that was the case, why had he bought their story? He had seen this exact scenario played out just two years previous on a bridge in Maryland. Surely he would have recognized the feeble ploy for what it was?

Scully shook her head at her logic. This was Mulder. He wouldn't have thought things through properly. He would have just plunged in head first without looking to see if there was enough water, consequences be damned. Had the potential for deception even crossed his mind?

And what about Randolph Foster? What was his part in this? Was his story about the experiments in the lab true or a fabrication to add credence to a web of lies?

Why had he been killed? To prevent the accidental leak of conflicting information?

Not an unreasonable assumption.

But why had Mulder been accused of the murder? That didn't make sense.

They had what they wanted. Mulder believed that he had found all that remained of his sister; his search was over. Were they trying to assure themselves that would be the case by having him live his remaining years out behind bars? Or had it been a mistake, an oversight that had been covered up?

So many questions. So few answers.

That left her with her original assignment; to identify the man in the morgue. His fingerprints matched those in the database for Randolph Foster, but so had the prints in the autopsy file from two years ago. Well, except for the index finger of the left had. A slight variation in a minute segment...

Scully sat up suddenly, her breath catching in a short gasp.

Oh, god. Why hadn't that occurred to her before?

Cloning. Of course. One of the "Fosters" must be a clone.

No. Wait. What about the toxic green substance that served as blood? She had not encountered that in her autopsy. Nor had the body disintegrated as had the clone of Samantha. She needed to locate the coroner who had performed the autopsy in Chicago.

She leaned down and opened the briefcase laying at the end of the bed, searching through the piles for the file containing coroner's name. She found the file and ran her finger down to the bottom of the top page.

Dr. Michael Everett.

Scully glanced over at the clock on the bedside table. It was past eleven, too late to find out anything tonight.

She hesitated for a moment, then picked up her cellular and quickly dialed a number.

"Pendrell?" she said apologetically. "It's Dana Scully. I'm sorry to call at this late hour, but I need a favor."


FBI National Academy Wednesday, January 20 10:00 a.m.

Mulder walked into the empty classroom, not bothering to turn on the lights. He moved to the middle of the room and stared at the rows of vacant seats, trying to visualize how they would look filled with students - bright eyes and eager, young faces.

Too young, he thought to himself.

He didn't think he had ever been that young. His soul was old by the time he had entered the academy.

He had been trying to prepare himself for the day's lecture, but found that his enthusiasm was gone. Everything had changed over the weekend, even his desire to impart his words of wisdom.

A self deprecating snort escaped from his throat.

Who was he to think that he had the ability to teach these young people anything? His own life was hardly the perfect model. How could he tell them about life as a federal agent when he, a veteran of thirteen years, couldn't even maintain a normal personal life? He had failed in his role as husband, and there was the distinct possibility that he would also fail as a parent. Despite his best efforts, Daniel would probably end up as messed up as his father. Genetics were not in the young boy's favor.

Mulder closed his eyes and shook his head sadly.

He couldn't do this. Not today.

In three long strides, he was at the blackboard picking up a piece of chalk. He hesitated for a moment, rolling the smooth cylinder between his fingers. Finally, after taking a deep breath, he quickly scribbled "class canceled" on the board.

It wasn't fair.

Not to him, and especially not to the students.

But, as a wise man had once told him, life was rarely fair.

 


outside Chicago, Illinois same day 12:30 p.m.

Scully navigated the car through the country lanes carefully. She hadn't driven on gravel roads in quite a while, and she still wasn't used to driving a car much at all, having relied on public transportation for the last two years. Still, it was better than flying, which she would have to do yet again to get back to D.C. She noted several small farmhouses and the railroad tracks Mulder had detailed in his case report. She pulled off the road and stopped the car, reaching for her binoculars as she stepped out.

The place looked exactly as described, with one exception. The buildings listed in the case report had burned down to the ground, and the fresh "Police Line: Do Not Cross" tape roped around the area indicated that the fire had been fairly recent.

Scully did not doubt for a moment that this was the site of the laboratory. Just too coincidental that it should burn down now of all times. She stared for a moment at the charred ruins before getting back into the car. She executed a three-point turn and headed back the way she had come, her mind reviewing the information yet again.

The jarring of the railroad tracks startled her out of her musings. She again stopped the car, her eyes glued to the rearview mirror that reflected her shocked expression.

Railroad tracks. Leading to a laboratory that had once been used for experiments. Experiments similar to those that might have been performed on -

And once again, the sensations hit her...

the bright lights

the drill lowering to her forehead

the pump attached to her torso, inflating it beyond capacity

the light grid of plus signs criss-crossing her arms

Scully watched herself in the railroad car, the doctors surrounding her body as it lay on a stretcher. The motion of the train car accentuated by the excruciatingly loud noises. The intolerable pain, with no hope of respite.

She leaned forward and rested her head on the steering wheel, waiting for her breathing to return to a slower rate. She saw the file resting on the seat next to her, and picked up the case report Mulder had written.

The experiments had ceased in 1974, according to Foster.

And that fact, Scully knew, was just another lie.


Thursday, January 21 Skinner's office 10:00 a.m.

She waited, exhausted, wishing she could have a moment for a quick nap to regain the sleep she had lost the previous evening. She had worked for hours on her report, also attempting to ward off the nightmares, trying to put the pieces together, fearing the consequences. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, only she couldn't find any straight edges.

"Agent Scully."

Since their last meeting, she had delivered just one update to Skinner, an e-mail listing her itinerary and request for travel expenditures. He had called earlier that week and requested a summary of events.

She stood and walked into his office. No unexpected visitors this time, and she settled once again into the chair in front of his desk.

"What progress have you made on the investigation?"

She retrieved her unfinished report from her briefcase and extended it toward him. He set it down on the desk.

At her questioning look, he replied, "I don't want to read about it, Scully. I want you to tell me what you've learned."

"I've been able to confirm that the body in the morgue is a nearly identical match to the body found two years ago in the Chicago River."

"Are you saying that you have identified those two men as twins?"

"There is substantial evidence that the more recent body is Randolph Foster. Agent Pendrell had been endeavoring to find the coroner of the first body."

Skinner inclined his head, looking for an answer.

"The first coroner died in a fire three months after that autopsy. The fire was in the morgue, and all the records were destroyed."

"Of course."

She started, not expecting Skinner to make a statement at all, much less one that indicated he also anticipated the removal of evidence.

"Two years ago, Mulder had a test run to confirm the identity of a sample of tissue. That sample was determined to be Samantha Mulder, reported dead in 1974."

Skinner nodded.

"Agent Pendrell has found abnormalities in the sample Mulder used, raising doubt as to whether it was Samantha."

"I'm not following."

She paused for a moment, then stared straight ahead. "A clone."

"A clone?"

She nodded. "According to the lab reports. I suspect the same is true of the two bodies identified as Randolph Foster."

He exhaled audibly. "What else, Scully?"

"I haven't been able to put together a rational hypothesis, sir. I'm simply operating on my own instincts here."

"What does Agent Mulder think?"

He registered the tension that comment prompted and changed the subject. "I understand that Agent Mulder's relationship has..."

She nodded. "I think she may be involved in this."

Skinner remained quiet.

She hadn't considered that possibility. "What do you know of Marita Covarrubias?"

He leaned back in his chair and raised a hand to his chin. "I don't have any confirmed information."

"But what you do have may be helpful," she countered.

He rubbed his fingers along his chin. "I know that Mulder's contact with her initially was very sporadic. He evidently utilized her as an informant, but she rarely provided much assistance. She contacted him with the lead on Foster, then exonerated him of the murder charge. Her connections are powerful - Mulder was never arrested and was barely questioned when the murder weapon turned out to be his service weapon."

"Sir, could you run a background check on her, using -" the phrase had seemed contrived the first time she had used it, but it had worked - "unofficial channels?"

"What exactly are you looking for?"

"I - I'm not sure."

He nodded. "I'll see what I can do. Thank you for coming, Agent Scully."


Mulder's office at Quantico same day 11:45 a.m.

Mulder squinted as he looked out the office window toward the blinding reflection from the recent snowfall. Too much. Too bright.

He rolled his chair away from the desk and to the window, closing the mini blinds with a snap. The room darkened considerably, much to his relief. With a deep sigh, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He was so tired, a combination of lack of sleep and the remnants of the weekend flu. He wished he could sleep for a week.

Just as he was about to doze off, there was a loud rap on the door.

"Mulder? You in there?"

He sat up and rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah," he answered in a voice that betrayed his weariness.

The door opened and Agent Rhodes poked his head in.

"Hey," he said with a little too much cheeriness for Mulder's liking. "Diane from upstairs just called. She's been trying to reach you all day. Said all she gets is a busy signal. Your phone must be off the hook."

Mulder leaned over, and with one finger, gently tapped the receiver back into its cradle. "What does she want?"

Rhodes raised an eyebrow, but decided not to comment on Mulder's action with the phone, choosing instead to study the note in his hand.

"Um, let's see. Personnel called. Your service weapon recertification grace period is up at the end month, so you need to get down to the firing range ASAP. Your bank called, wants you to call them back. And last but not least, your immediate presence has been requested in the office of the Assistant Director of Instruction."

Mulder groaned and slumped back into his chair. After nodding his thanks to the other agent, he stood and grabbed his suit jacket from the back of the chair. Might as well get this over with.

Ten minutes later he was seated in front of the desk of Earl A. Hackney, Assistant Director of Instruction at the FBI National Academy. Rumors circulating around the water cooler suggested that the "A" stood for something in particular. Mulder had a suspicion that it wasn't "Amiable".

He glanced up toward the heavyset man on the other side of the desk who was still engrossed in the file in front of him. They had yet to exchange any words and Mulder tried not to fidget as he waited. This was all part of the intimidation game. Make'em wait until they squirm.

Finally, the man looked up from the file and pinned Mulder with a predatory glare.

"Agent Mulder. Please explain to me exactly what it is that you *think* you are doing?"

Mulder cocked his head in mock confusion. "Sir?"

Hackney stabbed a stubby finger at the file on his desk. "I have a report from your immediate supervisor stating that you've canceled class twice this week. And the one lecture that you did manage to show up for this morning turned into a tirade on the topic of inter-governmental conspiracy. Is that true?"

Mulder sat up a little straighter in his chair, but said nothing.

The agent's silence seemed to infuriate the AD. Mulder watched with detached fascination as the veins along his neck seemed to bulge with every pulse and his face turned a bright crimson.

"You really think you're something, don't you Mulder?" Hackney spat with contempt. "You sit there with that smirk on your face and think that you are beyond reproach. Well, let me tell you something, mister. I know all about you. I've seen your kind before."

"And what *kind* is that, sir?" Mulder shot back, the words out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop them.

The vein in Hackney's temple now matched those in his neck. He stood and, despite his small stature, did his best to tower over his subordinate. "Smartass, sons-a-bitches that bite the hand that feeds them. Let me remind you that you are an officer of this government that you seem hell bent on condemning. You took an oath, swearing your loyalty and commitment."

"Now, if you don't think you can live up to that obligation, there's the door," he said pointing emphatically to the exit behind Mulder.

Hackney plopped himself back into his chair, apparently exhausted by this brief encounter. He picked up a pen and began scribbling furiously on a page in the file.

"I'm reporting this to Director Hamilton," he said without looking up. "Now get out of my sight."

It took every ounce of remaining strength for Mulder to hold his tongue as he rose to leave the office. When he reached the door, Hackney called out to him.

"If you still want this job, I expect to see a copy of your lesson plans for the next month and a written retraction of your slanderous diatribe on my desk in an hour."


Scully's office at Quantico same day 1:30 p.m.

Her cellular phone hadn't rang all day, and it startled her out of her work finishing the report for Skinner.

"Scully."

"Why hello, Agent Scully. Your friendly neighborhood computer hacker, here. Sorry to bother you at work.

The corners of her mouth lifted for a slight grin. "Hello Frohike."

"Any more e-mails?"

She shook her head. "No. Any more information?"

"Know anyone in the NSA?"

"No. Why?"

"Whoever's doing this has some serious hardware. Nothing like we've ever seen. They've also got high level clearance to sneak in and sneak back out without a trace. We're trying but we're not getting much."

"Keep working on it Frohike. Please."


later that afternoon

Mulder was still fuming as he drove toward his home. As promised by AD Hackney, he had been called into the office of the Director of the FBI Academy. The reprimand he had received was mild compared to some he had experienced in the past - simply a warning to keep his opinions to himself. But what was upsetting was the hypocritical principle behind the whole thing. This was a free country, wasn't it? Hadn't the government been founded on that idea? A person had the right to speak his mind. As long as you weren't an employee of said government, evidently.

With that final ass-reaming, he decided to leave work early and head home. Lost in thought, he almost missed his exit. With a quick glance in the rear view mirror, he gunned the engine and jerked the vehicle over two lanes. The car rocked violently for a moment, startling his young passenger in the back seat. Daniel voiced his disapproval by breaking out into a bloodcurdling wail.

As he steered toward the exit, Mulder reached back with one arm and tried to reassure his son. "Come on, Daniel. Please stop. It's okay."

The baby relentlessly continued his protest.

With his attention divided between the road and the screaming child, Mulder failed to see the Virginia State Trooper's car parked along the side of the road. Unfortunately, Mulder's vehicle did not pass by unnoticed.

Mulder sighed and eased the car over to the shoulder of the road when he saw the flash of red and blue lights.

Five minutes later, his mood had deteriorated even further. Just his luck that he had to encounter the one guy who had no sense of law enforcement camaraderie. And he had a sixty dollar pink slip to prove it.

The speeding ticket had been bad enough, but Mulder had had to struggle not to deck the trooper when he launched into a lecture about the responsibility of safe driving with a child onboard.

Things weren't necessarily any better when he got home. The insistent blinking light on the answer machine was demanding attention, as was his hungry child. As soon as Daniel was put into the playpen, he erupted into another fit of crying. Mulder covered his face with his hands and silently counted to ten. Then twenty.

This was so hard. There were so many things to take care of all at one time that he didn't know where to start. The headache that had been nagging him all day was returning with a vengeance, and the baby's non-stop crying wasn't helping. He needed to think, to get organized, but there just wasn't time. Finally, he decided to take care of Daniel first, everything else could wait.

It took almost two hours to prepare dinner, do the dishes, give Daniel his bath, and throw in a load of laundry. It took another half hour to get his usually cooperative son to go to sleep.

Mulder flopped down on the sofa after rewinding the tape on his answering machine. There were fourteen messages. Shit.

Three calls offering to send him a credit card, two soliciting donations, six with no message. Three in a row from his bank informing him that there were still some problems with his account and he should contact them immediately. As he listened to the beginning of the last message, he was prepared to throw it into the "no message" category. Suddenly a familiar voice called his name.

"Fox. It's Marita. We need to talk. It's extremely important. I can't leave a number. I'll call back...I hope you're doing okay."

Mulder sat up and slapped the erase button on the machine. He shook his head and snorted sarcastically. Now she wanted to talk?

"Well, guess what?" he mumbled to himself. "I really don't care."

Why couldn't everyone just leave him alone?

He stood up and wandered into the kitchen, hoping to find an aspirin or something for his headache. When he opened the cabinet above the sink, he spotted a small alcohol flask. He frowned as he recalled the last time it had been used. Two days after Christmas, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Redskins versus the Green Bay Packers. He and Marita had gone to the game, her first. The temperature was frigid that day, so they had huddled together under the stadium blanket and sipped whiskey from the flask. It had been one of their last "good" days.

Mulder took the flask down from its place on the shelf and unscrewed the cap. The tang of alcohol burned down his throat as he took a deep swallow.

Right now, all he wanted to do was forget.


Scully's Office at Quantico same day 6:30 p.m.

The phone rang on the desk, and Scully stared at it, not wanting to extend her work day any further. Finally, she pulled the receiver to her ear, more to stop the annoying ringing than anything else.

"Scully."

There was no response.

"Scully."

"Meet me at the shooting range. Now." The voice sounded as if it had been sent through a scrambler.

"Who is this?"

The dial tone was her only answer.


FBI Academy shooting range ten minutes later

Scully flashed her badge and handed her weapon and cellular phone to the guard at the entrance to the shooting range. Her eyes scanned the area for any familiar faces or anyone looking out of place. She moved through the metal detection kit and signed the log.

"Agent Scully."

Scully whirled around and came face to face with Marita Covarrubias.

Her eyes turned to a dark steel blue. "You."

"You've got to listen to me."

Scully shook her head firmly. "No way in hell. None of this makes sense, and I think you're behind it."

"Please, Dana, listen to me. Fox is in danger."

"Not as much danger as you're in."

Marita reached out to clutch her arm. "Please, you've got to go to him, make him listen to you."

Scully wrenched her arm away. "No, you listen to me. You've torn him apart."

Marita shook her head, her voice growing more insistent. "He's got to listen to you."

"Look, Marita, you left him. What makes you think he'll listen to you?"

Marita straightened up and stared coldly into the shorter woman's eyes. "You left him too."

Scully's body stiffened and she tried valiantly not to let that defeat show in her face. "Fine. What the hell do you want?"

"He's in danger."

"Why?"

Marita nodded. "Please. He won't answer my calls or read my messages. But they'll kill him to get what they want."

"I need to know more."

Marita's gaze was drawn to movement behind Scully's shoulder. "I have to go. Just please tell him."

Scully turned to see who was behind her. When she turned back to face Marita, there was no one there.


Mulder's home later that evening

She had been postponing this, trying to delay out of concern for his well-being and for her own fear at his reaction. He deserved to know her suspicions at some point, but now she was going to need his help to piece the puzzle together. Marita's warning had only intensified her worry.

He opened the door slightly to prevent the cold air from entering the house. "Hey."

She closed her eyes and said a quick prayer. "Hi. I was hoping that you might be up for a visitor."

"This doesn't sound like a social call, Scully."

She looked up at him, taking into account his obvious fatigue. "It's not. I have something I need to talk with you about."

"Concerning what?"

She had rehearsed this at least twenty times, attempting to convince herself that the direct approach would be the best for him. "Marita."

At that, a scowl crossed his face. He swung the door open to allow her inside. She moved in the entryway, waiting for him to invite her further into the house.

He sat on the couch, reaching forward to take a drink from the short glass on the coffee table. A flask sat next to it.

"Look, Mulder, maybe this is a bad time." She started for the door.

He snorted. "Scully, there's never going to be a good time."

A small voice inside her head was whispering that this was not the time to enter this realm of discussion. Another voice retorted that Mulder was right, there would never be a good time. And Marita's warning repeated itself.

"I'm not sure how to say this."

"Just spit it out, Scully," he said impatiently. "You've never held back before."

"Mulder," she said the prayer one more time before plunging ahead. "I think that...that there's a lot of information you need to know."

He looked her over, his eyes wary.

She walked over to the couch and knelt down so that she was looking up at him. "I think that Marita has lied to you."

The muscle in his cheek twitched, but other than that, he did not move.

Her hand tightened on the edge of the coffee table. This was not going to end well, both little voices were saying in chorus. "I'm saying that I believe that Marita has manipulated you. I've learned some things, some things that just don't add up. Recent things..and... older ones."

"What do you mean, older ones?"

She blinked several times, trying to focus through the various emotions she was reliving yet again. "Mulder, two years ago, the events that you discovered about your sis - about Samantha. They just don't make sense."

"Scully, what are you talking about?"

The medley of voices in her head continued its ominous tone. "Nothing about it makes any sense, Mulder. The genetic sample from Samantha, or what you believed is Samantha - "

"What I *believed* is Samantha?"

He had once before challenged her with a similar statement. And her response seemed just as far-fetched today as it had been four years prior.

"Mulder, the sample, it just isn't right. And the only possible person who could have set this up is Marita."

His voice hardened. "How?"

"There were only four people with access to the sample. Two of them are dead. Then you. And then Marita."

He gave no reaction to that, so she continued on.

"And she was the person who brought you to Randolph Foster. There were two bodies identified as Foster, one a clone of the other."

He countered. "And why would she do this?"

Scully lowered her eyes. "I don't know."

"You don't know?" He laughed, a brittle tone that caused her more alarm.

"Mulder, look, I'm sorry to say this. But I think that she's set you up. Set us both up."

"Wouldn't be the first time a woman has left me in the cold."

Her eyes widened to accommodate the hurt that his comment brought. She lowered her gaze and pursed her lips.

"Prove it." His eyes blazed as he issued the challenge.

"What?" She had to hear that again.

"Evidence, Agent Scully. Surely you have evidence linking her to these dastardly deeds?" His voice took on a decidedly sarcastic tone.

Her eyes scanned the room before returning to his face. "No, Mulder, I don't have any evidence."

"Oh come on, Scully. You barge in here, make accusations about her - someone you don't even know, I might add - spout off some wild theory that has absolutely no validity AND no evidence to support it, and expect me to swallow it?"

She had prepared herself for anger and disbelief, but she hadn't anticipated that he would simply reject her explanation outright.

"There are a lot of things here, Mulder, that simply do not track. We've been set up before."

"And now you're saying I've been set up again?" he snarled in response.

"Mulder, please don't do this."

"What, Scully? Can't take it when your story is thrown right back in your face? Hell, you did it to me for nearly five years, now you know how it feels. Especially because you're wrong."

"Mulder, what is it that you want from me?"

The alcohol was doing its job, numbing him and dulling his ability to think clearly. His hands clenched into fists, and he started moving back and forth in a futile attempt to expel the fury building inside him. "What do *I* want? Has that ever really mattered, Scully? You haven't considered that before today, even when you knew that maybe I wasn't the ass you thought I was two years ago."

She felt her own anger swell. "You shut me out, Mulder. You left me there, high and dry, while you went off on your adventure. You lied to me, repeatedly. You did everything you could to cut me off, never caring or remembering that maybe your sister and I are linked closer than you two ever could be."

"What the hell are you talking about, Scully?"

She stood up, remembering how she had towered over him and let him have it once before. She had as little control now as she had had then. "I'm talking about experiments, Mulder. The lab in Chicago, Samantha, me, the women in Allentown, the railroad car. All of it. One big sick joke."

He stared at her, his eyes flaring. "Do you still want to know what I want?"

She clenched her teeth. "What?"

"I want you and your completely unbelievable story to get the hell out of my house."

"Mul - " She slowly realized that they were back where they had ended two years ago. And she had promised herself that would never happen again.

"No more, Scully. You've hurt me for the last time. Now get out."

She reached out her hand to touch his arm, but he jerked away, knocking over the flask on the table. "Damn it, Scully, I said NO! Get out!"

She looked deep into his eyes for a long moment, then opened the door and left.


the next morning Margaret Scully's home 3:30 a.m.

She gasped desperately, twisting from side to side in her bed, woken only by the moan that finally escaped her lips. A strong wave of nausea propelled her from the bed to the bathroom in the hallway, and she bent over the toilet, her body recoiling in its search for release. Her eyes were tightly squeezed together in a frantic attempt to hide from the nightmare yet again, mimicked by her hands clasping her ears in a sleep-dulled action to get the sounds out of her head.

She knelt on the floor, resting her head against the tile wall. The nausea had eased only slightly and she wrapped her arms around her stomach to try to prevent any more convulsions. Her eyes drifted shut and she felt herself entering the nightmare again...

circles circles of letters spinning slowly on the outermost ring hold on next to the pride of lions circling their prey hold on to yourself snarling and drooling over the thrill of the hunt for this is going to hurt like hell in front of a circle of ghostly white bodies I would like to linger here in silence the horribly deformed bodies in the lime covered grave if I choose to ringed by a thousand Melissas all the fear has left me now holding a crystal over one body I'm not frightened anymore the body was Mulder I would be the last to know out of the middle of the pit came the train rushing at Mulder

She clutched her stomach again and whimpered...

Melissa's face appeared the lions circled closer and closer her voice a monotone chant Mulder was the lions' prey repeated over and over there was no escape for him go to him he held out a hand go to him he screamed as the lions approached go to him go to him go to him

She ran from the room.


Mulder's home forty-five minutes later

His car was in the driveway, which was both a good sign and a bad one. She barely remembered to retrieve her keys before jumping out of her car. His home number rang repeatedly, only getting the answering machine. Mulder had been fortunate enough to abandon the cellular phone once he had entered the realm of academia. She swallowed another bout of nausea as she pressed the phone to her ear yet again.

The front door was slightly ajar, swinging open as she pounded on it to announce her entrance. "Mulder?" she yelled, hoping vainly for an answer.

The entryway was a mess, picture frames lying on the floor and snow tracked up the stairs.

"Mulder!" God, please let him be okay.

The climb up the stairs seemed endless and she strained to hear a baby's cry, a man's voice, anything to indicate a presence in the house. "Mulder, please answer me!"

The nursery was empty, but there were no signs of intruders there.

"Mulder!"

She heard a faint thump in the master bedroom, and she ran through the door. This room held signs of a struggle, and she crossed the room to the private bathroom in the back.

"Mulder." She offered a silent prayer as she rushed to his side.

He was lying in a fetal position, drops of blood littering the mat underneath him. His breathing was irregular, short painful gasps that indicated bruised or fractured ribs. His face was bloody and swollen, and she had to blink back tears as she realized he was crying.

"Mulder, it's me." She knelt next to him and lightly smoothed his hair away from his forehead, drawing his focus.

He pushed himself to a sitting position against the tub, drawing his knees up and rocking back and forth.

She wet a washcloth and put her hand on his chin to lift his head. His eyes darted back and forth, swimming in soon-to-be-shed tears as she wiped the majority of the blood away.

"Who did this to you, Mulder?"

He was unable to control his shaking as he reached out to clasp her hand. She grimaced as his grip tightened.

"It'll be okay." He squeezed his eyes shut at her words, the comforting tone she used.

She pressed her lips together to ward off another wave of nausea, closing her eyes briefly. A vision of the lions circling, roaring, pouncing on their target.

Oh God, please, no.

"Mulder." This time her voice trembled. "Mulder, where's Daniel?"

He looked at her, fighting back his sobs. "He's gone, Scully. They took him. They took my son."

END part II


Partnership II: Reconstruction

Well, well, you made it this far. deep bow Thanks very much for reading!

First and foremost, we would love to hear your thoughts about this work. The writing process is now a bit more familiar, but the creative process is stagnant without the input and discussion brought about by your responding to us in a constructive manner. Please send any and all comments to glymax@aol.com or to the fictalk list.

We have learned that it is much easier to destroy than to create, and this partnership between Mulder and Scully is no exception. Slowly, slowly, slowly, and no, we're not quite there yet. And we haven't quite gotten through this puzzle we've created either, but we will, never fear.

AnneC likens the Partnership trilogy (of *course* there's a part three!) to the Anasazi/Blessing Way/Paperclip three-fer. The first part is very action-oriented, the second part is more characterization, as our heroes encounter new and unsettling perspectives, and the third part is lots of action, and even more questions left unswered.

C'mon, it's the X-Files, you didn't think we were going to tie up every loose end, did ya? :^)

More seriously, Part Two most closely approximates the initial story Glymax wrote over a year ago. Mulder, devastated over the loss of his sister, his partner and his work, turns to another and the result places him in a more precarious position than ever before. Scully, forever the reflective, passionate seeker (yes, it's a label most apply to Mulder, but it is just as apropos for Scully), finds herself uncovering more secrets about the conspiracy, including information about her own involvement.

The editing partnership - Jeannie, Emily, Miki, Grace and JeNie - yup, five wonderful women devoting so many hours to reading and dissecting and contributing invaluable insight to our work. Thank you SO MUCH! And if you've never edited before, or if you're a writer who's looking for an editor, write Kathleen Lietz at klietz@ford.com and request assistance from the Beta Readers Circle.

The little things - Some things happen entirely by accident. In October 1996, Glymax sent Anne a long story about a woman named Marissa with whom Mulder had a son Daniel (yup, there's a lil' Glymax named Daniel). So why not change Marissa to Marita and why *not* name the little boy after our beloved Scully? Hey, the more fun, the merrier.

Ever want to try and reference every single episode you've ever seen? We got 28 of them in this - sort of a Name that Ep challenge to you. Of course, some brilliant efforts couldn't be included, most notably Memento Mori, but that's okay. Our next piece will be something concurrent with the show. Maybe :)

The more fun challenge is to reference the various magazine interviews that we paraphrased - Scully thinks Mulder is the moodiest person she's ever met? Having a child takes the focus off yourself? Wait, where did we read that?

So what did you think of Ma Scully's involvement? Or Skinner's? Or Pendrell's? Yes, Mr. Carter, Tempus Fugit/Max was an unnecessary waste of a wonderful secondary character, so nyah. We like him and we'll continue with him.

Did you think Daniel was a plot device, introduced only to be kidnapped at the end? Or were your fingers and toes curling at the thought of a relationship between Mulder and Marita? Let us know!

The next thing - Yup, part three is planned out and in the writing stage. It will come a little sooner than this one did, mostly because we need to purge this from our heads and get this partnership fully restored (hmmm...is that why part three is titled Restoration?) and get Mulder his son back! Look for it before our summer vacations!

Again, thanks very much for your time and your attention. Have a terrific day!

Glymax and Anne Cologna

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