Title: Lost Time
Author: Spider
Written: September 1999
Time Frame/Spoilers: Immediately Post One Son. references to numerous eps. throughout. Conversations and certain understandings that took place in my other fic, Human Affairs. It is not necesary for you to have read it, it's just a passing reference.
Category/key words:X,S, MSR - be warned, some M/O & M/S angst
Classification: Warning!!! NC17 in some chapters, generally PG throughout.
Archiving: If you like it, it's yours, just let me know. Synopsis: Read the author's notes

Disclaimers/Credits: Characters of course belong to Fox, Chris Carter et al...no infringement intended, boring boring.

Author's Notes: For almost 20 years I have lived in a country with a 5,000 year old culture, spending months in villages that count years since the last white person was seen. I was once an academic and thus am still more skeptic that believer. But I have also seen things... On my last trip to Ambrym volcano, I was stuck in a leaky hut with dead bodies from black magic littering the area. . My helicopter pilot companion thought I was screwy reading X- files when we lived the damned things. So a bottle of tequila and an annoyance about the M&S relationship post One Son in hand, I sat down with many battery changes, incorporated real life to fiction and ended up with this.

For those interested, this is the current status of black magic in my neighborhood: http://www.webspin.org/newsclip.htm. Photos and facts about Ambrym volcano can be seen at http://www.vanuatutourism.com/Kids/ambrym.htm.

My apologies to psychologists and psychiatrists for liberally mixing terms and treatments!

Thanks:to Laurie (Shannara) for editing above and beyond the call of duty....

Okay, it starts on a dark note, but don't get depressed, I promise it gets better <g>



As unearthly fire burned the mass of screaming flesh in a hanger at El Rico, on the other side of the continent the cadence of drums enticed him into a warm embrace. He could no longer be sure when his feet touched the ground. He knew only that they walked in tune with the drumming.

The soft embrace of the rhythm came closer now, urging him on, more powerful as he reached the car. The door opened for him and he slipped inside, enfolded by the warmth of the drumming in his mind.

He noticed the form driving the vehicle. Vague familiarity washed over him and for a moment, some sense of self- preservation cried out that this was all wrong, this man would not be here, enticing him.

But the drums beckoned him and nothing else mattered.

Time passed and they left the car and walked, past buildings and machinery, through passages and cold rooms until the smell of blood filled his nostrils. It was a clean smell, pure, raw, pounding through his veins as the drums pounded in his ears.

He stripped his clothes and lay down on the cold steel, hardly aware of the formless creature beside him, aware only of the drumming.


Oh, God, the pain!

He tried to fight but the drums held his body transfixed, allowing his eyes to see as something was taken from his stomach.

His bowels and bladder emptied, the horror of evisceration clear as each organ was pulled from his opened flesh.

But he did not pass out, nor did he die a merciful death.


Drumming, soothing, enticing, feeding him what he must now do.

He saw the thing, the thing that had accompanied him, lean over and fill his belly with something, something that added to the story of the drums.

Wetness, but no sensation as the hose washed him down, washed away the blood and viscera and filth.

Clothed again, but no longer aware, except for the message of the drums and that which now filled his belly.

He left the abattoir alone.

end prologue


DAY 5 - 3.40am

The horror had not left her. The scorched bodies had been like a capstone to her pain, the analogy of a burnt and withered matchstick came easily to mind. Dana Scully felt dried up, dirty and brittle, an emotional discard when one with more allure so easily pulled him. It mattered not that in the end he had called rather than abandon her as he had so often. For this call was a reflection of his despair, finally giving in to the horrors they had so long fought against. And it mattered little that she gave him a straw to clutch, one last time, to halt the inevitable. For matters had been taken from them and the Consortium, at least in part, lay in ruins.

She rolled across her barren bed, watching but not seeing the luminous red numbers on the clock radio soundlessly click her life away. The quiet of the cabin was less soothing than she had hoped.

In Kersh's office, as explanations of the dark events were demanded, as Spender finally absolved them and gave them back their lives, Scully knew in her heart he had been right, all these years he had been right. She almost admitted as much.

But then the hours that followed threw her into emotional turmoil. Mulder, magnanimous now, suggested they form an alliance with Spender and Diana. His blind trust goaded her, especially given Cassandra's death.

Then the further blow, Jeffrey dead, by his own hand and Diana denying all knowledge of the events leading to El Rico or Cassandra's transferal from Fort Worth. Mulder backing Diana's version of events, claiming he had told Diana about El Rico. Mulder supporting, believing Diana once again.

Questions, statements, Skinner... "Take a few days off Agent Scully, you're way overdue for leave. Report back to work on the X-files Monday morning."

Fine sir.


Burnt matchstick.

Walk out of there without letting *him* come close, lest she crumble and lay broken and blacked on the floor. No Sireee, not Dana Scully.

Travel agent. Log cabin in the wilderness, cliche...but an escape to somewhere no-one could find her. Just for a few days.

"Mom?...no, I really don't want to tell anyone." I don't want to tell you because he'll wheedle it out of you. "It's just an extra long weekend, just to clear my head. I'll be back Sunday night...promise...I love you to."

Pack. Take the lap top but not the cell phone. Ignore his insistent messages, just walk out the door before he calls again.





Buy supplies.


Sleep...yeah, perchance to dream, therein lies the jest...

Scully pulled the covers from her bed and padded barefoot into the main cabin. The fire needed re-stoking.

She couldn't find it in her heart to blame him. Had she ever? He had been broken inside a long time ago; by a father so steeped in guilt at his own pact with the devil, he blamed an innocent boy, by the inevitable pain he felt himself deserving of, for failing to save his sister, for surviving. He cowered in the corner of his mind, waiting for his father's beatings, expectant of the sneers, learning that to be loved was to be beaten, hurt, tossed aside, disdained.

His exceptional psychologist's mind recognized the dysfunction, knew that the right kind of love does not inflict pain. Recognized and separated the two, patched the cracks enough to fool the FBI psychology tests, enough to almost live a normal life. He came close to losing it in the BSU, but in fact he used his past, his intimate knowledge to crawl inside the psychosis of killers and thus catch them. He survived because someone, a woman, had truly loved him, a clean simple love, without malice, without disdain. Diana had been there to catch him when he fell, deserting him only when the cracks split wide open.

Somehow, he had patched them with his new goal, to search for the truth, and Scully had stood by his side these seven long years. But on that fateful night at El Rico the truth was exposed in all its ugliness, in all its horror.

The cracks had split open once more.

God, how many more times before the patches no longer held?

And thus he had taken refuge once more in Diana's comforting beliefs, in her support.

Scully shook her head as she wandered restlessly through the cabin. She had always been his intellectual nemesis. For years, her disdain, her sneers had sheltered him in the same twisted love as the beatings his father gave him.

What small catharsis a physical coupling might have given him was denied. She told herself it was because of their professional relationship. Thank God, for to have taken him to her bed would have only compounded his poor, twisted concept of love.

Diana had been there for him, loving unconditionally, supporting, never disdainful. Probably holding him in her arms right now...

Scully felt the tears well and allowed them to fall in the sanctity of her solitude. They could never be that way together. Once, perhaps, just a few short months ago, but it had been an emotive outpouring, a flaying if his soul, the cry of a small boy. Then the bee...

She picked up the almost empty bottle and grabbing the almost dried wedge of lemon, decided the salt could be forgone, took another burning mouthful. Blessed numbness spread through her empty stomach then across her tired limbs. Only her mind worked.

For all his undoubted genius, as a psychologist he could only patch, not heal his own dysfunctional personality. Scully realized from their very first case, Fox Mulder's emotional development had been arrested the night his sister disappeared. He was still a twelve year old boy in many ways. Diana was a safe haven, a comfort for his beliefs and a balm for his adult physical needs, a warm motherly breast to succor. Love untwisted, unsullied by pain.

Scully had spent six years glowering and sneering at his every outlandish idea.

To make it worse, much of the time he proved himself correct. Yet the boy man that he was would never think to blame her, to say *I told you so*. He was so blinded by his passion, her disbelief only honed his determination. He begged of her to love and be loved, trying to prove his beliefs over and over, trying for her approval.

Oh who the *fuck* did she think she was thinking that? He wasn't that far gone. He never loved her like that.

But he was blinded by love, by the need to be loved. He accepted the loss of the X-files to Diana in the belief she would hold true to their righteous cause. And not only did Scully push him away, she worked tirelessly to besmirch his perceived safe haven, driving him further into Diana's waiting arms.

Well done, Dana Katherine. Have another drink, here, yes, cheers.

What had been right? Scully pondered, what had been best? Abandon, even sacrifice Mulder and take the X-files as Diana had, trusting that in the end it would all work out just fine and dandy? Or hold to the truth, remaining honorable to her convictions? What was the better course, given his childhood background? For the first time Scully realized the righteous path was not necessarily the right one.

In his obsession, in the broken needs of his childhood, Mulder had believed in Diana. And looky here, he was right once more! They had the X-files back, Spender was gone and all really was just fine and dandy with the world, wasn't it?

Yeah, absofuckinglutely dandy.

She had put her job on the line a dozen times, she had lied for him, gone to jail for him...and she'd do it again in a second except...

Except he had Diana again -- his safe, comforting haven. He didn't need her whining skepticism, her twisted kind of love, anymore.

She had remained steadfastly by his side until he had his X-files back. Go be a doctor while you still can...it had a lot of appeal. The end of the world was coming down the fast track and she could just abandon everything and trot away to be a good little doctor.

Great. Another drink or two to toast that very salient fact, thank you very much Dana Katherine Scully.


It had come home with a thud, somewhere through the hangover. He'd said that nothing, nothing else mattered, no- one mattered, certainly never Mulder himself, in comparison to his search, his X-files.

Forget about his fucked up childhood, it simply wasn't that...simple. His IQ ran off the charts, grabbing his Psychology degree along the way and turning him into something impossible to analyze in a way that any other *normal* person could be. Thank Christ he wasn't a serial killer, he'd never be caught.

Scully started on another cup of black coffee...ugh, too bitter without the cream. Yet, for all of that he was still a man with elements that could be categorized. Mulder was an extreme obsessive compulsive. When he focused on something, or someone, it instantly narrowed to the point of obsession. He disregarded anyone and anything outside that sphere. Such behavior was, Scully well knew, antisocial, egocentric, thoughtless, selfish, rude, driven. Ticking people off was a byproduct of that focus rather than deliberate arrogance. But within the narrow arc of his focus, he was compassionate to the extreme, empathic, dedicated to almost ridiculous levels of selflessness.

Scully sighed and grabbed the cream. She herself had been the point of that focus during her cancer treatment. And again on the one and only occasion she had actually called him to help, he flew across the continent and showered that same passionate dedication to Scully and by extension, her daughter.

But she had also seen it offered to broken-winged victims of life, from a pathetic diner waitress to a tough-as-nails blind girl. And thus she had never fooled herself into believing his ruthless, focused loyalty could be interpreted as romantic love.

And in that loyalty to her, he'd sacrificed his sister, his Holy Grail, for Scully's life! It mattered not that the hybrid was not Samantha, nor that Mulder truly believed he could have them both, the fact remained that he had been willing to risk sacrificing his life quest for Scully.

He'd given up the DAT tape so she could stop running and hiding and be with Melissa as she lay dying. It had been too late. Even if Scully had reached her sister before she died, nothing would have changed. He'd given up his lifetime search once more, for Scully. Mulder had never castigated her for that, he would never dream of it.

He'd taken the only sample of a vaccine that might save the world and sacrificed it to save her life beneath a frozen ice cap.

He had put himself and his precious files on the line a dozen times to save her butt.

Skinner had once told her he had begged to give up the X- files, the FBI, to sell his soul to the devil himself for a cure to Scully's cancer...

His focus on saving her in her times of need had blinded him to the purity of his true quest.

But Diana had come and shown him the true path of his righteous cause and now Scully, his Achilles heel, his false and twisted concept of love, should have the courtesy to exit gracefully.

It was a lesson hard-learned, but now clearly understood. The X-files came before Mulder, before Scully, before anything or anyone. That's what he wanted. That's what he needed. That's what he deserved, answers, not distractions, not restraints.

*You saved me...a thousand times you saved me.*


No. Scully smiled sadly to herself and shook her head. The man-child that he was, needed someone to hold his wounded psyche together. Scully had been but a poor substitute for Diana. For a brief moment in a hallway they fooled themselves into thinking it had been something more. But that was past. It was time to get on with her life and let him tether himself to someone who could give him so much more.

She sighed, pushing the coffee aside. She would spend the day composing her letter to him. And her transfer request.


Anger welled in her soul. The X-files had become part of her life. Their truths were just as important to her as to him! What right did he have to simply cast her aside?

Scully wanted the truth but not at the expense of everyone and everything around her. She had already sacrificed, by choice or circumstance, too much of herself and her family, even her small grasp at genetic immortality. She could not now willingly sacrifice her honor, her trust. Nor could she live without his trust. This had nothing to do with such mundane issues as love or whether love should truly be unconditional instead of challenging.

When it came right down to it, trust was the key issue.

She remembered lectures at Quantico, counseling sessions...

The basis of every partnership is trust.

Trust your partner.

Trust your partner.

You must trust your partner.

Do you trust your partner?


Nope, she could no longer trust Mulder and he had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he no longer trusted her.

Diana had shown him that to trust Scully was to abandon his righteous cause.

The Gunmen had been shocked even more than Scully.

And if she stayed, accepting these new rules of engagement, one day it would come to pass that his quest would once more demand he sacrifice Scully. To not sacrifice her was to abandon the quest. Yet to do so would result in his fragile psyche collapsing under a guilt so overpowering, it would destroy him.

A biblical passage twisted in her mind. What mattered that he gain his answers, his whole world only to lose his soul?

To save him, to save herself, she must leave him.

Irreconcilable differences, your honor.

Scully curled into a ball and cried for hours. The tequila no longer numbed, it simply burned hot and acid in her stomach. She recalled broken relationships in the past, small ones, and big ones. Each time she had taken herself off for a few days to be alone, to cry it out.

But this was different. She had no such relationship with Mulder.

God, this was infinitely worse. This was like a marriage of the souls, torn asunder and all the king's horses could never put it right again.


Perchance to dream...


...and to suffer. Oh, God, why did she feel like her soul was being ripped out?

How could she be this three-dimensional shattered jigsaw of conflicting emotions? Why couldn't she simply feel one thing -- anger or hatred, resentment or bitterness, loss or admiration, tenderness or...oh, God help me...love? Why couldn't it be one simple feeling at a time? She could deal with that. Just select each one in turn and analyze it, categorize it, then fold each one up in a neat little parcel and tuck them away?

Because, you damned fool, six, almost seven years were a long time to weave a complex tapestry. Whether partners or spouses, the bonds were too complex for the threads to be simply unwoven and rolled into separately colored balls of yarn until the next relationship came along and she could start to weave anew. No, this tapestry was being torn asunder.

Almost seven years. Too long, really. You can't live so closely, develop such profound trust and admiration and not feel torn at the end. Regardless of her inherent uncertainty about her attractiveness, his emotional attachment to her was real. His physical attraction to her was real. His need and love for her were real.

C'mon, Dana, for once be honest with yourself. She reciprocated in full measure.

Fool that she was, she not only loved him, she was in love with him.

At first she dismissed it as love by default, a circumstantial attraction based on continuous and virtually exclusive proximity.

But then her analytical mind would not allow such shallow, proxy feelings. So Dana Scully searched herself and finally, in the small hours of sleepless nights, accepted that she loved his brilliant mind, his generous heart. No childhood horrors could destroy the beauty and purity of his soul. She loved his compassion for the weak and helpless, his fanatical dedication to what was right, for the truth. He could have been as ugly as sin and she would still be in love with him. It only made it worse that he was one of the most physically beautiful men she had ever known.

Scully poured herself another tequila lunch and let her mind wander away from the mental to the physical. His face was not handsome, it was boyish, roguish with a too big nose and oh, God those bedroom eyes...

Was that love talking?

No. She had been stunned when she first met him in the basement. He looked and acted like an enthusiastic boy genius with eyes that danced and a smile that had been known to send certain FBI receptionists and assistants almost to swoon. Air hostesses and waitresses fawned over him and the FBI secretarial pool freely admitted to getting wet just looking at him. Oh she'd heard the comments in the bathroom; not directed against her, but specifically regarding him and his apparent lack of social life. What a waste, one sighed.

And when his single minded passion momentarily fell prey to hormones and he did lust after the Bambis and Detective Whites of the world, it was with such boyish tangle-footed enthusiasm, he had no idea what do with them.

He challenged her in a way that no other had dared. He lifted her to the heights of passion and through him, but never because of him, she had learned the depths of despair. He and all that he was had become all that she was.

He was her partner.

She sighed and sipped the rough alcohol, disdaining both salt and lemon.

Let's face it Dana, you're as dysfunctional as him. Emily's social worker painted a bleak picture; she'd never been able to sustain a long term committed relationship. Scully thought that unfair. When had she the time? Medical school, Quantico -- yeah, like there was plenty of time for a long-term commitment then. Sure, dates, lots of fun, but no time for serious relationships. Jack? Eight months fading to apathy.

The last few years with Mulder rendered dates and other men superfluous. Nothing could measure up. Not compared to him.

Scully recalled the specific incident. The last real, normal 'date' -- Ed Jerse having long been consigned as a knee-jerk rather than an aberration or a *date*. Mulder had been chasing a wild woman in New Jersey and Scully had tried, really tried to show interest in the nice tax accountant. The moment Mulder called, she'd left the restaurant like a shot. Then one last chance at normal life, a Saturday afternoon playing ball with the kids and this nice man? Or a trip to the Smithsonian with Mulder?

One last chance.

Scully recalled her clear decision. Not just the Smithsonian, a decisive corner in her life. She had abandoned normalcy for Mulder and had truly never regretted it.

Another tequila and her thoughts turned more serious.

She knew and understood his emotional fragility. She had expected little of him over the years and although oftentimes angered at his thoughtlessness, his self- centeredness and his frequent abandonment of her, she steadfastly refused to sever the partnership, knowing he needed her like no other. A part of her admitted ruefully that even his abandonment's were because she had made it clear a line had been drawn. He would not drag her across, but nor would he be tethered.

Even at their worst, when those now dead tried to poison their trust, drugging his water, giving her cancer, killing her sister, killing her daughter, she had stayed loyal to him, protecting him from himself.

Scully recalled the night he came to her hospital bed and cried as she lay dying. The drugs had coursed though her weakened body and she did not have the strength to open her eyes, much less deal with his profound grief. She had wanted to stroke his head, to tell him it would be all right.

She had wanted to say she loved him, just for being himself.

And in those darkest hours of their lives, Mulder's spirit, cracked though it might have been, had proved honorable above all else. He had not succumbed to the devil's deal.

So why this time? Why could he not see that Diana's so- called love was in fact more twisted, more evil that his father's? At least he had been honest with his beatings. Was Mulder blind because he needed to be loved by someone who did not lash back at him, even if buried beneath was as more insidious evil?

Another tequila fueled her determination.

She couldn't abandon him, knowing the tenuous threads that kept him intact would crumble. Diana might offer superfluous comfort, a perceived safe haven...but instinct told Scully Diana's depths hid horrors that would soon swallow her partner alive.

Diana...what was her agenda?

Was this yet another ploy to destroy him? Let him trust only to be betrayed by one whom he loves and is intimate with?

But if Scully stayed, she pulled him from his righteous path...or he, in his blind loyalty to the truth, somehow betrayed her and thus lost his soul...

There was a compromise.

Temporary reassignment to a teaching position at Quantico. Be there to catch him when he fell.

Mulder was head of the department and therefore obliged to sign her request before she handed it to Skinner. In fact protocol dictated that he be the one to give it to their AD.

How would he react to her request?

Diana would be there for him, that's how.

At least it wasn't Kersh, that would simply have been too satisfying to that righteous s.o.b. Paradoxically, if they had still been under Kersh, Scully would never consider leaving him.

Now he had the X-files back, she could safely remove herself to a distance until the truth was revealed.

She tipped the remains of the tequila down the sink. It was time to pack and go home.



The drive from the cabin the evening before had allowed her decision to coalesce. It was the right thing to do, for both of them.

Scully unpacked the laundry and plugged back the phone, called her mother...."Yep, I'm fine...back at work tomorrow...Love you." Then a bath. The damnable cabin only had a shower.

Finally, to...sleep.

Yeah, right, not done that.

It *was* the right decision, no matter what her heart cried.

Scully got out of bed and stared at her computer. Turn it on, open the file, and hit the print button. There, it was done. She would change and drive in early, arriving before him, and deposit it on the desk -- Spender's old desk.

Scully e-mailed him the accompanying personal letter. The final draft...the *I'll always be here* Dear John.

Simpler than a direct announcement.

The last time she'd tried that, she'd ended up with an alien fetus in her belly two hundred feet below the Antarctic ice into the heart of a...Yes Dana, a what? Say it, drag the letters from your mind. Just three little letters...a UFO. That's it! Keep admitting it to yourself, he was right all along.

Yeah, but that's not the issue here. The issue is one of trust, of protection.

Shelf all they had been through, forget about that fact that he dragged his frozen butt across the Antarctic against impossible odds to rescue her from horrors beyond belief...Things changed, people changed. Her phone rang minutes after the e-mail went. God, she thought, it's...3:40am. He can't wait another four hours to start with my life again? Unless...he couldn't possibly have received her e-mail already?

"Mulder...what?" Scully answered tersely.

Skinner's voice responded "Agent Scully, is that you?"

Scully frowned "Yes, I'm sorry, sir I..."

"That's all right, Agent Scully, I presume you then know the whereabouts of Agent Mulder?"

Scully felt her stomach revolve. She knew it was a physical impossibility, but nevertheless, there it was, turning around like some demon carousel.

"Ah, no sir, I...I haven't heard from him since I saw you."

Christ, why didn't her warning bells go off sooner? He would have found her, somehow. He needed that communication like air and water. But Scully had convinced herself that Diana now fulfilled that role...

"Agent Scully, we have been unable to contact Agent Mulder since Wednesday afternoon. His wrecked car was found abandoned..." Scully's hearing blanked out as panic quietly exploded in her brain then systematically worked its way through her body and settled in her stomach. Another Mulder ulcer on the way.

Skinner's voice finally penetrated her peripheral hearing. "...no indication he has been in his apartment since Wednesday evening, possibly Thursday morning. I'd like you to check if anything obvious is missing, overnight bags..."

"Yes, sir. I'll go over right away. Ah...sir, have you checked with Agent Fowley?"

"She was the first person I called."

Of course. Right. Even Skinner now considered Scully an afterthought.

Scully's hands shook as she drove. A part of her mind screamed in panic at his disappearance while the other part, the analytical part, reevaluated the conversation with Skinner. Logically he would have called Fowley first because Scully was on leave and Fowley was still assigned to the X-files. And of course Skinner would suggest Scully check his apartment because Scully more than anyone, even Diana, might note anything out of place.

And Scully could access his computer. That's it. The crazy s.o.b. had gone and ditched her again, no doubt leaving an obscure message behind.

An unfamiliar malicious and rather satisfactory thought crossed her mind and the corners of her lipped curled despite themselves.

He'd also ditched Diana.


DAY 9 - 4:30am

Scully knocked on his door gently. It crossed her mind that if he'd come home limping and broken, she'd probably lose her resolve to leave the X-files, even temporarily.

She knocked a little louder but frowned, not wanting to wake Mulder's already disgruntled neighbors. They would not be in a forgiving mood after the decontamination and evacuation the previous week. She was surprised they had not yet drawn up an eviction petition.

Sighing, Scully used her key to enter his apartment.

Not for the first time Scully wished her partner would invest in light bulbs stronger than 20 watts. The low lighting was not some vague attempt at environmental friendliness nor did it inspire a seductive ambiance. It was just Mulder gloomy. On good days, Scully conceded it was probably an attempt to hide the mess and clutter among the shadows.

She strode across to his computer and booted it, then checked the bathroom for his shaving kit. Yep, still there. A green and white caterpillar lay in corpus, stretching from the strangled toothpaste tube over the edge of the sink to the whisker speckled soap ring. Scully automatically picked up the tube and straightened it out, but gave up when the cap was not visible. She was sure Mulder threw away the tops to every consumable object immediately upon opening.

Scully leaned forward and narrowing her eyes, examined the soap ring. On Wednesday morning, she noted his two-day shadow. He normally only looked like that when he was deeply involved in profiling. The length of the stubble mixed in the soap residue was three days Mulder growth. Thursday morning then.

His bedroom was the least cluttered part of the apartment, indicative of the little time spent there. As often as she'd packed for Mulder, Scully did not like invading his privacy. He was totally unselfconscious regarding his personal habits, including the porn mags in the top drawer by the bed. It saddened her somewhat that an unopened out- of-date packet of condoms lay buried beneath the usual assortment of bedside table junk.

Scully did not think to analyze her actions in checking the use by dates, nor did she consider that an equally out of date packet lay hidden in her own somewhat dusty lingerie drawer.

Quickly going through his other drawers and closet, she found his passport and spare credit cards and keys. His sweats and runners were still there, and those missing she found in his dirty laundry bag. All his overnight bags were accounted for.

There were a few dirty dishes in the sink. He was a slob, but Scully knew if he'd planned to be away a several days, the dishes would have been cleaned and left on the draining rack.

She returned to his computer, automatically opening the can of tetra flakes while scanning the desktop. Nothing obvious. His scaly pets looked pathetically grateful as she sprinkled food into the tank.

Back at the computer, she tried accessing a hidden folder, knowing anything seriously personal to her would be left there.


Scully checked his e-mail inbox. It was just the usual assortment of junk mail, advertisements for online adult sites, UFO sites and so on. She was not interested in the content so much as the dates. Nothing new since Thursday morning. She was tempted to download his personal e-mail, but decided against it. If it was necessary she could access both private and work addresses at the office later.

A soft clicking sound came from his front door. Scully instinctively pulled her gun and backed into the shadowy recesses of the room, kicking herself for not double bolting it.

"Fox?" Fowley's voice sounded hesitant as she edged into the apartment.

Scully mentally grimaced, but replaced her weapon and moved into the light "Agent Fowley."

Diana blinked in surprise "Agent Scully? How did you get in?"

Scully took great satisfaction in seeing Fowley palming the FBI issue lock tool.


"Oh, of course. Ah, he's not here then?"

"No, no he isn't, I assumed you would have already checked."

"Well, yes, I tried Friday but thought, well you know..."

For a fleeting moment the two women were simpatico. But it passed quickly and Scully resumed her professional faade.

"It doesn't appear he's been back since Thursday morning."

"What makes you think that?"

Scully frowned, surely Diana was not fool enough to question Scully's professional observations? Did she really need to go into a detailed forensic discussion on the length of Mulder's whiskers? But then Diana waved away the question immediately, her face showing a mild apology. It suddenly hit Scully that just maybe, just possibly she was wrong about Diana.

"Did Skinner tell you they have the results from the blood work back?"

"What blood work?" Scully's voice remained neutral but her stomach started to roll again.

"Inside his car. There was blood on the dashboard and steering wheel and along the side window. It looks like he was run off the road. No DNA yet of course, but it was Fox's typing."

Scully felt her fingers curl and her bones chill. Jesus, who was it now? They were dead!

Except for CGB Spender and Fowley....

Fowley continued "It could have simply been a nasty scalp wound, you know how much they bleed..." Her voiced trailed off, realizing the superfluous nature of her statement to Scully.

Scully tried to stop her heart from pounding. To give herself a few moments she reached across and switched off the computer before heading towards Fowley. "Well, nothing indicates he intended leaving town."

Fowley nodded submissively and followed Scully from the apartment.

"Where are you going now?" Fowley asked as they rode the lift to the ground floor in something less than companionable silence.

"Back to the office. We're supposed to be moving back in today."

"I've already cleaned out Jeffrey's things. I've only a few boxes of my own to remove... I had thought to do it over the weekend but..." Fowley's head was tucked down and she appeared old and just a little haggard.

Suddenly Scully felt a wave of sympathy and shock mixed into one. Despite her suspicions, the fact remained that Diana had just lost her partner and was clearly worried that Mulder, a friend and past, possibly present lover had disappeared under suspicious and violent circumstances. But what stunned her into silence was the realization Fowley had been reassigned.

Scully lifted her hand and placed it on Fowley's arm in mute understanding. Then she lifted her lower lip in the semblance of a regretful smile. "He'll turn up. He always does."

"Yeah, usually in a hospital bed."

"Where have you beeen reassigned?"

Fowley smiled wanly "Violent Crimes. I requested the transfer...under the circumstances...I felt that Fox and I shouldn't be working together."

Scully blanched and removed her hand. Had Diana confirmed what Scully feared? Scully's stomach roiled at the thought of their intimacy, but quickly squashed it. A small, tiny part of he mind realized that Diana's statement could be taken any number of ways. Now that Diana was out of the X- files, for whatever reasons, it negated Scully's need to request temporary reassignment. The letter in her briefcase need never be delivered.

Scully entered the FBI building just as the morning sun began to chase the night demons away. She couldn't bring herself to head to the basement just yet. As pleased as she was to see Fowley gone, Scully could not gloat. She'd begin moving Mulder's things from the bullpen later. All thoughts of her own planned temporary reassignment were long forgotten in the face of his disappearance. Instead, she reported directly to Skinner's office, wondering why she and Mulder couldn't go one week without some drama in their lives. As to his relationship with Diana, well, she'd just have to cope with it.

"His car was found here," Skinner pointed to the map "Do you have any knowledge why he would be in this area Agent Scully?"

Scully examined the map and answered further questions. She was grateful that for once her profiling of Mulder was for his benefit, not for some hidden agenda. Yes, her partner's state of mind had been fine, especially with their reassignment to the X-files, but they had both made it clear in Kersh's office that all was most certainly not right with the world. Yes...Scully herself had needed a few days break and no doubt Mulder had felt some need for introspection. No, they were not experiencing any partnership problems...but Skinner saw through the lie immediately. Suddenly Scully felt a wave of guilt for leaving him on Wednesday, for not really confronting him.

But when had they ever really talked? What was too hard, too personal to deal with they swept under the carpet, trusting it could be safely trampled by their pursuit of serial killers and monsters. Scully closed her eyes for a second.... It looked like he'd taken off on one of his 'long drives in the country'. Probably parked himself in a forest with a six pack and bottle of tequila and passed out while looking for UFO's. She'd even accompanied him on one or two occasions. God, she should have been there for him on Thursday. Instead of drinking tequila alone in a cabin, she could have at least been sharing it with Mulder. They wouldn't have talked, oh no, but it would have helped them back on track together. It was the best she could ever hope for in recapturing what their partnership meant.

"The night sky is unusually clear in these parts. Sometimes, once or twice a year, he goes there to watch for UFO's... Sir, was there any evidence of alcohol in the vehicle?"

Skinner's expression hardly changed. He knew Mulder rarely drank more than the odd beer but immediately grasped the picture.


Lack of evidence was no proof to the contrary. It told Scully he had probably been on his way home. And the fact remained that his vehicle had been run off the road. Deliberate or accidental? If accidental, where was Mulder?

Her answering machine was devoid of Mulderisms after Thursday morning. He had called Dana's mother, twice, the last time Thursday midmorning. Her mother would never castigate Scully, except when it came to Mulder. She finished their conversation with 'He depends so much on you Dana...perhaps next time you might take your phone?' Scully simply shook her head, refusing to feel guilty. Mulder carried enough self imposed guilt to support half the Hoover building.

"Have they ascertained the type of vehicle that impacted his?" Scully asked.

"His car wasn't located until yesterday afternoon. It's down in the garage now, but preliminary reports indicate a very large truck, probably semitrailer. As much as I'm inclined to Mulder's paranoia I'm beginning to think it was a hit and run accident."

"Except that he's missing."

Skinner glanced above his glasses "If he drove down there Thursday without planning to spend the night, what day, in your opinion, would he likely return?

Scully pursed her lips, slightly embarrassed.

"Scully," Skinner added gently, "There's not an agent in this building who does not need to de-stress in some way. This is not common knowledge but when Mulder worked under Patterson at the BSU, on his last case they kept him doped up on Valium and Haldol in order to get him through. He hated that loss of...control more than anything.

"Scully, don't get me wrong, you two make a living rummaging through most people's idea of psychotic nightmares and I'm constantly amazed at your sanity. But it's nothing compared to what cases like...Mostow can do to him. You've seen that, you know. If Mulder finds communing with nature through the bottom of bottle once or twice a year is what it takes, that's fine by me. Now, how long does he normally go off?"

Scully mentally shuffled her feet and shivered, recalling Patterson's degeneration into madness. Valium and...Haldol? My God there was so much she did not know.

"You're right, sir, he doesn't like to lose...control. I'd say he'd come out of it Friday midday." Scully could see it, Mulder falling out of his car, throwing up, a pounding headache...crawl over to the bushes. Sleep it off some and wake up starving late Friday afternoon. Get in the car, head for Cansby, the nearest town, hit the general store for pain killers and vitamins, probably a toothbrush, then crash out in the Wayfarer Inn with greasy takeout that would make him worse. Wake up in the wee hours of Saturday and try to run the rest of the crap out of his system then, tail between legs, drive back to Washington...only to be run off the road on the way.

"Sir, I'll check with the Wayfarer Inn and the general store at Cansby. He might have spent the night and started back Saturday.

"I'll let the local sheriff's office know. They're already doing a door-to-door of nearby farms. If it was a hit and run, the blood splatter pattern indicates a possible head injury. He may have simply wandered off."

For two days? Thought Scully, but there was no use speculating until she'd tried the motor inn. At least her cursory examination of Mulder's car in the FBI garage showed the amount of blood was minimal and conducive to a moderate, but not fatal, head injury. An hour later it had been established that Mulder had not spent one, but two nights at the Wayfarer. He'd also used his credit card to buy goods at the general store. The proprietor remembered him because of the smell, stale beer and stomach contents being the main olfactory features. Yes, he remembered the man buying a few toiletries, track shoes, jeans, shirt and a leather jacket. He also recalled seeing him enter the liquor store next door. Housekeeping staff at the inn recalled items of clothing and shoes deposited in the trash and a collection of hardly-touched toiletries left in the room. A check on the liquor store surprised, almost shocked her. Mulder had bought a bottle of tequila and six pack on Saturday night. She had never known him to write himself off over the course of a weekend, not so deliberately.

He'd checked out of the hotel before 9 a.m. Sunday. The proprietor remembered that he smelled strongly of alcohol, but didn't appear drunk, although when prompted, admitted that it might be possible. He was clearly terrified of being prosecuted for allowing Mulder to drive in that state. Scully assured him through gritted teeth that he would not be held accountable, she just wanted a clear picture. He finally conceded that Mulder looked a bit glassy-eyed, but seemed steady on his feet.

Scully grimaced. Mulder could do sober pretty convincingly when he wanted to. But it shocked her to the core that not only had he gone on a three-day binge, he'd been stupid enough to drive.

It was not yet 9 a.m. Monday. He had been missing less than 24 hours. Somehow this allowed Scully to breathe a fraction easier. It seemed likely now that he suffered a car accident while intoxicated. He had been injured, but hopefully not badly, and wandered off somewhere to sleep it off. He was probably sitting under a tree right now, puking and shivering, covered in blood and feeling like the sorry son of a bitch that her brother constantly called him.

For once, Scully agreed with Bill. She'd be calling him a lot worse when she finally caught up with him.

Three hours later, they found him and the nightmares began in earnest.


DAY 9 -12:15am

Scully arrived at the sheriff's office in Cansby just as the Town Hall clock struck 12:15. After introducing herself to the receptionist on duty, she was motioned into the offices behind. The only person visible was a fresh-faced young deputy standing with his back to Scully, a telephone to one ear. He turned at her footsteps. Scully held up her ID and he grinned and nodded.

"Yes, sir, apart from a knock on the head and an almighty hangover he seems okay... and Agent Scully has just arrived."

Mulder was safe. Her sense of relief was almost overwhelming. Now she could allow herself to get well and truly angry.

The deputy nodded as he continued "He wandered a fair ways, ended up at a farm about five miles west of the vehicle's location. Old Jeremiah Cob doesn't have a phone or car and he didn't want to go for help because Agent Mulder appeared somewhat disoriented."

Scully couldn't suppress a slight frown.

"As he told the sheriff, he figured someone would come looking soon enough...Yes, sir, I'll put her right on."

The deputy handed the phone to Scully who smiled her thanks.


"Agent Scully, you heard that Agent Mulder has been located?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, tell him for me he's late for work."

Scully's lip curled a fraction until Skinner added, "You'd better get down to the local hospital, Agent, it doesn't sound like his injuries are too severe, but I'd like to establish what happened."

"Yes, sir."

Scully had fully expected to spend hours, if not days stuck in Cansby while the search continued. But for once the pain and fear was over before it had really begun. God, why couldn't the man even go on a bender without ending up in hospital?

Hurry up and wait, the theme of war zones and hospital wards the world over. Scully spent two hours drinking endless cups of coffee with the sheriff and deputies, thanking them and apologizing for all the trouble. They had been surprisingly friendly. A Fibbie had shown feet of clay and gone on a binge.When push came to shove, there was not a man amongst them who had not done or at least contemplated something similar. The camaraderie of dealing with the world's ugliness was ubiquitous amongst law enforcement officers and as such, they would protect one of their own.


"I won't wake him, I'd just like to see him."

"I'm sorry, Agent, he's dehydrated and has a rather nasty contusion to his head. He is also disoriented and has no memory of the crash or leaving his vehicle." The doctor continued in this vein for a few minutes, answering Scully's pointedly medical questions with raised eyebrows until she revealed her qualifications.

He pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows a fraction. "All right in that case I suppose you can see him, but I must ask you not to subject him to any stress or excitement. Leave the castigations until later." He looked sternly at Scully and she nodded, feeling a little guilty that he'd read her mind.

Scully opened the door slowly, not wanting to wake her sleeping partner. Despite the bandaging on his left forehead and a saline drip, he looked a hell of a lot better that the last time he'd been hospitalized.

She automatically reached for his chart and flicked over the pages. The slight frown on her face deepened at the notation of his disorientation. There had only been a cursory examination of his head wound, something that made Scully uneasy. The poor quality X-rays told her nothing other than the absence of any glaring injury. She would order them redone.

Scully took a deep breath and watched him a few moments, lightly touching his hand just to reassure herself of his solidity. He would be out for some hours and it was apparent Scully would be spending the night in the Wayfarer. She decided to check in, grateful that her overnight bag still resided in its corner of her car's trunk.

Before leaving the hospital room, she checked the closet and removed Mulder's recently-purchased clothes. That he had been sick again was evident, as was the lingering smell of alcohol, blood and rancid mud. If she remembered rightly, the Wayfarer had a coin-operated laundry. Fortunately, blood stains would not show on the dark sweater.

Outside Scully was pleased to note the sheriff's office had assigned a deputy to guard Mulder's room. Until he could shed some light on the hit-and-run accident, it was good to know he had some protection. Scully gave the deputy her cell phone number and a request he call if Mulder woke before she returned.

Although a part of Scully conceded if anyone wanted to get to Mulder, one young deputy would hardly be more than nuisance value, she also reasoned that running him off a flat country road hardly constituted a professional hit.

Three hours later, a casually-dressed Scully returned to the hospital with Mulder's freshly-laundered clothes in hand. The nursing staff made no objection to her entering his room and the deputy indicated Mulder had not yet woken. After hanging his jeans and sweater, she laid his T-shirt and shorts neatly on top of his runners at the base of the closet. The washing machines and dryers at the Wayfarer were surprisingly efficient.

Scully perused Mulder's chart again and as she reached for his wrist to check his pulse, saw his eyes flicker. She could not suppress a spontaneous smile as his eyes turned to her. Just at that moment a nurse came in.

"Doctor Scully..?"

Scully turned, the resident must have told the nursing staff who she was. "He's awake." She said softly to the nurse who nodded.

"I'll get Doctor Martins."

Scully turned back to Mulder as the nurse left. She reached up and checked Mulder's brow for his temperature then openly smiling, leaned across and kissed him on the check. Mulder's face ranged from puzzlement to surprise then settled on bemusement as Scully pulled back, her hand tightly gripping his.

"How you feeling?"

"If that's any indication of the bedside manner of doctors in this hospital, I think I'll stay sick a while."

Scully's grin faded. Although Mulder's sense of humor was notoriously off key, this seemed...different. He ruefully touched the bandage on his head and asked, "What in hell happened?" He then looked blankly at his hand, the one Scully held so firmly.

Scully's face had lost its smile and removing her hand she replied, "Well apart from a three-day binge, which I concede is a record for you, we were hoping you could tell us, Mulder."

Mulder blinked. *Strange way for a doctor to address her patients. Why not Mr. Mulder, or Agent Mulder? And he rarely drank, why a three-day binge?

Scully continued "What's the last thing you remember?"

Mulder frowned. Shit. He'd knocked Diana off the bed again during one of his more psychotic nightmares. She'd ordered him to the couch, knowing he would sleep better there than she would. He chewed on his lower lip, wondering what had happened. Ah hell, that was it. Diana had walked and as unlikely as it seemed he'd gone off on a drunk.

Shit, he had to see her.

"I...um...I'd like to see my wife, is she here?"


DAY 10 - 7:30am

"As far as can be ascertained at this time, he's lost almost eight years." Scully's carefully controlled voice didn't fool Skinner. "He's quite cognizant otherwise. The MRI is due in two hours, just after a CAT scan. Along with more X-rays and a toxicological we should see a clearer indication of causative factors, or lack of."

Skinner blinked, but let that one slide for the moment, "Is Agent Fowley with him?"

Scully's mouth dried and she ran her tongue over her gums before she could speak. "Yes sir."

Suddenly, she had the overwhelming need to sit down. Couldn't the universe give them a break, just for a day or two, just until she got some sleep? Skinner knew better than to give voice to Scully's visible exhaustion. Instead he simply took her by the elbow and sat them both down on a nearby padded bench seat. He kept a grip on her arm as he spoke, as if he needed the contact more than he needed to give it. Scully's lips curled slightly in recognition of his graciousness. The events of the evening before replayed in an endless loop of gut wrenching emotion. The ambulance transfer to Georgetown Memorial, calling Skinner, driving to D.C. herself. She had kept it together then and she would not cave now.

Skinner's teeth ground back and forth in a familiar gesture of frustration. "The psychiatrist has asked you to be present for the initial evaluation. He's going in soon."

Scully nodded. She'd contributed about a hundred initial questions, personal associative memories, although it was unlikely he would use them before the MRI results.

"Shouldn't Diana be there as well?"

Skinner looked around uncomfortably, moving his neck and shoulders about in a gesture Scully had long since interpreted as a boxer trying to loosen a too tight collar.

"I take it you are aware of Agent Mulder's brief marriage to Agent Fowley?" He saw no reason to dissemble. If Scully had not known before yesterday, she would learn soon enough.

"Yes sir,"

"The psychiatrist requested Diana be as forthright as possible with him."

Oh joy, thought Scully, which particular agenda will *this* honesty spring from?

Skinner continued "Agent Fowley does not feature in the missing time period of his life. You do."

He paused then added "Have you seen him since you informed me yesterday?"

"No, sir. He has no idea who I am," she grimaced "I'm not sure he accepts the facts as the truth. He had to be sedated for the trip here."

The two agents shared a grim look. Neither wanted to see Mulder in a psychiatric ward again... they had both failed him on that account on previous occasions.

The hospital sounds around them began to liven as the working day began. A nurse interrupted with the message from Dr. Littleton that he had started a preliminary examination of the patient. Skinner nodded and, his arm still firmly under Scully's elbow, followed the nurse to the observation room.

Littleton had already introduced himself and begun questioning. Scully and Skinner settled themselves in the adjacent room, observing through a one way mirror. There was no sign of Fowley, for which Scully was grateful. She took a few moments to examine Mulder. He was sitting upright on a hospital bed, surrounded by the usual familiar assortment of machines. His bare legs were crossed and one foot jiggled incessantly, reflecting nervous energy and obvious frustration.

Pen and notepad in hand, Scully cautioned herself to concentrate on Littleton's questions.

"As you are aware, Dr. Mulder..."

Mulder snorted softly and Littleton's eyebrows raised in mute query.

"Agent Mulder, unless that's changed, too."

Littleton sat back and crossed his hands. "No, no it hasn't, however I was hoping the honorific might remind you of procedures that are designed to assist you."

Mulder's bottom lip began to lose itself under his teeth but he nodded in acquiescence, a mute apology for the fuss he'd been making about being tranquilized. But Christ, he hated them, hated them with a vengeance. He'd managed to keep the bastards off his back for two years, ever since getting out of the BSU. The last thing he wanted was the threat of a psychiatric ward over his head again.

"All right then, Agent Mulder, I'm going to run through the basics first, just to establish a time frame. First, your full name?"

"Fox William Mulder." Mulder answered automatically. "Date of birth?"

"October 13, 1960."

"Pseudonyms, nicknames?"

"Spooky." Mulder smiled without humor. "Your home address?"

"Apartment 42, 2630 Hegal Place Alexandria."

"Social Security Number?"


"Your mother's maiden name?"

"Why, you want access to my credit card accounts?"

Littleton almost smiled, Scully was less reticent. At least his wit was intact.

"Okay, what year did you graduate college?"


"What subjects?"

"Psychology, MA." Where did you work after that? "I didn't, I went straight into a Ph.D. at Oxford in forensic psychology late that same year."

"What year did you complete this?"

"Late 1986." Littleton lifted his eyebrows a fraction and checked his own notes. "Rather fast for a Ph.D. wasn't it?" Mulder shrugged slightly. "What then, postdoctoral work?"

Mulder shook his head no but Littleton asked him to elaborate, constantly checking his notes as Mulder talked.

"My doctoral supervisor had been called in to consult on a joint Scotland Yard and FBI investigation. He asked me to have a look at it and one thing led to another. The head of the Behavioral Science Unit invited me to join the FBI."

Littleton examined the notes before him. Mulder had not simply had a look at the profile of the notorious serial killer, he was an unusually gifted student whose insight directly led to the man's capture.

"When did you enter the FBI?"

"I entered Quantico late 1986 and graduated early 1987."

By rights, he should have been placed on probation for two years in a field office, but Patterson, the then head of the BSU unit had forced the issue. The BSU was understaffed to hell, each of the then thirty odd profilers worked anything up to 50 cases at a time. Placing Mulder in some hick field office was a ridiculous waste of talent and intellect. No one in the FBI had objected to him being planted in a corner of the BSU and let loose to rummage through the minds of insane killers. Littleton's eyebrows raised as he scanned his notes. He was beginning to understand the paramount frustration of the man before him. This was not Joe Average with a bump on his head and slight memory loss.

"Who did you work under at the BSU?"


"Who was your partner?"

"We didn't work like that...uh, we never had specific partners in BSU."

"What is your badge number?"


"Ever heard of Monty Props?" Mulder's bottom lip rose slightly in reaction. "It was a highly-publicized case. He was arrested in 1988."

"Directly attributed to your monograph." Mulder nodded. "In fact your solve rate was almost five times that of most profilers, close to 25 percent of unsolved long term cases and...my God, almost 90 percent of current cases?" Again, Mulder nodded. It was an accepted fact. "Why did you leave? You were clearly on a fast track to the top."

Mulder snorted, not bitterly, but in slight self derision. "C'mon, Doc, we lived in a nuclear fallout shelter so far underground at Quantico you needed a sack lunch and a six pack just to say hello. Most of us hardly saw the light of day for weeks on end, we were too busy mind-melding with serial killers and mass murderers."

Mulder's eyes looked hooded for a moment and he added, so softly Scully had to concentrate to hear him, "They used to drag me out on the field, sometimes only hours between cases. I *became* them. Do you know what that does to a man after a while? Two of my best friends ate their guns, I decided there had to be an alternative."

Scully rarely heard Mulder talk of this time in his life and she felt a wave of fear and sympathy overtake her. God, there was so much she really did not know about him, even after all this time.

Littleton, however was no fool. "Yet you transferred to Violent Crimes?"

Mulder shrugged and gave a sick grin. His stint at BSU had put him on a fast track to be jacketed by any sane psychologist, a classic Catch 22. Littleton quickly assessed that Mulder would play whatever game was in town to keep from that eventuality. "I'm not seeing the reason this relates to my...amnesia."

"Humor me, Agent Mulder."

"Okay, I continued to consult for the BSU, but I made the choices. Violent Crimes allows me to apply the same intuitive procedures in a real world context." Mulder's face screwed up bitterly and Scully realized how perceptually recent this was to him. She also noted his use of the present tense.

"My successes, particularly Monty Props, have given me certain freedoms, despite the fact that my inexperience in the field killed my partner."

Littleton glanced down at his notes "Yet, your records state your execution of the arrest of Barnett was exemplary."

"Oh, yeah, I followed the book," Mulder replied harshly. "I don't want to get off the track here, Agent, but for what it's worth, Barnett is dead." Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Yes, I know, a year after he was incarcerated."

"Apparently that was a ruse, he escaped."

Littleton examined his notes again. It was neither his job nor his intention to assist this man, just to evaluate him. But a small victory at this stage could alleviate some of Mulder's pent up frustrations.

"I have no case details here but it seems you shot him as he held a hostage at gunpoint. I understand that broke FBI protocol." Mulder's face hardly changed expression, "The hostage?"

"Safe, unharmed."

Mulder's eyes smiled grimly.

Scully found herself shivering at the memory.

"All right, " Littleton glanced at his watch, "We only have a few more minutes and I'd like to press on. When did you move into your current apartment?"

"1989, after I moved to D.C."

"You continued to consult for BSU and you reported to Patterson. Do you recall the name Roche?"

Even closer to home, thought Scully bitterly.

"Yes. Tell me, is he dead too?"

"Apparently, though before you ask I have no notes on him here except that it was also by your hand."

Scully allowed herself to breathe again as a momentary satisfaction crossed Mulder's features. Mulder was no killer. Every death directly, or indirectly at his hands affected him deeply, but his sense of justice was also incredibly strong, incredibly personal. Scully had long since understood that sense of justice outweighed his despair over the taking of a human life, any human life. And in truth, there were some people, like Roche and Barnett, that Mulder could no longer qualify as human.

"What year were you married?"

"1990....and divorced, tell me when we divorced?"

Scully shivered at the pain in his voice. Skinner glanced at her sideways but said nothing.

Littleton looked up from his notes and asked gently "What makes you think you were divorced?"

Mulder shot him a look of pure venom. He subconsciously rubbed his barren left ring finger and replied, "She won't tell me any more than that she left and now she's back."

Scully felt herself stiffen and an icy tendril crawl up her spine. Skinner looked surprised and angry but before Scully noticed, frustrated raged crossed his face. In that instant he knew the MRI would show no physiological reason for Mulder to suffer amnesia.

And he also knew there was not a damned thing he could do about it.

Mulder suddenly leaped from his bed and strode the two paces to the barred window, almost ripping his saline drip out in the process.

Christ, he didn't need this shit! He was close, so damned close to having the X-files reopened, so close to his memories of Samantha, and now this!

"What date do you think it is?" Mulder snorted, "I have no fucking idea."

Scully frowned deeply. She had never, not once in all their years together, heard him curse like that. Good God, why couldn't that bitch be honest with him?

"Are you going to tell me when we were divorced, or not?"

"So you do accept time has elapsed since your last memories?"

"Diana's...aged." He absently glanced down at the bullet wound on his thigh and rubbed another on his left shoulder. "And the mirror confirms it."

Littleton chewed the inside of his cheek wondering if he was doing the right thing. But if the roles were reversed...Littleton would normally never empathize to this level, but the agent was clearly much more than a run of the mill psychologist. It was imperative he be treated with absolute honesty. "The marriage was annulled in March 1991."

Mulder's entire body sagged and he allowed himself to sit back onto the bed. Scully wanted to go to him...but she meant nothing to him.

If Diana knew what was good for here she'd keep well out of Scully's sight for a while.

Mulder ran his hands over his face and snorted again. "Annulled, huh? That'd be right, erase the fact as if it never happened."

The pain in his face as he continued to rub his left finger tore at Scully's heart. She was no psychologist, but with sudden insight, realized marriage and the obscurely small material proof in the form of a ring, had served to ground Mulder.

"Now," continued Littleton, "you were reassigned from Violent Crimes to head the X-files when it was officially reopened later that year."

Mulder's eyes bored into Littleton. "The X-files?"

"You have no memory of that?"

Mulder couldn't keep a quirky grin from his face and for the first time since he'd woken covered in blood and filth in the ditch, began to feel something akin to hope.

"Agent Mulder? Do you remember a particular date? Can you recall what you were last doing?"

Mulder shook his head and winced as it throbbed in response. He sighed deeply and looked across at the small mirror. "I got them..." And Diana had not bothered to tell him. Jesus, she of all people knew how much they'd meant to him, why hadn't she told him?

His whole demeanor changed. Littleton realized the X-files obviously played a significant role in Mulder's life, something he had fought for. Now the agent wanted to know about his life, he wanted his memories.

Littleton had to get him back on track. The psychiatrist glanced at his watch. The MRI was scheduled about now, but it could be anything up to an hour late. He could give the agent a break, but instinct and experience told him Mulder would not sit idly in this room waiting.

"Agent Mulder, please, try to focus. Do you recall the last thing you were doing?"

Mulder snapped his eyes from the mirror and asked, "Who's observing us?"

"I'll answer your question if you answer mine." Littleton knew his colleagues would have his license if they ever heard that, but the ploy was so bad and so obvious that his psychologist patient chuckled.

Mulder looked around for a moment and closing his eyes, said quietly, "Diana had left me, so naturally the memory of that is powerful but it seems as if it was just a day or so ago. At first I...remembered sleeping on the couch after we'd ...argued in bed. I figured I'd rolled off and hit my head. But then I remember her leaving, for good this time. When they told me I'd been found in a ditch out at Cansby I...I figured I'd gone off somewhere with a bottle and...ah...had an accident. It was late February 1991...Jesus, you'd think I could remember the date but I can't...mmm. I don't know, I don't exactly know the last thing I remember." Mulder opened his eyes and frowned. "There should be something, something disjointed, but my memory is clear, right up until sleeping on the couch, then a clear image of her carrying out her last bags and getting into a cab....and absolutely nothing after that."

He knew he should already be experiencing islands of memory. During those moments when he accepted he suffered some form of post traumatic retrograde amnesia, he instantly dismissed it because his memory loss was as if a switch had been pulled. He had a splitting headache for a few hours, and he'd since been informed of a minute, hairline fracture, but it did not seem sufficient damage for this form of amnesia. Unlike popular television, he was fully aware it simply did not work that way. Unless he experienced traumatic brain damage, and even then the memory loss would not be so persistently and chronologically linear.

Hysterical amnesia was his next bet. He'd been exploring memories of Samantha's abduction. Clearly, he had suffered hysterical amnesia following that event. But, Jesus, if he could survive five years in the BSU and Violent Crimes, what in hell could have driven him over the edge now? Something to do with the X-files...had he found something? He began to feel excitement and glanced at the mirror again. Maybe someone else had the answers.

The direction of his gaze was not lost on Littleton. There was no point keeping it from him "A.D. Skinner and your partner of the last seven years, Agent Scully, are observing."

"Scully? Wasn't there a redheaded doctor named Scully at the other hospital? A woman? Petite, very attractive." Hell, she wasn't a 'very attractive' leggy bombshell, she was fucking gorgeous in a more...subtle way.

"I believe you are talking about your partner." Littleton replied, somewhat amused.

Mulder's eyebrows lifted as he considered his leap from the bed and frustrated stalking to the window had left nothing to the imagination under the short, backless hospital garb. What the hell, if she was his partner for seven years and "A medical doctor, huh?"

"Forensic pathologist."

Mulder's eyebrows lifted even more and he shot a crooked smile at the window. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he'd not only managed to get the X-files, he had rated a forensic pathologist to boot - and a stunning one in the bargain. A thousand, a hundred thousand questions plagued him. But he also knew his only chance of finding out what had happened to him was by getting out of this hospital. And the chances of that were directly proportional to his behavior.

He'd spent the last six months ticking off most of his superiors by all but demanding the X-files be reopened. He'd shamelessly used his commendations, reputation and connections to push the issue far beyond reason. Seven years, Christ, he must have learned something about Samantha in seven years? Maybe he'd already found her? His head abruptly turned to Littleton.

"Do you know anything about my sister? Her name is Samantha Mulder."

Scully ran her tongue over her lips and sighed, wishing the answer could be different. Littleton had spent the early hours of the morning going over Mulder's file records. He recalled reading how Mulder's sister had disappeared while in the care of her 12-year-old brother. The event had been the defining moment of his life, one he was destined to relive in an endless loop of guilt and angst. The psychology of it was not his concern at this moment in time, but it was noted in his file that his sister remained missing.

"I'm sorry Agent Mulder, your sister is noted here as still missing."

Mulder sighed heavily. Seven years and he still had not found her. But before he could say anything more, an orderly in a wheelchair entered, followed by a technician, ready to wheel him to the MRI.

Skinner shot Scully a quick glance, but the enigmatic Doctor Scully had possession of her features. They waited a few minutes for the orderlies to wheel Mulder down the corridor to the lift. Then Scully turned and left the small room without comment. Skinner followed, introducing her to Littleton once outside.

The psychiatrist looked down. His eyebrows lifted a little in surprise and a comment passed unspoken across his eyes. "Dr. Scully,"

"Agent Scully," she replied, smiling slightly. "My apologies, I should have realized that based on your partner's comment." Scully kept her tone light, "Our qualifications are secondary to our role as bureau agents."

"Hmm, Agent Scully, I have no doubt you would like to be in attendance for the MRI, but I would like to ask you a few questions first."

Scully nodded and Skinner started to comment but Littleton added, "I'd like to speak to both of you."

They made their way to a small, private conference room. Littleton offered them coffee and Scully gratefully accepted hers, cupping her hands around its familiar warmth. After a few minutes of small talk and peripheral conversation, Littleton flipped to his notes and pursed his lips, then looked at Scully pointedly.

"Loss of memory to any sane human being is always distressing. I'm not acting as a psychologist at this point, but naturally it comes into play. Amnesia amounts to a theft from a person's soul, the very essence of what they are. I'll be frank, I will be surprised if further X-rays, a CAT scan and the MRI indicate any physical damage conducive with this degree and type of amnesia. To be honest, at this stage I cannot account for it in any terms except hysterical."

Littleton was aware he need not explain himself to Scully, but Skinner might be another matter and he addressed his next question to the A.D. "Are you a medical doctor?" Skinner shook his head. "Do you understand what I mean by hysterical amnesia?" Skinner glanced at Scully then answered, "An event so disturbing it triggers some sort of defense mechanism in the brain, uh, the victim forgets the incident rather than facing the unpleasant consequences of its reality."

"Then you have dealt with it in the past."

"You'd be surprised how many perpetrators attempt to use it as a defense."

Littleton chuckled, "No, no, I wouldn't. However, the clinical symptoms of hysterical amnesia differ markedly to what we see here in Agent Mulder. It occurs as a result of a singular or consecutive distressing incident. In younger children who have been repeatedly physically and sexually abused, it is not uncommon for them to deny selective memories for periods longer than eight years. Although there has been much debunking of so called false memories, long term retrogressive amnesia is not uncommon. However, it does not normally manifest itself in an adult, and certainly not in this manner. No form of amnesia except that caused by considerable brain damage entirely eradicates eight years of one's life."

"What if..." Skinner frowned, trying to phase his thoughts clearly, then continued, "What if the sole reason for a man's purpose, eight years of his life dedicated to a singular cause, was pulled out from under him in one profoundly distressing incident. Would that be sufficient to deny those eight years?"

Littleton breathed in deeply "Possibly, but I would want to see other clinical symptoms of mental disturbance than Agent Mulder is displaying. Why? Did something profound happen to him prior to this event? Why was it not noted here?"

Before Littleton had a chance to continue Scully interrupted and glanced at Skinner, "I can see where you are going, sir, but hysterical amnesia of that nature doesn't creep up on someone a week after the event. It's an immediate response. Additionally, despite the...distress of the recent incidents and revelations, we had some...indication of the unfolding events. There are more and greater questions yet to answer. And we have the X-files back."

Skinner nodded "I understand that, Agent Scully I just..." he pursed his lips. Scully understood Skinner had been clutching at straws rather than face what they both now feared.

Littleton's frown deepened, there was obviously a great deal more here that what he had been told. He needed the facts before he could make a salient judgment. "Look, I'm afraid you are not giving me anything to work with. He has a history of hysterical amnesia, and you admit his work was with the paranormal, yet you are unwilling to reveal to me the event which may or may not have triggered this amnesia. How can you expect me to assist unless you provide me with the facts?"

"I apologize, Dr. Littleton. Unfortunately, although Agent Mulder's work was not classified there are aspects of it that...well, if they came to light at this time, might in themselves be considered sufficient cause to judge him mentally unstable."

Scully licked her lower lip but held Littleton's eyes as she added "Doctor, I myself have been a part of those ongoing...investigations and I can only say that Agent Mulder is and was mentally sound, despite the apparent...insanity of our work."

Littleton lifted his eyebrow, mentally chewing on his observations. His musings were interrupted by Scully.

"Doctor, are you aware of any drugs that can selectively erase a person's memory?"

Littleton rattled off a long list of psychoactive drugs and medication used in treatment of the mentally ill but then he finished with, "But none of these, in any known combination, are as selective as this. >From the time frame and his file, I understand his memory ceases approximately one week before you," Littleton motioned to Skinner, "were assigned as his superior as a prelude to the reopening of something called the X-files."

"It doesn't make sense." Scully waited until Littleton had walked ahead of them as they made their way across the building. "Sir, he'd already read everything he could on the X-files prior to being assigned. If they wanted him to forget all that had happened, why now? It's too late, it's already out in the open! And why only Mulder, why not me? And why not take his memories back just a few more months, if they wanted Diana to keep him on a leash?"

Skinner flinched but only replied "Maybe they simply aren't that good, perhaps something went wrong. But like you, Agent Scully, I feel this may be a deliberate move against Agent Mulder. The question is not only why, but more importantly will it be permanent?"

Scully almost stumbled when it hit her. Mulder did not know her, she had never been a part of this man's life. For him it was as if none if the pain and horror of the past eight years had ever happened.

Would it be better for all of them, to leave it that way?


DAY 10 - 4.30pm

"Diana, you left once, I would prefer if you leave again."

Scully had been about to knock on the door, but stopped herself when she heard his low, angry voice.

"Fox, I made a stupid, stupid mistake a long time ago. I paid for it every day of my life until...coming back to you three months ago. You forgave me then,"

Scully could hear Fowley's tearful voice. She pulled her lips to one side, crossed her arms and walked in a small circle outside of his door. Perhaps she should come back later.

"And now, you can't remember. Fox I never stopped loving you, I was young and stupid and ambitious but I SAVED, then gave you back the X-files. You trusted me to do that and I did and I..."

"Why didn't you tell me last night that I had the X-files? You know how much they meant to me! I...I'm sorry Diana I don't...I need some time to think this thing out." He paused then "Jesus, you had the marriage annulled!"

Scully could hear the pain in his voice, but then Diana snapped back with a measured grief, "Oh, God, Fox, it wasn't me...you've forgotten...it was *you* who requested that!"

Scully could almost hear the shock in his silence. As tempted as she was to interrupt, Scully knew how skilled Diana was at lying within the truth. At the same time, this deliberate obfuscation was unforgiving. Enough was enough. In the lull of silence that followed she knocked briefly and entered before anyone could object. Her already overworked adrenal glands picked up the pace at the sight of Fowley perched on Mulder's bed, her hand not simply wrapping his, but stroking it.

"I'm sorry," Scully said in measured tones "I didn't mean to interrupt, I'll come back later." But she made no specific move to leave despite Diana's pleading look.

Mulder pulled his hand from Diana and lifted himself in the bed "No, no please, Diana was just leaving."

Diana looked down at Mulder as she stood "Okay, Fox, I understand...I'll pack up my things and move out this evening...but I'll always be here, you must believe me."

Mulder's poker face revealed nothing to Diana, but Scully saw the doubt cross his eyes.

On any other occasion, Scully would have refrained from comment but this time her eyebrows narrowed and she replied, as if Diana had spoken to her "That's fine, Diana, I know you only have a box or two left in the office. I can have them delivered to your desk tomorrow."

Diana was halfway to the door when the words impacted, destroying her parting ploy, but she did not falter in her step or look at Scully. At the door, she simply turned a tearful face to Mulder and smiled her genuine reptilian regret.

The moment Fowley was gone, Mulder relaxed back against his pillows and sighed loudly. "I apologize for my wife, she..." he suddenly ran a hand across his face and snorted without humor "Christ, she's not even my ex-wife."

Knowledge of his marriage had in no way prepared her for hearing the words *my wife* from Fox Mulder. They sorely tested her superb skills of emotional denial in relation to her partner. But Scully was practiced at instant wall- building and she swallowed, took a breath and planted an artificial smile on her mouth.

Mulder lifted his hand and a semblance of his boyish grin crossed his features, then he held out his right hand. "Agent Scully, M.D. I presume?"

Scully allowed her smile to spread a little and took the two steps to embrace his hand with her much smaller one.

"That'd be me, how are you?"

Mulder motioned for her to sit on the nearby chair. He took the opportunity to quickly examine his partner as she turned and bent to seat herself. She was petite, almost diminutive, with white chocolate skin and short burnished bronze hair that framed her face to perfection. He wondered what he called her, Red? Agent Scully, Dana? No, not Dana, too close to Diana.

"You have me at a disadvantage, " Mulder replied "It seems you know more about me than I do."

Scully dropped her head and wondered how best to proceed. Then she stopped herself from thinking. This was Mulder, for all intents and purposes, a year younger than when she had first met him. All she could be was herself. "Maybe, but I'd still like to know how you feel, how's your head?"

"Hairline fracture, slight concussion, no apparent cortical damage, although they've probably told you this already."

Scully lifted her lower lip again and nodded. "The X-rays, CAT scan and MRI show no brain lesions or abnormalities. You have bruised ribs, probably from the seat belt, a nasty gash above the skull fracture, blistered feet and a few scrapes elsewhere, possible from tangling with blackberry bushes."

"The blistered feet got me."

"New running shoes and no socks." Scully replied. "Oh...how did you figure that?"

"I washed your clothes and shoes while you were in Cansby Municipal." Another oh - how would she know if they were new? "Do you make a habit of washing my clothes?" Scully thought of a dozen quips but discarded them and replied softly, "We're partners, Mulder, we look after each other." God, this was going to be hard. And yet, how hard could it be to share what she knew of him with himself? "Look, I...I know this is difficult and you've got a thousand questions. Maybe we should just take it from the top."

"And where exactly would that be?"

Scully looked for the cynicism behind the question but surprisingly, found none."We've established a time frame for you. Your last cohesive memories appear to be late February 1991. I was assigned to the X-files in March 1992. What occurred during that missing year I can cover anecdotally. A.D. Skinner and the Lone Gunmen are coming by tomorrow; they can fill you in on some of the details."

"Is that before or after Cosmopolitan's twenty questions to determine your sanity?" Scully's lips twitched. "I think its more like two or three hundred."

"Oh, joy." He looked around and sighed in frustration "I don't even know what to call you."


"Just Scully?"

The defining moment skittered across her mind. Years before, on a stairway, when he'd snagged her long necklace. In his perverse way, he thanked her for respecting the journey through his convoluted reasoning. Scully considered it a flirtation that might eventually lead...But then later, during the stakeout, Mulder refuted her use of his first name in a manner that evaporated any prospects of an intimate relationship with her incredibly desirable partner.

As it should be, she reminded herself. As the years passed, she recognized his dependency was based on her talents and quick mind. And she was incredibly grateful at his equal treatment and respect for her, for she had striven for such recognition and acceptance with inevitable sexism, for years. At times when the emotional intensity of moments in their sometimes horrific lives might have led them to something more, Scully accepted that it was, at least for him, circumstantial attraction and she wisely backed away.

Scully shrugged her eyebrows, "You're just Mulder."

He nodded slowly, avoiding the splitting headache that hit with sudden head motions. He wondered why he was wasting time on small talk when he wanted, needed to know so much.

"Do you know about my sister, Samantha?"

"If you're asking if we've found her, the answer is no, at least not the real Samantha."

Mulder's eyes opened wide and he sat up straight, although the 'we' did not escape him, the last half of the sentence grabbed his full attention. "What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, God, Mulder, almost seven years we've been together...there's so much, so much that's happened and then last week..it..it all came to a head."

Scully's face started to crumble. God, she needed him now! She needed Mulder, not this lost man-child! C'mon, Dana, hold it together!

"Mulder, I desperately need some sleep, but if you promise to let me give you a bare background without interruption -- it'll take a couple of hours -- I'll skip over everything except what you *need* to know, about Samantha, about alien abduction, the government conspiracy, the whole damned thing. Then I sleep and we start again tomorrow, okay?"

"I ain't going nowhere, believe me Scully, I'm all yours."

And so she began.

Almost four hours passed, interrupted only by dinner. Mulder took one look at the peas and creamed potatoes and pushed it away. They'd removed his drip earlier and he was allowed to walk around, but had no robe to cover the short hospital garb. He asked Scully where his clothes were, deciding he needed to walk down to the cafeteria and try for some real plastic food.

Scully insisted he remain in bed, in deference to his head injury, but he became obstinate. In the end, she decided it would be better to let him have his own way. The skull fracture was relatively minor and his other injuries required rest, but not permanent confinement to bed.

As he changed, making no pretense about dropping his hospital gown in front of her, she politely turned her back. Her gesture told him a great deal about their relationship, answering questions that had immediately presented themselves when he was confronted with the reality of his beautiful, alluring partner. He mentally congratulated himself on having done something right for a change. He'd fucked up every other relationship and celibacy was looking an attractive alternative to Diana's hurt tears and shaking head. It would appear he'd managed to keep his pecker in his pocket when it came to this partner.

Scully's story had his head spinning. A dozen times he'd wanted to interrupt, each mention of the cloned Samanthas focusing his attention to the obliteration of all else. But the dark shadows under her eyes and the increasingly slurred voice were testimony to her exhaustion. It was almost midnight when she'd caught up to the previous Wednesday and his mind was reeling. His thoughts screamed with the implications, with the consequences. He'd begged Scully to stay, to elaborate and answer a hundred questions but she determinedly left, her eyelids drooping and body swaying somewhat. Mulder belatedly wondered how she would get home and then even more belatedly decided he was an asshole for not wondering sooner.

The prior twelve months had been fraught with increasingly obsessive behavior. Verber had given him a window into the ongoing nightmare of his sister's abduction. But this partner, Scully, had shown him that nightmare was but a grain of sand in a global, possibly galactic conspiracy beyond anything his self absorbed naivete could ever have conceived. Although she clearly did not accept this was the case, she had been honest in presenting his point of view.

Christ, if it was true, he *had* to recover his memories.

Mulder thrashed sleeplessly in the bed. He had always believed that once he had the answers, the truth behind Samantha's abduction, he would somehow be able to set things right. In his conceit, it had never occurred to him that such truths would render him impotent in the face of overwhelming evil.

Weaving its way through the enormity of his life was an underlying awareness of Scully. She had to be something special to have put up with his obnoxious brand of crappy behavior for seven years. It's a wonder he hadn't fallen in love with her.

Fifteen minutes later he jerked from the edge of sleep in the realization that he probably had. That's why he'd made her call him Mulder, and that's why he'd not touched her.

****** DAY 11

At some point, Mulder slept but his dreams offered no new insight. However, in the morning he'd woken screaming Scully's name. Half an hour later his partner arrived at the hospital, concern written across her face and her doctor's hand on his brow.

How much, she wondered, of his cries were instinctual and how much simply a dream state following her ordered description of the mangled confusion that described their lives? He recalled none of it, but he clutched at her hand, his eyes begging her to give him back his memories.

Skinner arrived soon after and took his place to fill in the missing year. Langly, Byers and Frohike came by, but declined to stay, nervous in the presence of so many feds. They promised to return the next day, armed with data from his lost years.

A series of doctors did their morning checks on his physical and psychological condition. Littleton, the psychiatrist, then the FBI psychologist, Morton, all examined him. Mulder recognized the man as someone he reported to, but only as protocol required, never by choice. Scully and Skinner met Littleton and Morton in Littleton's office just prior to their joint session with Mulder. Aware that Scully had spend much of the night trying to fill her partner in on the last seven years, Littleton was somewhat concerned his answers would reflect that newly acquired knowledge, especially given the man's near eidetic memory.

"Is it aural as well as visual?"

Scully nodded "But not perfect, he'll occasionally recall an entire passage or reference, but not the exact source."

"Eidetic memory is not infallible. Agent, the main reason I wanted to talk with you before I go in was to establish your relationship with your partner. Almost seven years, a long time. You obviously care for him."

Scully waited for the question while Littleton waited for the answer. It dawned on Littleton what the problem was but before he spoke, A.D. Skinner stood and excused himself.

Scully immediately spoke "Sir, there's no need for you to leave."

"Agent, I will not allow any reluctance on your behalf in the face of...protocols to interfere with Agent Mulder's recovery."

Scully shook her head no and interrupted him, "Sir, I'm aware of some...comments that may have been passed at different times, but Agent Mulder and I are not intimate."

Moreton sat passively watching the interchange, fully understanding the powerful bonds that tied partners, especially long term partners working in areas of violent crimes. Skinner looked uncomfortable in his understanding while Littleton was frankly disbelieving.

Scully continued, determinedly catching Littleton in the eye as she spoke "We are *partners*. Unless you have been part of a law enforcement agency," she glanced at Morton who nodded, "I cannot expect you to fully appreciate all that such a term means. We've seen and fought things that inhabit only the darkest corners of your nightmares. We have killed to protect one another and we have risked our careers, our...our lives to save each other. We trust one another more than you could possibly understand."

Trust, Dana, it all comes down to those five little letters. And here in the cold light of day all he has now is you, all you have is him. Do you trust your partner? Forever and ever, Amen.

"We're closer than any man or wife could possibly imagine and for all of those reasons we cannot be sexually intimate."

Littleton scratched his cheek "All right, you are.... compatriots but unless I'm mistaken this bonding goes deeper. I understand from..." nodding towards Skinner as the source "That *you* are his primary source of memories. I need to understand your relationship because I'm frankly hoping for something to build on. His ex-wife does not seem suitable at this time, despite her stated desire for reconciliation."

Scully's stomach went looking for the carnival again while Morton quoted for all to hear. "We few, we precious few..."

Comprehension dawned in Littleton's eyes and he turned to his colleague. "'We band of brothers, for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother...' Thank you, Doctor, I was in Vietnam...I think I'm beginning to understand." And he looked at Scully with a newfound respect and a growing sense of awe for the diminutive doctor.

Morton was content to remain a passive observer. They were fortunate to have Littleton on Mulder's case. The psychiatrist had made a name for himself in the field of amnesia, but not being FBI, not having to deal with the unique problems confronting the men and women who worked there, hobbled his approach.

Although Morton had seen little of Mulder over the years, he had nevertheless generated a reasonable profile. Mulder was obsessive, often manic but undeniably sane. His paranoia was, if his file was anything to go by, mostly justified. He was certainly atypical of mainstream agents, but then most agents dealing in violent crimes of any descriptions were atypical, or they invariably burned out. There had been times when Morton recognized Mulder skirted the thin edge of sanity, but something continued to ground him. He had consulted with Karen Kossof and now understood that his partner, Scully, was the source of that grounding. Now she carried a further burden. When Littleton had finished Morton told her that she would, in effect, be his seeing eye dog.

"However, wherever possible," he explained, "You must try to present his world to him on his terms, not yours. I understood your views and methods...differ to Agent Mulder's and if he feels you are trying to 'convert' him to your way of thinking, he will become confused, possibly dismissive and aggressive. Dana, this will be enormously difficult for you. He will be extremely dependent on you and yet you must project something of his convictions back to him, as untempered as possible by your own beliefs. By giving him himself you might pry open some of those hidden memories. If you try to project your own beliefs on his world view of things, it will create confusion in his psyche.

"Now my comments are not meant as a criticism to your professionalism because I know full well that you have the utmost respect and regard for your partner. Frankly, I wouldn't be telling you this unless I believe you can carry it through, its just that I wanted to spell it out."

Scully nodded. "I've always respected the strength of Mulder's convictions, even if I did not always agree with his conclusions."

"We do not want to involve his ex-wife at this stage. Those wounds are very raw for him, only a few days old. This is confusing him. I'm not for a minute suggesting they be kept separated, especially since I understand they had been undergoing a reconciliation of sorts,"

Scully's eyebrow lifted and she looked up. Her look was not lost in Littleton.

"Were you aware of that Agent Scully?" he asked gently.

Scully's other eyebrow lowered, accentuating her frown. "No Sir, I can't honestly say that I was, but I equally cannot deny the possibility."

Littleton glanced at Morton briefly then added "I'm surprised, given your relationship I would have thought..."

Scully shook her head "It's more complex than that. There have been some dramatic developments in a long term case we've been working on. Mulder and I...strongly disagree with a critical aspect involving Agent Fowley. Consequently I would not be privy to any considered reconciliation. May I ask where this information came from?"

"Agent Fowley."

Scully ducked her head slightly and pursed her lips, but refrained from further comment.

"Agent, this clouds an already clouded issue. As Agent Mulder has expressed a desire not to see Agent Fowley for the time being, I believe it is best to respect those wishes. I have discussed it with Agent Fowley. Naturally, she is somewhat...distressed, however I have her assurance she will make herself available if the need arises."

They discussed the results of the MRI and CAT scan, and the rather frightening preliminary toxicology report. No significant damage to the cortical areas, no lesions or blood clots. The impact wound on his scalp and subsequent hairline fracture would not normally be considered sufficient cause for such radical and specific amnesia, however it had to be considered a factor. The toxicology results reported trace elements of some very strange compounds. It would take days for the analysis to be completed, but, however much it flew in the face of current thinking, they cautiously accepted Mulder's amnesia might at least in part have been chemically induced. The why was less important than the question of whether the effects would be permanent or temporary. The who...Scully had no doubts about that, although her instinct warned her that Diana was suddenly all too close.


End chapter 5

Lost Time Part 7 of 21 Date: August 1999 Author/feedback : PLEASE! spider@webspin.org. All parts posted at www.webspin.org/xfic.htm Disclaimers: Please see Part 1

** This section: Rated R for short, disturbing, graphic concept.**


DAY 11

"All right Agent Mulder, we're just going for free association here, you know the drill." Morton began after the usual greetings and introductions.

Despite his injuries, Mulder had been allowed to dress again that morning. Scully brought an overnight bag from his apartment, complete with toiletries, notepads and his lap top. He had mumbled his thanks, telling her she didn't have to go to all this trouble, unsure once more of the dynamics of their relationship.

"Mulder, we're partners, we look after each other. Besides, I had to feed your fish, I couldn't face another bathroom burial."

Mulder processed that information. He kept fish? "How long have I kept fish?"

"Ever since I've known you, however the residents are regularly recycled."

He snorted a soft laugh. That'd be right, replace Diana with goldfish. He could ignore fish and all they did was die, not get up and leave. The perfect pet for the self centered manic depressive.

After a somewhat heated outburst from Mulder, Littleton and Morton agreed to 'cut the couch side crap' and deal with him as an equal, a consultant on his own case. There would be no kid gloves but they also made it clear they expected his full cooperation in exchange for this professional courtesy.

Mulder absorbed the impact of the medical reports. He processed the information into that which had already been filed from Scully's background information. As he scanned the files closely, memorizing them for future reference, Skinner and Scully entered the room.

The men stood and nodded, then Morton spoke more for the benefit of Scully and Skinner "Agent Mulder, you know the drill, you know the limitations of free association. I understand Doctor Dr. Heitz Verber will be seeing you this afternoon but we strongly recommend you wait until you are fully recovered from your physical injuries before undergoing hypnosis. It's only been forty eight hours since the accident and Agent, you know you memories should return naturally within a week to ten days. In the event that does not occur, then further investigations, including hypnosis, are warranted."

Mulder nodded grimly, aware his physical injuries could never have induced this finely tuned degree of amnesia.

"All right, just relax and we'll begin. Images, impressions, one word or phrase answers are fine, elaborate where you need to."

Mulder knew the instructions were more explanations for Skinner and Scully's benefit.





Morton checked his file notes on Mulder. Early 1991 had been a difficult period for the Agent. He had been undergoing regressive hypnotherapy in order to capture memories of his sister's abduction, and his marriage was breaking up. However this was not a factor in his current amnesia.





Ooh boy how did they know about that...Scully? Surely not...until he saw her raised eyebrows. Seven years...lots of stake outs...lots and lots of late night stake outs...but no make outs, huh?

Scully considered it only a possible hit. He may have mentally associated Phoebe with fire from the day she left him.




"Mm. I'm hungry, breakfast was lousy." He had the grace to look chagrined.




Mulder looked confused and said "A Disney fawn? Where the hell does that come from?" But he saw the look of dismay followed by a grin on Scully's face.

That was so typically male she thought with growing hope, thinking with his balls. But it was a definite hit.

Over the next hour there were other matches, other references to their lives together that never found there way into any files or reports that Mulder had been exposed to since the accident.

"Big blue."

"Loch Ness Monster."


"Loch Meade...?"

And so it went, scattered elements of the lost years, Queequeg giving him an image of a Pomeranian. Tattoo gave him snake circle and Scully bit her lip then blushed as she admitted to the tattoo on her back. It crossed Littleton's mind that Scully had admitted to no intimacy -- in the present tense. He mentally noted to take her aside alone and try again for the truth.


"Blood...oh, God, lots of blood." Mulder's face fell "I...have nothing apart from that." He looked up frowning. His memories did not tell him, but Scully's face did. "He's dead, isn't he?"

The saddest part for Scully was watching him relive the grief and being unable to tell him those responsible had been brought to justice. They most surely were not dead and in fact the likely perpetrators of this latest devastating blow. She had avoided his Father's death, aware the emotional impact would have been too great a burden given the man's role in the conspiracy. But the questioning look on his face made her bite her lip and ask forgiveness. There was so much to tell him, so many tangents she could have gone off on the previous night, but she had to stick to the basic story and fill the elements in later. His eyes shone back in understanding. God this was so much harder than she first thought.

The morning wore on, grimly, sadly, interspersed with moments of happiness. Memory is a peculiar thing and Scully was awed at some of Mulder's responses. Littleton and Morton both wondered if Mulder saw what they did, but perhaps not, he was now the patient and too close. Scully, the medical doctor might, but she was not a psychologist and had denied intimacy. Skinner already acknowledged the almost telepathic communication between the two agents. If he saw it as something else, he chose not to.

It was understandable that most of the connections involved Scully. They were not overt things, but small, isolated fragments. Agent Mulder clearly held affection for his partner. But the connection went far beyond even the camaraderie of a fellow soldier. At first Morton, accustomed to the trust and dependency between long term partners, did not see it. She was his anchor before the amnesia and his deeply repressed memories clung to her like a life rope. However he began to see some of the deeper, Freudian overtones; scrappy associations that came from a man who intimately desired his partner. The word associations were not sexual, the lay person would never have recognized the connections, but eventually Morton exchanged looks with Littleton that agreed. Mulder did not simply love his partner, he was in love with her.

Both men knew this could be used to advantage in assisting Mulder in recovering his buried, but by no means lost memories. They might yet return of their own accord, coalescing into islands of memories that expanded, eventually driving the amnesia into gradually dwindling islands, perhaps removing them altogether.

Or they might not. The memories might remain buried forever. But at least they existed at some level. Whatever had been done to Mulder had not completely erased eight years of his life.

As the days passed, their fears materialized. Unless brain damage is involved, most amnesiacs begin regaining their memories within a week. It can be gradual, or sudden with the input of an undefined stimulus. A sight or sound, even a smell. Mulder's memory had not returned spontaneously, nor had the first attempts at hypnosis proved very successful, even when employed by Heitz Verber. Although he absorbed his life like a sponge, consuming volumes of material and catching up on the state of the planet via the Internet whenever Scully or the Lone Gunmen could not be with him, Mulder's memories between February 1991 and Cansby remained anecdotal.

Frohike, Langly and Byers dropped by regularly with insights and updates on the trace chemicals found in Mulder's blood. Skinner provided him with copies of their reports for the last eight years and Langly admitted to having copies of many of the fire-destroyed X-files secreted away. He'd intended on presenting them the day the X-files reopened with Mulder at the helm. Frohike revealed they were still tracing the drugs back to their sources, but it was a tenuous trail. First they had to extrapolate backwards what the drugs might have been and then...Mulder's presence became inconsequential as the three mismatched men argued with each other.

Scully insisted on returning to work on the Wednesday after Mulder had been found. Each day she traveled to the basement early, establishing the office and files in an orderly manner, while managing to remove every trace of Spender and Fowley. Each afternoon she went to the hospital, ready for six to eight hour marathon's with Mulder's acute mind drilling her, mining for the information about himself he so desperately sought. She spent the first weekend there almost non stop, grateful that Skinner gave her no new cases.

On the following Monday, Morton requested she see him that afternoon. The interview did not go well, at least from Scully's point of view.

Scully was surprised to see Littleton in attendance. He was not FBI, but then his specialty was amnesia. Mulder was lucky to get him.

After the preliminaries and brief discussion of Mulder's current, unchanged condition Morton came right out with it. "Agent Scully, the results of numerous interviews with Agent Mulder would indicate that you two share, or at some stage shared a more intimate relationship than you have indicated."

Scully's face registered slight disapproval but she said nothing.

Morton continued, "Look, nothing you say will leave this room. You know as well as I, that's not our role here. But it is quite clear that Agent Mulder harbors strong sexual feelings towards you."

As far as Scully was concerned, things went downhill from there. At one point they all but accused her of inhibiting Mulder's recovery by keeping information from them. Scully raised her eyebrow and looked at them with such disdain, Morton found himself embarrassed. When Scully volunteered to take a polygraph test, Morton actually blushed. Finally, she stated the obvious and directed a clear criticism to Morton for not recognizing it. Because of the nature and intensity of their work, since their partnership began, neither she nor to the best of her knowledge Mulder, (Diana notwithstanding), had maintained anything but fleeting, infrequent casual personal relationships. Was it not therefore understandable that Mulder would harbor subconscious, even conscious sexual desires for a woman he was in virtually constant contact with, often under highly stressful and frequently life threatening situations? Was not the fact that he had not and would not act on any such natural physiological responses a testimony to his professionalism?

Littleton sighed at that point, Morton thanked her for coming and ended the interview. He turned to the psychiatrist and commented dryly "If every partnership in the bureau had one-tenth of the dedication and professionalism these two show towards one another, I'd be out of a job."

Despite her bearing Scully left the interview on emotionally shaky legs. Mulder's sexual attraction to her had not gone unnoticed. But, she reminded herself sternly, she believed her comments to Morton. The attraction was proximate, not personal. She felt the same way. Didn't she?

Didn't she?



DAY 19 - 7:45am

Finally, ten days after being admitted, Mulder was released from hospital. Except for the all-but-invisible hairline skull fracture, his physical injuries had healed. His memories remained as elusive as the day he'd entered hospital. There was some talk of medical leave with full disability pay, but it was quickly squashed. The evaluation recommended he return to duty as soon as possible. For all intents and purposes, he was a fit and healthy, fully trained and experienced FBI agent. His loss of memory impeded none of the higher brain functions or motor skills. He could return to work on Monday, but was subject to weekly visits to Morton and a probationary period and re-evaluation after three months.

Despite his objections that he wanted to go to work immediately, Scully drove Mulder to his Alexandria apartment early Thursday morning. Mulder tried to wheedle her into letting him at least see his new office. Scully would have none of it, Skinner was not expecting him until Monday morning and Mulder should spend a few days at home first. Though she accompanied him to his apartment, Scully declined to stay, even for coffee.

"Mulder, I really have to get back to the office. I have work to do this morning on some unusual autopsies and I want to see if I can find a correlation."

Mulder's eyes narrowed slightly as he gave his partner full attention. "What sort of unusual?"

Scully pursed her lips and replied, "I'll let you know tonight. Do you want me to bring anything back with me, any shopping?"

It dawned on him that she had a life of her own. A boyfriend, no doubt. Christ, she could be married for all he knew, the absence of a ring meant nothing. It struck him how dependent he had become on her, yet how very little he knew about her.

He suddenly rebelled at the coddling.

"No, look, Scully...why don't you go home tonight, don't bother coming back here. I...I think you're right, I need a few days to reacquaint myself with where I am."

Scully frowned, but recognized he had never been truly alone since the accident. He needed time to come to grips with what had happened. He needed to absorb his surroundings and immerse himself into this new, old world he called home. He needed sensations and feelings now, not just stories and facts.

"Sure, Mulder, okay...well...you've got my cell number. I'll let you know if I turn up anything interesting."

Mulder watched his partner leave the building feeling like he had probably said the wrong thing but not quite sure what it was. First things first, he thought, and began to explore the apartment.

It seemed oddly filled out. In fact, rather cluttered from his last memories. It took him a few minutes, but it was the bathroom that gave it away.

There was not one sign, not the vaguest hint, of Diana.

He recalled her words in the hospital, about packing her few things and leaving. When it became apparent that she had capitalized on his confusion to create a false impression he was angered beyond words. When Diana walked out on their marriage, what seemed to him only days before, he honestly felt it was the best decision she could have made. She was going to Europe and he mentally, if not emotionally, severed ties with that part of his life. He freely admitted the fault lay entirely with him and knew, in time, he would be fine with it. He respected Diana above all others. But right now, the wound was too new and that she would be dishonest was an abhorrence to him.

Could a person change that much?

Scully had been reluctant to discuss Diana and Mulder knew he would have to dig deeper into Scully's...his partner's mind to find the answers.

He sighed and slumped to the couch, vaguely aware it was a different model than the original. Jesus, he supposed it couldn't have been all that easy for Scully, either. He snorted, somewhat surprised at his belated empathy. He'd never been much on considering anyone or anything but his own needs and desires -- which is why Diana had left him.

"Fuck it!" he cried aloud and leaped from the couch in frustration. "Why the fuck can't I *remember*?!"

Mulder spent the day exploring the apartment, learning about himself. He felt like an impostor at first, an intruder into another man's life. What had become of Mulder? There were certain constants; the apartment was a careless mess but his clothes were neat and laundered and his tastes still ran to the expensive, his one self- indulgence.

He moved from their bedroom to the couch the day Diana left, with no intentions of returning. Mulder hated bedrooms for they evoked memories of Samantha. Only when he lived with someone, did a bed hold more attraction than a couch.

There were odd contradictions, though. A mirror over a quite new double bed brought a confused frown, but then so did the rather imaginative collection of videos. Mulder began to treat himself like a suspect, profiling himself based on the evidence.

There was no trace of women's clothing or toiletries in the apartment, except for a carry-on travel bag labeled 'D. Scully' living just inside his closet door. Old airline ticket stubs, a change of clothes and basic toiletries and a well stocked medical compartment told him it probably mirrored one with his name on it in her closet. They traveled together a great deal, so it was a logical, sensible precaution.

There was an unused, out-of-date packet of condoms in his bedside drawer, along with a collection of over-the-counter soft porn magazines. He flipped through them, trying to ascertain if any pathological kinks had developed. It seemed he had at least steered clear of anything seriously off-center, although flipping through the magazines inspired a healthy erection. Sex with Diana had been more and more difficult the previous weeks, but he was not accustomed to long term abstinence, and jacking off in the hospital shower had only prevented a dose of blue balls, bringing no satisfaction in itself. Did the bed signify a psychological acceptance of Samantha's loss? Or simply a new girlfriend? If so, why the porn and no sign of anything feminine, not even a change of underwear, throughout the apartment? Why were the condoms untouched, outdated? He might be a jerk, but he wasn't a fool. He glanced at his watch and decided to unwind with a run, check out how much the neighborhood had changed and pick up some groceries on the way home.

Three hours later he dropped the bags of fresh food onto his kitchen table, dripping sweat onto the bench and wishing like hell his ribs didn't hurt quite so much. A hot shower seemed in order.

The next few hours were spent perusing various documents and papers. He was surprised at the overall lack of paperwork until he discovered the gray box next to the unfamiliar computer was a spare hard drive. So...he kept backups -- not just on the new ultra thick floppies called zips. He decided to tackle the computer later that afternoon, settling for opening his desk drawers instead.

Now *that* was interesting...a couple dozen crime scene photographs featuring himself and Scully. No...mainly Scully. Mulder silently thanked the photographers for date stamping the back. Why would he keep such an eclectic assortment of pictures of his partner unless he was as fond of her as he suspected? Mulder picked up the loose images and carried them to the couch. He spread them along the coffee table in chronological order, trying to attach significant events to her changing image. Here, young with longer, lighter hair, almost strawberry blonde, smiling up at him like some eager undergraduate. He pulled his mental filing cabinet out, attaching moments to the ever changing photos of Scully. Here, round of face and a little overweight, but healthy, almost glowing. Had she been pregnant, perhaps? Hard to tell with the trench coat.

Oh, God...terror across her eyes, a rag tying her mouth, inside the trunk of a vehicle. This was not a photograph, but a computer printout, yet it tore at him. The date told him all -- her abduction. The next one, months later, haunted, pale, shadowed eyes and the smile, less ready. The gradual change, the metamorphosis from youthful prettiness and puppy fat to beautiful, sleek maturity, carefree to...God, her eyes showed it all, all the pain, all the knowledge that no one human should have to carry alone. He knew that look. Christ, it was a reflection of his own descent into controlled madness while working in the BSU.

Another photo, a year or so later, eyes shadowed and almost gaunt, oh, shit, yeah, the cancer. And here, a forced smile that could not belie hardness and grief. Beside her on the floor of some nameless institution a little girl colored with crayons. This then, was Emily. But did she have children other than this lost one?

None of these photos seemed to match the filing cabinet memories Scully had given him in hospital. Her memories were factual, black and white monographs of elapsed time. Terror and fear, grief and loss had not entered into the equation until now.

When he looked at the few photos of himself, nothing seemed to have changed. His face was a little fuller, the angles of his face a little harsher, less boyish, but his eyes remained just as aloof as the day he'd left BSU, just as...searching. Mulder chewed his bottom lip in thought. For the past ten days he'd concentrated solely on who and what he was, how other people fitted into his life. Maybe it was about time he learned how he fitted into theirs. And maybe it was about time he learned exactly what his quest had done to this extraordinary woman he called his partner.


"Hey Scully, it's me, Mulder, what's happening?" He could hear the snap of latex in the background and the dull clicking of heels on tile floors. The image of an autopsy bay came immediately to mind as he sat back into the leather of his couch. "Just finishing up an autopsy."

He mentally congratulated himself. At least his analytical senses were still firing. "Anything interesting?"

"Ye...es, although disturbing is more like it."

"Ooooh! I like disturbing, care to share?"

Scully couldn't help a small grin. Mulder really hadn't changed much despite the lost years "Let me get cleaned up first and I'll email your home number my preliminary report. I think this is something we need to follow up on, Mulder and I'm meeting with Skinner in..." she checked the wall clock "About two hours. So, why did you call?"

Mulder's mind turned reluctantly from work "Scully I...look I know I'm a jerk most of the time and it hit me that I really have no idea...uh, no...Jesus, I don't even know if you're married or anything."

Scully's eyes widened as Mulder continued, "Look, I know this sounds ridiculous, but for all you've told me, I...I can't get a handle on well, a lot of things. I mean I don't know anything about you, about how we relate, how we work together..."

"You mean who washes and who wipes?"


"We take turns."

Mulder pursed his lips in frustration and said quietly, "I found some old photos here and it hit me that whatever we've been through, it's taken...I've taken the smile away from you."

Scully felt her stomach drop. She leaned against the bench for support and took a deep breath. The Mulder she knew had discarded involvement with women as an unwanted distraction. Was this some echo, perhaps transference of guilt for his failed marriage? He was both selfish and self- centered yet compassionate beyond comprehension. He picked up every lost stray he could find, determined to save them where he could not save his sister, or his own broken soul. And here he was again, seeing her as lost and suddenly, painfully taking on the burden as his own. "Oh, Mulder...it's not your fault. Things happen."

"Scully...I need to know, I need to know about you, about how, we..." He trailed off and Scully understood his reticence. As difficult as it was for her, she had to give him back himself, not just the facts, but the essence.

"Look, I...I have to get this preliminary typed up. I know you want to be alone for a while but..."

"Hey...I cook a pretty mean omelet, Scully. You wanna come over for dinner?" She hesitated for a moment but then replied "Sure, Mulder."

"I'm not interrupting any other plans am I? I mean you can leave it until..."

"Mulder, I'm sure. Do you want me to bring anything?"

"Actually yeah, I bought some groceries but apart from some evolving life forms in my ice box there's not a damned thing to drink." She smiled knowingly. "Okay, anything else?"

"He, just one thing...do you know my e-mail password?" Scully chuckled, biting off a retort inching its way past her lips. "Bullwinkle."



DAY 19 - 7.45pm

Scully knocked again, louder this time. She placed the shopping bag on the floor and had her key in the lock when the door pulled from her grip. The key fell from her hand and she automatically glanced down to retrieve it, but the sight of Mulder's bare feet stopped her. As her eyes traveled up his unzipped jeans and naked torso, the elegant lines of his body impacted on her and she caught her breath. But then came a dawning comprehension as his tousled hair and urgent face came into view about the same time as Agent Fowley's voice slurred from the direction of his bedroom. "Who is it, Fox?"

For one gut-wrenching moment Scully thought she would be physically ill. Her peripheral vision faded, eaten away at the edges like heat damaged film, curling her perception of the moment. Why, Scully wondered, were human beings cursed with insight? The evidence was not sufficient, she told herself. He may have just stepped out of the shower. But then she realized the evidence as there, her olfactory nerves were screaming. The smell of sex. Hard, heavy sex.

Scully felt frozen in time as Diana came into view, tying Mulder's large robe at her front and placing a predatory hand on his shoulder.

Scully's voice saved her. God knows where it had come from but it alone of the three people had the presence to contribute something positive. "Skinner has assigned us to the case I was autopsying this afternoon. We're booked to fly out at 7:30 a.m. to L.A. tomorrow. He asked and I didn't think you would mind starting work a few days early."

Mulder's face had taken on a new visage, one totally unexpected considering the circumstances. Anger, almost rage...directed at Scully.

She stepped back in confusion "I...I'm sorry I agreed on your behalf, I should have checked first."

Diana bent and retrieved the key but Mulder snatched it from her hand. Another wave of confusion crossed his face and he glared at Diana whose face was one of hurt innocence.

He turned back to Scully and snapped, "Ah, and now my loyal *partner* enters the scene. Didn't your mother teach you that a lie by omission was still a lie, *Agent* Scully? Or were you planning on telling me after this case, a little kick start for poor old Mulder whose lost his memory? Well thanks very fucking much, I can do without..."

Diana looked pitifully at Scully and, grabbing Mulder's arm firmly, interrupted, "Oh Dana, you *knew* I'd come back to him but you let him think otherwise. I know you want the X-files badly, but I never thought you'd deceive him like this..."

Scully literally gaped -- first at Mulder, then Diana. Color drained from her face and the nausea returned in full measure. Then it hit her.

His private email address.

She'd sent him the damned Dear John e-mail just before Skinner called to tell her he was missing.

That's all, folks, she thought and grabbing what few shreds of dignity she could pull together and strode to the lift.

Scully heard Diana say something but Mulder's reply was loud enough for Scully to hear. By the time he'd finished the words were almost a shout. "Can't *one* of you tell me the goddamned truth? What the hell is *really* going on? Christ, Diana, I know I was fucked in the head, even before this shit, but..."

Some instinct, or perhaps some buried memory told him the situation was all wrong. Diana had come to his apartment around 3 p.m. just to 'see how he was settling in and to collect some things she'd left behind.' Although Mulder spent the morning going over his apartment, he had no reason to disbelieve Diana. She habitually squirreled things away in obscure places.

While she searched, Mulder checked his e-mail for Scully's preliminary autopsy report. There were dozens of junk mail messages and he mentally discarded them until locating two from Scully. Without checking the dates, he opened the first one.

Dear Mulder,

I'm sorry to do this by mail...well, perhaps not, considering the last occasion. I understand this will come as a shock, but I trust that you will understand my reasons as you once seemed to understand so much about me.

Since Antarctica, I have felt a growing estrangement in our partnership, one I cannot reconcile without compromising the very principles that you once believed saved you.

I would not abandon you, never that, but the X-files are now yours once more. You have found, or perhaps rediscovered one you perceive to be an ally. You know my feelings, but I also know that you and Diana shared, no doubt still share, an intimacy and therefore something I have no understanding of. Thus, I cannot see your truth with your eyes.

You once told me that the truth would set us free. Yet our truths now differ and thus I must set myself, and by default, you free.

I have left a request for temporary transfer to Quantico on your desk. One of the forensic pathology teachers is going on maternity leave for three months. I have agreed, subject to Skinners approval, to act as her replacement during that period.

Mulder, please understand and respect my reasons for this. It is a temporary reassignment, a breathing space and one I hope will allow you to define your relationship with Diana unhindered. I will, of course, be available always, anytime, for consultation on the X-files. I naturally hope there will later be a place for me there, but if it is not to be, then I, too will understand and respect your wishes.

Yours always, Scully

He read and reread the letter, the forensic report long forgotten. He realized it had been sent prior to his amnesia, but that had not changed the intent, nor the proof that Diana was telling the truth. He'd become so lost in thought he did not seen her come from behind and read over his shoulder. It took him a few moments to register her arms surrounding him, but his body, remembering the sensations his wife could provide, responded and, inevitably, he allowed her to comfort him in a way familiar to both.

If a part of him might have questioned his response, it was pushed aside by the words in his partner's e-mail. Diana had not lied, she *had* come back to him and Scully herself intended withdrawing from their partnership.

As he cried out his pleasure in the arms of his once wife, the pain flooded his mind and he found himself racked with sobs. No post-orgasmic reaction was this, but a bursting dam of confusion that had been prodding his sanity for ten days.

And then Diana, soothing, balming words...yet something was not right. Oh, they came out right, but some gut instinct told him it was off key. Somehow, she was not telling him the complete truth. They started to argue, an all-too-familiar post-sexual letdown for them, and he stormed from the bedroom, jeans in hand, just as a knocking sounded on his door.

His building rage, fueled by the heightened emotions of lovemaking, was unable to focus and thus everyone and everything in his path became a target.

He stormed after the retreating form of his partner along the hallway outside of his apartment, determined not to let her escape so easily. He turned his anger to his jeans, snatching the zipper upwards, inadvertently catching overly sensitized flesh and public hairs in the metal notches. The pain cut through him like a knife and he stumbled and gasped at his stupidity. But it had the effect of directing his anger inwards and he called in a slightly more placating voice, "Scully, wait!"

Once before she had stopped, but not this time. She jabbed viciously at the lift button. Why was it taking so long? Only about four and a half people lived in the building after Mulder's antics drove the residents to seek less interesting premises.


Scully could not trust herself to speak.

"Scully..?" Mulder finally reached her and made a grab for her shoulder, but he had the presence of mind to wince and let go as he felt her stiffen. During his hospital stay Scully invested him with small gestures of affection. A touched hand, a stroked knee or arm, even a kiss on the cheek. But now he felt a coldness, and it terrified some deeply-repressed memory in him. Something was radically wrong with this whole picture, but all he could stumble out was "Scully...what airline?" Without turning, Scully replied simply, "AA."

The lift doors finally opened and she escaped into their sanctuary, thankful they closed quickly, allowing her to escape with some dignity.

Mulder stood there open-mouthed. Jesus, what the fuck was going on? What was happening in his mind, why couldn't he remember?

But he threw the thoughts aside. It was too late, he'd probably done some irreparable damage to their partnership.

What the hell, she was nice and all but did it really matter? He was such a fuck-up. Nothing really mattered except getting the X-files, his road to Samantha. He had them, he was damned well not going to lose them.

Yet his gut churned and he began to shiver at the thought of losing her. The haunted looks in her photos, the sadness. God, how much of it had he put there? They'd been partnered for so long...yet she had implicitly lied about his relationship with Diana.

Or had she?

Think, man! Her e-mail indicated a possible, but not definite, relationship with Diana...a new bed with mirror ceiling...unused condoms -- but Diana had produced one from her bag not half an hour previously. Surely Scully would have known, she was his partner.

Unless he'd kept it from her...the syndicate...Spender...

Christ. if only he fucking remembered! He needed more information than this. How the hell could he make a judgment call based on second hand memories and reports?

Mulder stood there for a long time, so long that Diana had had the good sense to change. As Mulder finally walked back to his apartment, determined to get the truth out his wife, shit, his now-ex-wife, Diana came out, saying she had to go. Her departing words were one of affection, love...and trust. Mulder, suddenly overcome by emotional exhaustion, simply nodded, wondering if he could afford to lose himself in the half bottle of tequila amongst his groceries. Then he thought better of it. Not only had tequila got him into this mess in the first place, he had to be up at 6 a.m. And he could not face a transcontinental flight with a hangover, especially in the company of a partner who no longer wanted to be that.

He glanced down to the grocery bag on the floor beside his door. Scully must have brought it. Inside there were still cold bottles of iced tea, his favorite brand, some orange juice, root beer and a leather bound book. He sucked in his breath and closed his eyes. Iced tea. It was nothing, of course, but Diana disliked the stuff and would therefore never buy it for him. But his partner did. Shit.

He closed and locked his door then flopped on the couch and twisted open a bottle of tea, uncaring that it was no longer icy. He reached inside and grabbed the leather journal. When he opened it and realized what it was, he immediately slammed it shut and leaped from the couch. He rubbed his hand over his face again and through his hair. Scully would not have made an error like that. It was clearly something she wanted to show him.

He opened it again then sieved through his memory, cross- checking the first entry with that catalogued in his mind. It began the day she told him of her terminal cancer.

Mulder took a deep breath and headed for his bedroom. He stripped the bedding and pillows and dragged the entire lot to the basement and threw them into the furnace. Back in his apartment he stripped his jeans and stood under a hot shower for twenty minutes, cleaning his teeth and trying to wash away what now felt ugly. He examined the damage wrought by the zipper and chuckled mirthlessly. That would keep him out of trouble for a week or so.

Finally, feeling a little less sullied, he put some ice in a glass, opened another bottle of tea, sat on the couch and began to read.

*I feel time like a heartbeat, the seconds pumping in my breast like a reckoning. The numerous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal, threatening clarity in the presence of a truth entertained not in youth, but only in its passage. I feel these words as if their meaning were a weight being lifted from me, knowing that you will read them and share my burden, as I have come to trust no other. That you should know my heart, look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belong to you, that are you, is a comfort to me now as I feel the tethers loose and the prospects darken for the continuance of a journey that began not so long ago, and which began again with a faith shaken and strengthened by your convictions. If not for which I might never have been so strong now as I cross to face you and look at you incomplete, hoping that you will forgive me for not making the rest of the journey with you.*

Oh, my God....what had he done.....

Scully could drive no more than half a block from Mulder's apartment. Her hands shook and she was overcome with bitter cold. Her stomach felt gaunt, hollow, but at least the nausea passed. She turned the lights off but switched the heater to full blast, closed her eyes and leaned forward onto the wheel, trying to get a grip on her frayed emotions. She realized she was suffering a mild form of shock and forced herself to take long, even breathes.

A few minutes later Scully glanced up at a passing car. She blinked in surprised recognition at Diana's vehicle. Scully waited until her heartbeat approached normal and her hands stopped shaking then restarted her own vehicle and began the drive home. On the way, her cell phone rang. Although she realized it might be Skinner, it could equally be Mulder. Unable to face that conversation, she ignored the persistent shrilling. When it finally stopped, she reached into her coat and turned it off. If it was Skinner he'd leave a message on her machine and she could return his call from home.

As the warmth from the heater slowly penetrated her body, her analytical mind automatically replayed the events of the evening, from the time she'd knocked on Mulder's door to her escape in the lift. Her memory was not as impressive as Mulder's, but Scully was a trained observer and a good portion of the night's drama had an uneven ring to it.

There was absolutely no doubt in her mind that her knock interrupted something...no, no, not interrupted. As much as she rebelled from the memory, Mulder's slightly glazed eyes and the flush along his torso and God help her the subtle smell, told Scully she'd arrived soon after the deed was done.

But Mulder's face had been swathed in anger. As her rational mind took over, Scully recognized it as the sort of directionless, frustrated anger Mulder displayed with increasing frequency during the past ten days. Yes, he turned angry, bitter words on her, but his tone of voice was even more wrathful when directed at Diana.

What had happened in that bedroom? Had Diana slipped up somehow? Why the hell was she confusing him, driving him to the point of madness...was that her intent? That he fell into bed with her should, in retrospect, not have been surprising. Irrelevant that he'd probably been sleeping with her these past months, the fact remained from his point of view, she was still his wife. Oh, he might logically accept that Diana had left, but the reality of her presence was likely to evoke some response. And he was so painfully dependent right now. For all the times Scully looked upon him as a lost and frightened little boy, nothing compared to what she'd witnessed in the hospital when he thought he was unobserved.

Parking her car outside her apartment, Scully also began to recognize the thick layers of conflicting emotions Mulder suffered. Despite his apparent celibacy during the past years, Mulder was a healthy male in the prime of life. Her meeting with Morton and Littleton resurfaced. Despite his obvious attraction and arousal in her presence, despite his flippant sense of humor that reeked of double entendres, he'd never, not once during all their years together, made a genuine, serious pass at her.

The point was, she thought as she made her way upstairs, he would be feeling the frustration's of abstinence. Falling into bed with Diana was not, Scully told herself, necessarily the same as rekindling a relationship nine years dead.

Scully sighed and pulled her thoughts away from that track. Mulder's sex life had nothing to do with her. It never would.

Yet her mind kept chewing over the idea, like a tongue worrying a mouth ulcer. Despite that night of the stakeout with Tooms, perhaps in the early stages they might have succumbed. But it was too late now, years too late, to become intimate with him now would be somehow...incestuous. Even in the hallway, those months ago, Scully saw it not as a pass, but a moment filled with virtue, a pinnacle of respect and mutual admiration leading to an intimacy they neither expected nor worked towards. It was not lust, or passion, but an expression of overwhelming love and respect. Their emotional response had become visceral and human and if it had followed through, lust might have taken over.

Again, it was just circumstantial attraction.

Not for the first time and despite the subsequent horrors, Scully was thankful of the interruption. The moment need go no further. They both understood then what they meant to one another.

But Diana returned and nothing was the same any more.

Scully sighed and decided on a long bath. She locked her door and checked the machine but the only messages were from Mulder.

The phone rang again as she ran the bath.

"Scully...look I know you're there. Pick up the phone...please Scully, I need to talk to you. I know I'm an asshole but Jesus. if you've stuck with me this long you must know that already...Scully? Look...I realize you wrote that e-mail before the...before my memory loss. I... all I get are cryptic clues lying around the place and no one will tell me what in hell is really going on! I *need* to talk to you. I need to ask you questions about my life, about you...about us...Scully? Please call?"

He sounded so lost...how could she not go to him? What was the point? She didn't have the answers he sought.

Scully stripped and stepped into the tub, allowing the tears to finally overtake her, embracing the warm foam in her arms like the lover she never had...

Would she ever have a lover again?

Twenty minutes passed and the waters cooled. Her crying ceased and the emotional walls began to reform around Agent Scully. They had a case, a frightening case that looked to be the tip of an iceberg. This was real, this was what she did, what they did, their personal lives must not interfere...the phone rang again as she wrapped the robe around her.

"Scully, y'know if I knew where you lived I'd come to see you...though on second thought, you've probably got a six- foot four-inch, two hundred and twenty pound husband ready to beat the crap outa me, so maybe I'm safer here. Pick up the phone...I've just been on the line to Skinner and he's filled me in on a few more details about this case. This is business Scully, I..."

"What do you need to know that's not in the autopsy report, Mulder?"

She could hear him sigh as she held the piece to her ear and curled up on the couch, file folder in hand. "Scully...look, about what I said...about what.."

"Mulder, have you read my prelim on the autopsy?"

"No... I..."

"Well, I suggest you read it. Oh, and Mulder, please don't call me again tonight, I'm going out and then I'd like an undisturbed sleep. I'll discuss the case with you tomorrow on the flight." Scully hung up before he could even think of a reply.


DAY 20 - 7:10am

The image of his half-naked body, flushed with sex, unzipped jeans obscuring a dark thatch, came unbidden to her mind as she saw him at the check-in counter. Scully lowered her head. She was as angry and hurt as she had ever been, but a big neon sign in her mind kept flashing *amnesia* reminding her that fundamentally, this was her partner. She had no right to be thinking of him in any other way. Diana and his marriage was his business. His sex life was his business. They had work to do. It was simple, really, all she had to do was fall back on the formalized etiquette of their partnership. It was a familiar dance, the tune well-memorized. Yeah, real simple.

Mulder glanced around like a nervous sixteen year on his first date. His eyes lit when he saw her, then narrowed at the dark circles under her eyes. Christ, what an asshole he was.

"Morning Mulder." Scully said in a business like tone as she checked her luggage. She absolutely forbade herself from falling into full bitch mode.

"Hey, Scully, listen, about last night..." He desperately wanted to take back the previous evening, wanted somehow to convey his confusion. Shit, a crowded check-in counter was not the place. "Eh...want some coffee or something before we go?"

Scully shook her head no as she glanced at the panel above their head "It's already boarding and we have to check our weapons." That's good, Dana, just keep the tone professional, you can do this.

Mulder nodded and followed her lead. He'd almost gotten lost trying to find the American Airlines counter, the airport had received a partial face lift since 1991.

Mulder was thankful the flight was not full, they had a vacant place between them. Scully would be familiar with his habit of grabbing the aisle seat to accommodate his long legs, but as he had no memory of flying with her, it came as a surprise when her knuckles whitened during take off.

"You okay?" he asked softly as the plane ascended. "I'm fine, Mulder." Just fine and dandy, partner. "Sure you are, that's why the material on the seat arm is shredded."

Scully glanced at him in exasperation, but then she sighed. She could do this. She could act as if last night had no effect on her. I mean, she thought, we spend our lives seeking truths, as long as those truths began just outside the circle of our complex relationship. Inside, it's denial all the way. All she had to do was dance the dance she knew.

"Okay, Mulder, it's something you know about," as if by saying that she could justify revealing her weakness -- but she needed to temper it with his. "You hate insects, you have, or maybe had a phobia about fire and I have control issues and flying is one of them."

He blinked in surprise. "Well, if this is getting to know you time, did I confess I have a lingerie fetish, too?"

Scully allowed herself to relax as he made an attempt to recapture some of their natural banter, knowing it was the Mulder equivalent of an apology.

"No...but I know you have at least two pairs of shorts with embarrassing prints and a penchant for watching the adult channel at 3 a.m."

God had she really say that? She'd just spent the last dozen hours telling herself his sex life was nothing to do with her and she comes out with an opening like that? Oh, well done, Dana!

He blinked in shock. "And pray tell how did you come by such knowledge, Agent Scully?"

"Mulder, do you have any idea how many hotels we've stayed in? How many times you've almost missed planes and I've packed for you?"

"No...but I'd guess the reverse also applies, thus my lingerie fetish."

Scully decided the conversation was far too Mulderish, especially without caffeine in her system. She busied herself pulling files from her briefcase and spreading them across the vacant seat between them.

"Mulder, did you read my autopsy report or not?"

He sat up, realizing the Dana part of Agent Scully was one face of a complex multiple personality. He didn't yet know how to call it up on demand, but he needed to test the waters before he could work with her.

"Dana...Scully...Look, before we get down to business, before I can work on this thing, I need to get a handle on our partnership, of the way we work together. I know you want to concentrate on this, but I need to know who I'm working with. You've been....extraordinarily generous with your time and patience these last ten days and I...acted like an asshole last night...I'm sorry you got caught up in it, I was out of line big time."

Scully pursed her lips and frowned, suddenly empathizing with him. God, how was she supposed to help him define their relationship when she was at a loss to define it herself? She pulled off her glasses, rubbed the bridge of her nose between her finger and thumb the sighing softly replied "Okay, Mulder, but I need coffee first, lots of coffee."

Scully licked her lips as their breakfast trays were finally removed. She was on her third cup of the hated airline beverage -- nobody could seriously call it coffee -- but it seemed a better option than talking. Finally, Mulder's exasperation showed and he quipped, "I can't believe I remained partnered to someone for seven years who actually likes in-flight coffee. Especially not three cups...not that I'm counting."

Scully couldn't help a grin tug her lips. "Mulder, your private life has nothing to do with me. As for anything else, maybe you should just start by asking me some questions."

Mulder reconsidered. "By definition, you also mean your private life has nothing to do with me....okay, sure, I understand that, but you've just got through telling me we've been living on top of each other for seven years...you know my apartment inside out. I got the impression we were friends as well as partners. C'mon Scully, it is inevitable that we know more about each other than what exchanges occur in the office, that psych profile demonstrated that. Shit, you even knew about Phoebe. Look, to work with you I need to know how your thought processes work, your background. I would have profiled you a long time ago, but I can't effectively do that now because a lot of information about the way we work is missing."

Scully blinked in sudden shock. He would have profiled her long ago....shit, of course he would! She'd just never thought of it like that before.

Mulder continued, "Scully, you're all I have in the way of private as well as professional memories, so there will be times when I'll seek your memory as a guideline to my private life. I know that's unfair and I'm sorry, but all I can ask is you give me what you know, nothing more."

Scully, remembering Morton's words, castigated herself and nodded mutely.

"Okay, I finally had the brains to look up your file last night and read it, and your treatise...impressive, a budding physicist turned medical doctor with a definite penchant for dead bodies rather than live ones."

Scully raised her eyebrow in a frown.

"Oh don't get me wrong, you like a mystery, you like to solve puzzles and live patients are too easy, too mundane. Nope, you stuck with me, with the X-files because you need to be challenged. Am I right?" He flashed her a disarming grin.

Scully was floored. Mulder's psychology degree often exited stage left at the beginning of a case, only to reemerge at breathtakingly inconvenient moments. Like right now. She inclined her head in what might be interpreted as an affirmation, realizing with a shock that he had managed in a handful of simple words, to clarify what she had been battling in her mind since El Rico. The reason she stayed, it was just so simple. Oh, it ran far deeper, of course, it ran to her abduction and cancer and Melissa and Emily and Samantha and God help her, Mulder himself. But when it came right down to it, he challenged her and despite the agony, she would have her life no other way.

Mulder continued. "You're not married and live alone in Georgetown. You've spent almost as much time in hospitals as I have due to work-related incidents, including your cancer which I most definitely consider work-related. You keep an overnight bag in my closet but nothing in my bathroom, yet I have no doubt you know exactly how many shirts I own and what drawer I keep my socks in. You're a somewhat anal retentive workaholic and you have the heart of a saint. I know that because despite curiosity as the driving force, anyone who stays with me more than six days let alone six years is either a saint or insanely masochistic. After last night, I'm inclined toward sainthood. Your report summaries are most definitely a foil to my more outlandish notions, yet it's very clear that rather than debunk the work, you have been the sole reason for its validation. By all accounts you are single-handedly responsible for the X-files continued existence, for without that validation I would have quietly been committed and remained committed to the nearest psychiatric prison."

Scully sat in stunned silence for a few moments before replying, "Well, Mulder, I guess that pretty well sums it up, although I'd have to disagree about the reasons for the X- files reopening.

He snorted. "You mean you don't disagree with the psychiatric prison part?"

Scully smiled. "That option is still open."

He smirked, then added, "Yet it tells me nothing about who Dana Scully is, about how we relate to one another."

"Mulder, we have a committed professional relationship," she stressed professional, wanting desperately to sidestep the previous evening. "We respect one another's professionalism." Yep, if she threw it in enough times she could convince them both of it. "Although I have admittedly been unwilling to subscribe to your beliefs, as you pointed out to me a long time ago, I have always respected the journey. I have and always will listen to your ideas and, not without argument, you have generally listened and I like to think, for the most part respected mine. The events of the past six and a half years have taught me that Hamlet's rejoinder to Horatio was right, but I have never accepted that science, even if it necessarily be rewritten, cannot explain, if not today then at sometime, the events which we have witnessed.

"Even...even those events which have so deeply affected our personal lives, the loss of the Consortium...I...I must now freely admit have some basis in a reality not readily explained by conventional wisdom. As to what that reality may yet prove to be, only time will tell. But I do know that once, I believed you followed the tune of a drummer who played for your ears alone. I followed you willingly to see where it led. I now hear the beat of that same drummer and though I may not march to its tune, I am no longer deaf to its sounds. And I need to know more than ever where it will lead us.

"Mulder," Scully turned in her seat to look clearly into his eyes, "If at times we have doubted our respective convictions, we never doubted our strength in one another. Despite our differences, perhaps because of them, we have always been there for each another, that's a part of what being partners is all about. It's odd, but all we really had for a very long time was each other."

So much for professionalism, she idly thought, but she desperately wanted him to consider the subject of Diana outside the sphere of their relationship as partners, despite what her e-mail implied.

"I'm not unconvinced that your memories will not return. Let's just try to work together on this case and I promise you...I'll treat you exactly the same as usual, if you will take into consideration that I'm on your side, even when I'm opposing you."

He sat and chewed his lip in silence for some minutes then replied softly, "I've absorbed everything I can of our lives together, of the case files and reports. I've read conclusions that seems more like soliloquies. But Scully, they're still just words. I couldn't *feel* what we've experienced. I needed your emotions to guide me. I needed you to breathe life into what we are...and I think in some ways I found that last night."

Scully froze, she did not want this conversation. "Mulder, your personal relationship with Diana is nothing to do with..."

He shook his head and silenced her by placing his left hand over hers. "Not that...You brought a journal with you last night..."

"Oh..." Scully closed her eyes and realized she was flushing. How could she have been so stupid? "Mulder...that was out of context. I...I was undergoing treatment for my cancer then. I was dying. Last night before...well, it doesn't matter now."

"Yes, it does, Scully. You brought that journal for a reason."

Scully gulped and pulled her hand from beneath his. "Mulder, you inadvertently read it when I was very close to giving up. It was a totally different world then. Last night I...I wanted to try and convey something of our trust, of what we had become to each other. But it's different now."

"Is it?" he asked gently, "Then why bring the journal? Scully, your words have given me some small part of what I have lost, of what our being together has meant these last years. If... if the events at El Rico are the prelude to the future, then your journal gave me strength to realize..." he trailed off, unable to verbalize his confused emotions. "Scully, I'm no good at this, I can't feel what I'm supposed to feel because I don't know you, I don't know the person I have become. And I can't help feeling how unfair that is on you, especially making an asshole out of myself last night. But your journal let me inside you, inside what we are and I hope, if you'll give me a little time, an opportunity to feel that way once more again."

Mulder felt his heart move and some lost memory surfaced for just a moment, some vague passing shadow that caused him to lean across and kiss her chastely on the cheek.

"Thank you, Scully...for that and...everything."

Her bottom lip lifted in reply she asked in a soft voice

"Now what about that autopsy report?"


DAY 20 - 8:40am

"So what you're saying is, these men were dead prior to the time they murdered their families?" Mulder looked at his partner in astonishment. "No...no I'm not saying that."

"Well then what is your medical opinion Agent Scully?"

"I can't explain it, at least not yet. We have fifteen independent witnesses who testified to seeing this man walk into the school yard, kill all four of his children, then turn the gun on his wife. When his body was found three hours later it was in a state of decomposition commensurate with someone who had died three days earlier. We've seen rapid decay before, on numerous occasions, but even in those cases the vitreous humor has given a pretty fair indication of the approximate time of death. In this case, it is commensurate with the findings that we are seeing a three day old corpse. At this time I have no explanation other than that all fifteen witnesses were wrong."

"Except that the murder weapon was found on him and powder stains on his fingers and that some witnesses testified to his 'decayed appearance and nauseating smell, like rotting meat.' So, Scully if it wasn't him, who was it? And why is this man lacking a few necessary body parts?"

Mulder spread the autopsy photos across the open trays in front of them, oblivious to the aghast looks of a passing stewardess.

"What is this stuff did you say? Straw?"

Scully rolled her lips in frustration. "Yeah, that's what it is all right. We've sent a sample to the lab to try and determine the origin. There were no seeds mixed in it, but I'm hoping trace herbicides might give us a clue as to the source." But the look on her face said she didn't hold much hope. "The other thing that concerns me is that livor mortis had set in when he was discovered. The amount and pattern of blood settling in the upper thighs and buttocks would indicate he was seated for some hours soon after death. The only discrepancy between this and the autopsies on the L.A. victims is livor mortis in their cases indicate the victim maintained a post mortem standing position. They could have been restrained, but there are no ligature marks indicating this and no livor mortis on the base of his feet except in the arches, indicating they were, for all it seems impossible, standing with their full weight on their feet at the time.

Mulder took a deep breath and blew it out. "So this is why we were assigned the case, huh."

"That and the fact that this is the fifth such 'straw man' to have apparently killed his family in the last month, four in L.A. and the fifth in D.C. The details appear to be consistent throughout, as do the autopsy results except for the placement of livor mortis. Man kills family, disappears, turns up dead anywhere from an hour to three days later, decomposition commensurate with time of death between three and four days prior to discovery and an autopsy reveals a recent, rough incision and an absence of heart, liver, spleen, stomach and kidneys and intestines."

"Ah yes, but well padded with straw. Anything on the toxicology?"

"Well, without a liver there's only so much to go on, and that revealed nothing except in one case, residual evidence of amphetamines." He raised his eyebrows in interest but Scully shook hers no. "It was insufficient to have incited the pathological behavior necessary to tie his family members up and shove each one in front of passing trains during the course of a night."

"I suppose having your internal organs removed would upset anyone's day," said Mulder, "but it's interesting that in each case, only the immediate family members were killed. In the last one, he had to fight his way through other parents, children and teachers to reach his remaining daughter. With an automatic weapon he could easily have removed any obstacles, but his intent was clear. Do we have all the family histories in each case?"

"Yeah, that hasn't helped, the backgrounds are clean. No history of domestic violence or child abuse, none of the perpetrators had any criminal record or arrest record for violence. None of them appeared to have any pressing financial problems."

"Happy families. Maybe a little too happy, don't you think?"

"Well, they weren't perfect, either Mulder, it's just that there is no obvious reason for them to have massacred their entire families."

"Maybe they didn't. Maybe they were dead before they went on the rampage." Scully threw him a look and replied, "We have one surviving family member, let's see what she has to say."

They spent the remainder of the flight going over case histories unrelated to their current investigation. It had become a familiar routine during the previous weeks. Although Scully sometimes found it taxing, with the vantage of twenty-twenty hindsight, she often found herself more willing to agree to some of Mulder's way out conclusions than at the time of the case. Her observations about herself and Mulder continued to build a foundation for her amnesiac partner to stand on. By the time they exited LAX, a certain camaraderie, seemingly lost the previous evening, had been at least partially reconstructed.

The day's events proved frustrating and by the time they collapsed in their hotel room that night, Skinner's message that three more brutal family slayings, followed by the straw-filled body of the male perpetrator being located some hours later, added urgency to frustration.

Scully walked through their adjoining door without knocking and flopped on the bed. He was in the process of ripping his tie off and ordering room service on the phone. He looked at his partner bemusedly. She had neither knocked nor sought permission to enter and had given no mind to sprawling across his bed.

He looked at her questioningly and she mouthed, "Club sandwich, toasted, and a green salad." Then she stood and went to raid his mini bar of a soda, tossing him an iced tea as he hung up.

"Thanks." He snatched it from the air, and sitting at the foot of his bed, removed his shoes and socks.

Scully took a few gulps and said, "I'm going to have a shower first." Then headed back into her room.

He watched her retreating back, wondering at their familiarity. But, then they'd been traveling together for six years and he recalled her words about the hundreds, if not thousands of hotel rooms they'd inhabited.

He sighed and ran his hands across his face, unable to shake the terror of the girl's voice from his mind. That she had lost a leg in the horrific nightmare of her family's slaughter had not been enough. The horror that would never leave her was not just watching her baby brother's head removed by the passing train, nor even her mother's terror as her body arched under the tracks. The greatest horror of all was that it been at the hands of her once beloved father. A father, she said, who was not her father at all.

"Mulder," Scully spoke between bites. "It's not uncommon, in fact highly understandable that girl would disassociate his actions from the man she considered to be her father. That she should ascribe the violence to some nightmarish monster inhabiting her father's body is a..."

"C'mon Scully, it wasn't as simple as that. You heard her, she said his skin sloughed off in her hands as she grabbed at him, that he didn't bleed when her mother stabbed him. His eyes were slightly whitened, like cataracts and...'

"All of those points can be considered in light of hysteria, the belief that a monster made manifest had done these things to her and that it inhabited the body of her father is her way of dealing with the event."

They argued back and forth for some time, establishing nothing but their relationship of skeptic and believer.

"Well then what's your theory?" Scully finally asked in exasperation. "I don't have one -- yet, but there is one element we have not yet clearly analyzed."

"What's that?"

"What all these men have in common."

"Well, so far, nothing."

"Doesn't that bother you Scully? I mean irregardless of your thoughts on what may or may not have driven them to this, or the exact cause of the deaths, which no one has been able to determine..."

"Well evisceration does tend to kill you," she interrupted with a slight edge of sarcasm. "Yes, but can you categorically state that was the cause of death?"

She sucked in her breath in for a retort then expelled it without speaking.

"No, I thought not. But lets put that aside for a minute. What connects these men, what commonality do they share?"

They spent the next few hours going over backgrounds, covering everything from religious affiliations to charitable donations, physical characteristics, even the name of their stockbrokers, but nothing seemed to fit. Finally, exhausted and jet-lagged, Scully called it a night.

DAY 25

Background checks and interviews gave them nothing new to go on, every lead seemed to dead end. Each of the men had apparently loving relationships with their families, but not so perfect as to be out of the ordinary. One child was mentally retarded while another had a drug problem. One wife was being treated for breast cancer and one of the men had a progressive prostate problem, but nothing about their medical histories indicated a connection.

They traced back through records and discovered the final victim, Leonard Fodham, had flown to D.C. from L.A. the day before killing his Washington-based family. That explained the livor mortis, Mulder argued. Scully refuted it as impossible that a dead man could cross the continent as an airline passenger. They eventually tracked down the stewardesses on the flight, but no one could remember anything about the man seated in 42B on a flight a week ago.

Attempting to find a connection between the men, whether they had attended a conference or meeting together, went to the same gym, restaurant -- anything that might give them a connecting point -- led nowhere.

On their sixth night in L.A., Mulder was munching sunflower seeds as he lay on his bed, while Scully sat at the table staring at her laptop.

"Mulder, have you ever heard of a substance called kava?"

"Yeah, it's a traditional drink from Fiji, some root plant that's been fermented, used in ceremonies."

"Ye...es, and no, it's not fermented and its not just from Fiji." Scully read the files in her computer then decided to do another Internet search. After a few minutes she closed the connection and read the information to her partner.

"Kava is a derivative from the pepper tree family, a root crop grown in tropical climates, although it is found in numerous countries, the most potent kava, with thirty-seven active ingredients, is found in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Vanuatu kava is renown as the strongest in the world. Kava is prepared by, depending on the exact island of origin, having young, virginal boys chew the raw root until it is soft and pliable. The semi-ground root is then squeezed through coconut fiber to extract the juice. The undiluted juice is then drunk, generating a heightening of the senses not unlike Indian hemp. Kava, however, is non- addictive and in fact, is the only legal narcotic in the world. In recent years, it has been investigated for various medicinal properties including the treatment of chronic pain, menstrual pain, prostate cancer and an assortment of other ills. The kava trade is fast becoming an important cash crop resource for Vanuatu..."

Scully trailed off and took the glasses from her nose. The automatic pattern they had fallen into during the prior days was so familiar to her, it slipped her mind for long periods that Mulder still suffered amnesia.

He, too had immersed himself in the case at hand, accepting the easy working relationship with his partner and ignoring her presence as an attractive woman. But as he sat up and glanced at Scully in her satin blue pajamas, it crossed his mind once more to wonder if they had ever been lovers. He felt himself hardening as he watched her soft presence. Jesus, how long could he go without sex? It'd been different when he was in the BSU. Weeks passed while he lost himself into the pathological madness of serial killers. The sickness of that generally rendered him all but impotent. And his stint in the VCU had allowed relief in the arms of Diana. He mentally sighed, understanding why his former self indulged in the mindless erotica of videos and the adult channel. Maybe he better start checking out those channels after Scully went to bed.

"All very fascinating, Scully, but what's this have to do with our suspects?"

"Okay, lets look at them in turn. One, Fletcher, worked as a research chemist for Morton Pharmaceuticals, which specializes in researching tropical plants for all purposes. I've finally tracked down his specialties and kava is mentioned as one of his areas of study. Two, Gasfihd, worked for an import firm specializing in South Pacific imports, including coconut soap, copra, coffee and a whole range of obscure items including kava. Three, Jorton, is a trade representative for the South Pacific Trade Forum. Four, Joffe, is a part owner in a cattle plantation on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. No specific connection except that it's in one of the two countries listed as exporting kava. Five, Fodham, was a marketing consultant. One of his clients was the South Pacific Traders Association."

By this time, Mulder had sat up and was all ears.

Scully continued. "We don't have much yet on the last two victims that came in on Thursday, but one is a pharmacist from Morton and the other a Washington-based attorney who spent a few days in L.A. last week. I'd like to see his client database."

"I think you just scored the ring, Scully."

"Maybe, although the connections are tenuous, at best."

"That may be so, but at least it's a start." He glanced at his watch as Scully yawned. "C'mon partner." He got off his own bed and walked across to the desk where she sat, closing her laptop and pulling her gently by the elbow "Time you got some sleep."

Scully smiled and nodded, then walked through the adjoining door to her room. She called good night to him, not bothering to close the door behind her. Mulder suddenly wondered about the meaning of that gesture, but pushed it aside as he let his near eidetic memory peruse back through the files on each of the victims. An hour later, he settled down to watch the Playboy channel.


DAY 26

The following morning, Mulder found Scully e-mailing a progress report to Skinner, including the possible kava connection. Fifteen minutes later, as they walked to breakfast, she was rewarded with a phone call.

Skinner congratulated her on making the connection then asked, "Do you and Agent Mulder have your passports with you?"

"I have mine, sir, but I'm not sure about Agent Mulder. He usually does, but..." Scully did not need to elaborate.

"That's all right, if he doesn't, I'll have someone drop by his apartment and have it couriered there."

"Why, sir?" She mouthed the question "Passport?" to Mulder who frowned, but nodded.

"Agent Scully, I happened to be dining with someone from the State Department last evening. It seems the roving ambassador for the South Pacific died over there late yesterday afternoon, Washington time."

"Yes, sir?"

"His death immediately followed his alleged attempt to kill a young woman he was sharing a residence with. She managed to escape with a badly cut arm. The incident was witnessed by five separate staff members, including his aide, who insisted the ambassador had been acting peculiar the previous forty-eight hours. When they managed to restrain him, he collapsed on the floor. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital."

"Cause of death?"

At this, Scully motioned for Mulder to come close so he could hear Skinner on the phone. "Heart attack is the initial theory, but that's only because no autopsy has been performed, yet. There's no-one qualified to do so. Something we're particularly interested in is what his aide reported. The ambassador had a large incision on his stomach tied together with what appeared to be fishing line. The aide insists it was not there the prior weekend when they went SCUBA diving together."

"Surely someone there can perform an autopsy to ascertain the nature of the incision?"

"Apparently not, Agent Scully, it's a tiny island nation with limited medical facilities. Because of quarantine procedures, they can't ship the body to another country unless the coffin is hermetically sealed, and that precludes an autopsy at a later date. State was going to send someone across from Australia, but under the circumstances it comes under FBI jurisdiction. Given your recent report, I'm sending you two."

"Where are we going, sir?"



DAY 30 - 12.30pm

Scully pushed her soggy hair from the nape of her neck and wondered for the hundredth time how any sane person could work in this climate. The flight from Los Angeles to Fiji had been tiring enough, but the heat that stuck them as they exited the plane was almost overwhelming. The agents had absolutely no tropical wear and Scully's first order of business was, after a necessary sleep, to buy a wardrobe of suitable clothes. Unfortunately, anything even vaguely business-like was stifling hot. In the end, with advice from a gentle Indian saleslady, she gave up and settled for linen shorts, lightweight skirts and blouses and thin cotton vests that would cover her weapon -- just. She would not carry a gun in her purse, it was far too inaccessible in an emergency. As far as she was concerned it was all going into her expense report, including the swimwear. And accounting better cough up or she'd have words.

Then they'd been held at customs in Vanuatu. Airport security had a quiet fit over their weapons, then went apoplectic at the cartons of bulky forensic equipment accompanying them. Scully would not have minded so much except for the absence of air conditioning...and that it was 2 a.m. Mulder's flippant sarcasm had, for the most part, gone unnoticed due to language differences, but he was about to lose it when someone from Foreign Affairs belatedly arrived to sort out the mess. Within minutes, they exited the airport with an apologetic government flunky and Forrest Watkins, aide to the now-deceased roving ambassador.

Fortunately, the hotel was only a few minutes away and with the promise of a 6:30 wake up call, the agents turned their air conditioning on to maximum and collapsed in adjoining rooms.

The promised wake up call never came, resulting in a missed breakfast. Scully finished her autopsy to the accompaniment of a grumbling stomach.

"Can I get you a cup of tea, Dr. Scully?" Simeon, the ni- Vanuatu orderly who had assisted Scully asked politely.

Scully smiled her thanks and said, "That would be great Simeon, then you can wrap up the body, I'm finished here."

The autopsy had taken almost six hours, longer than normal because of the interruptions from various medical staff within the hospital. Autopsies were a novelty, as were visiting forensic pathologists, and Scully had found herself the undesired center of attention. At one time she'd counted no less than eight people in the room with her. That would never have been a problem, but the air conditioning in the tiny morgue was all but defunct and the strongest deodorants in the world could not possibly cut through the variety of body odors that mixed with the smell of a badly-refrigerated week-old corpse. To add insult to injury, there were no shower facilities. Scully's olfactory nerves had never been quite the same since her cancer and for once, she was grateful.

As she sat at an outside table sipping tea, the familiar lanky form of her partner came striding down the narrow driveway. She looked twice, unaccustomed to seeing him in khaki shorts, open-necked short-sleeved shirt untucked to cover his weapon, and leather sandals. Watkins' appearance that morning had assured them that casual dress, even among the diplomatic community, was the only way anyone tolerated the heat. Scully paused for a moment to admire her partner. Even in this heat, with sweat stains under his armpits, he managed to look good. Too damned good, she thought as her eyes roved across his long legs. Thoughts of his bare torso and open jeans with a thatch of dark hair and a body flushed with sex overlaid her view of him as he approached. She pushed them aside roughly.

Mulder sat beside her at the table and deftly pilfered one of her cookies but Scully managed to slap his hand. She saw him involuntarily wrinkle his nose, knowing he hated the morgue smell on her and she threatened. "Keep your hands off my cookies or I'll lift my arm and knock you out entirely." He chuckled, "No air conditioning, huh?"

"Oh, it made all the right noises, it even puddled all over the floor, but I don't seriously think anything could cope in this heat." He pulled his lips together, "So what did you find?"

"Same old same old, except the sutures, if you can call them that, appear to be 30-pound test nylon fishing line and the straw was more like dried grass cuttings. What about you?"

"Oh, I've had a thrilling morning. If you're finished here, how 'bout we head back to the hotel, grab a shower and some lunch and I'll fill you in."

"You're on."

"So the local police," Mulder talked between mouthfuls, "Have concluded it's black magic and essentially refuse to deal with it, considering it out of their jurisdiction."

Scully sat with increasing frustration as Mulder filled her in on what he'd found. "But surely there's diplomatic pressure to resolve it?"

"That's why they sent us."

Scully rolled her eyes and finished the last of her salad.

"There is one lead, a tenuous one I admit, but we have an appointment with the museum curator's assistant at 4 p.m. I still haven't covered the kava aspect yet, but I'd like to get a handle on this black magic thing first."

Scully rolled her eyes at her partner's priorities, but she was simply too enervated to argue. Checking her watch, she wished there was time for a third shower before leaving for the museum, but it was already 3:45. "Okay, let's get going."


"It's not often we get law enforcement officers from other countries visiting. You're quite the news around town," Kalpat Kilni said as he led them into his shabby office.

Scully gave a sick smile, wondering how long she could keep the autopsy report under wraps. Despite being the capital of a country, Port Vila was a tiny town with a rumor spread rate just a smidgen under the speed of light.

Mulder, disgruntled with his fruitless morning at the decrepit police station, came right to the point. "The police advised you might be able to shed some light on the events leading to Ambassador Gordon's demise."

Scully grimaced and watched Kilni's face close up. He replied tersely, "I don't know anything more than that he attacked his girlfriend and died soon after, a heart attack, I hear. Although, of course you would know that by now." He stared at Scully in defiance.

"Mister Kilni, no one is trying to appoint blame, we're just here to find out what happened," Scully said gently.

"I can't help you, I'm afraid, I know nothing about it."

"Well then what *do* you know about Mister Kilni? The police seem to feel that black magic was involved. Doesn't that strike you as rather odd? Is there some facet of the culture, some rituals that might explain such an occurrence?" Mulder asked in growing exasperation.

Scully gently kicked Mulder under the table and threw him a slightly pleading look. The heat was getting to both of them and they would get nowhere by aggressive questioning of a public servant, especially one who appeared to be hiding something.

Just at that moment a baseball capped t-shirted form ambled into the office. He was looking down at an open file and talking as he entered, oblivious to the agents.

"Shit, Kal, you know as well as I do you're supposed to sign these LPOs *before* I fly. Every time my secretary goes chasing money from the government, there's always some problem with these purchase orders..." he trailed off as he realized they were not alone on the room "Oh...sorry, mate, I didn't know..."

"No! No problem, Gary," Kilni's face registered relief and he ushered the Australian into his office, hoping the agents might take the hint and leave. An uncomfortable silence followed for a few moments until the pilot held out his hand and introduced himself.

"Gary Crane, please to meet you."

Mulder and Scully introduced themselves but made no move to depart. Craig noticed Kilni's face and with a slight grin replied, "Well you're all the news around town. Here to investigate Gordon's death, hmm?"

The agents nodded mutely and Craig added, "I bet no one told you about the little fracas he had with the chiefs up at Craig Cove two days before he tried killing Junie."

Kilni's face clouded but Mulder's and Scully's opened in curiosity.

"What was the nature of this fracas ?" Mulder asked.

"It's the world's worst kept secret. Everyone knows Gordon was trying to capitalize on the growing kava trade here. It's becoming big, all this new age and alternative medicine stuff, especially in the States. Most kava comes from an island in the north, Espiritu Santo, but Gordon was trying to negotiate, on his own behalf, a little deal with the chiefs up on Ambrym Island."

"Does his aide Watkins know about this?"

"Sure, I'd bet Watkins was in on it. I don't think there's anything illegal about an ambassador setting up his own private export company is there?"

Mulder's face remained impassive. Crane shrugged and continued. "Anyways, there's been a lot of political infighting about protecting the kava industry, keeping it exclusive to ni-Vanuatu. The problem is, of course, finding a market for it and developing potential pharmaceuticals. The States is one avenue, although the European trade might prove more lucrative -- none of those pesky FDA laws to bother with over there. I dunno if it's any help, but Gordon had a major argument with the chiefs over how much he was prepared to pay. They put the ante up and he objected. Then two days later he's trying to kill Junie and drops dead. It's probably a coincidence, of course, but there's a good reason why the police won't follow up, isn't there, Kal?"

Kilni's face remained closed and Crane shrugged.

"And what might this reason be?" Mulder asked, his mind processing the kava and Santo connection.

"It's Ambrym Island. None of the local police would be seen dead going up there."

"Why not?" Scully asked irritably "Black magic?"

"Ambrym is *the* Island of Magic. No one tangles with them, that's why the police wouldn't have said anything to you this morning. Shit-scared, ain't that right, Kal?"

The assistant curator was busy signing the LPOs and pointedly ignored the comment.

"How would we get to Craig Cove if we wanted to talk to these chiefs?"

"You can fly, there's flights twice a week, but it won't do you much good. They don't live in Craig Cove, they just came down to meet Gordon. I'd reckon by now everyone's back up in Fanal Village. It's a half day's trip from the airport by boat, then a day and a half trek across the volcanoes."

Scully sighed and pursed her lips.

Mulder asked "Is there another way?"

"Oh sure," Crane replied with a grin "You can charter my helicopter and I'll have you up there in two hours. The only thing is, it'd have to be soon. In two days I've got a one month charter from a gold exploration company. And there ain't no other chopper in the country."

"Look, Mulder, I really don't think this is a good idea. We've no reason to go traipsing off in the jungle following scant leads based on hearsay from someone who clearly has a vested interest in making a buck out of this!" Scully sipped her lemonade at Jill's American Cafe in the center of the small town. The pilot, Gary Crane, had left them there to close up his office across the road. "We still need to follow up on kava exports..."

"C'mon, Scully," Mulder interrupted, "We can get on to the kava-exporting aspect later. We're here primarily to investigate the ambassador's death and this is the best lead so far. Everyone else I've talked to clams up like a stone. What's the matter, aren't you up for a nice trip to the jungle?"

Scully ran one of her patented glares across her face, but she realized the reason was probably missed on him. Mulder had read the reports from their other little forest excursions but he would not have grasped the significance of his unintended jibe. And, she conceded, the heat was making her snappy. The current thunderstorm did nothing to improve her mood, having neither lowered temperature not the oppressing humidity.

"I just see no reason to go haring off on a wild goose chase until we have something more to go on."

They watched the pilot negotiate the road in the middle of the downpour. He grinned as he came back dripping to their table. Shaking off the worst of the water, he sat back down and said, "Well, I got one honeymoon drop at 6 a.m., then I should be free at about 6.30. I can have you up there before they leave for their gardens and with luck, back here to Vila before tomorrow's afternoon squall."

Mulder glanced at his partner. He had not yet been able to fully categorize her different moods, or expressive looks, but he could tell that she was resigned to the idea.

"Okay, Craig, you got yourself a charter."

The pilot smiled and stood to leave. As an afterthought he added, "Look, just as a precaution, bring an overnight bag. You never know in places like this, it may take a day or so to get them to talk."

Scully rolled her eyes in resignation.


"Aw, hell,"

They both heard the chopper pilot over their voice activated earphones.

Mulder looked questioningly at him as the awesome volcanic landscape, expanded in their panoramic view through the front of the machine. Scully had opted to sit in the rear. The pilot suggested he remove the doors before they left Vila airport, enabling a better view. Scully had blanched and declined but Mulder naturally jumped at the chance. Yet as the flight progressed, Scully found herself inching more towards the space between the front seats. The view was fantastic, beyond surrealistic. A large, flattened cone shaped island rose up for the sea. It looked as if some god- sized mountain had been sheared off at just above the base and three boils puckered along the top side of the cut. >From the boils, occasional orange-tinged clouds of black soot and contrasting white steam erupted perhaps six thousand feet into the air. The southeasterly Trade Winds blew the effluvia to one side, exposing the ruptured hearts within.

"There's been a shark attack off Paama Island..." The pilot paused, listening to the control tower then turning to catch Scully's eyes as he spoke to Mulder "They're only four minutes from here...they need me to do a medivac."

Scully replied "I'm a doctor, can we help?"

The pilot's eyes lit and he spoke into his microphone. Neither Scully nor Mulder could hear the control tower, just the pilot's replies. He turned back to them and said "I can rig this to take a wounded passenger on a stretcher, plus a medic. There's a doctor on board the boat that pulled him up, he can come back with me. I've done medivacs with him before. The thing is, I know the boat, I can't put down on it and it's a good two hour's run to the nearest suitable landing point but it doesn't sound like he'll make it that long. The water's flat so I can winch them up, but I'm gonna have to put down somewhere first and get the back doors off. It's at least another twenty minutes flight to Fanal village..."

His eyebrows lifted at Scully and she curled her lips in regret, if she had agreed to fly without doors in the first place...But he caught her look and added quickly, "No, I'll have to drop you as well as the doors, there's not enough room for anyone else."

Mulder nodded for him to do it and the chopper began to descend. Their take off had already been delayed five hours due to heavy thunderstorms that had set in during the night. It had cleared at dawn for an hour or so, but by seven am the heavens opened. An overnight stay in the village now seemed inevitable.

The Agents took the time to examine the landscape, stunned speechless at the primitive beauty. As the pilot looked around he added "I'll be back by five thirty and we'll get to the village before dark. I know this area, there's a cascade just over there where you can cool off while you wait."

"How stable are the volcanoes?" Mulder asked, watching another huge cloud erupt from the closest mountain.

"The whole island is a volcano, those two bigger vents are Benbow and Maroum." Scully's eyebrows lifted way above her rounded eyes...Those monstrous things were just...vents??? "Ambrym is one of the largest volcanoes in the world. Not in height, but in volume and sheer power. Most of it's underwater. Blew its guts out about a thousand years back, something like 22 cubic miles of earth ejected into the stratosphere in one of the biggest eruptions known to mankind. It throws a wobbly every thirty years or so, tears the island apart from the middle when a whole bunch of craters open up along a fault line above the magma chamber, spewing lava everywhere. Reason you've never read about it in National Geographic is since only a handful of natives live on the island. The main vent is called the Ash Plain, though I'm buggered how anyone could call it a plain, is a collapsed caldera. It's almost ten miles across -- gives you an idea of the scale of the eruption."

Mulder's face seemed set in stone, but Scully recognized it as the preliminary panic look "So when was the last time it, eh...'threw a wobbly'?"

"'Bout forty years back." The pilot grinned "Don't worry, there's no pressure build up at the moment, the French ORSTOM team keep instruments here, monitoring the magma chamber...Look down."

They skimmed low across the side of Maroum volcano and Scully's intake of breath was so loud it activated her microphone. Mulder unconsciously pulled back as a wave of heat hit him. The distinctive stench of hell penetrated the machine. Scully's eyes widened even more and her mouth actually dropped open as she looked through the window. The pilot grinned, knowing the sight did something fundamental to the handful of people who had the pleasure -- or terror.

The edge of Maroum's apex was less than fifty feet below the skids, but the narrow crater walls fell abruptly, two, perhaps three hundred feet into the seething mouth of Hades. A luminous orange lava lake visually hissed and seethed below them. No quiet lava flow was this but a violent churning as the molten planet raged against the confining walls of the vent. It spewed back and forth, hurling viscous blobs of blackening orange upward in a vain attempt to escape the confining walls.

Mulder had put his hand over his mouth and nose, but the foul, acidic fumes lashed the back of his sinuses and throat, adding to the sensory overload of seeing the Earth turned into an angry ocean of horror. The helicopter was buffeted violently by the up-welling heat.

"My God!" was all he could say. In the alien hell of Antarctica he had thought nothing could stir him to such primitive fear...but this! He recalled when as a child he had come face to face with a praying mantis and had gone screaming in terror that such a thing could share his planet. But this *was* his planet! This rendered his concept of the safety and solidity of the very earth upon which he stood. He suddenly realized that humans lived precariously on a pitifully thin, frozen layer of rock barely covering a ball of molten horrors that now swept past his eyes.

Nothing would seem quite the same any more.

The pilot grinned as he landed the machine moments later. "Hey, gimme a hand with the doors?"

Mulder shook himself as he descended from the aircraft. Scully pulled out their backpacks and headed towards the nearby bushes, while Mulder helped the pilot lift the doors from their hinges. They dropped them onto the grass bordering the ebony Ash Plain and the pilot motioned his watch and lifted four fingers, then, as an afterthought, handed Mulder the picnic cooler he was going to use for a tourist drop that morning. The passengers never showed and the contents would only grow warm so he motioned for Mulder to share it with his partner and thumbs up, stepped back into the machine. Mulder stepped well away as it lifted into the air and headed across Maroum, towards Paama Island.

The deafening sounds of the helicopter passed quickly, leaving an eerie silence in its wake. Mulder absently watched another black cloud belch from nearby Benbow. Seconds later it was followed by the sound of a thundering roar that caught the primitive part of his brain and rendered it quavering in fear.

"Well Mulder, you've taken 'immersing yourself in your suspect's background' to a whole new level."

He snorted in reply, but pulled his eyes away from the volcanoes to examine his partner. Her hair was mussed and there seemed to be a fine layer of black soot over most of her body. Her face was dirty and he had no doubt he looked just as bad. Flying over the volcanoes with doors off had left their mark, in more ways than one.

"What's in the cooler?" Scully asked, trying to cut through his penetrating gaze.

Mulder suddenly realized he was still holding the cooler "Don't know. Crane said something this morning about a tourist picnic drop being canceled, guess we scored their lunch?"

"There's a path over here and I can hear running water." Scully turned and Mulder followed to their packs. A few moments later they stood stunned once more at nature's whimsy. The bleak, torn, charcoal landscape of the Ash Plain gave way to a fairyland tropical rainforest. A small cascade, perhaps three meters tall, dropped clear fresh water into a pool. Mossy growth covered the rocks while verdant, impenetrable jungle provided a fantasy backdrop. Fallen stumps lay covered in bulbous electric colored fungi and soft ferns. A natural black sand beach led down to one side of the pool. It ran clear and surprisingly warm, almost bath water hot and they realized it was fed at least in part from the fiery bowels of the earth. The sheer contrasting beauty to the barren volcanic landscape behind gave them pause. For all Scully hated their trips to the forest, this place could not help but be appreciated.

The continuous rumbles of the volcanoes soon become background noise until Scully's stomach grumbled its displeasure at her missed breakfast.

"You trying to compete?" Mulder chuckled as his head motioned towards the towering Benbow.

"No, but I may sacrifice you unless you open that thing and tell me it's got food."

"Wooooo!" His eyes lit and he grinned as he pulled out a bottle of ice covered Perrier. "Hey Scully, champagne under an erupting volcano, I bet this beats every other field trip hands down."

Arching her eyebrows she complained "Mulder, unless the glasses are edible, I may yet cook you over the volcano!"

His grin widened as he lifted out containers of shrimp and caviar, cold chicken, pates and assorted small salads. Scully all but pounced on him at the sight of the food.

A half-hour later they had finished gorging themselves and, with no other liquid refreshment available, had emptied an entire bottle of champagne. Mulder opened a second bottle after Scully vetoed the idea of drinking the slightly sulfurous-smelling water.

For the first time in weeks, Scully felt truly relaxed, fully aware the champagne had woven its magic. She arched her head back, enjoying the buzz and the proximity of Mulder. Their conversation turned from the case and ventured into the increasingly familiar territory of more personal matters.

They lay in a semi reclining position on a small throw rug, facing each other the bottle of champagne. Mulder drank in the setting and ventured "So, Scully, do you still think coming here was a bad idea?"

"No....no I can't say that I do. I'm not big on nature but I have to admit, so far this beats our other trips. Still... with our luck, I don't discount the possibility of an eruption."

"Are you always this pessimistic?"

"Only when I'm with you, Mulder." But she grinned to take any sting from her words.

"Scully...tell me something," he realized he might break the gentle moment between them but he had to know "What happened between us that you were going to leave me before the amnesia."

Scully's frowned, but she took another mouth full of champagne, not yet realizing how much of it had really gone to her head. She had to do this, right? The older Mulder would have known where she was coming from, but this new, younger one...

"I...I think that sometimes people like us get too close. Our world is regularly tossed on its ear and we're left with shattered pieces...and sometimes, it's hard just to know where to step, let alone pick up the bits. It was never my intention to leave you, but I really had no idea of the exact nature of your relationship with Diana. I didn't trust her then and I still don't trust her, but you couldn't see the reasons. Mulder I can only lead you so far with the facts but at some point, you must believe, or not, the evidence I give you. At that time I felt you could not and that threw the question of trust into the issue. I couldn't stay with you under those circumstances. I'd never abandon you, that's why I opted for a three month replacement teaching position. I felt Diana might give you something I could not and perhaps," Scully closed her eyes, not wanting to let his soft gaze, his sheer physical beauty distract her from her truth, "Perhaps I was wrong, perhaps she was good for you and you no longer needed me. I just didn't know and I thought it best to step aside until something clarified."

Mulder watched her face and wondered for the dozenth time if they had once been lovers. Emboldened by the wine he decided it was now or never. "Scully...have we ever...I mean have you and I ever...been lovers?"

Despite the champagne Scully's heart missed a beat. She answered truthfully, but her closed eyes could not hide a second truth from her face, "No...no Mulder we haven't."

He saw it, no mistake now. Her voice could not hide a hint of regret. And so he became bolder. "Why not?" he asked softly.

Scully opened her eyes and stared at him for a moment. The champagne had definitely numbed her mind otherwise she was sure she should be feeling embarrassment at least. "Because...because we just don't feel that way about each other....and we're partners, protocol does not allow field agents who are intimate to stay together."

He chose to ignore the first part of her answer, recognizing it as a falsehood "Well hell, from what I've read and heard we've broken just about every other rule in the book, why stop at that one? Is it because I've taken all the smiles from you?" He finished softly, sadly.

Scully, inhibitions lowered by the champagne, put her hand to his face and lifted her lower lip in a slightly regretful half smile.

"Oh Mulder, it's not you who's taken my smile, it's me. I was so naive when I began working with you, so very sure I could catalog the world into neat little boxes tied with scientific strings of reason. But life has caused me to lose certain illusions, certain perceptions; that happiness was a given, that truth was a power that could stop evil. I know those things are no longer true and I don't think happiness is any longer an option for me. But it's not you who's done that, it's life, and I would sooner have a life of truth, seeing the world with the clarity of one who knows that smiles are for the innocent, than know happiness based on a foundation of lies."

He was stilled by her admission. God, what right had they to steal happiness from this honorable woman? He wanted so much to fold her in his arms and kiss away her sorrows. But he had never done that and the reasons still eluded him. Was it him then?

He remembered the intensity with which he had sought the X- files. Nothing else mattered, not his career and certainly not Diana. He was driven beyond all reason. But these last few weeks had softened that drive, for he was now armed with the knowledge that he had followed his convictions. And those convictions had led him to truths never dreamed. Oddly enough, despite the trauma of his amnesia, he felt more at peace with himself that he had for years. And in that awareness he realized his abandonment of all things except the X-files had been complete. Videos and goldfish provided company. It made sense, except for this very different woman. He knew he must have fallen in love with her. "And yet we have never taken comfort in one another's arms."

"Mulder, we knew affection and yes, even love, but a deeper more spiritual love than any I have ever known before. A sexual relationship would have complicated things...risked our partnership...given them an excuse to tear us apart. We had, we have become too much to each other to jeopardize that."

"But they're dead, now." Mulder pushed.

Scully smiled softly. Too fuzzy brained to feel uncomfortable with his words, she nevertheless wanted to end the dangerous direction of their conversation. "I'm so grubby with this volcanic ash...I'm going for a swim!"

He smiled bleakly at her, wondering when he might ever learn her truth. But had he ever known it?

Minutes later she changed into a simple, flattering one piece. Not to be outdone, Mulder brandished a pair of Speedos from his pack and in no time they found themselves cavorting like teenagers in a backyard pool.

"Why Agent Scully, I do believe you are drunk!"

"Agent Mulder I don *not* get drunk on a bottle of champagne!" But her schoolgirl giggles belied her words.

Mulder had far less to drink than his partner, yet he could no longer ignore the powerful feelings he harbored towards this small bundle of womanhood. With a wicked leer on his face, he grabbed her and dunked her, hoping it might elicit a response that took them to a more...physical level. As expected, Scully's natural competitiveness took over and she captured him from behind, leaping onto his back and forcing him underwater. He escaped long enough to swim to the side of the pool and refill a glass with champagne. She tried to tackle him again but he bribed her with an outstretched glass. Scully attempted to take it from him but he said, "Nah ah," and made her swim close, blocking her reaching hands and enticing her to sip from the glass while he held it. The bubbles spilled across her cheek and in a whimsy, he leaned in to lick them away, pulling her to him with his free arm.

Freed by the heady champagne, Scully felt her long suppressed passion suddenly rise and break over her like a tidal wave. This was not like the moment in his hallway. This had nothing to do with respect and care, this was desire at its most fundamental level, let lose by the heady alcohol. And this was not *her* Mulder, but a younger, newer version. This would never have happened with the Mulder she knew, for they had long since passed that point in their relationship. But this Mulder had known her less than a month.

This was they way it might have been.

Mulder lifted his partner to her feet, turning her back to the edge of the pool and roughly pressing himself to her as she leaned back against the soft, moss covered rock. His hold was so tight, so strong that as he bent to kiss her she expected the sudden, forceful intrusion of his tongue. But he leaned past her and sipped the champagne instead. Only then did he bring his mouth to hers to share the bubbles with her lips. They tickled and she automatically lapped at his mouth, demanding more of the heady wine. His lips parted slightly allowing a short tingly cascade of bubbles to enter her mouth, arousing her every nerve ending. His lips teased her, increasing her urgent need of his tongue as her body increased its need for him. The delicate, bubbly kisses, in contrast to the strength with which he held her, were agonizingly exquisite and her fear of intimacy receded in the knowledge that it was going to happen. No matter what, she could not, did not want to stop its inevitability. Scully reached around to his hips and tried to pull him closer, egged on by the feel of his growing arousal. She rubbed her hands across the hard, hot softness of his back. God the sensation of warm naked flesh against her hands felt good, it had been so long, so very long.

Mulder flicked his tongue tip into her mouth and she moaned in response, wanting all of his tongue as she wanted all of his body in hers. But he teased her, pulling back to kiss her chin and gently bite her jaw, deliberately spilling champagne into the hollows of her neck and lapping at it. His tongue snaked down over the sensitive flesh of her neck and she gasped as he moved away the strap of her swim wear and, spilling a few drops of champagne on her nipple, rasped his tongue over it. Scully desperately wanted to feel him, to take him in her hands and mouth as he was taking her. She reached around to the front, pulling at the elastic of his Speedos. But when she sensed he wanted her hands to free him almost as desperately as she wanted to, she stopped herself.

Scully had long understood that her own arousal depended on how much she could excite a man, make him lose control in his desire for her. That was why she simply had not bothered with casual sexual encounters these last few years. But she had not forgotten the heady needs of passion.

Mulder would no doubt fight against losing control to her. She laughed inwardly, it was happening, it was really happening and she was in control again. She would tease him as he teased her, drawing out the exquisite pleasure. There was nothing to fear here, nothing...

Mulder lifted her from the water until they both stood on a rock ledge adjacent to the black sandy beach. He gasped in expectation as her hands glided lightly across the front of his thighs, reaching up between them but never actually coming into contact with him. He teased her neck and breasts mercilessly, rhythmically rubbing his swollen groin against her belly until she finally moved to pull his Speedos down. He tried to help without taking his arms from around her, but succeeded only in losing his balance and falling onto the sand, taking a giggling Scully with him. He laughed joyously with her, not sorry it happened. It gave them a chance to slow down. Despite the strength of their feelings, or perhaps because of them, he wanted to keep things light, allowing this newfound intimacy to be fun. Her giggles became outright laughs as his Speedos became even more entangled.

Finally extricating himself he realized he was splotchy both with sand and ash and that he stunk of the belching volcano. He grabbed his kit and upended it until soap and shampoo rolled onto the sand. Clutching them he threw her a teasing grin and leaped back into the clear pool.

************** End 13a

Lost Time Part 13b of 21 Date: August 1999 Author/feedback : PLEASE! spider@webspin.org. All parts posted at www.webspin.org/xfic.htm Disclaimers: Please see Part 1

** This section: Rated NC17 for adult sexual situations**

CHAPTER 12 (Cont) DAY 31

Scully gasped as she spied his erection, was it really that big or had she forgotten what they looked like? She stood in stunned silence as he leaped into the pool. What was happening here? They were on assignment. My God, this was her partner, Mulder! What the hell was she doing? Suddenly embarrassed by her actions, she tried to shake the champagne fuzz from her brain while pulling the straps of her swim wear back up her shoulders.

Mulder disappeared beneath the surface but in a burst of warm water, shot out in front of her and pulled her in with him, stripping her swimsuit from her body in a deft move that made his prior entanglement with his Speedos seem contrived.

He laughed at her half-hearted objections. "C'mon Scully, you're all dirty and smelly, all I'm gonna do is make you take a shower." He pulled her out of the water on to the ledge under the cascade. Turning her back to him he began rubbing her shoulders with the bar of silky soft coconut soap purloined from the hotel.

Scully could hardly move, her head seemed filled with bubbles and the feel of his hand and the soft soap over- road her senses. He was seducing her and she knew it, but it didn't see to matter. The rich lather built, then toppled over itself, slithering between her buttocks in sensuous slow motion. He circled his soap filled hands across her back and downward, around her buttocks then smoothly between them, reaching further between her legs to gently lather inside her thighs. She parted her legs in expectation, but he pulled his hands away. Scully sucked her breathe in at the sudden loss of contact. Desire was building in her far faster than she thought possible. She pressed back, wanting to feel his hard body against her. He took her invitation and pressed his chest against her back, keeping his lower body apart from hers until her reached around in front of her. Then he wrapped his soap slicked arms around her body and with both hands began to rub her stomach with the smooth, wet soap. Gradually he pulled her to him until the evidence of his continued arousal nestled in the familiar place where his hand so often rested. He lifted his soapy hands to encircle each soft breast, marveling at the slick feel of her skin, gently pinching her nipples, all the time rubbing, rubbing in slow, circular motions. He slipped the soap further down her belly into her unexpectedly soft pubic hair, rubbing, rubbing, always rubbing, circling, teasing. Finally, he turned slightly so that he could reach one hand between her legs from her belly, passing the soap through her legs and up until he caught it with his other hand from behind. Scully gasped as his large fingers rubbed the lather through her soft hair and swollen lips, then down the inside of her thighs. She almost cried out in frustration as he took his hands away and continued to soap her thighs, then down to her knees. Turning her with him, he eased them both back under the waterfall's spray. The water ran down her face and body, washing the soap, but not her desire away.

He slowly completed his ministrations, learning her body and limbs with soapy hands, chuckling as she stole the soap from him and explored his body in turn, running her hands everywhere, learning what parts of him simply tickled and where normally forbidden areas elicited growls of pleasure. She finally took him in her hand, rubbing the soap up and down his erection. When she stopped, he complained in a small voice that he was not yet clean, but she chuckled and pulled the shampoo bottle from his fingers.

Mulder accepted her ministrations, reveling in the feel of her fingers through his hair. When her turn was due, he eased them both into a sitting position on a natural ledge. With her back to him he ran his fingers through her wet hair, massaging the shampoo slowly, luxuriously, long after her hair was clean. He finally let her slip under the water and she stroked a few feet to rinse her hair. Then she turned and swam back to where he sat on the edge of the pool, his feet resting in the shallow water of a rocky step.

Scully eased her knees up to rest on the smooth rock step and began to stroke his thighs. The effects of the champagne were wearing off her, but they had started on this course and her long-suppressed desire for him had broken through self-imposed walls of convention. The sight of his aroused nakedness fueled her own desire to the point where she almost ached to touch him.

He looked down in anticipation as she ran her tongue around her lips. Mulder gently cupped each side of her face with his hands. He tried to control his involuntary shaking, but it was impossible as she reached up and touched, with feathery delicacy, the still wet hairs around his scrotum. She tickled one or two and he gasped as she touched yet another and another, first at the side then on top then.....It was impossible to tell where next! Scully chuckled quietly.

He grinned and said "You tease......Ah!" As she finally touched him with her wet fingertips.

Under control again, Scully suppressed the wild urge to grasp him. Rather she let her fingers trace patterns along his length, tickling here and there with her other hand. Then she leaned forward again and he groaned in anticipation, but she raised her head and kissed him on the navel, forcing her tongue inward as if it were the phallus and his navel, a virginal receptacle. He cried out and begged "Please....!"

"Please what?" She murmured into his tense belly then ran her tongue tip teasingly down his length. His eyelids felt as engorged as his genitals but he opened them and looked down, willing her. "Please what?" She repeated, then snaked her tongue down into his scrotum so firmly, he gasped in expected pain, but his testes had long since retreated upwards. He looked down to see her tiny pink tongue tip arch through rosebud lips to snake along his length again. The sight if it alone was almost enough to undo him, but as he stiffened in anticipation she took her tongue away and blew cool air onto his glans. Her pursed lips drove him mad and he involuntarily reached up to grab her head to bring her mouth down. But he somehow managed to stop himself. He could not, would not force her and willed his hands to fall away again.

"Please!" He whispered hoarsely, staring at her through eyes dark and dilated from intense arousal.

"Please what?" Scully whispered again, snaking her tongue down and around his length, blowing soft air kisses along the tip, licking around the edges with a surprisingly long tongue, driving him to an insanity of pleasure. Then she rubbed his length along her cheek, across her eyelids and stroked the side of her nose against him. She rolled him across her face and pushed the tip of him into the soft area beneath her ear. Using her fingertips only enough to guide him, she rubbed his length across her chin and neck, mewing little sighs of pleasure at the feel of his velvet hardness on her sensitive skin, cuddling his erection to her face like a beloved soft toy.

The sight of it was beyond any fantasy he had entertained. This was not simply a woman giving him head, in fact she had yet to open her mouth to him, this was a worshipful rite as she bathed her face in his pleasure. He begged in a broken voice "Oh God...Scully." Ignoring his entreaty, Scully slowly rubbed her fingers beneath his scrotum, along the soft skin tracing his penis as it extended naturally into his body. Her fingers and nails played further downwards, doing what he was sure were secret doctor tricks. How could she know that? How could she bring him to the absolute brink without actually taking him in her hand or mouth?


"Ask me Mulder...tell me what you want." She whispered between tonguing him to mindlessness. But he had reached a point where he was almost incapable of enunciating his driving need, so she brought his hands to each side of her head, urging him to guide her. As her fingers suddenly pressured far beneath his scrotum, nudging his prostate, his sanity finally broke and he pulled her face onto him, driving in as deeply as he could in uncontrolled lust. He cried out as warm soft wetness enveloped him and was instantly horrified at forcing her. God he had never done that to any woman! But to his utter humiliation the moment he realized that had been her intention all along, he lost it entirely.

Scully rested her face in his groin as his shudders faded and ceased. She would not release him until certain he was sated, enfolding and curling his softening member into the corners of her mouth, snuggling him like a warm puppy. Mulder knew she planned her coup and chuckled as he stroked the hair back from her face. Nobody, including the highly creative Phoebe, had treated his cock like that before. It was not simply a mind blowing experience, it was an act of love, an almost worshipful dedication. He had been right, Scully had fallen in love with him and if he did not yet feel that way about her, he knew his former self must have. And he would not be far behind.

God this was so far removed from sex with Diana it seemed inconceivable that the two acts could be described with the same word. What had happened to them, why had he lost Diana? Why did he feel almost nothing for her when she had been gone less than a month from his remembered life, and only a few days from his bed in this new life?

He pushed the thoughts aside. Scully was here now and he had all intentions of repaying her.

He gently eased her from him and waited a few moments until she lowered her face into the water and washed his residue from her lips. Then he picked her up in his arms and laid her out across the moss covered edge of the pool. He reached down and took each toe, one at a time, into his mouth and sucked. She arched her back in pleasure as he proceeded to tease her as unmercifully as she had done. He prolonged the pleasure, teasing her core with feather light touches of his hands as his tongue and lips climbed her limbs. As he moved higher, his hands touched her in unexpected places, lips, nipples, stomach, thighs, feathery touches and sometimes stronger, rougher handling. She never knew where or what form his touches might take except that they would fall in counterpoint to his lips and tongue. Finally, he poured champagne into her navel and the hollow of her belly, encouraging it to spill downwards into her warm folds. His tongue snaked out, lapping her stomach and moving down. Then he lapped up the bubbly drops that had spilled across the full length of her lower lips, continuing upwards until he left off at her swollen bud. Shafts of heat arced through her body, right down to toes. She was so close, so close she begged him. He chuckled and poured bubbles directly over her exposed clitoris then extended his tongue again, lapping at her, suckling the wine mixed with her unique essence, sending waves of exquisite heat to the farthest reaches of her limbs. His tongue occasionally parted her folds and plunged inside, then pulled away, leaving her bereft. How could he bring her this close and not let her tip over?

"Please Mulder, oh, God, please..."

But a chuckle rose from the back of his throat and he whispered "Please what, Agent Scully?"

"Please...for God's sake...Muldeeeer..." she mewed, words mangled as the heat arced up her spine and spread out from the back of her neck. Could she die from this? Could the pleasure burn her alive? Yet she could not come, could not until he...strangled words "Stop...mucking...around...and...fuck...me..!!"

And he thrust his fingers into her and she cried out again and again. Over and over until she finally understood why the French called it the Little Death.

Yet as the waves of pleasure slowed, she knew they had not died. Unbelievably her appetite was not yet sated.

The subtle afternoon light cast shadows through the cool, green jungle. Mulder, fully aroused once more, moved up and over her body, his eyes not leaving hers until he could bury his face in her burnished hair. She lifted her legs around his back and without intention he slid easily inside. The soft, tight heat was enough to make him gasp. God she was so tight, so small, but she expanded to fit him with ease as he moved slowly, giving her time to adjust. They moved together softly, drawing the pleasure out, aware of the constant rumble of the volcano urging them on. But her pleasure became too great, too consuming and she urged him on with her heels pressing rhythmically into his back, trying to absorb him through her skin. In the shock of ecstasy she stared into the darkened pools of Mulder's open eyes -- and the pleasure carried her into them, a helpless but willing victim.

He became lost in her soul as his own harsh cries filled the air, but then, at the apex of his pleasure his mind flooded and his cries turned to pain.

Instantly, Scully knew something was wrong. He grabbed his head and the contortion of ecstasy on his face turned to agony as his eyes jammed shut.

Scully's eyes flashed in fear. For a moment she thought he might be suffering a heart attack. Unusual in one so fit and young, but no uncommon. But the moment passed and as he opened his eyes she knew. Oh, God, she knew!

What had she done!

Relief, fear, tenderness, love, regret, shock, horror, embarrassment, oh my God, shame...The emotions sloughed across her face in an instant but he caught them all as he caught all of his memories in that same moment.

All of them, including the betrayal of his once beloved non-wife.

Scully turned her face away from him, humiliation battled with the overwhelming relief that he was back.

With a willpower he could hardly credit, he pushed aside the flooding horror of betrayal and focused on the moment.

"Scully...Scully..it's me...I *remember*..." He could see in her eyes that the knowledge filled her with dread at what they had done, at the line they had been careful not to step across all these years.

He instantly understood her fear.

And he absolutely refused to let her feel regret.

He could not let their powerful emotions destroy them, destroy this. With sudden insight he knew, as perverse as it seemed, only humor might save them "Hey...you gonna write this up in a medical journal as a new cure for amnesia? You'll be famous...but I'm not sure if I like the idea of you administering therapy to..."

Something, some tension broke within her at the ridiculousness of the moment, of Mulder being so typically...Mulder and she burst out laughing, so hard it dislodged his limp organ from her warm wet embrace. "Aw...Scully, that's no way to toss me out!" That brought on another round of mirth and he was glad. Jesus, sex with Diana had been so intense, so formally emotional at times the sheer unadulterated fun factor had never been part of the equation.

He had to put this in perspective right now, before he moved an inch. If Scully, God forbid, clamped up and refused to recognize what had happened between them then he must allow her to consign it to a fun, erotic romp in a tropical jungle brought on by an overdose of champagne. A thing of the moment that could do no damage to their partnership. He knew what emotions she wrestled with, God help him he'd done the same for years. He had always imagined that if this moment came it would be intense, hard, an emotional outpouring resulting from some particularly heart rending event in their lives. That it had occurred so simply, as the result of pure fun, was unexpected.

Scully had allowed the younger Mulder, a man who'd known her less than a month, to fuck her silly under a romantic tropical waterfall. She would *never* have let him, her partner of six years, do that. They simply carried too much weight, too many horrors, between them.

He pulled her face to look at him, making her see his eyes and the humor in them.

"Well, Dr. Scully, if I'd known that was what it took to get you where I've wanted you, I would have gladly lost my memory years ago."

Despite the lighter moments before, Scully gulped and tried to look away but he forced her chin back around "Dammit, Scully, don't do this to me, don't do it to yourself. Don't run away from me, not now, don't you run away from the truth, never that."

His harsh accusations hit her and she realized he was right, they had been running so long from this it was hard to stop.

She dissembled. "You really have it back, all of it?"

"Yeah, it's all here," and then his face changed dramatically, "including what *she* did to me!"

Scully frowned, thinking only that Diana had fooled Mulder into sleeping with her. He raised his elbows from their mossy bed and pulled Scully into the water with him, washing off the sticky residue of their lovemaking. He wouldn't speak until they left the pool again and sat with her, holding her as a new lover would.

"I'm so sorry, Scully." And his face looked stricken as he recalled her standing in his hallway. God, what a sight it must have been, his jeans undone and face flushed with sex...and Diana purposely placing herself in full view, slapping Scully even further with the fact of his carnality. "You were wrong, Scully. I told you about our marriage when we went to England last Christmas. And I meant every word of it. And I told Diana the same thing. I had done okay without her. I had survived, you kept me alive...you saved me in more ways than one. I was terrified of screwing up what you had become to me, so I couldn't bring myself to love you like this. But I could not, did not want to go back to Diana, for anything. Yet I trusted her, for all the reasons I told you before.

"And she betrayed me, God help me for the idiot that I am, she was with him when they administered the drug."

Scully's eyes widened in shock and she turned in his arms. "Do you mean you remember who ran you off the road?"

"It was a white tanker truck...their multi purpose Swiss army knife...Ran me off without any warning. I recall bumping and grinding and pain, then I must have blacked out because the next thing I know they're pulling me from the car."

"Who was pulling you?"

He screwed up his eyes to reframe the picture. "Don't recognize them...but she was there, in my peripheral vision. They strapped me down. I thought it was the back of an ambulance because there were machines and drips and...the usual. But it seemed less cramped, maybe the back of a tanker. I heard that black lunged son of a bitch saying they had to get it right, they had to regress me back to before the X-files, but not before Diana. But they must have screwed up the timing. It was a narrow window of opportunity, obviously too narrow for them to work within because I'd already met the Lone Gunmen before Diana, and I'd met Arthur Dales just a few days after the honeymoon."

Scully mentally grimaced at the word. The normalcy of such a thing as a honeymoon escaped her.

"Jesus, Scully, she knew all the right buttons to push when I came back from the hospital, and I fell right for it," He closed his eyes in regret, but she pulled his head to hers.

"It doesn't matter, Mulder, it's okay."

"No, Scully, it's not okay. I know exactly how I would have felt if our roles were reversed." He chuckled mirthlessly "But you saved me, Scully, how many times is that now?" His voice had dropped to no more than a whisper.

"No more times than you've saved me, Mulder. We've saved each other, we always have, that's what makes us partners."

And he smiled at the simple truth of her words.


Day 31 - 5.10pm

They heard the helicopter soon after repacking their bags. At first Scully thought the sounds were from the volcano, but then Mulder saw the machine as it skimmed across the edge of Maroum. By the time they reached the edge of the Ash Plain, the helicopter was putting down.

Scully carefully approached from the front, loading the cooler and bags while Mulder and Gary refitted the doors. Then the pilot reached across and pulled at something on the skids. He handed it to Mulder who frowned. They climbed into the machine and gratefully placed the earphones on, deadening the powerful whomp whomp of the helicopter.

Gary spoke first as Mulder fingered the warm spidery filaments of glass. "It's called Pele's hair. It's volcanic glass, super cooled lava shot up from the vent. There's always stacks of it around the edge of Maroum, some musta hit the skids as I flew across."

Mulder handed it to Scully as she asked "How's the victim? You're back earlier than I expected."

"I figured I would be but didn't want you to worry if I was late. He should survive, small shark by the look of it although the locals are saying it was a kastom shark."

"A what?" Mulder asked in surprise, vague images of an especially tailor made denizen haunting the depths.

"In their language, they refer to their culture as kastom, what we call custom. The word has a lot of meanings, but it embodies their traditions and legends, magic and witchcraft."

"So, what's a 'kastom' shark?" Mulder asked again.

"Well...it's a man shark, a man, generally a dead spirit that takes on the form of a shark to punish a member of a family or village that's slighted him or a member of his family or village."

Mulder glanced quickly at Scully, but her face had begun to close in the familiar pose of skeptic. She had guzzled down a full bottle of Evian that Gary handed each of them on arrival. The champagne buzz was finally leaving and in its place, a confused knot of emotions regarding her partner.

How the hell had she let this happen?

Mulder was too interested in the pilot's story to notice. "How does it work?"

"Well, take this case, this young bloke's brother took a girl from Ambrym. She's about sixteen or so, married to one of the old chiefs at Fanal, where we're going. He was ninety if he was a day, but women are chattels, possessions, you don't go stealing them without some sort of payback. Anyhow's, the old Chief's brother is a Magic Man, one of the ones you want to talk to. He has the power to invoke a spirit or kastom shark to punish a member of the man's family. In this case, it was an unlucky brother who happened to be out fishing."

Mulder's eyes were dancing, lapping it up, and Scully, rolling her eyes knowingly, asked "And you believe that?"

Gary glanced back over his shoulder and laughed "Hell no!"

Mulder's face dropped in disappointment.

Scully felt her heart move at the depth of her affection for him. He looked like a disappointed little boy.

"But in this country, nobody believes in a natural death, or an accident. Everything comes about because of the spirit world. And because everyone is more or less related to everyone else, by blood, marriage or adoption, it's impossible to extricate yourself from family paybacks. Take this case, the kid's in an old, leaky canoe filled with fish and blood. A coupla small sharks attack him, pretty common around here except that pure luck, a dive charter boat sees the kid waving and thrashing his paddle and rescues him. Now everyone *knows* there had to be a reason, so they think about it and go 'oh yeah, his brother's boffing that chief's wife from Ambrym, and the Chief's brother is a Magic Man - well there's your answer!'"

Mulder smiled and looked down then shared a slightly chagrined look with his partner.

"And that would be the case with all so called black magic." Scully said, validating her skepticism.

"Oh no, I didn't say that, either." Gary replied.

"So... do you believe, or not?" Mulder asked.

"I been here near on twenty years and I can tell you ninety percent of it is perception. I've picked up 'kastom' shark attacks before, where the entire village swears not a drop of blood was spilt. But when I get to the beach, there's blood everywhere, they just choose not to see it. I've seen it in Australia, too, up in the northern territory, where the Aborigines will point the bone at a man, one of their own or another tribe and he dies two, three days later and no coroner can tell you why. A mate of mine, another pilot, had the bone pointed at him once."

"And?" Mulder asked.

Gary laughed. "Nothing! He's up in Indonesia now, happy as a lark. But he didn't believe in it."

Mulder nodded as he glanced at his partner, the mores of a culture, especially primitive cultures, were so strong that becoming a social outcast, being told they were going to die, was often sufficient power for a member of that culture to literally give up living.

"So you're saying these magic men capitalize on the psychological terrors imbued into the culture from birth, but if you don't subscribe to it, it won't affect you."

Gary shook his head no "As I said, only ninety percent of it is perceptual. The other ten percent? Well, I've seen things I can't explain and I think maybe you might, too, if you're lucky."

Mulder's silent face asked why.

"That old chief I told you about, the cuckolded husband?"

Mulder nodded.

"Well, he died about two hours before the shark attack. And his brother, the magic man, has been calling the spirits ever since."

They flew in silence for a while as the pilot talked with the control tower.

Scully sat in the back of the machine, alone with her thoughts, her fears. God, it was so good to have him back, but her mind screamed at their impropriety, at the damage it might do to their partnership. The worst thing, she realized, is that he had to be so damned good. If it had been a quick roll in the moss, so to speak, or if he had just accepted her ministrations and ignored her needs, as Jack often had, it would be so much easier to put it down to the moment.

Of course she could still do that. In fact, that would be for the best. After all it had not been the "real" Mulder who'd initiated it.

But let's face it, Dana, it was the real you who allowed it to continue.

Oh, damn, oh, damn, oh, damn!

Jesus, what an understatement, oh, fucking hell was more like it.

She shouldn't have done what she did. She could have simply taken him in her mouth and not bothered with the fancy finger and tongue work, but oh, no! Dana, you just had to show off to the sexy bastard that you could do things to him that he would never have dreamed his serious, scientific little straight-laced partner would indulge in.

And why was that, hmm, Dana? Pride? Ego? Surely not simply good old lust.

Okay, so it was payback for six years of waiting.

Dammit, she liked doing it, loved it in fact. She couldn't do it to any man, it had taken her weeks before she could go down on Jack.

But Mulder was different. *Face it, Dana.* She'd subconsciously rehearsed those moves, playing on every bit of knowledge she had as a doctor and every minute of her admittedly limited experience. And yet she'd teased Mulder, almost worshiped him in a way she'd never done to any man, not even Jack. Not like that.

Goddammit, couldn't he have just left it at that?

Why did he have to use that ridiculously pouty lip to such devastating effect? Christ, he should be arrested for exposing that damned lip to public view. And the champagne...no one had ever done something as simple, yet so erotic, to her before. Sharing it with her mouth was bad enough. She would never have dreamed their first kiss would be preceded by her lapping at his lips like some thirsty kitten. But then her body recalled the feel of the icy drops on her clitoris and his low chuckles. God, she had almost come from that alone. Then his tongue, in and out like...oh, goddammit, shut up, Dana!

She *had* to put this behind her.

Suddenly, Scully realized his head was turned to look at her, his eyes burning dark and thoughtful, absolutely forbidding her from forgetting what they had done less than an hour before. She gasped and blinked as a wave of heat spread through her loins. His lips twitched at her squirming and a wave of anger replaced her desire. She frowned, showing her displeasure but then he grinned smugly at her obvious discomfort. Then he winked and turned away before the full force of her ire could be released.

Oh, shit.

Nobody had any right to be that damned good. Especially not Mulder. It was totally unfair.



Day 31 - 5.50pm

The volcano's fallout surrounded them in a miasma of gray and burnt amber. It penetrated the machine, inching its way under the cuffs of their clothes and inside their socks and shoes. Outside, the late afternoon sunlight added a darker orange tinge to the thickening smog. Gary explained that the volcanoes created their own microclimate, lending an almost prehistoric visage to the already primitive landscape. Giant tree ferns, taller than coconut trees, were gradually covered in the smog as it crept through the jungle ravines. Gary pointed to the mountain in front of them, dark and glowering in the sunset.

"I'm gonna have to edge up the side of the mountain here. I know where the village is and they're expecting us, but the smoke from the fires tends to flow downhill and sorta join with the smog creeping up. It may take a few minutes to find it...I was hoping to get here sooner."

His voice sounded flippant, but Scully's fear of flying returned with a vengeance as the tropical sunset turned day into night with sickening speed. The helicopter slowed to a virtual standstill, then edged its way over the treetops at almost walking pace. As the darkness surrounded them Gary spotted a small glow about five hundred feet above. He pointed to it and Scully, unconsciously clutching Mulder's shoulder, breathed a sigh of relief. He turned a lopsided grin to his partner and reached across to squeeze her hand.

As one light expanded into many campfires scattered around a clearing, the machine landed and the wispy, sulfur smelling fog seemed to settle around them, grounding them for the night.

Scully took a few moments to calm herself and Gary commented, "Another ten minutes and we wouldn't have made it. We were lucky that time."

Scully simply swallowed, not wanting to know what 'wouldn't have made it' meant.

As the pilot shut down the machine he warned, "Just wait here. They know we're coming but there are very powerful...rules, etiquette in the way they treat visitors. I hope you're the patient sort because nothing is going to happen tonight. Tomorrow, though, I think maybe you'll have some answers without asking too many questions."

"What do you mean?" Scully asked, a slight chill of fear creeping into her stomach.

"There are many chiefs in an extended village like this one, but Kalmantu was a paramount chief. They'll begin smoking his body tonight and very possibly perform a death dance tomorrow. I only know of three white people who've ever seen a kastom death dance before."

Scully was about to say something when a shadowy apparition appeared beside the machine. Gary climbed down and spoke at length to the shadow figure, who was soon accompanied by two more forms. Scully could smell an odd aroma of sweat and dark earth, strong, almost peppery smoke and burnt charcoal. A powerfully muscled naked brown arm reached in and grabbed at her bag. Her instinct was to stop it but a set of white teeth flashed at her in friendly greeting. Her eyes followed the arm to an equally naked torso. In fact, as he turned from the machine, bag in hand, she saw that he was completely naked from behind, except for a thin leafy strap at his waist and a bunch of colorful crotons in his black, woolly hair.

Scully stepped out of the machine to find herself confronting two more men, naked except for what looked to be leaves wrapping their penises. It was hard to make out in the dying light. Scully felt oddly vulnerable until she sensed the reassuring presence of a familiar hand on her back. Each of the men in turn held out their hands to shake Gary's, then Mulder's and Scully's. She was surprised at their soft, limp grips.

Gary spoke to them in a sing-song, yet oddly guttural, language. He followed the three men towards a low, thatched hut that seemed to stretch into the night. Turning to Mulder and Scully, Gary spoke softly, "It's a little... uncomfortable the first time you enter a nakamal, especially one like this, at this time of night, after the death of a chief. No matter what you feel, we are welcome in the village so try and relax, no one will hurt you."

Scully looked at Mulder with some trepidation, glad of the feel of her weapon near Mulder's hand. He was grinning like an idiot, of course, but his grin faded a little as they entered the smoke-filled hut.

The nakamal, the chiefs' meeting house, was long and wide, empty but for one old man hunched on a coconut log next to an open fire. In front of the blaze, a large wooden bowl of muddy water rested on the ground. A few coconut half shells sat beside the bowl.

The shadows danced and moved in the firelight, hiding the thatched walls. From the distance, the old man looked up and lifted his arm in a gesture of greeting. His voice penetrated the eerie silence as he spoke in clear English.


Gary motioned Mulder and Scully to precede him while the three men who had walked them from the machine vanished silently into the night.

Scully felt the hairs on her neck prickle, the sensation of being watched by a dozen eyes was almost overwhelming. It was not fear...just a strange evocation of some primitive sense. Gary held out his hand to the chief as he stood. The chief held his hand out limply, shaking the pilot and the agents hands with the same loose softness as the others.

"Sit." The old man intoned.

A silence filled the nakamal. Scully felt uncomfortable, unfamiliar with the rituals of the culture. Mulder was relaxed, an open mind waiting to be filled with whatever wonders might present themselves to his almost childlike curiosity. Scully felt a certain envy towards her partner knowing that while her mind needed to analyze and categories, his was emotive, freely accepting whatever came his way.

A solitary warrior appeared silently from the smoky shadows, causing Scully to catch her breath. She knew it was an illusion; he must have been standing there the entire time, his stillness hidden by the dark. He was as powerfully built as the men who had taken their bags from the helicopter. Chocolate brown muscles rippled across his entire body. And like the others, he was naked but for what Gary would later explain was a nambas, a penis sheath. It covered only his penis, pulled taught and tucked upright and into the thong at his waist, leaving ebony testicles to fall beneath, exposed like the rest of him. But there was no ugliness, no lewdness or even covert sexuality in his nakedness. Like the others he was comfortable and un- self conscious in his magnificent, glistening body.

He silently crouched spread legged in front of Scully, oblivious to the view this gave her. She could almost feel Mulder's sly smile behind her as the man filled a coconut shell with kava and handed it to her. He then offered her a soft green leaf containing a small piece of sugar cane.

Scully glanced questioningly at Gary.

"Women do not partake in the kava ceremony, but you're white and therefore outside their cultural taboos. Sip it then spit the residue back into the bowl and put the sugar cane in your mouth immediately to cut the effect. Whatever you do, *don't* smell it or sip it, you don't drink kava for the taste or bouquet!"

Scully took the proffered shell and did as she was instructed. The thick taste was so foul she almost gagged, but she dutifully skalled it, spat the muddy residue and stuffed the cane into her already numb mouth.

Mulder followed suit then Gary. The ceremony was repeated again in silence. When offered a third shell, Gary declined, motioning to them both that they could also safely decline. Scully's mouth was numb and her jaws seemed to chew the sweet cane of their own volition. The kava bearer stood and retreated silently into the shadows. Scully's eyes followed and then widened in astonishment. Mulder let out a barely audible gasp and she felt him jerk as he saw what her eyes had finally discerned.

Her first instinct was to go for her weapon, but Gary, aware of the FBI agent's concealed guns, was surprisingly fast in stopping them

"I told you, there's nothing to be afraid of. You're welcome here. Just relax, I know it's kinda spooky," Mulder blinked at this turn of phrase "But it's cool, just go with it."

That's fine for you to say, thought Scully as her eyes adjusted to the dark. Unbeknownst to her, the narcotic kava had heightened her senses beyond the normal, allowing her to see the line of naked men, she could only think of them as warriors, lined up along both walls of the nakamal. As her head twisted, both sides of the fire brightened at the far end of the nakamal and she realized there must be at least two hundred silently standing sentinels. All of their eyes were turned to the strangers, but not one twitch, not one foot scuffle or eyelid moved to break the silence. Then as one their eyes moved to the raised platform visible now in the light of the fire.

Gary spoke softly "That's the old chief, Kalmantu. They'll stay here a few hours while his family prepares the smoking hut, then take him outside and place him there from three to seven days, smoking the body."

Mulder's face asked the question and Gary added "It's sort of a preservation technique, a desiccation ritual." He was surprised when neither agent flinched. Most Europeans generally gagged at the concept then practically ran screaming from villages at the sight of it. He guessed since they were law enforcement officers investigating a murder, and Scully was a pathologist they might be a little more resilient, at least until confronted with the reality.

One of the men who'd met them at the machine entered the nakamal and Gary stood, nodding goodnight to the chief. Mulder and Scully followed his lead, grateful to return to the cooler night air. They both stopped and took a deep breath, then glanced at each other.

Gary grinned. "I was going to warn you, but I figured you wouldn't freak out...and it's more impact if you experience it cold."

"You can say that again," Scully mumbled under her breath. "What other little surprises are in store for us?"

"Nothing until tomorrow. The women have made dinner for us, but you'll have to cope with an audience. It's been four years since the last white person was in the village so we're a novelty." He grinned knowingly at Scully's hair and added, "I hope you don't mind kids."


DAY 31

Mulder sat huddled with some youths in the corner. They found him a willing recipient of their stories. Scully smiled at his good-natured tolerance of their broken, heavily-accented English. Mulder could turn from selfish egomaniac to the most giving and compassionate person she'd ever met, in the blink of an eye. How she was going to deal with their afternoon's mistake kept nagging her, but whatever her decision, she must not let it destroy their partnership.

The younger children, emboldened by Scully's gentle smiles, finally overcame their fear and spent the better part of the evening touching her and stroking her hair. Their mothers eventually sent them off to bed leaving Scully now blissfully alone.

She felt gritty and sweaty, the afternoon swim long forgotten in the tropical night. But the effects of that swim remained with her in the soreness of her pubic bone, a stiffening in her inner thighs. Muscles unused for God, how many years? a constant reminder of what they had done.

She and Mulder had made love.


God, it recycled in her brain low a low hum, over and over, underscoring everything, coloring her perception of the world without interfering with it. Could they work like that? His presence was now a constant innuendo. But hadn't that always been the case? Six years of innuendo, in fact. Then she stopped herself. Talk about egomaniac, it was not her decision alone, was it?

Or not? After all, *this* Mulder had not initiated it, the younger one had. *This* Mulder would want nothing to do with something as encumbering as a sexual relationship, one that involved some sort of commitment and responsibility. Would he?

In that cabin, was it only a few weeks ago? she had convinced herself his obsessive focusing had nothing to do with romantic love. But again she considered Antarctica. Good God, the man had traveled to the most inhospitable place on the planet and wrested her from...something. Could any man ever match such selfless dogged determination to save her? Could she not then call such passion, love?

She sighed and looked down at her hands. Could she live with such manic behavior? God knows she had lived with him walking out on her, oblivious to her passive needs, for years. Nothing in that regard would change if they maintained a sexual relationship. She could live with that aspect, but by allowing him that, allowing herself that, it automatically closed off any vague hopes she might have entertained of a normal life with a normal man.

And since when, Dana Katherine Scully, did you ever decide that a normal life was something you wanted? She shook her head in confusion. She trusted Mulder with her body and soul, but not her heart.

"A penny?"

Scully smiled as she felt Gary sit by her on the coconut log.

"I had no idea that places like this still existed on the planet...is that why you like it?"

He chuckled "It's raw and primitive, earthy and frightening and amazing. Wait until tomorrow. There are thousands flocking in from the surrounding villages and nearby islands. They'll be paddling all night and walk up here before dawn."

Scully blinked, not understanding, but then her attention was distracted by a nearby roar as Maroum let out an exceptionally loud blast. She turned and gasped. The smog suddenly cleared as the wind changed direction and the twin volcanoes became visible in all their hellish glory. As the last wispy tendrils swept away, the glowering light of the volcanoes lit the entire village in harsh shadows. She could see shapes silently moving everywhere.

Scully turned, wanting Mulder to see this but he had already sensed her unease and strode from the hut to where they were seated. His eyes opened in fascinated wonder as he, too looked back down into the village and beyond to the awful peaks.

"I can understand how living in a place like this breeds a darkness of the soul."

Gary sat back and lit a cigarette, watching the two Americans with something akin to curiosity. They were nothing like the tourists he normally dealt with, more like the dedicated anthropologists, volcanologists and geologists he'd ferried across the islands. He was vaguely curious about their relationship. They didn't act like a couple, yet there was an inbred familiarity born of long standing companionship. That they constantly checked each other's position, making eye contact, a touch of the bodies, all reeked of intimacy. Yet he had done his tour of duty in Vietnam and he knew what it was like to watch your partner's back and to depend on them watching yours. These two were definitely accustomed to violence.

"So do you want to tell me exactly what's going on? You might have gathered by now you're going to need an interpreter and if I have a better idea what you're after, I might have more success than fumbling around blindly."

The agents looked at one another and the pilot detected a subconversation not unlike the one he and his photographer wife shared. Yeah, these two definitely had something between them.

Scully spoke softly "We have evidence to link the death of the roving U.S. ambassador to a series of deaths over the last two months, seven in total, all on U.S. soil."

Gary's interest perked up and he flicked his cigarette to one side. "Go on."

Mulder sat beside his partner and added, "In fact considerably more than seven people have died. It appears that in each case, the victim kills his family, then himself dies within three days. But what ties with Ambassador Gordon's death is their post mortem condition." Mulder's expression showed he clearly deferred to his partner and Scully took up the tale, relating how the body cavities were emptied and filled with straw or grass.

The moment she finished her description Gary rocked forward on his feet, stood up and rubbed a hand through his hair "Oh brother...so you're the one who did the autopsy. I shoulda guessed, you being a doctor and all. I'm surprised news hasn't spread...or maybe it has, I didn't go out last night after leaving you guys...no chance to pick up the gossip. Shit, I wasn't wrong then, it's happening again."

Scully and Mulder stared at one another.

"You guys have heard of zombies, right?" Crane continued.

They nodded and Scully replied "It's been reliably documented that the so called zombie is the result of an extract from the..."

"Yeah, yeah, I read New Scientist, too -- a puffer fish poison that induces a near death state, followed by the careful application of hallucinogenic drugs."

Scully blinked and raised her eyebrow, but Gary ignored the warning signs and continued. "You said straw...well let me tell you about Vanuatu zombies. "You can see what sort of place this is, dark and gray. Everything's dirty all the time from the ash fallout. The gardens are wrecked by acidic rain and the kids starve, or the mountain blows up and rains death on them, or the village is wiped out by lava flows or mud flows in a cyclone. And no use asking me why they stay. It's their life, and they're tied to the land and the spirits in a way I can't begin to explain. I'm not saying its real, but I can tell you that these people believe in zombies.

"They say that magicians, magic men, can call a man from his home with tam tams -- those split gong drums you see everywhere. The man alone hears the drums and when they get him to come to their magic place, usually a killing ground for something else, bad karma I guess, they gut him like a pig and fill his belly with straw. Then they send him home to kill his family. A zombie can only exist for three days, then his body starts deteriorating so fast, it's no longer mobile and can't function anymore, hence he finally 'dies.'

"Now, that's the short version. You find yourself a few old people tomorrow and they'll tell you the five-hour version. If you're lucky I can find you one who speaks enough English for you to get the gist of it."

But the agents simply stared at one another in unspoken understanding.

Mulder was the first to break the silence. "What do you mean, it's happening again?"

"'Bout eight years back Vila was terrorized by a series of killings within a certain tribal area. Nothing the tourists or expatriates had anything to fear, purely kastom, a ritual thing, so it never made the papers. There were seven so called kastom shark attacks and about six more disappearances of pikininis from beaches, also presumed shark attacks, up around Paama and Epi Islands, all from the same two extended families. In Vila, from these families, a total of eighteen girls and young women were found dead over the course of three months. All had been raped, although that's a relative term in this country."

"What do you mean?" Scully scowled.

"Women are chattels, possessions. There's no such thing as rape, except when a father is involved and even that's only cause for a public wrap on the knuckles. Most girls are sexually used from about the age of ten or twelve, but in this case, the women were so badly raped they were literally torn apart. Finally, a couple of brothers from another volcanic island, Tana, figured out which particular magician was involved. They cornered him, a guy named Kati, one afternoon, away from his magic grove and beat the crap out of him. They also invoked some special kastom leaves, ruining his magic powers. The deaths ceased straight away. The magician ran back to his home island -- here on Ambrym, swearing revenge.

"About three years later, the killings began again, but this time, fathers and brothers would kill their entire family then drop dead within three days. I guess you've figured by now that we don't have undertakers. The extended families always look after burials. Each swore that the men and boys had their organs removed and bellies filled with straw."

Mulder's eyes were dancing as he leaped from his seat and began pacing up and down. "So what happened?"

Gary shrugged. "It just stopped one day, about a year after it began and everyone figured the revenge, whatever it was for, had finished, or the unnamed magic man perpetrating it, had gone overboard with the spirits who in their wrath, turned on him.

"Now word got around that Kati, unable to perform magic any more, had poured his powers into a cooking pot and gave the pot to a missionary after he'd returned here, to Ambrym and that the second wave of killings resulted from that."

"A missionary?" Scully asked in disbelief. "You still have missionaries?"

"They still swarm through the islands doing their damnedest to save the sinners. Anyway, the story goes that at a special Presbyterian inauguration, about two hundred people ate from this cooking pot. Kati claims his powers were spread to each of those two hundred people but that one in particular 'ate' most of his powers and became a magic man with the power to create zombies. The feeling was that this second magic man who inherited the powers, was responsible for the second wave of killings."

"Any other incidents after this? Any unexplained deaths?" Mulder asked.

Gary laughed. "As I said before, there ain't no such thing as a natural death in this country, even old age is blamed on spirits. But...no, I can't say I've heard of any zombie cases in a couple of years until two weeks ago, just before Gordon turned up dead. There was another expatriate guy, a man named Owens who ran a kava-exporting business, disappeared for three days. His wife, a ni-Vanuatu girl, ran screaming from the house when he came home, swearing that he'd tried to kill her and that he wasn't really him. She ran next door to get away but he didn't follow. When they came back to the house with a few of her brothers in tow, they found Owens on the back porch. He looked and smelled like he'd been dead for about three, four days."

Mulder glanced at Scully.

"What did the police report say?" Scully asked.

"Nothing much...you hafta understand that without an autopsy, cause of death is always heart attack if the doc can't find anything obvious to say otherwise. I know it's hopeless policing, but for the most part the cops are happy to pass it off as a kastom thing and let the various families make reparations where necessary. In this case he was white, had no relatives living here or overseas, so no one could be blamed for his death.

"Her family took the body for burial and when they dressed him, they found a huge scar, tied together with fishing line, running the full length of his belly. They cut the nylon and found all his organs had been removed and replaced with straw. I wouldn't have put any faith in it, but my wife knows the family and asked if she could take photos simply because it was so unbelievable. Pretty gruesome stuff."

Scully's mind was racing and she stood up and asked "Was he buried here? Can we have the body disinterred for examination?"

"Well, I dunno, but it makes no difference now because of the cyclone that just passed through. You saw all the damage from the air. Most of the bodies were washed away when the river flooded next to the village cemetery. But my wife has the photos if you want to see them."

Scully's mind was racing now. Though photos would not be nearly enough, she wanted to see them. If there was a connection between these deaths and...but that didn't help find the killer.

Mulder spoke up. "Is there any way we an talk to this Kati? Does he live any where near this village?"

Gary chuckled. "You sure pick 'em. Old Kalmantu was Kati's uncle."

"You mean Kati's father's a magic man too? The same one who supposedly set the kastom shark on that boy you medivaced this afternoon?" Mulder asked, his eyes slightly rounded in anticipation. "The very same."

"Well...aren't you...I mean, you're not worried that by saving the boy's life you intervened in..."

"Nah! No, no, no," replied Gary, chuckling. "Y'see, I'm white, I'm outside the equation. It's like letting Dana drink kava. They'd never let one of their own women near the stuff, but because you're not of their culture, it doesn't count."

"So...they would never normally work their...uh...black magic on a white man."

"Nope, they know it simply wouldn't work."

"Well then how does that explain the deaths of Owens and Gordon?" Gary looked up through lowered eyelids, pursed his lips and lit a cigarette. Mulder noticed that his match was shaking. "You got me there."


DAY 32 - 5.45am

The heartbeat of the earth reached into her dreams like a life force. Blood pounded through Scully's veins as the drumming increased its cadence, mesmerizing her into a deeper sleep. The pounding now became heard as well as felt, urging her to move, to follow its hypnotic rhythm.

"Hey Scully, wake up!"

Adrenaline coursed through her body at electrochemical speed, her response no less fast as she reached for her gun and sitting bolt upright, cried, "Freeze!"

"Whoa!" Gary's eyes opened in shock and he almost staggered backwards. His hands shot up in the air in a gesture of submission, even though the gun was not aimed at him. To his amazement, the person in its line of site chuckled.

Mulder saw his partner's eyes immediately recognize him and her gun point to the ceiling.

"Scully cut it out, I'm not trying to get into your panties, I just want you to wake up."

Gary did a quick rethink of the FBI agent's relationship. Maybe they weren't lovers after all. Shit, he'd have a hard time getting it up for someone who pulled a gun on him just for tweaking her toe.

Scully glared at her partner then lifted an apologetic eye at the pilot.

The dirt floored hut they'd shared the previous night was not much larger than the main room of their basement office, however the sickly Coleman light barely illuminated the interior.

Gary smiled weakly and said, "Morning" to Scully.

Scully rolled her eyes, ready to take a piece out of her partner for waking her like that, when she realized the pounding through the earth was real and not an echo of her dream state. "What's that? What's going on?"

"Scully c'mon!" he grabbed her hand. "Ya gotta see this!"

Her bladder demanded a Coleman-lit stop to the noxious, outdoor bush toilet first, but Scully hardly took any notice at the lack of facilities with the shake of the earth and the pounding of drums throbbing through her body.

Gary had already gone ahead and Mulder impatiently grabbed her hand as she made her way back around the coconut frond walls of the toilet. As they carefully walked through the overhanging trees and came into a clearing, Scully noticed a tinge of orange dawn to the east. But that registered only briefly in her mind, for the sight before her drew a gasp. She instinctually pulled back.

They stood on an elevated hummock above a huge clearing on the far side of the kava nakamal. Dozens of fires lit the circumference, illuminating what she guesstimated to be well over a two thousand naked men pounding the earth in a rhythmic cadence beyond anything she'd ever experienced. In the heart of these men, women, perhaps a thousand of them, dressed only in colorful grass skirts and amazing red face paint circled in counterpoint to the men.

They chanted, not a haunting melody, but a discordant, raw, primitive chant, in time with the beating of strange rounded baskets.

"Basket drums," Gary told her as she approached the pilot "They're padded with chicken feathers. Not much in themselves but you get three or four thousand of them at the one time and it produces quite a sound, huh? The deep bass drumming is from the tam tams."

Scully gaped while Mulder stared in wide eyed fascination.

As the sun came up quickly, the sheer scope of the dance took her breath away. Dust climbed through the ranks, obliterating those furthest from view. Shafts of sunlight fought through the thick clouds generated by thousands of pounding bare feet until a passing rain shower dampened the earth once more.

For almost three hours they sat, entranced by the primitive scene, unable to speak, unable to do anything but succumb to the raw power. After a time, Gary enticed Scully to descend with him to the edges of the arena. But she had been unable to stay long. The men encircling the women dancers had formed into a continuous circuit of unstoppable naked ebony muscle, pounding past her with a ferocity that made tidal waves seem insignificant. The men surged outside the boundary and Gary and Scully were pushed back. Mulder, not so lucky, was momentarily caught up in the powerful fray. He escaped with bruised feet and somehow, a lost shirt and torn trousers.

This was no dance, it was a controlled riot of thousands of body builders hypnotized by their own cadence, oblivious to their surroundings. God help anyone if they'd fallen beneath their feet.

Scully finally pulled back and Gary, taking the hint, led them back to the crude sleeping hut. Scully had not really seen it the night before, which, she supposed, was undoubtedly a good thing. The three rough pieces of foam on the floor were each covered in a piece of cloth loud enough to make into Hawaiian shirts. A couple of chickens wandered about, pecking at the floor. These were no fluffy white hens, but robust bush animals with legs that would have done eagles proud. A small black razor-backed pig snorted through the bedding and Gary pushed him aside, rescuing the bag of muesli bars he'd thought to bring from the chopper.

Scully raised her eyebrow and pursed her lip at the sight of an eight-inch centipede was attacked and fought over by the chickens.

"Sorry about the breakfast." Gary shrugged. "There's plenty of food being prepared and cooked for the feast later, but for now all the women's huts will have is day old bread and sugary tea. I figured these would be more appetizing."

Their dinner the previous evening had been presented to them in a large bowl fashioned from a banana like leaf. Filled with a delicious mixture of freshly caught fish and crayfish seeped in coconut cream, it came with a side order of sweet fat cooking bananas and locally roasted nuts. Scully was hesitant to eat, but Gary pointed out the fish would have been caught only hours before. She had been pleasantly surprised at the absence of nocturnal trips to the bush toilet.

The muesli bars were consumed on the walk to the women's hut for tea. They passed various near-naked people coming and going, all flashing toothy smiles. Soon, an entourage of laughing children collected in their wake, deftly catching the boiled sweets from Gary's large pockets. However, all at once everyone disappeared and a low keening replaced the omnipresent pounding of the earth.

Suddenly everything...stopped.

"Quick!" Gary grabbed Scully by the hand and tore off onto a side path. Mulder followed, cursing the prickles tearing at his newly donned shirt. They burst onto what Scully surmised was the far side of the dancing grounds. She could see the helicopter's rotor over the heads of hundreds of men. Without warning, the crowd parted to allow the three visitors through.

Scully had never felt so small and helpless before, despite the proximity of Mulder and Gary. The crowd filled the gap left by their path, blocking any thoughts of escape.

The powerful smell of a thousand unwashed bodies penetrated her nostrils. Yet it was unlike any smell she was accustomed to from human beings. This was far more earthy, richer, peppery...primitive. Their light chocolate flesh glistened with perspiration. Raw power seeped from their very pores. Mulder turned to her with his eyes alight, totally unafraid. Scully very much wanted to clasp his hand, but he reached for her and brought him around to stand in front of him, in direct line of sight of the procession.

In the clearing, a rough platform of tree boughs had been erected. A fire pit had been dug beneath and wisps of smoke shimmered, telling of the heat below. Above the platform a roof of thatched pandanus leaves had been erected. Although crude in appearance, the leaves would keep out even the most insistent tropical downpours.

A line of men a dozen abreast, emerged from the dust. The top halves of their bodies were colored a vivid orange while the bottom seemed encased in black. Once again the tam tams began their rhythmic beating and the line of orange and black surged back and forth, heads down, chanting and stamping a mesmeric dance. From behind, flashes of powder blue coalesced to become a slim young man, perhaps a tall youth. His dance was different, more intense to the chorus provided by the orange and black. Mulder and Scully stood rapt as Gary explained the death dance. Performed perhaps once or twice a decade after the deaths of significant chiefs, the boy himself could possibly die after the dance, for the tiny blue circles that covered his entire body were from a poisonous flower. Scully looked on, somewhat horrified at this possible human sacrifice, as Gary explained the millennia old culture.

Many villages, he explained, made a practice of burying people alive with the bodies of chiefs, as accompaniment to his afterlife. In this island, however, the sacrifice was of but one. But if the spirits were happy with the sacrifice of pigs that would take place later in the day, perhaps the blue boy might live. Perhaps. As hard pressed as Scully was to reconcile the possible death of this boy, it was impossible not to be moved by the dance.

The blue boy's dance took him in and out of the lines of orange and black dancers. His arms would soar, parodying a bird, then his body hunch down, like a pig. He came close enough for them to see his hands and feet, neck and face were covered in the same orange pigment as those behind him. Two large rings of orange emphasized his nipples. Elsewhere, the blue tiny circles covered him entirely, they could see when he crouched that the inside cleft of his buttocks and his testicles were also painted. His penis was covered in a snowy white nambas made from eagle feathers. Single feathers erupted from each finger and toenail and the sides of his mouth, speared in place under the quick and through his cheeks. A cluster of white feathers sprouted from his head.

As the dance continued four men, the local equivalent of pallbearers, Scully realized, carried the dead chief into the clearing. An awesome keening filled the air and grew in crescendo till it peaked somewhere in the base of Scully's skull. She felt Mulder's firm arms surround her, gripping her, steadying her..steadying him. Gary placed a hand on her shoulder. The effect was too powerful to remain aloof and indifferent.

Time passed as the procession carried the body of the dead chief around the inside of the dancing ground. A sea of hands reached out to touch the body as it was slowly carried by. Gary indicated that Scully and Mulder must do the same. The procession slowed in front of them and they respectfully placed their hands on his cold and withered body. An old woman, frail, with flattened breasts long since dried, swinging like paper against her chest, grabbed Gary's hands and lifted them, then pulled him to touch her husband's face. He later told the FBI agents it was because he was a pilot. His hands would give wings to her husband's journey, so that he might pass safely through the underworld and beyond. It mattered not that he was of a different culture. At that moment in time the old woman took whatever comfort she could get.

Finally the old chief was placed reverently on the smoking platform. There he would rest for days, as the heat and smoke desiccated his body.

Within minutes, the dancing ground cleared. Now was the time of gifts. Each man and woman would bring with him a cow or pig, bag of rice or bolt of cloth, a penance to the family of he who had died. The old woman and half a dozen keening younger women sat by the dead man's side. Every now and then one would get up and pat the body, adjusting the leaves around him.

"They'll stay there for at least three days, then take turns looking over him until it's finished."

Scully sensed Mulder's restlessness as the gift-giving ceremony looked to be dragged out for hours. The bodies surrounding them began to thin and Gary found a coconut log to sit on.

"In a minute, someone will come by with some lap lap. It's ground taro baked in coconut cream and wrapped in island cabbage. Sticky as all hell and bland. Eat it and then you can talk, and ask your questions."

"Through you?"

Gary rolled his head. "Word's out and some of the old magic men are unhappy with their secrets passing out of their culture. We'll see...depends on who talks to you but most likely they'll understand your question and just need to answer in their language."

Not more than a few minutes passed before and an old man shuffled by, sitting himself on the ground at Mulder's feet. He said nothing, simply holding his hand out in a limp greeting. Over the next few minutes two more old men repeated the greeting and squatted on the earth. Finally, a middle-aged man, his arms all but covered in completely circular pigs' tusks, carried a banana leaf heaped with steaming dark green leaf covered lap lap. He motioned for each of the visitors, then the older men to accept a piece. A boy followed and offered each a green coconut, sheared at the top to allow them to drink.

Scully bit hesitantly into the thick leaf covered lap lap. It's taste was somewhat bland, smoky, but not unpleasant. The green coconuts however were delightfully sweet and refreshing.

When each had their fill, the boy cracked the coconuts and cut a spoon-shaped scoop to wrest the soft meat from the shell.

It cleansed the palette and cleaned their teeth of the sticky lap lap. The boy then wrapped the broken shells and old leaves and uneaten lap lap in a large leave and carried it away.

Gary then pulled out a packet of strong-smelling stick tobacco and handed a stick to each of the men. Each took a mouth full and began to chew. The one resplendent with pigs' tusks wadded a piece in his cheek and asked a question of Gary in the oddly melodic language.

Gary replied, "Yu no savee English."

"Si, mi savee, be mi no tok tok."

Gary turned to Mulder and Scully. "Okay, he understands you, but keep it in simple terms, nothing technical. He'll answer you in his language."

A round of introductions followed. The agents learned the pig-tusked man was in fact the younger brother of Chief Kalmantu. He was the magic man who had purportedly sent the 'kastom' shark to attack the boy that morning.

Despite disbelieving in it, Scully bristled, but she reminded herself that this was not her country, nor her culture. In fact, it was a hell of a long way from her century. Ambrym was called the magic island, but the tourist brochures called it the land lost in time.

"Nem blong mi, Sirivi." He called himself.

A strange conversation took place over the next hour, one Scully could not become involved in, and one she could not accept. But within the context of the story unveiled, it made sense. A delighted Mulder left convinced they had found the answers.

Gary and Mulder talked animatedly as they collected their few things from the sleeping hut, said their farewells and returned to the helicopter.

As the pilot shook hands with an interminable number of people, Scully took Mulder to one side and said "You don't seriously believe any of this, do you Mulder?"

"C'mon, Scully, it all makes sense! It's the only thing that ties it all together. It won't take that long to track down every white man that attended that Presbyterian ceremony."

"Look Mulder, in the unlikely event that some sort of...of power was transferred," she attacked with her left eyebrow to emphasize the point "I can't believe I'm even having this conversation."

Mulder took her by the elbow and drew her to one side of the machine. "Scully, I have at times questioned your faith and your religious convictions. I'm not trying to draw a parallel here, but if you accept that evil can manifest itself in material form, then keep an open mind on this. When we get back, why don't you let me run a check with the Presbyterian Church and you follow up on licensed kava exporters. Let's see if we can find a match. It's our strongest lead so far."

She pursed her lips in annoyance at his gullibility. Nothing ever really changed.

On the return flight, Scully successfully managed to ignore the constant thrum on her subconscious, the low level reminder of what she and her partner had done the day before. But no matter how she sublimated it, it remained with her, like a suddenly-acquired extra sense, an underpinning to her very existence. God, it had felt so good to hold a man in her arms, not just the act of sex, but to feel his warmth and smooth firm flesh against her...The slight tickle of chest hair, the smell of Mulder, feel of his soft back and her fingers running through his thick hair, the taste of his....God, no!

No! This was all wrong, dammit! They could not risk this, it would inevitably destroy their partnership.

The closer they came to Vila, the further she tried to distance herself from what had happened. And Dana Scully was nothing if not an expert from distancing herself from emotions.

Chapter 17

DAY 32 - 3:00pm

It was almost three p.m. when the machine landed at Vila airport. All Scully wanted was to get back to the hotel and sink into a long, hot tub. "So do you guys still want to see my wife's photos?" Gary asked as they walked back to the hanger, "She's back about nine tonight, then we're both going up to Malekula tomorrow. After that, it will be a coupla months of back and forth...eh, I guess it will have to later tonight or very early tomorrow."

"Tonight if you're sure she wouldn't mind?" Scully asked.

"No problem, we're only a few minutes from your hotel, so I can pick her up here first then grab you on the way home."You're gonna want to catch up with the Marketing Board, huh? Better do it today, it's a public holiday tomorrow."

Mulder asked "Are they the ones responsible for exporting kava?"

"Yep, they'll have all the names of registered growers, buyers and exporters. They're right near the offices of the Presbyterian Ministry." He added helpfully.

"Ah, Mister Crane," Scully sounded overly formal after three days calling him by his first name.

"Don't worry, guys," he added before Scully could go on "I'll keep my trap shut. This town is so damned small though, I wouldn't wait too long before you start asking what you need to know, 'coz you can guarantee the Chinese whispers have started. And before you ask, no, but I had to let the control tower know I'd dropped you when I did the medivac. All the pilot's woulda heard... and they're all married."

Mulder gave Scully a resigned look.

Scully sighed, wishing she could get cleaned up first, but a part of her was determined to eliminate Mulder's line of reasoning. The sooner the better.

Gary gave them a ride to the central parking lot in Vila. His own office was only half a block away while the Marketing Board and Presbyterian Ministry were each within a hundred meters or so. Scully was reluctant to enter a government office dressed in grubby khaki shorts and a less than white shirt, until Gary pointed out she'd just attract attention in anything better. Although Scully did not avoid Mulder's eye, she sidestepped the hand placed at her back as he ushered her to walk ahead of him between parked cars.

Mulder mentally grimaced, knowing now that the small amount of physical contact they were accustomed to was in danger of being lost. There had been absolutely no opportunity to be alone since those magic, heady hours at the volcano. He feared the longer things were delayed, the more distance Scully would put between them. The agent's agreed to meet back at Jill's caf, where Gary would drop their overnight bags.

Scully had waited almost an hour in the caf, then hunger overtook her. She took a bite of the freshly baked bread and caught his jaunty step out of the corner of her eye. Scully couldn't suppress a slight smile and unwelcome rush of arousal at his boyish enthusiasm, especially with is hair sticking out in all directions from the ubiquitous afternoon shower. He grinned and pulled out a chair, motioning the waitress with raised eyebrows.

"So what'ya got, partner?"

The waitress came and he took one look at Scully's half eaten bowl of chili and ordered the same.

"Well, a lot more than I expected. Up until twelve months ago, the Board was the sole licensed agent for kava exports. Since then, no fewer than twelve licenses have been issued, all against the recommendations of the manager, one Amos Scanlon."

Mulder's eyes danced "Ooooh, Scully, I'm getting very turned on."

To her horror, Scully blushed and she went to snap at him, but realized it was not meant as a risque remark. It was just Mulder being Mulder. His hands were unfolding a grubby, photocopied bunch of papers.

"You're not going to believe this, but Amos Scanlon was one of the three hundred attendees at the Presbyterian convocation..."

"You're right Mulder, I don't believe it...do you mean to tell me you've managed to get a copy of the names of those who attended and memorized every one of them?"

He looked at her blankly, wondering why she would suddenly question his eidetic memory.

"I'm sorry Mulder," she looked flustered and waved her left hand in dismissal "I'm just hot and sticky an dirty and grumpy. I've got about four hundred mosquito bites that itch like crazy and..."

"Wanna let me take a look ?" he leered at her and she glared back "Ah c'mon Scully you've never been reluctant to show them off before."

Now she was getting seriously angry. Her eyebrow lifted in a familiar threatening gesture so he turned the conversation left "Amos is not a common name," he broke off as the bowl of steaming chili and hot fresh bread rolls were placed in front of him.

Scully continued where she'd left off "It seems Mr. Scanlon, an American citizen, just returned from a marketing conference in L.A., about a week ago. Then he flew to Ambrym with Ambassador Gordon."

Mulder caught her eyes "Anyway you look at it, " he said between mouthfuls "I think we need to have a little chat with Amos Scanlon."

"He's flying back from Espiritu Santo tonight, same flight as Craig's wife. His secretary gave me his home address."

"I suppose it would be too much to hope he hasn't heard about us yet."

"I told the secretary we needed his assistance to eliminate certain avenues."

Mulder nodded and grinned.

"Mulder, I'd like to get back to the hotel as soon as possible and call up D.C. I want to run a background check on Amos Scanlon. It'd be nice to have something before the seeing him tomorrow."

Mulder swallowed a mouthful of soda. He was forever thankful that although Scully disbelieved him, she would make every effort to pursue his offbeat reasoning. "Look Scully, I know you have some misgivings about the possibility of black magic in these incidences. If we can nail Scanlon for the murders, I can live without proving the methods employed. But I don't seriously think we have much choice. If, as I suspect, he killed each victim anywhere up to three days before they slaughtered their families, it's going to be impossible proving he did it using conventional methods. In fact I'd bet my Elvis sunglasses he was probably in a different city, if not different country when most of the victims were running around killing their families, providing himself with a perfect alibi."

"Why would that be? If revenge was part of the scenario, wouldn't he want to be close by to see his victims massacre their families?"

Mulder chose to ignore the fact that Scully was at least in part agreeing with his theory "I don't think his original motive was revenge so much as a warning to others, but now he has a taste of the power, he's becoming taken with it. You heard our tame Magic Man, too many deaths will turn the spirits back onto the one wielding the power. C'mon, let's go back to the hotel and get cleaned up." He glanced at his watch "It's only six, another three hours at least before Crane collects us. Should give you enough time to soak out the last of the volcano." He grinned at her, but she ignored him and went to pay the bill.


DAY 32

Scully eased her toe into the bath water. It was hot, so wonderfully hot in a room she'd set to arctic freezing a half-hour before. She sent a silent prayer of thanks that although the hotel room service wasn't, at least they had baths and icy air conditioning. And hot baths were best enjoyed with ambient room temperature somewhere south of the eighties.

She sighed and leaned back into the gentle bubbles, allowing sheer physical pleasure to overtake her. She rubbed her hands along the smooth flesh of her stomach and closed her eyes. God, it felt like weeks since the last time she'd bathed. In fact it had only been the day before....

Her eyes shot open at his voice.

"Hey Scully?"

Oh...oh, no. Goddammit, couldn't he leave her alone to have this one small pleasure in peace?

But her body betrayed her, remembering what other pleasures were attached to that voice.

"Scully? Are you in here?" His voice deepened as he walked between their adjoining doors then into the bathroom.

Dammit, she'd forgotten to close the bathroom door.

"Mulder, " she used her best *don't mess with me* voice in the vain hopes of dissuading him, "can you give me half an hour, please?"

Scully kept her eyes closed, praying her ostrich mentality would work. But she felt his damned presence and could picture him leaning against the sink with his damned smug arms crossed and an insouciant smile on those damned lips.



"Dammit, Mulder, I'd like a little privacy."

"Sure you would, Scully."

Her eyes flew open in shock as she realized he was kneeling by the bathtub, sponge in hand.

"That's okay, Scully, keep your eyes closed."

"Mulder!" Anger burst into her eyes. "Look, don't think for a minute..."

"I'd take your own advice, Agent Scully, and stop thinking for a minute." His eyes flashed something not unfamiliar, but also not yet recognized.

Mulder had a fair idea Scully would try to ignore or at least evade what had passed between them the day before. He had twenty-four uncomfortable hours controlling his body's urges after managing just fine for six years.

Well, no, he hadn't managed just fine, but he'd coped, he'd resisted.

Until two days ago.

Shit, until two days ago he was lost. The man that had made love to Scully was a different, more foolhardy person.

As angry as he'd been with himself, there was the question of what had brought his memories back. Surely not sex, not even the mind blowing orgasm.

Surely not.

Hell, why not?

So if he'd used his brains for a change he might not have recovered his memories?

Okay...what's done is done. But they could not go on pretending it had never happened.

Scully was about to demand he leave her bathroom, then she felt the soft sponge arc across her stiff, slightly sunburned neck and gritty shoulders. It felt so good she couldn't help but lean her head slightly forward to encourage more of the same.

She should get rid of him, really, this was all wrong.

Why, Dana?

Since Emily died, she felt herself hardening a little more every day. Then the events surrounding Cassandra Spender had given her pause to think. Was the planned move back to Quantico to escape him...or herself? Scully had never envisaged becoming a dried and withered sexless spinster, but that was exactly what was happening. Staying with Mulder guaranteed that course would continue.

Until two days ago.

But was it attraction by default, or real?

Did she love him for the right reasons, or because there was simply no one else to love?

No matter how much Scully tried to rationalize it, she knew in her heart that, unlike many friends she had known, she was not in love with the idea of being in love and therefore ripe for any man showing her attention.

She was in love with Mulder.

And he was her partner.

And in the vast scheme of things she valued that partnership far more than any romantic relationship.

But oh, the sponge across her body felt sooo good.

For once, Scully let someone pamper her, allowing her mind to drift, to pretend it wasn't her partner doing this.

Her legs and feet, arms and hips, stomach, all lightly caressed with the sponge.

Some instinct told Mulder to keep his ministrations from becoming overtly sexual. He brushed the sponge across her breasts and between her legs as quickly and efficiently as other, less tempting areas. In fact he lingered longest on her legs and feet in order to wash away the accumulated black ash.

He washed her hair, but did not massage as he had before. This time, the act was affectionate, not erotic. He wanted Scully to feel safe and relaxed around him, without fearing that every contact would be sexual.

Certainly, bathing her was not the way to go about it, but at least she was not stopping him.

When he finished, Mulder wordlessly held out the thick hotel robe for her, not allowing his eyes to move from her face. But his peripheral vision could not ignore a naked, wet, slightly bubble-covered Dana Katherine Scully. Despite his best intentions, his nostrils flared and his eyes darkened. But he could also see something change in Scully's eyes.

Good God, he still found it hard to believe they had actually made love. That she had done the things to him that she had.

Unbidden images of Scully's red hair caressing the inside of his thighs as her lips... Oh, God in heaven. He swallowed and closed his eyes briefly, trying to control the events unfolding south of the border. Jesus, he had to get a grip on this situation.

"Scully...after all this time, why did you let me make love to you? Was it because it wasn't me?" An ungracious image of Eddie Van Blundht filled his mind.

Scully wrapped herself in the robe and exited the bathroom without looking at him. His comment had cut to the quick. "Mulder," she replied softly, knowing this conversation might destroy a partnership that neither the full resources of the FBI, the Consortium, mutants, alien horrors, nor the deaths of those they loved, could ruin.

Friends could forgive where lovers could not.

She lowered her head and slowly shook it back and forth, terrified of words yet unspoken, wishing it all to go away. Wishing she had ordered him from the bathroom.

Scully walked across to the small lounge and sat, aware of Mulder moving behind her. A few seconds later she felt his arm over her shoulder. Her eyes opened to a frosty glass of white wine. She glanced up to see he had a beer in his other hand and a fearful look on his face.

Her heart moved.

This was Mulder, this was her partner, a man she loved more than she could ever have imagined. A man that so infuriated her and encompassed her that at times she had to walk away to regain herself.

He told her not to run away from the truth.

"You're right. I'm so sorry, Mulder, but I think you're right."

He let out a breath and slumped down beside her. He took a long swig from the tiny bottle, half-emptying it in one go, and wishing it would fill the aching hollow that flooded his belly.

How many conversations had they had over the years without saying a word? But he steeled himself. They could not undo what had been done. And they could not forget it, it would drive them both mad with frustration and longing.

And that would destroy them.

He knew Scully knew that. He'd caught her glimpses. He'd even caught her becoming aroused at the sight of him getting out of the pool that morning. The water had been warm and he'd been feeling kind of loose and easy after the long swim, a mild buzz giving small life to his penis. Not offensive, even in his tight Speedos, but enough to draw her eyes. Enough for her to run her tongue over her lips. He'd heroically managed to control himself at that sight and turned his back to towel dry his hair, then wrap the towel around his waste.

But of course Scully would deny it, even to herself. Instead she'd start to get snappy in her frustrations. And he'd eventually snap back.

Hell, he didn't have to be a psychologist to see where that would go. In truth they had started on that road long ago. But he had, for once, applied a small portion of his psychology degree and a good portion of his profiling skills to Scully during the last few days.

Scully had succumbed to being a woman. She had succumbed to being attracted to him, to familiarity with him and to a Fox Mulder who had still known what it was like to let his dick drive his brain. Christ he'd never given much thought to women before. He flirted a little, well, maybe a lot, and landed in bed easily with an assortment of fellow students, secretaries and assistants. Falling in love, however, had come harder and invariably resulted in painful endings. So of course the brilliant and petite redhead was a sure bolster to his ego when Diana had just left him.

Well done, Mulder.

He'd gotten over his marriage, glad in fact to put such emotional ties behind him. Frohike had given him a handful of videos soon after Diana left. That year, his regression hypnosis plunged him into a dark nightmare of confused memories that still haunted him. The odd casual encounter finally withered to nothing after Kristin Kilar and the realization it was necessary to abandon all encumbrances with women.

Except for Scully. She had given him all the companionship, all the humanity he needed from a woman, without any of the demands.

He dared to look in her eyes and saw that same familiar but unrecognized look pass through them and bore into him.

It was her decision as much as his younger self's seduction. She had not made love to *him*. Scully had made love to a different man, to his younger self, who had metamorphosed into something unexpected, just like Eddie Van Blundht.

And something unwanted? Had he turned into a loser by choice, as Eddie said?


Not unwanted, unattainable.

Because Scully must main control, and that control would never allow her to give in to Mulder's base needs. Or her own.

He must rectify that, right now.

He put his beer bottle on the coffee table in front of them and turned to her. Taking the glass from her hand, he also placed it on the table.

Scully would only concede control if he took it, she could never do it on her own.

Mulder's eyes darkened and he very deliberately lowered his face to hers, his eyes brooking no refusal.

She found herself looking into the identical expression in his hallway that day, so very long ago. It was one of profound respect, of a love far richer and greater than anything merely sexual. And she could not deny him, for she would be denying a truth. It would be an insult beyond any words she might utter.

Why had she denied herself this for so long? Was it so very wrong to love him? Would he be any more demanding, any less selfish than he was now?

Mulder's lips softly caressed his partner's. He deepened the kiss until he felt her moan softly, then he pulled away a few inches and said, "This is *me* Scully, make love with *me*." And before she could gain control and refuse him, he used his lips once more to pacify her mind and arouse her body and soul.

When her tongue became as demanding as his, he knew she would no longer deny them this. His hand loosened the soft belt of her robe and slipped across her abdomen then gently cupped her full breast. The feel of its soft, firm weight in his hand, the touch of an even firmer bud at its apex, was enough to drive him wild.

God, he had Scully's breast in his hand!

The softness of it, they way it rolled beneath his fingers, the way the soft flesh enveloped his palm was exquisite

He pulled back and looked down in fascination, almost disbelieving the moment. Her face had been a little flushed from the heat of the bath. Now it was darker, the flush spreading downwards. As he drank in that extraordinary vision, his hand ceased its gentle caressing.

Scully finally allowed herself to succumb completely. If she was going to do this, it would be just as completely as she had two days before. No more games, no more dishonesty to herself, or him.

The sense of freedom this decision gave her was extraordinary. Years of verbal foreplay, of touches and caresses from her partner gushed out in an arousal that demanded more from him that this gentle attention. Scully placed her own hand over his and pushed it firmly against her soft flesh, demanding a deeper fulfillment.

Mulder growled in his throat and his nostrils flared. She was his now, and she would take her pleasure from him. That fact aroused him to the point of dizziness.

Scully opened her eyes and licked her lips. She glanced down at his other hand then very deliberately opened her legs and arched slightly upwards, allowing the folds of the robe to open and a thatch of burnished bronze hair to appear.


But he sat frozen, watching her, enraptured by this vision of an aroused Scully. He felt like a kid standing at the door of the biggest candy store in the world. But he took so long just savoring it all, Scully's own desire tired of him frozen at the entrance. She slowly reached down with her other hand and slid her fingers beneath the edge of the robe still partially covering her.

Mulder sucked his breath in anticipation, unable to see exactly where her fingers were going. He clutched her breast in reaction, kneading it almost harshly, then hissed when she arched her back and let her fingers disappear between her legs.

He was all but panting now, desperately wishing the robe would drop aside and let him see exactly what her fingers were doing. And then she arched again and spread her legs wider, forcing her knee against him, moving rhythmically.

"Fuck." He hissed in disbelief, his eyes almost completely black with raw lust. Jesus, he was out of his fucking mind if he thought he was in any way controlling this situation.

This was Scully.

God help those poor bastards that thought she was some sort of ice queen.

God help me, he thought.

He desperately wanted to kiss her, to bury his face in her folds, but her gentle, slow undulations held him in thrall.

Then the robe finally parted as her glistening fingers moved away.

He swallowed hard, drawing a ragged breath and wondered how much more of this he could take, when she leaned across and snaked her tongue down his neck. She pulled at his free hand and pushed it down into her soft, swollen folds demanding his larger, rougher fingers. He instantly turned and captured her mouth, driving his tongue in, instinctually mimicking his body's primal needs.

Then he felt wet fingers on his stomach. Wet from essence of Scully. They edged lower, creeping under the waistband of his jeans.

He couldn't help himself. Years of being a passive observer had reduced the act of sex to primarily visual stimulation, with the final relief from his own hand. He had to see this. He had to watch his fingers reach into her forbidden core and her hand reach down the front of his jeans.

Jesus, his fingers were inside Scully.

And Scully's hand was groping for him, her fingers inching under his jeans. He whimpered as her fingernails scraped the top of his silk-covered erection.

"Scully if you don't get me out of there soon," he croaked hoarsely, "some serious damage might result."

Scully chuckled. "To whom, Mulder?"

"My damned jeans." He sounded strangled.

Scully shot him a smirk "Pretty full of yourself, aren't you?"

"Not nearly as much as I'm going to fill you, Agent Scully."

His fingers were sending waves of pleasurable anticipation through her, but his words burned, and she jerked at his zipper. But the force of his erection stretched the material taught, making it difficult to maneuver the zipper. "Ooh...I believe..."

Mulder chuckled until she finally freed him, but then his jaw slackened at the sight of her small, still wet but unbelievably hot fingers wrapping themselves around him. He almost gasped as she took them away and thrust them back inside herself, joining his own stroking digits. He finally groaned aloud when her slickened fingers wrapped her moisture all around his cock.

Just the sight of her hand on him would have been enough, but this, this was beyond belief. There was no playing now, no gentle touches and teasing hints as in the pool, this was full on, her small hand exerting surprising power.

He was so close to losing it he had to distract her, distract himself. "Jesus, Scully, who was your firearms instructor?"

She chuckled, then, slipping out of his loose grasp, lowered herself between his legs and sat back on her heels.

He knew he had no hope of surviving this onslaught.

Scully knew it too, "Wait," she said softly in his ear, then stood and walked away.

Mulder had no idea where she was going, but he was physically incapable of moving his head, except to flop it back on the lounge. He took a few deep breaths and began to recapture some sense of control. Looking down, he realized how ridiculous he appeared. His jeans were unzipped but otherwise completely encompassing the lower half of his body, while his erection stood out like some demented flagpole from the side of a building. His white T-shirt was bunched up around his chest. Christ, all he needed was his trench coat and he'd look like some perverted flasher.

Mulder sat forward and ripped off his T-shirt, but Scully returned and stopped him from lowering his jeans. He shot her a quizzical look, but then realized the sight of her sucking him while his trousers were still in place was unbelievably erotic.

Scully was giving him a blow job.

Oh, fuck me! Lord, I have most definitely died and gone to heaven.

It mattered not one little bit that she had done something similar two days before. She had not done it to *him*. Although he remembered every minute detail, the fact remained it had not been *him*. At the time he saw her only as someone he'd known a few weeks, not Scully who he had desired and loved for six long, dry years.

And let's face it, Mulder, it had not been similar, these were Scully's thick lips slowly spreading around his engorgement, sliding up and sucking strongly, the tingling anticipatory fear of what those ivories could inflict, the withdrawal and slick sheen, the bronze hair mussing her face...Scully was doing this to him

Oh, God, he was going to lose it again...no! "Scully!"

He went to pull her face away, but in that instant she pulled taught on the skin of his penis, not enough to hurt, but it somehow exerted a back pressure. Simultaneously, a bolt of pure electricity shot up through his testicles into the base of his spine. It was not pain, it was a weird shrill pleasure that nevertheless managed to instantly prevent the fluid coiled in his balls from erupting.

The sensation flooded him, then her hot tongue gave counterpoint to what his raw nerves finally identified as ice cold.


"Doctor tricks. I shoulda known. Fuck, Scully, you tryin' to kill me or something?"

"It's just ice, Mulder." She chuckled, unable to keep a wicked grin from her face.

He stared down into her eyes as she opened her mouth wide and ran her tongue down his length again, simultaneously running the ice cube down the other side of his penis.

"Good Christ, you've known how to do this for six years?" his words came out strangled, disbelieving.

He'd avoided this for six fucking years?

He wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

Instead, he settled for gathering what strength he could muster and pulling her from between his legs, pulling her robe from her shoulders and carrying her the three steps to the bed.

"Payback time, Agent Scully."

Instead of climbing on the bed with her he decided to take a small risk and do something he was aware many women found repugnant. Given her actions to date, he suspected Scully was in the other camp.

He watched her face carefully as he stood at the foot of the bed, then he slowly reached his hand around to grasp his penis.

Scully gasped and licked her lips, her eyes never straying above his belt. Emboldened he begin to stroke himself, slowly, gently, far more gently than the rough ministrations he would normally employ. He walked around to the side of the bed where she lay, watching her hips arch rhythmically a little in response to his hand movements. She reached up and pulled his jeans and silk boxers onto the floor while his hand continued to pleasure himself. As much as he would have preferred it to be her soft, firm fingers, he realized she was as turned on by him doing this as he had been seeing her pleasure herself.

Suddenly, he found himself being swung onto the bed, her small body straddling his. "Oooh, Scully, have I ever told you how much I love it when you get physical?"

But the feral look in her eyes quieted him, especially when she ground her hips against his. He tried to rise in counterpoint but she dug her knees in, forcing his body to remain motionless. Then she leaned back a little and reached down to herself with two hands. With one, she pulled back on the flesh of her mons, exposing the dark and swollen lips. With the other, she reached her fingers to spread the lips, then, arching back, lowered herself onto his full length in one exquisite motion.

She sat there unmoving for seconds, but he could feel small shudders echo through the soft, firm walls that grasped him. Although he deliberately kept his body still, he equally deliberately flexed his penis with small muscular motions.

Scully's eyes widened in shock. "Did you do that voluntarily?" she croaked.

He grinned and did it again.

"How...how can you do that?"

"Ah, c'mon Scully, you're a doctor."

"Yes, but..."

"Scully...later, mm?"

She grinned down at him, then, and leaned back, making certain he could see everything, then lifted herself entirely off him, leaving him gasping at the loss.

Then she lowered herself just on his tip and back out again, teasing, teasing, always teasing until it became too much and his hips started bucking.

Once again, she quieted him with her knees, then leaning over she kissed him long and sensuously. He tickled her with the motion of his penis and she responded by firmly grasping him with her own pelvic muscles. Mulder grunted something unintelligible and Scully knew she could not play this game anymore. Grabbing at his chest she pounded into him as hard as she could, sliding herself down into his groin as she completed each thrust, feeling his surprisingly soft hairs course across her clitoris, then the soft pressure of his scrotum against her thighs as she arched up and back down again. In only a few strokes she was grasping his chest, losing herself in his hazel eyes, then unbelievably hot pleasure tipped reality into a new dimension.

He fell with her, trapped beneath her legs, bewitched by her body and enraptured by her face as she finally gave up all control.


DAY 32 - 8:30pm

As Mulder nuzzled Scully's neck, he glanced at his watch, grateful to see it was only 8:30. He figured they had a good forty-five minutes before the pilot arrived.

Pulling himself back from his partner's loose embrace, he smiled at the sleepy expression on her face. With sudden insight, it struck him that she appeared genuinely happy. Happier than he had seen her in...well, a long time. Oh, there was no overt smile, but it seemed to rest just below her smooth face.

Scully opened her eyes and the smile burst out, across her eyes and down to her cheeks. It was not a huge grin, but a soft, glowing smile that warmed his heart.

God, he loved her. Maybe this was a good idea, maybe, just maybe it would be all right.

"Hey," he grinned down at her.

"Hey, yourself." Her eyes remained steady on him.

He wanted to say so much, to tell her all that this meant to him, but it seemed superfluous for he could see it reflected in her eyes. They didn't need to analyze what happened with volumes of spoken words, the conversation between their souls said it all.

Everything has changed.

Nothing has changed.

We are still who we are. Stubborn, proud, professional, strong-willed, opinionated, determined, dedicated, caring, loving...

"I do love you, you know." He wondered if she'd ever understood it wasn't the drugs.

Scully smiled that small, golden smile he lived for. "I know...I knew then, too but..."

"I know." He lifted her into a sitting position, dislodging himself from her gently in the process. "Scully, this is no easier for me than you. You of all people know that."

Scully nodded and they shared yet another long, wordless conversation with their eyes. Finally, she sighed and said "I *am* glad...I thought, at first...but no, I *am* glad. And not simply because I have loved you for a very long time."

His whole face smiled. Oh, he'd been quick to flash grins and smug looks, even a harsh laugh or genuine chuckle. But this smile made him look all funny, like his whole face was falling over itself.

She laughed in reply and hugged him. "God, for two such normally eloquent people we really are hopeless, aren't we?"

"Yeah, but we got each other, Scully, we got each other."

"And that's enough." Scully replied.

They showered together, aware that the strong smell of sex could not leave the hotel room with them. They exchanged few words, but constantly looked at each other and broke into the silly grins of old friends who have become new lovers.

They each suppressed a thousand questions, how would this affect their partnership? How would this affect their work? And yet each time they looked at one another, they could see the answers. They would still debate and bicker, even squabble. He would still tease her with barbed witticisms and she would still attack with her disbelieving eyebrows. They would skirt around each other and allow the sexual tension to build, yet give no ammunition to the ongoing pool in the bullpen as to whether they were or weren't. Scully would still hide behind her science and Mulder would still be frustrated at her painful logic. But from this point on, they could take comfort in one another's arms, as well as eyes.

Scully realized her fears had been for naught. Mulder would not suddenly become any more protective of her that he was. She was still his partner and the fact that they shared a bed gave him no special rights. If anything, he might be less protective for the same reasons that Scully knew she would display a little less hostility toward people like Diana.

Nothing like being fucked silly to improve one's disposition, she thought dryly. Maybe, just maybe they would be less snappy, even better partners.

As they dressed alone in their respective rooms, Scully knew the hardest thing would to keep their all too frequent disagreements out of the bedroom.

"Mulder," she ventured as he walked silently into her bathroom to watch her apply makeup.


Lipstick in hand, she turned and said, "I'm not going to change. My opinions are not..."

He took two quick strides to her and put his arms around her. "You better not, Scully. I need you, I want you just the way your are, all piss and vinegar."

Her eyes rounded in shock at his description, but the silly grin on his face stayed put as he added, "And I'm not going to change, either. What's really important to me changed a long time ago, with a bounty hunter on a bridge."

Scully blinked slowly in recognition of what he had given her. But still the small fear...

"So often, people fall in love with little quirks that, over years, change from endearing to tolerable to hated."

"Scully, we've already had almost seven years to sort that out."

She smiled again and looked at him in the mirror. There would be difficulties, but they had each other to take comfort in, now, and as long as they remained true to themselves, she thought it just might be okay.

Scully felt a pang of guilt as she watched Gary and his wife, Suzie, put her bags down in their living room. Suzie was clearly exhausted.

"I'm sorry to ask this off you at this time of night Mrs. Craig," Mulder spoke softly.

"That's okay." Suzie waved her hands. "Gary would never have known where to find them, but if you'll excuse me I'm going to just leave them with you while I have a shower." Suzie Craig sent a slightly chagrined look to Scully, whose eyes answered in rueful reply.

"Don't blame you."

"Hey, can I get you guys a drink or some coffee?" Gary asked.

"Coffee would be fine," the agents replied almost in unison.

Scully sat at the dining room table and began to spread the photos. The quality was exceptional, far better than the normal autopsy photos, but then Suzie was a commercial photographer. She'd even had the good sense to show the scale of those organs or partial organs that had been recovered, by placing a common ballpoint pen in the photo.

"Do you think I could get a copy of these prints, with some enlargements?" Scully asked.

"Sure," Gary replied. "The lab here can scan in the negs and cut them on CD ROM if you like."

"That would be perfect," Scully replied with some satisfaction.

"Now, " Gary asked, "before I go off tomorrow do you want to let me know what you found out today?" He looked at them earnestly.

As much as neither of the agents felt at liberty to discuss their suspicions, Mulder glanced at his partner and received a tacit agreement. The pilot had proven helpful beyond all their expectations. In the back of Mulder's mind was also the thought that he owed the man something far more, his memory -- and Scully.

"Mr. Craig, although we'd normally be unwilling to discuss this..."

Gary nodded and interrupted, "We've been through this. Suzie and I keep our mouths shut about a lot of things. And we both want to see this resolved before anyone else is killed. I gotta say she's even more skeptical than me, but the fact that it's expatriates dying, people outside this culture, has given us the willies. And I hafta tell you, Jag Mahiney, up at Santo estate, went nuts the other night and was found dead with the same nylon line tying up his gut."

Mulder glanced at his partner. Scanlon had been in Santo.

Just at that moment, Suzie returned and placed an affectionate hand across her husband's neck. He smiled up at her and motioned her to sit while her poured her coffee.

Mulder presented the information they had in hand, adding his opinions, and also adding the fact that Scully did not subscribe to his conclusions.

"But it makes sense," Gary replied. "Scanlon is a bad bugger. You know he half beat his ni-Vanuatu wife to death once? Police didn't prosecute. All Scanlon did was pay retribution -- a few pigs and stuff -- to the girl's father and that was the end of it.

"He's also a known pedophile," Suzie added, her nose crinkling in distaste.

"Now, c'mon, Suzie, you know there's no proof of that."

"Sure, there is, I've seen what he's done to some of those kids up on the islands. He just pays the family to shut up -- you know what it's like. And he almost had a seizure when the first export license was issued to Peter Joffee."

"Did you say Joffee?" Scully interrupted.

"Yeah, he's the owner of the cattle plantation up in Santo. It's run...it was run, by Jag Mahiney. Joffee's a partner, but he's in the States -- with his family I think."

"I'm sorry, did you know him well?" Scully asked.

"Jag or Peter Joffee?"


"No, well... I knew them well enough to have a cup of coffee with them, but not, y'know, bosom buddies."

"Peter William Joffee died after murdering his family about three weeks ago."

Suzie's face paled and Gary's darkened.

"How did he die?" Gary asked "Was he one of the victims you mentioned before?"

Mulder nodded and told them the names of the other victims. Gary glanced at his wife and grimaced. They did not know all of them, but of those familiar, all had public run-ins with Scanlon.

"Are there any people around town who can testify to that?" Scully asked.

"Sure, most of the guys who hang around the Waterfront Bar. Look Dana," he turned to Scully, "I'm skeptical, too, but I hafta tell you, with the evidence you have in hand, the local police would be more than happy to make an arrest. I dunno what extradition agreements this country has with the States, but here, you can get prosecuted for black magic, as long as there is evidence to back it up. And it seems to me you got all the evidence you need."

Scully's eyebrows shot up and Mulder looked on in disbelief.

"You mean a trial here would be preferable to having him extradited?" Mulder asked.

"No, forget the trial, just get the bugger locked up. It will only take five minutes for word to get around and then, well, justice will take its own course."

"What do you mean?" Scully asked, her brows now furrowing.

"You think your jails are bad, you don't wanna see what we got here. Scanlon is a pedophile, but he's also a wimp. He can dish it out, if you get the picture, but..." Suzie trailed off.

Mulder's eyes said he understood.

"There are some big pretty boys in that prison," Gary added. "And it's a sure bet that a couple of the big Ambrym magic men will, you know, maybe rob a house or something and get themselves jailed for a bit."

"Why?" Mulder asked in confusion.

"Payback. If Scanlon has acquired magic and is misusing it, he has to be destroyed. They'll get in there, get the job done, be set free on a presidential pardon come Christmas and Scanlon will no longer be able to do any damage."


DAY 33 - 3:00am

"Thanks for getting organized as fast as this, Colonel." Mulder turned to the British adviser to the police commissioner.

"My pleasure. I think we'd all like to see this tied up as soon as possible."

Mulder stood close to his partner and glanced at his watch. It was close to 3 a.m. There was nothing stealthy about the truckload of police running to surround the house. No SWAT team, no bullet-proof vests, no precautionary maneuvers. Mulder grimaced at the lack of professionalism but held himself in check when he realized this was probably the most excitement the sleepy town had seen in ten years.

The sound of smashing timber filled the night air. Shouts and a scream of shock, not pain, incited a dog to bark. Within minutes, a cacophony of dogs joined chorus in the night. Lights in surrounding houses turned on and curious, berobed figures emerged from front doors.

Mulder had his first look at Scanlon as Scully went inside the house, donning latex gloves as she walked.

"What the hell is this?" screamed the orange-haired man. "What's going on?"

Mulder noticed that no one bothered with a local version of Miranda rights. He turned to follow Scully into the house when he heard a whhhoof sound. Glancing back he saw Scanlon doubled over and throwing up.

"That's enough!" Colonel Anderson berated the two burly ni- Vanuatu police. "Don't touch him again or you're likely to find yourselves like Gordon."

The ni-Vanuatu police shrugged. Scanlon was white, his magic could not hurt them.

Mulder saw Anderson's face change slightly, "And I'll have you out on your asses so fast you won't have time for a piss on the way. Now get him up to Namba Tu and process him. And keep your bloody black fingers off him, understand?"

Mulder blinked at the obvious disregard for procedure, not to mention the racial slur.

Anderson gave Mulder a look as he caught up with the agent. "Bloody ni-Vanuatu, just can't wait for a chance to shove it to a white face. I tell you, I'm not renewing my contract next month."

Mulder found himself grinning, "I thought this was a nice little place."

"Yeah, bloody lovely. They're scared dickless to enforce the law, but get someone in custody and they beat the crap out of them. You can't train it out of them, they're like viscious children."

Mulder grimaced, but turned his concerns to the inside of the house. The police had been ordered to capture Scanlon, then leave the premises immediately. Forensic work was unfamiliar territory to a country whose police still had no idea how to collect a fingerprint.

An hour was all it took -- glass jars, filled with human organs, buried under a manhole in the old servants' quarters at the rear. Enough evidence to hang a conviction.

"Thirteen," Scully announced as she snapped the gloves from her fingers and wiped her sodden hair away from her face. "There are a total of thirteen sets of organs, which means there are more bodies to be found.

"Or a coupla of zombies still on the loose," Mulder answered grimly.

Scully glared at him, unwilling to accept that the gruesome jars were anything other than evidence that would see Scanlon jailed for life.

Scully lay her head on her arms in a smelly detective's office at the police station. God, she was tired, but happy. They could get a flight out of this lousy, hot, sweltering country in a few hours. Either that or wait three days for a connecting flight via New Zealand. She sat up as Mulder entered the room.

His face was black with rage and her heart sank, What now?

"What is it?"

"He's confessed to every murder we're aware of, but refuses to tell us who the last victims were. And the interrogation techniques and the manner of his arrest virtually guarantee he'd walk if we extradited him and tried him in the States."

"So, the local authorities are going to prosecute?"

"Oh, yeah." Mulder slumped on the next seat next to Scully. "Yeah, they'll convict him for sure, despite the sloppy procedures. I guess that's one thing to be said for a place like this. According to Anderson, the judge won't accept bullshit psychobabble about Scanlon's rights and police brutality, from expensive lawyers. What happens after he's tried locally is between the State Department and the Vanuatu government.

"C'mon, Scully," he tugged at her elbow "We got an hour to get packed and changed and to the airport. Let's go home."


Day 36 - 5:20pm

Mulder sat with his feet on his desk, his chair leant back at an impossible angle. His eyes were closed and he rubbed one hand over the stubble on his cheek. He'd shaved the night before, between dropping his bags and dropping himself into bed, but this five o'clock shadow was twelve hours older than normal.

"Yeah, yeah, my boss is used to those sorts of reports from me," he replied to the person on the other end of the phone.

"No," he added, shaking his head unnecessarily, then sat up straight, "Shit, really?" His eyes were wide open, now, and he stared at his now-alert partner.

Scully saw his sick grin, the one he wore when he knew one of his wild theories had been vindicated in the worst possible manner.

"Yeah, well, I appreciate the call....glad to be of help, just try and organize it for winter next time, will ya?" He chuckled then hung up the phone.

"Vanuatu?" Scully asked, a slight frown of concern crossing her brow.

"Yeah, Colonel Anderson. Scanlon won't be brought to trial."

"What?!" Scully's outrage could be felt through the floorboards.

Mulder held up his hand and waved it in a negative gesture as he shook his head. "No, nothing like that. He's dead."

Scully frowned, waiting for the explanation.

"There were two more 'straw men' found dead in the last two days in Santo. Both connected in some form or another to the Santo plantation where they were growing, I might add, huge crops of kava. Both managed to butcher their wives and kids before dying." Mulder's face grimaced.

Scully stood from her desk and went to him, taking his hand from his face and holding it. "It's not your fault, Mulder. We had no way of knowing who those men were."

"We should have stayed, Scully. We knew there were two more victims. I could have figured it out and their families could have been saved."

Scully stood silently holding onto his limp hand, refusing to let him wallow in this guilt. She could not reconcile having held the glass jars with the viscera of victims, only to be told those same victims had murdered their families some days later.

"Mulder, they were dead. No matter what people thought they saw, those men were dead. Scanlon clearly organized their slaying through an accomplice, setting it up to make it look like black magic, to perpetuate the myth."

But Mulder was shaking his head. "No Scully...you're wrong. There was no accomplice and even if there was, we'd never find him now. Scanlon died at the exact moment the last victim collapsed. The local doctor decided to try an autopsy, just to be certain the cause of death was cardiac arrest."

"What did he find?"


"Well, I'm not surprised, they have absolutely no idea how to...'

"No, you don't get it, Scully. They found nothing inside of him. No liver or heart, no kidneys, intestines...nothing."

Scully sat on the edge of the desk, collecting her thoughts. Someone had obviously gotten to him in the jail, just as Craig predicted.

"Anderson said the word around town was that thirteen zombies surpassed his quotient."

"You mean..."

"Yep, Craig said it, the evil consumed Scanlon. Thirteen was the last straw...man before he himself was consumed." He smiled grimly at his attempted pun.

Scully didn't respond but he knew she got it by the look of bland indifference on her face. He closed his eyes again.

"Are you ready?" Scully asked softly.

"No, but I don't see any choice. I owe her that much."

Scully wanted to snap out that Mulder he owed his ex-wife nothing, but she refrained. However, she was now able to offer him something that she could not only a week ago.

"Do you want me to come with you?"

He slowly opened his eyes and looked at her lovingly. God, she would do this for him, even though things were going to be said that would no doubt hurt her. But he could not hide it from her. He wanted her to know that in this, there could be no secrets between them. That would hurt her more than the knowing.

"Yes, you need to know as much as I need to know."

"As you are aware, Agent Mulder, Agent Foley has an irrefutable alibi for the period during which you were missing. Both Agents Cowper and Fortune verify she was in one or both of their presences at all times. Searching for you."

Mulder compressed his lips as A.D. Skinner spoke.

"But I heard her. There was absolutely no mistaking that, sir. And what about Cowper and Fortune? How do we know they're telling the truth?"

The grim, look on Skinner's face could be read in any number of ways. Scully held her breath as she waited for the A.D. to refute such accusations against another agent, but they were not forthcoming. Their lack told both Mulder and Scully a great deal.

"Be that as it may, Agent Mulder, I myself had been willing to concede your amnesia was chemically-induced. However, I have been assured that the return of your memories, although someone outside what are considered normal parameters, was expected."

"What about the trace chemicals found in my blood?"

Scully looked uncomfortable before replying, "It seems that the original sample was contaminated by faulty procedure by a technician. He's been fired."

Mulder shot up from Skinner's chair, glaring at his partner. "Oh, so another piece of evidence just conveniently slips through the cracks, huh? Same ol' same ol'..."

"Agent, sit down." Skinner did not need to raise his voice, the tone was sufficient.

Scully sat with her lips compressed. Without proof...

"We have absolutely no foundation to continue investigating Agent Fowley. I requested you come here this afternoon because I believe an apology is in order before we release her."

Scully watched her partner, waiting with held breath for him to go completely apoplectic. Somehow, he held it in and through gritted teeth replied, "Yes, Sir." He stood and strode from the room before Skinner could dismiss them.

Scully looked at Skinner questioningly. He graced her with a stiff glance "That will be all, Agent Scully." Then he turned back to the papers on his desk.

She had to run to catch up with the stiff-backed form of her partner as he took the stairs.

"Mulder," Scully called.

He did not answer, did not even recognize she was there until they reached the room where Diana was kept. Mulder motioned with his eyes for Scully to go into the adjoining observation room.

"Fox," Diana Foley walked up to her former husband and tried to take him by the hands. He was familiar with the hurt, proud look on her face and something inside of him faltered for a moment. He pushed it aside and deliberately separated himself from her, pulling out a chair on the far side of the table. From that angle, Scully could see them both in profile.

"Why, Diana, what was the point of fucking over my memories?"

Diana winced at his expletive. "Fox, I was never there. You must believe me, I have never done anything to hurt you."

"So what was it, Diana, haven't been able to get laid recently and figured good ol' Mulder was an easy hit to get your jollies?"

Both Diana and Scully were stunned at his viciousness. Scully watched Diana and for a second, an almost impossibly short moment, saw fear arc across her face. But then it changed.

Diana sat up and arched her neck regally, a proud, hurt look plastered on her face. "That was beneath you, Fox, and beneath me."

Mulder had the grace to look chagrined, then he closed his eyes in pain and rolled back his head in frustration. Scully wanted to go to him, wanted to put a bullet in this woman who caused him so much pain.

Diana spoke again, "I know what you think. Skinner told me everything. But it's not true, Fox. If you truly believe I would do such a thing to you, why on Earth would I be present at the time and leave myself open for this?" Her eyes became bright with unshed tears. "Do you know what this is doing to me?"

Oh, Christ, thought Scully, she knows just which buttons to push.

"Do you realize I didn't go to bed all that weekend? I was searching for you frantically...and do you know what it does to find that you had, obviously still have, forgotten what we had once more become to each other?"

Scully felt the adrenaline course through her body. What the hell was she trying to pull?

Mulder looked into her eyes "You lied to me, Diana."

"No! Not once."

"Bullshit! You led me to believe we had rekindled our relationship. That's crap, I told you when we first picked up Gibson Praise that I'd done okay without you, that I didn't want that kind of relationship with you again."

Scully's heart soared as a dozen unanswered questions were resolved. But she froze at Diana's next words.

"How can you be so cruel, Fox? You were never heartless before, damn you! We made love that night before going to El Rico and you deny it?"

Mulder sat back and shook his head "No Diana, you kissed me, we never ended up in bed."

"You can't remember!" Diana all but shouted now, but still holding herself in the same dignified manner Scully recalled seeing his mother use. Righteous indignation at its best. Oh, yeah, she knew all about punching Mulder's buttons. To her horror Scully saw a look of confusion pass over Mulder's eyes.

Diana attacked the crack mercilessly. "How do you know if the memories you have back are real? You've forgotten about us, you recall an incident that never happened. God, you even accused me of organizing an annulment when you yourself suggested it."

Scully saw Mulder wince. Yeah, it was just likely he'd been considering Diana's career and done just that.

"I remember that, now," Mulder replied in a small voice.

"Doesn't that prove to you there are other memories you don't have back yet?"

Scully saw Mulder's shoulder's drop in resignation. Scully closed her own eyes for a minute, watching an Academy Award- winning performance drive her partner, her lover, another step towards the delicate edge of his sanity.

But it was his battle. He knew she was watching, all she could do was continue to observe.

"Fox," Diana went to him. She ran her hands through his hair and he flinched away. Diana moved back and a solitary tear coursed down her cheek. Scully childishly prayed her mascara would run.

"Fox, I love you. I have always loved you and I can't stop that. I would never betray you, you must believe me. I...I realize now that your recent memories of us together are gone, but I live in hope that one day they may return. I'll always be here for you, you must know that. The door will always be open." She risked a quick kiss on his cheek before making a dignified exit.

Scully waited a few minutes before entering the room. Mulder held his face in his hands, aware of his partner's entry, listening to the scrape of the chair from the table. She waited patiently for him to speak.


"Mulder...I just have one question. Why did you go on a three day drunk in Cansby?"

Mulder slowly lifted his eyes and stared at his partner. Scully watched a range of emotions cross his beautiful, torn face, then like a light, his eyes cleared and he answered.

"Because I thought I'd lost you. Because I figured you'd finally had enough. Enough pain, enough crap from me. Just...enough....I know I've asked this before, but not before recovering my memories. Why did you want to transfer to Quantico for three months?"

"For the same reason that just left this room. I can't compete with that kind of dissembling, Mulder. And I can't trust working with you if you trust what I know to be false."

"But can you say honestly that what Diana says is false?"

"I have no proof and therefore I must answer no, despite what I believe, what I know."

Mulder stood and pushed his coat back. Placing his hands on his hips he turned and paced to the window, watching the Washington traffic below.

"You've never lied to me, Scully. But then neither has Diana. But Diana is the past and what I felt for her in that way has long since died. I'm not even sure if I was ever really in love with her."

He turned and looked at Scully with bright, sad eyes. "But I am in love with you. I can't promise you anything other than what I am, you know that. And that includes the fact that I still count Diana as a friend. I can't change that and I won't, otherwise I'd be lying to you. I think I have all my memories back, but there is an element of doubt. I don't know anymore if the amnesia really was just an accident compounded by too much alcohol....shit." He turned back and rested his hands on the window sill until he felt her warm presence behind him.

Scully placed a hand on his shoulder. "Mulder, I love you. I told you before that I wouldn't change and I expect....I want nothing different from you. All I ask is you respect my feelings that Diana cannot be trusted. I don't need to be vindicated and I'm not asking you to choose between us, I just need to know that you will take my opinion into consideration when dealing with her in the future, that's all."

He turned and took her hand. He cupped her cheek with his other hand and looked into her eyes, knowing how unconditional her love was. God, he loved her so much it was almost overwhelming to know she returned those feelings.

"Come home with me, Scully?" he asked in voice cracked with emotion.

"Sure, G-man."


DAY 36 - 11.50pm

"Did he believe you?"

"He doesn't disbelieve, but I'm not sure if he still trusts me."

"Don't worry, we'll give him something to get that back." He lit another Morley and squinted his eyes at the raven- haired woman in front of him. "I'm sorry to have put you in that position with him. I realize it was...distasteful."

Foley shrugged. "I was married to him, it makes no difference, it really was the only way."

"Yes. A ten-day enforced bed rest, healthy dose of antibiotics to clean out his system and decent, nutritional diet were certainly sufficient to improve the quality and quantity of his sperm. And the entire exercise was interesting."

"Now we know alcohol can interfere with the exact timing of regression."

"Yes, further study will be required, that was cut almost too fine. And he should have stayed under a few more weeks, enough to collect more batches, but we froze six straws -- almost twice our expectation for the first run. You covered the situation so nicely and to collect that much was an unexpected bonus."

"I was lucky, he normally tosses condoms in the toilet but what with the knock on the door...."

"Yes, we can be grateful to Miss Scully. I'm curious what event triggered the recovery. I'm not absolutely certain it was just the original effect of the alcohol."

Diana shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"Everything matters." He stubbed out the cigarette and left.


These words have been in their own inadequate way, my need to express the intense camaraderie of those who go to battle against evil, who sacrifice themselves and all they love for the greater good of mankind. I can only let the great bard himself summarize with ones far more eloquent:-

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition And gentlemen in England, now a-bed, Shall think themselves accurs'd, they were not here And hold their manhood's cheap, whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day."

King Henry the Fifth Act 4 Scene 3: William Shakespeare

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