Title: A Burden Shared
Author: Ten
INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8, as episode 9.
Rating: G-13
Classification: X, Angst, MT, MSR-ish UST (does that make sense? I'm following on from what has come before.)
Spoilers: Mention of the "Biogenesis" trilogy, the "Redux" trilogy, "Sein Und Zeit", "Closure," "Hungry," "The Unnatural," "The End," "Elegy," "2Shy" and "Squeeze" and past Virtual Season 8 cases.

Summary: After the dark events of their Gauley Bridge case, is Mulder turning to someone else for comfort?

Note: This story follows on from Sally Bahnsen and Dawn's VS8 story "Dark Reflections" (eps 7 & 8). Reading their story first is advised (and enjoyable!), but here is an outline:

At the invitation of Sheriff Jonas Sullivan, Mulder and Scully travel to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Tim Spencer, an old friend of Mulder's and an agent in the Roanoke Bureau, has recommended Sullivan call in the X-Files division. Six-year-old Rachel Marcussen vanished while in the woods with her 11-year-old brother, Jacob, who claims she was abducted by aliens. Mulder comes to believe that Jacob is responsible for his sister's disappearance and is poisoned by the boy when he realizes the agent is onto him.

Surviving that, Mulder ditches Scully who has been struggling to accept at first that an 11-year-old boy could be capable of such acts and makes Jacob take him to where Rachel was left. Jacob comes close to making Mulder fall down the same mine shaft as his sister, but Scully and a local girl, Jess, arrive in time to rescue them.

Archiving: IMTP has a two week exclusivity to all Virtual Season 8 stories from the day each first appears on the website. After that, please drop me a note if you'd like to archive "Burden."

Disclaimer: The X-Files, the episodes referred to, Mulder and Scully and all other characters from the show belong to Chris Carter and his team of writers, Ten Thirteen Productions and Fox Broadcasting, and are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended, no profit will be gained. Characters not recognised from the show are either mine, or Dawn and Sally's.

Author's THANKS: At the end Feedback: Yes, please! I like to know who's out there in the ether.


Prologue:

2:01 a.m. Monday

Huddled in his jacket, the man walked swiftly and quietly towards his goal. At the door, he hesitated. Was he out of his mind? It was the dead of night.

But he had to see her.

He couldn't wait. He felt so...

He knocked on the door.

Immediately he heard a noise. The click of a light.

Footsteps.

The door opened, framing her, as the light from behind captured her in silhouette. He could not see her expression, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to. Immediately he looked at his feet and tears stung his eyes. "I'm sorry.

I'm sorry... I shouldn't have come..."

He went to back away. She stepped forward and took his arm. "It's all right." Her voice was soothing and warm. It was so many things that he needed to hear. "I knew you would come tonight. You can come anytime you have the need."

One gentle tug on his arm and he was over the threshold, unresisting. She shut the door behind them, no longer half in darkness, the light from the lamp playing with her brown hair.

She took a step so that they were eye to eye. He couldn't look away.

"Any time. I'm here," she repeated. With that vow, she put her hands to his face and bowed his head.

As her lips pressed against his forehead, Mulder closed his eyes.

End Prologue.


Act I:

3:15 a.m. Monday

Rolling over onto her side, Scully became conscious enough for her brain to start bothering her with information. Who she was and where she was: lying down, a bed, not her own.

A motel bed. On a case. Her mind also reminded her of her life up until that point.

Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Jacob. The boy's attempted murder of his own sister. And of Mulder.

That made her sit up in the darkness, her heart and breathing catching. But Mulder was all right. Well, as all right as he could be after all that had happened in the last few days. She glanced at her portable alarm clock, wincing away from the too-bright-for-this-hour figures (and way-too-early-to-be-awake ones at that), and eased back against the pillow. Friday night had been spent at Mulder's bedside in the hospital after he had been poisoned. On Saturday night after getting the absconded Mulder back to the hospital, trying to give her statement to the sheriff and waiting around to find out the results of Rachel's surgery, she had not achieved much rest.

So sleep was her activity of choice for the moment.

Had something woken her though? Fortunately the horrors of this case had not chosen to visit her under the guise of a nightmare. It would at some stage or another. That was a given.

Scully sat up again and looked over at the connecting door. It was ajar, as she had left it tonight, and no light was evident.

Mulder had been discharged into her care early Sunday evening. His friend Tim had insisted on being their chauffeur, worried (without actually coming out and saying it), that she might fall asleep at the wheel. He took them to the Root Cellar long enough for a quick meal, then straight to the motel where they got Mulder into bed. He was asleep before Tim left.

Perhaps Mulder had gotten up to go to the bathroom and she had awakened just as he was settling back in bed. Most likely, Scully told her conscience. Can we go back to sleep now?

She remembered the look on his face when Rachel was lifted out of the ravine. The 6-year-old had been mostly incoherent, apart from when she was crying out for her mother. What if he'd had a nightmare about it? Twice in the hospital on Sunday he had sunk into the grip of sweat and tremor-producing dreams that she had to rescue him from.

Even when sitting up and eating, his eyes had taken on a hollow quality.

Always one to prefer evidence, she couldn't help getting out of bed, her eyes now adjusted enough to the light the clock gave to navigate safely across the room. Sucker, a little voice said in her head. Evidence-gatherer, she told it firmly. Concerned friend. And I'll sleep much better.

She glanced back at the bed. One in a long line of motel beds. Put those beds end to end and they'd circumnavigate the globe time after time. Just as well she had long ago learned the knack of napping at will, no matter what the location. It had come in handy as a med student and it came in handy now with Mulder. A quick peek to reassure herself that he was all right, then straight back into dream land.

Scully gently eased the connecting door fully open. She padded into the room. Her eye was caught by his suit jacket. It was lying across the seat of the chair, like the way Mulder usually tossed it when he took it off at night.

But she had put it neatly over the back of the chair when Tim was there, hadn't she?

Tim might have moved it. She had been so tired, her mind was most likely playing tricks. Scully disregarded the jacket and focused on the bed instead, praying.

The man never failed to surprise her. Instead of the tight, internalised ball Mulder usually adopted during and after bouts of bad dreams, he was sprawled out on his stomach, sound asleep. His breathing was even, face a picture of serenity. In fact


and Scully wasn't sure if

this was a trick of the non-light or not


he seemed to be

smiling.


At the far more civilised hour of 7:30, Scully got up for the day. She had allowed herself a mini-sleep in. The shower beckoned, but first she checked in on Mulder again.

He was in nearly the exact same position, sleeping deeply and peacefully. He usually crashed after a draining case like this one, but even then the combination of physical and mental exhaustion usually did not keep the nightmares at bay. Since this case had been so close to the bone for him though, a darker repeat of his past, it may have been even too much last night for his nightmares to touch. But what about tomorrow night?

She watched him for a few minutes, wanting to touch his face


and not just to check for sign of fever. Her fingers had an itch that only running them through his hair would appease. She didn't want to disturb him though.

Scully was sure that he would not mind being awakened by her in such a manner, but the best thing she could do for him now was let sleeping foxes lie. Soon enough he would wake up and find himself back in a reality where an 11-yearold had tried to kill his own sister by abandoning her down a mine shaft and then claiming alien abduction to cover it.

But then, Mulder had 'woken up' to the fact right from the start. She had been the one who didn't


couldn't


believe that Jacob had committed the crime.

Time for that shower.

As Scully went back towards the connecting door, she remembered Mulder's jacket and reached out to pick it up, smooth it out and put it over the back of the chair. His shoes were near the chair, and come to think of it, they seemed to be in a different position from yesterday evening.

He might have gone out to get some ice or bumped against them while going to the bathroom last night. He had done enough ditches in the last few days. Breaking out of the hospital on Saturday after being poisoned by Jacob had been quite enough for the entire summer season, especially when, upon tracking him down, she found her partner dangling from the edge of a mine shaft with Jacob's foot raised to stomp on his fingers. Then on Sunday morning she had come back to the hospital from the motel to find an empty bed and the 'little patients' room' unoccupied


Mulder had pulled an

encore performance. A few seconds of careful thought and she quickly tracked him down. Mulder was leaning against the wall outside Rachel's hospital room, staring forlornly through the viewing window. It was like Mulder was stepping into the breach as a surrogate brother instead, since Jacob had forfeited his rights. Even as Scully approached him, a nurse was zeroing in on him from the other direction, since he was standing out a little with his hospital gown still on.

Scully had indicated to the nurse that it was all right.

The nurse recognised them; it was a small town where everyone knew everyone and everything, especially after the news yesterday.

Scully stood next to Mulder and put her hand on his arm as she looked through the window. Beth and Sam Marcussen sat on either side of their daughter's bed, each holding one of her hands. The little girl's eyes were closed. Their heads were turned towards Rachel, so Scully couldn't see their expressions, but it looked like Beth was crying.

She turned to look at her partner. His gaze was still fixed firmly through the window. She knew he was not looking on in satisfaction that he had rescued their daughter. He was seeing the losses, awaiting their accusations and anger. She touched his arm a little more firmly. "Hey, Mulder. Not now. Don't do this to yourself.

She's safe and Jacob is...in custody. You can visit Rachel later, okay? You need to be in bed now."

Mulder looked at her and she knew he wanted to ask how Rachel was. After the mine shaft rescue and his return to the hospital, Mulder had giving the sheriff his statement and fallen asleep. The last he had known was that Rachel was undergoing surgery. But he couldn't handle the answer now, so said nothing.


Scully gasped. She had drifted into her thoughts and now the shower water had turned cold. Hurriedly she turned off the taps and exited.

Dana dried and dressed automatically. She would see if Mulder had surfaced. If so, they would phone the hospital for an update on Rachel, then get breakfast and go see the sheriff. They should be able to head back to D.C. on Tuesday.

Again her mind posed the question: how could an 11-yearold have done what Jacob had done? Even with the dark pasts of his maternal great-grandmother and his father's greatgrandfather and Mulder's gene theory, it was so hard to...

Don't focus on Jacob, Scully told herself. Focus on helping Mulder pick up the pieces.

She could hear footsteps in his room. She took a deep breath and knocked on the connecting door.

"Come in!"

At his tone, Scully hesitated, then cautiously entered.

Mulder was standing beside the bed in his boxer shorts and a threadbare t-shirt, arms behind his head, stretching. Not quite as fully as usual, she noted, knowing that his ribs were still giving him a few occasional twinges. He smiled at her, tilting his head back. "Morning."

She blinked, relieved but very surprised. "Sleep seems to have agreed with you."

"It did. Much better being out of the hospital." He lowered his arms, his battle-scarred hands bearing imprints of the sole of Jacob's shoe. That had been more evidence gathered. The forensic team had also found minute traces of ground Ergotamine tablets on Jacob's desk and a paperweight he had used to crush them with. He had clearly wiped them afterwards, but enough evidence had remained of his misuse of his mother's migraine tablets.

The smile disappeared. "Have you checked with them about Rachel's condition yet?"

"Not yet," she replied. "How about you have your shower while I do that? Then I can translate the med speak for you over breakfast." He agreed, his good cheer returning, and he headed into his bathroom. Scully stared at his retreating back. She heard the water go on, then thought she could hear something over the top of it. Was that *whistling*?

Her ears must be playing tricks.

As they left via Mulder's motel room an hour later, she saw movement in the window of a nearby room. The curtains swayed a little; someone was watching them. She wasn't surprised or tensed by it; there was more of the same in the cafe as she sat across from her partner, watching him tuck into bacon and eggs. He seemed oblivious to the stares and whispers around them, that would follow (and precede them) in this town from now on. Everyone had heard about the outcome of Rachel's disappearance and rescue by now, and the town was reeling. Had the federal agents made a mistake in arresting an 11-year-old boy? He had seemed such a conscientious boy, hardworking... But there was that incident when Luke had broken his leg when he had won the lead in the school play over Jacob. And if the Marcussen boy really had tried to kill his own sister and Agent Mulder, then was his upbringing to blame? His parents?

Rumour was running riot.

Scully watched Mulder have his coffee. Jacob had poisoned Mulder by putting the ground migraine tablets in the sugar bowl, knowing that only Mulder had sugar, not his mother or Scully. It didn't look like the incident or her own disapproval was enough to put her partner off. He still spooned in two sugars.

She explained to Mulder that the hospital had not been able to tell her much. Rachel was still not very coherent after her four-day ordeal, and got so distressed when the doctors or nursing staff tried to do anything that running tests and giving her treatment was proving to be a problem.

She was definitely not up for any visitors apart from her parents.

That news didn't seem to overly perturb Mulder. Scully didn't know what to think. She reminded herself that Mulder had always possessed an amazing way of bouncing back from adversity. Granted it usually took a bit longer than this to kick in, but... Or he might be using her coping mechanisms of choice: deny it and bury it so deep that hopefully it wouldn't come calling again.

Perhaps he had realized and accepted that he had done the best job he could: he had recognised the culprit, brought him to justice despite the odds, and found the victim, alive, again despite the odds. He couldn't keep beating himself up over things beyond his control.

That knowledge would bring a certain amount of freedom and relief.

After breakfast the partners went to the police station and went back over their statements and new evidence and Jacob's assertions of what had "really happened." The boy had been cool under pressure on Sunday, but as the forensic evidence mounted up, his posturing had weakened.

The look on Jacob's face in the interview room today made Scully's stomach churn. She had seen it on many seasoned criminals: they knew the game was pretty much up, and not in their favour. They were going to be charged and do time, but they would endure.

On an 11-year-old boy it was unthinkable. But there it was.

In the early afternoon, Mulder and Scully went back to the cafe for lunch. Mulder ate most of his food and picked at the rest. His good cheer had dimmed substantially. Scully couldn't get much of a conversation out of him, but didn't press very hard. He was crashing again: she knew this Mulder. In a perverse way, it was almost a relief to have to deal with him like this than when she couldn't figure him out.

"Hey, Ace, how about a nap?"

"Is that an offer?"

"I'll sit with you for a while."

"Not quite what I had in mind."

"I know. Close though." She hoped he would acquiesce.

After all, he wasn't even twenty-four hours clear of the hospital yet.

He agreed to a nap, provided he was woken at a decent time in order to go visit the hospital. He wanted to talk to Rachel's doctors and to Beth and Sam, even if he couldn't see Rachel herself.

"They must be so confused about Jacob... I just want to..."

"Do you think that's wise?" she asked gently. He wasn't going to try explaining his gene theory, was he?

"We're going back to D.C. tomorrow." They were. There was little more they could do here now. It was out of their hands while the legal world fired up its engines. "So I want to see them before we go."

"All right." She got him into bed and, as promised, sat beside him for a while. He got twitchy in his sleep, as if he was chasing something or something was chasing after him. Scully stroked his forehead and hair, her touch working its usual magic and he resettled.

Her cell rang when she was back in her room going over some files. It was Tim. "How is he?"

"Better than I expected. Better than I'd hoped."

"That's good. Maybe we talked some sense into him Sunday night."

"Maybe. He's still not up to that sudden death playoff with you though."

"That's his excuse. He knows who'd win. His only consolation


and a big one


is that he knows who'd end

up with the cheerleader at the end."

Was Tim referring to the past there, or to the present?


Later in the afternoon Mulder and Scully returned to the hospital. Scully was glad that this time Mulder was on foot, under his own steam, and not needing to rush in through Outpatients or the ER. They got the current location of Rachel's doctor from a nurse, and were heading down the hallway in that direction when Mulder halted as if his feet had become rooted to the floor. Scully stopped and began to ask him what was wrong, then she followed his gaze down another corridor and her question was no longer needed.

Beth Marcussen was standing outside her daughter's room.

She was staring at the agents. There was a mutual hesitation, three people deciding whether to make the first move and in what form or direction it would take. Then Mulder put his head figuratively out on the chopping block by stepping forward and saying, "Beth...?"

When they had first met this woman, her daughter was missing, and the strain had shown plainly in her face, her voice, her fluttering hands. Now she had Rachel back, and the cost had almost bent her double. Their daughter. Their son. Scully could imagine it would be like standing in the middle of a battlefield, being fired upon by both sides.

Beth's eyes were nearly swallowed up from crying. Her hands, instead of fluttering, were holding each other tightly.

She looked at them, then at the other passers by in the hallway. Any looks she received seemed to shrink her down more.

Beth took a step towards them. She stopped. Mulder completed the distance, Scully racing to keep pace.

"Beth..."

"Oh, God, what must they be thinkin' of us? Where did we go wrong?" she babbled, wringing her right hand so tightly in her left that Scully was afraid she would hear bones crack at any second. "Did he think we loved Rachel more?"

"Beth, Jacob's not... It wasn't..."

Scully watched Mulder fumble for the right words.

Tears rolled down Beth's face. "I'm so sorry, Agent Mulder, for what happened to you. Thank you for finding Rachel. She's only been conscious a little bit at times, but she told me what her brother did." She started to cry harder.

Scully looked through the window to Rachel's room, trying to locate Sam to comfort his wife. "Where's your husband, Beth?"

"Sam's not here."

"Is he with Jacob? We'll phone him."

"He's at home asleep. We thought Jacob would be okay on his own for a bit. He's very independent..." That statement only caused her to cry harder once she realized what she had said. Then she put a hand to her head, wincing.

"Migraine?" Scully asked.

Beth nodded slightly.

"Do you have any Ergotamine with you?"

"I'm not having any of that stuff in my house or in my body ever again! I might be tempted to... It might... And I deserve the pain. I was a bad mother."

Before Mulder or Scully could refute or comment, Rachel started screaming and Beth raced back in. Mulder went to follow, but Scully held him back, just in time as several medical personnel hurried up, wanting a clear path so they could assist.

One look at Mulder's face told Scully that whatever measure of peace Mulder had managed to hold onto since waking up this morning was now blasted away, scattering the pieces far and wide.


They had planned to catch a flight on Tuesday morning, but Scully was able to get them on a flight Monday evening. If they hadn't been able to, she would have considered driving. Mulder didn't object. He seemed to want to get out of the town that he had irrevocably ripped the veneer from, especially after going and seeing Beth again while Scully was trying to pin down Rachel's doctor for a talk. Mulder remained a closed book about how that meeting had gone.

There was little to stay around for now. Mulder was well enough to travel. His seizures on Friday had been due to the effects of being poisoned and now that the drug was out of his system there would be no more seizures or other symptoms, so his FBI field agent status was not in any jeopardy. The report could be written and handed in on Tuesday. Scully had phoned headquarters to okay that with Skinner, and been told by Kimberley that their boss had overdone things by coming back to work too early after the car bombing that had occurred on their previous case. He was resting at his apartment on doctor's orders until further notice.

When the plane was in the air, Mulder commandeered Scully's laptop and just poured out the case report. Scully had never seen him type so fast before. She was surprised he had time to include full stops. He wasn't putting paragraphs in. Just one big slab of words.

An exorcism of sorts?

Finally his fingers slowed. He chewed on his lip for a minute, then typed a few more sentences. He scrolled back to the beginning of the document and read through it, stopping occasionally to change a few things or to put breaks in.

Then he saved it. "Done." He sighed with relief and let his head loll back on the head rest. "When do you want to add your parts?"

"Tomorrow morning. That's the quickest I've ever seen you produce a report."

"I'm motivated. And the sooner it's done..."

"The sooner it's over."

Even as Scully said the words, she mused that if only it could be that simple. She watched Mulder shut down the laptop and put it away. Dana wanted to distract him and give him some fun, and thought she might have a way to achieve that goal. Mulder looked at her curiously as she reached into her satchel and produced a deck of cards.

"Feel like a game, Ace?" She put playful emphasis on the nickname, bait to hook him in with.

"Deal." As she was shuffling the cards, he said, "Actually, there was a game I learned at Oxford... I saw a movie a few weeks ago that reminded me about it. You ever heard of 'Snap?'"

"No. But if your down time activities at Oxford were anything like what Tim was saying about your profiling days, then I'm afraid to ask."

Mulder affected a dignified look. "Ha ha. Snap is where you divide a pack of cards between however many people are playing. Each person takes a turn at putting a card face up on

a pile in front of everyone. When you get two consecutive cards the same, like two kings or two fours, the first person

to put their hand on the pile and yell 'snap' wins that pile of

cards. When a player loses all their cards, they're eliminated.

The last person left with all the cards is the winner."

"So it doesn't matter if there's a four of clubs and a four of hearts? That's a 'snap?' And what about if you have a two of hearts and a four of hearts


is that a snap

because they're both hearts? And what about red and black?"

He gave a thoughtful frown. "Good questions... I only played it once and it was about 3 in the morning, as I recall."

"Uh huh. Sounds like a loud game. And a long one." She looked at his watch. "We're going to be in D.C., soon. Might have to stick to poker instead."

"Oh, Scully, don't be so defeatist. Let's say that the numbers have to match. Kings, queens, jokers and aces, too.

Keep it simple. We can have a 'winner' with each snap, not just when the cards are all in the one set of hands. And we can keep the noise down."

She nodded. "Then let's go at it. What are the stakes? We can't play cards without a bet."

"Money's boring." He thought for a moment. "Let's get creative."


A little later:

The seat belt lights went on. Scully buckled up and gathered all the cards, regretting that the fun had come to an end. Mulder's bruised fingers had not impeded his participation. Putting their hands down on the card pile together had led to a few mock slaps and laughs and on the last one they had just let their hands rest there, hers on top of Mulder's, as they looked at each other. In that way, they had both won the round.

The agents had made the bets in job lots for each snap, groups of things at once, for even more amusement and expedience. "So, what's the end tally?" Scully asked.

Mulder consulted his notebook. "Figuratively speaking you lost your suit jacket, blouse and bra and owe me five home cooked meals, one declaration of 'you're right, Mulder, that's definitely an alien' and to wear something to work next week that is the opposite end of the spectrum to black." He grinned. "Figuratively I lost my tie, jacket, shirt and pants. I owe you naming rights on my next batch of fish, another baseball lesson, ten restaurant meals and to not get sunflower seed husks in your keyboard for a week."

Scully whistled.

"Good thing it was only pretend," he remarked into her ear, deliberately making his voice deeper.

"Yeah..." Scully was glad that her distractive ploy had worked, but she had to admit that playing 'strip snap' for real with him (in private) could be interesting. She had missed not having their regular nightly swims at the motel on this case. Hopefully they would start that up again soon. And another baseball lesson... That would be worth


well, there wasn't a price she could put on it.

As the plane touched down they were unaware that sitting an aisle behind and to their right was a brown-haired woman who had been watching them very closely for most of the flight.


Scully dropped Mulder off out the front of his building.

The first night back in town after a case they usually went their separate ways to catch up on things like phone calls, laundry, and so on, instead of having dinner together or going to the movies. But tonight... She touched his arm.

"Will you be okay?"

He squeezed her fingers gently. "Yeah. It's good to be home. Thanks, Scully. I'll see you tomorrow." They were going to go to HQ a bit later than usual tomorrow seeing as the flight had been a late one. And she would make sure that it was not a 'heavy' day for Mulder. Or at least hope it stayed quiet. Some desk duty and catch up time would be best for now.

"Night." She watched him walk away. She tapped the steering wheel with her thumbs, then sighed, checked for traffic, and pulled out onto the road. She kept picturing the look on his face in the hospital hallway. Should she give him tonight to regroup on his own, or... Or what? They were out of Gauley Bridge now, out of the plane. Away from prying ears. Several blocks later she turned left instead of going straight ahead and let herself drive back to Hegal Place.

As she was nearing his building again, she was surprised to see Mulder's car pulling out of the residents' parking lot. Perhaps he was coming to Georgetown to see her... No, he was heading in the opposite direction.

There was one car on the road between her and Mulder, but it looked like he was alone in the car. Unless there was someone crouched in the back with a gun to his head...

Scully debated phoning him. Where was he going at this hour of night? The Gunmen's office was a possibility until Mulder took a turn that eliminated that from the list. He didn't seem aware that he was being followed. Or didn't care.

He could be just driving, Scully told herself. Not quite up for a 'run myself into the ground' jog, so this would be the next best thing to try to shake Gauley Bridge out of his brain.

He needed sleep, though.

Feeling uncomfortable about following him but concerned, Scully was just about to try phoning him when he pulled over in a residential street. He had stopped in front of what was, even in the dark, a lovely-looking old house.

Scully could not place it from any of their cases or friends or contacts. Langly had been thinking about getting a house after inheriting some money from his aunt, but she couldn't really see this as his sort of place. More likely he'd blow it all on computer hardware anyway.

She pulled up unobtrusively a few doors down. Mulder got out of his car and didn't look around. He just opened the gate and headed straight up the path. Scully quietly got out of her car and moved closer so she could see. The fence had a waist-high hedge that she could duck down behind if necessary. The house's security light automatically came on at Mulder's movements, illuminating the verandah steps and the front door. There were no screening trees or ivy, so Scully could see when the door opened in answer to Mulder's knock.

A woman stood in the doorway. She was wearing a green robe and had brown hair down past her shoulders. Scully couldn't place her, but the woman clearly knew Mulder, looking at him with concern and tenderness. "It's all right," she heard the woman say, though Mulder had said nothing. "It's going to be all right." She took his arm and he stepped over the threshold into the house. The door closed behind them.


End Act I


Act II:

Tuesday morning:

Scully sat at her desk, unconsciously mimicking her posture and blank expression of last night, sitting in her car, staring at the house Mulder had disappeared into. Her body may have been sitting still, but her mind was doing laps like a mouse in a treadwheel.

She looked at the UFO poster. "I don't want to believe," she told it. "I'd sooner believe in anything but this."

She had tried ringing his cell phone from her car, just like the time she had seen Diana and Mulder holding hands, only this time she got a 'the number you have called is unavailable...' spiel.

Scully reminded herself that there could be plenty of innocent explanations for what she had seen


what she

thought she had seen. The woman could be a friend, a contact, research help, a relation, a counselor the Gunmen had put him onto...

The woman had looked to be in her thirties, though Scully had not been able to get a completely clear look at her.

Definitely nothing like Diana or the 'grown up' Samantha anyway.

Was this yet another woman that Mulder had met over the Internet? Scully eyed her computer. She could do a database search by using the woman's address. Unethical but very tempting...

The door opened. Mulder's smile was so bright that it seemed to enter the room a few yards before the rest of him did. "Morning!"

Pain and disbelief and denial and betrayal drummed behind her eyes. With a massive effort, Scully shoved her feelings aside and went into subtle investigator mode. She returned his greeting, then gently started probing for answers. Her questions were picked with utmost care, just like the right surgical tool at the right place in an autopsy, without coming out and saying what she had witnessed.

Mulder did not pick up on the hints. "Gauley Bridge wiped me right out. Crashed on the couch five minutes after I got in the door," he informed her.

"Really?" She could not believe this. She tried a different approach. "I couldn't sleep. Too wound up. Felt like going for a jog or something to burn it off."

"Looks like I did all the sleeping for the both of us then. Now, who are we giving this report to if Skinner's off sick? Or is he still doing paperwork?"

The lie and change of subject stung her with as much impact as the bee had, but not as much as the indifferent look on Mulder's face.

Dilemma: confront or not? How much of her business was this, even after eight years and the feelings she knew they shared? Had she not given him enough support, or was he afraid to ask her for support, so turned to someone else?

Though as much as that upset and angered her, was he really doing anything that she hadn't in that way? Her counselor, her priest...

She hoped that's all the woman was.

Mulder's buoyancy lasted well into the afternoon. Scully's own emotions kept swaying and clashing in her like the executive toy that had the metal balls all lined up on strings. Confusion, resentment, worry, sadness, fear.

This was hardly what she wanted as a distraction from Jacob's heinous acts.

About mid-afternoon, Mulder answered the phone. It had rung a few times during the day, but none of the previous calls caused a reaction in Mulder like this one.

"Uh...yeah." A furtive glance at Scully, a hooding of his expression, his body turning away slightly in the chair. He listened, giving a murmured "uh huh" every so often. "Sure.

Thanks," he said softly, then darted another look at Scully as he hung up.

Scully's radar was on red alert. She sent him an inquiring look, hoping it was casual. "Everything all right?"

For a second it was like that executive toy was clacking away just behind the skin of his face. Emotions back and forth, bouncing off each other until the motion subdued itself to a standstill or a draw. He shrugged. "Just some ongoing legal tangles with Mom's estate."

Was that the truth? The lawyers were still trying to sort out what to do about Teena's provision in the will for Samantha since there was no death certificate or body. That would certainly keep shaking Mulder up, and be dragged on for ages.

Or had that woman just rang and he was actually using his mother's death as a shield to stop his partner from probing any deeper?


Tuesday night:

Scully sat in her car. She was parked outside Mulder's apartment building.

This was ridiculous. The last time she had staked out her partner, at least it had been because he seemed to be getting up to something with the New Spartans terrorist group, not with a woman.

Perhaps he was undercover again.

As in sheets...

Scully mentally told herself off. She was NOT staking him out. She was merely sitting here debating whether or not to go up and talk with him or see if he wanted to watch a movie or something. Anything. His mood had dipped again today after the phone call, just like the last few days.

Scully made her decision and got out of her car. Even if the end result was painful to her, she was going to find out what was going on.

Mulder's apartment was empty. The lights were still on, which was not unusual. His gun and cell phone lay on the coffee table. Perhaps he had gone for a jog


but near the

gun there was a full cup of coffee. That was unusual. Why make coffee then not drink it? It was tepid.

Some more searching ensued. Mulder's car was still in its spot and he wasn't in it. Scully hurried through the resident's parking lot, heading to check the stairs. She halted, hearing a noise. She moved towards it, around some support pillars, into the depths where residents would have no need to go, then froze again. Mulder and the woman were not far away, in a darkened nook.

Even in the shadows, Scully could make out several things.

The woman was Mulder's height. She had his face in her hands and his head was bowed slightly. She was kissing his forehead. Both had their eyes closed.

Upon seeing what she was seeing, Scully closed her eyes too. The image remained, made more vivid by the volcano of hurt erupting in her. She opened her eyes. No, she had not been seeing things. How could he do this?

The woman must have heard or sensed something. Startled, she pulled away from Mulder and stared at Scully. There was great pain in her eyes. Then she fled, weaving between cars, out of the parking lot into the night.

"Hey!" Scully called, then she noticed that Mulder had not moved. Or even reacted to the interruption. Embarrassment?

"Mulder?"

She let the woman leave and hurried up to him. He was staring in the direction where the woman had disappeared.

Actually, he was just staring vacantly at nothing.

"Mulder!" Dana touched his arm. No reaction.

This wasn't embarrassment. This looked like...drugs? But voluntary or not?

"Mulder, talk to me!" She grabbed his wrist to take his pulse, her jealousy shoved aside like it had been tackled out of play.

Mulder let out an explosive gasp and pulled his hand out of her grasp. He stared around. "What... What's going on?"

"Mulder?"

He looked at her, bewildered. "Why the hell are we down here?"

"You don't remember?"

"I made some coffee and sat down to watch TV. I guess I fell asleep." He was in his sweats and a t-shirt. "I must be dreaming. Or I must have sleepwalked."

"Or the stress of the case gave you a blackout." She gently tugged him out from the shadows of the nook so she could get a better look at his face. There was a mark like a smudge on his forehead. Lipstick. Scully didn't wipe it off. "Mulder, you met a woman here just now."

"I did not!" He gave an incredulous laugh.

"You were in... She was kissing you. Well, your forehead."

"Who? Well, where is she then? I think that would be something I'd remember! It doesn't exactly happen to me often!"

"I don't know who she is. She ran away." But they did know where she lived, and it was time to find out who this woman was and what on earth she had done or tried to do to Mulder. "You have a lipstick mark on your forehead."

Mulder half-raised his hand, then dropped it.

"And you've met this woman before. Last night at a house," Scully told him reluctantly. She waited for him to ask how she knew that and for his anger, but she was more alarmed that he clearly couldn't remember.

"I didn't go anywhere last night. I went to bed. Alone."

He was getting distressed. "Just like I was going to tonight."

"Come on." As Scully led him back to his apartment, she described the woman as best she could. Mulder had a look on his face that she was sure had been identical to her own over the years when he had lobbed his theories at her.

In the brighter light of his apartment, she would check him out for sign of concussion or drugs, anything to explain his memory blank. She didn't know whether she preferred a memory blank (and therefore possible indication of something medically wrong with him) to Mulder outright lying to her face about the woman.

If there was indication of drugs, then she would get him to the hospital immediately and dispatch the police to the woman's home.

In apartment 42, Mulder went to a mirror and stared at the lipstick imprint. "I...I have no idea how that got there," he said in bewilderment.

Scully mentally picked up her feelings, wanting to pack them away tightly. It was like trying to get a sleeping bag back into its carry cover. "Come over here and sit down."

She guided him to the couch, intending to sit down on the coffee table in front of him for her examination.

Mulder began to sit, then he leapt upright and whirled around. Nearly knocked over, Scully stumbled backwards.

"Mulder, what's..." She could practically see his heart thudding madly in his chest.

He looked around the room wildly and into the entranceway.

"I heard her..."

"Who?" Was it the woman coming back? But no knock came at the door, nothing.

He shook his head and sank to sit on the couch arm.

"Rachel," he answered and propped his forehead on his hand.

"I... I could have sworn I heard her screaming just now.

Sounded so..." He glanced at Scully briefly and gave a quirky, self-effacing grin. "Congratulate me, Scully. Looks like I'm achieving not only sleepwalking, but waking nightmares too."

"It was a difficult case, Mulder. Your body is probably just telling you that you need some time off." Scully wondered which one of them she was trying to reassure.

"And that woman you saw? What about her?"

"We're going to find out about her. Now track my finger..."

He didn't. His eyes darted around the room and he stood up. "Beth?" His voice was hesitant, searching.

"Mulder?"

"She's not here, is she? But I can hear her. She's sobbing." He turned around, and around again, his eyes glazed. "Scully, make her stop, please!" His voice was raw.

"Beth, I'm sorry..."

Scully raced to his side as he sank down to his knees on the floor, clutching his head.


Georgetown Hospital

Scully twisted the cord of the pay phone, trying to channel her fear and helplessness into it instead of into her voice. "They're running tests now. MRI. An EEG is scheduled... He's still conscious and able to move, but he keeps getting headaches and says he can hear voices. And it's getting worse."

"Is it..." Skinner hesitated, then plowed on. "From what you've said, it sounds like when he first came into contact with the rubbing from that artifact. Could this be a relapse?"

She thought back to the craft on the beach in Africa, and to Mulder, his brain more alive than his body could stand.

"I don't know for sure yet, sir. It certainly could be.

After all, we still don't really know for sure what happened to Mulder the first time to set off such unprecedented brain activity. When...when I found him in the DOD..." A wave of nausea reeled up in her as she remembered him pegged out on the operating table like a bug in an insect collection. His skull and beautiful mind violated by a surgeon's saw. How even when Mulder had woken up in her arms she had not been sure if her partner had escaped brain damage.

"...whatever they did to him stopped the activity." It also put an end to his ability to read minds. "But perhaps it was just temporary. Not so much a cure as a suppression..."

Oh, God, I don't want to go through this again.

"And this woman whom you saw with Agent Mulder just before he fell ill?"

"I've got Danny running a background check on her and have sent agents to her house. A tox screen is being run of Mulder's blood just in case she somehow poisoned him."


Mulder had fallen asleep during the MRI and was hard to rouse, as if whatever was going on in his head had its claws deep in him. He kept drifting back into a stupored sleep. He flinched and tossed, as if in an internal struggle. Two hours later in his private room his eyes flew open, then the panic in them died. He was alert again.

Scully watched him focus on her, then check out his surroundings. "Snap," he said sheepishly.

For a moment she was confused, then remembered their game.

He had been in not only this situation before, but this very room. "Big time," she replied and squeezed his hand.

"How are you feeling?"

He raised his other hand to his forehead and encountered the EEG leads. "They keeping tabs?"

"Yes."

"Deja vu all over again... God, my head hurts. But it doesn't feel like the other time."

"From the test results we have back so far, apparently it isn't." Not that it was much consolation. "There is significant activity in your brain. In your frontal lobe, not taking up all of your capacity like before, but definitely more than normal. The activity seems to be repeating in a pattern." She paused reluctantly.

He looked at her closely. "And..."

She focused on their joined fingers. "And it seems to be getting more and more intense."

"I can agree with that." He screwed his eyes up as another round hit. "No... God, I wish I could turn it off!"

"We're going to find out what's going on and stop it, I promise. Is it still voices? Anything discernible?" Give me something to go on, she begged silently.

He asked her a question instead. "What about the woman?

Did she do this to me?"

"Your toxicology came back clear


for the 'usual' toxin

possibilities at least. The lab is still checking for more exotic poisons. The woman hasn't come back to her house. It is under surveillance. They're getting a search warrant on it. Danny dug up some facts. Her name is Chimene Lampert.

Is that in any way familiar to you?"

"No. Not at all. And it's the sort of name I would remember." Another bout of pain hit him and he rode it out, holding her hand. "They don't know what to do for me, do they?"

She met his gaze. "We're trying."

His hand came up to touch her cheek. "I know you are."

There was a pause, then Mulder said more lightly, "I gather they won't let me get up to use the little patients' room when I want to?"

"It wouldn't be a good idea. Not with all those wires and leads." Or the attacks he was having.

Mulder sighed. "Scully, as I've told you previously, I am a stander."

She blinked, then remembered it in context: a recent case where an academy dropout had been killing off FBI agents.

Skinner had been badly injured by a car bomb the man had planted and Tom Colton had been electrocuted in a bathroom at HQ. At the latter crime scene, trying to piece together how Colton was killed, Mulder had explained that when it came to using urinals, men seemed to be either standers or hunchers, and reflected that it could have something to do with modesty or size.

Scully shook her head at her partner now as he lay in the hospital bed. "Sorry."

Mulder looked grumpy. "It's undemocratic. Catheters and bottle thingies just aren't the same as exercising the manly right to stand." He let out a more put-upon sigh, then changed the subject. "What else did you find out about this 'Chimene'?"

"Perhaps now isn't -"

"It might jog my memory. And talk is a good distraction.

Please."

Never could deny you much, she thought. "She's aged 31, single, no children, comes from old European money and does not have a job."

"Apart from somehow enticing strange men to let her suck their foreheads... Hey, if she had been giving me a serious hickey further down, I might have said she was a vampire.

You did check my neck, didn't you


aggggggghhh!" He

abruptly doubled up into a ball, wrapping his arms around his head.

Scully hit the call button, and stayed beside him, bending over him, stroking his arms and what of his hair she could.

"Scully...Scully, please..."

"The doctor's going to give you a pain killer. Just hold on a little bit longer."

"Won't stop the voices. The memories, Scully. Knock me out so deep that they have to stop," he pleaded.

"What memories?" And how could they be this strong, this magnified?

"The case..."

The pattern in his frontal lobe grew more and more intense. Twenty minutes later he lost the ability to speak.

Forty minutes after that, he went into a coma.


Scully woke up. Instead of another motel room bed, this was another hospital chair. She fumbled to focus on her watch. Mulder's bed was illuminated only by the small light set just above it on the wall, enough for the nurses to navigate and read the machines on their checks. Heading on for five in the morning. Mulder was so motionless he looked like a CPR mannequin placed there by mistake.

Scully looked at the machines and monitors, then at all the papers she had scattered over the table and spare chair and down the side of her own. Mulder's test results


both

present and from the artifact incident


the information

on ms Lampert, medical journals with possible relevant articles she had asked the Gunmen to bring. Mulder was locked inside his head and she was helpless. Chimene Lampert might hold the key to his condition, but there had been no sign of her.

Chimene was quite a traveler, overseas and on US soil.

Travel records had shown that she had recently come back from a few days in rural Virginia. Namely Gauley Bridge.

She had arrived there on Sunday afternoon. She had stayed at the same motel as Mulder and Scully. And left on the same flight as they did on Monday night.

Scully knew that Mulder had an effect on women that caused them to follow him to the ends of the earth, being the president and most frequent flyer of that club herself. But until now she had thought that the other members had long given up, or in some cases, died. So who was this woman and what did she want with Mulder?

The Gunmen had run Chimene's travel records up against Mulder's but found no other match-ups.

Standing, Scully took a moment to collect her equilibrium.

In a way, poison 'at least' had been something with recognisable symptoms and a ready cure, providing it was caught in time. This... She leaned over the bed and kissed Mulder's cheek. "I'll be back in a few minutes, partner.

And please, wherever you are, come back to me soon."

Exhausted and near breaking point, she went out past the guards on his room to the quiet waiting room. Since this was the Neuro Ward, not the ER, it wasn't exactly bustling with people at this hour. Her goal was the snack dispenser.

She knew that she had to have something, despite the hour; she was already feeling a little light-headed. She could not afford to collapse, so she made herself eat a granola bar and some juice while walking the waiting room floor to stretch her stiff legs. She hurried, wanting to be back at Mulder's side. She didn't want him to be smuggled away by the Consortium again.

She dropped the wrapper and container in the trash can and turned to go resume her post, only to find someone coming into the waiting room.

It was Chimene Lampert.


End Act II


Act III:

The two women looked at each other across the waiting room. Half of Scully's brain was assessing in terms of a threat


visually checking for a weapon while cursing that she had to hand her own in to the security here


and

half measuring the female who had apparently bewitched Mulder so completely that he had no memory of her.

Chimene stood before her, wearing black jeans, a deep purple shirt and an anxious expression. She turned slightly, a brooch of silver stars winking in the light, her hands out from her hips so that Scully could see she was not holding anything. Her long brown hair was tied in a braid that hung down over one shoulder. "I'm not here to hurt anyone." Her gentle but insistent voice sounded like it bore a faint accent, but Scully could not place it. "I came to explain and to help. Before you do anything, please just listen to what I have to say."

She gazed at Scully, who thought that either the poor lighting in here or her own tiredness gave the woman an ethereal air. A special bearing. She tried to shake off that feeling. "What did you do to him?"

Again, those green eyes seemed so... Familiar? Scully realized with a jolt that it was like looking into Mulder's eyes. So much feeling inside.

"You know who I am, but you don't know *what* I am."

Thousands of possibilities jostled in Scully's mind, none that she wanted to be proven a certainty.

"Firstly, let me assure you that Fox Mulder and I are not lovers." Chimene gave a slight smile, but it had a wry edge. "As he has probably told you, he does not know me."

Relief soaked Dana's soul, as well as hope that this woman was telling the truth. "Yet you seem to know him well enough."

"You could call me a special therapist."

"And quite a specialty too."

Chimene gave a slight chuckle and raised her eyes ceilingward. "I'm trying to ease you in here, but I can see we will get nowhere quickly. All right: in basic terms, I can be classified as a mutant."

Scully's eyebrows hit her hairline and her anger hit 'boil'. "I don't... I don't have time for this. Neither does Mulder."

"You have encountered mutants before. You have even been able to study and dissect some. As a scientist, you know

that nature produces them occasionally. I was 'produced' a long,

long time ago."

Even as Scully mentally rolled her eyes at this, a part of her found it easy to picture Chimene in many different eras and outfits. She shook the feeling off. It was just the woman's eyes, she supposed. They looked like they had seen so much.

"But my history can come later. What you need to know is that I am a vampire of sorts. Daylight holds no dangers for me though. And instead of feeding on life blood, I feed on guilt."

For ten full silent seconds, Dana stared at the woman, who stared calmly back. Taking a deep breath, Scully said, "Well, I'm torn between busting a gut laughing or ripping yours out for going on like this when a man's life is at stake."

"You have encountered a man who preyed on overweight women on the Internet in order to suck the fat out of their bodies. A mutant who ate brains, one who ate livers... I can sense guilt. I just take angst from those who deserve to have their burden lightened. I absorb the feelings as sustenance and sometimes the memories remain, though if I chose, I can store what I take


the feelings linked in

with the memories


for digestion at a later time."

"I think you've been watching too much of the Discovery Channel."

Chimene would not be dissuaded by her attitude. "Well, I have no fangs and I do not need to feed daily, though I can do the latter depending on circumstances. My ability to remove guilt helps me, it helps my client."

"Client?"

"They are not victims," she replied emphatically. "They are clients. I may sound like a businesswoman, but I am in the business of removing guilt. Just like any therapist.

And only with those who do not deserve the guilt."

"And Mulder would be the motherlode, wouldn't he?"

"Exactly. I know you're humouring me here, but I'll keep going. I have encountered Fox Mulder in the past and reduced his guilt, just like I have with many others. I then wipe my clients' memories of this via hypnotism."

And wipe the lipstick off their foreheads, Scully found herself thinking.

"I leave just enough of a subconscious suggestion that my clients will seek me out when and if required, if we are within a certain distance of each other. Ulysses and the siren. Now there was a war that caused..." She realized she was going off on a tangent and got back on track.

"Sometimes it gets so bad that I can 'hear' a certain person's pain, and I come to him or her."

"Like to Gauley Bridge?"

Chimene nodded. "Usually with people, I can reduce their pain in one or a few meetings, and the person gets on with their life, that burden removed or down to negligible enough levels. Fox Mulder however... His guilt and pain and grief can be like a hydra. Cut off the head -"

"And two more grow in its place," Scully said quietly.

"Exactly. Take these last few days. That many visits has been very unusual, even with him, but his guilt is skyrocketing. I've had to take so much that his behaviour has probably seemed very odd to you, instead of reducing it more subtly. Not that it seems to have made much of a difference."

Scully realized she was hanging onto the woman's every word, and gave herself a mental shake. "A very interesting tale. Ten out of ten for creativity, but what does this have to do with Mulder right at this very minute? Are you telling me that his guilt is what has sent him into a coma?"

"Guilt can do many things to a person. Whether kept buried inside or closer to the surface. A deep internal cut is just as life threatening as one to the outside, if neglected."

Scully bristled at the pointed look the woman gave her, then Chimene continued, "When you discovered Fox Mulder with me, I was removing some guilt from him. Instead of going for the jugular like your garden-variety bloodsucker, I press my lips to a person's forehead. And I 'pull' the pain out. Unfortunately, you interrupted that transfer at a key moment. I was taking the pain out of the recesses of his mind, but now it is 'front and center,' so to speak, in more technicolour than he can handle. The pain and memories are just cycling over again and again. You have to let me finish what I started, otherwise he will continue to deteriorate."

"And you expect me to believe that? To just take you to his bedside on the basis of that?"

Chimene took several steps towards her, now only a few yards separating them. Thanks to Scully's heels, they were almost at eye level with each other. "You want proof. All right, here it is."

But she did not move further, not even to produce something from her pocket. Scully pinned her eyes with a glare, ready to grab her and haul her into the corridor and get security, but then Scully realized she could not stop looking into Chimene's eyes. The woman had not blinked, but her eyes...the green irises, the pupils... Scully could see her reflection in them, but her reflection wasn't wearing the same clothes as she was now. Nor did that seem to be the waiting room in the background...

"What...?" she croaked, trying to recoil from the image of herself, but unable to.

Chimene's voice drifted to her as the image filled her senses. "Feature presentation..."


She was in a place


a warehouse. Somehow familiar. She

had been in as many of them as emergency rooms and motel beds though... She was walking towards some sort of set up of equipment in the middle of the warehouse floor. Her heart was pounding. "Dr. Arlinsky?" she heard herself call.

But in Mulder's voice.

She


he


them made a beeline for a metal table. An autopsy table. It was covered in pieces of ice and sheets of plastic. Her arms went out, Mulder's hands, and rummaged through the ice and plastic. She could feel his disbelief, his anger, his desperation. His thoughts. No, it can't be, it has to be here, it's THE proof we need, I should never have left it... "It's gone." And she looked up and saw *herself* moving around the other side of the table, looking uncomfortable.

She could place this moment in their history. The discovery and autopsy of the 'ice alien.' Mulder so sure this was the real thing. The only thing that she had known for sure at that time was that her cancer had metastasised.

They found Dr. Arlinsky's body and that of the man who had found the alien in the wilderness. It was so bizarre to be going through this through Mulder's eyes, his emotions.

A rage was burning in him, holding everything else at bay, as he argued with her about the authenticity of the nowmissing alien corpse. Hurt was at the edges of the rage as she watched herself refuting him.

She could see the bruises on her face from where Kritschgau had thrown her down the stairs when she tried to stop him stealing the ice core samples. She had thought she had covered them up enough with make up, not wanting Mulder finding out about it and going for Kritschgau's throat instead of hearing him out about the government conspiracy.

Or perhaps since this was Mulder's point of view, he had picked them up anyway, and in his guilt and fear they were twice as severe as in reality.

"Mulder, the only lie here is the one that you continue to believe."

Had she really said it that coldly? Had her approaching death made her blind to his feelings, or had she steeled herself to make him see sense before it was too late?

It took him several beats to collect himself enough to speak. "After all I've seen and experienced, I refuse to believe that it's not true."

"Because it's easier to believe the lie, isn't it?"

"What the hell did that guy say to you that you believe his story?" To believe the words of a man she had just met, over her own partner...

"He said that the men behind this hoax, behind these lies, gave me this disease to make you believe."

She felt him mentally teeter, staring in shock at her coldly upset face as her words sliced through him like a scalpel. A machete. The rage vanished, and there was nothing remaining to keep all his self-blame and guilt from crippling him. She had excised from him not so much his belief in extraterrestrials, but the one tiny hope that had kept him functioning ever since she had been diagnosed with the cancer: that she did not blame him and that she believed in him.

He had been the cause of her cancer. Now he had nothing to save her with or bargain for her cure.

No! Mulder, that's not... Talk to him! Scully yelled at herself, feeling like she was on the other side of a mirror, hammering uselessly at the glass.

But the memory kept playing out, just like it had in real life.

After the police had come to the warehouse and taken charge of the bodies and taken the agents' statements, Mulder left, running on automatic pilot, and went to his apartment. He put on a video of scientists talking about the possibility of alien existence. He sat there, all lights off apart from one lamp. Scully was trying to get out of his head now, to get out of this link with him and Chimene and run away from his pain. But she was trapped. As the video churned away, the image went blurry. Was it Mulder's TV? No. He was crying.

And thinking.


I've held a flashlight in the darkness to glance upon a truth unknown. An act of faith begun with an ineloquent certainty that my journey promised the chance, not just of understanding, but of recovery. That the disappearance of my sister 23 years ago would come to be explained. And that the pursuit of these greater truths about the existence of extraterrestrial life might even unite us. A belief which I now know to be false...and uninformed to the extreme. My folly revealed by facts which illuminate both my arrogance and self-deception. If only the tragedy had been mine alone, might it be more easy tonight to bring this journey to its end.


End? Scully could feel his thoughts and desperation, but she could not bring herself to believe that Mulder would actually...or had actually...

No, he must have just had a few thoughts. That was all.

After all, he turned up at her apartment a few hours later that night, very much alive, didn't he?

He got up and turned off the TV and wandered around the coffee table, wiping his eyes and resting his head in his hands. Then he looked down at his gun. He picked it up. He checked the clip.

He thought of her, and how sick she was going to become, how sick she looked already, and how useless and destructive he was. Everyone was better off without him.

And Scully knew he was about to put the gun to his head.

Because of her words.

She screamed out at him.

The phone rang. They both jumped.


It's her.


She felt hope and dread clash in Mulder. He wanted her to save him, but he didn't think he could save her. He picked up the phone. It wasn't her. Kritschgau.

Why wasn't it me, she thought. If Kritschgau hadn't phoned just then...

Mulder's voice was more tears than tone. "Did they give Agent Scully this disease...did they give this to her because of me?"


Scully pulled in a huge lungful of air. She was back in the waiting room, herself again.

But after that, she would never be the same again.

She stumbled backwards, away from Chimene, and sank down on the nearest seat. "Oh, God." She pressed her fist to her mouth. Her whole body trembled. "No..."

She was vaguely aware of Chimene moving, then a cup of water was held in front of her. Dana shook her head.

Chimene put the plastic cup on a table and sat next to her, compassion in her expression, but giving her some space.

"I'm sorry, but it was the only way. I couldn't just hypnotise you into letting me help Fox Mulder. I can only properly hypnotise those from whom I have drawn guilt, and even then that has its limits."

Scully stared at her. How long had Chimene been helping him? She didn't know if she dared ask. For years or occasionally or recently? The ice alien incident had happened years ago now, but perhaps he had suppressed it all once she was cured and it had bobbed up again recently.

At least Mulder would have had someone helping him, but...

It should have been *her*, not some vampire. And she thought she was a help to him, holding him when he wept over Samantha's diary, for example.

Chimene's 'gift' would explain how he seemed to bounce back so 'well' after all that they'd gone through each year. His own spirit and drive would have been contributing factors to his capacity. Though his self-recrimination and ability to believe that everything was his fault would have tipped the scales hard on the other side in counterpoint.

No wonder that Chimene's gaze when they had first come face to face reminded her of Mulder.

Dana felt all her guilt rising up out of its bonds. She trusted Mulder with her life. Yet all of the things and feelings she and Mulder had hidden from each other so many times... And she had nearly caused him to kill himself.

Chimene gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "I could take some of that from you now, as more proof and to help you, but we might get interrupted, and time is shortening."

Scully stared at her, still shaken.

Chimene pressed on. "Don't become a hydra as well. He needs you. You are so important to him and do help him.

Though you both could..." She trailed off and weighed her next words. "There are two sides to every story


you've

experienced both, now, and found out things you had no inkling of. That's something to keep in mind for the future. If there's one thing I have seen; history does repeat. Learning from it is what set the greats apart from everyone else."

Scully shook herself out of her misery and glanced at her watch. She was surprised at how little time had passed.

Though if Mulder had something like that, only more intense, playing over and over in his brain...

"Will you let me help him?" Chimene asked.

"Why do you *want* to help him?"

"I may be a mutant, and my heart may be


in a way


immortal, but it still feels. I care what happens to people, even if I am getting their feelings out of them to sustain myself. I want to fix what went wrong. Plus, if you two are going to prevent colonisation by aliens, that's fine with me. I have seen many fields of battle. Some with spears and shields, others with machine guns and bombs. I have seen plagues. I have no wish to witness what creatures from beyond are capable of doing to this world. I have seen glimpses. Somehow I don't think they have much emotion.

I'd starve. Or be dissected."

There was a pause.

"But the battle that is going on in Fox Mulder's mind is a battle or plague that can be won." Chimene persisted. "I am the cure."


Chimene stood at one side of the bed, Scully on the other.

Chimene gave Scully a reassuring look and bent to press her lips to Mulder's forehead. She looked like a visiting relative. Scully kept holding Mulder's hand and praying that she was doing the right thing.

Minutes seemed to tick by. Scully wanted to ask what was going on, and how much longer, but after what had happened in the parking lot, she didn't dare.

Then Chimene raised herself up, her eyes full of worry and confusion. "It's not working."

"What do you mean?"

"I can't dislodge the memories or the guilt. I can't reduce it or put it back into the recesses of his mind or anything." She looked stricken. "This is beyond my abilities. I don't understand..." The expression of uncertainty did not sit well on her face and the guilt vampire did not allow it to remain there very long. She looked sharply at Scully. "You try."

"What?"

"You have a unique bond with him. You may be able to reach him through that."

"But how?"

"Do what I was doing, and try to reach your mind out to him. You've felt his pain on both the inside and outside.

If you can lock into what he's going through now, you may be able to reach him."

Scully stared at Mulder, then her, then back to Mulder.

"But... What *good* am I? Look at what you showed me. He was about to kill himself. I did that to him! I drove him to that! I haven't been the one to help him with his pain.

You have. So if you can't help him now, how can I?"

It was Chimene's turn to stare. She shook her head emphatically. "No. Dana, I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. I haven't been 'in the picture' nearly as long or as often as you're thinking. Fox Mulder endured and withstood so much before either of us knew he existed. He had to carry around so many burdens. Then he met you. The two of you have expanded each other's lives in so many ways and are so much to each other. Great love doesn't only have to bring great pain. I can't show you or tell you about the happy times, but he can."

She watched Scully take a deep breath. "Dana Scully, you have to bring him back so he can tell you himself how much you help him. Then you will believe. And besides, I know you will try. You don't want to leave him like this without trying all possibilities, no matter how slim or fanciful. I may have 'gifts,' but I don't have your gift, your feelings, when it comes to him."

Scully stared down Mulder's waxen face and fingers.


She was in the clearing in the woods where the mine shaft was. Waiting for the rescue team to arrive. Jess, Rachel's 6-year-old friend who had led Scully to Mulder's rescue, was clinging to her


Mulder's


leg. Jacob was watching

the girl.

Jess whispered to Mulder, "Jacob's gonna send me a picture, isn't he? Just like with Luke. Gonna make something bad happen. He's going to get me for helpin' you."

She could hear Mulder raging at himself as he stared bleakly at Jess.


If I hadn't have done this ditch, if I

had watched where Jacob was leading me more closely, then Jess wouldn't have had to get involved. Now I've ruined her life too and she's always going to be looking over her shoulder.


Rachel lying in the bottom of the mine shaft for four days, then screaming in her hospital bed.


I missed her when I searched the woods the first day we were in Gauley. How could I have missed her? She probably heard me calling. I should have pushed about Jacob sooner, more insistently.


Mulder answering the phone in the office


the phone call

he told Scully was about his mother's estate. But it was the sheriff at Gauley Bridge. "I know you wanted an update on Rachel: she's more conscious now. But one of the breaks was a bad one near the growth plate of the bone. That leg might not grow at the same pace as the other. Chances aren't good that she'll walk normal again."


I've ruined her life, broken up her family, couldn't save Sam, couldn't save Scully


God, this hurts but I

deserve it.


Watching Scully staring at the children in the playground at Jacob and Rachel's school. His angst over her infertility, that she would not have children...

His fault.

Those memories and those thoughts and that pain and more from those days in Gauley played again in his mind, and now in Scully's too.

For the first few cycles, she struggled to stay afloat, to stay upright as the tableaus wrapped around her, squeezing at her, wanting their pound of flesh. These were the true vampires, not Chimene. Mulder's view of his 'crimes.' "Mulder!" Scully yelled, to no reply.

Jess whispered in her ear again and she felt so horrible.

"NO! Enough!" Scully yelled. Instead of letting it buffet her, she grabbed hold, seizing Jess by the shoulders.

"Listen to me," she demanded, unsure if whether she was addressing Jess or Mulder or both of them. "Jacob has been locked away. He is going to be closely monitored. Mulder, Jess may be 6 years old, but she has quite a spirit to her.

Enough to follow you and Jacob into the woods and come get help for you. That spirit will prevail. I have a feeling she'll end up in police work and suit it fine. She'll use her experiences instead of letting them get to her."

Jess stared up at her, wide-eyed and intrigued, then she disappeared.

Rachel was screaming.

Again Scully didn't flinch away. She went right up to the bed. "Mulder, Rachel was in shock. She's out of that now. I spoke to the doctors. Once she knew for sure that she had been rescued


thanks to you


and that her parents were

with her and Jacob was in custody... She's stepping onto the path to recovery. And yes, I do mean stepping. It will be hard for the doctors to know for a long time whether or not Rachel will have a permanent limp and just how bad that will be, but she WILL be able to walk. Mulder, she'll have bad days, but we all do. And she's alive. A limp is a small price to pay considering the alternative. Just like me, Mulder." Scully looked at the playground.

"I don't want you to look at me and just see what you think I've lost, what you think I'm devastated about. You feel so guilty, but you weren't responsible for what happened to me or to her. Being alive and with you


that's enough. We did both have some baggage on this case.

I feel guilty because I wouldn't accept that Jacob would do that to his sister. That was my blind spot. So I'm more culpable than you that Rachel was down that shaft for so long."

She heard a "No!" It was Mulder's voice, coming from somewhere.

"Where are you?" she called. No answer.

Scully looked around. She was still in the clearing in the woods. No Jess, no Rachel, no Mulder.

"Mulder?" There was no reply, but she headed for the mine shaft. All she could see was darkness when she looked down into it. "I'm not going to leave you in there."

She reached in, gritting her teeth at the pain.

Mulder was lying at the bottom. His leg was jutting out awkwardly, just like Rachel's. Their eyes met.

She held out her hand. "Share it, Mulder. Neither of us hiding. We can do this together."

There was a long pause, a long unbroken look between them, into each other's souls.

He raised his hand.


Her eyes felt so heavy. She could smell hospital sheets.

She could also smell Mulder. She could *feel* Mulder, his fingers entwined with hers. Not limp.

"Hmmm?" she whispered.

"It's okay," a voice said joyfully. Chimene.

Scully tried to open her eyes. "It's okay, relax." Chimene said. "Both of you. You know, the only way to really stop a hydra's head from multiplying was to cauterize the stump with fire." Scully felt a hand briefly pat her head.

"Appropriate. Keep that in mind, huh?"

"What's she talking about?" Mulder mumbled.

Scully raised her head in time to see the door closing.

She turned to look at Mulder. He looked exhausted and confused, but awake and no longer locked in the grip of the memories.

She smiled in shaky relief, not letting go of his hand.

"Just wanting to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself."


Epilogue:

A few days later Mulder's apartment Nearing 6 p.m.

Scully knocked on the door, then used her key. As she expected, Mulder was sprawled out on the couch, asleep. His abnormal readings had ceased and fortunately there had been no lasting effects to his mind or body, just the need for a lot of sleep and rest after being continually subjected to that show reel in his brain. "Would rather have sat through 'Waterworld' again..."

Scully put a grocery bag down on the entranceway table as quietly as she could, watching him. Her partner's face may not have been a study of angelic serenity like after visiting Chimene in Gauley Bridge, but he was sleeping peacefully enough.

She had done that. She may not have possessed Chimene's bizarre ability, but she had brought Mulder back.

After her hospital vigil and experiencing the links into Mulder's brain, Scully had been physically fine apart from feeling exhausted, and had taken yesterday off work to catch up on some sleep. That and then returning to work today had kept her occupied, and she welcomed that as a diversion from worrying over what she had witnessed. The implications...

Her mind shied away from the warehouse and the image of Mulder with his gun in one hand and his phone in the other, and jumped instead to another phone call. The one she had seen in the latest glimpse into his mind. The one from Sheriff Sullivan. Why had Mulder lied about it to her in the office?

Maybe the news had put him in denial mode. It had been news that he hadn't wanted to hear about Rachel, and repeating it to Scully would make it all the more real at that time. Scully sighed and kept watching her partner as he slept.

Soon she went into to the kitchen to unload the few items she'd bought him to make sure he started work again in the morning on a decent breakfast, only to find that he'd obviously been out shopping himself today.

"Fee fi fo fum, I smell the perfume of a G-wom-an!" came Mulder's voice.

"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you." She went back into the living room. Mulder was sitting up. When he saw her, his smile increased.

"That's okay. I didn't need that much sleep today anyway, compared to yesterday. Looks like all systems are go for tomorrow." He raised his arms towards the ceiling, then towards his toes, testing his ribs out again, to his satisfaction. Any stray twinges wouldn't stop him. "Good day at work?"

"Got a lot done, but it was too quiet."

He paused mid-stretch, and his tone went playful. "Hey, you took a risk just coming in here with your key. I might have been getting brain-sucked by Chimene again."

"Well, somehow she got past the hospital guards and there has been no sign of her at her house. Not that we have it under surveillance anymore since there were really no charges we could apply or evidence of what she was doing or what she is. I have a feeling she won't 'darken your doorstep' again." Chimene would probably start again somewhere else. A practice she must have perfected over time, aided by her family's wealth. *She* most likely was the family, pretending to be each successive generation, and would have contingency plans for when something like this happened. Scully paused as something occurred to her.

"Perhaps she met you in the parking lot on Tuesday and at her place on Monday because she thought the risk of interruption would be less."

He nodded thoughtfully. "I wonder how old she really is," Mulder mused. "What she's seen. Too bad I didn't get to talk to her." He stood, still going through his stretches.

"I went for a walk earlier. I want to go for one again. You interested?"

Very interested indeed, but don't ask me to clarify in *what*, Scully thought, trying not to let her gaze linger on his torso as the t-shirt clung tightly with his movements, accentuating his form. The bout of hospitalisation had not noticeably whittled down his physique. "I think fresh air would be a good idea. It's nice out. Let's go. We can have something to eat when we come back."

It was nice to be getting back into their pattern of spending more off-time together. As they walked in the park near Mulder's apartment block, Scully told him that Rachel was now making good progress. It was still too early to know for sure about a permanent limp, but there was every chance that would not eventuate. She had read of a new surgery where the bones could be lengthened, and she had told Rachel's doctors about it.

"You were right," Mulder said, and by the look on his face, he was recalling how she had reined in his chaos.

"I usually am." They laughed. Then her face grew serious.

"And you were right about Jacob and what you said about my own baggage."

"I wish I wasn't."

They glanced at each other, hesitating, then backing away from saying more. They kept walking. His left hand and her right hand were near each other at their sides, deliberately brushing, then they joined together. Fingers slid into place. Even though one hand was large and the other small, they were a perfect match.

The agents had now come to the park's baseball facilities and were walking past the bleachers. Scully halted and looked at the field. A few kids had finished packing up their gear and were leaving, grumbling that their play had to be interrupted for dinner.

"Scully?"

She walked over to the edge of the field, tugging him into following easily enough. "Time for that baseball lesson you owe me, Mulder." He stared at her. "I won it fair and square," she reminded him. "Unless you're going to tell me that you made Snap up instead of getting it from Oxford."

"But...that was only a pretend wager. And we haven't got a bat or balls, unless we chase after those kids and commandeer their gear."

Scully slipped her hand out of his and held both her hands out in the classic batter's stance. "I have a bat."

Mulder got an 'are you sure that Chimene didn't get to you, too' look on his face. "Scully, there's nothing there."

"Mulder, I'm holding a bat. If I, the skeptic, can believe that I am holding a bat, then the least you could do is humour me. I don't think I'm holding it correctly."

"I'm not surprised..."

"It was a pretend *bet*, so we use a pretend *bat* and pretend balls. Means I can always hit a home run."

"Is everything pretend?" he asked quietly, staring out over the field, then at her.

"No. Not everything. Time to get back in the swing of things." She gazed at him intently. "Get over here, Mulder."

For a time the only noises were their breathing and laughter and mock 'ball meets wood' noises as Mulder kept his arms around her and they practiced their swing. Once he grabbed hold tightly and picked her up and whirled her right around before setting her down again. Mulder was showing no signs of getting tired.

It was like hitting their frustrations and barriers away.

"That jerk in the red Porsche who cut me off two weeks ago." Swing.

"The pasta in the FBI canteen." Mulder started a big swing, but Scully dragged back on it. "No," she said, "*I* like the pasta!"

"Hey, if we're honouring one of your bets, can I get one of my bets realized?"

"I suppose so... Which one?"

"Hmmmm. That needs careful consideration. Gimme time to think."

Scully was happy and breathless. This is what they had needed. She moved back a bit against Mulder, enjoying being encircled in his arms, readying herself for the next 'pitch'. It would be so easy to just keep this playful and light, on general terms. And to go home happy tonight, thinking that all was rosy and fine and would continue to be.

But she remembered what Chimene had said. And what she had been shown.

She took a deep breath and lowered the 'bat.' "Scully?" came the inquiry, soft in her ear.

She hesitated. He began to take his arms away. She turned around, putting her arms around his waist. She looked up at him, unable to hide her fear.

"Scully, you're scaring me here."

Likewise. "Sorry... It's just that... Chimene..."

Disappointment. "Is this what tonight was about?"

"No. I loved doing this. I want to keep doing it. But first we have to talk. Something that Chimene showed me, something from the past


it really scared me. Been making me think. About how much we keep from each other and the misunderstandings and...the consequences."

"What?"

She stared at his t-shirt. "She showed me the night that the ice alien was autopsied and stolen. From your point of view."

There was a pause.

She felt a shudder run through him. She looked up at him and he down at her, and he knew that she knew his secret.

"I..." He floundered helplessly, stunned, and scanning her face for her reaction. She kept her expression compassionate. "I need to sit down."

Neither of them let go of their hold as they made it to the nearest bench, nor when they sank down onto it.

The field may have been deserted, but the partners did have an audience of one as they sat holding on the seat.

Chimene watched, listening to them talk: the start, stumble, then perseverance through the potential minefield about that night, that period of their lives. Eventually, their words brought them through to the other side, together, carrying the burdens together instead of alone.

Much lighter ones now too. Some even destroyed.

That field led into a few others. The guilt vampire watched the relief on Scully's face as Mulder assured her that she, not Chimene, had helped him after his mother's suicide, that Scully was the one there for him every day, and that was the most important gift to him. Just like when Scully had cancer and confessed to her counselor that Mulder's passion and drive was a great source of strength that she drew on. She told him.

Scully raised up to press a kiss to Mulder's forehead, then to his cheek. Their lips met for a moment, on his initiative and her acceptance, then they resumed their hold. Chimene nodded in approval to herself. "Keep it up," she whispered, then left to find herself a new client.

THE END


My website for my X-Files fanfiction, thanks to the wonderful Skyfox, is now at: http://tenxffic.tripod.com THANKS TO: Laurie and the IMTP team for all their hard work and help. Debbie, Gerry and Suzanne for their speedy and thorough beta reading, and Suzanne again for the med details. To Sally and Dawn for answering my questions about "Dark Reflections" and then giving me an early look, despite it being a busy time for them, and also for giving their permission to continue my events on from it. Thanks Judie and Mac too.

And double thanks to Vered, my illustrator, for putting up with me and my snail's pace. Upon Laurie introducing us, Vered said, "So, what does this guilt vampire look like so I can start work?" Me: "Um... I haven't got that far yet..." Next day Vered sent me a jpg file, saying that she'd had a bit of a hunt around and this was what she pictured. Perfect. I love what you've come up with and hope to keep working with you.

DEDICATED TO: Laurie. Thanks for all the help and support you've given me in the past and for this story.

(And for being the voice of logic when I told you that the draft was under the minimum length. Just extend the MT


of course!!)

Thoughts?


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