TITLE: Flashing Lights
AUTHOR: TCS1121
HOMEPAGE: www.angelfire.com/scifi2/xfilesfanfic/
RATING: R
CLASSIFICATION: X, Angst
KEYWORDS: MSR, AU
DISCLAIMER: 1013 and FOX own all the X-Files characters. No money changes hands.
ARCHIVE: As you wish.

SUMMARY: "Scully, I've seen enough to last a lifetime."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place in the "In a Flash" universe. You might want to read that one first to best understand the events that take place in this story. Mulder has been blinded and Scully has been disfigured by an explosive blast.

Please go here: http://www.angelfire.com/scifi2/xfilesfanfic/iaf.html for "In a Flash," the prequel to this companion piece. Or to: http://x-files.bytewright.com/arcI/InAFlash.html the Enigmatic Dr.'s site for the entire text file.

SPECIAL THANKS: Many wonderful philes helped me put this piece together. Thanks to Laura Savadow, and Mori my premier readers, punctuation guides and cheering section. To Fran58 for her support and kindness. And to RachelVagts for guidance and for putting up with me.

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~* Dedicated to beta, friend, and blessing, Michelle Kiefer. Thank you for all your hard work, and for looking out for me, MiiMii. ~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*

 


"Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you..." --Celine Dion


In the Gospel according to John, Jesus gave sight to a man who was blind from birth.

This Gospel states that Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and smeared the mud on the blind man's eyes. When the man washed the mud off, he could see.

It's a far greater miracle than it appears on the surface.

The brain has an area where visual memory is recorded and stored. For someone blind from birth, this part of the brain is literally blank. No visual images are stored there, because no visual images could have ever been recorded. Without sight, there are no images to store and remember.

For Jesus to have given *this* man sight, he would have also had to create in the blind man's brain, an area where visual images were interpreted. For example: this image is a 'lake,' this image is a 'sunset,' this image is a 'refrigerator.'

But if a man, in his late 30's, was suddenly blinded, his visual memory would still be intact and in full gear.

All images programmed, categorized and easily referenced.


Mulder was alone in his basement office having what he liked to call, 'cheap fun.' Wadding up balls of paper, and tossing them toward the wastebasket, he waited to hear the satisfying sound of the paper wad hitting the inside of the can. He heard that tinny thunk every time.

Of course the deck was stacked in his favor. Mulder had set the basement up to his precise specifications, including the distance from the desk to the wastebasket. It almost wasn't fun anymore. If he didn't have to go searching for them when he missed, he'd rather be tossing pencils into the ceiling.

While crackling another sheet of paper into a tight ball, Mulder heard the door to his office swing open and a light switch click. A small gust of air and a hint of Old Spice told him he had company.

Mulder knew that A.D. Skinner had learned as much as he could about blindness and visual impairment almost two years ago when Mulder was first blinded. As far as Mulder knew, every day that Skinner went to work, he donned Old Spice. That way Mulder could recognize him by the scent.

Mulder hadn't needed that olfactory cue for some time now. Skinner was more than just a scent in the air, but the gesture still moved him nonetheless.

Guiltily stuffing the paper into his pocket, Mulder stood, adjusted his sunglasses, and said, "Welcome, sir."

"Good afternoon, Agent Mulder." Skinner's gruff voice sailed over to Mulder's desk.

Skinner's shoes clicked softly on the basement floor as he approached.

"I see you're hard at work."

"Yes -- well, I -- I'm waiting for Agent Scully to return so that we can -- uh -- finish up the last of the -- the last of the ..."

"Agent Scully hasn't returned yet? When was her appointment?"

Mulder heard what sounded like papers shifting from one hand to the other, then a 'plop' on the surface next to him. Files had been dropped onto his desk.

Mulder sat and set his hands scrambling over the new paperwork in front of him. He replied, "Her appointment with the surgeon was at 8:30 this morning. She didn't want me to go with her. She's very private about things sometimes."

"I see." Skinner's voice lowered almost imperceptibly.

Skinner's chair creaked as he sat.

"I have something I want the two of you to look into. That is, if you're not too busy."

A small smile played at Mulder's lips. Skinner had maintained the exact same demeanor with Mulder as he had for the past seven years. Mellowing only on rare occasions such as: near death experiences, family illness or death, and life altering circumstances.

But it was Skinner who insisted that Mulder and Scully be retained as consultants to the Bureau. It was Skinner who allowed them to keep their basement office and Bureau expense account. And it was Skinner who tearfully confided to Scully, that his only consolation over Mulder's loss of vision, was that Kersh was the one who had assigned them to that "dung finding" mission.

The small smile remained, as he said, "No, I don't think we're *too* busy. What do you have for us?"

Skinner's chair creaked again before he spoke.

"As you know, hate crimes are Federal Crimes and therefore fall under FBI jurisdiction. There have been a series of crimes that the local PD in West Baltimore think may fall into the 'Hate Crimes' category."

"Well, sir, that may be, but hate crimes aren't exactly our specialty."

"On the surface, no, it doesn't appear to need your expertise. However, the nature of these crimes, and the subsequent retaliation, appear to fall under your X-Files rubric. The crimes have been committed against a coven of witches."

"Witches?" Mulder was incredulous. "In West Baltimore? That's why you think we're the best qualified for this assignment?"

For an instant the words, 'Monsters? I'm your boy,' came to his mind, and the memory made him scowl.

"Sir," Mulder continued, "Witches, by their nature, are non-violent. The Wiccan code prohibits power manipulation and control of others. In fact, their motto is: 'Do whatever you wish as long as you harm no one.'

Mulder heard his boss shift in his seat and sniff the air. "Agent Mulder, the local police don't believe these witches belong to a Wicca coven. Their practices include a variety of rituals and ceremonies that don't fall under any organized spiritual practice that we can identify. The practitioners refer to themselves as "witches." However, that's not really the important point.

"The neighbors are apprehensive of these women, and have made it clear that they're not welcome. At first it's believed that the neighbors used simple methods to try to intimidate the members into moving out of the neighborhood. Mostly benign things like leaving chicken heads and dog feces in the doorways and alleyways around the member's rowhouses.

"Then the neighbors graduated to setting small fires and verbal harassment, then finally, outright assault.

"A young, mentally retarded member, was accosted on her way home from school one evening. A neighbor used physical force to shove her into an alleyway, and threatened her with a gun."

Mulder interrupted. "How many members are there in this 'coven' and do they all live in the same rowhouse?"

Mulder heard Skinner shuffle some papers before saying, "There are six members of this--organization, and they all live in the same small rowhouse in a very poor neighborhood."

Now it was Mulder's turn to shift and sniff. "I agree, sir that this does sound like it has the elements of a hate crime, perpetrated by fearful neighbors, but I don't see why you think this is an X-File. Other than the fact that there are self proclaimed witches involved."

More paper shuffled before Skinner's voice said, "The neighbors feel that the coven has retaliated in more than one instance. Every person who was suspected of defiling the rowhouse or bothering a coven member wound up dead or near dead. Three victims by last count. Causes of the injuries varied, but they were all inflicted by their own hands."

Mulder started to speak, but Skinner lightly brushed Mulder's hand and continued quickly.

"The last suicide attempt was thwarted when the girlfriend arrived home just as the victim was slashing his wrists over the kitchen sink. He said that he 'couldn't live with the pictures anymore.'

The victim's explanation of his suicide attempt was rambling and disjointed, but what he insists is: that uncontrollable and disturbing images are plaguing him. He says, 'I know the witches are playing around in my head.' He goes on to say that he just couldn't stand it anymore."

Mulder chewed his lower lip for a moment. "Psychic, mind melding witches? I don't suppose that any of the suicide victims had a history of irrational behavior?"

"None that we could ..." Skinner's cell phone rang impatiently. "Skinner." After a pause, he said, "Already? Okay, look, I'll call you in ten."

"Agent Mulder, I have to get upstairs ..."

"I know, 'in ten.' I can still hear pretty well."

Mulder hoped that Skinner noticed the slight smile as he spoke.

Apparently so, since Mulder heard a sarcastic sigh as Skinner said, "I've taken the liberty of transcribing to audio, the police reports and the preliminary investigations into these deaths. Deaths which the Baltimore Division of the FBI now label 'suspicious.'"

Skinner's finger tapped Mulder's wrist. Mulder turned his hand and opened it, palm up. Skinner placed two small audio cassettes in the middle of Mulder's outstretched palm. Closing his hand over them, Mulder said, "Is this all we have so far?"

"So far. After you listen to them, if you still don't think this case is appropriate for you and Agent Scully, we can discuss it further. When -- uh -- do you expect her back?"

Mulder paused then said, "I don't really know." He lifted the crystal of his watch and gently felt for the time. It was almost one o'clock.

"Actually, I was expecting her back by now. But I know when Scully gets into consult mode, there's no telling how long it could take."

Skinner's chair squeaked as he apparently pushed it back to stand. He remained silent for a couple of beats. Mulder finally said, "Sir, would you like me to let you know when she gets back?"

"Yes, yes, I would. Thank you--Agent Mulder?"

"Yes, Sir?" Mulder said while getting to his feet.

Lowering his voice, Skinner asked, "Do you really think she'll have the surgeries?"

The surgical consult Scully was attending, was to discuss the feasibility of reconstructing her face. Where the intensely bright flash from the blast destroyed Mulder's eyesight, Scully's face and exposed skin took the brunt of the flying debris and burning projectiles.

"I don't know. I hope so." Mulder stepped away from the desk and hiked his left hip on the edge. "We don't discuss it much. She's very tight lipped about it, and, frankly it's a non-issue for me. But, I know how much it bothers her. *She* may not even know how much it hurts her, but I do."

"It sounds like you're back up to five senses again, Agent Mulder. You sound like you have one that can read Agent Scully."

Mulder snorted a laugh then said, "Another sense does come in handy sometimes. Especially when I have a cold. With my nose stuffed up, taste gone, and ears plugged, I'm down to only one."

Skinner's soft heel clicks were heading for the office door when Mulder said cautiously, "Uh -- sir?"

"Yes?"

"Like I said, we've never discussed the -- extent of the -- uh -- damage, and she's never described herself to me. I would just like to know -- I need to know."

Mulder sighed and his voice dropped to a very soft whisper. "I mean, I've felt the shape of her nose and the outline of her lips. I know where every raised scar and spider web crack is on her skin, but in my mind, I can only see *her*. Can you tell me? What does she look like to you?"

Skinner was quiet for a long time. For a few minutes, he made no sound to move or to speak. Finally he said slowly, "It's as if -- her face doesn't quite match. It looks like her, but there's something -- wrong."

His heels clicked a little closer to the door. They stopped and the door opened. Skinner said, "But, I've gotten used to it."

The office door closed softly and Mulder's basement was black and silent.


Mulder had decided that the basement was too stuffy. That the Hoover building was too stuffy. That right now, the whole world was just a little too stuffy.

The water lapped furiously around him as he swam another length of the Olympic size FBI swimming pool. He wore goggles to protect his eyes, but there were tears forming in them nonetheless. Whether it was from the chlorine, his forgetting to blink, or the words, 'But, I've gotten used to it,' his eyes were streaming.

He pushed off into another lap.

As his lungs worked harder to meet the demands he was placing on his body, his mind replayed some of his life's events.

He recalled snippets of time, out of order, but intact. Memories and images appeared, and he hoped they would never fade with time: a maple leaf turning gold before its death, black stones, scoured smooth by the ocean, littering the seashores of Maine, the pink ribbons his mother tied in looping bows, dangling in his sister's long, dark hair.

Mulder turned gracefully in the water. The pads of his toes briefly gripped the side of the pool before he pushed off. By now, he'd lost count of how many laps he'd already completed.

Swimming mindlessly, he was lost in the snapshots in his mind. It was more than just a game to him; it was a meditation exercise.

He wanted to see how many events, and how many details he could re-live and remember. Admitting only to himself, that he was afraid of forgetting what things looked like. Like the way you gradually forget the appearance of someone who has died--after a while, their image is no longer sharp in your mind. The lines become fuzzy and blurred until finally, time washes it away completely.

The things he recalled amazed him. He could see his first car. A used, '75 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, orange body with a beige vinyl roof, lovingly polished, sitting in the driveway. And there, in the corner of his thoughts, was the Junior High School love of his life--Miss Havermore, his 7th grade science teacher.

Miss Havermore must have been all of 22 years old. She had short blonde hair, very little makeup, oval shaped wire-rimmed glasses, and points of her own set way up high. Mulder had carefully arranged to brush up against her tight little ass one day after class. His love for her was unconditional. Especially when she wore those black, spike heeled pumps.

Oddly enough, Miss Havermore was also very kind to this geeky 7th grader with an odd name and raging hormones. She made him believe he could be a doctor, a writer, or even a scientist if he wanted.

Like Scully.

Science and truth, smart and sexy, there she was. He could see her, as she was seven years ago, carrying a few extra pounds and sporting shoulder length hair. Smiling, doubting, and loyal. Her image as clear as yesterday.

Mulder was sure he was wearing a dopey grin as he pulled his arms through the water.

Unbidden now, was another image of Scully, only she was thin and pale this time. He shuddered in the warm water as he saw her: dark circles ringing her eyes and her skin wearing the ashen pallor of impending death. She was begging him to let her lie for him. Begging him to give her death some meaning.

Mulder was breathing hard now, as he executed another perfect push off. His swimming was almost desperate in its intensity.

So many visions stored after almost forty years. He now knew that his sight had only been temporary; and that he had at least as many blind years ahead as the sighted ones that now lay behind.

He consciously shut his eyes against the water splashing against them. There would be no new images now. There would never be any more pictures to add to his mental slide shows.

Now he relied on touch and textures to give him a feel for the world around him. Smell and taste gave depth to the darkness, and sounds and songs were heard clearly in this eternal night. But the images stored from his life before, were the only images he would ever have.

From now on. Forever night.

As the water sluiced around him he thought, 'Someone should have told me that I was about to see something for the last time. I would have watched Scully, staring without blinking, until the last moment.

I would have held her with my eyes until it got too bright to ever see again.'

Because in one sudden, obscenely bright flash, all light was snuffed out.

In their bed, late at night, as he was lulled by the gentle cadence of her breathing, he often found himself wishing. Just one wish was all he wanted. Mulder had learned not to be greedy when it came to wishes. One small wish, to see her face one last time. Just for an instant, he wanted to see his love reflected in her eyes.

His last image of her was as she crashed, face down, into the rocks of that doomed canyon.

And now Walter Skinner's voice played back, 'But, I've gotten used to it.'

'His beautiful Scully,' he thought, and he sobbed once into the water.

Even the pool was beginning to feel stuffy now.

His ragged breathing echoed off the walls, and his muscles felt like rubber. It was time to quit.

Slowing down as he approached, he felt for the edge of the pool with his fingertips. Mulder always made his way over to the side, to use the ladder. He'd found that if he just hauled himself out of the pool at any point, he very often didn't know where he was. Mulder's concentration on his swimming didn't include keeping an exact lap count.

His toes found the ladder and, with his hands on the banisters, he pulled himself from the water. He ran his hands up and down both railings until his fingers felt a piece of cloth.

The rail with the bandana tied to it told Mulder which direction to turn to get to the locker rooms. It was a nice low-tech solution. If the bandana was tied to the left rail, he was on the west side of the pool and the locker room was to his left. On the east side, it was tied to the right.

He was given permission to tie the cloth to the ladders after he was found wandering into the ladies locker room one evening.

Mulder stood and shivered, even though the air was humid and very warm. He took a deep breath through his nose, then cocked his head to the right.

"How long have you been here?" he asked into the darkness.

A dry towel materialized over his shoulders, and another one was pressed into his hands. A soft alto voice replied, "Just a little over ten minutes. You were really putting up a fight with the water. Who were you wrestling with?"

"No pain, no gain, Scully," he panted. There was a sad smile to Mulder's voice as he started to vigorously dry his hair.

"Did you forget to use your goggles, Mulder? Your eyes look irritated."

He reached up to feel for them and, sure enough, the goggles had washed away. Still catching his breath, he said simply, "I started out with them on."

"I spoke with Skinner briefly, before coming up here to look for you. He said he handed you a new case this morning." Her voice was echoing clearly and confidently as she spoke.

"What did the surgeon say?"

She was silent for a minute. The only sound was the last of Mulder's wake lapping the edges of the pool. The humid air and the odor of chlorine were oppressive.

Scully finally cleared her throat and said slowly, "There's a lot for me to think about."

He couldn't bear her evasive answers right now. In fact, at this moment, he couldn't bear the water dripping from his hair, the burning in his eyes, or even the feel of his own skin. Christ, would there ever be enough air?

'...Someone should have told me I was about to see for the last time...'

Mulder shook his head, then breathed out twice before deciding. "Look, I'm going to cut out of here early. We'll meet at home and discuss our respective information. I know there's a lot to talk about."

The towel around his shoulders began to knead his skin as Scully began to dry him off. Her soft voice continued, "I have a couple of things to drop off and pick up before I leave. You want to wait for me?"

"No. I'll grab a cab. Take your time. But Scully ...?"

"Yes?"

"You're going to have to talk to me. You do know that?"

Clearly, but not as confidently, she said, "I do know that."

"Good. I'll see you when you get home."

He moved away from her and headed into the locker room. Blind people use phrases like, "I'll see you later." Or, "I'm going to see my sister tonight." Because they talk the way the rest of the world talks.

However, Mulder *would* see Scully when he got home, because he saw her every day when his thoughts drifted to her.

And every night in his dreams.


In 1827, a blind student, Louis Braille, devised a tactile alphabet and numbers system by using an awl and punching raised bumps into a strip of leather. From this humble beginning, the blind community has now devised complex methods of reading, writing and advanced mathematical calculations.

Touch and audio technology now allow blind and visually impaired individuals direct Internet access.

Once Mulder accepted his condition as permanent, he had taken advantage of all the technology available, painstakingly mastering every task and technique. He spent thousands of hours, studying ways to live and interact in his new, totally dark environment.

And now, through the miracle of advanced technology, a will to persevere, and by using his computer as a pirating device, Mulder was able to burn the Elvis CD that crooned happily in the background.

Alone in the dark kitchen, Mulder played the air guitar and practiced some pelvic moves as "Blue Suede Shoes" blasted from the living room.

The kitchen smelled of garlic and Prego spaghetti sauce. Mulder felt that there was no such thing as 'too much garlic,' so he helped the Prego out with some spicy adaptations of his own.

It was a little early for dinner, which they usually ate later in the evening, but he'd missed lunch. Besides that, he needed something to do while he waited for Scully. So he prepared an Italian dinner for two, with salad, toasted garlic bread, et al.

Time had recently 'fallen back' which caused the nights to arrive sooner. Mulder made his way over to the front door and flipped up the light switches. That way the lights would be on when Scully did finally return home.

As it turned out, only a few minutes elapsed before Mulder heard a key turning in the lock. Elvis began singing his 1958 version of "Hard Headed Woman" when the scent of Scully mingled with the aroma of the bubbling spaghetti sauce.

Mulder headed out of the kitchen in time to hear a set of keys thrown on a tabletop. As he lowered the volume on the CD player, cool arms encircled his waist from behind and he felt the press of her cheek against his shoulder blades.

"Sorry it took me so long," her soft voice said.

His eyes closed in contentment. He ran his hands down her forearms until they rested on top of her hands that were clasped around him. While moments like these were no longer rare, they were still so precious.

Finally, he turned in the circle of her arms, and kissed her lips gently. He hadn't quite figured out how his lips knew exactly where her lips were at any given time. He'd never really kissed her when he had his sight, but now his lips always and effortlessly found their mark. Testing his aim again, he met her lips square on for another moment or two or three.

So precious.

But it was time to talk, so he reached behind him and took her hands from his back. He pressed kisses to her palms, then dropped them gently to her sides.

He'd decided not to dance around the questions this evening.

"Are you ready to tell me about it?" Before answering him, she took his hand and led him over to the couch. It used to be blue and white striped. Whether it still was or not, didn't matter. To him, the couch would be eternally blue and white striped.

"Yeah, I'm ready to talk about it."

"Good --good." He smiled, relieved. "But there's something you need to do for me first, okay?" Mulder said as he sat.

"Of course."

He lowered his voice conspiratorially, "How 'bout turning off the spaghetti sauce?"

She snickered loudly and her footsteps tapped away from him on the hardwood floor.

Elvis began his soft rendition of "Suspicious Minds."

'Now that she's ready to talk,' he asked himself, 'do I want to hear it?'

Mulder's heart beat faster and thanked God that he had this short spaghetti sauce respite, as his mind tried to form the words he needed.

Too soon, Scully's weight sank into the cushions beside him.

He heard her tongue click against the roof of her mouth as she, too, tried to form words.

His arm went around her shoulders, almost by reflex. He leaned in close to her ear and said softly; "You told me that there was a lot to think about."

He heard Scully draw air into her lungs. A lot of air. Then in a rush, the words came out; "I never wanted you to know, Mulder. Never. That's why I didn't want you to come with me today."

"What do you mean?"

"The damage--to my face and skin. You don't really know what the blast has done to me. I didn't want you to come, because I didn't ever want you to hear the doctor's say how bad it really is.

"You've felt my scars with your fingers, but your eyes have never touched them. You told me once that I was lucky, that as far as you were concerned, I'd never age. I actually did feel lucky, but for a different reason. I felt lucky because in your eyes, I'd never be scarred.

"But I am, Mulder. By facing this, I have to face it all. The scars, the explosion, your blindness--everything. It's not just the surgeries, extensive though they would be, but everything. I don't know if I can face it. I don't want to. I don't."

He paused before saying softly; "I know how the blast affected you, how much it hurts you, even now. Of course I don't know what the actual damage looks like, but I have to tell you something. I lied to you, Scully. I lied when I said it didn't matter to me. It matters more than I can say. In fact, it's probably very selfish of me to want you to have this done because I don't know if I can go on from here if *you* don't.

"Our lives have changed so much, Scully, but we go on. And in some ways my life is better than I've ever imagined. Not all ways, of course, God knows, I would give anything to be able to see you, to see you loving me. But we can't stay in the past. We have to go on together. And, maybe in your case, going on, means going back. Back to being beautiful and unscarred."

He paused a moment then said, "I lied, Scully. It *does* matter to me."

Scully gasped lightly before saying, "How can you expect me to go forward and have this done? Don't you get it? My face can probably be reconstructed to some semblance to its former appearance. But you--you'll still be blind. You still won't be able to see me, or anything else. Let me carry my scars, Mulder. Maybe it's the only way I *can* go forward."

Could she have just said that? His face felt hot and his voice was strangled.

"Don't you DARE, Scully!"

His voice hitched in his throat.

"Don't you dare blame this decision, or lack of decision on me! I refuse to take the blame for your scars, or to be the object of your guilt. This will not be placed at my feet as a sacrifice to my disability!"

Her watery voice came back at him.

"Sometimes it *is* about you, Mulder! And this time it is. You didn't ask for this, you didn't ask for *any* of this! Whether I have a warped sense of survivor's guilt or not, the bottom line is: I can see and you can't."

He lowered his voice and spoke in an intense whisper, "Scully, that's not going to change. Ever. It took a long while, but I've finally made peace with that. I'm okay, I really am. But by your not having any surgery done, it shows me that *you're* not okay with it. My blindness is reflected in your face each time *you* look in the mirror. How do you think that makes me feel? I want you to go on with me. Whole and happy. Like I am. With you."

All conversation stopped. Mulder waited expectantly while Elvis softly sang "The Wonder of You" for them. Scully's voice came haltingly from his left.

"The time to recoup from each of the surgeries is something we'll need to consider. This isn't a one shot deal, Mulder. It will take several tries to get it right. If they even can get it right at all. They'll be long stretches of time that I won't be able to help you...."

"Look, I'm a big boy now, Scully. I get dressed by myself in the morning, and even match my clothes--better than I did before, actually. I can cook for myself *and* for you." He nodded his head toward the kitchen.

" I know how to call a cab and I can do laundry. It's almost like I'm a real, live person. What about you? Can you say the same thing?"

When she didn't answer, he said, "I need you for so many reasons, Scully. Most of them selfish. But not for the mundane tasks I need to perform to just live. I don't need you for those any more. Not ever again. I've learned how to take care of myself. In some ways I feel like I'm ahead of the game."

"How can you say that?" He heard her sniff, and he hoped she wasn't crying.

He tightened his grip on her shoulder with his left arm, and stroked her cheek with his right hand. It was dry.

"Don't you remember, Scully? Don't you remember when we were searching for Big Blue? I lamented my lack of a peg leg. I said, '....if I did have a peg leg, I'd quite possibly be more happy and more content....' Well, now I have my peg leg."

She remained silent, and he sat in silence with her. After a few moments, he leaned in and kissed the top of her head.

She finally said, "The surgeries will be painful."

"Are you afraid?"

"It'll take a lot of recovery time."

"Do you have any place to go?"

"It may not work."

"Do you have anything to lose?"

"Do I?'

"Yes, you do."

"Is that a threat?" Scully's voice was slow and serious.

"Yes," came Mulder's hushed reply. "But not the kind you're thinking. I'll always be here. I want you here with me. Whole or at least fighting. That's who you are, Scully. You have yourself to lose, if you don't try."

"I don't know if I have any fight left."

"Then I'll step into the ring for you when it gets too hard. Just make sure you ring the bell before they count me out."

"You'd do that for me." She said it as a statement, not a question.

"Yes, I would."

"I'll consider it, I promise I will. But it sounds as though you've already made up your mind about this."

"I have."

"Unlike you, I need more time."

"Take it."

"I may still say 'no.'"

"As long as it's an honest decision, and not some perverse reasoning wrought from guilt. I refuse the blame, I told you that."

"You told me."

"Uh--how painful?"

"Depends--varies."

"Then, if you feel you have to, let the pain be your penance. Are you afraid?"

"No. Yes--a little."

"I am, too. But let me take care of you. Let me do this for you. I swear to you, I can."

"I know you can. You already do."

To his surprise, when Scully touched his cheek, he felt tears beneath her fingertips. The damn chlorine from the pool must have made his eyes water again.

Like hell.

"You said you needed time, and I want you to take the time you need before deciding. I know you value your privacy, and I respect that. But I don't want you to ever feel that you have to keep things from me. I love you, Scully. Don't try to hide."

Damn the chlorine.

"Don't *ever* try to hide from me. When you pull back from me, that's when I'm really and truly in the dark."

As her lips met his, Elvis began to sing "Love Me Tender."

And he did.


Mulder handed the last wet dish to Scully. He washed and she dried and put them away.

Dinner, though delayed, hadn't tasted too bad. The nice thing about spaghetti sauce, Mulder reflected, is that it stood up well to prolonged simmering. It even stood up well to prolonged sitting on a cold stove.

Elvis had been shelved, having done his part for the evening, and the business of law enforcement had already begun.

"A hate crime?" Scully asked. "Does it look like a hate crime to you?"

"Well by the strictest definition of that term, it does," Mulder replied. "A hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice against a social group. A coven is a social group, isn't it?"

"Well, yes." He heard Scully stacking the china as she put the last of the dishes away

"So," he continued, "We're investigating a hate crime. At least that's how the FBI sees it. But the way I see it, you and I are actually investigating the "X" aspect of this."

Mulder reached down and grabbed the dishtowel wrapped around the handle of the cabinet. Drying his hands on the scratchy fabric, he continued speaking to the air in front of him.

"We are looking for the reasons why these men, and they've all been men so far, have either killed themselves--or attempted to kill themselves."

The sound of the refrigerator door opening and closing accompanied Scully as she said, "We have a witness we can talk to about that, don't we?"

"A witness to the attempted suicide *and* the victim of the attempt as well." While he spoke, one hand skimmed over the smooth countertops. His hands abruptly dropped down to open a drawer and rummage around.

Scully's voice rose lightly over the sound of empty glasses clinking. "Has anyone been able to question the victim yet? Is he physically able to be interrogated?"

Mulder's hand found the elusive object, then gave the drawer a gentle slam.

"From what I could gather, he's suffered no permanent physical damage, but there may be some psychological damage. He keeps repeating that he can't "stand the pictures" anymore. Or words like it. And that's *all* he's said since his girlfriend found him filleting himself over the sink."

He felt Scully's shoulder lightly brush by his back as she moved past him. He turned to follow her. She said, "Do we know, for sure, that this man -- uh--what is his name? was someone who actually harassed any of these women?"

Mulder carefully circled the coffee table to sit on the blue and white striped sofa. "Victor Scott. His name is Victor Scott, but his girlfriend calls him "Pug". And yes, Pug Scott was caught in the act. According to the police report her mother filed, he shoved a young, mentally challenged member, Linnea Knox, up against the building and began yelling obscenities at her. He ended up brandishing a nickel-plated automatic weapon at her, which scared her. She started screaming so loudly that her mother heard and came running."

Mulder handed the object he'd retrieved from the drawer up to Scully. Glass clinked on the coffee table, and then her fingers touched his as she took it. The cushions sank as Scully sat herself to his right.

"Do we know, with certainty, that the other suicide victims had dealings with these women?" A soft popping sound was made, then the swoosh of liquid being poured. A pause, then another glass was filled.

"Pretty sure. At least the Baltimore Division is pretty sure. They're actually the ones who brought this case to Skinner's attention." Mulder leaned over and skittered his fingertips along the top of the coffee table until he, once again, held the corkscrew. He heard the cork tear a little as he deftly twisted it off the tip.

"Well, even if nothing comes of the X-Files part of it, I'm still interested in investigating crimes committed against women just for their beliefs. Especially if a young, mentally retarded girl was bullied."

A cold glass was pressed up against his hand. He raised it to sniff the contents before tasting. Mulder was getting pretty good at sniffing the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet.

"Okay, I'll search out the psychics, you search out the bigots. It's a win/win situation. Cheers!" He held his glass out for her to tap.

After clinking and sipping, she said, "We should go up to Baltimore tomorrow. See what that office has come up with. Maybe talk to Pug ourselves."

"Can we meet the witches, too, Scully? I want to meet witches."

"You don't think it's enough that you live with one?" There was a gentle chuckle and a trace of Cabernet on her breath.

"No, that word starts with a 'b'." His hand drifted over to her and tickled her softly under the knee. "Though I do love it when *you* do that voodoo that you do so well."

She hiked her left leg over Mulder's right thigh, and rested it there. He heard her take another sip before she sighed; "Cult activity, suicides and suicide attempts, psychotic victims, and hate crimes-- just another day at the office."

"I prefer to think of it as mystical activity, hexes and casting spells, charmed individuals, and hate crimes," Mulder said with a smile.

"Since when did you start seeing the glass as half full all the time?" she tossed back at him.

"Since you cast your spell and charmed me, witchy woman."

When she didn't say anything for a few beats, he said, "What?"

"Where is Elvis when you want him?"

He grazed his fingers up to her hand and took her wineglass. After carefully setting them both on the coffee table, he turned quickly and pinned Scully to the sofa singing, in his best Elvis voice, "...just a hunka hunka burnin' love..."

As his hips ground against hers, Scully laughed abruptly then gasped, "Oh my! Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe that Elvis has just entered the building."

With her hair in his mouth, he mumbled, "Well, he's about to..."

And after many successful trials of testing and re-testing his lip aim, right there on the blue and white striped sofa, not Elvis, but Fox Mulder entered the building.


Mulder sat buckled in the passenger side of a Bureau issue Ford Taurus. He'd been in so many Taurus's during his career, that he could tell one with his eyes closed. Or, like now, with his eyes wide open, behind darkly tinted lenses.

The interesting feature of this particular Taurus was that it had a bench seat in the front, instead of the usual bucket seats.

Bench seats reminded Mulder of driving during his high school years. He remembered how his first cigarettes tasted, as he pressed the accelerator and palmed the wheel. Holding his girlfriend of the week close, on the bench seat of his Cutlass, while he drove one-handed--hoping for long red lights so he could tongue a kiss or cop a feel.

A few years later, he bought a yellow, newer model, Buick Sunbird with a racing stripe and stick shift. That's when he missed the comfort of bench seats. During make-out sessions, the stick shift was an unwelcome guest.

Right now, but for a different reason, he missed the bucket seats. Scully's little legs caused her to have to move the entire seat forward so she could comfortably reach the pedals. Mulder's knees were forced to bend almost into his chest. At least that's what it felt like to him.

God, he missed driving. Shifting and braking, steering and speeding; he missed the feeling of operating a high horsepower machine. He missed the independence of driving. And right now, he missed being able to push the damn seat back. In an automobile, the driver always wins.

Scully was taking them up I 95 from the DC Beltway to the Baltimore Beltway en route to the Baltimore Division of the FBI.

"Hey Scully, did you know that there are Interstates 95, 195, 295, 395, 495, 695, 795 and 895 right here in the DC/Baltimore metro area. Why do you suppose there's no 595?"

"Actually, Mulder, I think I know the answer to that." She accelerated and the car moved to the left lane. Mulder knew that there was a left exit off I 95, to I 695, the Baltimore beltway.

Her voice was aimed at the windshield as she explained, "Interstate 70 is the major east/west artery in Maryland. The I 70 terminus is at 695. Well, I 70 was originally supposed to hook up with I 95 in Baltimore City before the Fort McHenry Tunnel."

Scully swung the car left again, and re-accelerated. Her determined voice continued.

"That hook-up never happened because Baltimoreans complained. There were neighborhoods that would have been disrupted or destroyed by the construction of the overpasses, and by the highway itself.

"You can still see the unfinished ramps leading to nowhere. Well, it was that stretch from I 70 to I 95, that was going to be I 595, I think."

"Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"Nobody likes a highway geek."

An indelicate snort, aimed toward the windshield, erupted, and he felt two small fingers lightly flick the side of his head.

A few minutes later the car pulled over, but Scully didn't turn off the engine.

"We're there?" Mulder asked, turning his head from side to side in an unconscious habit.

"Ahh, not yet. I need to make a quick stop for money. I used the last of my cash at the dry cleaner's this morning." The car rolled forward a few inches.

"Where are we?"

"We're off the beltway, and I'm pulling into a drive through ATM a short way from the Baltimore office. I'm sorry, I should've told you that I was going to do this."

The car stopped with the engine running. He felt the car go into 'park,' and heard as Scully begin to roll the window down.

"Hold on a second, Scully," Mulder said, as he unbuckled his seatbelt and scooted over.

"What are you doing, Mulder?"

"Hike up a minute."

"What?"

"C'mon, let me get over there." Mulder fumbled his hands around her hips and lifted her up an inch or two as he wriggled his left thigh under her.

Her shocked voice came close to his ear.

"Mulder! What the hell are you *doing*?"

He reached down, lifted the latch and pushed the seat all the way back. Then, in one fluid motion, he slid Scully over his lap and deposited her beside him. Mulder was now in the driver's seat.

He finished rolling the driver's side window down then tuned in her direction and asked, "How much cash do you need?"

"Mulder?"

"Hey, as a member of the Blind Community in good standing, I feel that it's my duty to do this. Will $40.00 be enough?"

"Make it $60.00."

"Okay, but you're paying for lunch."

Mulder's fingers deftly examined the raised bumps on the ATM machine. After a few short seconds, he began punching buttons. In less than a minute, he handed three bills over to Scully-- he assumed they were twenties.

Her amused voice said, "Hit the bottom button once, the machine is asking if you'd like another transaction."

He pushed the button and waited another few seconds for the sound of the receipt being printed.

Mulder patted his hand along the face of the machine until he felt the telltale strip of paper. With a flourish, he handed her the receipt.

"I've wanted to do that for a long time," he said with a chuckle.

Mulder turned toward the windshield, then paused. He fingered the dashboard for a moment, then lovingly gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Closing his eyes, he skimmed one palm around the edge.

Finally, he leaned to his right, and with an audible "Ooof," deposited Scully back in her rightful spot behind the wheel.

"Happy now?" Scully's voice said with a grin, as she slid the front seat up and put the Taurus in gear.

A horn honked gently behind them.

Mulder explained, "Back when I could see, I used to laugh every time I thought about why there would be a need for Braille on a drive-through ATM. Now I know. 'Because the blind guy's girlfriend spent too much cash on dry cleaning.'

Another X-File solved."


Scully said, "We're here." As she pulled the car into the parking lot of the Federal Bureau of Investigation-Baltimore Division-Department of Justice.

Mulder remembered that there was a very large Department of Justice seal on the front of this beige-bricked Baltimore office building. The building itself was situated just west of the beltway in the Rutherford Industrial Center. A far more humble setting than the mighty Hoover building, surrounded by the icons of American government.

Still, he recalled that the office building was pleasant enough, with its enclosed cubicles and nice level flooring.

Level floors were a plus to Mulder. Today, he chose not to take his white cane into the building, but to rely on his memory of the layout, Scully's hand, and her whispered cues, for directions.

He knew that A.D. Skinner was involved in setting up this collaboration, so Mulder assumed that this office had been briefed about his blindness and any of his other peculiarities.

Like how he held his partner's hand.

True, it was how she steered him around unfamiliar territory, but he found that every now and then, he needed to ground himself. Sometimes the blackness was so disorienting, that he had to squeeze her hand, just for a moment, to give him the anchor he needed.

He wondered if she knew that.

This blind thing really sucked sometimes. Especially now that the female receiving officer was literally shouting directions at them. It was a common occurrence, and he'd kidded Skinner about it yesterday, but after a while, he got tired of people raising their voices to him. He said, "Officer, please. I'm *blind*, but I can hear. You don't need to shout."

In instances like this, Scully let him handle it. Mulder knew that this well-meaning officer meant no harm, but he needed to quickly establish his demeanor as an agent and investigator.

The only thing worse than being shouted at was being whispered to like a child.

SAC Kevin Robertson was waiting for them in his office. There was no question that, at this moment, he was leading this investigation.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, thank you for agreeing to assist us with this situation. Please -- have a seat."

Scully gave Mulder a gentle nudge to the right, then let go of his hand. The movements were so slight that they probably went mostly unnoticed.

"Thank you for calling us in on this Agent Robertson." Mulder felt for the chair with the back of his legs before he sat, "What makes you think we can help you?"

"To be honest, Agent Mulder, I did a little research on you before I called your assistant director. You and Agent Scully seem to be--uh--well-versed in unusual cases. My cohorts don't seem to feel that this case warrants too much attention. But this is how I see it: Not only do we have a focus group for hostile activity, the so-called 'coven', but there are peripheral circumstances which are undeniably out of the ordinary."

"Undeniable to whom?" Mulder asked

Robertson's voice lowered.

"To me."

Mulder crossed his right leg over his left, folded his arms, and leaned back in the chair.

"Agent Mulder, I'll come right to the point. There's no question that these men all committed, or tried to commit, suicide. But I believe that the ones who succeeded in killing themselves are victims of wrongful death."

"You do?" Scully's voice said.

"Yes, I do. That's why I requested your help with this. You see, I appear to be the only one around here who feels that these suicides were induced somehow."

"You think these suicides were 'induced'?" Mulder questioned, as he leaned forward.

"These men certainly weren't the cream of society, but they weren't the type to throw themselves in front of a truck. Or shoot himself in the head, or open his veins in the kitchen!

"I've been working these streets for a long time, Agents. This is not how these guys operate. I believe that something, something outside of themselves, made them do it. Someone made them *want* to do it."

Robertson sighed heavily, then continued. "It sounds crazy, it does, but I can't shake the feeling that something is just not right. Something I don't know how to deal with. It's a pretty cut and dried situation as far as the other agents are concerned, but I know --I *know* that there's an element that has to be investigated with more objective eyes."

"And those eyes would be mine?" Mulder asked curiously, unconsciously thumbing his sunglasses higher up on the bridge of his nose.

"May I be absolutely frank with you, Agents?"

"Certainly," Mulder answered as he heard the sound of a door closing. Apparently Agent Robertson had something to say that he didn't want the rest of the office to hear.

"I have to live here. This is my home office, and my bringing up other, more extreme possibilities--hasn't been met with much enthusiasm. The X-Files already has the reputation of being 'out there.' I want to take advantage of that for admittedly selfish reasons. Like I said, I have to live here.

"But I've talked to these women, Agents, these self-proclaimed witches. I've seen the remains of the suicide victims, and I've tried to talk with the remaining victim. There is something terribly wrong here.

"Maybe I'm off my nut, Agent Mulder, but I think you are far more qualified to handle this case than I am. I'd appreciate it if you could just look around a little bit and see what you think. That's all I'm asking."

"You're asking that we take the brunt of any ridicule that may be generated by investigating a coven of witches?" Scully's calm voice came from Mulder's left.

"Essentially, yes." Was the reply. "But, if you'll excuse the expression, something is brewing over there. I'm just not sure I know how to investigate it."

Mulder could sense the tension in the man's voice. Agent Robertson obviously wanted to rid himself of this sticky case, by handing it off to the X Files team. Mulder knew that if he and Scully didn't take this case, it would leave Robertson to investigate a case with a possibility of extraordinary circumstances associated with it.

Mulder also knew that Robertson would continue the investigation without them. This case could turn into a death sentence for this agent's career.

From the beginning, Mulder appreciated this agent's honesty, even though Robertson felt that the X-Files Division was 'out there.'

But Mulder knew how difficult working in the home office would be if Robertson were forced to delve into a non-mainstream investigation. Mulder himself knew, perhaps better than anyone did. He knew he had to give him an out.

Besides, Agent Robertson had the courtesy not to shout at him.

Mulder said, "Are you handing this case over to Agent Scully and me? Because I want to be clear about who's calling the shots here."

"All shots are yours to call, Agent Mulder--if you'll take the case."

Long seconds passed, with only the ticking of a clock breaking the silence.

"We'll start by questioning the latest victim, Victor 'Pug' Scott."

The tension in the room dissipated as the torch was passed, and the investigation into these crimes now belonged to the X-Files.

"He's at St. Agnes Hospital, but they're preparing to send him off to Sheppard Pratt."

The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, up on North Charles Street, was a psychiatric facility.

"I'd prefer to see him before he's transferred, if that's possible."

"It's possible. I'll arrange it now, if you like. I believe I gave A.D. Skinner all the up-to-date information. Of course, if you need my help on any of this, I'll be available to assist you."

"Thank you, Agent Robertson. If you don't mind, we'd like to go ahead and get started."

Mulder stood and put his hand out in front of him to allow the sighted agent to shake it.

Which he did as he said, "Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, I appreciate your help on this. If it matters, I've run into some cases of yours that I found fascinating. I didn't always believe your conclusions, but it always made interesting reading."

"We're nothing if not interesting, Agent Robertson," Scully supplied.

Mulder turned to leave. He reached over in Scully's direction where he felt her clasp his left hand.

In their unconventional fashion, Scully began to lead Mulder out of the room.

Robertson's voice stopped him. His voice was tentative as he said, "Uh--Agent Mulder, I don't know if it's politically correct, or even polite to say this, but I'm sorry about your accident. I'm sorry you were blinded."

That may have been a first in Mulder's book. Not the 'I'm sorry.' part-- that had been a frequent occurrence for a while-- but the fact that the man had used the word 'blinded.' People tended to shy as far away as possible from that word.

Mulder mused that they must think a blind man doesn't realize that he's blind, and if they use the 'b' word, it brings it to his attention.

Either way, the sentiment was noted and appreciated. Mulder smiled and nodded.

"Thank you, Agent Robertson. But since you've read the files on our previous cases, you'll have noticed that I was in the dark most of the time anyway."

He lifted his hand, linked with Scully's, "And Agent Scully has been telling me what I've been looking at for years. But I am much better at sniffing out leads now."

As they left the building, Scully's voice wafted up and said, "While you were at it why didn't you mention how well you can listen for clues, feel out a suspect, or how you can get so close to solving a crime you almost taste it?"

"You're just jealous that he liked me better."

"Get in the car, hotshot, before I take a detour to drop *you* off at Sheppard Pratt."

Mulder climbed in and slammed the door. He was mildly alarmed that, for some reason, that remark created a chill instead of a grin.


The smell of antiseptic, disinfectant, and urine, assaulted Mulder's nose. The beeping of monitors, incoherent moaning, and the squeaking of nurse's shoes on slick floors, echoed in his ears.

St. Agnes hospital was the first Catholic hospital in Baltimore and as such, was dedicated to treating the poor and less-than-fully-insured.

Victor 'Pug' Scott fell into both these categories. A chronically recovering drug addict, Mr. Scott had been prone to abusive behavior and paranoia.

As Mulder stood at the threshold of the hospital room, he heard thrashing and the clinking of restraint buckles hitting the bed rails. The soft mutterings of 'evil-- fuckin' evil--evil...,' chanted, as he entered Scott's room.

The white cane slid across the floor as it searched for Scott's hospital bed. Mulder left Scully at the nurse's station, reading the chart and discussing the patient's medical and transfer status. He was alone in the room with a delusional, abusive, on-again/off-again, paranoid drug addict.

'There, but for the grace of Scully, go I.' He thought, then shook his head to dispel it.

Tapping the foot of the bed softly with his cane, Mulder approached, softened his voice and said, "Mr. Scott, I'm Fox Mulder with the FBI, I'd like to talk to you, if I may?"

It never hurt to ask.

To his surprise, Pug Scott answered. "You, FBI? No shit?"

"Yes, sir. My partner and I would like to ask you about the events leading up to your hospitalization."

"Shit. Shitshitshit. Ain't no FBI gonna stop this fuckin' shit. Evil fuckin' shit. Evil--evil--*evil* fuckin' shit."

Years of cigarette smoke, lack of sleep, and constant screaming had abused Victor Scott's voice beyond repair.

"What's evil, Victor? Tell me."

"They's fuckin' evil women, man. I don' trust any of 'em. But 'specially tha' pretty one, " Scott said in his crackly whisper. He took a breath, then continued.

"Din't mean no harm to the retarded girl tho'. Just it got so bad, y'know? Naaw, you don't fuckin' know, man. Retarded one seemed easiest. Tha' was a bad fuckin' mistake."

Mulder had stepped toward the head of the bed when Scully's footsteps entered. He turned instinctively and quickly waved her away.

Her footsteps retreated.

"Tell me how bad, Victor." Mulder lowered his voice to a whisper.

"Bad shit, fuckin' bad shit. So fuckin' bad I hadda tell 'em off. Goddam, I'm a stupid motherfucker sometimes. Then the pictures started, man. All day, all night, and they don't stop. Like on HBO with lights an' sound and special 'fects. Goddam--I wish I could make 'em stop. They won't stop, though, and I can't make 'em--shit..." His last word ended in a strangled sob.

"What do you see, Victor? What do the pictures look like?"

Victor began tapping the buckles rhythmically against the bed rail. First one rail, then the other. Several seconds were filled with metal clanking against metal.

Finally, Scott said softly, "You can't see, can you?"

"No."

The clanking started, then stopped abruptly.

"Can't see nothin'? Like it's all black to you, right?"

"That's right."

"Yeah, I'll tell *you*, then. You can't see. I'll tell *you*, man. Maybe the evil won't work on you, 'cause you can't see nothing."

Another pause, silent this time, except for the ambient hospital noises outside of the room.

The chill was back, and it streaked up Mulder's spine.

"First J.T. throws hisself off the New Carrollton overpass, right onna Route 40. Fuckin' semi drives right over 'im. All eighteen wheels."

Scott stopped to take a rasping breath.

"Then, 'round the corner, Morris D. fuckin' blows the back of his head off. A bullet in his mouth took the whole back of his fuckin' head off. Shit, that ain't right, y'know, man?

"So I go on over and tells them bitches to get the fuck outta here, 'cause I know it's them doin' it. J.T. and Morris, they knew it, too. An' then I see my Kira. All night long after that. Li'l Kira, all yellow and sick..."

Scott gulped and sniffed before he continued.

"Then, I see my brother, Leon, in my head, ya know? Leon's got a fuckin' needle in his arm, and he's real dead. But, man, that's bullshit. I mean, sure, Lee played with needles, but he died in a car crash! It's all bullshit, it ain't even real! An' it don't stop. More pictures, all the time, playin' in my head. They don't never stop. Goddam!"

Pug took a loud sniff and breathed a lungful of air through his nose. He did this two more times before he started speaking again.

"And I *know* they're doin' this. Even when I'm asleep, man. So, I don't sleep. Some of the pictures're real, like Kira, and some of 'ems just made t' look real. They fool like that. They do it to fool you. My head is loaded with so much, I can't sleep an' my head wants ta blow and I can't stand it! So I grab the retarded girl and I yell at her to go to her momma, and for 'em all t'get the hell outta here!"

Pug was breathing hard, and then he began to sob, "They're evil--doin' this to me--evil..."

Mulder raised his voice to him and said, "Victor, how do you know that it's the women doing these things? How do you know?"

"'Cause I see 'em! Well, I see *her*. Like--like--inna movie or somethin'. Like I said, it's a fuckin' HBO movie! That light-skinned bitch is always there. Sometimes she's inna crowd, or maybe starin' down at me from somewhere, and sometimes she's up close. Right in my face, man. Right up in my fuckin' face."

"Does she tell you to do things? Does she make you hurt yourself?"

Something about this struck Victor as extremely funny. He started out with a stuttering giggle, which escalated into full-blown, hysterical laughter.

"Hurt *myself*, man?" he said between gasps. "No, man, it ain't like that. She *likes* playin' in my head. She don't want to fuckin' *leave* it. The only way t'get her out is to bleed her out, y'know? She don't wanna go, man, she likes it there. I can't get her out. So, I figured, if she won't leave my head, I will. I'll check out of my own goddam life..."

Victor began his laughing again, and the icy water suffusing Mulder's spine turned to hard ice.

From the doorway, an unfamiliar female voice said, "Agent Mulder, Mr. Scott needs his rest before his trip uptown."

That remark referred to Victor Pug Scott's imminent transfer to the hospital of no return.

As Mulder turned to leave, Scott's voice called out to him.

"Hey man! You may not think so, but you're lucky. I wished to *God* that I couldn't see the things I'm seein' now. I wish to God! Hey, hey, you hear me God?"

Mulder heard a sound that was part growl and part sob.

"I'm wishin' to you, God. Take *my* eyes, then! You hear that, God? Take my eyes and let me go home. Let me go home and sleep. Dammit, God! If you don't, then I'll fuckin' pull 'em out myself!"

The buckles banged loudly against the rails, and the mattress springs groaned in tandem with the sounds of relentless thrashing.

Mulder's cane tapped lightly to the door as Victor's voice screamed, "You *hear* me, God? Oh, God pleeese. I wanna go home!"

The nurse's light touch on Mulder's arm indicated the way out. He turned toward her and whispered intently, "Please make sure that Mr. Scott has absolutely no access to anything sharp, hard, or pointed. Not even plastic spoons, without supervision. Make sure to note in his chart that he is at risk for self-mutilation, and may attempt to damage his eyes. Even to the point of trying to remove them."

Something in his tone apparently convinced her, because she said a soft, "Yes, sir," before entering the room to tend to her patient.

Familiar fingers clasped his hand. He turned to Scully and said, "You heard?"

"He's delusional, Mulder."

"Of course he is. But *something* happened to make him want to bleed some woman out of his head. And because of that, now he thinks it's a real peachy idea to yank his own eyeballs out."

A few beats of silence fell between them as they made their way to the elevators.

"I read his chart," Scully said.

"Find anything interesting?"

The ding of the elevator sounded as the doors whisked opened. The dinging continued in sequence, allowing Mulder to count the floors, all the way to the bottom.

In the parking lot, out of earshot of anyone who might hear, Scully relayed, "There was nothing interesting in the chart, other than the fact that Victor Scott recently completed a court ordered drug rehab program--again. It appeared successful, though. No drugs, outside of Benadryl, were found in his system when he was admitted here."

"So, no drug induced hallucinations?"

"Doesn't look like it. No alcohol, except for the Benadryl, was found either."

"So, what could have happened to cause this condition?"

"Mulder, the man is mentally ill. He has a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Both substances do a really good job of frying the brain given half a chance. He *is* tormented, but we don't really know why. Even Scott admits that the women didn't make him do anything. Everything he did to himself, he did willingly."

Mulder countered, "Yes, a man in torment may willingly take his own life. A man in torment may even try to remove his own eyes." He shuddered involuntarily as he said this. "But the man in that hospital bed, was not in torment until he made contact with those women."

"Well," her cool voice replied, "I believe that *he* believes that. I'm not sure why you do, though."

What he couldn't explain to her was that the ice encapsulating his spine had permeated his system. He was chilled to the bone, and it was all he could do to keep his teeth from chattering.

"I think it's time to meet the witches," Mulder said humorlessly, as he slammed the car door.

Scully backed the Taurus up, pointed it uptown, and said nothing.


Scully described the neighborhood as she drove along the one way city streets. Old row houses lined both sides; some of them boarded up and abandoned. Some of them inhabited, but looked as though they should be boarded up and abandoned.

Mulder was listening to her, but noted, and not for the first time, how much Scully talked to him now. That was nice, because for years they didn't know *how* to talk to one another. Really talk. They would relay information and discuss strategies, but one-on-one, intimate communication was a skill they both had to develop.

It was a skill arrived at by necessity. They knew that he needed her words so he could see. Whether she used her soft alto, or her shrill soprano, her voice was his sight. Once upon a time, their silent communication was a glance or a raised eyebrow, Now it was breaths, inflections, and whisper light touches.

So they learned how to speak to each other. And he enjoyed listening to her.

"Six women live in one of these rowhouses," Scully said from behind the wheel. "These houses aren't very big. Six adults would make for a tight squeeze."

"Well," Mulder injected, "for two of them, a tight squeeze is a plus."

"There's a bad joke about to happen, isn't there?" Scully's voice smirked.

"Nope. Just the facts Ma'am. Two of our witches are gay lovers. Akiba Robinson and Tanisha Fizer. Both thirty-one years old, and both very happy about the close proximity."

"You're making it up."

"No I'm not. You were just too busy looking at the pictures. But to refresh your memory, we have a coven of six witches. I'm including seventeen year old, Linnea. Her mother, Octavia Knox, is forty-nine, so I'm assuming that she's the leader, or queen, or whatever the head of this group calls herself."

"Queen?"

"Well, this isn't a regular coven of regular witches, so I don't know what the hierarchical structure is. Anyway, there's forty-three year old Antonia Golder, and twenty-two year old Timeka Tucker. She's the one I'm the most interested it seeing."

"You would." Scully said almost under her breath.

"What do you mean?"

She huffed another breath and said, "I saw the pictures, remember?"

"Yeah, so?"

He waited, then repeated, "So?"

"So, she's a beautiful, young woman. Of course she'd be the one you'd be most interested in."

"Ohh, Scully, is that a little green-eyed monster peeking out? This Timeka must be a knock-out. So, tell me," he teased, "does she have light skin, full lips and high, firm breasts?"

She chuckled softly at his rebuke and tossed, "Well, the light skin and full lips are correct, but I can't personally vouch for the status of her breasts. And when this investigation is over, you'd better not be able to either."

"Deal."

"We're turning onto West Harlem Avenue now," Scully said, as the car slowed and turned. "You know, this is a very poor section of West Baltimore. Most of the area is stacked with litter, and drug dealers are hanging around on the corners.

"But here on the 3500 block, Mulder, it's spotless. This isn't a pretty area, and most of the old brick fronted row houses around here are in need of new mortar. But on this block, it looks like someone has swept the area clean."

The car stopped and Mulder felt the familiar back and forth movements of parallel parking.

"Oh, and the streets here are potholed and the pavement is uneven. So be careful."

Mulder had thrown his cane into the back seat, so he popped the lock of the door behind him. Carefully stepping out up on the sidewalk, he opened the back door, leaned in, and felt around the back seat until his hand closed around his stick.

Slamming both the front and rear passenger doors, he stood up on the sidewalk and cocked his head to the left. His sunshades were firmly in place, and his right hand gently balanced the white cane between his index finger and thumb.

Mulder tilted his head back, sniffed the air, and then touched the tip of his cane to the sidewalk. It was hard to believe that it was mid autumn. The weather had been cooperating by maintaining temperatures in the mid to upper 60's. Even though the days were warm instead of crisp, the scent of fall leaves revealed the true time of year.

The unusually mild November breeze ruffled his hair and lifted the lapels of his well-fitting suit. He felt the tip of his tie flap gently onto his left shoulder.

Scully's soft whisper was in his ear, and their fingers met at the same moment. Mulder briefly pondered that his hands had somehow developed the same unerring aim as his lips.

"You're facing south right now. The women's residence is two houses east. Sidewalk is intact. Face north, then five steep steps to the outside landing. I can see two women watching us from there."

Mulder nodded and switched his cane to the left hand. With his right, he clasped Scully's hand and turned left. When he thought he walked the approximate distance, he stopped to let Scully step by.

Even though the Blind Man's Handbook states the sighted person steers the blind person from behind, Mulder preferred that Scully climb the stairs first. He never cared much for rules.

As a result, Scully was on the landing first and began by addressing the women.

"Good afternoon, I'm Agent Scully, and this is Agent Mulder. We're with the FBI, and we'd like to ask you some questions regarding the recent harassment you've been receiving."

Mulder tapped his cane softly on the landing and maneuvered two small steps forward, away from the stairs.

"Hateful, just hateful. Pickin' on us like that. Especially 'Nea, and scarin' her half to death. He's just a thug, that's all. A hateful thug."

"Mulder, this is Octavia Knox, Linnea's mother, and Timeka Tucker, another member of the household."

Mulder nodded in their direction and asked, "This 'thug' would be Victor Scott?"

"Yes," Octavia replied. "Pug lives just down the street. I don't know why he'd think to bother us. Especially 'Nea. She doesn't have the strength to fight him off."

Mulder noted that Octavia's voice was deep and scratchy, like she'd just gotten over a bout of laryngitis. However, it wasn't at all unpleasant. In fact, it was low and sultry. Her accent was not strictly inner city Baltimore, but more like classic Baltimore: pronouncing the word "strength" without the 'g' so it sounded like, 'strenth.'

"Well," Mulder said, "he won't be bothering you any time soon. Looks like he'll be hospitalized for a long, long while. I just finished questioning him. He was barely able to form a complete sentence. I was hoping to ask you about the other men from your neighborhood. The ones who committed suicide."

Then, another, younger voice joined the conversation.

"Agent Mulder, have you come to investigate the neighbors who want to get rid of us? Or are you here to investigate *us*?"

"We're just working on a puzzle here, and trying to put all the pieces together." He turned towards Timeka's voice, and aimed a well practiced, endearing smile in her direction. "Why would you think we'd be investigating you, Miss Tucker?'

The wind rustled the leaves again, and Mulder felt the tip of a leaf brush along his cheek as it fell.

"No reason that I can think of, Mr. Mulder. None at all. Let's go inside."

A hand that was not Scully's, took him by the arm. He heard Scully clear her throat as the hand guided his elbow into the house.

Usually Mulder objected when a stranger placed even a well-meaning hand upon him. It always surprised him that people felt entitled to handle him without his permission. A blind man's arm and a pregnant woman's belly must have the same tacit invitation that reads, 'Touch me!'

But he held his tongue as he was led gently but firmly, up to a chair. When the back of his legs bumped softly against the cushioned seat, the hand let go of him. As he sat, the vivid image of a brown autumn leaf blowing into his face, came to his mind. Instinctively, he reached up to brush it away.

He heard a soft chuff of laughter; then Scully's voice came from somewhere in front of him.

"Are the other women at home so that we might speak to them as well?"

"All but Akiba and Tanisha, but they'll be in later on. Linnea and Antonia are upstairs. Ever since 'Nea was attacked, she hasn't wanted to even come out of her room. She gets like this sometimes. I let her stay upstairs until she's ready to come down. Antonia's with her. She has a good way of talking to her."

"Would Linnea let me question her up in her room?" Scully asked.

Octavia thought a second before answering. "She'd probably be okay with that."

Mulder intoned, "We can take less time if I talk to Miss Tucker down here, and Agent Scully interviews the two ladies upstairs. Is that all right with you, Miss Tucker?"

"That's perfectly okay, Mr. Mulder." Timeka replied. Unlike Octavia, Timeka's voice was light and steady. She sounded much younger than her twenty-two years.

"All right, then. Linnea's bedroom is at the top of the stairs and around to the right. " Octavia's husky voice ended with the sounds of two pairs of footsteps moving up on stressed stair treads. But not before Mulder felt the feather light touch of Scully's hand brush across his shoulder.

After the sound of the footfalls faded, Timeka asked, "So, Mr. Mulder. Have you ever met a witch before?"

Mulder detected a coy timber to her voice. He grinned as he said, "Our line of work has introduced us to many people who've claimed to be witches. What kind of witch are you?"

The air shifted in the room, and he heard a soft jingling, like jewelry or keys clinking together. Then her voice came from directly in front of him.

"Do you mean, 'Am I a good witch, or a bad witch?'" The flutter of a chuckle escaped her lips. "I can be any kind of witch you want, Mr. Mulder."

Mulder caught a wisp of cinnamon and spice from her, then he felt her hand take his arm, urging him to stand.

"Come with me." She said.

Mulder stood and leaned a little into her hand. She deftly steered him to the left and over a few steps.

"Where are we going?"

Suddenly, the air was crisp with the scent of freshly sliced apples. Like someone was peeling and coring the fruit for making pies.

"Here, let me turn this oven off, and we can talk outside. The weather is so nice for November, it's a shame to waste it. Pretty soon, it'll be too cold to enjoy going out for a walk."

Though Mulder heard the gentle warmth in her voice, warning bells began softly chiming in his head. Then, an image stirred in his mind. It was of a bright airy kitchen. Flour dotting the red and white checked tablecloth. There were several wads of pie dough, sized and shaped into softballs, piled on damp towels on the counter. It was a comfortable memory from his youth, he thought, and it quieted the bells.

"Miss Tucker, we're here to find out about the men who harassed you--the men who eventually took their own lives. Why were they threatening you? Do you know why anyone would want to bother you, or make you want to leave your neighborhood?"

"Mr. Mulder, I can't think of any reason why. We've been good neighbors. In fact, we keep to ourselves mostly, but we try to be a good example. Our house is newly painted, the stoop, and all the bricks out front, have been repaired. We don't know why, all of a sudden, some of our neighbors objected to us being here."

"It was all of a sudden?"

"Well, J.T. started hanging around for a while. At first I thought he was just curious about our--ways. Witches have ways of doing that other people wonder about. We know that. But later, I came to realize that he was --uh-- interested in me. He pestered me for a time, but I just brushed him off, and I thought that was it. I don't know why he turned our neighbors on us."

"Is that what you think happened? That J.T. turned your neighbors against you?"

"I think it's possible. Doesn't that sound possible to you?"

Mulder turned as Timeka led him forward, the light tinkling sound moving with her. He didn't know why, but the warning bells started their soft chiming again. He leaned down, sensing that she was shorter than he, but taller than Scully, and said, "How long have you and your friends lived here?"

"Oh, going on a year and a half. Until then, we lived separately--you know, in our own places. It just seemed so right for us all to be living together, now that we've found each other.

"When Akiba and Tanisha decided to move in together, we all thought how nice it would be if we could live as one unit. Our strength comes from being close to one another."

"Your strength, Miss Tucker?"

"Please call me Timeka, and by strength, I mean our spiritual strength. Not things like potions or spells and other nonsense." She paused a moment as she let go of his arm. The hinges squeaked as the front door opened. Mulder's cane negotiated the way over the sill to the outside landing.

She continued, "I know I've never experienced such peace and such strength before. Living with them has--opened my eyes in ways I never knew."

The air smelled clean even though he knew they were in a dirty area of the city. The November breeze blew and, again, he caught the spicy scent of the woman to his right.

Her soft voice said, "Come, take a quick tour of our neighborhood. I'll point out to you where some of the terrible things happened. Maybe you can get a feel for things? "

Before he had a chance to decide, she began leading him, one step at a time, down the five steps until he felt the sidewalk underfoot. He was slightly off balance at the bottom, when her hand gently prodded him to turn left.

Timeka asked, "Is it true that a blind person's remaining senses are stronger because they don't have their sight to depend upon?"

The leaves were either crushed underfoot, or swept to the side by the cane, as they began walking. Mulder took a couple of crunching steps, regaining his sense of direction before answering her. "Yeah, I've heard that theory about a blind man's hearing becoming more acute, or his sense of taste and touch being enhanced. I haven't noticed it, but I may still have some learning to do."

His cane detected a pothole, and he gingerly stepped aside to avoid it.

"We all have to learn to stop and listen, Mr. Mulder. Even those of us who can still see. I sometimes practice walking through the neighborhood with my eyes closed, just to see if I can learn something new about myself and the world around me. You know, to see without seeing? You weren't born blind, then?"

"No, it happened almost two years ago. My partner and I were victims of an anarchist's bomb."

"Oh, so that's what happened to her. I'll bet she used to be very pretty."

Mulder bristled at this remark, but tried not to show his hurt. Who *was* this strange woman who walked around in a dangerous neighborhood with her eyes closed? He said the first thing that came to his mind. "My partner still *is* very pretty. But let's get back to the crimes committed against your --uh--group."

"We call ourselves a 'family.' Not a group or a coven, Mr. Mulder. The kind of witchcraft we practice is only for good things. We want to be left alone to enjoy the peace we feel when we commune with one another. I guess there are people who are afraid of our ways, or jealous of what we have. But I'll tell you something; I would do anything to protect what we have and who we are."

Mulder felt a slight tug on his sleeve. He halted just as Timeka's voice said, "Over here, is where some fires were lit. They actually made effigies of us, and burned them in the street. One of the men who ended up killing himself, started the blaze. It was lit right as I was walking Linnea home from school. I saw his evil, and I hated that Linnea saw it, too."

The image of a hotel fire appeared in Mulder's mind. He remembered that there were two young children in danger, and that he had to go through that fire to save them.

The vision was so clear that he had to shake his head to rid himself of the memory. Mulder realized that he hadn't thought of that incident for many years. He wasn't sure that it was a comfort to know that the images were still there, lying dormant. Maybe there were some things he didn't ever want to remember seeing.

Timeka's voice drifted over him, "Do you feel it? Right over here?"

Mulder paused to clear the rest of the image from his mind. He stood still for a moment then offered his observations truthfully. "I can't *feel* anything, Timeka, but I can smell the burnt ashes. It must have happened over a week ago, but I think I can still smell them."

Mulder felt that it was important to keep her talking. He was close to something; he could feel it. He knew that Timeka had her own agenda to fulfill, and he wanted to know what that agenda was.

"Good--good," She said approvingly.

Another image of fire came to him, only this time it was a campfire. He saw hot dogs pierced on long sticks, which were hand-whittled to sharp points. His father was holding one of the long wiener lances and smiling at him over the flames.

"Mr. Mulder, you've got a curious look on your face."

"Do I? I--I'm sorry." Mulder shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. "Please don't think me rude, but I just remembered something hidden very deep in my memory. It must have been the smell of the fire that brought it back."

"No, I'm glad. You just looked far away for a second."

Further than she knew, because Mulder, try as he might, could not remember *ever* going camping with his father.

He sifted through his album of mental snapshots, searching for this camping trip. Surely when he was an Indian Guide, he and his father must have gone camping? Young Fox and Bill Mulder had attended the Indian Guide meetings as father and son, but Bill Mulder always wore his three-piece suit, and never spoke to the other, deerskin-clad, fathers.

A chilling thought materialized, and then, all at once, the puzzle pieces slammed into place. The leaf he 'saw' blow at his face, as he sat in the living room. The kitchen with the flour-splotched tablecloth, and dough for pies his mother had never baked. And now, the campfire scene.

Like a fucking HBO movie.

The soft bells turned into a screaming warning siren. His spine turned to ice so fast that he feared it would crack into pieces if he moved. Through the chill, the fight or flight response kicked in. Fight or flight?

Flight. God, he wanted to run. Yell for Scully, aim for her hand, and run. 'The better part of valor' sounded better than 'scared shitless.' But that's what he was. Utterly helpless, standing stone blind in an unfamiliar street, in a bad area of town.

With a witch, making pictures in his head.

In an urgent whisper, he turned to her and said, "The other men who harassed you, you know why they killed themselves, don't you? Victor Scott knew you were responsible."

"He said that? That *I* was responsible? That's ridiculous."

"You know it isn't ridiculous. Is it, Timeka?"

Her voice faltered, then returned in a calm, low tone. "*Now*, I know why you're here, and it's not to find the people who've been bothering us, and bring them to justice. I told you I'd do anything to protect my family."

Her voice zeroed in on him, "You think you've figured it out, don't you?"

"I have figured it out. Did *you* know that it would work on a blind man?" Mulder's voice faltered now, "How do you do it?"

Her voice was a low growl, "Do what? Oh, you mean --this?"

Mulder's dark world became bright with thought. Synapses fired, and the vision of a very beautiful, light-skinned black woman appeared in front of him. She was slender and shapely, dressed in light gray leggings. Her dark gray turtle neck had the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. On both wrists she wore several bands and bracelets, most of them silver; the source of the clinking he heard as she walked. His eyes followed the bracelets down to her hands.

She had tapered fingers tipped with very long fingernails, painted blood red. He could 'see' so clearly that he could make out the small gold designs painted on each pointed nail tip.

She stood about four inches shorter than he. Her black hair was cut short and slicked straight in a drape across the side of her face, her left eye barely peeking out from behind the black fringe.

She walked a few paces away from him, and when he looked up again, she was standing in the front yard of his childhood home in Chilmark. He stood stock-still, stunned by the vision. Without thinking, he turned his head to look past her, to his house.

It was the house he lived in when he was very young. The panes of glass from the large open windows glittered orange with the setting sun, and the front door was wide open. He could barely see through the screen door, beyond the front foyer, but very clearly, he saw his mother cross the center hallway on her way to the kitchen.

"How--how are you doing this?" Mulder asked in a strangled voice.

Timeka spoke to him from his front yard. "I told you witches have ways, Mr. Mulder. Ways of doing." She walked deliberately towards him, smiling slyly until she stood an arm's length from him.

He saw the sunlight glint off her shiny bracelets, and reflect off her raven black hair.

Her dark brown eyes were alight, and her full lips and white teeth formed a chilling smile. She raised her arms slightly, and for a moment, Mulder thought she was going to embrace him. But in one quick motion, her hands shot forward, and her long pointed nails clawed at his eyes.

All went black, and Mulder found himself whirling backwards. The white cane flew out of his hand and both arms began pinwheeling as he stumbled back and fell.

And fell.


It was blacker than he ever remembered.

'How could it be?' he wondered. Not even a sliver of light made its way through the bandages that swathed his face and head. His eyes must be bandaged shut, he figured. But still, it was *very* dark.

There was a strange buzzing in his ears, but he heard the machines beeping with a steady rhythm. Mulder interpreted that as a good thing.

He briefly contemplated his immediate situation, and came to the conclusion that he was more astonished than frightened. He must have survived the explosion. The fact that he survived a blast like that was amazing, and he mentally patted himself on the back for it.

However, even the astonishment he was experiencing was dulled considerably by the heavy drugs circulating in his blood. He was familiar with that dreamy, far away feeling the medication gave him. Everything just seemed so much better when you were far ... far ... away...

Yet, something wasn't right.

If there were bandages, and there was beeping, where was Scully? He concentrated on his hands, trying to remember how to wiggle his fingers. Why wasn't Scully holding his hand?

And *why* was it so goddamned dark in here?

Astonishment turned to dread as he realized that he remembered *why*. This was a different place and time. This was the first time.

He gasped as the realization hit him. He fought to breathe around a lump that almost closed his throat.

He was reliving the single most terrifying moment of his life.

This was when he first experienced waking up, all alone and totally blind. This was that very first time he opened his eyes to nothing but darkness, and it was happening all over again.

Oh, God, wasn't once enough?

"Scully?" he called weakly. "Scullee?"

She wasn't here. She wasn't there the first time, either. 'Please, God," he prayed, 'please don't let her go through this again.'

He heard approaching footsteps, and the soft jangling of jewelry. Hands silently worked at the bandages, and slowly the gauze wrappings covering his eyes began to loosen. The scent of cinnamon floated in the air.

Light began to peek through the gauze.

This was wrong. Mulder's heart began to pound. This wasn't the way it happened. The first time, the gauze unfurled into darkness.

A little brighter now.

Wild-eyed anticipation, like watching a speeding car skid off the side of the road, overtook him; knowing he shouldn't look, yet too obscenely curious to try to close his eyes against the brightening light.

Layer after layer, the gauze unfolded, and after each strip was removed, the light was more intense.

A bell-like laughter softly pealed as the last piece was removed. He found himself staring into the dark brown eyes of a light-skinned witch.

"There's someone here I want you to see," she said, as she smiled and moved away.

Unable to move, unable to blink, Mulder stared helplessly into the brilliant white light. Someone else was there. At first, she appeared as a shadow at the edge of his vision. The light cast a halo around her, obscuring her features into a silhouette of light and dark.

As she moved closer, the light caught in the strands of her shiny red hair.

All he could manage was, "Sc...Scul..."

She slowly leaned down until finally, he saw her whole face clearly. Tearful blue eyes peered beseechingly into his.

And Mulder began to cry.


Softly at first, then a little louder. It sounded like, "Shhh-- shhh ..."

A cool finger brushed over his cheek, and he heard another soft sound. It was a high, light whine, and it sounded terribly sad. Then the soft shushing sound returned.

"Shhh, it's okay, Mulder. Don't--don't. You're going to be fine."

Reality began to dawn, and through the haze of a mounting headache, Mulder realized that the sound he heard came from him. He was sobbing softly. He took several breaths with his eyes tight shut before venturing a question.

"Wh..." he swallowed dryly, "What happened?"

Ice chips were placed at his lips and he accepted them gratefully onto his tongue.

"A pothole got you, Mulder," Scully's voice answered. "You were out with Miss Tucker. She said you stepped backwards and went down hard." A cool, damp cloth passed over his eyes. "You're in the St. Agnes Hospital Emergency Room."

"What's the damage?"

"Five stitches and a bad headache. You were lucky."

With his eyes still shut, he sat up. He would bet real money that if he could see, the room would be spinning.

"I don't feel lucky." Mulder said as he gingerly touched the back of his head.

"I do."

"Scully?"

"Well, you were out of it for quite a while and we didn't know why. The lump on the back of your head didn't appear too serious, and you only needed a few stitches."

Mulder, again, felt her cool fingers against his cheek as she continued, "The doctor said it was just a bad bump, but you were unconscious for a long time, and you--you were crying."

A sizzle of fear crept up on him. He shuddered as he remembered what he'd just 'seen.' Real and made to look real. That's the way Victor Scott had described it. Forcing his eyes open now, he saw--nothing.

He never would have believed that darkness would be a comfort.

The disinfectant smell was back. He reached his hands out in front of him and whispered, "Scully, come here."

"I'm right here," her voice was close.

His hands went up and cupped her face with both palms. The tips of his fingers traced her cheeks, her nose, her chin, and lips.

"Mulder, what is it?"

"She's doing it, Scully. And I'm afraid that she's going to do it again."

"Do what?"

"Can we go home now?"

"After the doctor checks you out. What do you mean, you're afraid she'll do it again?"

"Get the doctor. I want to go home."

He sat silently in his dark, familiar world until they let him leave.


Mulder's head hurt, but not too much. The sharp fear he felt in the hospital had dissipated into a soft blanket of unease.

"I saw her, Scully," he said as a warm coffee mug was placed in his hands. He took a sip and made a face.

"It's decaf tea, Mulder. No coffee tonight."

Mulder was in bed, pillows propping him in a sitting position. Scully had tucked the fluffy comforter around him and under his arms. The nights were cool, but Mulder preferred to go shirtless, and tuck a warm blanket or a warm Scully around him when he got chilled.

"Let me describe her to you, " Mulder said.

"Mulder, you've had a rough night ..."

"Let me describe her," Mulder said a little sharper than he intended.

"Okay ... okay." The bedsprings bounced slightly as Scully positioned herself next to him. He pictured her sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing him. Passing his hands across her folded legs, he smiled gently, and described Timeka Tucker, as she appeared to him.

When he finished, he asked, "So, how close did I come?"

Scully didn't answer. But he heard the pace of her breathing change.

"Scully ...?"

"How could you have known about the gold designs on her fingernails? Did you --did you take her hand as you walked?"

"No, I didn't take her hand as we walked," Mulder replied, stunned.

"You would have had to touch her fingernails to know that the designs were there, and her face to know how her hair fell."

"Scully, I didn't touch her. That's what I'm trying to tell you. I 'saw' her. She created her image in my mind. That's what she did to me, and that's how she drove those men to suicide. She planted images they couldn't live with."

"Mulder, isn't it possible that you fell and hit your head and then hallucin ... imagined the rest? You're very perceptive. It wouldn't take much of a touch for you to interpret sensations and make an image. Timeka's voice was very seductive, and maybe her voice conjured a picture for you."

"I didn't touch her!" Why was he feeling guilty all of a sudden?

"Maybe you don't remember touching her, but it makes more sense than a witch creating episodes of "This Is Your Life" in your head."

Mulder emitted an exasperated sigh. He knew better than to discuss this with her right now. She had been frightened by his fall. She was also showing signs of insecurity. He knew from history, that the more vulnerable she felt, the more she hid behind the wall of science and logic. Maybe in the morning she'd listen.

"I'm tired, Scully. Will you have to wake me up every few hours?"

"No, I won't bother you tonight."

"Good. Good-night, then." Mulder turned on his side, closed his eyes and hoped his 'good-night' didn't sound too childish.

The bedcovers rustled and the light switch clicked. After a long while, Scully's breathing evened out. He tossed and turned for a few more minutes, and then decided he wasn't tired after all. His hands reached over to find the coffee mug when he chanced to turn his head towards Scully's sleeping breaths.

He rubbed his eyes, because he thought he saw her lying there. His blood ran cold as he looked again.

There was Scully, asleep on her side facing him. Moonlight filtered through the window, touching her then glancing off. She wore light blue silk pajamas, her skin was pale and lips were slightly parted. Her pillow was soaked red from the blood pouring from her nose.

He shook his head and closed his eyes. This wasn't real. It was a trick, that's all, just a mean, disgusting trick.

Victor's words, as he lay chained to his hospital bed, echoed in Mulder's head, 'Some of the pictures're real, like Kira, and some of 'ems just made t' look real. They fool like that. They do it to fool you.'

When he opened his eyes, it was all darkness again. His head began to pound. He took several deep breaths, and then reached out a shaking hand to touch the soft dryness of her pillow. He needed to get up and move. Maybe Scully was right; maybe all this was a result from the bump on his head. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he made his way to the living room.

He went to sit down on the blue and white striped sofa. 'Shit, it *is* blue and white striped. Oh shit.'

He jerked his head to the left, and found himself staring into the sorrowful face of Maggie Scully.

She looked at him with eyes so like Scully's, as she turned back the cloth on the object she held. Mulder didn't have to look down to know what it was, because he'd seen it before. It was Scully's grave marker. His eyes fluttered over to look at it. Her birth date was chiseled into the stone, along with:

"Beloved Daughter, Sister, and Friend."

He turned away from the stone, and wrapped his arms around his stomach. He choked on a sob, then called out, "Scullee!"

"Mulder, what is it? What's wrong?" Scully was quickly beside him, concern in her voice.

"I don't know how, but she's doing it." Mulder held his head in both hands as he felt Scully's arms go around his shoulders.

"Doing what? Mulder, what's going on?" Scully obviously couldn't comprehend what he was imagining, what he was seeing. The pictures--too real this time-- making his head and his heart ache.

"Scully, you have to make her stop." He raised his unseeing eyes up, tilted his head back and cried, "Make it stop, Timeka. Please make it all go away."

His mother's house. He was standing in his mother's house, watching her busily closing and locking all the windows.

"Mom?" Mulder tried to get his mother's attention as she scurried out of the room. She returned with an armload of towels.

Finally noticing him, she stopped and gave him a sad, bespectacled smile. She walked over to him slowly, and lovingly patted his cheek, letting her palm rest there for a moment.

His mother turned and walked over to the front door. She went down on her knees, and began pressing the towels tightly into the crack under the door.

"Mom, what are you doing?"

She repeated this procedure with the back and side doors. His feet wouldn't move. All Mulder could do was watch helplessly.

"Mom ... please ... no."

Tears were streaming down her face. She lit a match and placed it carefully into a wastebasket, brimming with papers and pictures.

He called to her again. "Mom, stop! Mom--please..."

She looked up at him with tear filled eyes, turned on the gas, and fluffed open a plastic bag.

"Nooo!"

Mulder put his hands to his eyes and sank to his knees.

Scully's voice filtered through the pain. "Mulder, we're going to go back to the hospital. This may have something to do with hitting your head earlier."

"No, Scully." His eyes were wet, but his throat was dry. "It's Timeka. She's got to make it stop." He grabbed for Scully, and latched on to her wrist with both hands, "You have to find her. Make her stop. Please believe me, it's her..."

His head began to swim, and in the fog, he felt himself being led away. Taken somewhere. Scully was taking him someplace.

But he didn't want to see where he was going, and he didn't want to see her.

Beautiful and bleeding, or scarred from the blast, he wanted her face kept in the dark. He didn't know if the imageTimeka had shown him was truly Scully or not. It didn't matter, he was repulsed, not by her facial scarring, but by the extent of any damage that had been done to her lovely face. It was almost too terrible to bear.

His beautiful Scully. He raised his hands to his eyes and covered his face.

The gesture was futile, because his hands couldn't keep him from seeing the little girl sitting on the floor at his feet. Dropping his hands, he squatted down so he was almost at eye level with her. A little redhead was sitting cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by crayons. She wore blue overalls and had a brown crayon in her hand. She was coloring very purposefully.

He looked up to see Scully, beautiful Scully, watching the child. So much love radiated from her face as she regarded this little girl.

Mulder wondered if she ever looked at him like that.

His heart ached from the rush of overpowering emotion from mother to daughter.

Silently, Scully stood and held her hands out to the girl. The child stood and Scully scooped her up. She cradled her like a baby, and kissed her round, red cheeks, over and over. In the corner of the room was a hospital bed.

Mulder noticed a sheen of sweat coated the young child's face, and that she had become very pale.

Scully carried her little one over to the hospital bed, set her down, and carefully tucked her in. She looked over at Mulder and smiled sadly, then looked at her child and smiled bravely. She lay down next to her, and pressed her lips to her dying daughter's forehead.

'I'm sorry, Scully. Oh, God, I'm so sorry.'

He looked up to see Scully, heartbroken and sobbing, rocking Emily's lifeless little body.

Mulder walked over to the bed and looked down.

"Stop it 'Meka! He's not a bad man, so stop it!"

Mulder walked over to the bed and looked down.

A little girl's skeleton was all that was left. Only now, the bed was a slab at the morgue.

Mulder turned his head and noticed that he was alone. Alone, except for several more small skeletons, all waiting their turn for a place on the slab.

However, the one in front of him held special significance.

Unable to resist, he ran his index finger along the fragile collarbone. He felt it before he saw it. The little clump of calcified bone under his finger, indicating a broken bone that had healed. This skeleton had long dark braids with pink ribbons, tied in looping bows.

'I thought you were starlight, Samantha. Starlight and eternal, but now I see that you're just--dead ...'

He turned away from the slab and buried his head in his hands.

"Cut it *out*, Tim-eek-a! I mean it, 'cause I'll tell!"

He turned away from the slab and buried ...

"Shut UP, 'Nea, just SHUT UP!!"

... his head in his hands.

Mulder held his head for a long time. When he finally raised his eyes, the morgue was still there, but he was standing in the corridor outside an autopsy bay. He was looking directly into a window with the mini blinds closed. He was surprised to see that he held a cord in his hand. This was the cord that would open the blinds, and uncover what lay behind.

He watched as he slowly opened the blinds. Little by little, a body revealed itself. It was a naked female, mottled, and gray. There was bruising at the neck and wrists. The head was turned toward the window, facing him. He could see the tongue protruding slightly, and a large bullet hole between Scully's wide open, blue eyes.

Despair grew like rain collecting at the tip of a bowing leaf. Drops of grief coalesced into full-bodied agony, before dripping onto the ground.

His dark world splashed with brilliant pain and flashing lights.

Mulder willed his heart to stop beating. Willed himself to stop breathing. Prayed for his blindness to return.

"I'm not gonna let you do this no more, "Meka!"

"There's nothin' you can do about it, Linnea."

<flash>

Mulder watched as Scully slid to the floor in the photographer's apartment. Blood poured from a gunshot to her abdomen, and ran in rivulets from the corners of her mouth.

He looked down and saw Peyton Ritter's gun in his hand.

"Momma tol' me that I have a gift, an' that you're stealin' it!"

"We share, Linnea, you know that. We play together, and if I didn't play with you, nobody would. Ever!"

<flash>

Mulder sat in a wooden chair at the summerhouse in Quonochontaug. Blood was dripping into his left eye, from the hole drilled into his head. He looked frantically at the debris strewn about the room. Mirrors had been shattered and small splinters of wood floated like dust motes in the evening light.

The barrel of his gun was hot. A gurgling sound came from the floor.

He was amazed that there was so little blood on her. By the look of it, the bullet must have hit her heart dead on.

'Dead on'--he smiled sadly at that.

She was trying to speak. He climbed out of the chair and crept on all fours; over to where she lay. He put his ear close to her lips, but he couldn't hear her.

He watched her as she gasped, her lips forming the word, "Forgive."

She was forgiving him for killing her.

That was so like her.

"I ain't gonna play like this no more! The lady, his friend, says you're makin' him sick. I ain't gonna let you do this no more!"

"Linnea, just wait! C'mon it's just a game..."

<flash>

Robert Patrick Modell spun the cylinder, then handed the gun to Mulder.

"One shot."

Mulder didn't respond.

"Mulder, you don't have to do this." Scully's eyes were brimming with tears.

He aimed the gun at her.

"Mulder, no."

"Mulder, yes."

And he fired. Point blank, right above the Kevlar vest. Right where her low alto and high soprano originated. A strange look of disbelief and pity crossed her face before her head smacked the table.

"It *ain't* just a game, 'Meka! His friend says we're hurtin' him. He's blind and you're makin' him see things he don't wanna see. You better quit it, RIGHT NOW!"

"'Nea, don't be such a baby..."

"I said QUIT IT!"

<flash>

Scully lay on the floor, dead behind him. Linda Bowman pushed her into killing herself. He watched in horrified fascination as her blood pooled, clotting in her hair.

Then, out of the shadows, Linda Bowman appeared. She raised her gun and Mulder raised his.

"I'm going to kill you!" Mulder screamed.

Before she got a chance to speak, Mulder fired. With tears coursing down his cheeks, he fired again.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I know it's you, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry--I can't--can't..."

And again, and again as the empty chamber clicked and kept clicking.

Until a small, dark hand tugged at his wrist.

"You can stop now, Mistah, it's okay."

Mulder looked down. A young, very dark-skinned teen-aged girl was staring up at him. Her black eyes glittered as she stared into his.

"You might should lemme have it. It ain't real anyways." She tugged at his wrist again, and held out her hand. He looked at her strangely, then handed her his gun.

She was a gangly seventeen-year-old with thick, wire-framed glasses. Her hair was braided in tight cornrows, ending in many small, colored beads, and oiled to a shine. She had very full lips and her front teeth had a wide gap between them.

"Momma told me I shouldn't be doin' this no more. But the lady, your friend, axed her an' she said I could one las' time. The lady was real upset."

Mulder looked around and saw that the warehouse, where he'd just killed Scully, had disappeared. Now he was in a young girl's bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed; on the bedspread was the smiling face of Jasmine from the Disney movie, "Aladdin."

"Momma got real mad at Timeka, and she was gonna get real mad at me, but then the lady said let me help, so momma said it was okay."

Finally finding his voice, Mulder asked, "Who are you?"

Her features crumpled, "I'm so sorry, Mistah. Timeka tol' me you were bad like the man who burned the dummies, an' the man who yelled at me and wanted to hurt me."

'Dummies?' Mulder thought. Effigies. She saw the man burning their effigies.

"You're Linnea, aren't you?"

"Please don't be mad at me. Momma already tol' Timeka to get out. I promise I won't do it again!"

Mulder looked around the room. He noted the purple curtains festooned with huge pink bows. The face of the Genie smiled from the curtains that were draped in front of the dirty windows. A pair of blue jeans lay folded over the back of a small wooden chair tucked next to a very small dresser. On the top of the dresser were tiny toy figures from the same Disney movie. The walls were a shocking shade of orange.

"Is this what your room looks like. Linnea?"

"Well, not 'xactly," she admitted shyly. "Momma couldn't afford the "Aladdin" stuff, and she *hates* orange. But my pants *are* folded neatly. Do you like it?"

"Yes, yes I do. Very much." He attempted a weak grin. Tears were still wet on his face.

Linnea smiled a full gapped tooth smile.

Mulder continued softly, "But we're not really here, are we, Linnea?"

"Well, no, but it kinda looks like this. I can make all sorts of things for you to look at," she said proudly. "I can even show you the kitten I want to get someday, if you want."

"You don't have to show me any more things to look at," Mulder whispered.

"Why not? The lady says you can't see anymore, so when I take the pictures away, you won't see nothing. Ever!"

"You're right, Linnea." He looked up at this young lady who stood in front of him. "But that's what you're gonna have to do, because I *don't* see anymore. Okay?"

She scrunched her forehead, not quite understanding him.

"If you can't see, then why don't you want me to show you stuff?"

How could he explain to her that being blind was how it was supposed to be? It was true that when he was first blinded he felt like a piece of himself had been lost. No, not just lost, amputated.

Only emptiness, where there once was light. The loss of his sight was both depressing and disorienting. Phantom pain, in the form of cerebral artwork, kept itching and stinging; constantly reminding him of a world filled with color and dimension.

But Mulder finally accepted the darkness, and now the blindness was an inescapable part of who he was.

"It's all right, Linnea. I have all my own pictures that I can look at any time I want to."

She looked at him for another moment and said, "You do?"

He smiled warmly and nodded.

"Okay, if you're sure." All at once, Linnea's face lit up as a thought occurred to her. "Hey, Mistah, is there somethin' or somebody you want to see for real before I take the pictures away? I'm really good at makin' 'em look just right."

He looked at this young girl's animated face, and was absolutely certain that she looked just like the image he had before him.

Yes, there was one person he wanted to see.

"It's okay, Linnea. You can take the pictures away now."

And he did see her, every night in his dreams.


The pictures were gone now.

They'd been gone for over two days and Mulder's world was utterly black again. Even his dreams were mere overcast shadows.

He sighed in his sleep as he shifted onto his back.

The mild autumn weather continued, and he kicked one leg out from under the blankets. Ever since he was a boy, when he got too warm in bed, he'd hang a foot off the side as a way to equalize the temperature.

In a semi-conscious gesture, he skirted his hand over to Scully's side of the bed. It was empty, but still warm.

Straining his ears, he listened for the sound of running water, or padding footsteps, signaling her return. His inner clock told him that it must be well into the wee hours of the morning, and his head lolled to the side as he began to doze again.

For several minutes, Mulder lay like that. His left hand stretched out, with his palm down, feeling the heat Scully's body left behind, while the right leg, uncovered from toe to thigh, dangled almost to the floor. His eyes drifted shut, as his chin dipped to touch his shoulder.

A very soft sound piqued his curiosity, and caused him to turn his head slightly. There it was again, a soft muffled stirring coming from the living room.

Rousing himself enough to sit, he kicked off the rest of the blankets. Mulder stood up, wobbled for a second, and gently rubbed the back of his head where the stitches still resided.

Still in a half conscious state, he shuffled into the living room. He cocked his head to the right and discovered that the sounds were coming from the couch.

"Hey," he whispered. "What'cha doing up?"

He heard a watery sniff, before she said, "Go back to bed, Mulder. I'll be there in a few minutes."

He yawned and stretched his fisted arms over his head.

"Well, that's a nice try, Scully, but I know how you hate to cry alone." He sat down on the couch and scooted over. He found her curled up on the far end of the sofa with a throw pillow clutched to her chest.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you." Another sniff then, "Please go back to bed."

"Not without you, I'm not."

He was close enough to feel her heat, so he reached out his hand. It landed in just the right place to cup the crown of her head. He started stroking her hair and said, "C'mon, tell me what's wrong."

For a few moments all he heard was her quiet breaths. When it seemed she wasn't going to answer, she finally cleared her throat and said, "As a scientist, I look at the world clinically. I don't judge whether things are right or wrong. I look at the world as it is, and try to understand its order."

He continued his gentle stroking, and nodded for her to continue.

"My father taught me to do that. One day, when I was about ten years old, I remember being out with him, and seeing a very disabled child. I was heartbroken. I felt sorry for the parents, and for the child. But more than that, I was angry. I could find no rational justification for why a little girl should be so handicapped. After all, what could she have done to deserve such a fate?"

Scully's grip on the pillow tightened for a moment, and she took a deep breath, blowing half of it out before she spoke.

"I ranted to my father: Why did this happen? This was so unfair. How could such a terrible thing possibly be explained to anyone's satisfaction? How could God allow this to happen to someone so innocent? How could anyone ever be able to take care of such a handicapped child? It was just so *unfair*"

She stopped and shook her head. Mulder felt wisps of her hair trail against his chin.

"He told me, 'Starbuck, you can't look at the world as being a place that is either fair or unfair. That doesn't help anyone. You have to look at the world the way it is. It is, as it is. And somebody will always have to take care of the children.'"

Mulder kissed her temple softly, and said, "Your dad was a wise man."

"He was wise. And I've tried --and mostly succeeded -- in seeing life as it is, and not how it should be.

"But Mulder, what happened to you wasn't fair. No matter how clinical I try to be, or how I try to step back and look at it through objective eyes."

She turned toward him, her breath soft against his neck.

"When you first woke up without your sight, I knew how hard it must have been for you. Mulder, you were so brave. I saw how hard you worked to get through it and accept it. You struggled through Braille classes and banged knees. Mobility training and barked shins. Technology training and stubbed toes. And I'd never been prouder, nor loved anyone so much, in all my life."

Mulder swallowed thickly and asked gently, "Is that why you're out here crying?"

"Mulder, you had an opportunity to see again, for one last time. Now your last images are tarnished and sad. When I took you back to the hospital, two days ago, you were in such pain. I heard you cry out, and I knew you must have been seeing terrible things. I was heartbroken and angry all over again. And helpless. I didn't know what I could do to help you."

"But Scully, you did help me. I heard you calling to me through the darkness, but I couldn't keep hold of you. Even terrible images are seductive to a blind man.

"Scully, you found the strength for me. Even though you were skeptical, you went back to that house on East Harlem Ave, and confronted a woman whom *I* believed to be a witch. Your faith in me saved me."

He kissed her again.

She softly sniffed before she said, " I did go back to confront Timeka, but I know now that it was Linnea, who came to your rescue. She came downstairs as I was begging Timeka to turn you loose. Timeka never said a word; she just smirked as I pleaded with her.

"I don't know how much Linnea heard, but after Octavia told Timeka to leave, I was --well-- very upset. I was convinced that Timeka was the only one who could help you.

"Linnea took my hand and told me not to worry; that she was going to go see you, up in her bedroom. She left to go upstairs, and I left to go sit by your bedside at St. Agnes. But when I got there, you were waiting for me to take you home."

She wove her arms around him, and he pushed himself closer to her.

He spoke softly in her ear. "I know that Linnea is one of the special children that we've been entrusted to take care of, but isn't it funny how sometimes it's the children who take care of us?"

They sat, curled together, before she spoke again.

"Mulder, you saw Timeka. You saw that she was a beautiful woman."

"Well, I know that the image she presented me with was of a beautiful woman. I don't really know what she looked like."

"Oh, Mulder." She buried her head in her hands.

"What? Tell me. What's wrong?"

"It's just that--Oh shit..." She hesitated, then said in a rush, "I thought that I wouldn't have to worry about other women now."

Mulder sat up and searched her face with his fingertips. "You've never had to worry about other women. Not now, not before the accident, not ever." He sat back, pasted a campy smile on his face, and in a breathy voice quoted, "You had me at 'hello.'"

Instead of hearing her groan, as he expected, her breath hitched unevenly.

She said, "I was jealous, Mulder. I'm still jealous, and I'm afraid of what she may have shown you. I thought for a while that I couldn't bear it if she showed you a false image of me. Then I realized that I couldn't bear it if she showed you a true one."

"Scully ..."

"It's all so unfair, Mulder. The world be damned, it *is* unfair. You---you've been blinded, you've lost your most vital sense, and now you don't even know what I look like anymore. And me--- I'm jealous of beautiful women. But I'm vain, too, I didn't know it, but I am. And I want you to know what I look like when you're making love to me.

"I can't give you your sight back, but I might be able to give you back the vision you had of me. So, I've decided to have the surgeries. I'm going to make the arrangements in the morning."

He brought his face very close to hers and said, "Scully, I'm grateful for having been sighted for almost forty years. Nobody knows more than I do, how tenuous and unpredictable life is. With you anchoring me, I've learned to be grateful and thankful, and not bitter and resentful. Believe me, Scully, I've seen enough to last a lifetime. So, don't do it for me, because I *do* know what you look like when I make love to you."

He thought for a minute. There was something very important he wanted to say, and Mulder realized that now was the time to be truthful with her.

"Scully, she did show me an image of you."

She recoiled, but he held her fast.

"I saw sadness in your eyes, a hollow sadness. Timeka must have seen it too, in order to put it there for me to see.

"I want to take that sadness away, Scully. The sadness, the jealousy, and the guilt. I want to wrap my arms around you and love you until it all disappears. I don't know if I can, but, God, I want to try."

He took her hands and kissed both palms lightly.

"Give me a lifetime to try. And if I can't do it in this lifetime, give me the next. Marry me, Scully. Forever."

There was absolute silence. Mulder couldn't even hear her breathe. He didn't know whether she was staring at him, slack jawed, or rolling her eyes ready to mutter, 'Oh brother.'

Plowing ahead he said, "Look, I know I may not be the best choice for a husband..."

"Mulder..."

"...but your clothes would never have to match, and you'd always get to drive, and I swear I'd never, ever look at another woman..."

"Mulder."

He lowered his voice to a whisper. "And I love you so much, Scully. You *have* to know how much. Life without you would be unthinkable, unbearable."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Then say, 'yes.'" His hands cupped her cheeks and he kissed her eyes.

"Mulder, your impulsive streak is going to get you in trouble..."

He kissed the back of her neck. "Say, 'yes.'"

"The trauma of the last few days has clouded your judgment..."

"Say, 'yes.'" He kissed behind her ear.

"And we have to consider that ..." He kissed the line of her jaw.

"...what with the surgeries..." the hollow at the base of her throat.

He stopped and waited. He raised his head so that he knew his face was squarely in front of hers. Her breath passed to him, and he passed it back. This is how it had always been, one shared breath, one shared life.

She paused a moment longer, then said, "Yes..."

He blew out a breath then said, "There, was that so hard?"

"No." She sounded stunned. "No--it wasn't."

She touched his face, almost tentatively. The backs of her fingers were cool as they caressed his cheek. He noticed that they trembled slightly as they curved over his ear.

"I have loved you for so long, Mulder. It almost frightens me how much." She kissed him warmly, and he returned the gesture. After several minutes or hours or days, Scully sat up.

She said, "I want so badly for you to know just how I feel."

She brushed her hand across his bare chest, then tugged at his earlobe with her teeth.

"Ooh Scully...," he murmered

"I'm going to do something for you that I've never done for any other man."

Mulder's heart rate went up a few notches.

She placed her lips very close to his ear, and in her soft off-key alto, began to sing:

"Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you. Take my hand, take my whole life, too..." she climbed onto his lap, buried her face in the crook of his neck, and finished the verse.

"For I can't help falling in love with you..."

Mulder chuckled and said, "The king lives!"

He closed his eyes and leaned down. As he touched her lips with his, he said a silent prayer of thanks, and marveled at how very bright his future was looking right now.


END

The full text version can be found here: http://www.angelfire.com/scifi2/xfilesfanfic/fl.html

With special thanks to Vered (http://veredgf.fredfarm.com/) for her "Flashing Lights" graphic, and Desy for creating and maintaining my site.

I also wish to thank the lovely ladies, whose names I used without their permission. To my knowledge, none of them really are witches :)

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