Title: The Darkness in Him
Author: ML
Rating: R for violence and disturbing imagery. If you are under 17, please.
Classification: Angst, UST, S
Keywords: Mulder/other

Summary: The darkness in him was drawn to the darkness in her. An alternate view of the events during and after "3".

Distribution: OK to archive. Please archive all parts together. If you've never archived my stories before, please drop me a line to let me know where I can visit. Thanks.

Spoilers: S2, "3" and the abduction arc (Scully's)

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters mentioned in this story. They are the creation and the responsibility of Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen, and FOX. I am only borrowing them for recreational purposes. I mean no infringement, and I am making no money from this.

  Author's notes at the end .

-Los Angeles International Airport-

November in Los Angeles was like August in DC: sultry and oppressive. The smoke choking the air made it even worse.

"Welcome to Hell-A," grinned the driver of the courtesy bus for Lariat.

Mulder was in hell already. He didn't need the reminder.

He welcomed the escape from DC and the brick walls he'd run into continually over Scully's disappearance. Skinner, he was beginning to see, could be an ally, but he obviously was not wholeheartedly behind the X-Files. Mulder wasn't sure what prompted Skinner to fly in the face of officialdom and champion him but he was grateful. He could assume that his performance on a recent case might also have helped him regain the X-Files, if X's mysterious phone call to him during the case meant anything.

Re-opening the X-Files at least gave him something to do besides report to the bullpen and stare off into space while the tapes of his surveillance activities wound on and on, sounding like a B-movie script.

He was also grateful for this case. Anything to take his mind off his failure. Almost three months had passed since Scully had been taken, and no new leads had materialized in the intervening months. Senator Matheson was out of the country on some kind of junket. Krycek seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Mulder's new informant, X, was spectacularly unhelpful. Mulder wondered exactly what his agenda was. Deep Throat hadn't been very forthcoming but he had been a little more personable. X was just plain angry, as though he'd been put in an untenable position but had no choice in the matter. He'd made it pretty clear that Mulder should not attempt to contact him except under the direst of circumstances.

Evidently losing his partner was not dire enough for X. Mulder had heard nothing from him in weeks.

He'd lost track of the last time he'd had more than a catnap. He slept for a short period on the plane, but he didn't seem to be able to sleep longer than the bare minimum required to stave off total incapacity. He'd always been a light sleeper, but the insomnia started when Scully was taken. Any rest he got was punctuated by her cries and he always woke feeling frustrated and angry, without anyone or anything to direct his anger against. Except himself.

He finished the rental car rigmarole and headed out onto the freeway. The light had an angry orange quality, and the smell of smoke was everywhere. He could see it on the horizon, could hear the helicopters throbbing overhead like an accelerated heartbeat.

-Hollywood Hills-

The murder scene had an unreal quality about it. Except for the blood and the smashed mirrors, the house looked deserted and unlived in, a movie set for a modern vampire story. The local police seemed fairly blas‚ about the whole thing, as though vampire killings were a dime a dozen. Mulder remembered the Manson killings, and reflected that this certainly seemed tame in comparison. 

In any event, the police were unusually receptive to turning the investigation over to Mulder. They certainly had their hands full with the fires and the attendant rise in crime. If anything, they seemed relieved to have this off their hands, and even more so when Mulder said he preferred to work alone.

Not true. He preferred to work with Scully, but given a choice between alone and anyone else, he chose alone. He'd tolerated Krycek, allowed him to stroke his ego a little with his lies about believing in his work. Krycek really had no aptitude for it, as it happened. And of course, he wasn't *really* interested in the work. He'd done the job of sabotage that the men who sent Scully intended her to do. Too bad they couldn't recognize integrity when it bit them on the ass. Krycek didn't have any to recognize, of course, but they didn't see it in Scully, either, and she had more integrity than everyone else in the FBI put together.

He found himself touching the cross he wore around his neck once again. He felt it through his shirt. He'd had to get a longer chain for it, but he felt it was safest on him, and oddly, it made him feel safer somehow, though he didn't believe in what it represented. And he wanted the reminder of Scully near him. It helped him, though he didn't actually need to be reminded of her. He never went a moment without thinking of something he wanted to tell her. He reached for his phone to call her in the night before he remembered that she wouldn't be there to answer. He heard her voice in his head, refuting his theories and insisting upon proof.

Trying to develop a counterpoint to his own theories was a hollow exercise. 

He needed Scully and her skepticism to balance him. It was becoming clear to him that he needed her not just as a work partner, but as a fulcrum for his life. He hadn't realized how much until they'd taken her away.

By using some ordinary investigative techniques, he got his first break in the case. Scully would be so proud of him. He didn't endear himself to the LAPD with his weird theories, but they had no better explanation for what happened to the suspect in custody. And though he hadn't given anything away before he expired, at least in death he yielded up a lead.

-Club Tepes-

Mulder was used to being sized up when he entered places like this, but not usually with loathing. He realized how out of place he looked in his fibbie suit. He was usually oblivious to the hostility and the stares. But he usually had Scully with him, too.

One pair of eyes sized him up not with hostility, but with speculation. He felt her stare before he saw her.

There was a darkness in her. He recognized it, could sense it. But it wasn't inherent. She cultivated the darkness, allowed it to flourish. It did not come naturally to her. She seemed unlikely. He wondered what she looked like under the dead-white makeup and bloodred lipstick. Did she pale to insignificance in the sunlight? Was she invisible by day? Even if the guise of darkness didn't suit her, it didn't seem that daylight would, either. Maybe that was her problem.

She told him her name, and with it, so much more without many words. Her description of herself told him what he suspected. She felt worthless, like nothing, in the real world. Here she was a dangerous beauty, feared and desired. He wondered if he would even have noticed her in the daylight.

He couldn't help but compare her to Scully, who was naturally pale, but who somehow managed to outshine the sun. Scully's hair was the color of the LA sunset, her eyes the blue of the sea. There was no escape for him, even on the other side of the country. Everything reminded him of Scully, of his failure. They had not only taken his partner, but just about the only friend he had, the only person he could talk to.

Somehow Kristen sensed that about him, that he was somehow incomplete. Perhaps because she was too.

Why did he care, anyway? She was either a suspect, or a witness, or she was of no use to him. Unless his musings could help him profile her, there was no point to them.

He played along with her until she tried to draw him in to her world. He shied away from touching her blood, his years of training causing an instinctive recoil. *Loser* he could hear her think. She left him, left him with nothing, to find someone more receptive to her charms.

-1533 Malibu Canyon-

His suspicions were confirmed. As much as he didn't want to believe it, Kristen Kilar was somehow involved in the case. He reported his findings to the detective and they went along to her house. This was unusual for him; normally he would not hesitate to go on his own, especially when he felt ambivalence about the suspect's guilt. He felt he needed the surroundings of officialdom for reasons he didn't feel capable of analyzing.

He still felt ambivalent enough to assure the police that she had left and would not be returning, though he was far from sure of that himself. They took his word for it, too tied up in too many more pressing cases to be concerned about it.

He followed them down the drive only so far before parking along the edge to wait for Kristen's return. He dozed off and on until dusk, lulled by the constant sounds of helicopters and sirens, counterpoint to the noise in his head. After dark he let himself back in to Kristen's house to wait for her.

Why was he doing this? He didn't have an answer. She needed protecting, that much he knew. He hadn't wanted her arrested; without any real proof, he felt she was more victim than accessory. He hoped she would confirm that suspicion.

She didn't seem surprised to see him there when she finally came home.

He heard the story from her that he expected to hear. Abused as a child, gravitating toward abusive men as an adult. He'd heard it all before. It didn't make him less sympathetic to her. He felt more certain than ever that she too had been victimized by The Three.

But what almost undid him was her sympathy for him. She touched him lightly, one finger on Scully's cross, and told him she hoped he'd find her again. 

Once again he felt drawn to her as he had in the club, but this time it was out of shared grief.

As his lips met Kristen's, the noise and the voices blanked out. All he could hear was his own heart pounding in his ears. All thought, all feeling now seemed to belong to someone else. He watched with detachment as this man, his avatar, embraced the stranger and allowed himself to touch her and to be touched in return. He watched as her robe slid to the floor and she took his hand to lead him into the other room.

All was darkness. He knew that he touched, that he stroked, that he entered, but he felt nothing. There was a roaring in his ears. It could have been his own harsh breathing, it could have been the sound of flames devouring all the oxygen in the air, it could have been the sound of all the voices of those hopeless ones who screamed to be saved, and were abandoned. He held such a one now. He wanted to save her. Maybe saving her was saving himself.

Sometime later he crawled out of bed and dragged his clothes off the floor. 

He put them on and settled in an armchair next to the bed. He was supposed to be protecting Kristen, and he'd better be keeping watch. He thought he should feel ashamed of what he had done; taking advantage of someone's vulnerability in that way. He still felt nothing. Not relief, not shame, certainly not love or desire. He looked over at her sleeping form. She had taken advantage of him as much as the reverse. She had found his vulnerability, touching the cross he wore and referring to his lost loved one.

Loved one. He'd never thought of Scully in that light before. He had better not now, or in the future. He loved her, sure, as a friend and partner. But it had better not be more. His mind shied away from the idea that Kristen was any kind of a substitute for Scully.

He woke to find Kristen standing over him with a knife. He felt for his gun, which had dropped to the floor as he dozed. "There was a fireman at the door. He said the wind's shifted. We have to go right away," she said, then lunged at the shadows behind him. The one known as "the Father" leaped out of the shadows and grabbed at her. Mulder aimed his gun and shot him as he slashed the knife down toward Kristen, narrowly missing her arm.

Mulder grabbed her and they headed for the door. John was waiting for them. 

Mulder grappled with him, shouting, "Get out, Kristen! Get out NOW!"

Fortunately for Mulder Kristen didn't follow his orders. She hit John over the head with a large vase. Together she and Mulder dragged him out the front door."My car's parked down the drive a ways," Mulder said. He started to feel the familiar panic which always came over him around fire.

"Let's get mine," she said. "It's in the garage." She grabbed his hand and led him there.

They hadn't considered that the third member of The Three might be waiting for them there. She launched herself at Kristen and slammed her against the garage wall. Kristen slid down the wall, unconscious. The woman turned on Mulder. He strength was unbelievable. Mulder tried to get to his gun with no luck. As they careened near the wall hung with garden tools, he grabbed the first thing he could and hit at her with it as she sunk her claws into his face and tried to tear at his throat with fingers and teeth. He felt whatever he held connect with her back solidly and she gave a shriek and released him. As she slid to the garage floor, he saw the blade of a sharp pick was stuck in her back. It took only a moment to determine that she was indeed dead. So much for eternal life, he thought crazily.

He went to Kristen, who was starting to come around but was still groggy.

"We've got to save John," she insisted.

Mulder said, "Get in the car, I'll be right back." He ran to the front of the house and looked for John. He was no longer lying in front of the house. 

The door was still open but now he could see smoke inside. The fire on the hillside had come up to the back of the house and soon it would all be in flames.

John was waiting inside the front door, knife in hand. He caught Mulder on the arm before Mulder could get his gun out. Mulder dropped and rolled, and John ran toward him, knife held high in a killing stance. Mulder braced, aimed, and dropped him before he could connect.

Covered in blood, both his and that of the members of The Three, Mulder crawled back outside and tried to stand up. The fire was coming, he had to get out of there. He had to get Kristen out of there. 

Kristen stood swaying next to the garage. "You killed him," she whispered. 

"You had to. I saw."

Mulder stood up. A wave of dizziness hit him as he staggered toward Kristen.

"We've got to go--the fire--it's coming closer," he rasped, and reached out to get Kristen's support as much as to support her. Together they lurched down the driveway, where they were met by the firemen. Soon they were both in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

She narrowly escaped a concussion, and she had a slight case of smoke inhalation. It was enough to warrant an overnight stay in the hospital. 

Mulder got his wound seen to and by flashing his badge and cajoling the doctor, he got himself released against medical advice. He went to see Kristen in her hospital room.

"You shouldn't stay here," he said. "I think you're in danger here. Not from them anymore, but from yourself. Make a clean break." The next words were out of his mouth before he even thought about it. "Come to Washington. You can get a fresh start there."

She looked at him with dull eyes. "What does it matter where I go? How could it be any different?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe you could go back to school, find something better to do than the work you seem to hate. Just to get away from this--this atmosphere." He took a deep breath. "You can stay with me until you get on your feet."

She looked at him for a long time before answering. "They're dead now. You don't have to protect me."

"I know." How can he explain that he owed her something he can hardly admit to himself? That if he abandoned her now, he was buying himself extra time in hell?

-Fox Mulder's Apartment-

Within a day they were flying back to Washington. Late the following evening he let her into his apartment. It was a mess. Files all over his coffee table, everything in disarray. He'd stopped sleeping in his bed a while ago and the bedroom was starting to pile up with old files and other things he didn't know what to do with. But the bed was still clear.

"When I sleep, I sleep on the couch," he said to Kristen's unasked question. 

"You can have the room." He didn't want to give her the impression that his offer was anything but altruistic. His behavior in LA was an anomaly. He didn't intend to repeat it. Bad enough that it happened once.

She hadn't brought much; a new suitcase, filled with new clothes and toiletries. The house had burned, except for, ironically, the garage and the car. The bodies of The Three had been recovered, though the one called The Father was burned almost beyond identification.

"Are you okay for money?" he asked awkwardly. "I can float you a loan until you get back on your feet."

"I have money," she said, but didn't offer an explanation.

He gave her an extra key and explained that he had to report to work in the morning. "I don't expect you to get up. Make yourself at home. I'll be back about seven."

She nodded, and went into his bedroom, closing the door. He stood looking after her, feeling that although this was the right thing to do, it was turning out wrong.

He slept only fitfully as usual, and got up to run in the morning. Kristen did not wake up before he left for work, and he left a note for her on the counter.

He thought about her off and on all day, and almost called a couple of times, but decided that she should be able to take care of herself. He'd left his cell phone number and his office number for her if she needed to get in touch.

The apartment was quiet when he got home, take out food in hand. He glanced at the bedroom door; it was still shut. Nothing had been disturbed in the apartment at all. No dirty glasses or mugs in the sink, save his own from the morning.

Maybe she'd left. He half hoped it was true. He changed clothes in the bathroom and ate in the living room, the television on low.

An hour or so later, he heard the bedroom door open, and then the bathroom door open and shut. Not long after, Kristen came out, dressed in jeans and an old sweatshirt of his.

"I hope you don't mind I borrowed this," she said. "I got cold."

He did mind, a little. It seemed weird to see her in his clothes. It seemed too intimate."It's okay," he said. "November in DC is a lot colder than LA."

She nodded, and remained standing where she was, looking out of place. His speculation about her appearance was right. With her red lipstick and nails gone, she looked very ordinary, almost insignificant. He felt he would pass her by on the street without a second glance.

"I got dinner," he said. "Are you hungry?" She certainly ought to be by now.

She nodded. He got up and went into the kitchen and she followed him without a word. He warmed the food up and sat at the table with her.

"Are you feeling okay?" he asked as she pushed her food around on her plate.

"I guess," she said. "I just feel lost."

"Take it easy for a while," he said. "You've been through a lot. Give it time."

She nodded again. She made a pretense of eating a little longer, then said, "I'm going back to bed." She put her dishes in the sink and left the room without another word.

Mulder spent the rest of the evening on the couch, surfing channels until he fell asleep too. He didn't know what to do for Kristen. He needed to give her a chance to find her way, but he was already regretting his impulse of asking her to Washington.

Why had he brought her here? To atone for not protecting her better? To make up for losing Scully? He wasn't sure any more, but he could see now that it was a bad idea. Just one more example of his poor judgment.

Trying to save Kristen would not bring Scully back. Kristen was not a surrogate for Scully. He felt pity for her, wanted to help her, but nothing more.

Kristen was still asleep when he left for work the next day and he was grateful for this. He had no idea what to say to her, or how to help her.

Each day pretty much melted into night, and then into the next day. He went to work, and came home. He thought about Scully, went over her file again and again. He called Mrs. Scully, told her his no news. Sometimes they met for lunch. The only comfort they had was each other.

Meanwhile, Kristen made herself scarce. She was usually gone by the time he got home, especially as he found himself staying in the office later. They were avoiding each other. Mulder was usually awake when she came home very late, but he pretended to be asleep.

One evening he went into his bedroom to get clothes for work the next day and glanced around. He felt like an intruder in his own place. The bed was made up haphazardly. A glass of water was on the nightstand. Her closed suitcase rested on a pile of file boxes next to his dresser. A few blouses and skirts hung on a hook above his closet door.

She never used anything else in the apartment as near as he could tell. Once he did come home to find a towel draped over the bathroom mirror ("I don't like the way I look," she said in LA to explain the lack of mirrors in her house). He'd wanted to contradict her, tell her how striking she appeared at that moment, but it was too personal. Then, in the next minute, they'd gotten as personal as two people could get. All the same, it had been oddly impersonal. it was not who he was. It hadn't made him happy.

He had no idea what she was doing with her time, though from the scant evidence, he had his suspicions. He wasn't sure he really wanted to know.

One day Mrs. Scully asked him to go on an errand with her. He willingly acquiesced, even though he knew what it was for. Mrs. Scully was giving up. 

He couldn't give up, not yet. Seeing Scully's tombstone was a blow, but he refused to give in to it. "It's too soon, Mrs. Scully," he told her. He could see how tired she was of the waiting, the not knowing. But he couldn't lose hope.

Kristen was still there when he came home, but she was getting ready to go out. She was wearing a black skirt and a red silk blouse, as she had been when he first met her. Her nails and lips were once again blood-red, and her face was pale.

"I called a cab," she said. "I'm going out."

"I can drive you, you know," he offered.

"Thanks, but no. It's personal," she said, and walked out the door.

Mulder wished for once that she would stay. He could have used someone to talk to. But Kristen had kept her distance from him since coming here. 

Maybe because he was so distant to her. That was what he wanted, though wasn't it? He'd offered her a place to stay, but was unable to offer her more than that. He wasn't sure what he was to her, or what she was to him.

And where would she be going, dressed like that? He was sure that she'd found another place like Club Tepes here in DC, that she wasn't ready to give up the life she'd led in LA.

He stayed up late, feeling like a parent waiting on a recalcitrant teenager, and hating it. He would have to talk to her. He didn't bring her here to DC to continue to make the same mistakes.

As he dozed in front of the television, he thought again how different Kristen was from Scully. Scully was Kristen's antithesis. He was drawn to Scully because she banished the darkness in him even as she recognized it. Since Scully had been gone, he felt the darkness encroaching more and more. 

He feared that if Scully was gone for good that it would eventually consume him entirely. 

When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed of Scully. It wasn't the first time, though usually his dreams were more like nightmares, reliving what Scully must have gone through when Duane Barry abducted her, and even worse dreams about what happened to her afterward.

This dream was even more vivid than his usual nightmares. He dreamed that Scully was back, she was alive, and she was safe. He could feel his arms around her, touching her soft skin, one hand stroking her silken hair. He felt her mouth on him. If he'd been awake, he would have been alarmed at this behavior. She was kissing him, and he kissed her back. Her hands cradled his face as she pulled on his lower lip, running her tongue along it, nibbling it with her sharp little teeth.

"Oh, Scully," he moaned softly as she increased the pressure enough to draw blood. He yelped as he tasted the faint metallic tang in his mouth.

"Don't worry," her voice said soothingly. "It only hurts for a minute." He felt her tongue soothe the wound.

It wasn't Scully's voice he heard. His eyes flew open.

Kristen lay sprawled atop him on the sofa, her teeth and tongue alternately worrying and soothing his lower lip. Her nails gripped along his jaw line.

He jerked to a sitting position, but Kristen's reflexes kept her from being dumped on the floor. She twisted from his grip and stood before him.

Mulder stood as well, "What the hell do you call this, Kristen?" he shouted hoarsely. All his nerves seemed to be on fire. His wounded lip throbbed. 

Other parts of him were throbbing, too, but he didn't want to think about it. "I thought you wanted it," Kristen said. "You did the other night."

"You fucking BIT me!" He couldn't control his voice or his breathing. He couldn't think. What was happening here?

"I'm sorry, I got a little carried away," she said. "I won't do it if you don't like it."

He stared at her. She stared back. He took deep, gulping breaths and spoke more quietly. "That's not why I asked you to come to DC," he said steadily.

"Then why?" she asked simply.

"I...I don't know, Kristen," he said, and sat heavily on the sofa. She remained standing. "I thought you needed help, that maybe I could help you.  I guess I was wrong."

Kristen knelt beside him. "I don't need your help," she said. "I'm not the person you lost."

Her words had the effect of a cold shower on him. "No, you're not," he said.

"I'm sorry to have dragged you here," he added stiffly.

Kristen sat beside him. "Look, I'm really sorry. It's been so long since I've been around normal people, I can't remember how to behave. I'll start looking for a place of my own tomorrow. I'll be out of your hair by the end of the week."

She considers me *normal,* Mulder thought dazedly. To her, he said, "I'm sorry, too, Kristen. I don't know what you expected of me, but I don't expect anything of you--or from you. Stay as long as you need to, and don't feel like you owe me anything."

Kristen nodded. "Thank you."

Mulder shifted uncomfortably again. "I know it's none of my business, but where did you go tonight?"

Kristen leveled a long look at him. "You're right, it's none of your business. And nothing you need to worry about." She got up and went down the hall to the bedroom, closing the door softly.

His dream of Scully, turning as it did into a real life encounter, shook him to the core. He'd never thought of Scully in a sexual light before. Not that he hadn't been aware of her, hadn't sized her up, but only in the same way he would assess any woman when he first met her. And, hell yes, he found her attractive. But good looks had never been the most important appeal to Mulder. His gradual attraction to Scully took a much more subtle path. His first somewhat grudging admiration was for her intelligence, then her willingness to debate his theories rather than to dismiss them outright. 

Little by little, distrust and suspicion had given way to admiration and appreciation, then reliance and trust. Now, was what he felt more than all that?

He knew what a bad idea it was. She was his partner, there were sure to be rules against that sort of thing. Not to mention it was a Very Bad Idea. 

She was more than his partner. She was his friend. She was affectionate toward him, sure, but it was like affection toward a big brother. Yes, he was sure that was how she felt about him. He was just lonely, and vulnerable, and stupid. His stupidity had led him to have the dream, and to come on to Kristen. He would make sure that neither happened again.

When Scully was returned <when, not if>, he would make sure that she was not troubled by any inappropriate behavior on his part. He would do his best to behave toward her the same as he always had: off hand, sometimes teasing, somewhat aloof. He could do that, and he would.

He spent the rest of that night, and many nights after, dulling his senses with video after video.

Another lonely, pointless night numbing his mind with videos as he lay on the sofa. Kristen was out, as usual. One night he would follow her, find out where she was going.

The phone rang and he jumped. He hardly ever got calls in the evening, unless it was the Gunmen, calling to shoot the breeze. Even they had been avoiding him lately.

This time it was the call he'd both hoped for and feared. He was out the door and on his way to the hospital without a second thought.

Hours later, he returned to his apartment, drained and dispirited.

-Fox Mulder's Apartment-

Even though Scully had been physically returned, she was farther away from him than ever. The first sight of her lying in bed horrified him. They'd even taped her eyes shut! He'd lost it then, ready to take on the entire hospital. He should have known better than to expect any answers there.

He would have kept vigil by Scully's bedside all night, but he had to do more. He'd left Mrs. Scully, and Scully's sister Melissa, to pursue the answers the only way he knew how.

He waited all night for some kind of response from X and nothing came. It wasn't until much later that he realized Kristen hadn't come home at all that night.

He could spare little though for Kristen just now, though. The need to find out what happened to Scully consumed him.

When X finally appeared, he came only to thwart Mulder and to warn him away from investigating. Mulder's desperate pursuit of the man who stole Scully's blood ended in a rout. X gave him no joy and extinguished most of his hope.

The events of the next day destroyed the little hope left in him. The sound of Scully's respirator stopping accompanied the dying flame of his hope that she would live. In its place, the need for revenge grew. If Scully was to die, he would make sure someone atoned for it. If he died seeking justice, then his death too would be an atonement. 

He made his plans even as he left the hospital. <Goodbye, Scully> he thought. <With my own last breath I will avenge what was done to you.>

He'd never felt so alone as when he left Skinner's office. He thought Skinner was an ally; now it seemed that even Skinner blamed him for what happened to Scully, though not as much as he blamed himself. Skinner had also refused to help him seek revenge. He went back to the hospital, not knowing where else to go. Melissa, as usual, tried to sway him to her view, her sense of karmic retribution. <She has no idea,> he thought. <She is condemning me to the same fate.> He started to tell her so, when the break he was beyond hoping for practically fell into his lap.

-Outside Cancerman's Apartment-

He couldn't go through with it after all. Cancerman's low, reasonable voice mocked him. Was the truth more important than vengeance? Was it more important than Scully? Or was the truth what he needed more than Scully? 

The was the end, there would be no more chances for him. He was worthless, useless. He couldn't save Scully, he couldn't bring the men who did this to justice.

He drove aimlessly around the seedy neighborhood that was Cancerman's locale.

Abandoned storefronts, dive bars, rundown apartment buildings and rooming houses. As he drove past one alley, the blood red neon sign caught his attention.

Club Verre de Sang. He parked the car and entered the club.

He saw her almost immediately, as he expected to. She sat alone, fingers tapping a glass of red wine, staring into the middle distance. The cacophony surrounded but did not touch her.

She looked up as he approached. He stood in front of her. "I knew you'd come," she said, and drew her red fingernails along the sleeve of his jacket.

"You couldn't stay away. You're as drawn to it as I am."

He sat. A glass of wine appeared before him. He sipped it. It felt thick and acidic on this tongue. He said nothing, but looked at Kristen with dull eyes. He gulped at the wine again. The second taste was not as startling; it went down more easily. He thought of Scully's blood, smashed and wasted on the concrete floor of the hospital. He thought of the blood of the unknown thief, spilled there as well. It could just as easily have been his.

Same at Cancerman's. He could have shot Mulder when Mulder hesitated. No doubt Mulder's body would never have been found, and more blood on Cancerman's hands wouldn't bother him.

He gave a shuddering sigh and Kristen put her hand over his, her nails lightly scratching the skin at his wrist.

"You haven't found what you lost," she said.

He shook his head. "I did. But I'm losing her again." His voice cracked and he stopped and closed his eyes, willing himself not to cry. "She's dying, and I can't help her. I can't save her."

"It's the woman in the file at your place, isn't it? The one whose name you said...the other night."

He nodded. Another glass of wine materialized and he drank it down. It seemed to have no effect on him. Kristen sat, just looking at him, her fingers playing on his wrist. She leaned toward him, her lips close to his ear. "It's not your fault, Fox." She'd never said his name before. Not once.

He shook his head. "I've failed. Failed her, failed myself. I can't bring her back."

Fingers whispered on his skin, lips whispered to him, "Don't think about it right now. You did what you could."

"Why isn't it ever enough?" he choked out. "I couldn't save her. I couldn't save *you*."

She pulled back a little. "I told you, I don't want to be saved. I don't need saving. I am what I am. You are what you are. I won't judge you, Fox. Don't judge me. Just be here, now."

It was tempting. When she pulled on hi hand, he followed her to a private alcove. She kissed him softly and he allowed himself to respond, their lips joining and tongues stroking each other for long moments before she pulled away and looked at him assessingly.

He watched as if from a distance while she pricked her finger, squeezing the tip until a small teardrop of blood appeared. She took his hand and did the same to him. He didn't even feel it. She drew his finger to her mouth and touched it to her lips. The tip of her tongue licked the tiny smear off.  She kissed his fingertip, and drew it into her mouth, sucking on it gently. 

Her eyes mesmerized him and he felt a trance-like state come over him as he felt her mouth caress his finger.

Then she brought her finger up to his lips as she had before at Club Tepes. 

He closed his eyes and parted his lips, taking her hand in his to guide and steady it.

Behind his eyelids, he could see nothing but blood. The blood of the murder victim in LA. The blood of The Three on his clothes, on Kristen. Scully's blood drawn up into the vial, still warm in his hands as he took it from the stranger. Then, the sight of it smashed on the floor.

"Fox, you're hurting me," came Kristen's voice into his consciousness. He opened his eyes to see her fingers crushed in his grip, the drop of her blood trickling down her finger to run over his.

He let go and stood up, feeling dizzy. "I'm sorry, Kristen," he said softly. "You can't save *me*, either." He turned and left the club without a backward glance.

He didn't go home, not immediately. He went back to the Hoover Building. He wrote his letter of resignation and slipped it under Skinner's door, then went home to wait for office hours, when he could turn in his badge and gun. 

He'd finally proven himself unworthy of everyone.

-The Hoover Building-

Skinner surprised him the next day by refusing to accept his resignation. 

Mulder thought Skinner would be glad to be rid of him. Instead, he lifted the feeling of censure bestowed the day before. And suddenly Mulder knew that Skinner *had* tried to help him. Perhaps he had an ally, after all.

Mulder was only a little surprised to find X lurking in the hallway. The big surprise was what X handed him. Perhaps his resignation--or his confrontation with Cancerman--had garnered some results after all. Not from Cancerman, surely. Mulder didn't think his smoking nemesis would hesitate to sign a flunky's death warrant, but not to help Mulder.

Now it came down to this. He'd been given another chance at revenge. Would he have the guts to go through with it this time?

-Fox Mulder's Apartment-

He sat in the dark, more calm than he'd been for a long time. His decision was made. If he died exacting revenge, so be it. After last night, he was more certain than ever that he was worthless without Scully.

He could hear every noise inside and outside his apartment. The bubbling of his fish tank, a clock ticking. Cars going by in the street, distant voices.

Footsteps in the hallway, approaching and passing. He wasn't worried about Kristen showing up. Sometime earlier that day she'd cleared her things out of his apartment. She'd left no note of any kind. He wasn't surprised. She refused to break free of her dark obsession, and he wouldn't join her in it.

Only Scully could help him, but she wouldn't be around any longer. He couldn't remember if he'd ever told her how much her trust and loyalty meant to him. She'd told him once that she would only put herself on the line for him. He'd been so surprised and shaken that he'd had no response except for his usual knee-jerk smartass one. He should have told her then. As he sat in the dark, he thought of dozens of missed opportunities. He would never see her smile again, hear her say, "Mulder, that's crazy," in that tone that invited him to prove her wrong. He'd never feel the touch of her hand on his. He'd lost all that.

He had to get a grip on himself. He couldn't allow himself to be wallowing like this with killers on the way.

More footsteps. A shadow under his door. He tensed and picked up his gun. 

He heard a knock, then Melissa Scully's voice calling his name. Oh God, no.  He had to get her out of here.

But Melissa wasn't so easily dismissed. She came to tell him what in his heart he already knew. Scully was slipping away. But she added what he also knew but refused to acknowledge: exacting revenge was more for him than for Scully. Despite couching what she said in New Age crap, Melissa was a lot like Scully. She wouldn't cut him any slack, or let him take the easy way out. "You owe her more," Melissa said, and she was right. He had to at least try to let her know how he felt.

-Northeast Georgetown Medical Center-

There was no one near when he approached Scully's bed. He took her hand, and hesitantly began to speak:

"I feel, Scully, that you feel it's not yet your time. I don't know if my being here will help bring you back. But I'm here."

He sat with his hand over hers all night. He didn't speak much after that, but he thought a good deal. He concentrated on Scully, on the way she looked when he told a joke, on the tone of her voice when she felt strongly about something. He thought about her refusal to give up on him after the X-Files was closed, how she risked her own career and reputation to help him. He wanted to be able to tell her what all those things meant to him, how much he valued her. <Please come back to me, Scully> he pleaded silently. <Your time is not yet over. Our time is not yet over.>

If anyone else came in during his vigil, he didn't notice. Nurses and orderlies probably came and went, checking vitals, but he was oblivious. All he saw was Scully. Feeling the warmth or her hand under his, watching the steady rise and fall of her breathing, hoping for the flicker of an eyelid. 

These things became his world. He breathed in time with her and eventually fell into an exhausted sleep, laying his head on the bed next to her hand.

This was how Mrs. Scully found him when she came back in the morning with Melissa. Melissa's eyes showed her approval and gratitude.

"Fox, why don't you go home and get cleaned up. We'll call you if there'sany change." Mrs. Scully said it kindly, but she meant business. For once, Mulder was too tired to argue. His hand cramped from holding Scully's all night, and his back protested from the awkward position he'd slept in. He rose and stood looking at Scully. She was still breathing, but still resolutely elsewhere. Finally he couldn't stand to look any longer and turned away.

He wasn't sure how he got home. His mind was still at the hospital. He feared something would happen during the time it took for him to get home. It wasn't until he opened his door that he remembered his visitors the night before. They'd tossed the place thoroughly. He slid to the floor and wept, for Scully and for himself.

He didn't have the heart or the energy to start cleaning up. He just wanted the hospital smell off him. He showered and changed his clothes, and found all the other rooms in the same shambles as the living room. He returned there, shoved the junk littering the couch, and settled in to wait for the call from the hospital that would signal the end of his life.

It might have been minutes, it might have been hours. When the phone rang, he almost didn't answer it.

<Face up to it. You know what this is.> He picked up the phone. "I'm here."

In the space between one breath and the next, he began to live again.

-Northeast Georgetown Medical Center-

What was the perfect gift? Although he was anxious to see Scully, he hadn't wanted to go empty handed. Well, he wouldn't be, really; he had her cross to return. But he'd wanted to give her something from him alone.

Flowers? Anyone and everyone did that. One of those goofy balloons? No, for the same reason. A card? No card could even express what he felt for Scully, and most of the sentimental crap written in them made him cringe.

Where did he hear that the best gift to give is one you'd want for yourself?  Well, his best gift was Scully, alive, and he didn't think he had any part in that.

He had been passing by a strip mall when his thought processes got that far and on impulse he'd pulled in. He'd chosen the video store somewhat at random (though the other two choices were a liquor store and a beauty supply). A few minutes later, he'd found what he wanted. Better to retreat into silliness than to let on how he really felt.

Now he felt awkward and shy as he walked into the hospital room. It was bathed in light, and Scully was its radiant center. When her mother spoke, Scully turned her full gaze on him, and he felt the darkness leave his soul for the first time in many long, dreary months.

He presented his offering in just the right way, he thought, and she responded with humor. He felt the three pairs of Scully eyes on him acutely.

He wanted to say so much more, wanted to go down on his knees before her, but now was not the time. He had to get out of there before he made a complete fool of himself. He paused at the door, remembering one more thing to give her. Scully gazed on him calmly, benignly, as he felt in his pocket for her cross, restored to its original chain. The chain he'd used now lived in a small box in a very special place.

"Mulder." Her soft voice stopped him as he turned to leave again. He met her eyes. "I had the strength of your beliefs."

Maybe he'd given her something worthwhile after all.

-Fox Mulder's Apartment-

He drove home in a daze again, but it was so much different than the day before. Cliched, but true: the difference between night and day. He had Scully back. He would never receive a greater gift.

And he loved her. He knew that now.

Maybe someday, if she ever showed that she might think of him in that way...no. He shouldn't allow himself to even consider the possibility. What they had already had to be enough. It *was* enough. It was more than he'd had for a long time, and he wouldn't screw it up. And if he kept telling himself that, he might start believing it.

Not everything was wonderful, of course. His apartment hadn't magically cleaned itself up. He looked around, wondering where to start, picking things up off the floor at random. A white, legal-size envelope with his name on it caught his eye just inside the door. His name was on the outside.

As he felt the outline of the key inside, he knew who'd left it.

I am abandoning you because you won't abandon me. You told me that what I do isn't me, that it doesn't make me happy. But it makes me less unhappy than the other things I've done. I can't exist in the daylight. You can't exist without it, and you must do what you can to fight the darkness, not become one with it.

I came by to see you last night and I followed you to the hospital. I saw your with her. I think you need her. You don't need what I can offer you.

After last night, I can see that what I am and what I want doesn't make you happy. It will never make you happy. If you feel some sort of debt toward me, I absolve you of it. You have a different life to lead than the path I am choosing. And you have to understand, that even if once I felt the path was chosen for me, now it is my choice. 

I owe you thanks for pulling me away temporarily, for making me choose something, rather than letting it choose me, for the first time in my life. 

Don't regret the choice that I've made. I will forget about you, and you will do well to forget me. Pretend I never existed, that I was an apparition, the manifestation of an old fable, and go to the one who is everything I am not and never will be.


He regretted Kristen. He regretted the things that had happened to her which made her who she was. He regretted his part in that, and felt in no small way responsible. But he couldn't save her from herself, any more than she could save him.

As for forgetting her, or pretending she never existed...it wasn't possible. 

She was a part of him now, a chapter in his past. One more person he couldn't save.

He tucked the note away in his desk. Perhaps one day he'd share the story of Kristen with Scully, but not now. Scully was his present and his future. 

All his hopes and fears resided with her, as they had, truly, since she'd been partnered with him.

He raised the blinds high to let in the light and set about putting things to rights.

The End

Author's Notes: "3" has always intrigued me, partly for the Mulder/other angle, which made me very uncomfortable when I first saw it. I wanted to get inside Mulder's head for this episode. I wanted to understand the reasons he did what he did. I know that plenty of fic (some really great stuff) has been written where Mulder explains to Scully about Kristen and why he did it.

I got to wondering what might have happened if she hadn't conveniently died in the fire. You will notice, if you are familiar with the ep, that I changed the ending slightly to suit my story. I think Mulder's chivalrywould not have allowed him to abandon her to her fate. How convenient that the decision was taken out of his hands! <eg>

I have also been thinking a lot about how we were allowed to witness Mulder's reaction to Scully's abduction as opposed to what glimpses we've been allowed of Scully's reaction to Mulder's abduction. Oh, for the good old days. 

Granted, GA was given a much shorter leave than DD is taking, but it should only have allowed for a deeper exploration of how Scully copes without Mulder, where Mulder had, essentially, two episodes to show us how he felt. 

And how simply it was handled in "3"! How simply it could have been handled in this season! But it's all water under the bridge now, and so is my rant. 

I hope you liked my delving into the past. I'd especially like to know what you thought, since this is a pretty big departure from my usual style. 

Thanks for hanging in there. 

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