Title: Mobius
Author: L.A. Ward
Written: February 2001
URL: www.hometown.aol.com/laward/eclectic.html
Archiving: Sure, just let me know.
Spoiler Warning: Anything through Season 7 including Requiem
Rating: R (for language)
Classification: X/MSR/A. X-file casefile with Mytharc MSR Scully Angst/Mulder Angst

Summary: While investigating the disappearance of a physicist, Scully finds someone she didn't expect-Mulder.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never mine. Wish they were, but they belong to Chris. Have no money so don't bother to sue.

Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who encouraged me when I began posting this as a WIP last summer. Unfortunately I discovered I'm not a WIP kind of girl. Sorry I disappeared for so long. Also, I cannot say enough nice things for the wonderful people who undertook the task of beta reading. Thanks to all of them, but special thanks to Shari, Rosemary, and Fran.


"All we communicate to others is an orientation towards what is secret. . ."
- Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space


Prologue

Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
4:15 am

The dark was comforting. It was uniform, unchanging and peaceful with only the dull murmur of sound somewhere in the distance. No one sound was distinct. They all rolled together in a low, muted hum-white noise in a black room-and she listened to it intently as if by listening hard enough she could immerse herself in it.

Someone shoved open the door and light blinded her.

"Doctor!" the nurse said. "We need you."

Grabbing her lab coat, she followed the nurse from the on-call room into the green tiled hallway. "What have we got?" she asked as a paramedic crashed through the E.R.'s double doors leading a gurney.

"Male. Mid to late thirties," the medic answered. "B.P. ninety over sixty. Pulse one-ten and irregular. Appears to be in psychogenic shock."

"Transportation time?" she asked as they entered the trauma room.

"Twenty minutes. Four liters oxygen. One I.V. normal saline."

She nodded and crossed to the other side of the gurney ready to transfer the patient to the examining table. "On my count. One, two, now." After the transfer she took out a penlight and shone it into the man's eyes.

"Pupils sluggish." She glanced at the nurse and instructed, "We need a chem 20. Type and cross. Two units."

"He's tachy," an intern called.

She nodded and looked at the cardiac monitor registering a pulse rate of 120 and rising. A heart couldn't sustain that rhythm long without failing. She called for digoxin even as the monitor hit 130 then 135. Her gut clenched when his pulse spiked to 150.

"Is he going to crash?" the intern asked.

Before she could answer the patient flatlined. Frown lines creased her brow as the high pitched whine filled the room. She hated that sound. She hated to admit defeat, and when she looked into her patient's face she refused to accept it.

"Crash cart," she called.

She grabbed the defibrillator paddles and rubbed conductive fluid over them. "Charge. 200 joules."

Everyone stepped back. She shocked the patient. He arched from the bed and her eyes rose to look at the monitor. Grimacing she ordered, "300. And . . .clear!" Again the man arched from the bed.

The intern shook his head.

"Charge 360," she ordered and laid the paddles against the unknown man's bare skin. Again electricity rushed violently through him, but this time it was different. His heart took on a normal rhythm. She nodded and systematically began looking for any sign of injury. There was nothing obvious.

The patient suddenly, miraculously became conscious. He grabbed her arm and looked her straight in the eyes. Her breath caught. It was as if all motion in the room receded to some silent distance, and her entire being focused on this one glance. She read recognition in his hazel eyes.

"Scully," he whispered, then lost his battle for consciousness.


"God does not play dice." - Albert Einstein

"But all evidence indicates that God is an inveterate gambler, and he throws the dice on every possible occasion." Stephen Hawking, "Black Holes and Baby Universes"


CHAPTER ONE

Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
9:12am

Special Agent Dana Scully parked the gray rental car in the administrative parking lot of Clark Hall. She felt tired and cranky after yet another sleepless night, and if she was honest she also felt somewhat resentful of this assignment.

Yesterday she had sat in Mulder's office reviewing old case files-and she still thought of it as Mulder's office. Others had begun calling it hers, but not Scully. She had been on the verge of completing a stack of papers nearly as tall as herself when a stranger coughed to catch her attention.

After nearly eight years of working in the basement, building maintenance had arrived to install her name on the office door. She had scowled, then waved the man away, saying that she was busy and didn't want to be disturbed. The truth was she didn't want anything in the office disturbed. Something, even if it was just this dingy, cluttered room, had to remain the same.

"Are you sure?" he asked in a quiet southern drawl. "Don't know when I'll be by here again. "I'm sure," she said firmly. "The door stays the way it is."

Scully's actions had obviously been reported to Skinner because an hour later he stood almost, but not quite, hidden beyond the doorway. She could see him shifting awkwardly from foot to foot looking reluctant to be there. Scully had become used to that look. Lately every person had it before crossing the threshold. She could almost hear them debate, "Should I offer condolences? Or behave as if nothing has happened?"

Of course, Skinner's choices were more limited. He couldn't behave as if nothing had happened. He knew the truth-or most of it anyway-and perhaps because of that he was more awkward than anyone else. Scully saw the moment of decision cross his face and straighten his spine before he manufactured a businesslike attitude and approached her. He walked briskly into the room and placed a file on the desk.

"An X-File?" she asked.

"Not exactly."

Scully lifted her eyes and gave him a calm, questioning stare. Seconds ticked by then Skinner explained, "It's a missing person."

"Then why bring it to me?"

"Open the file."

She glanced down at the pages contained inside the manila folder. A name jumped out at her. She lifted a surprised gaze. "Steven Doerstling?"

Skinner nodded. "He disappeared Tuesday, but the local authorities have kept this below the media radar."

Steven Doerstling was a brilliant mathematician and physicist whose name was frequently used in the same breath as Einstein's. Always brilliant, after a spinal injury in his teens left him a quadriplegic, he had turned his focus inward and in the last thirty years had produced breathtakingly inspired leaps in theoretical physics. His disappearance would spark a media feeding frenzy.

"He's famous," Scully said, "but what does this have to do with me?"

"His research is funded by the U.S. Government through the National Science Foundation."

"So strings were pulled and the case was brought to the FBI," she concluded.

"Yes, strings were pulled."

"This isn't an X-File." And the implication hung in the air that she was still committed to the X-Files. She was more committed than ever. As long as Mulder was missing she would follow any thread for even the most tenuous link to him. As if to prove that fact, she had spent the last month in a futile search of Bellefleur, Oregon-the place where she had first come to trust Mulder and where ultimately she had lost him. In the end all she found was the orange X he had painted on the road nearly eight years earlier.

Slowly Scully realized the office had been quiet for too long. Skinner stood staring at the poster behind the desk. "I Want to Believe" hung over her head, and she knew they were both aware of the irony in the words. She had never wanted to believe. She resisted at every turn and used science as a shield.

"I realize that technically this isn't an X-File," Skinner told her. "But there's no agent as suited to this case as you. There aren't many of us with degrees in physics."

She should have known this was an offer she wasn't allowed to refuse when he had arrived in the basement instead of summoning her to his office as protocol demanded. Seeing no alternative, Scully had accepted the assignment and boarded a plane bound for Ithaca, New York at eight a.m. this morning.

Even as she drove through the picturesque city Scully was aware of the underlying reason she had been given the assignment. Skinner had thought, "Take her out of the basement. Give her something to do other than bury herself in silence and memories." He was being thoughtful, kind, solicitous...and she hated it.

She wasn't some porcelain doll that had been broken then pieced together. She wasn't on the verge of falling apart. Scully was a professional, a doctor, and an agent who knew how to keep the unbearable at a distance. Brick by emotional brick she built a wall between her functional state and her dysfunctional baggage. Of course by now the wall approached the size of the Hoover Dam, but Scully would deal with that later. The point Scully kept stressing was that she was in control. She could handle herself. There was no reason for Skinner to look concerned. She was fine. She was just fine.

Once she found a parking space, Scully glanced out the car window. Unlike most of Cornell which tended toward Gothic Revival architecture, this building was stark and dated, looking like some uninspired regurgitation of textbook Modernism. She stepped out of the car then stopped to fight a sudden wave of nausea. Laying her hand on the hood, she took a deep breath and waited for the world to stop spinning. When it did, Scully continued forward as if nothing had happened.


Mike Stilgoe sat playing air guitar in his five by eight foot office on the third floor of Clark Hall-though calling it an office seemed like absurd exaggeration. It was a closet with a desk. With his eyes closed he belted out the lyrics, "Black hole sun won't you come and wash away the rain-"

He stopped abruptly and reached to turn down the volume. Shit, someone was in the hall. He hurriedly exited the program. All he needed was Professor Blackwood on his ass about using department computers to download MP3s. "File Transfer Error!" popped up on screen. Well, of course there was an error. He was trying to exit for Christ's sake. The computer locked. Damn. It crashed. Shit. And whoever it was out in the hall was closer. He could hear. . .

He closed his eyes and called himself an idiot. That wasn't Professor Blackwood out there. It was a woman and from the staccato clicks of her heels against the linoleum he'd guess it was a woman on a mission.

Leaning back, Stilgoe opened the door a crack and revised his opinion. Make that a very striking woman on a mission. She was dressed almost completely in black which around here usually meant a chain smoking art student spouting existentialist bullshit, but this one was dressed way too formally for that. And she didn't look like an escapee from the architecture department either. Stilgoe frowned. She was too old to be a student, and too businesslike to be a professor. Maybe administration, but he doubted it. She looked out of place. Around here, her crisply tailored appearance was almost exotic.

She saw him, and as purposefully as she had searched the hall she now walked toward him. "Excuse me," she said in a low, mellifluous voice that suddenly made him glad that he was stuck logging statistics on a Saturday morning. "Would you know where I might find Professor Blackwood?"

"In his office?"

She shook her head. "I knocked. There was no answer."

"Must be out with CLEO then."

"Is there a way that I could reach them?"

Stilgoe frowned. "Them?" Enlightenment dawned. "Oh, you mean Professor Blackwood and CLEO. CLEO isn't a person, Ms...?"

"Scully." She produced a badge. "I'm with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I was hoping to speak with Professor Blackwood about a current case."

"Doerstling's disappearance, I bet." At her mildly surprised look he explained, "Nothing escapes the physics department grapevine."

Scully nodded. "You were saying about Professor Blackwood?"

"Oh yeah, well, CLEO isn't a person. CLEO is part of the CESR-that's the Cornell Electron Storage Ring."

"He would be there now?"

"Well if he isn't in his office going over the results of last week's test, he'll be down there preparing for Monday's."

"How would I find my way there?" she asked.

Belatedly he jumped to his feet and extended his hand. "Oh, um, I'm Mike Stilgoe. I'm a grad student and sort of Professor Blackwood's assistant. If you want, I'll take you down there."

"Thank you."

That's all she said. He shook his head. A beautiful woman who didn't talk much. When did creatures like that start to exist? As Mike gathered his books he glanced over his shoulder. "So what's it like being an FBI agent?"

"Interesting," Scully answered in a way that made him think a million words could have been said but hadn't. She was a sphinx. Beautiful, enigmatic, and remote.


Scully waited patiently for the grad student to shove his books into his backpack. He was a gangly kid with a two day growth of beard and a bad hair day. She remembered the type from her own days in the physics department, but that had been a lifetime ago. Idly she wondered if he thought her answers had been abrupt. If he did, he was probably right. But how could she describe her work when she couldn't make sense of it herself?

At some mysterious, indefinable point the X-Files had ceased to be a job and had become her life. If Scully walked away from the FBI tomorrow, the X-Files would still consume her. There was no escape. There was nothing else. Everything Scully had ever loved or believed had been stripped from her with agonizing precision, and yet...And yet everything that gave her life meaning was also bound to this search for answers, for truth...for Mulder. All Scully knew was she couldn't stop. She couldn't rest, and there was nowhere to go but forward because looking back wasn't an option.

They stepped into the hall and Stilgoe locked his office door. Scully asked, "Has the physics department grapevine said anything about Dr. Doerstling's disappearance?"

He shrugged, "Oh it's said a lot, but not anything that means much. I mean there's been a lot of speculation. How exactly does a guy who has almost no use of his arms and requires a constant caregiver just disappear without a trace? It's creepy, you know. It's not like he would go anywhere else. This is where his work is, and his work is all he has."

Scully empathized. "Did anything unusual happen the night he disappeared?"

"No, not really. Well, there was this party. The results of Tuesday's test came back and there was some bitching b quark data."

Scully searched through her somewhat dim memory of her time as a physics undergrad for some reference to what Stilgoe was talking about. A vague answer surfaced, and it struck Scully that if you asked what the universe was made of, your answer would depend on who you asked. If she asked Mulder, no doubt he would recite a list of creation myths as long as her arm. If you asked a biologist, there would be talk of cells, and a chemist would begin a discussion of molecules and atoms. However, theoretical physicists looked for something more fundamental. Their grail was the indivisible building block of all things. Atoms had once been considered these structures, then protons, neutrons, and electrons. Now, like peeling away the layers of an onion, they had discovered something more elusive-quarks.

The problem with quarks was that though it was theorized that absolutely everything was made of them, they couldn't be seen. Studying them was a bit like looking at a murder scene and theorizing who the killer had been. You couldn't see him, only the evidence he left behind.

They stepped into the elevator and Scully imagined the discussion she would have had if Mulder had been there.

"So these scientists, these men of logic, believe in something they can't prove exists." Mulder would have been gleeful at the contradiction.

"Don't equate quantum physics with Mexican goat suckers."

His hazel eyes would have filled with a teasing light. "I wouldn't dare. They've been 'theorizing' goat suckers long before anyone thought up a quark."

"It's not the same thing."

"Why?"

"Because goat suckers don't exist."

"But these little whatchamacalits that no one can see do? Why is that, Dr. Scully?"

"Because their existence can be predicted by mathematical equations-"

Mulder would interrupt, "Math? You mean a system created by man to explain to themselves observable and non-observable phenomena? Sounds a lot like the reason ancient Egyptians invented Isis, Osiris, and Horus. That was their way to find order in the universe just as modern scientists point to invisible strings-"

"Mathematics is not the same thing as a dog headed pseudo-god."

"You didn't meet my ninth grade geometry teacher."

Scully heard the dinging sound signaling the elevator's arrival at the first floor, and she became aware of the physics student watching her with a little too much interest. Was her distraction obvious? Something about his expression made her think so, and Scully worried that her inner turmoil was so close to the surface that even a stranger could see it. She schooled her features into an impassive mask. Her sadness and her memories were her own. They were private.

As they exited Clark Hall Stilgoe explained that the CESR/CLEO was located fifteen meters below the alumni field. It was a rather unglamorous concrete tunnel filled with magnets. Billions of electrons and their exact opposite-positrons-were circulated in the tunnel at something close to the speed of light in the hopes that a few of them would collide and annihilate each other. If they were lucky, they would catch evidence that a b quark existed. Of course usually nothing much happened, and even when it did, you couldn't see the b quark you produced. In the end the best you could do was study the aftermath of their decay in CLEO.

They entered the control booth. "Dr. Blackwood," Stilgoe said grabbing the older man's attention. "This is Agent Scully with the FBI. She's here to investigate Doerstling's disappearance."

Dr. Arnold Blackwood was in his late fifties with grayish blonde hair in a surprisingly long, bowl-like cut. He was rather beige in appearance. Not just because of the hair, but the skin, and the sort of colorless off-white shirt he wore with wrinkled khaki trousers.

"Have you found anything?" he asked in a somewhat impatient tone.

"Not yet. I was hoping I could see Dr. Doerstling's office," Scully answered. "I understand that was the last place he was seen."

Blackwood took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt. "It was?"

Scully frowned. "According to the police report, Dr. Doerstling's assistant Lauren Rice left him in his office when she left for dinner. When she returned, he was gone."

"Saw Lauren this morning," Stilgoe added. "She's really blown away by this. Blames herself."

Blackwood shook his head, and Scully detected a note of aggravation in his voice. "If Doerstling disappeared it's because he wanted to."

"I would think his physical limitations would make that difficult," Scully pointed out.

The professor sniffed. "Don't bet on it. In someone else-hell, in anyone else-what happened to Doerstling as a kid would have been a tragedy."

"But not in his case?"

Somewhat defiantly Blackwood said, "It was a gift."

Scully eyes widened then narrowed as a frown creased her forehead.

He began shuffling through papers as he explained, "I've known Steven since we were both freshmen in college. He was only fifteen years old. He was an intellectual prodigy but in every other way he was just a reckless kid." Blackwood pushed the papers aside and looked up at Scully. "Before the accident I don't think Steven ever sat still for five minutes straight, but paralysis didn't give him a choice. He couldn't use his body so he had to use his mind." The professor removed his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt. "Steven had an extraordinary mind."

She caught the fact that he referred to Doerstling in the past tense but didn't press the issue as yet. "So you think whatever happened to the doctor was by his own design?"

Blackwood laughed but it was a hollow, tinny sound. "For Doerstling everything was by design. The whole fucking universe was built to exact proportions."

"I've read a little of his work," Scully told him.

Blackwood looked surprised and perhaps even a little displeased. "Hardly normal reading material for an FBI agent. I'd think you'd stick to Clancy novels."

"What was the doctor working on before he disappeared?"

"You really want to know?"

Scully took a deep breath and reminded herself that saying what was on the tip of her tongue wasn't an option. Being cranky with someone other than Mulder usually didn't take her far. Come to think of it, it didn't accomplish much with Mulder so she resorted to simply looking at the man with silent expectation. That usually met with some results.

Blackwood crossed his arms. "How much do you know about M theory? Kaluza-Klein theory? Calabi-Yau space?"

"Very little, I'm afraid."

"That's what I thought. Agent Scully, I'm a busy man. I don't have time to teach remedial physics." He tossed Stilgoe a set of keys. "Explain to her what she wants to know and let her into Doerstling's office. I've got work to do."

As Blackwood walked away, Scully followed Stilgoe up the stairs into blinding white sunlight. Shading her eyes with one hand she asked, "What was Dr. Doerstling's current project?"

Stilgoe glanced away quickly. "He was sort of 'out there' if you know what I mean."

She arched a brow, "'Out there?' Could you be more specific?"

After all 'out there' could mean anything from seeing shadow conspiracies to anticipating an alien invasion, finding a five hundred year old genie with a sick sense of humor, or chasing a Mexican goat sucker across southern California. Scully needed specifics.

"Ever heard of the anthropic principle?"

She cocked her head to one side. "Isn't it the cosmological equivalent of 'if a tree falls in the forest...?'"

Stilgoe laughed. "Yeah. Sort of. Basically it says the universe looks the way that it does, because if it didn't we wouldn't be here to see it."

"I suppose that makes sense. We evolved under a specific set of conditions so we're intrinsically linked to those conditions."

"But you see Doerstling isn't interested in our evolution. He's interested in the evolution of the universe. Think about it. If the big bang was an accident, then any set of parameters could happen-most of which wouldn't produce life. Hell, they couldn't produce anything, not stars, planets, or even atoms. So why did this particular bang produce all those things in abundance?"

Scully frowned and thought about that. Her first thought was to remember Colleen Azar saying, "There is a greater intelligence in all things." But what Scully said aloud was, "So Doerstling postulated that the universe we know is the result of an unimaginable game of trial and error?"

"The exact opposite, actually. Maybe what we think of as 'the' universe is just one of many. A string of them all tied together. Each almost, but not exactly, identical to the ones tied to it."

Lines creased her brow, "Given the sheer number of possible results from a big bang, how could different universes be nearly identical?"

"Here we are," Stilgoe announced as he unlocked the door to Doerstling's office. She looked back at the grad student, wanting to pursue the line of their conversation, but that could wait.

The office wasn't all that different from any number of faculty offices she had seen before. It was small, had only one window and was cluttered with papers and books. The police had already dusted the room for prints and had found few matches. The only two matches they did find were physics students who had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct during their freshman year. Hardly a surprising event on a college campus.

Scully walked into the room and wished she had some of Mulder's eerie intuition, some way to look at her surroundings and formulate answers out of thin air. She wasn't that lucky. Instead she plodded along looking for evidence and clues that could lead her to a rational answer.

She paused and looked at a pair of greenish tinted etchings hung over the desk. Scully vaguely recognized the prints as being by Escher. Both were plays on perspective and dimension showing stairs that ascended and descended at the same improbable time. One print showed stairs and arches turning back on themselves. Not one world, but many intersecting and interacting. Each had a different orientation. They were disparate realms existing in the same plane. After her discussion with Stilgoe, Scully could see why Doerstling had chosen these prints. And suddenly she was assailed by the memory of Albert Hosteen standing in her apartment saying, "There are more worlds than the one you can hold in your hand."


"Is everything determined? The answer is yes, it is. But it might as well not be, because we can never know what is determined."
- Stephen Hawking "Black Holes and Baby Universes"


CHAPTER TWO

Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
10:12 am

Dr. Dana Waterston stared at the C.T. scan on her computer in a state of shock. What was in front of her was impossible. It made no sense. It was beyond belief. It had been beyond belief from the moment the paramedics had rolled a stranger into the E.R., and he had known her.

Normally, Dana didn't work in the E.R. She had been a last minute fill-in. It had been pure chance that she was on-call last night. So how had he known her?

Dana couldn't ask. The man had lapsed into a catatonic state, his single moment of lucidity spent gazing at her. As a doctor Dana had looked into the eyes of a thousand patients and seen pain or need or gratitude, but when this man looked at her it was different. He saw her. He saw into her. It was as if he had reached through all of her defenses and touched something inside of her that she had forgotten existed.

"Dana?"

She turned and saw her husband Daniel at her office door.

"You haven't slept," Daniel observed. "You haven't left the hospital in days. People are talking."

"I don't care what people say."

He clenched his jaw. "You should care."

"Appearances don't matter, Daniel."

He gently touched her cheek. "No, SHE doesn't matter."

Dana stepped back and massaged her neck with her left hand. "Is that what you said to Barbara about me?"

"No. Never. I left her for you. You know that."

Yes, Dana did know that, and looking back perhaps that was why she had stayed with Daniel for as long as she had. Dana wasn't particularly good at facing up to mistakes, and Daniel had been a mistake.

As a third year med student Dana had been fascinated as she watched Daniel save a patient. He had held the power of life and death in his hands and hadn't appeared overwhelmed by the consequences of his every word or action. He had acted coolly and with great precision. Daniel was in control, and Dana had envied him. When she had met him again as an intern, Dana had been surprised by his interest in her. She had also been reluctant to become involved. It wasn't professional to have a personal relationship with the chief resident, and yet on some level the forbidden nature of the relationship had been its most potent lure. The night her first patient had died, Daniel had been there to pick up the pieces and offer temptation, and Dana had surrendered and crossed the line. When Daniel had announced that he was leaving his wife, Dana had been stunned. And when that abandoned wife had committed suicide, mixed in with Dana's darkly confused emotions had been the single selfish thought, "Now I'm stuck."

A woman's despair and death could not be over nothing, certainly not anything as petty as a man's ego or a younger woman's confusion. It had to be love or fate. Something-anything-of real importance. Surely for Dana to make this kind of mistake, to have caused this much havoc in this many people's lives Daniel had to be more than forbidden fruit. She had to love him . . . didn't she?

Looking back Dana could see that when she had decided on a course of action, or the penance or duty or whatever she had believed her choice to be, she had locked away some part of herself. Her idealism and faith had been casualties of an indiscretion that had not only altered her life but her self perception.

She became Mrs. Daniel Waterston wearing a beige linen suit in a courthouse wedding performed by a bored bureaucrat anxious to beat Friday afternoon traffic. That summer Daniel had accepted a position in the cardiology department of Georgetown Memorial Hospital where ultimately he was appointed chief. They had left behind the city of his first wife's death and the laser like glares of his bitterly resentful college age daughter.

"She doesn't need me," Daniel had once told Dana. "She doesn't want me."

Dana didn't believe it, but she didn't say that out loud, just as she didn't explain the way she resented having to pick up her own career and move simply because Daniel had accepted a position in Virginia. The move hadn't damaged her career as much as Dana had feared or as much as she secretly believed she deserved. Her path had simply changed, and she had earned a residency in the neurology department then specialized in neurobiology.

Earlier this week Dana had discovered Daniel having an affair with a young, rather brilliant intern. What had shocked Dana wasn't that Daniel was having an affair. Somewhere inside she admitted to herself that she had always expected that. What had shocked her to the core-had horrified her in fact-was that she didn't care. It didn't touch her. She wasn't in denial. It simply didn't matter. If Dana was brutally honest she had to admit that when she discovered the truth her primary emotion had been relief.

A nurse knocked politely on the door. "Doctor, someone is here about the John Doe."

Dana nodded. Daniel caught her arm. "We need to talk."

"Not now. I have to see to a patient." Leaving her office Dana walked down the hall to the waiting room of the M.I.C.U.

The nurse handed her the patient's chart. "They've identified him as Fox Mulder. He's an agent with the FBI."

Dana arched a surprised brow then thanked the nurse. She turned and entered the waiting room. Two men faced her. The younger man was bald with glasses and dressed as a bureaucrat but there was something about the set of his jaw and his muscular build that defied that simple description. The other man was older with a lined, weathered face. He didn't acknowledge her but stared out the window.

She introduced herself to the younger man, "I'm Dr. Waterston."

He shook her hand. "Skinner." He didn't introduce the man who stood in the shadows. "How is Agent Mulder?"

She answered directly, "I'm afraid Mr. Mulder is gravely ill."

"What's wrong with him? I asked the nurse but she didn't seem to know."

Dana grimaced. "It's difficult to say exactly what is wrong with Mr. Mulder. I know of no precedent for this case."

The older man glanced at her as if she had suddenly caught his interest. Her gaze met his levelly and didn't waver. It felt like a contest of wills and Dana wasn't sure why she felt so determined not lose. Finally, the older man walked toward her.

"What exactly is the nature of the problem that you have no precedent for?" he asked.

"I've run C.T. scans and high resolution EEGs to map the neuroelectrical outputs of his brain," Dana explained. "There is extreme hyperactivity localized in a specific area of his temporal lobe. It's a peculiar area of the brain that we are just now beginning to map and understand. Neurophysicists have begun calling it the 'god module.'"

Something flickered in the older man's eyes and for a moment Dana thought she saw a look of satisfaction cross his face.

She frowned. "This hyperactivity won't allow his brain to rest. It disrupts R.E.M. sleep. If he weren't catatonic he would be on the verge of a psychotic break."

"Mulder has gone insane?" Skinner looked aghast.

"No. But his brain can't sustain this level of activity. The more active this area becomes, the more the other functions of the brain are shutting down. To put it bluntly, Mr. Mulder is so alive that it's killing him."

Skinner grimaced. "Can we see him?"

"Visitation is limited to immediate family only."

"Mulder has no family."

Sadness pierced her. "I suppose there's no reason you can't see him. However, he may not know you're there."

The older man's eyes never left her face, "Just show us the way, doctor."

When they entered the room, Skinner looked surprised. "His eyes are open."

"That's not unusual in some catatonic states," Dana explained as she crossed the room.


The world was dark but he was filled with blinding white pain. A deafening, roaring wave of sound enveloped him, drowning him. He couldn't even hear himself scream. . . and he was screaming. He was calling for help that never came. His only response was the shouts and whispers of a thousand indistinct, indistinguishable, and irrelevant voices.

However, beneath the uniform roar and separate from the melded screams were two distinct voices. They filtered into his mind and into his consciousness. In some ways they were a comfort. He was not alone in this hell, this world of sound and despair. He was adrift but not completely lost, because there were still those who could reach him. Even here. Even now.

The first voice separated from the crowd hissed like a snake-low, dark, malevolent and in some horrifying way, omnipresent. The second was softer. Clear and calm. The eye of the hurricane. He clung to her as the single safe harbor in a mental storm. Within her he felt uncertainty but strength. Confusion but clear direction. And overriding everything was compassion and concern. Mulder fell into her like immersing himself in warm water, letting her wash away the dark night terrors and hold him in an unending embrace. Here was sanctuary. Peace.

Somewhere in the distance Mulder thought he heard Skinner ask, "What can you do for Mulder?"

The other voice-the softer voice-answered, "I've arranged for a PET scan."

"PET?"

"Positron Emission Tomography. It maps brain cell function."

"And this will help him?"

"No, but it may help us understand what's happening to him." Her voice receded as Mulder became aware of the Smoking Man now standing at his bedside.

"I know you can hear me." The Smoking Man's thoughts echoed in Mulder's head.

Mulder wanted to turn away from the old man's dark thoughts. He wanted to lose himself in the gentle female presence that whispered to him softly. But there was no way to turn off the voices, and there was no way to turn away from the malevolence of this one.

"We are reaching the crucial moment," CSM silently told him. "We are close to the ultimate destination. Are you curious to know what it is? Ah, you moved. You are not as lost to us as the doctor believes."

Doctor? What doctor? Mulder wondered.

CSM came closer. "Should I take this moment to explain all? Like some villain in a 'B' movie, should I explain why you are doomed to this fate and what the ultimate goal truly is? That would be a kind thing to do would it not? That would be compassion. If you are to be a martyr to a cause, you should at least know why."

Mulder was cold now. He had been pulled from his sanctuary into brutal, frigid isolation. He was alone. Bereft.

"I am not kind," the voice hissed then went away.

Mercifully the softer presence returned. She was bothered by the Smoking Man's silence, because although Mulder had heard the bastard's every word, not one of them had been said aloud. Now frustration bubbled inside her because she thought something was happening that she didn't understand. She hated that. Intellectual curiosity was a passion for her. Mulder could feel it push her, prod her, urging her into action even as another part of herself fought to keep it within acceptable boundaries.

Mulder didn't know why this woman's thoughts and feelings were so clear to him. He couldn't explain the link they shared that made her stand in stark relief to chaos inside him. But now he knew that he was wrong to consider her a peaceful sanctuary. As Mulder touched her mind he saw that beneath her calm fa=E7ade was a raging sea of emotion. She simply kept it under control by sheer force of will.

She started to move. In a few moments she would leave, and he would alone in the abyss of his own private hell. "Don't go," Mulder thought with such intensity that he almost believed he had said it out loud. He saw her eyes widen and her lips part with a surprised gasp.

"Stay," he silently called through the cacophony of voices echoing in his head.

She gripped his hand with surprising strength and gave a small, almost embarrassed laugh. "I can't leave this room," she murmured to herself. "I've left my husband of nearly ten years without a backward glance, but I can't leave this room. Why is that?"

Mulder was shocked. Had she heard him? Could he reach her the same way that she reached him?

"Rest," she said softly. "I'll stay. For some reason I need to."

And surrounded by her warmth and compassion he could rest. His demons withdrew to a bearable distance, and in that moment he loved her. More than life, more than breath, more than sanity-he loved her.


"The universe seems. . .to have been determined and ordered in accordance with number, by the forethought and the mind of the creator of all things; for the pattern was fixed, like a preliminary sketch, by the domination of number preexistent in the mind of the world-creating God."
- Nicomachus of Gerasa Arithmetic 1, 6 (ca A.D. 100)


CHAPTER THREE

Ithaca, New York
8:13pm

Scully pushed open the door to the pub. The hardwood floors shook with the low thrum of the music playing beneath the happy chatter of students. A male student signaled the bartender for another beer, and a young woman approached the stage to flirt with the band's lead guitarist.

Scully frowned and became acutely aware of her isolation. She was an island of stillness in the midst of motion. She didn't belong here. This wasn't her world, and no one here shared hers.

She rubbed her neck and wished she could return to her motel room. She felt exhausted after spending the day with the local police searching Cascadilla Gorge. Despite the fact that she had never had much hope of finding Doerstling's remains, Scully had agreed to the search because it was logical to investigate areas where a body might be dumped. Scully sighed and reminded herself to be grateful she had spent the day hiking instead of plumbing the frigid depths of Cayuga Lake.

At sunset she had returned to her car to find a message blinking on her cell phone. After reviewing it Scully dumped her blue FBI windbreaker in the back seat and walked to the pub.

"Hey, Agent Scully!" Mike Stilgoe called from across the room. "Out here!"

She made her way through the crowd and out to a patio that overlooked the waterfall cascades of Beebe Lake. It was an attractive view at twilight.

"I said I'd track Lauren down," he told her as he led Scully to a table at the far corner of the patio where a young, thin blonde sat. "Lauren," he introduced, "this is Agent Scully."

Strands escaped the clip Lauren Rice used to pull her hair away from her narrow face. There was an unhappy cast to her features as she stared into a glass of white wine.

"Ms. Rice," Scully began as she took a seat opposite the younger woman. "I'm glad you agreed to speak with me."

Lauren shrugged. "No reason not to, but I have to tell you I don't think I'll be much help."

"Agent Scully," Mike interrupted. "Would you like a drink? I'm heading to the bar."

"Water would be nice."

"That's all?"

"Yes."

He arched a brow but said good naturedly, "Okay. I'll be back in a minute."

Scully watched Lauren nervously tug her hair behind her ear, then fidget silently. Scully asked, "Ms. Rice, can you give me any idea of Dr. Doerstling's state of mind before he disappeared? I understand from Mr. Stilgoe that some promising data had been collected that day."

Lauren rubbed her finger around the rim of her glass. "He usually didn't pay attention to test data. He was more interested in theory than research."

"He didn't care if his work was proven?"

"Most of his stuff can't be proven," Lauren explained. "There can be circumstantial evidence, but there's no way to see or test most of his theories. It's beyond our technology."

"That must be frustrating." Scully knew it was maddening to be a scientist and have the answers you sought always beyond your reach. "You said that Dr. Doerstling usually didn't pay attention to test data, was that day different?"

Lauren lifted troubled gray eyes. "I think he's dead."

"Why?"

Lauren shrugged. "He was an unhappy man. In the department you run across people who can't imagine life outside of physics. That wasn't Doerstling. The first time I met him, he showed me clippings about the people who tried to climb Everest. You know, the ones who got trapped in the blizzard. He wanted to do that sort of thing. Push the limits. Live on the edge. He didn't want to be trapped in a chair."

Scully nodded thoughtfully. "Was he depressed?"

"I'm not a doctor or anything," Lauren told her. "But I kind of think he was bi-polar. He could be really up sometimes. He would go for days working on some equation that no one else could possibly understand, and he would be so wrapped up in it that it was like the rest of the world didn't matter. Then there were the down times. Those could get bad. Really bad."

"Was he suicidal?"

Lauren bit her lip then nodded. "Yeah. Sometimes he was suicidal."

"Is there a way that Dr. Doerstling could have left his office without your knowing?"

"I've thought about that," she answered. "Truth is, I'm not sure. I guess so. I mean, his chair was electric and he had ways of controlling it. There were these sensor things-" She stopped and waved her hand in the air as if saying that there was no point in going into detail. "He couldn't go far though. Not without help."

"Do you think he had help?"

"I can't imagine who."

Scully leaned forward. "Is there anyone who would want to hurt the doctor?"

Lauren looked shocked. "No!"

"Okay," Scully said softly, then more deliberately, "Is there anyone who might have helped him-"

Lauren stopped her. "If you're thinking some Kavorkian euthanasia thing, no way. I mean the doctor might be depressed from time to time, but he was amazing. He wasn't just brilliant. He was a genius-a bona fide, make your head spin genius. No way would anyone help him cut his career short. He can't be replaced."

Lauren climbed to her feet. "Look, like I said, I don't think I can help you. I don't know anything. One minute he was there and the next he was gone. I can't...I don't...I...I'm sorry." She left Scully sitting alone at the table.

Scully turned and looked at the water rushing down the cascades. One minute he was there, and the next he was gone. It was that simple and that devastating. She shivered and suddenly felt cold.

"Lauren take off?" Stilgoe asked as he handed Scully her water.

"She told me what she could."

Stilgoe turned in the direction of the door as if it was still possible to watch Lauren Rice's exit. "She's taking this hard. She puts on this act like she's okay-like she's got everything under control-but it's just an act."

Scully's gaze fell to the floor. He could just as easily be describing her. Then again, she and Lauren Rice lived in a similar limbo. They weren't allowed the luxury of grief.

Scully flinched. It felt alien to think of grief as a luxury, especially when she remembered the pain of losing her father and her sister. Grief was a soul deep ache, but in some ways it was easier than unexplained loss.

Death had finality. Scully didn't wonder if her father or Melissa was in pain. She didn't wake up in the dead of night afraid that they needed her. They were gone, and she could grieve. She could allow memories to comfort her. But memories were things of the past. Uncertainty was always in the present, and Scully didn't know what had happened to Mulder. She didn't know what might be happening to him now.

Melissa and her father didn't need her, but what if Mulder did? What if every moment she wasn't searching for him, she was failing him? It was that thought that drove Scully through sleepless nights. It wouldn't allow her rest. Every tick of the clock might be the moment that changed the course of her life because it might decide whether Mulder lived at all.

Scully rested her hand on the patio's handrail and watched water crash against the rocks below. Inside the bar the band sang, "Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built. Out of longing great wonders have been willed."

If only longing could produce miracles. If it could, she wouldn't be sitting here alone.

Vaguely, Scully noticed Mike Stilgoe watching her and had to admit to herself that technically she wasn't alone. It only felt that way.

Aware that the silence had grown awkward, Scully said briskly, "Yesterday you mentioned Doerstling's research. I did a little reading on his theory of multiple universes."

"Oh yeah." Stilgoe nodded. "Doerstling may not have been the first to come up with the idea, but his take on it was certainly unique."

"You mean his theory that if the circumstances for one 'big bang' occurred then it's likely to have happened more than once?"

"Yeah. Really, why couldn't it? Why couldn't it happen a lot?"

Scully mused, "Didn't Andre Linde write a paper on multiple inflationary expansions?"

"That was sort of Doerstling's jumping off point," Stilgoe explained. "If Linde was right, there could be a whole maze of universes tied together."

"That still doesn't explain why Doerstling would believe those universes would be nearly identical."

"I can't explain it very well. I don't know that anyone but Doerstling really could, but it has something to do with the fact that universes may be tied together... related. The 'big bang' came from the inflationary expansion of a singularity. That singularity could be anything from a black hole to a quark. What if the quark that sparked a bang came from our universe? The next universe would share the properties of this one. Or to be even weirder, what if we're the second universe? What if we're the millionth universe? What if there are billions of them linked together like chain mail?"

Stilgoe crossed his arms and leaned forward against the table. "He had this theory that if one universe sprang from another for generation after generation, then maybe it's not just humans who evolve but the entire cosmos. That would mean that somewhere out there could be a universe or even many universes so tied to ours that they're almost identical."


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
10:18 pm

Dr. Dana Waterston stood at the nurses' station of the M.I.C.U. looking at a stack of phone messages left by her husband. She really had no desire to answer them. Then out of the corner of her eye she saw movement. "Hey," she called. "What are you doing?"

The man hit the pad on the wall that opened the automated egress doors.

"Stop," Dana ordered as she hurried down the hall. "Who are you? What were you doing in that room?"

The man never looked back but walked steadily away from her. She had the urge to run after him but he had already reached the emergency stair. Dana glanced toward the nurses' station. "Call security," she demanded. But when she reached the stairwell, Dana knew that it was too late. The man had disappeared. "Damn," she muttered under her breath.

She asked the nurse, "Who let that man in here? The I.C.U. has restricted access."

"No one," the nurse answered. "Honest."

Dana frowned. It was entirely likely the nurse was belatedly covering up a mistake, but it was also possible the mystery man had entered the I.C.U. through the back emergency stair. The stair was a security nightmare, but it couldn't be removed. Dana knew that because the facility's administrator had once introduced her to the hospital's architect. The architect had explained that several years ago a hospital expansion had taken out a stairwell at the other end of the corridor. Because that stairwell had been removed, fire codes demanded that this one stay even though it violated the spirit of the I.C.U.'s restricted access policy.

When Dana entered Fox Mulder's room, she glanced at the EEG monitor and gasped. She reached for Mulder's hand and took his pulse as she studied the EEG. It had changed. The hyperactivity remained, but somehow he had entered R.E.M. sleep. He dreamed.


Mulder had seen the boy before. He had dreamed this dream before. . .at least Mulder thought it was a dream. It had to be a dream. This couldn't be real. . .could it?

The boy played in the sand on the beach. Once the child had approached Mulder and said, "The child is the father of the man." Mulder had thought the statement to be about as profound as your average fortune cookie, but if that was true, why did it continue to haunt him? He kept thinking that if he understood it, he would understand all things.

Of course it wasn't that easy. Nothing was ever that easy. How could he discover some deeply hidden message in a child's words when he couldn't discover whether this place, this beach, was even real? This was probably nothing more than a drug induced dream.

The child was angry with him. The boy looked at Mulder with an expression of disappointment and disgust. "You were supposed to help me," he said petulantly, then threw a handful of sand at Mulder and ran away.

That was when Mulder sensed her. She wasn't far away-ten maybe twenty yards down the beach-and yet she felt impossibly distant. She felt beyond his reach. But she was there, and he knew her. He could almost call her by name. . .except he couldn't. It was the sensation of knowing something, but feeling it slip beyond your grasp. Her name was on the tip of his tongue and yet for the life of him, he could not produce it.

She didn't look at him. She simply stared at the out at the horizon. She was searching. He knew it. He could sense it. She was searching for something or someone out there. He called to her but somehow his words were drowned by the sound of the surf. He started forward. He had to reach her. He had to go to her side. He had to take her hand so that they could turn to search the horizon together. He had to.


"We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."
- I Corinthians 15:51


CHAPTER FOUR

Grayhaven Inn
Ithaca, New York
11:15pm

Scully was exhausted when she entered her motel room. Her back hurt. Her feet hurt. And, if asked to state her general condition, Scully would have to say miserable. To top everything off, she didn't have a clue how Doerstling had disappeared.

Scully thought about simply collapsing in bed and going to sleep but, as tired as she was, she couldn't contemplate sleep without first finding her toothbrush.

The phone rang.

"Scully," she answered out of habit.

"Agent Scully, this is Mike Stilgoe. I...uh...I'm sorry to be calling you this late, but after you left the pub I came back to Clark Hall."

"Has something happened?"

"No. Nothing's happened. Actually, this place is pretty dead, but I was reviewing last Tuesday's CLEO data and ran across something I thought you might like to know." She could hear him shuffling papers in the background. "There was an unscheduled test the night of Doerstling's disappearance."

"What time?"

"Oh, um..." Again Scully heard him shuffling papers. "Looks like sometime just before nine."

"Do you know who ran the test?"

"No. There's no official record. I only noticed that there were results that didn't fit with the rest of the data. It wasn't on my earlier readout so I did some cross checking. This was something different."

"Any idea what?"

"No. But I can check first thing in the morning if you want."

She glanced at the red digital readout on the clock. "Would eight be too early?"

"Usually," he admitted. "But with Blackwood scheduling a test first thing tomorrow that shouldn't be a problem."

Scully thanked him for calling then reached for the remote control to turn on the TV. As she stood Scully noticed the flickering images on screen. Some cable channel was replaying the movie "Gattaca." Not a bad movie, she thought as she fished her toothbrush out of her suitcase. Glancing up Scully saw Ethan Hawke challenge his on-screen brother to a swimming endurance contest. Men, she thought as she rolled her eyes. How did a suicidal race prove manhood?

In the bathroom Scully washed away any traces of make-up left after a day of trampling through the woods. When she entered the bedroom patting her face dry, she noticed that the movie had reached its climax. Ethan Hawke's character had finally achieved his life's ambition of boarding a rocket bound for the moon Titan.

Scully's brow creased as she considered the story. She remembered once telling Mulder that she believed in fate. Actually what she had said was that a person's character determined their fate. However, in Gattaca a person was not judged by their character but by their genetic potential.

Hawke played the hero, a man who exceeded expectations and proved that a man's soul was more than the sum of his parts. On the other hand Jude Law played a man of unlimited potential. Nothing was deemed beyond his grasp. Law could do or become anything. However, without boundaries he was doomed to failure. No one could be everything, and faced with that knowledge, Law's character had self-destructed. When an accident robbed him of the use of his legs he saw no purpose in living, and as Hawke triumphantly blasted into space, Law climbed into an incinerator and committed suicide.

Scully gasped.

She dropped her towel and blinked. She thought about her line of reasoning, about the parallels between Law's character and Dr. Doerstling. It seemed like such a Mulder-like quantum leap of logic, but somehow the theory forming in her head just felt. . .right.

Grabbing her wind breaker, Scully headed to the door then down the steps to her rental car. She had to look at CLEO. Stilgoe had said there was a test scheduled for first thing in the morning, and another test could destroy any evidence that might be inside the CESR. She had to look at it tonight.

Traffic was light as Scully drove to the Alumni Field which was now deserted and pitch dark. There were lights in the distance but not enough to penetrate the inky blackness here. After finding her flashlight, Scully stepped out of the car then flipped the switch so that a single beam of white light cut the darkness.

The flashlight showed her the path to the door of the Electron Storage Ring. Too late Scully realized that she should have called Stilgoe so that he could let her into the facility. It was probably locked. But when she tried the door Scully was surprised to find that it was open.

Feeling clumsily along the wall she searched for the light switch but one wasn't there. Finally pointing her flashlight's narrow beam into the darkness, Scully cautiously made her way down the stairs. When she reached the bottom Scully thought about going to the control room, but having seen it the other day she decided there was little evidence to be found there. Instead she turned to enter the curving, bunkerlike corridor of the CESR itself.

The ceiling was low and curved like the walls of a tunnel. There were surface mounted lights running along a track overhead but she had no idea where the switch for those lights might be. Next to the lights ran a bundled black cable, and along the wall was a bulky contraption made of metal. This structure didn't reflect the elegant aesthetics of sci-fi movies but the clumsy, inexact mechanics of experimental research.

As her flashlight moved along the wall highlighting a red painted horizontal track with heavy blue supports, Scully noticed that fire extinguishers were located every few yards. To her right stood another awkward structure, but she couldn't make out what it was and had no idea what it did.

Then she heard something.

Scully stopped and strained to listen for any movement or sound, but the silence was oppressive. Flashing a beam of light behind her she searched the darkness, but the curvature of the tunnel made it impossible to see more than a few yards. Scully switched off her flashlight and waited...but no sound. Nothing. Seconds ticked by before Scully decided she must have imagined it and turned on her flashlight.

She walked down the hallway. The sound of her footsteps echoed around her. To her right Scully noticed a stencil on the wall announcing, "Synchronotron" then further down the line she found the words, "West Transfer." Apart from the stencils, her surroundings remained unchanged. The red painted structure still stood to her left as a bulky mechanical device ran down the wall on her right. She stopped when she found a large, stainless steel structure labeled "CHESS West."

Again Scully heard something. Movement. Her light arced in the darkness as she turned only to find nothing changed. She heard it again. Her wobbly light darted from side to side. Now the sound was constant . . . and it was close. It was a small, desperate, scratching sound.

Without warning the overhead lights blinded Scully as they flooded the tunnel. She squinted against the glare but just as suddenly as they had come on, they were gone. Then a strobe light flashed causing an eerie, disconnected effect that made her flashlight useless. A deafening horn blasted and echoed down the concrete tunnel. Scully could no longer hear the scratching, but she didn't think it had stopped.

She pushed beyond the CHESS West and came to CLEO. When Scully placed her hand on it she could feel vibration. The scratching came from inside CLEO.

Laying her flashlight on the floor Scully felt for the latch. There was no longer a scratching sound. Now she heard moaning. Someone was trapped inside.

Sirens blared. Once. Twice. Three times. Then a low hum began to rise as if some huge electrical device was charging. Scully felt the hairs on her arm stand on end. That couldn't be a good sign. She found CLEO's latch next to an orange fluorescent "Danger" sign. Ignoring the warning, she turned the lever.

Somewhere there was a loud click and the electrical hum changed to an ear splitting whine.

She pulled the lever. The iron door was heavy. It almost didn't move. Using all of her weight Scully pulled harder. Slowly the hatch opened and she reached blindly into the darkness. She felt flesh.

Pulling back Scully retrieved her flashlight and shone it into the drift chamber just as the sirens stopped. The strobe light stopped. It was still and dark and quiet.

Scully's breathing quickened. Instinctual fear raced down her spine but she ignored it to look inside the chamber.

Terrified brown eyes stared back at her.

"Dr. Doerstling!"

"Pull me out," he demanded. "Now!"

A loud, ominous sound echoed down the corridor and the high pitched whine returned. Only now it became steadily louder until it reached an excruciating pitch. Sound vibrated through her.

"We're going to die," Doerstling announced.

"We aren't going to die," Scully countered as she strained to pull him from the chamber.

"The hell we aren't. Can't you hear it?"

"I can hear it."

"We're going to die!"

"No." Using her body as leverage Scully pulled harder. She was determined dislodge him.

Then she saw it. At first it was a vague, bluish-purple light, but it grew steadily brighter as it moved ceaselessly forward. It became a menacing glare that blinded her.

Scully flinched and closed her eyes, but the white hot light pierced her eyelids and seared her brain. Sound and light exploded around her as her skin sizzled in effervescent agony.

He's right, Scully thought numbly. We're going to die.

Light rushed through her.

It was mind blowing. Mind altering. Unimaginable.

Pain and power rolled together in a devastating, omnipresent wave that crushed her. . .and became her.

Scully clutched her abdomen and a single thought pierced her confusion. "My baby."

Then energy exploded out of her, taking her breath and strength with it. Scully fell to the floor. It was everywhere. It was everything...and she was nothing.

Darkness fell.


Something happened. Something shifted. Mulder felt it. He couldn't explain it, but he knew it.

The woman on the beach turned and saw him, and he was captured by a pair of shadowed blue eyes.

"Mulder." It was just his name, but somehow she infused it with meaning.

She knew him. She had called to him, and suddenly Mulder found an answer. "Scully." He knew her name as well as he knew his own.

Scully blinked. "What is this place?"

"I was hoping that you would know."

"A dream?"

Mulder shook his head. "No. If I was dreaming there would be more hot babes in bikinis-not that you aren't a hot babe, but you aren't exactly wearing a thong...are you? Scully, does the G-woman own a G-string?"

Scully arched a brow and gave him a supremely feminine stare that said she had heard every word he had said, but was doing him a favor by ignoring it.

"So much for that theory," he drawled.

A thought or emotion darkened her eyes, and Scully turned away from him to stand at the water's edge. The silence bothered Mulder, and he approached her. He touched her shoulder.

"Mulder, this has to be MY dream," Scully said softly.

But that couldn't be true. He had been here before her. Mulder asked, "Why do you believe it's your dream? Is it impossible that this is real?"

"Yes. It's impossible for many reasons, none of them good." Unshed tears filled her eyes.

Mulder drew her to him, enveloping her in his embrace. Scully felt so small that he was surprised by the strength of her arms as they wrapped around him.

"It's okay, Scully." Mulder had no idea where those words came from and was not at all sure he believed them, but still he reassured, "Everything will be okay."

A single tear dampened her lashes, but Scully gave a small, enigmatic smile. It transformed her face, and Mulder couldn't breathe. He touched her. He had to. It was a compulsion he couldn't resist as his fingertips gently grazed her temple then followed the curve of her cheek. Scully's lips trembled as his thumb traced the curve of her mouth.

She framed his face between her hands and rose to kiss him even as Mulder lowered his mouth toward hers. Five inches separated them, then three, then only two. She was a breath away. . .and then she was gone. As quickly as Scully had appeared, she was gone.

"Scully!" he called but his voice was drowned by the sound of the ocean.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
6:50am

Scully gasped, dragging air into her oxygen deprived lungs. She reeled with confusion and blinked at the brightness of the room.

"Doctor, are you alright?"

Scully turned and looked at the nurse then glanced over her shoulder to find the doctor the nurse spoke to.

Then she saw... "Mulder?"

In disbelief Scully approached him. Shock and confusion ricocheted through her. How was this possible? What was going on? But every question was second to the fact that Mulder was here. He was alive.

Scully laid her hand across his brow. A hidden ache eased inside her as she felt the moist heat of his skin, the scrape of his stubble against her palm, and witnessed the even rise and fall of his breathing.

An astonished smile curved her mouth.

"You're back," Scully said in a low, choked voice and combed her fingers through his crisp hair. "You came back."

"Dana?"

Scully looked to the doorway in disbelief. "Daniel? What are you doing here?"

Daniel crossed his arms and looked impatient. "Since you haven't answered any of about two dozen messages and haven't left the M.I.C.U. in two days, I decided it was time for the mountain to come to Muhammad."

Messages? M.I.C.U.? What sort of bizarre dream or delusion was this? The last thing Scully remembered was being caught in an electron accelerator with Dr. Steven Doerstling. Scully frowned. No, that wasn't true. She remembered something else. She remembered standing on a beach with Mulder. He had called her name and touched her. For one timeless moment they had stood together, and Mulder had reassured her that everything would be okay.

Now Scully looked at Mulder's pale, tortured features and wondered what was real and what wasn't. Which memory was true and which was only a dream born of too many sleepless nights and too much desperation?

"I don't understand," Scully murmured.

Daniel's face set in angry lines. "What's there to understand? I'm your husband and I want to talk to you."

Her jaw fell. "Husband?"

"Don't tell me you've already filed for divorce. You haven't left the hospital since you walked out."

"Walked out? What are you talking about? I walked out ten years ago."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It doesn't mean-"

Daniel interrupted. "Dana, please, give me a chance." His voice became soft and cajoling. "Have you filed for a divorce?"

"No!" Scully looked around her in confusion. "No...I...why would I file for a divorce?"

"Dr. Waterston," the nurse said.

Scully waited for Daniel to answer her.

The nurse tugged at Scully's sleeve and repeated, "Dr. Waterston."

With a sudden sense of understanding Scully looked down at her hands and saw a gold wedding ring: SHE was the Dr. Waterston that the nurse addressed.

The nurse finished, "There's someone wanting to speak with you about Mr. Mulder."

Scully heard the nurse but couldn't move. Her mind was spinning. What the hell was going on?


"We hover between awareness of being and loss of being. And the entire reality of memory becomes spectral."
- Gaston Bachelard "The Poetics of Space"


 

CHAPTER FIVE

Cayuga Medical Center
Ithaca, New York
7:12am

The world felt fuzzy and vague. She knew it was there, but she couldn't hold onto it. It kept slipping through her fingers. . .her aching fingers.

Dana Waterston hurt all over.

"Doctor, I think she's coming around," she heard someone announce.

Dana tried to push herself to a sitting position. She was the doctor, and there was a patient who needed her if only she could make her muscles work.

"No," a kind voice said. "You just lay back. You've been through quite enough, young woman."

She managed to lift one eyelid to see a gray haired man leaning over her. "What. . .?" Dana croaked.

"From what I know, you walked into a rather unusual situation. Heroics are all well and good, but if you aren't careful, you might get yourself killed."

"Heroics?"

"Here," the doctor offered. "Take a drink of water. That should help."

Cool liquid slid down Dana's throat, and she was finally capable of opening both of her eyes. "What happened?" she asked.

"You don't remember throwing yourself into an electron accelerator to rescue Steven Doerstling?"

Dana blinked. Rescue The Steven Doerstling? Someone on the staff had to be making some sort of sick joke.

"No really, what happened?" Dana asked.

The doctor frowned. "What day is it?"

"Monday."

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Three."

"What's your name?"

"Dana Scully Water-"

He refilled her glass. "You sound lucid," he announced and made a note in her chart. "Don't worry about forgetting the accident. It's relatively common to lose the memory of a traumatic event leading to a blackout. Then again after looking at your rather...shall we say 'eventful' medical history, I assume you know that."

He returned to her bedside. "I want to reassure you that all indications are that your baby is fine."

Dana choked on her water. "What?"

"When your medical charts were forwarded to us, I noticed the tests you had run in Washington. I assumed this was a high risk pregnancy. I ran an ultrasound, and, as I said, all indications are that the fetus is fine."

She was pregnant. Now how in the hell had that happened? Daniel had had a vasectomy before he had even met her. He said that he didn't want more children, and, after witnessing the father he had been, Dana had decided his decision was a good one. She never wanted Daniel's child.

So how was she pregnant? For that matter how had she climbed into an electron accelerator? This was nuts. Out of this world nuts.

Then Dana remembered the doctor saying her medical records had been forwarded from Washington.

"Where am I?" she asked.

"Cayuga Medical Center. We're in Ithaca."

New York. Dana felt hysteria rise inside her. This had to be a dream or nightmare or. . .something. It had to be anything but what it appeared to be. Short of starring in an episode of Star Trek, no one disappeared from one location to miraculously appear in another. It defied the laws of physics.

A young man stuck his head through the door opening, "Agent Scully, you awake?"

Dana frowned. He looked to be somewhere around the age of twenty-four, two days overdue for a shave and in desperate need of a comb. He was also a complete stranger.

"When I called you with the b quark data I didn't think that you'd run out in the middle of the night to check out CLEO." Then he grinned. "Good thing you did though. Gotta hand it to the FBI. You pulled it off. I never thought to see Dr. Doerstling alive again. Do you get a medal or something for pulling that off?"

He could as easily have been speaking Greek. Dana had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

"Hey, doc," the kid called just before her doctor left the room. "Can she go down the hall to see Doerstling?"

The doctor frowned a moment then looked at her, "You think you're up to it?"

Dana tested her limbs, and they felt sound. "What were my injuries?" she asked.

"Almost none. Like I said, you're a lucky woman, Agent Scully. You seem to have come through without a scratch."

Agent? She reviewed the last few minutes and remembered the younger man mentioning the FBI. Was this some bizarre dream brought on by several nights without sleep and at least one night sitting vigil over FBI Agent Fox Mulder?

The young man handed her a white terry robe. "It was in the bathroom," he told her.

While slipping it on, Dana tried to find her center of gravity as a wave of dizziness washed over her.

"You okay?" the kid asked.

Dana took a deep breath. "I'm fine."

He grinned. "Well then, let's go see Doc Doerstling."

She moved slowly down the hall because her muscles still ached, but the young stranger assured her they weren't going far.

"Here we are," he announced as he pushed open the wide patient room door.

There was an older man with salt and pepper hair and intelligent brown eyes sitting on a bed with a young blonde woman attending his every need. "I'm okay, Lauren," he reassured. Then he raised his head, and Dana thought he saw her.

"Ah," he said, "the conquering hero."

Dana swallowed her confusion and stepped tentatively into the room.

The man's eyes narrowed. "Why do I have the feeling I have the pleasure of greeting Alice just after she fell down the rabbit hole?"


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
7:12am

"Sir," Scully said with vast relief as she pushed open the door to the M.I.C.U. waiting room to find Assistant Director Walter Skinner standing there. "I'm glad you're here."

Skinner looked surprised then gratified by her statement. "I'm sorry I couldn't arrive sooner, doctor."

Doctor?

Skinner continued, "Since you called saying there was an intruder in Agent Mulder's room, I've arranged for a guard."

Scully eyes narrowed. "Mulder is in danger? From whom?"

Skinner's gaze darted away from her, and he adjusted his glasses. "I'm not sure." He paused, then took a breath. "Dr. Waterston, has there been any change in Mulder's condition?"

Scully ducked her head. How was she supposed to answer that? She heard someone push open the waiting room door and looked to see who it was. Then her spine stiffened, and her chin rose defiantly. So the old bastard wasn't dead. Why wasn't she surprised?

"Yes, doctor," the Smoking Man said in a quiet rumble. "Has Mulder's condition improved?" He casually reached into his pocket, removed a cigarette, and started to light it.

Scully snatched it out of his hand. "There's no smoking in the hospital."

She thought she saw amusement in the old man's rheumy eyes. "Yes, doctor."

Scully glared at Skinner, but he only looked away. She frowned. What was going on? Skinner was acting strangely. He was compromised. Scully knew that. He had confessed it, but she still trusted him. Skinner had saved hers and Mulder's butts too many times for her not to trust him. But since he was compromised Scully had also learned not to depend on him.

She examined the Smoking Man. He wasn't dead, and that was the only revelation of the last few minutes that didn't shock her. In fact, the only thing about him that surprised her was the state of his health. The last time she had seen him he had been pasty skinned and had announced that he was dying. Later both Krycek and Marita Covarrubias described him as being wheelchair bound and having a trache. . .and that had been before he was murdered. All in all he looked miraculously healthy.

Putting on her best poker face, Scully decided to bluff her way out of this situation. "I'm not prepared to make any diagnosis at the moment." She looked at Skinner. "Am I to expect a guard in the M.I.C.U.?"

Skinner nodded.

When Scully moved to exit, CSM stopped her with a brush of his hand. "Will you have a prognosis later today?"

Her eyes glinted with rebellion. "I don't know. Ask me later today."

Once she left the room Scully took a deep breath. The world had gone insane. Everything was upside down and inside out. It was as if she had fallen into one of those parallel universes that Steven Doerstling had theorized.

Scully stopped walking and began shaking her head. No, that was impossible. Things like that didn't happen. It was the kind of stuff Mulder liked to talk about but. . .

Mulder.

With renewed purpose Scully walked down the hall. At the nurses' station she demanded Mulder's medical chart before returning to his room.

Daniel stood waiting for her. "I read the chart," hesaid. "It's a fascinating case, but you're spending too much time on it. You're making it personal."

"It is personal."

She saw a muscle jump in Daniel's jaw. Over the years Scully had forgotten that quirk. Then again she had forgotten many things about Daniel.

"What is this man to you?" he asked.

She refused to answer. "Why are you still here?"

"I wanted to speak with my wife."

"She isn't here."

Daniel crossed the room. "Dana, I know you're angry."

"That's where you're wrong. I'm not angry. I have no reason to be angry, it's just that my life has nothing to do with yours."

"How can you say that?"

"Because it happens to be true." She wanted him to go away. Scully didn't know why Daniel thought she was his wife, and she didn't want to know. She only wanted him leave. Mulder needed her. "I'm sorry, Daniel. Whoever it is you're looking for, I'm not her."

"That's not true."

"It is true." Scully faced him squarely. "You don't want me. You want an admirer. An admirer with enough knowledge to be suitably impressed by your brilliance. I can't do that. I can't be that. I've never been much of a yes woman. I need a partner, not an idol."

Daniel's gaze narrowed. "It's him."

She ducked her head. "My relationship with Mulder has nothing to do with this."

"Your 'relationship'?"

"You aren't listening to me." Scully sighed. "You never listened to me."

"You're having an affair." Daniel laughed and looked at her with what Scully thought was disbelief. "All the time I was feeling guilty, you were fucking another man."

"Daniel, please-"

He interrupted. "Are you in love with him?"

"Excuse me?"

"It's a simple question." Daniel crossed his arms. "At least for most people it's simple. Though in your case perhaps I should rephrase it." He paused. "Do you allow yourself to love him? I know you always secretly hated the idea of loving me."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's always about control with you. Everything has to fit your little rules, your unbending ethics." Daniel walked around Mulder's bed but his gaze never left Scully. "This won't work, you know. You won't allow it to work. If your self-righteous morality hasn't killed it, your need for control will. You won't allow yourself to need anyone, or at least you won't allow yourself to BELIEVE that you do. Deep down you don't trust a soul."

Scully blinked. She wasn't that woman. She wasn't deluding herself. She simply wasn't the person Daniel described, and Scully didn't mean that in the sense that he called her Dana and thought that she was his wife. It went deeper than that.

It was true that she had used excuses to explain her distance from her parents. Scully had blamed a fear of disappointing her father. She had pointed to the differences between Melissa's mystical nature and her own more scientific one. She and Bill disagreed, period, and of course Charlie was better at creating emotional distance than she was. But that had been a lifetime ago.

Scully looked at Mulder. Daniel's analysis had some foundation in truth, but he was wrong in one vital respect. She trusted Mulder absolutely.

"Do you allow yourself to love him?" Daniel asked.

Scully didn't look in Daniel's direction. "I won't discuss this with you."

"Typical."

Scully closed her eyes. This was turning into a bad soap opera. "Could you please go?"

"Yes, I think I will. But one day you'll regret this."

"I don't think so," she murmured.

After Daniel left Scully looked at Mulder. "And I don't care if you are catatonic, you're smiling aren't you?"

Scully reached to pull her hand through her hair and was surprised to discover it pulled back with a clip. It wasn't her style. "Mulder, I think your disappearing act has finally pushed me over the edge." She sank into the chair next to his bed. "I've lost my mind."

Scully opened his chart and began reading. It was ominously familiar. She swallowed convulsively and reached for his hand. "Mulder," she rasped. "I hate to tell you this, but you're in big trouble."

Threading her fingers through his she repeated in an inexpressibly sad voice, "Big trouble."


Cayuga Medical Center
Ithaca, New York
7:43am

In an almost dreamlike state Dana stepped cautiously into Steven Doerstling's room.

"Tell me, Agent Scully," Doerstling said, "am I cast in the role of the Cheshire Cat?"

"I wouldn't know. It's been a very long time since I read Alice in Wonderland. What exactly does the Cheshire Cat do?"

He laughed, though Dana wasn't at all sure anything she had said was amusing. Doerstling looked at Lauren Rice. "Why don't you and Mike go and have breakfast? I would like to speak with Agent Scully alone."

"But Doctor," Lauren began to protest.

"Give over, Lauren," Mike said impatiently. "There's no point in arguing with the man. We'll find an Egg McMuffin or something." Stilgoe escorted Lauren from the room.

"Agent Scully, don't hover by the door," Doerstling admonished. "Come in."

Dana took a single step forward. "Why do you call me Agent Scully?"

"Aren't you Agent Scully?"

She took a shaky breath. "My maiden name is Scully."

"But you aren't with the FBI?"

"No."

"So you are Alice."

Dana gathered her courage and took two more steps into the room. "Exactly what rabbit hole do you think I fell through?"

"You better sit down Ms. . .?"

"Waterston. But Scully will do just as well."

He looked concerned. "You have no idea what has happened, do you? What am I saying? Of course you don't." His gaze met hers. "Ms. Waterston, you are a living breathing example of something that is completely impossible. And you are a very long way from home."

"Is this where you tell me to click my heels three times and say there's no place like home?"

"Wrong story."

"Or the wrong dream?" she asked. "Weren't Alice and Dorothy only dreaming?"

"This place is real, Ms. Waterston, and so is the place you were before. They are interdependent worlds."

Dana arched a brow in disbelief. "Worlds? As in the plural? That's impossible."

He smiled. "So I said."

She shook her head. "No, I mean it's really impossible. There's no such thing. Alternate universes? That's the stuff of science fiction, not real science."

"Most science fiction is based on real science."

"Based and then extrapolated out of all proportion. Alternate universes do not exist."

"But physics-science-theorizes that they do."

Dana shook her head. "That's theory. It's supposition. It's not something that actually happens." She swallowed and was far less certain than she sounded. "It didn't happen to me."

"But it did."

"I have no proof of that." But even as she said it, Dana knew it was a lie. She was pregnant, wasn't she? Pregnant with a child that she didn't remember conceiving. Dana frowned. "How. . ." She paused and took a deep breath. "How is what you're proposing possible?"

"I don't know. And though I don't want to sound conceited, if I don't know then no one does. Please sit, Ms. Waterston, we have a great deal to discuss."


"When in dreams I still remember..."
- Arthur L. Gilliom


CHAPTER SIX

Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
7:43am

Scully's hands shook, but she ignored the tremor. She walked around the nurses' station, past the charting kiosk, and into the med prep room. No one stopped her. No one questioned her right to be there. They didn't so much as look twice in her direction.

It disturbed her.

In medical school Scully had realized that if you behaved as though you belonged in staff areas of the hospital the personnel usually accepted you. But this was different. These strangers knew her. She should examine that, but she wouldn't. Not now. Some things couldn't bear scrutiny, and as far as Scully was concerned, this was one of them.

Scully didn't plan to ignore what was going on around her. It was just that her surroundings had no bearing on the problem at hand. Her first priority was Mulder. He had a specific medical problem and that had to be addressed first. She couldn't allow confusion about her surroundings to distract her. Mulder needed her.

In medicine and in the FBI indecision could prove fatal. Scully lived with that knowledge every day, and the only way to deal with it was to have a clear and simple set of priorities. A person's life came first. In a crisis situation anything else was superfluous, so Scully silenced the inner voice that warned her extraordinary things were happening if only she would stop and notice.

Of course, Mulder would claim inexplicably bizarre circumstances weren't superfluous.

That was the difference between them-not that Mulder would ever turn his back on a person in need. It was just that Mulder started with the idea of proving the impossible. Scully couldn't do that. She clung to some semblance of objectivity, and she knew that tendency frequently drove Mulder up a wall.

Scully had tried to explain it to him. As a scientist she had to rely on the scientific method-objective observation, coherent hypotheses, and quantifiable results. She couldn't allow was her own needs or bias to influence her choices. Scully wasn't allowed to predetermine the answer she wanted. Science demanded that she focus solely on the facts, and because of that there were questions Scully simply couldn't ask.

Maybe that was why she had found her niche in the X-Files. Mulder asked those questions for her. He kept alive that part of herself that science demanded that she ignore.

But Mulder wasn't here...or at least he hadn't been here. Now he was, and that in itself was a question she should reflect upon. Instead-as always-Scully took action.

She punched a code she had found in Dana Waterston's pocket PDR into the Pyxis machine, the pharmaceutical equivalent of a vending machine, and retrieved a sedative. If Scully claimed what she was about to do didn't bother her, she would be lying. However after reading Mulder's chart, Scully had made a decision, and in good conscience she could not make that decision alone.

She left the med room and nodded to the nurse. Then she walked down the hall to Mulder's room. Once inside Scully took a hypodermic from her pocket. Her hands still shook as she inserted the needle the into the small glass vial and drew down the stopper.

Scully had performed this procedure a thousand times, but this was different. This was Mulder, and Scully hated what she was about to do. She was about to inject Mulder with a near fatal dose of a drug for nothing more than a few moments of lucidity. It was necessary, but it felt wrong.

Scully looked at him. His face appeared impassive, yet she knew he was in pain. She remembered Mulder describing his mental anguish during his hospitalization last fall. He had been in hell, and now it was happening again.

Scully's most vivid memory of that period was Mulder standing in a padded cell screaming her name. Diana Fowley had barred her from seeing him. Even Diana's later sacrifices couldn't expunge the bitterness Scully felt at being denied the chance to help Mulder. He had needed her.

Now it was happening again, and Diana Fowley was nowhere to be found. And nothing on earth-or anywhere else for that matter- would keep Scully from reaching Mulder.

She glanced at the EEG, reading the abnormal results on screen. Something had been removed from Mulder's brain last year, and now it was back. It was killing him. Scully could ignore every other horrifyingly bizarre aspect of her situation. She could place in some controlled corner of her mind that Daniel thought she was his wife, that the supposedly deceased Smoking Man was alive and more well than the last time she had seen him. Scully could even manage to deal with both Skinner and the hospital staff believing she was a neurologist. The thing she could not ignore, could not deny was that Mulder was dying.

She would not allow that to happen.

Scully tapped the hypodermic needle and approached the bed.


There was a flash, a blinding moment of pain, then a prickling sensation not unlike the phantom pins and needles felt when a limb that had gone to sleep suddenly had circulation restored...only this was a thousand times worse. Agony pierced Mulder's mind and impaled his consciousness. Then it slowly dissipated, fizzling like fireworks after a burst of light.

He was free.

Mulder blinked and found himself staring up at two foot by two foot acoustical ceiling tiles. There was movement at his side. He turned and saw her.

"Scully," he croaked.

Scully smiled, and it softened the lines and curves of her face. It gave her a muted glow that seemed to emanate from somewhere deep within, and when her smile reached the shadowed depths of her eyes they turned a pure, crystalline blue.

"You know me?" she asked.

Yes? No? Maybe? Mulder wasn't sure. He didn't know. He had no memory of her, and yet...

"You were in my dream-on the beach," he rasped.

Something flickered in Scully's eyes. Some complex, multi-layered emotion that passed over her then coalesced into a singular sadness.

Mulder reached to comfort her. "Scully..."

She gripped his hand with surprising strength. "We don't have much time," she told him. "Nowhere near enough time. You're dying."

He gave a grim smile. "Don't waste time with tact. Give it to me straight. I can take it."

"I'm sorry-"

"Don't be." Mulder squeezed her hand.

"I didn't tell you this so you could act insanely brave," Scully snapped. "I'm telling you because I think there is someone who can save you."

"Does she have red hair?"

"It's the Smoking Man."

He tensed. "No."

"Listen to me-"

"No. You can't trust that black lunged bastard."

"I know that."

"Do you?" Mulder's gaze narrowed. "How? Who are you?"

"Your friend," she vowed. "Always your friend."

He looked down at their clasped hands.

"Mulder..." On her lips his name was little more than a breath, a sigh. "I know something about what's wrong with you. I know you can hear what I'm thinking."

He attempted to sit up.

"No," Scully protested and gently pushed him back against the pillows. "I want you to look at me. I know you have no reason to trust the Smoking Man. I'm not asking that you do. I'm asking you to trust me."

Mulder shook his head.

"Please, Mulder. There are things I can't say. Things that I don't have time to explain, and even if I had the time, I don't know that I COULD." Her grip tightened painfully. "But I need you to understand, and I need your trust before it's too late."

Mulder gazed at her, and images tumbled through his head. Her memories? His memories? Mulder wasn't sure. He couldn't know...No. They couldn't be his memories. He lived his life alone. Mulder was suspicious of his superiors and mocked by his co-workers. His sister had been abducted, his father murdered, and his mother dead by her own hand. There was no one with whom he shared a connection or bond.

He had a few friends-Frohike, Langly, Byers-but there was no confidante. No one who knew his secrets or his terrible truths. No one who shared his path.

He was alone.

What an incredibly depressing thought. It was true, but it was still depressing. If he fell off the earth tomorrow, no one would notice except the FBI payroll accountant, and no one would care except his fish when the automatic feeder ran out. Hell, now that Mulder thought about it, if it wasn't for survival instinct he had no reason to fight what was happening to him.

So why did he matter to her? And how did he know her? How could he possibly remember Scully holding out her hand saying she had been assigned to work on the X-Files?

Mulder also remembered responding snidely, "I was under the impression you were sent to spy on me."

Then the memory faded and another took its place.

Wind howled in a low minor chord that resonated with despair as a blizzard raged in beyond a door. It was the Arctic Ice Core Project, and Mulder saw himself holding a gun on a man, a woman...and Scully. "I don't trust you," Mulder yelled. "I wouldn't turn my back on any of you."

Again his memory shifted, and Scully alone dared enter the room where he stood.

"I don't trust them," he had confessed. "But I WANT to trust you."

Months passed. Or was it seconds? Years? He didn't know and couldn't tell. Mulder had no reference point as images sped by. Images so vivid they seemed real...or were they real? Had they happened?

Scully lay ill in a hospital bed. Her translucent skin had lost its glow, and her eyes looked tired and pained. She was dying. Dying because she had joined him in peering into the dark corners. Dying because of him, and yet Scully was willing to sacrifice more.

"You have to say I'm the one who killed that man," Scully urged.

"I can't do that."

"Yes, you can. If I can save you, let me."

Let her sacrifice herself for him? It defied Mulder's imagination.

Then a miracle happened and Scully recovered. She hadn't left him, and something inside him that had come perilously close to breaking remained intact.

Somewhere in the recesses of Mulder's mind he heard Scully say, "When I met you, you told me that your sister had been abducted by aliens, and that event marked you so deeply that nothing else mattered."

YOU matter, Mulder thought.

"I didn't believe you," Scully confessed. "But I believed in you. I followed you on nothing more than your faith that the truth was out there. Based not on fact, not on science, but on your memories. Memories were all that you had."

Just as memories were all Scully had now. Memories that came to Mulder in an inexplicable rush. Small ones. Inconsequential ones. Happy ones.

Scully stood on a chair in his office raising her face to the sunlight spilling through a skylight as she relished a creamy white confection.

"Did you bring enough to share with the rest of the class?" Mulder drawled.

"It's not ice cream," Scully warned. "It's a non-fat tofutti rice dreamsicle."

Mulder made a face. "I bet the air in my mouth tastes better than that." He leaned back in his chair, bracing his feet against the top edge of his desk. "Scully, you really know how to live it up."

"Oh yeah, and you're mister 'let's squeeze every last drop out of this sweet life,' aren't you?"

He arched one eyebrow.

Scully shook her head. "Here we are on a beautiful Saturday morning, and you've got us grabbing life by the testes."

Mulder almost laughed, and there was a look in Scully's eyes that said she was onto him. "Let sleeping dogs lie," she admonished.

He crossed his arms. "I'm not going to sit idly by as you hurl cliches at me. Preparation is the father of inspiration."

"Necessity is the mother of invention."

"The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

"Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die."

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for non-fat tofutti rice dreamsicles!" And he pounced, wrestling her for the ice cream as her crystal clear laughter echoed in his ears.

Later, at a baseball field Scully crossed the distance between them. Mulder handed her the bat and wrapped his arms around her saying the most outrageous things he could think of.

"You've got to remember," he murmured. "Hips before hands." Then he touched her and demonstrated what he meant.

Scully moved in rhythm with him.

"We're going to make contact," Mulder whispered in her ear. "We aren't going to think. We're just going to let it fly."

Together they hit the baseball out of the park.

With his arms wrapped around her, Mulder found himself talking and talking. Nothing he said made much sense, but somehow it meant everything when Scully gave a rare, wonderful smile.

"Shut up, Mulder." Her soft voice washed over him. "I'm playing baseball."

And something fell into place. His jagged edges and asymmetrical outcroppings found their niche. This was it. This was where he fit in that inexplicable jigsaw puzzle of life. Mulder belonged beside her.

Another memory surfaced.

"I never made the world a happier place," he murmured.

Scully took his hand and replied, "Oh, I don't know, I'm relatively happy."

But happiness slipped from Mulder's grasp as shadows lengthened and fell across his pathway. The sun dipped below the horizon, and they stood in the night darkened halls outside of A.D. Skinner's office. "I won't lose you," he vowed to Scully, but somehow he knew that he had.

Scully's gaze filled with an emotion Mulder could not define but understood completely as he saw himself through her eyes. Mulder was stunned. He saw his arrogance and his obsessions. He saw the futility of his anger and witnessed his carelessness and self destruction. But-through her-Mulder also saw more.

Scully saw strength in him. She found honor and compassion. She believed in his integrity, and valued his quest for truth. Scully saw more in Mulder than he had ever seen in himself. And though she knew all of his weaknesses and mistakes, Scully saw something he had never seen. She saw a man worth saving...

And there was something more. Something Scully would not or could not say. Something awful and terrible and final-something exhilarating, and miraculous, and true. It was beyond Mulder's reach and becoming more so by the moment as sanity slipped from his grasp.

Mulder gripped her hand as the tide of the mental storm overtook him. Wave after wave of thought battered him, choked him, and dragged him to murky depths.

No, Mulder thought. Not yet. Wait! There was something he had to say.

"Scully," he whispered.

"I'm here."

"I trust you."

And the tide pulled him under.


A tear slipped down Scully's cheek as she stared at Mulder and knew without being told that he was no longer with her. Scully looked at their entwined fingers. Even now they held one another fiercely, and she didn't want to let go. Walking away wasn't a choice, but she couldn't stand still and do nothing. Scully had to fight for both of them, so she brushed her fingertips across his lips and said a silent good-bye.

Scully gasped when she opened the door to find a guard standing in the hall. She nodded to him then made her way to the nurses' station.

Scully asked the nurse, "Do you remember the man who was here earlier? The older one with the cigarettes and the dark suit?"

"Yes."

"Good. When he arrives, I want you to page me. I don't care what time it is. Page me." Scully started to walk away.

"Doctor," the nurse called. "What name should I use when I page you? I mean, who is he?"

"Spender. Just call him Mr. Spender." Scully pushed through the security doors prepared to make a deal with the devil.


"I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir," said Alice, "because I'm not myself, you see."
- Lewis Carroll Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


CHAPTER SEVEN

Cayuga Medical Center
Ithaca, New York
8:12 am

Dana Waterston stared at her face in the mirror. Only it wasn't her face...not exactly. She looked thinner. Her features were slightly more defined, and her hair was a darker, more fiery red. Dana glanced over her shoulder. "How?" she asked Dr. Doerstling.

Doerstling was silent for a moment then said, "Grab the legal pad on the table."

Dana walked across the room.

"Rip out a page," he told her. "Then fold it in half lengthways. Now fold it again. Make it about an inch wide." Once she had followed his instructions Doerstling added, "Now twist one side and bring the two ends together. What do you have?"

Dana straightened the edges of the paper. "It's a mobius strip."

"You asked 'how?' That's my best answer." Doerstling held out his hand, and she placed the strip in it. He examined it. "A few minutes ago this sheet of paper was easily defined. It had clear dimensions-a top and a bottom."

"But a mobius strip only has one side."

"Exactly. A twist erased boundaries. Where once there was a top and bottom, now there's neither...and both." He handed her the mobius strip. "A simple action changed everything."

Dana shook her head as the implications of his statement struck her and made an unhappy muddle in her head. She frowned. "Sort of an incomplete explanation, isn't it?"

"A very incomplete explanation, but the best I can do on short notice."

Dana felt herself questioning whether she had actually heard what she thought she had. "A simple action erasing boundaries between dimensions?" Even to her own ears Dana sounded doubtful...which was good because that was the way she felt.

"That's it in a nutshell," Doerstling told her.

"I don't believe it."

"You may not believe it, but you're living it."

She WAS living it. Dana wanted to deny it, but she couldn't. She could look out the window and see trees and sunlight. She could feel the mobius strip in her hand. There was nothing vague or indistinct about her surroundings. This was real.

Doerstling continued, "I also have to confess that I'm the one who started this mess. It's my fault that you're here."

Dana approached his bed. "Care to explain how?"

"I would rather not, but I owe you an explanation." His gaze lifted to hers. "I'm a difficult, arrogant, and self absorbed man."

"That's quite a confession."

"But a true one." He paused then added, "Arrogance and self absorption can lead a man to make foolish choices."

Dana wasn't sure how to respond to that. He looked at the closed door. "You met my assistant Lauren. She's a very attractive young woman. It probably shouldn't surprise me that she walked into my office last week, and I felt desire." Doerstling's gaze lifted to Dana's. "But it did surprise me-and not because she's half my age or because in normal circumstances I would be more attracted to Mike Stilgoe."

Dana looked toward the wheelchair in the corner.

"No," he said softly. "Not even because of the monster in the corner."

She took a seat next to his bed as Doerstling confessed, "It didn't take long for me to realize that what I felt had nothing to do with Lauren and everything to do with youth. Tell me, Ms. Waterston, do you remember what it was like to be that age? Do you remember the days before your path was set? A time when the world was full of possibilities, and you could do or become anything?"

Dana almost nodded, but Doerstling didn't seem to need a reply. With his gaze fixed on some invisible point in space he said, "Year by year our options become fewer and change becomes less likely. At some point we realize that the path we're on is the path we must stay on. It's too late to change. There isn't enough time to start over." He looked at her. "Of course, you haven't reached that point yet. You're still relatively young."

While that might be true, Dana secretly admitted that it didn't always feel that way.

"To make a long story short," Doerstling told her. "I looked at Lauren and it was like looking at all of the roads I didn't take. What if I had zigged left instead of zigging right in that motorcycle accident? What if after the accident I hadn't locked myself in the physics department?"

He looked at the wheelchair. "I allowed myself to become a slave to that contraption. Without my choice, my path was set and there was no going back."

As if he felt her eyes on him, Doerstling snapped, "Don't look at me with sympathy. It's easy enough for me to wallow in self pity without your help. That was what I was doing when I chose the most outrageous form of self destruction I could imagine."

"The accelerator," Dana realized.

"Yes. The accelerator. You see, I remembered who I had been before the accident. I was a kid who wanted to push the boundaries, to attempt the impossible. Explore. I betrayed that kid, and I owe him."

"To push the limits?"

"It's what I did, isn't it? Who else-other than yourself-has been insane enough to jump into an electron accelerator?"

"I didn't jump into an accelerator," Dana insisted.

"Your counterpart did."

"To save you."

Doestling grimaced. "I'm sorry about that. I dragged both of you into a mess. I ran an unscheduled test of the CESR and climbed inside it not caring if it killed me. I simply wanted to do something that had never been done." He smiled. "You have to admit I accomplished that quite spectacularly."

"I thought I-" Dana stopped. "That is, I thought Agent Scully stopped you."

"No, this was the week before. I ran an experiment, and, like yourself, I became...someone else. Or to be more precise, I became a version of myself who had lived a different life. I could walk again, and I was no longer The Steven Doerstling." He looked at the wheelchair. "I had never been introduced to the monster."

Dana looked at the mobius strip she still held in her hand. A simple twist had changed everything.

Doerstling looked somewhat amused. "I have to admit that as soon as I became used to anonymity, I hated it. Without the monster, my other self never stopped moving long enough to become 'the' Steven Doerstling...and I missed the feeling of being The Steven Doerstling." He smiled self mockingly. "I said I was egocentric."

"So what happened?" Dana pressed. "How did I become involved?"

"While leading another life, I never stopped to think about what happened to my other self in this one. Thankfully some men have more conscience than I do." Doerstling cleared his throat. "From what I've been told Arnold found my counterpart in the accelerator. My other half was disoriented and understandably perturbed with suddenly becoming a quadriplegic."

Dana frowned. "Arnold?"

"Arnold Blackwood. A rather pedantic colleague of mine. I don't know. Perhaps I should give Arnold more credit. He seems to have a fair grasp of the situation and kept it secret until he had a chance to run another round of tests." The professor smiled wanly. "It seems that Arnold missed 'the' Steven Doerstling and wanted him back. You have to understand, to Arnold, physics is everything."

"So you were reported missing while Blackwood hid the other Doerstling. Meanwhile, Agent Scully was brought in to investigate."

Doerstling nodded. "She must have discovered some clue because she was caught in the accelerator trying to rescue my other self."

Dana shook her head in disbelief. "This is fantastic-and I don't mean that in a 'gee whiz' kind of way. This is beyond belief."

"I have to protest. It makes a certain amount of scientific sense."

"Only in theory," Dana argued.

"You're here, aren't you? How theoretical is that?"

"So how do I get back? Another trip through the accelerator?"

"I wouldn't advise that. We don't know what would happen."

"It worked before."

"We think," Doestling stressed. "Who knows what happened to that other me. Did HE make it home successfully? There are too many unknowns, too many unforeseen consequences. What if things don't go back to the way they were before? What if you ended up somewhere else? Somewhere worse? And then there are the physical dangers. Jumping into an electron accelerator isn't a reasonable course of action."

"You did it."

"I was also borderline suicidal, and before you mention the other version of yourself, she was trying to rescue me. I wasn't joking when I said it was an act of heroism." Doerstling looked at Dana intently. "If you go back into the accelerator it isn't just your own life you're risking."

Dana's breath caught. How true. She knew Doestling referred to the alternate version of herself, but Dana's first thought was of the life growing inside of her. There was a baby to consider. Could she willingly risk a child's life? Would her other self wish her to? Somehow Dana knew Agent Scully would be dead set against it. Scully would protect her baby above all things. The child could not be risked in a desperate attempt to climb out of a rabbit hole.

So now what, Dana thought with dismay. Assume another woman's life? And do what? Be what? Who was Dana Scully? Who was the father of this child? And how would he feel about a stranger taking Dana Scully's place?


Washington D.C. 10:58am

Scully sat alone in Dana Waterston's car in a dangerous neighborhood, but she hardly noticed. She was too distracted by everything that had happened in the last few hours. How could she think about anything as mundane as where she was parked?

When she had exited the hospital and walked into the physician's parking lot, Scully had realized that she had no idea what car she was looking for. Luckily the key chain in her pocket had a remote locking device so Scully had slowly walked through the parking lot clicking the button until there was a beep and a flash of headlights.

Once behind the steering wheel of a black Lexus, Scully had driven directly to a pharmacy and bought a pregnancy test. As a general rule, Scully didn't put much stock in intuition, but she couldn't deny that even before she took the test she had known what the result would be.

No baby.

Scully had stared at the pink stick as a dark emotion washed over her. It was as if that pink spot embodied every unjust and unfair thing she had ever experienced-which was ridiculous. It was nothing more than a simple medical test. It wasn't the universe saying, "You can have Mulder or the baby. You can't have both."

Scully shook her head and forced herself into motion. She didn't like the direction of her thoughts or the sadness snaking through her. If everything was spinning out of control, Scully had to do something to set it right.

She opened the car door, and walked across the street to enter a small, cluttered pawn shop. A bell rang as the door closed behind her, and a painfully thin young man came out of a back room.

"What can I do for you?" he asked distractedly, glancing over his shoulder to watch the opening credits of "All My Children" on the television set in the back room.

"I was looking for a gun."

He pulled his attention from Erica Kane. "Gun?" He looked at Scully, but his eyes were too vacant and distracted to look surprised. He walked around a glass case. "Shotgun or handgun?" he asked.

"Handgun."

"Okay...um...you like any of these?"

He's not familiar with weapons, Scully quickly concluded. She was virtually certain he knew little or nothing about guns. She inspected the weapons in the case. "These two."

He gingerly removed a Beretta 9mm and a Sig Sauer. Scully took the one he dangled from his fingertips. Did he think it was going to bite him?

Scully examined the Sig, then reached for the Beretta. She inspected the safety catch and tested the weapon's weight in her hand.

"These will do," she said quietly then looked at the man who once again had his eye on the television in the back room. "Ammunition?" Scully asked.

His gaze swiveled around. "Huh?"

"Ammunition."

"Oh...uh... Dick keeps that stuff under the counter. I don't know much about it though." The man pulled out the drawer. "Um...uh...whaddya want?"

Scully walked around the counter to where the man crouched and examined the boxes. She pushed one or two boxes aside before finding what she needed. Scully handed the boxes to the clerk. "I'll take these."

He frowned. "Am I...uh...allowed to just sell these to you? I mean isn't there a waiting period or something? Forms you've got to fill out?"

Scully had anticipated this. After leaving the pharmacy she had rummaged through Dana's pocketbook and found a checkbook with the insignia of a bank on the checks. Scully had then driven to the bank and removed a relatively substantial amount of cash from the Waterston account.

"How much for the guns and the ammunition?" Scully asked briskly.

He frowned in confusion, then looked at the guns and the boxes. "Maybe I should call Dick."

Scully starting counting out cash, laying bill after bill on the glass counter. "I think Dick would be satisfied with this amount, don't you?"

The clerk's eyes were huge. "Uh...yeah, guess so. But there's still those forms-"

She laid a hundred dollar bill on top of the stack. "That should cover it, I think." She paused then lifted her eyes to his. "Don't you?"

He glanced anxiously toward the back room as if looking for the aforementioned 'Dick.' When the man didn't appear, the clerk seemed to come to a conclusion and picked the money up from the counter. He folded the cash in half then shoved it into his back pocket. "What Dick don't know won't bother him much."

Scully frowned but silently picked up the gun and the box.

"You know how to shoot that thing?" the clerk asked.

Scully was actually surprised by the question. For her, carrying a gun was more familiar than carrying a purse. "I know what I'm doing." Scully nodded to him and left the pawn shop.

One more law broken in the space of a couple of hours, Scully thought with mild disgust. Quite a record for a law officer. She should be ashamed of herself, but she wasn't-not when Mulder's life hung in the balance.

After driving for about fifteen minutes Scully turned the corner at a familiar intersection and found herself in an area of crumbling warehouses. There had been an effort for gentrification of the area in the eighties, but at some point the developers had cried surrender and allowed the district to sink to its natural equilibrium-urban grunge.

Scully stopped in front of a non-descript grayish building of indeterminate age. Nothing distinguished the building from its neighbors. Everything indicated that the it was deserted. Scully prayed it wasn't.


Melvin Frohike sat in front of the security monitor watching a woman park a Lexus. She was conspicuously out of place in this neighborhood of seedy shops and abandoned warehouses.

"Twenty minutes and that car will be stolen," Langly predicted.

"Fifteen," Frohike countered. "Tops."

Byers asked, "Why is she sitting there without moving?"

Langly stopped chewing his nacho chips long enough to mumble, "She's probably pulling a map out of the glove compartment. No way did she mean to end up here." Salsa fell on his Def Leppard t-shirt. "Damn. I'll be right back."

Frohike glanced at Byers.

"I did laundry yesterday." Byers assured and screwed the lid on the jar of salsa. He looked at the monitor and frowned. "She's staying."

Frohike watched the woman step out of the car and whistled softly. "A looker."

"What is she doing?"

"Crossing the road."

The woman stopped below their camera and looked up.

"It's almost like she knows we're here," Byers said breathlessly.

Frohike frowned. "I think she does."

"How?"

"How should I know?" Frohike headed toward the door. "But a woman in a Lexus does not drive to this part of town, park her car, walk to the door of what looks like an abandoned building, and look directly into a hidden camera without a reason."

"Do we let her in?"

Frohike straightened his slightly faded black t-shirt and glanced into the mirror. He brushed back his hair -or rather what was left of his hair-and adjusted his glasses. "A gentleman does not leave a lady standing on the doorstep. I thought your mother taught you manners."

Byers bristled at the insult.

"Just kidding," Frohike added but he wondered why his buddy wasn't as giddy over this chickadee as he had been over Susanne Modeski. Then Frohike glanced back at the monitor and understood. This woman was different. There was nothing soft or wispy about her. Gravitas. Yeah, that was the word. She had presence and authority.

Frohike waited, but she didn't fidget or give any indication that she was the least bit uncomfortable as she waited for the door to be answered. In fact her face was almost unreadable, yet somehow she still managed to communicate impatience...or maybe it was urgency.

Byers unlocked the last of the seven locks on the door.

"Well, hello pretty lady," Frohike drawled.

She stepped over the threshold.

"Is there something we could do for you?" Byers asked.

She looked Frohike dead in the eye. "Yes, you can help me save Mulder's life."


"The shifts of fortune test the reliability of friends."
- Cicero De Amicitia XVII


CHAPTER EIGHT

Langly entered the room pulling a "Napster rules and Metallica Sucks!" t-shirt over his head.

Frohike shook his head. "I never thought I'd see the day."

"What?"

"The shirt."

Langly shrugged. "Screw the RIAA and Ulrich. Music to the people. Besides, I can to listen Limp Bizkit instead."

Scully cleared her throat and the Lone Gunmen looked at her. Having caught their attention she wondered what she should do next. How could she convince them to help her when as far as they were concerned she was a stranger? For one slightly insane moment Scully considered telling them the truth. Only there was no rational explanation for what was happening, and she refused to make an irrational one. The Lone Gunmen might be paranoid, but they weren't crazy.

"Who are you?" Langly asked.

"Scully."

"Is that like Madonna?"

"What?"

"No first name. No last name, just Scully?"

"My name is Dana Scully," she supplied.

Byers approached her. "Okay, Ms. Scully, who are you, and why do you think Mulder needs our help?"

Scully paused and thought about what she needed to say. "I'm Mulder's friend and for the moment I'm also his doctor."

Frohike frowned. "Doctor?"

Scully nodded. "Mulder is in the M.I.C.U. at Georgetown Memorial."

"What's wrong with him?"

"Anomalous brain activity." She glanced away. "It's killing him."

"Shit."

Exactly.

Langly looked confused. "You said we could help him. How? We're not exactly brain surgeons."

The moment had arrived to convince them to trust her, but Scully wasn't sure how. She knew a great deal about them because when stuck on boring stakeouts Mulder liked to tell stories and the Lone Gunmen could be depended upon for an amusing anecdote. However blurting out that she knew private details about their lives would hardly inspire trust in three conspiracy nuts. It would scare the crap out of them. So what was she going to do? What did she have to offer?

"I'm the only chance Mulder has," Scully told them.

The three men looked at one another, and as if by silent agreement Frohike asked, "Could you excuse us for a moment?"

Scully nodded and the three men stepped away.


As soon as they stepped into the back room Byers asked, "So?"

"So what?" Langly countered. "She didn't say anything."

"Yes, she did. She said she needed our help."

"Don't go mushy, white collar knight on me," Langly snapped. "Remember your little Matahari."

Frohike rolled his eyes. "Don't throw Susanne in his face."

"Fine. Sorry I mentioned her." Langly didn't look too apologetic. "But what do we know about this woman? Nothing. We have no idea what she's really up to."

"She said she's Mulder's friend," Byers insisted.

"Are you listening to yourself? Mulder? Friends?"

Byers dropped his gaze to the floor and began shifting his weight. "You have a point."

"I believe her," Frohike told them.

Langly looked understandably confused. "Why?"

"I don't know." Frohike glanced into the next room and saw Scully clasp her hands together so tightly that her knuckles turned white. "I just have this feeling that she cares about the big guy. A lot."

"A feeling? You're willing to bet your life on a feeling?" Langly looked shocked.

Frohike didn't answer but walked into the other room. "I have a few questions," he told her.

Scully squared her shoulders. "Shoot."

"How did you know to come here?"

"Mulder mentioned you," she said it without any elaboration then looked away.

Frohike's eyes narrowed as he tried to decipher her body language. "Mulder sent you here?"

"No."

"You just made the decision on your own?" "Mulder isn't in any condition to send me anywhere. Besides, I make my own decisions."

Fair enough. "You said Mulder was dying. Exactly how bad off is he?"

The change in her expression was subtle. If he wasn't watching her closely, Frohike would have missed it entirely. It was almost as if a shadow crossed her face and darkened her eyes. "Mulder slipped into a coma just before I left the hospital." Scully took a deep breath. "At his present rate of deterioration I estimate he has between forty-eight and seventy-two hours to live."

Scully's gaze locked with his and Frohike thought he read desperation in her eyes.

He came to a decision. "How can we help?"

Scully reached into her jacket.

"Whoa!" Frohike raised his hands and backed away when she pulled out a gun.

Scully smiled grimly and offered the firearm butt first. "For a start, take this."


Cayuga Medical Center
Ithaca, New York
2:18pm

Dana Waterston sat fully dressed on the hospital bed. She had been discharged from the hospital, but what she was supposed to do now?

She had spent the last couple of hours speaking with the local sheriff convincing him to drop charges against Arnold Blackwood. She had conceded to Dr. Doerstling's request to say that Blackwood hadn't known she was in the accelerator at the time of the experiment. That part of the statement was true enough. Dana Waterston hadn't been in the CESR, but Blackwood had known that a-if not 'the'-Steven Doerstling was trapped inside. However, Blackwood had only been trying to set things right. He hadn't intended to harm anyone, and despite the upheaval his actions had caused in her life, Dana could see no purpose in condemning him.

So now what? Dana looked around the empty hospital room. Where was she supposed to go? What was she supposed to do now that she was Special Agent Dana Scully?

The phone rang. Dana reached for the phone on the bedside table only to realize that wasn't the phone that was ringing. She stood and searched through the belongings that a deputy had thoughtfully shipped from Agent Scully's motel room.

Finding a cell phone Dana tentatively said, "Hello?"

"Scully? Is that you?"

What a loaded question.. "Um, yeah, it's me."

"You're in the hospital again. Are you okay?"

"Yes." Who was this?

"Is anything seriously wrong?"

"No."

"So EVERYTHING-" he emphasized the word "-is okay?

Dana blinked. He's asking about the baby, she realized. For some reason he wasn't saying it out loud. Dana didn't know why, but she was sure that was what he was asking.

"Everything is okay."

She heard the man sigh on the other end of the phone and wondered if this was the baby's father.

"When will you be released?" he asked.

"I am now. I...uh...I was discharged a few minutes ago. I was about to leave the hospital." Just as soon as she figured out where the hell she was supposed to go.

His voice turned stern and authoritative. "Scully, I'm used to this shit when you and Mulder work on a X-File, but I sent you on a missing person case, an ordinary missing person case. How did you almost get yourself killed-No. Don't answer that. Just be standing in front of my desk with a full report ready at 8am tomorrow morning. Is that understood?"

"Yes. . .sir," she belatedly added.

"Fine. I'll have my secretary arrange a plane ticket to be waiting for you at the Tompkins County Airport."

As the man hung up, Dana finally matched a face with the voice. Walter Skinner. When he had mentioned Agent Mulder's name she had made the association. It seemed impossible that only yesterday she had stood in the M.I.C.U. explaining Fox Mulder's dire prognosis to Mr. Skinner.

Did Scully know Mulder? Was that why Mulder had seemed eerily familiar when he had been brought into the E.R.? Was that how he had known her name?

Dana gave a bufuddled shake of her head. She was overdosing on unexplained phenomena. Dana was a logical person and everything around her kept defying logic. For her own peace of mind, she needed to find answers. But where was she supposed to start?

Dana pressed her hand against her abdomen and, not for the first time, noticed that she didn't wear a ring. Given the fact that everyone referred to her as Scully, Dana felt she could safely assume that in this reality she was not married. Nice. She was sure her father would have been thrilled. Bill would raise hell about it and would be on the war path against the father ...whoever the baby's father might be.

Pushing aside the mental image of her brother's outrage, Dana wondered again how this baby's father would react to a Dana Scully who wasn't Dana Scully aat all. That thought alone was enough to bring on a wave of nausea. Dear God, how was Dana supposed to make it through this mess?

Dana still pondered that question as she exited the hospital and ran into the student she had met in Steven Doerstling's room.

"Agent Scully," Stilgoe called. "Dr. Doerstling asked me to give you a message."

Dana gave him a questioning look.

Stilgoe looked a little confused. "Doerstling said not to give up. He's looking for another way out of the rabbit hole." He frowned. "Does that make any sense to you?"

"Yes," she answered. "It makes sense. Thank you for the message."

"Okay then. Um...It's been nice meeting you."

Dana watched the young man walk away then straightened her shoulders as a taxi stopped by the curb. As she down in the car, she tried to prepare herself for what she might find in Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C.
2:20pm

Langly asked, "Who do you want to be?"

Scully lifted her head. "Excuse me?"

"On the credit card, what name do you want?

"I don't think it really matters."

He typed in L-A-R-A C-R-O-F-T. Frohike smacked him on the head and snapped, "Don't be a butt munch. Someone will notice that. Put something inconspicuous on it."

"Mary Smith?"

"Not THAT inconspicuous. Something normal."

Byers announced to the room at large, "I've opened a bank account in the Caymans." He looked at Scully. "How much money do you want transferred into it?"

Scully frowned. This felt suspiciously like stealing, but if she was going to protect Mulder she needed an untraceable cash flow. "Ten, maybe fifteen thousand."

Byers frowned. "That won't last long." Byers said for her ears alone, "I think D.C. usually splits divorce settlements straight down the middle. You're entitled to half."

Scully shook her head. Dana Waterston might be eligible for community property, but Dana Scully didn't have the right to a dime of the Waterstons' money. Saying a silent apology for burning her counterpart's bridges, Scully insisted, "Ten thousand is more than enough." She walked away.

With her back turned, Byers transferred half of the Waterston's bank account into the one he had opened in the Caymans.

Frohike approached Scully with a small flat strip of...something. Scully wasn't sure if it was plastic, silicon, or metal.

"What is it?" she asked.

"A miniaturized global positioning device. It will allow us to keep track of you. You should probably attach it someplace where it won't be detected and you won't remove like...uh..." He actually managed to blush.

Scully almost smiled. "Would slipping it into the underwire of my bra help?"

His skin tone deepened. "Yeah. That'd do it."

"If you'll excuse me." With the Lone Gunmen's eyes on her back Scully disappeared into the bathroom.


Once Scully was out of the room Langly said, "You know there's one thing I don't understand about this."

Byers' expression looked like disbelief. "Only one thing?"

"Okay, a lot of things," Langly conceded. "But the big thing I don't get is how Mulder ended up with a doctor that looks like THAT. When I went in for appendicitis, I ended up with some ugly faced old man with icebergs for hands. How did Mulder get so lucky?"

"Lucky? He's dying."

Frohike's eyes stayed glued to the bathroom door. "And she's willing to risk her life to save him. Like Langly said, Mulder is a damn lucky dude."

Langly frowned. "Does she really seem like someone who just happened to cross paths with Mulder?"

Frohike shook his head. "Byers thinks she must be Mulder's chickadee."

Langly's eyes widened. "Sonofabitch. Mulder's got a woman and never said anything?"

"Is he supposed to keep us updated on his lovelife?"

"Hey, I don't have one, I'd sort of like to live vicariously through his." Langly paused. "You think he was embarrassed to introduce her to us?"

"Three handsome dudes like us? Not a chance."

Byers looked distracted. "I'm still not sure about this idea of hers. It sounds dangerous."

Frohike reminded him, "She didn't act like she'd take no for an answer."

"She could get herself killed."

Frohike nodded grimly. "There's nothing we can do about it. We can't stop her, and we can't take her place. We couldn't pull it off. We just have to hope Scully knows what she's doing."

Scully exited the bathroom just her cell phone rang. "Scully," she answered then amended, "Um. . .I mean, Dana Waterston speaking."

She nodded at whatever the person on the other end of the line said. "I'm on my way." She looked at the Lone Gunmen. "I've got to go."

They walked her to the door.

"Thank you for everything." Scully gazed at Frohike, and he felt himself standing just a little bit taller. "And please feed Mulder's fish."

"You bet," Frohike answered to the spot where Scully had stood only a moment before.


". . .since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved."
- Niccolo Machiavelli "The Prince"


CHAPTER NINE

Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
6:14pm

Scully walked through the doors of the M.I.C.U. waiting room to find the Smoking Man standing by the window. He took a long drag off his cigarette and released the smoke slowly.

Scully crossed her arms. "I told you there was no smoking in the hospital."

He didn't acknowledge her by any gesture. "Where did you discover the name Spender?"

Scully restrained a bitter smile. "I have my sources."

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "And those sources would be?"

"I really couldn't say."

"Do you fear for their safety?"

"No."

The Smoking Man turned to face her. "Perhaps you should."

Now she smiled. It felt good to be the one withholding secrets for a change. "I'm afraid not even you could reach my sources."

"You're sure of that?"

"Very sure."

Something flickered in his eyes. She couldn't quite read what it was, but it sent a shiver down her spine.

He raised the cigarette to his lips. "There are those who would say knowing the name Spender could prove hazardous to your health."

"There are those who would say that it already has." Scully shrugged. "We all take risks. I'm sure you've noticed the warning on that pack of Morley's in your hand, but you're still smoking." She approached him slowly. "Also, let me warn you that I know more than a name, and I've made arrangements that if anything happens to me or to Mulder a few of those 'other things' will find their way to light."

Silence was her answer as he rolled the cigarette between his fingers. Scully watched the length of ash grow longer and longer until it defied gravity. She waited for the ash to drop and scorch the floor. It didn't. Raising her gaze to meet his, Scully realized this was a waiting game. He wanted to her step down, to step back. He wanted a weakness to exploit.

She wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

With a flick of his index finger he dumped the ash into a potted plant. "What do you want?"

"Mulder's life."

He arched a brow. "You're the doctor. You have more control over his life than I do."

"I don't think so. I think you know exactly what's wrong with him and what needs to be done to save him." The Smoking Man smiled. "And why would I want to save him?"

"Because you need him. I'm not na=EFve. I don't expect you to do anything out of compassion. You have reasons for what you do. All I'm asking is that you release him to me when you're done."

"And if there is nothing left to release?"

Was that a threat, a warning, or a harsh dose of reality? How close had Mulder come to dying the last time? The experimental procedure had been risky. What if something had gone wrong? What if something went wrong now? Could she live with the consequences?

Scully heard the quiet ticking of the clock on the wall. She had told the Lone Gunmen that Mulder had between forty-eight and seventy-two hours to live. What she hadn't told them was that was an optimistic diagnosis. Trusting the Smoking Man was the only chance Mulder had.

She straightened her shoulders. "As I said, choices mean risks. I'll accept the odds if you'll agree to my proposition."

"And if I don't?"

"Then you won't have Mulder." Scully circled the old man. "If you want him you'll have to go through me. It's that simple."

"Doctor, if I want to remove Mulder from this hospital I'm quite capable of accomplishing it without your help."

Scully shook her head. "Skinner has two guards posted outside of Mulder's room, and I can have Mulder transferred to another wing of the hospital at a moment's notice." She looked at him challengingly. "I can have him transferred to another hospital and can keep doing that until it's too late."

"He would die."

"Yes, but not by your hand."

The Smoking Man watched her contemplatively. "You won't go through with that threat."

Scully arched a brow. "Won't I?"

He took a last drag of his cigarette then crushed it in the potted plant. "Exactly what would accepting your offer entail? "

"That I stay with Mulder 24/7."

The Smoking Man watched her and Scully knew he was calculating the advantages and disadvantages of her offer. He didn't really need her. If he refused her request, the best she could offer were inconveniences and delays...and considering that delays would cost Mulder his life, she wouldn't even do that. All Scully could hope was that she had intrigued him. If she had played her cards right, the Smoking Man would allow her presence simply to satisfy his curiosity or perhaps-if Scully presented a challenge-to break her. She didn't care which as long he allowed her to stay with Mulder.

Finally, he nodded and Scully released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding.

"The nursing shift changes in a half hour," she explained. "I can arrange for Mulder to be removed from his room at that time. Would that be acceptable?"

He gave a disquieting smile. "It is acceptable."

"I'll be waiting."

When Scully entered Mulder's room, she didn't need the EEG to tell her that his condition was worse. He looked like a corpse. Only the monitor beside his bed and the warmth of his skin gave any indication that he was alive at all.

"You have to hold on," she demanded. "If you die on me, I'll kick your ass."

She didn't see the wisp of smoke that drifted just beyond the doorway.


Dana Scully's Residence
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
6:14 PM

Dana Waterston slipped the key into the lock and breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened. After arriving at Dulles she had given the taxi driver the address on her driver's license. Dana could only hope Scully hadn't moved...and that she wasn't leaving a car in the airport's long term parking.

Walking into the apartment Dana flipped the light switch and bathed the room in soft golden glow. No lover waited for her return. There wasn't even a dog wanting to be fed. The metallic clatter of the keys landing on the console table mercifully shattered the silence.

This apartment had nothing in common with the sleek, Modernist house she shared with Daniel. There was no pretension here. The upholstery was slightly faded and a few of the shelves in the bookcase were stacked two deep. Dana doubted any decorator-or even great thought-had been used to select the eclectic mix of furnishings. Still, the overall impression was one of warmth.

She found the thermostat, and lowered the temperature until she heard the soft hum of the air conditioning kicking in. Dana hoped it would clean away the musty smell of disuse. Trailing her fingers through a thin film dust on the mantle, she decided this apartment might be a retreat for Scully, but it wasn't a home. At least not a home that had anything to do with the day to day living of Scully's life.

Dana found herself drawn across the room by the relentlessly blinking light on the answering machine. Squelching the feeling that she was invading Scully's privacy, she hit play.

The first message was Goodwill asking for a clothes donation. The second offered better long distance rates. The third and the fourth were hang ups, and the fifth was her mother calling 'just to check in.' Dana was kneeling in front of Scully's CD player when the answering machine beeped and went on to the sixth message.

"You're pissed aren't you?"

Dana jumped at the sound of the man's voice and accidentally hit the power switch on the CD player. She turned to look at the answering machine-which was a nonsensical thing to do. It wasn't like he was standing in the room.

Only there was something about the man's voice... There was implied intimacy in the way he began talking in mid conversation. No introduction or social niceties, just his saying, "I know you're pissed. That composed act doesn't cut it with me. You wanted to go to Oregon. Yeah, you made supportive noises, and it's not like we don't go separate ways half the time...It's just for some reason this feels different."

Dana could hear him take a breath before he said, "None of this changes the fact that you didn't want me to go alone, or that I deliberately misunderstood what you were saying when I dragged Skinner to go in your place. You wanted to go and didn't care about the risks."

There was a long pause, and for a moment Dana thought the message had run out.

"This wasn't a ditch," he stressed. "I want to make that clear. I wasn't ditching you, so don't pace around your apartment second guessing yourself. You didn't give into to some macho bullshit so I could play protector. You can take care of yourself. I know that. This wasn't about protection...at least not about protecting you."

He sighed. "Scully, we both know a lot about losing things-too many things and too many people. I just...I couldn't risk losing you too."

There was a long moment filled with unsaid words and unexpressed feelings. They squeezed her chest and made it difficult to breathe.

He coughed. "So we're straight on this, right? I didn't ditch you to go searching for little green men-even though we both know they aren't green. Well, I know they aren't green. You never see them. Why is that? Oh well, look at it this way, since you never see them you aren't missing anything...Are you at least cracking a smile by now? No, probably not. I bet you're glaring at the answering machine thinking about how you'll kick my ass when I make it back." There was amusement in his voice. "I'm looking forward to that."

Dana heard Scully's CD player change tracks as she waited for him to continue.

"Scully..."

That's all he said. Maybe that was all that needed to be said.

She heard another man in the background yell, "Mulder, get your ass in gear!"

"Duty calls. The Skinman's looking antsy, and I've got to listen to the boss-bet you didn't know I could do that. You still aren't smiling are you? Figures. I'll be sure to be prepared for a hell of an ass kicking when I make it home. Oh, and charge your cell phone, will you? I hate answering machines."

A click and he was gone. The machine announced the day and time of the message. It was over two months old.

Without warning, some preternatural instinct told Dana that Mulder had never made it home. That was why Scully had saved the message.

As the melancholy sound of Sarah McLachlan's voice filled the stillness, Dana realized she was crying. She couldn't explain it. She didn't know Mulder, but she could remember the look in his eyes when he had called her name in the E.R. He was a stranger yet it felt like Dana knew him, like she had always known him. And now she grieved for him.

Dana sank onto the sofa. She couldn't separate her emotions from Scully's. They felt the same. They felt real. They felt like they would tear her apart as she wrapped her arms around herself and silently rocked back and forth as tears streamed down her face.


The sky darkened to a blue-violet night and a crescent moon hung just above the horizon as Mulder watched light spread across a black glass sea. There were no waves now, and there was no tide. Everything was strangely still.

He didn't stop to think about the oddity of it, just as he didn't bother to wonder if his experience in the hospital had been real...if SHE had been real. Why accept one reality and reject another? Dreams and reality both held elements of truth. He had no desire for an easy explanation. He only wanted to know why?

He turned to see a figure approach him...


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.
7:20pm

Scully approached the guard and smiled. If he had known her, he would have been worried by that smile. Scully didn't smile, at least not often and certainly not since Mulder had left for Oregon. No, the smile was a signal that something was up, and it WOULD have been a signal if the guard had known her a tenth as well as Mulder.

"The CAT scan shouldn't take long," Scully assured the guard.

"Are you sure?"

"Sure that it won't take long?"

"Sure that you don't need me along. The A.D. would have my butt in a sling if anything happened."

Another thing to feel guilty about. Scully was all too familiar with Skinner lectures, and she was sorry to sentence an unsuspecting agent to one. However, she didn't feel guilty enough to change her plans.

She looked over at the orderly who wasn't an orderly at all. He had been sent by the Smoking Man to help remove Mulder from his room. He told the guard, "I can watch out for her from here."

The guard glanced at Scully, and she nodded. She even managed another smile.

The guard relented. "I could use a coffee break." Scully followed the 'orderly' down the corridor. Once out of sight of the guard, instead of turning toward the main bank of elevators they stopped in front of the service ones. Scully shifted from foot to foot as she waited for the doors to open and almost groaned when she saw Daniel approaching.

"Another test?" Daniel asked and, to give him credit, Scully thought he was trying to keep some of the resentment out of his voice.

"Yes, another test."

Daniel scratched his chin. "Realistically, what are his odds?"

"Not good." Again Scully punched the elevator call button.

"I'm sorry."

She glanced at Daniel in surprise.

He explained, "I've never seen you like this. You've lost objectivity. For a doctor, that's not a good thing, but on a personal level. . ." Daniel shrugged. "He's gotten to you in a way I never did."

"I suppose I should say thank you."

Daniel picked up Mulder's medical chart and glanced through it one more time. He handed it back to Scully. "I'm sorry," he repeated and walked away.

Scully heard the ding of the elevator arriving and joined the orderly in pushing Mulder into it before the doors closed. Three seconds passed before she hit 'Full Stop.' Because the elevator was used for linen and service carts that required extended stays on each floor there was a delay on the alarm. They had two minutes.

The orderly handed Scully a black body bag he had kept concealed beneath his surgical greens. He turned Mulder on his side as Scully lay the bag on the stretcher. Something in the pit of her stomach clenched as she drew the zipper over Mulder's face. If anything went wrong this grisly sight could become real.

There was ten seconds left before the alarm would ring when Scully pulled the stop button so that the elevator would continue to the ground floor. They exited into the corridor that lead to the morgue. Only they walked passed the morgue to push through a set of heavy metal doors.

Stepping into a cavernous room with unfinished concrete floors and exposed cinderblock walls, Scully fought the urge to cover her ears to block out a fraction of the roar of med gas pumps and emergency generators. The noise was deafening.

"Where are we going?" the orderly yelled, trying to be heard over the pneumatic pounding.

Scully pointed in the direction of a sign marked "Switchgear."

The man nodded and followed her lead. When the switchgear door slammed behind them, she said, "Check to see if they're here."

"Where?"

"Through there. It leads to the loading dock."

Scully had scouted this path before leaving the hospital this afternoon. She had known that they needed a route out of the hospital that would avoid as many security cameras as possible. Of course there was a security camera on the dock itself, but she had taken care of that as well.

When the man left, Scully moved to Mulder's side and lowered the zipper. Seeing his pale, still face she had to confess, "I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm sorry about a lot of things."

The orderly returned. "They're here."

Scully pushed the gurney passed bright aqua carts marked "Sani-Trux" and red fiberglass ones labeled "biohazard" to exit onto the dock. A dark UPS van waited, and the Smoking Man gave a disturbing smile as he opened the van's rear doors.

The interior was nothing like a glorified mail truck. Despite it's outward appearance, the van was the most sophisticated ambulance Scully had ever seen. Clearly even now the Syndicate was well funded.

When the doors closed behind her, the Smoking Man's smile grew more pronounced. Scully hated that smile. It made her think she had been tricked-and she knew that in some respects she had been. There was no way Scully could anticipate this man's every move. The trick would be to lose only a limited number of battles so that she could win the war.

"Doctor, you appear nervous," the Smoking Man drawled.

"I'm cautious, not nervous."

"And the distinction would be?"

"You're nervous when you don't know what someone is capable of. You're cautious when you know someone is capable of killing you without batting an eyelash."

He arched a brow. "You think I would kill you?"

"You COULD kill me. I'm hoping you decide against it."

He came close to her. Too close. "You intrigue me."

That was the plan.

Scully lost her balance as the van started moving. The Smoking Man reached to steady her but she steadied herself and stepped out of his reach.

He lit a cigarette. "No questions about where we are going?"

"Questions would be pointless."

"Yes, they would. But aren't you curious?"

Scully leveled a cool glance in his direction. "I'm cursed with a serious lack of curiosity."

"And here Mulder has more than his fair share."

Scully ignored him.

"He can't feel you, doctor."

A frown creased Scully's brow. "Excuse me?"

He looked down and for the first time Scully noticed that she had unconsciously unzipped the body bag and now held Mulder's hand. She thought about letting go to cover whatever instinct had led her to such revealing action. Instead she looked defiantly at the Smoking Man.

The lights in the van flickered out, and Scully could only see a small pinpoint of red as the old man inhaled the cigarette. She came close to demanding he extinguish it, then decided it would help her keep track of him in the darkness. Besides, if she made a demand it would become a power struggle. It was best to avoid that if she possibly could.

Scully sat down and struggled to forget about another trip she had taken with this man. Scully had wanted something from him then as well...and she had failed miserably. Against her will a memory rose of the Smoking Man asking, "How do you explain your fearless devotion to a man obsessed, and, yet, a life alone?"

She hadn't answered so he had observed, "You'd die for Mulder but you won't allow yourself to love him."

Scully could have the wording wrong. It had been months ago, and she had tried very hard to forget...but she couldn't. The Smoking Man had seen something she hadn't wanted him to see-something SHE didn't want to see. It had shaken her in a way that Scully had been unwilling to acknowledge.

She watched the tiny spark of red in the darkness. Little wonder Mulder hated this man who found someone's secrets and either withheld them or laid them bare for his own amusement or advantage. He was ruthless. He was dangerous.

Scully squeezed Mulder's fingers and rhythmically moved her thumb across the back of his hand. She could feel the Smoking Man watching her and could see him doing so in the brief moments of light near street lamps.

Let him see, she thought. Let him know that I won't allow Mulder to be sacrificed for his cause.

The tiny spot of red disappeared as the Smoking Man extinguished another cigarette and when they passed the next streetlight Scully saw him cross his arms and close his eyes.

She watched him. She wouldn't be lulled into complacency, not like the time she had allowed herself to be drugged and removed her from the car. The Smoking Man had undressed her. Scully shivered at the memory, and looked down at Mulder's face. She had made a mistake in trusting the old man once. Was she making the same mistake again?


"Everything about you demonstrates a careless desolation. . ."
- William Shakespeare "As You Like It"


CHAPTER TEN

Dana sat on a couch in an unfamiliar apartment with a handsome if only vaguely familiar man sitting next to her. Mulder. He looked different from the pale, agonized man she had seen in the E.R. He was smiling and looked relaxed. There was a sparkle in his eyes as if he had found something she had said amusing. That was unusual. Actually, that was strange. As a general rule Dana wasn't known for her sense of humor.

"I go away for two days and your whole life changes," he complained.

"I didn't say my whole life changed-"

"Speaking to God in a Buddhist temple and God speaking back?"

"I didn't say that God spoke back. I said I had some kind of vision."

"For you that's like saying you're having David Crosby's baby." Mulder smiled and there was a sudden ache inside her. Dana lost track of the conversation, as tended to happen in dreams, but everything fell sharply into focus when he asked, "How many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices?"

The ear splitting buzz of an alarm clock dragged Dana from sleep. Sitting up in bed she looked blearily around the room. It came to her that she should feel disoriented by her surroundings. Only she wasn't. This bedroom was as familiar to her as the dream she had been having, a dream where she had been speaking to a man who should have been a stranger to her but wasn't.

Dana pulled herself from the bed knowing that she didn't have the time to wonder about yet another strange event in her trip down the rabbit hole. Somehow she knew that her counterpart would frown on her being late for her appointment with Walter Skinner.

Throwing open the doors to the closet, Dana stood staring at Scully's wardrobe for a long moment. Did Scully own anything that wasn't black? Pushing aside several black skirts, black pants, and black jackets, Dana found a couple of beige outfits shoved into the back corner. Those had to be Scully's "thin clothes" or things she simply never wore. Wasn't that what the far corner of any woman's closet implied?

Selecting a tailored black skirt and blazer she could pair with soft green silk blouse, Dana muttered "Scully, you're a wild woman," before heading toward the bathroom to take a shower. An hour and a half later Dana entered the J. Edgar Hoover building through the front door.

She had used the taxi trick again. It was the easiest way of dealing with the question of where would she park? Did she have an assigned parking space? Was there a designated FBI Agent parking lot? What did her car look like and where was it parked? There was an endless list of questions Dana had about Scully's life, and if taking a taxi reduced that list by just one, it was worth the cost of the ride.

Of course when the taxi pulled away the curb, Dana had another question. Did she enter by the front door or was there another entrance for agents? Not knowing the answer, Dana chose the front door. Everyone had to go through the front door at some point, didn't they?

When she passed through the metal detector it beeped. The security guard glanced up. "Agent Scully, should I bother?"

Dana frowned and tried to not look confused.

He gave a "here we go again" sigh. "It feels like such a waste of time to scan you when we always know what it will say." He ran a hand held detector over her. It beeped when it reached the nape of her neck. The guard didn't even blink. "Go on in."

Dana wasn't sure why he waved her through the security check. How had she set off the metal detector? Dana found herself rubbing her neck as she walked toward the main bank of elevators. She wasn't even wearing her necklace.

When the elevator doors closed behind her a male agent asked, "Catch any mutants this week?"

Mutants? Was that some FBI slang for a criminal?

"Not this week," Dana answered.

"No half man half fluke? What about killer tobacco beetles? E.T.?"

A woman with hair slightly less red than Dana's snapped, "You're an asshole, Agent." The man backed off and stepped out of the elevator at the next floor. After the doors closed, the woman smiled. "I really enjoyed doing that."

Dana stared at the stranger.

The woman explained, "It's been a hell of a morning. Mr. Skinner has sent me for coffee three times. He never sends me for coffee. I finally told him that he may be the A.D. and I'm only his secretary, but I'm not at his servant." She paused then shook her head. "I'm glad I'm not you. Mr. Skinner's in a hell of a mood-which explains my mood. He's been pacing the for a half hour."

Dana swallowed convulsively. "Not a good sign, I take it."

The secretary shrugged. "Fairly typical where you and your partner are concerned."

The elevator bell rang just as the doors slid open, and Dana followed the woman down the hall. When they entered the office the secretary buzzed her boss. "Agent Scully is here."

Dana heard a gruff voice say, "Send her in."

When Dana had met Walter Skinner in the M.I.C.U., he hadn't struck her as being an authority figure. He had deferred too easily to the older man carrying the cigarettes...but that seemed liked a lifetime ago.

Looking at this Skinner, Dana still saw a tall, well muscled, pleasant looking man, but there was something more. She searched for a way to describe it. Steely? Determined? Whatever the elusive difference between the two might be, this version of Walter Skinner appeared somewhat intimidating as he sat behind a large mahogany desk flanked by the American flag.

"Sit," he commanded.

Dana almost preferred to stand. You were supposed to stand when facing a firing squad, weren't you?

"Scully," he said more softly. "Sit."

He laid a manila folder on his desk and leaned back in his leather clad chair. "This report on Doerstling's disappearance doesn't say much."

"I'm sorry."

He waved his hand negligently. "I'm used to vague reports-at least when they involve X-Files-but this wasn't supposed to be a X-File."

Dana refrained from asking what constituted a X-File. Clearly Scully would know.

Skinner shook his head. "I thought I was doing you a favor forcing you out of the office. I can see now it was a mistake."

"Why was it a mistake?"

"Because you came damn close to getting yourself killed! Damnit, Scully, I'm used to doctors calling to say you or Mulder have been brought into the emergency room. It's depressingly familiar, but this is the first time I've ever wondered..."

"Sir?"

"There has always been a fearless quality to yours and Mulder's work. Fearless," he stressed, "not careless."

"Was I careless?"

He leaned forward. "I don't know, Scully, were you?" He stood and walked to the window. "I knew when I went to Oregon with Mulder that I was there to watch his back. I was supposed to make sure he returned to Washington in one piece." Skinner looked at her and now his expression was anything but intimidating. He looked regretful. "I failed."

Skinner never broke eye contact. "I won't fail Mulder the same way. If he ever does come back there's no way in hell I'm going to tell him that you got yourself killed. So please, Scully, tell me you weren't being reckless."

Was that a request? Dana noticed the concern with which he watched her. What was he really asking, and why did he look so worried? Then Dana remembered the despair she had felt last night as she rocked herself on Scully's couch. She stopped cold. Surely he didn't believe. . .No. Absolutely not. Whatever emotional pain Scully might feel she would never knowingly risk the life of her unborn child. It simply would not happen.

Again a strange sensation washed over Dana. How did she know with such certainty what Scully would and would not do? She wasn't Scully. She was Dr. Dana Waterston.

Wasn't she?

A sense of panic hovered just beyond the edge of her consciousness. For the sake of her sanity, she had to be Dana Waterston...but being Dana Waterston made no sense. Logic dictated that she was a FBI Agent named Dana Scully. Everyone knew her as Dana Scully. She had an apartment, a job, a life-a life that in no way resembled the life of a neurobiologist. What's more inside her grew a life that was extraordinarily precious to Dana Scully. It was insane to think she was anyone BUT Dana Scully.

Skinner watched Dana intently. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she insisted. "I'm just fine." For a woman losing her mind.


Syndicate Research Facility
Location Unknown, 8:10am

Scully startled awake as the van came to a halt. She glanced at her watch and realized that she had dozed for no more than a few minutes but was still unnerved to find the Smoking Man staring at her. She shifted uncomfortably and glanced down to see that she still held Mulder's hand. Even in sleep, she couldn't let go.

"We've arrived," the man announced as the orderly swung open the doors. Men in lab coats grabbed Mulder's gurney and pulled him from the van forcing her to let go of his hand. As his fingers slipped through hers something inside Scully ached.

Pulling herself together, Scully stepped out of the van while attempting to assess her surroundings. There was very little to see. To the right and left of this rather non-descript red brick building was nothing but trees.

"Rather bucolic, isn't it?" The Smoking Man stood silhouetted against the dark outline of a forest too dense to be penetrated by the hazy morning light. It disturbed Scully that he had caught her scanning their surroundings for a possible means of escape, but that was the least of her worries. Scully would cross that bridge when she came to it. What disturbed her more was the fact that this was not the facility where she had found Mulder last fall. Scully had no idea where they were.

The Smoking Man indicated the door to a small, nondescript red brick building that stood at the foot of what looked like a forestry observation tower. Scully followed him inside only to pass through a metal detector just inside the doorway. She was mildly surprised that the detector didn't go off. She had grown used to that happening whenever she passed through such devices. It was unsettling that it didn't happen now. Then Scully wondered about the flexible metal strip that Frohike had given her. What had it been made of that it didn't trigger the metal detector?

Pushing her questions to the side, Scully descended the long ramp that opened to an almost endless corridor. What had looked small and inconspicuous on the surface was in fact a cavernous subterranean facility. She shouldn't have been surprised.

They entered a scrub room with windows that looked into the O.R. as a nurse indicated a cabinet filled with surgical greens. Without thought, Scully performed the familiar ritual of donning the greens and sterilizing her hands. Her eyes never left Mulder as he was transferred from the gurney to the surgical table. The table looked like no medical table Scully had ever seen. To be honest, it looked like a deconstructivist's version of a cross.

When she pushed through the doors of the O.R., Scully found the Smoking Man was only a step behind her. She stayed out of the way of the doctors that prepared for a surgery that would either save Mulder or kill him. She was here to observe, at least that was what the Smoking Man told the doctors.

A nurse shaved a small area of Mulder's scalp then cleaned it with Betadine as the Smoking Man circled the table. The look on the man's face frightened Scully more than the impassive glance he sent in her direction. As he watched Mulder there this look of...of...the only way she could describe it was affection-a sick, frightening form of affection.

"A father has high hopes for his son," he murmured. "But he never dreams his boy's going to change the world. I'm so proud of this man-the depth of his capacity for suffering."

Horror washed over Scully. Surely not. This couldn't be true. This man was not Mulder's father. It was only his egomaniacal pathology that made him claim what he could not destroy.

"I'm sure Bill Mulder was quite proud of him as well," Scully responded. "And not for his capacity to suffer."

The Smoking Man gazed at her speculatively. "And why are you proud of him, doctor?"

Scully lifted her chin. "For his capacity to do what is right."

"What has made you so sure of what is right?"

Scully's brow knitted as she thought of how she should respond. As the nurse picked up a bone drill and carried it toward the surgical table, Scully found herself saying, "Needless suffering is never right."

"Needless?" The old man had the audacity to look insulted. "I am not a cruel man, Dr. Waterston."

Her look was doubtful if not outright disbelieving.

He defended himself. "What could be more admirable than saving mankind from extinction?"

"Not being the one to choose who will live and who will die."

His eyelids drifted over his rheumy eyes. "My dear, you oversimplify the problem. It takes a great man to shoulder the burden of making difficult choices."

A shiver moved through Scully as she remembered her own desperate claims of objectivity when it was time to make difficult choices. But then objectivity was not the same as ruthlessness.

She looked at Mulder's pale face as the nurse set the surgical halo over his head and tightened the titanium screws. Scully murmured, "It takes a heartless man to value someone for their capacity to suffer."

"He would be dead a hundred times over if not for me."

Scully crossed the floor to stand directly in front of the Smoking Man. "If this was your ultimate goal, does it matter how many times you spared him? Sometimes it's not the action but the intent that is the measure of a man."

"A question for the philosophers." He rolled up his sleeve and sat at the other end of the cross-like table. "I see where Mulder would find you appealing. Intelligence, sternly defined morals, and an unshakable sense of purpose are irresistible to a man obsessed with becoming a martyr."

"Mulder isn't a martyr."

"Yet." With that ominous statement the old man offered his arm to a nurse who inserted an I.V. He didn't even flinch when the needle pierced his skin.

"Why Mulder?" Scully asked.

He turned his head to look at her. "I've been asked that many times. And now I have vindication. The ultimate vindication."

The project's surgeon looked at him uncertainly. "There is no way you could have predicted this," the surgeon protested. "This is a something none of us ever expected, let alone hoped for. After all these years of trying to develop a compatible hybrid, to have one ready made-"

The Smoking Man's smiled. "All these years, all the questioning why? Why keep Mulder alive when it was so simple to remove the threat he posed-" The old man lay back on the table. "The fact remains, Mulder has become our savior. He's immune to the coming viral apocalypse. He's the hero here."

The surgeon warned, "He may not survive the procedure."

"Then he suffers a hero's fate."

Such a statement revealed the Smoking Man's claims of compassion as lies. He would watch Mulder suffer without a moment of pity or compassion. Could there be any act more cruel? But then what else could be expected of a man willing to sacrifice most of the world's population for his own sick sense of glory?

An anesthesiologist took a seat at the side of the table as the nurse handed the surgeon the bone drill. He looked at the Smoking Man. "We are ready to proceed."

The Smoking Man turned to Scully. "Be proud of him. Think of what he is giving the world."

"He wasn't given a choice."

"You think he wouldn't have chosen this?"

Would Mulder willingly die to change the world? Scully closed her eyes as the answer became painfully clear. Yes. Mulder would sacrifice himself for others. Mulder had compassion. He had empathy. He had honor...Scully just wasn't willing to lose him.

The Smoking Man fixed his gaze on the ceiling. "Besides, Mulder's task is nearly complete. I'll carry the burden from here."


J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington, D.C.
9:16am

The elevator doors opened on the basement level, and Dana stepped out. She had spent a half hour searching the building directory for her office and had never found one listed. She did find name Fox Mulder, however. Dana walked in the direction of his office. She stopped when she saw a maintenance man.

"Agent Scully," he drawled, "you're just in time." He stepped back to show her a plaque bearing her name... or rather bearing Agent Scully's name. Dana looked at the man in confusion.

"Since you were outta town, I figured you wouldn't be disturbed while I was changin' the name plate." He seemed a little nervous under her stare.

"What's that?" Dana asked indicating an object the his hand.

"Um...It's Agent Mulder's name plate."

"May I see it?"

"Sure. You can have it if you'd like."

Dana traced the white lettering on the black background. "Thank you."

"Sure thing...uh...I'll just be goin.'"

When she opened the door, the room was dark except for the light spilling through the skylight along the back wall. It was a small kindness from the designer because the office had no windows. It was a cluttered hellhole Dana decided after she turned on the light.

There were stacks of files littering the desk and posters on the wall. Posters were common in dorm rooms, but in an FBI agent's office they were...unexpected. Dana inspected the small poster of Neil Armstrong's first walk on the moon half expecting to read "one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind." It wasn't there, but somehow she felt the sentiment was implied. On the other wall, dominating the room, was a picture of a flying saucer with "I WANT TO BELIEVE" emblazoned across it.

Dana looked at the files littering the desk and quickly understood what the term "X-File" meant. Every case number began with an X.

It all seemed familiar. It felt familiar, but it shouldn't BE familiar.

Dana reached for the phone. She needed someone to tell her she wasn't crazy. "Yes," she said breathlessly when someone answered the phone. "Can I speak to Dr. Doerstling? Yes, I can hold." Dana drummed her nails against the desk as she impatiently waited. "Doctor, this is Dana Waterston."

"Alice," he said with evident pleasure.

"Doctor, I need your help."

"Okay."

"Tell me I'm not crazy."

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "Why do you need me to say it?"

"Because I don't know. Am I crazy? Have I had some sort of mental breakdown and didn't recognize it?" She raked her hand through her hair. "Do you know who I am?"

"Dana Waterston."

"Are you sure? Because I'm not."

Doerstling said patiently, "I'm sure that after everything that has happened, you feel disoriented."

"Saying it that way sounds like we're talking about a car accident. We're talking about an alternate universe. I'd have to be insane to believe I'd dropped into one."

"So you've decided you no longer believe what's happened to you?"

"How can I believe it? If I am Dana Waterston, how can I be carrying a child I didn't conceive? How can I have memories that aren't mine? Dreams that aren't mine? This is Dana Scully's life. This is Dana Scully's body, so I must BE Dana Scully. It's the only logical explanation. I must be experiencing some form of schizophrenia."

"You aren't schizophrenic," Doerstling said sternly.

"Then explain how it's possible for me to be two people at the same time because I AM Dana Scully. How else could I know what she knows?"

"Remember the mobius strip-"

"The mobius strip is a metaphor. It isn't an explanation."

He didn't say anything. She could hear him breathing on the other end of the line.

Dana rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I should go to a psychiatrist. The FBI has to have a therapist. Maybe A.D. Skinner is right to be concerned about my mental health. Maybe grief has driven me off the deep end."

Doerstling said urgently, "Ms. Waterston, don't do anything rash."

"I would hardly say seeing a psychiatrist is rash."

"A psychiatrist won't help. This problem can be answered with science. You don't need touchy-feely 'let's discuss your feelings' mumbo jumbo. Give me time to look over the CLEO data. Maybe I will find something."

She stared at the words, "I WANT TO BELIEVE."

"A few hours," she conceded.

After giving him the number listed on the phone, Dana sat staring at the poster. She needed to believe Doerstling could find an answer. She clung to the hope that science could explain everything that had happened, but Dana placed her faith where it had always been. She prayed.


Mulder stood on the beach in near total darkness. There was just enough light to see the shadow of someone standing several yards away. At least Mulder thought someone was standing there. It could be an illusion. Like the times as a child when he had lain in his bed believing the monsters had returned to take him just as they had taken sister. Countless nights his eyes had strained against the darkness as Mulder denied himself the right to yell for help or comfort because he hadn't screamed for Samantha. Only back then the night terrors had been his imagination. The creatures that took Samantha had never returned for him, and when Mulder had gathered the courage to turn on the light he had only ever discovered empty rooms.

Was the beach empty now? Was the shadow nothing more than his overactive imagination?

Mulder took a step forward, and if he wasn't fooling himself the shadow took a step toward him. He didn't speak. Maybe he should have. Maybe he should call out and demand that the shadow identify itself...but he didn't. Mulder felt that if he spoke, he would shatter the illusion, and if he did that he would lose his only chance to know the truth.

Mulder took a step and then another. The shadow did the same. It was an agonizingly slow process made more disturbing by the eerie silence on the beach. There wasn't even the sound of water lapping against the shore. There was only silence-potent, ominous silence.

He stopped moving. As if on cure the clouds that obscured the crescent moon moved so that blue-white light spilled onto the ocean. The shadow emerged from darkness, and Mulder saw...himself.


I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself. . ."
- Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

When you look for the miracle you've got to scatter your blood to the eight points of the wind. . ."
- Giorgos Sefiriades


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Mulder stood face to face with himself. He was only supposed to do that in his shaving mirror, but here he stood in this...this...whatever the hell this was. He wasn't really sure what to call it, what it was supposed to be. Fantasy? Reality? Alternate reality? Mulder didn't know. Maybe it was all three at once. What he did know was that it was damn eerie facing himself across a stretch of white sand. He was actually relieved by the fact that he-the other him-looked as shocked as he-this him-felt. The other thing Mulder noticed was that his counterpart looked like shit. To be precise, the other him looked like he'd been drop kicked off the edge of a cliff and scraped from a canyon floor to stand on this beach.

Mulder took a step forward only realize something held him back. Actually something was tugging his sleeve. He looked down into the dark hazel eyes of the boy he had first met on the beach.

"Hurry," the boy urged.

Wasn't that what he had been doing before the boy stopped him? Mulder looked back at the shadow version of himself only to find him gone.

"Hurry," the child urged again. "She needs you."

That caught Mulder's attention.

The boy held Mulder's hand in a vice-like grip as he pulled him down the beach. "She needs you before it's too late."


Syndicate Research Facility
Location Unknown, 9:20am

Scully held Mulder's hand tightly as she watched the surgeon drill a hole into Mulder's skull. He couldn't feel it-the drill or her hand-but Scully felt it. She flinched. Scully had seen similar procedures performed several times before. She had performed nearly identical procedures herself. But this was different. This was Mulder.

Other than a local sedative there was no anesthesia. That was frequently the case in neurosurgery. There was no need. There were no nerves in the brain to transmit the sensation of pain. Scully consciously knew these things, but the knowledge did her no good. This went beyond the realm of science and facts. This wasn't being done to a stranger. This was someone whose mind she treasured. Seeing him like this was almost unbearable.

The surgeon glanced at the Smoking Man before inserting the shunt into Mulder's brain. "He may not survive this procedure," he warned.

The Smoking Man didn't appear perturbed. "Don't think of the man. Think of the service he is performing for mankind."

The surgeon inserted a syringe-like instrument into Mulder's cerebrum. She didn't ask the doctor to explain what he was doing. She didn't need an explanation-which was an oddity in itself. Scully was aware of knowledge within her that was not her own. Yes, she had a degree in medicine, but she had never specialized in neurobiology. At this moment her knowledge exceeded her education. A fact that under any other circumstance Scully would find strange and disturbing. In fact even with her current distraction she found it strange, disturbing and frightening. However she couldn't allow it to distract her. There was too much at stake. It would simply have to be added to her list of things to face at a later date. Inside Scully was a Pandora's box of questions about things she had seen or heard, and sometimes Scully feared that if she dared to open that box, she would destroy herself... or at least destroy the skepticism she clung to so tightly.

The surgeon performed the curiously bloodless procedure with admirable delicacy, and when he removed the needle from Mulder's temporal lobe Scully caught her breath. There was no spinal fluid, only a thick, black, and viscous liquid that began to drain from the shunt. Scully itched for a microscope so that she could examine the it. Would she find any similarities to the virus?

As if sensing her insatiable curiosity, the Smoking Man smiled. "You are the witness to something that can save the world."

Scully refused to give him the satisfaction of a response.

"We're forcing the next step in evolution to save mankind," the old man explained and the expression on his face was almost hopeful. It was as if he wished for her blessing. "We're doing God's work."

"Do you often liken yourself to God?" she asked dryly.

CSM glared. "Without this immunity, everyone would die."

Click.

The sound was nothing more than the nurse counting surgical instruments as she laid them on a stainless steel tray. For Scully it was a familiar, methodical procedure yet this time she found herself hypnotized by the nurse's motions. As each instrument clicked against the tray, time seemed to slow. Thoughts came to her, and pieces fell into place.

Scully remembered sitting in a car with the Smoking Man as he said, "I must tell you something. Something that's so unbelievable, so incredible that to know it is to look at the entire world anew."

"What?" she had asked.

"It's not just the cure for cancer. It's the holiest of grails. It's the cure for all human disease."

Click.

The surgeon approached the Smoking Man with drill in his hand, and CSM's face took a strangely calm, almost exultant, expression.

Scully's hands tightened into tense fists as the anesthesiologist moved to take a seat beside his new patient.

"This knowledge is God's blessing," the Smoking Man reiterated emphatically.

Click.

In her memory Scully stood in a mahogany paneled office that had been designed to impress. In fact, it had been designed to specifically impress her. The Smoking Man had calmly announced he was dying. "Cerebral inflammation," he explained. "A consequence of brain surgery I had in the fall."

Click.

"I'll carry on for Mulder from here."

Click.

Months ago Scully had sat in an elegant restaurant as the Smoking Man's eyes moved over her in a disturbingly covetous manner. "Can you imagine what it's like to have the power to extinguish a life?" he had asked. "Or to save it and let it flourish? And now to give you that power, so you can do the same."

Click.

What had he done to her? Dear God, what had the Smoking Man done?

Scully touched her abdomen and felt for the child that was no longer there. Because of men like the Smoking Man-and very possibly because of the Smoking Man himself-Scully had lost the ability to have children, and yet sometime last spring she had been given one.

How had this miracle been accomplished? Could the Smoking Man have returned what he had taken?

Click.

"The holiest of grails." ... "the cure"..."without this immunity everyone would die" ... "we are forcing the next step in human evolution"... "something that can save the world"..."something that's so unbelievable, so incredible that to know it is to look at the entire world anew"..."carry on for Mulder from here"..."Now to give you that power" ..."God's blessing."

A miracle.

Mulder's child.


J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington, D.C.
10:15am

Dana Waterston laid a file folder neatly on top of the stack. Okay, so now she knew what was involved in a "X-File," and it was more than the simple fact that each case number began with a "X." Every case was... well...strange. No, strange was too kind of a word. Every case was unbelievable and scientifically unexplainable, and most unbelievable of all was that she found her own name-or at least Agent Scully's name-signing off on nearly every one them. Oh yes, Scully's version of a case tended to be more vague than Mulder's and her explanations were couched in scientific terms, but even Scully's scientific explanations defied reality.

Dana Scully was part of a world that Dana Waterston could not begin to imagine. Names swirled in her head. Padget, Tooms, Pfaster, Bludht. Then there were the names that appeared repeatedly: Krycek, Covarrubius, Fowley, and Spender.

So many names. So many horrors. Melissa had been murdered, and so had Mulder's father. Scully herself had been taken by forces unknown. Terrible things had been done to her. A child named Emily had been created and had died. And Mulder had disappeared. There were shadow governments and global conspiracies. There was a dark, ugly, ruthless world out there that Dana Waterston had never known existed. She wished she could return to that state of naivete.

Dana jumped when the phone rang and breathed a sigh of relief when she discovered Steven Doerstling on the other end of the line.

"I pulled the CLEO data for last Monday and Tuesday," he announced. "There's no anomalous b quark data."

Scully asked, "How can that be? Neither test was properly executed. Shouldn't the fact that people were trapped in the accelerator throw off the results in some way?"

"That's what I expected," Doerstling conceded.

"But?"

His voice had contained a note that was almost inevitably followed by a 'but.'

"But the data doesn't bear that out. I had to adjust my theory. I started thinking. The CESR was created to slam sub-atomic particles into one another then measuring the oscillation of the b quarks. I'm not a neurologist but what if one of those particles happened to be a neuron? The oscillation would still change and be recorded in the b quark data. CLEO wouldn't know the difference.

"Only the b quark would be in my brain," Dana muttered.

"The b quark was always in your brain. It just changed vibrations. It's like a tuning fork being struck."

Dana wanted to say that what Doerstling was proposing was impossible, but there were legitimate medical studies suggesting neurons were not simple, isolated cells. Recent experiments showed that a single neuron could perform surprisingly complex functions including causing a cascade effect where a change to one cell would transmit that change to others.

"It's our simple twist," Doerstling said excitedly. "What?"

"The simple twist that makes the Mobius strip." He continued. "It's the small change that profoundly effects the whole."

The change in vibration of a single neuron had changed her from one person into another? It should have been absurd, yet researchers had shown that even a monkey's brain cells could detect a neuron firing difference as little as one hundredth of a second.

Was it possible? Could all that separated Dana Scully's world from Dana Waterston's be a single oscillating quark? Could a miniscule adjustment in frequency could shift a person's consciousness as easily as changing channels on a radio?

Dana thanked Dr. Doerstling for his help. Yes, she felt more calm now. No, she didn't think she would go to the FBI staff psychiatrist. No, she would never mention Doerstling's near suicide attempt to anyone. She understood how such a revelation could destroy a famous scientist's reputation.

Dana said good-bye and thought that if she was Agent Scully, she would just add another case file to the stack...But she wasn't Dana Scully. She couldn't assign the bizarre to a neatly categorized box. Dana couldn't close the case-at least not where it concerned herself. Why was she here?

In Dana's mind's eye-or rather deeply embedded in Agent Scully-was the memory of Reverend Robert Gailen Orison saying, "Everything has a reason. Everything on God's earth."

But if that was true, what was the reason for this? What lesson was she supposed to learn...or was the lesson for Agent Scully?


Syndicate Research Facility
Unknown Location, 4:56pm

The procedure was over. Scully watched dispassionately as the last stitch was completed in the Smoking Man's scalp. She had tried but failed to understand what the purpose of this surgery had been. He had spoken of Mulder's immunity to the virus, but while there had been some success using gene therapy for immunodeficiency disorders, Scully didn't see how Mulder's genetic material could produce the results the Smoking Man desired.

Of course...it hadn't. This surgery had failed and the Smoking Man had been fatally damaged by this experiment. It was the cause of the brain inflammation he had claimed was killing him. That was why he had sought her out last spring.

Surgery couldn't play a part in evolution. For evolution there had to be offspring, and if Mulder was the starting point, his child would be the next step. Would his child-their child-be immune from the plague? Was Scully's private miracle part of a miracle that could change the fate of the world?

The implications astounded her...and terrified her. What would happen if the shadow men who had haunted hers and Mulder's lives discovered the truth about her baby? What would they do? And how could she protect that child when she was trapped in a world where she didn't belong?

Scully's breathing hitched. Did she actually believe she was in an alternate universe? Was she seriously considering the possibility that there were at least two versions of herself? It was insane, but, God, Scully hoped it was true. If it was, her child might still exist.

Against her will Scully allowed longing to slip passed her defense. She felt consumed by her need to hold a tiny, warm body close to her own, to feel her child's sturdy weight, to touch infinitely delicate skin and hear a soft gurgle in reply. Scully wanted the chance to search her son's or daughter's face to see if he had her hair or if she had her father's eyes.

Thoughts and feelings that Scully had held at bay since discovering her pregnancy spilled over her emotional dam. She had held back for so long, afraid to face what had happened to Mulder...and what was happening to herself.

Scully had never been much of a fan of Gone with the Wind. Never in a million years would she have thought she shared a trait with Scarlet O'Hara. But she did. Like Scarlett when anything she could not emotionally bear happened, Scully filed it away saying she would face it tomorrow. Now, 'tomorrow' was upon her, and Scully had to claim it.

This was her baby. This was Mulder's child. This was the fight she had to fight, the battle she could not lose.

Scully gazed at the anesthetized Smoking Man. Months ago he had come to her saying that the chip in her neck held the cure for all things. She had to conclude now that one of those things had been her infertility. She could explain the ways a cure was not possible, but then a cure for her cancer had also not been possible. Somehow a cure for both had been found and in both cases she could point to God or to the Smoking Man. But whatever the Smoking Man had or had not done, Scully would not allow her child to also become his pawn.

Scully snapped out of her reverie as the surgeon pulled off his gloves announcing, "You can take him into recovery." The nurses removed the Smoking Man from the room and the surgeon glanced back at Scully. There was something in his gaze made her shiver. It was pity.

Scully moved to Mulder's side. His head was crudely bandaged, but when she touched his neck she found his pulse to be steady. This was the condition in which she had found him last fall in the Department of Defense.

A potent silence enveloped the room after the surgeon and anesthesiologist left. Scully didn't look behind her. She didn't need to. There was no one left but Mulder, herself, and the hulking orderly. Scully also didn't need to be reminded that it was at this juncture that Diana Fowley had met her death.

Scully had known the risks from the moment she had considered approaching the Smoking Man to save Mulder's life. It was the risk she had been willing to take and would gladly take again.

The orderly stepped toward her, and Scully took a step back. The future was upon her. She gauged the man's height and weight and calculated what she would need to do to defend herself. Considering the man outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds Scully knew that her odds weren't good. Her best chance was to run, but Scully couldn't do that. There was Mulder.

What Scully really needed was her gun, but she hadn't attempted to smuggle a weapon into the facility. Her opponent was too canny for such a clumsy plan. Besides she had needed to look as defenseless as possible to convince the Smoking Man to take her with him. No, that wasn't accurate. Scully had needed to project an aura of being defenseless while also appearing to be a threat. She had needed to make it impossible for the Smoking Man to leave her behind...and now it was time to pay the price.


Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery "The Little Prince"


CHAPTER TWELVE

The orderly took a step toward Scully as she debated whether to retreat or stand her ground. Then again, Perhaps her best option might be to go on the offensive. Attack first.

"Lady, we can do this easy or we can do this hard," the orderly told her.

Scully would have preferred the option of not "doing this" at all. While she knew how to defend herself, she preferred using her head to physical confrontation ...especially when her opponent could bench press her body weight without breaking a sweat. Scully searched for something to say to distract the man or at least to act as a delay tactic.

Her mind went blank.


Mulder pulled away from the child holding his hand, and the puzzled way the boy looked at him struck Mulder as familiar...but Mulder couldn't place where he had seen such an expression. There was just something about the way the child watched him with a curious mixture of expectation and doubt.

"Where are you leading me?" Mulder asked.

"Don't you know?"

Mulder knelt in the sand and placed his hands on the boy's thin shoulders. He turned the child around to look at the vast expanse of sand and ocean. "There's nothing here."

The boy looked back at him and said with simple faith, "Yes, there is."

"I don't see anything."

"Then you aren't looking hard enough."


Scully pressed herself against the wall. Beneath her hands she could feel the rough lines of grout lying between ceramic tiles and knew there was nowhere to go. A tray filled with medical instruments stood on the opposite side of the room behind the orderly. She had no hope of reaching it to find a makeshift weapon.

Her attacker's smile filled with a sick kind of pleasure at seeing Scully helpless. Of course it would be unrealistic to expect CSM's henchman not to enjoy intimidation and violence, and Scully was nothing if not relentlessly realistic.

"This isn't personal," the man told her.

"Of course not."

"I got orders."

"I understand perfectly."

He cocked his head to the side. "You're gonna fight though, aren't you?"

"Yes."

His smile grew wider. "Good."

He lunged for Scully.


Mulder frowned as he looked at the boy. "What am I supposed to see?"

"What you're looking for."

And Mulder had thought "the child is the father of the man" was an enigmatic statement. At the moment Mulder wasn't sure if both statements made some Zen-like logic or were simply Star Wars derived pseudo-philosophy. Surely any minute now CSM would to walk down the beach to announce he was Mulder's father...Mulder blinked as a shudder raced through him. Something about that last thought seemed all too real, almost as though it had actually happened.

"You want something from me," Mulder said to the child. "What?"

"Help."

There was such earnest vulnerability in the boy's gaze that Mulder couldn't doubt him. "Help with what?"

"With everything."

Mulder waited. He wanted-no, he needed- the boy to say more, only the child turned and continued walking down the beach. Moments later the boy paused and looked back at Mulder with a frustrated expression. "I can't do this without you."

"Then tell me what you need and don't sound like Yoda while doing it, and maybe I'll consider helping you," Mulder insisted.

The child didn't answer.

"You said 'she' needed me," Mulder added. "Who's 'she'? Scully?"

The boy bit his lip and nodded.

"How can I help Scully?"

"I don't know."

Mulder raked his hand through his cropped hair. "You aren't making this very easy."

Tears filled the boy's dark eyes. "I don't know what you want me to say. I don't know the answers." It was a plaintive, helpless cry. "I just know I need you...and her."

Regret flooded Mulder. He felt like an asshole. This was just a kid after all. He lifted the child's trembling chin. "I want to help you. Can't you give me an idea how?"

"Help her, first. If you help her, you help me. I need her. We all do."

"Who's 'we'?"

The boy lifted a small, fragile hand and touched Mulder's temple. "We're all the same."

What the hell? What kind of answer was that?

Then Mulder fell.


Mulder's eyes flew open and he realized he wasn't really falling. It was just the strangely weightless sensation that hovered around the edges of sleep, but the single moment of terror had jerked him back to consciousness and to life.

Mulder squinted against blinding lights...surgical lights he realized with only mild surprise. He turned his head and as his vision came into focus Mulder noticed a woman standing against the wall with a beefy behemoth standing over her.

"Scully," Mulder croaked.

She didn't hear him but stood glaring at the stranger who trying intimidate her. Good luck, Mulder thought. Scully wasn't easy to intimidate.

"You could turn the other way and let me escape," Scully told the man who menaced her. "I can disappear with my friend. No one will ever hear from us again."

"Not good enough," the behemoth grunted. "I was told to off ya."

At least the man didn't strain his intellect by lying, Mulder thought.

The henchman explained to Scully, "If I don't kill you, they'll be pissed; and, around here, if you piss someone off you wind up dead."

"And I pissed someone off?" Scully asked. She sounded genuinely surprised, which could only be an act. Too bad her dark sense of humor was completely lost on her would be attacker.

"Don't know who you pissed off, lady. Don't much care. Like I said, I got my orders."

"So you're just going to attack me?"

"Damnit, woman, do you got to be difficult?"

"I'm afraid that I do."

The orderly was visibly confused by Scully's unshakable calm. He rubbed his hand over his forehead as he muttered incomprehensibly. Scully was clearly driving him nuts. Taking advantage of the man's distraction Scully shoved her knee into the man's crotch.

Mulder grinned. Scully was a class A ballbreaker. He liked it.

Scully's attacker doubled over in pain, but when she began to pull away the man grabbed her. Twisting in his grip, Scully lost her balance and fell to the floor with a loud, inelegant grunt. Her normally calm face was marred by a flash of panic that was quickly hidden by a mask of fierce determination.

Scully rolled over and kicked the son of a bitch. If Mulder could have moved his head without screaming he would have shaken it in disbelief. Scully used her feet to land the blows her small fists couldn't. This bastard would be lucky if he could still father children after this fight.

"Bitch!" her attacker growled between clenched teeth.

Scully didn't waste her breath with a response. She slammed her leg into the back of the man's knees.

With one hand clutching his testicles and another grabbing a surgical cart, her attacker fell to the floor as medical instruments clattered around him. Scully scurried to her feet, and finally her gaze locked with Mulder's.

She stopped moving. Her lips parted. Scully looked astonished as she took a breath. Light seemed to enter her shadowed eyes. "Mulder?"

Scully's attacker grabbed her from behind. Thrown off balance, and they both tumbled to the floor with a solid thud.

"You fucking bitch!" the orderly growled and hit her in the jaw. Hard.

Mulder saw red. Gritting his teeth, he tried to force his muscles to work. Scully lifted her head, and there was blood at the corner of her mouth where her lip had been split. There was also an ugly red welt on her cheek that would lead to an even uglier bruise.

Shit. Scully was having the hell beaten out by an idiot in a steroid rage, and Mulder couldn't lift a finger to help. Silently screaming from blinding sparks of pain, Mulder forced himself to sit. He probably looked like Frankenstein's monster as he stiff-leggedly lowered his feet to the floor.

The bastard grabbed Scully's hair. As painful as it must have been, Scully didn't yell. The man pulled her to her feet and slammed her into the wall. The son of a bitch was grinning!

"I'm gonna kill you, bitch," the man threatened.

"Not today," Mulder growled while whacking the bone saw beneath the s.o.b.'s chin then bringing it crashing down on his head.

Scully looked uncharacteristically speechless as her attacker slumped to the floor. Mulder grinned, then slipped to the floor himself. Scully blinked owlishly for a moment but quickly gathered herself together. "Hold him down," she ordered.

"What?"

She knelt on the floor and reached into her pocket. Mulder pulled himself toward her. Scully looked at Mulder pointedly until he lifted himself and parked his keister squarely in the middle of the henchman's back.

"What's that?" Mulder asked when Scully pulled a syringe out of her pocket.

"Insurance," she said breathlessly. "I couldn't smuggle a weapon into this place but narcotics are a different story."

Given his mind-splitting headache Mulder was tempted to ask if she had any to spare. "How long will this guy be out of commission?" he asked.

Without a trace of gentleness Scully jabbed the needle into the man's neck. "Long enough."

"Good, because I don't believe either of us are up for another round of this fight."

Sitting back on her heels, Scully's businesslike expression disappeared. Her steely gaze turned a soft, compassionate blue as she reached to touch his face. "You look like hell, Mulder."

"That's good. Wouldn't want my looks to be deceiving."

She gingerly brushed her fingers across his brow. For a moment Mulder almost thought he saw her hand tremble.

"You should be in bed," she said softly.

"Didn't look like the best time for a nap."

Her warm palm cupped his cheek, but Scully didn't say anything. She simply looked at him, as if she was trying to memorize his every feature. Mulder felt his flippancy wash away. "Thank you," she whispered earnestly.

"You're welcome."

She touched his bandage. "Now, lean your head back."

After giving her a questioning look, Mulder did as she asked. Scully rose to her knees, and Mulder realized she wasn't gazing at him in loverlike devotion. She moved with the brisk efficiency of a doctor.

"Good," Scully murmured as she examined his stitches. "Now lower your head." As she inspected his bandages Mulder contented himself with contemplating the shadowy cleft between her breasts which was barely visible due to the gaping collar. Okay, so that it was sexist and inappropriate given their situation, but, hell, he was a man!

Scully sat back, and Mulder tore his gaze from her soft, inviting skin.

"We can't stay here," she announced.

"I gathered as much."

Scully stood and offered her hand. Mulder looked at it, then up at her. He searched her pale, battered face and her tired, desperate eyes. Despite looking like a wreck, Scully was beautiful...at least to him. He saw more than the red mark across her cheek or the dark circles under her eyes. There was so much more to her than disheveled hair and wrinkled clothing. She was a pint sized Valkyrie. A woman who stood her ground and gave no quarter. Fierce intelligence lit her eyes even when they were filled with affection and concern...and most astounding of all the concern was for him.

Damn. It felt strange to matter to someone, to see someone worry and fret and care. It felt surreal. When was the last time someone had cared about his fate? Okay, so he had a not always unconscious habit of pissing people off. Over the years he had become quite adept at alienating people. Yet here stood a woman who had walked into a death trap...for him. How could one small person embody so much loyalty?

Mulder hoped he deserved it.

Scully still stood offering her hand. Mulder took it and was surprised by the supple strength of the fingers that laced with his.

"We need to go." He was only saying out loud what they both knew to be true.

Scully asked, "Where?"

"Out."

"Easy answer, but out where? Out how?"

"You didn't have the time to scope the place?"

Scully shook her head. "Not the time or the opportunity."

Mulder grimaced. "Do you know where we are?"

"They didn't blindfold me and spin me around three times, but they may as well have."

There was a sound in the hallway.

Mulder's senses sharpened. "We can't stand here debating. We'll just have to go for it and hope our luck holds."

"Since when do we have luck?"

He looked at Scully. Somehow her statement came off half serious and half teasing. She was a complete mystery to him. They turned as the sound from the hallway moved into the scrub room. Without a word, Scully helped Mulder to his feet.

Pausing to check that the coast was clear Mulder was gratified to see that their luck held. The corridor was empty. Mulder squeezed Scully's hand. He hadn't even been aware of holding onto her until he had squeezed. Turns out he hadn't released his grip since Scully had laced her fingers with his. Mulder looked downat her small, well manicured nails, at the paleness of her skin against the unnatural paleness of his own. He felt the caressing way her thumb unconsciously moved over the back of his hand. He liked it.

"This way," Mulder pulled her down the corridor.

Scully didn't question why. Mulder was happy about that because he didn't have a good reason for choosing one direction over another. He just knew they couldn't stay where they were.

The hall looked endless with countless identical corridors bisecting it. They turned left. They turned right. It made little difference. Everywhere they went looked essentially the same. Mulder hoped like hell they weren't walking in circles.

"I hope we aren't going in circles," he heard Scully say under her breath. It was unnerving to hear someone give voice to his thoughts.

"We're not going in circles," Mulder assured her.

She looked at him with a curious mixture of hope and doubt. "Sure about that?"

Mulder's breath caught at the impossible familiarity of the expression. "I'm certain."

Sure he was. Right. Who was he fooling? Certainly not her. He was only enacting the timeless male ritual of refusing to stop to ask for directions. Then again, it wasn't exactly appropriate to ask for directions in this situation.

"Someone's coming," Scully warned.

Mulder tried a door they came to. It was locked. The next one was locked as well. The third opened easily. They slipped inside just as footsteps could be heard turning the corner.

Mulder leaned against the door as Scully's hand slipped free of his. Her fingers slid upward, wrapping around his wrist. She's checking my pulse, he realized.

"You shouldn't be doing this," Scully complained softly.

"I can think of better ways to spend my Sunday afternoons."

"It's Tuesday." She looked exhausted. "You've been under anesthesia most of the day, and have just had major surgery. You should be in a recovery room."

"Doesn't look like that's an option."

Scully pushed her hand through her hair. "Unfortunately, you're right."

Mulder wavered on his feet.

"At least sit down," she insisted.

They looked around. There wasn't a place to sit. They were in a small, cramped space filled with oversized air handling units that had foil wrapped ducts protruding out of them and running in all directions. Sliding to the floor with his back braced against the air handler, Mulder looked up at the ducts. "Think we could climb out through one of those?"

"Only if we were trapped in a Bruce Willis movie." Scully looked at the galvanized metal with serious consideration. "I don't think those hanger wires would hold us and the ducts look like they might cause claustrophobia. Besides, where would they lead except to here? Aren't these the units feeding the ducts?"

"Beats me. Ask a mechanical engineer." Mulder closed his eyes and rested his head against the HVAC unit. "I suppose now we resort to Plan B."

"I don't have a Plan B," Scully confessed "Do you?"

Mulder shook his head wearily as water splattered on his face. He opened his eyes. Mulder was sitting directly beneath a sprinkler head. "I've got it."

Scully looked at him questioningly.

He pointed to the sprinkler. "Plan B."

Now Scully looked at him like he was crazy. Mulder couldn't help himself. He grinned.


Long is the way. And hard, that out of hell leads up to light. John Milton "Paradise Lost"


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Dana Scully's Residence
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
5:08pm

Dana paid the taxi driver. She really needed to track down Dana Scully's car and begin driving. It made no sense to continue paying the outrageous price of a taxi. It felt wasteful.

Dana started up the steps to Scully's apartment building then came to a halt when a young woman approached her. "Dana, I'm not sure if you remember me." "Maggie," Dana whispered in a state of semi-shock. "You're Daniel's daughter. Of course I remember you."

Maggie looked uncomfortable and dropped her head to stare at her shoes. "I found your address in my father's things..." Her voice trailed off.

Dana wasn't sure how she was supposed to feel about that. For all that Dana had gleaned about Scully's relationship with Mulder, she had no clue about what relationship Scully may or may not have had with Daniel.

Maggie shifted anxiously on the balls of her feet.

"Would you like to come inside?" Dana asked. "I can offer you tea or something."

Maggie looked up and there was an impossible mix of emotions in her improbably bright eyes. For Dana it was like felt watching a deer trapped in headlights ...which was a strange thought. Under most circumstances a deer wasn't the first animal Dana would associate with Daniel's daughter. In Dana's experience Maggie had always been a sullen and resentful young woman. But this was a different life and Scully had never married Daniel Waterston. Things were different here, and as the two of them stood in the fading light of dusk Dana saw that the previously recalcitrant Maggie Waterston now looked as fragile as glass. If Dana said the wrong thing she wondered if Maggie would shatter.

Maggie glanced up at the apartment building, With her hands shoved into her jeans' pockets she decided, "Tea would be nice."


Syndicate Research Facility
Location Unknown, 5:13pm

"Have you got it?" Mulder asked.

"No."

"Here, let me help."

"No."

"You need help."

Scully glared at him. "And you need to sit down."

Mulder sighed as Scully pushed against the heavy steel panel over her head.

"You can't push that open," he repeated. "You don't have the upper body strength. If you would just let me help-"

"I said SIT DOWN!"

Mulder stepped back. How did such a little person contain such a big "don't give me any shit" voice? Mulder crossed his arms and decided that the voice probably came from the same place as her dogged determination. One way or another Scully was the unstoppable force intent on moving the immovable object. He should help her.

Almost as if Scully heard his thoughts, she looked Mulder dead in the eyes. "You just had major surgery. I won't allow you to injure yourself."

"I think I could be severely-if not mortally-injured if they catch up with us."

"I can open this," she insisted. And, amazingly, Scully could. The heavy steel cover began to move.

Impressive, Mulder thought...but he could still claim credit for being the one to find their means of escape. When he had pointed to the sprinkler, Scully had looked at him as though he had lost his mind. Exactly what was he suggesting? Were they supposed to crawl through a sprinkler pipe.

"The stand pipes," Mulder had explained.

"Huh?"

"Several years ago I profiled a case where the prime suspect was the maintenance engineer at a hospital-"

"The janitor."

Mulder shrugged. "Yeah, the janitor, but he saw himself as a mercy killer."

She arched a brow. "Involuntary euthanasia?"

"Succinylcholine in the IVs. Very nasty. He took out three ICU patients, two terminal cancer patients, and one particularly bitchy nurse. When I caught up with him he tried escaping through a tunnel that ran under the hospital."

He had Scully's attention. "What sort of tunnel?"

"One where the fire suppression stand pipes connected to the city water system."

"The sewer," Scully concluded.

"Fire sprinklers run on a separate high pressure water line that ties directly into a city water which requires an exterior manhole."

"So we follow this sprinkler pipe to the stand pipes and escape through the sewer," Scully had reasoned.

"Yeah." Mulder had dragged himself to his feet while ignoring his splitting headache.

The plan had sounded simple and luckily it had been. The sprinkler pipe that had dribbled on him in the mechanical room had lead directly to a chase that had dropped into the tunnel-or as Scully insisted on calling it-the sewer.

At the moment, Mulder couldn't bring himself to argue with Scully's description of the tunnel as a sewer. The passage was dark, dank, and had a distinctly sewer-like smell. He couldn't leave it fast enough.

Without a flashlight both Mulder and Scully had depended on the pale stream on light bleeding through two of the holes of what they hoped was a manhole cover. They also hoped the sewer exit was a safe distance away from the Syndicate's research complex. Mulder had no desire to slosh his way through a sewer only to deliver himself directly into the hands of the Cigarette Smoking Man.

Scully gave one last groan and finished opening the manhole. Self sufficiency was a real bitch. Scully might feel quite empowered by her competency, but Mulder felt useless.

Okay, so he had just come out of surgery, and he was none too steady on his feet. He also had a blinding headache and his bare ass was hanging out his surgical gown, but it still went against his grain to watch Scully struggle while he twiddled his thumbs.

Scully's breathing grew strained and loud in the silence of the sewer as she pushed the cover aside and poked her head through the manhole.

"Anyone out there?" Mulder asked.

"Not at the moment."

After Scully climbed through the opening, Mulder looked at the workman's outfit in his hands. Just before exiting the mechanical room Scully had found the discarded clothing. Mulder hadn't been thrilled with the idea of going commando in a stranger's clothes, but he was somewhat less thrilled by the idea of exiting the sewer with his ass hanging out.

Scully looked over the edge. "What's the hold up?"

"Costume change." He looked in Scully's direction. "Aren't you going to avert your eyes or something?"

"You don't have anything I haven't seen before. I'm a doctor, remember?"

When her steady gaze didn't move, Mulder muttered good naturedly, "To hell with chivalry." He began stripping and Mulder thought he saw Scully smile just before she disappeared from view.

A few minutes later Mulder pulled himself out of the tunnel. "It's still daylight," he realized in mild surprise.

"Barely." Scully gazed at the hazy gray-blue sky peeking through the dense foliage of towering pine trees. Their manhole was in the middle of nowhere.

This wasn't what Mulder had expected. "Where the hell are we?"

"I don't know," she said softly.

He frowned. "You don't know? How did you get here?"

"A UPS van."

He stepped back. "You're kidding."

Scully shot Mulder a look that told him she was definitely not kidding. "It wasn't a normal UPS van. It was a modified ambulance of some sort, and it didn't allow for much sightseeing."

Mulder shifted uncomfortably in the dirty white work coveralls. "So we're lost in the wilderness."

"Looks like it."

Noting the darkening sky he muttered, "We should start moving. We don't have much daylight left."

Scully started walking west at a slow but steady pace. However, even with their slow movement it didn't take long for Mulder to begin breathing hard. "Shit, I'm in better shape than this," he insisted.

"You've been unconscious for days. You've-"

"Had surgery. Yeah, I remember that."

Scully's brows drew together creating a frown line. "How much do you remember?"

"Of what? Of what happened or of you?"

He watched Scully's face, mesmerized by the way emotions and thoughts momentarily shaded her features then hid behind a calm mask.

"Either." But under her breath she added, "Both."

"The last thing I remember is the rubbing of the African artifact." He noticed that Scully nodded as if she knew exactly what he was talking about...which was strange because she hadn't been there. Then again, that was only one strange thing in the midst of hundreds. Mulder confessed. "After passing out in the lab the only memories I have are disjointed and disconnected."

Again Scully nodded as if she understood. And any way Mulder looked at it, Scully understanding what he was saying should have been impossible. He hadn't given her any details. His explanation was half assed at best, but Scully seemed to know the story almost as well as he did. She understood...almost as if she had been there. That should freak him out or at least make him feel suspicious.

It didn't.

It felt...right.

Mulder gazed at Scully speculatively. "Is it my turn to ask questions?"

Her blue eyes met his as she gave an almost imperceptible nod.

He asked, "How can I have memories of you? Is it some sort of previous life regression thing?"

She laughed. "As in 'I was born in 1843, and we knew each other then?'"

He nodded and watched her expectantly.

"No, it's nothing like that."

"Damn." He couldn't help it. He was just a little disappointed. He couldn't help thinking that past life regression would make a great X-File. However, noting Scully's frown it was clear she didn't feel the same way. Mulder sobered. "So tell me, what is it like?"

Scully didn't answer.

They faced one another across an extremely small distance. All it would take was one lifted hand and they would touch.

Mulder sighed. "Before I landed in the hospital, I had never met you. But I have memories of you-memories of us. Can you explain that?"

Scully began picking at the bark on a tree, but still didn't say anything. Finally she turned scrambled up an outcropping of rocks. She didn't stop until she could stand and look out at the horizon. It was only then that Mulder noticed that they were standing on a ledge at a very high altitude.

Scully asked, "Where do you think we are?"

"You didn't answer my question."

She acted as if he hadn't said a thing. "We're too exposed here. The Smoking Man's men can't be far behind us."

She isn't going to explain, Mulder realized. He wondered why? Scully didn't seem like an evasive person. In fact she seemed to pride herself on being as straightforward as humanly possible.

Falling back on his profiler skills, Mulder decided that perhaps Scully wasn't avoiding HIS questions...she was avoiding her own.


The surgeon shone a penlight into the Smoking Man's eyes. After a moment he nodded then stepped away from the bed. "Welcome back," he said while removing his latex gloves.

Though he felt like hell, the Smoking Man managed a grim smile. "It's good to be back."

The doctor didn't respond.

"You look concerned," CSM added. "Was the operation not a success?"

The surgeon frowned. "This was an untested procedure. There is no way to tell at this point whether it will accomplish more good than damage."

"There has been damage?"

"When foreign matter has been introduced to the body, there is always the potential for damage."

The Smoking Man gave a low, rumbling chuckle. "Do not say that at this late stage of the game you're worried about your Hippocratic oath."

"First, do no harm."

The old man smiled. "I'm alive, aren't I?"

The surgeon glanced away.

"Tell me, Doctor, what is your definition of harm? The extinction of the human race?" The Smoking Man frowned. "Or perhaps Mulder has not fared well. Is that it? Have you lost a patient after all?"

The surgeon turned sharply as if reluctant to face his patient, making the old man wish he could reach for a cigarette. He could use one, but no doubt the doctor would refuse him. Few people refused the Cigarette Smoking Man and lived, but then this was his doctor... and of course there was oxygen in the room.

"Is Mulder gone?" the old man asked again.

"Yes. So is the woman."

CSM slanted his gaze toward the doctor. "Mulder is alive?"

"We have no reason to think otherwise."

He nodded. "So lovely Dr. Waterston accomplished her goal after all."

The surgeon's brow knitted in a questioning frown.

"The only reason she came here was to rescue Mulder," the old man explain in his low, emotionless voice. He stated flatly, "She won't succeed."


Dana Scully's Residence
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
5:40pm

Dana sat at the dining table watching Maggie Waterston stare into a cup of green tea. Dana didn't say anything. She was still in a state of shock at finding Daniel's daughter standing on Scully's doorstep.

"I'm not sure where to start," Maggie told her.

Dana wasn't sure how to help her start. She had never been able to talk to Maggie. Every encounter she had ever had with her stepdaughter had been awkward and tension filled.

Maggie lifted her startlingly bright eyes and announced in a stark voice, "My father died two weeks ago."

Dana was speechless. Daniel was dead? It was the last thing she had expected to hear. Her husband was dead... only he wasn't her husband. Or rather he wasn't Scully's husband. The sheer perversity of her situation made impossible for Dana to feel possessive of anything. But still, in another time, another life Daniel Waterston was her husband and now he was dead.

The logistics of this nightmare were beginning to make Dana's head hurt, but one thought began a quiet litany inside of her. Daniel was dead. How was she supposed to react to that? This shock coming after so many others simply left Dana feeling numb.

Maggie nervously fingered the handle of the antique china cup. "Maybe I should have called you when it happened." The younger woman glanced up anxiously. "Is that what you would have wanted? Or would you prefer that I not be here now? The last time I saw you, I had the impression that you had moved on with your life. You didn't seem interested having my father in it."

Dana searched in vain for something to say.

Maggie pushed the tea cup away, stood, and began pacing. "Then again maybe the reason I didn't call you had nothing to do with you. Maybe I didn't contact you because I knew my father wanted you there." She stopped and asked, "Was that cruel?"

"Cruel?"

"My father didn't mention you by name, not after the alternative medicine incident. But I know he wanted you there. I knew it but I never did a thing about it. I denied my father his dying wish. Is that cruel?"

"If he never mentioned me, what makes you think he wanted to see me?" Dana asked logically.

Maggie laughed harshly. "Oh he wanted to see you. He wanted one more woman weeping at his bedside. It would have completed the picture since Mom refused to play along."

Dana was startled. "Your mother?" Barbara Waterston was dead. She had committed suicide years ago. She had done it just after...Dana sighed. Those incidents had never happened in this world. Scully had made different choices. How many times must Dana face that truth before it became real to her?

Maggie's smile twisted bitterly. "Mom told Dad where he could stick it. She did come to his funeral though. She even cried. She just refused to give him the satisfaction of SEEING her cry."

Dana picked up Maggie's cup and walked toward the sink to rinse it out. "Maybe you didn't call me out of respect for your mother," she theorized.

Maggie shook her head. "Mom wouldn't give a damn if I called you. Not any more. No, I...I didn't call because I didn't want you there."

Then why are you here now? Dana wondered.

Maggie's hand moved jerkily, nervously as she paced. "I didn't call because I didn't want to. But that doesn't seem fair. You saved his life." She stopped pacing. "He may not have wanted to admit it, and he may have mocked you for it. But I know you saved his life, and at the end he wanted you there."

"What about what you wanted?"

Maggie shrugged. "Dad never bothered with what I wanted."

That was true of both Daniels. His priorities had been simple-himself, THEN everyone else. The world could go to hell and unless it directly involved him.

Dana said tentatively "Maybe you're not calling me was your way of finally getting what you wanted. For once your needs came first."

"Maybe."

Almost definitely.

Maggie rested her hands on the back of one of Scully's dining chairs. "I...want to thank you," she said haltingly.

Dana blinked. "What?"

"I want to thank you. More than anything else, more than telling you of my father's death, that's why I came here tonight."

Dana was surprised and confused. The one thing she had never expected out of Maggie Waterston was gratitude. For that matter she had never even expected respect, yet somehow Dana Scully had earned both.

"You gave me a chance," Maggie confessed. "A chance for my father and myself to correct our mistakes." Her eyes filled with unshed tears. "He may not have taken that chance but still, there was one, and I have you to thank for it."

"I'm sorry I couldn't have helped more," was all that Dana could think to say.

Maggie shook her head. "It was enough. It may not have been a happy ending, but I think it was a valid one. Given the way my father was, I can't imagine a different one. At any rate, you gave me time to come to peace with who he was, to accept him warts and all. Now I'm free to move on, and I have you to thank for it."

Dana shook her head. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything, and I've probably said too much. I probably should have just sent a card-"

"No," Dana protested. "No, it was good to see you. I'm glad you came by."


Pisgah National Forest
6:13pm

Mulder leaned against Scully, and he hated it. Yes, there was physical pleasure in being close to her, but it bothered him to feel helpless, to be dependent on another person. Call it male ego, but shouldn't he be capable of ignoring a migraine and blurry vision? Mind over matter and all that.

Mulder had been through some harrowing situations in his life and had always dragged himself out of them without leaning on a slender pair of female shoulders. Of course in the past he had no choice. There had been no one to lean against, no one to help shoulder the burden.

He had to admit that it felt good to have someone beside him.

Besides, it was easier to play tortured superhero when you had a black rubber bat suit, and Mulder was fresh out of latex. Not to mention the fact that at the moment the best secret identity he could qualify for would be 'Migraine Man.'

Trying to distract himself from his headache Mulder asked, "Exactly how long did it take that modified UPS van to reach the research facility?"

Scully stopped moving. "We left D.C. around 8pm and it was daylight when we arrived." Closing her eyes momentarily, she took a deep breath. Mulder could feel her exhausted muscles trembling beneath him. Scully's energy reserves were running out.

Ignoring his headache and dizziness, Mulder shifted his weight onto his own feet. If the two of them were going to make it, he needed to carry his own weight.

Unsteady on his feet, Mulder focused on questions that needed answers. "So we're somewhere that can be reached by car in ten to twelve hours." After filling his lungs with the thin air, Mulder added, "Somewhere with a fairly impressive elevation."

Free of Mulder's weight Scully bent over and rested her hands on her thighs. Mulder thought her breathing was more labored than before, but he didn't think she would appreciate his pointing that out. "We're lost in some mountain range south of D.C." Scully concluded raggedly.

"South?"

Scully stood. "Don't ask me why. But this seems...I don't know. Wouldn't it be colder than this in mountains ten hours north of D.C.?"

"Maybe," he agreed. "But when it gets dark, I have a feeling this will be more than cold enough."

Mulder watched the sun sink relentlessly toward the horizon, a jagged, indistinct edge hidden by sparse cloud cover. Soon the glowing orange orb would disappear entirely, leaving them in a dark, near moonless night. Mulder frowned. "If this is south of D.C. we can rule out the Adirondacks."

"The Appalachians, maybe?"

Mulder faced Scully. "Where? The Appalachians cover a lot of terrain."

"I don't know." Scully gingerly touched the ugly bruise beginning to mar her jaw. She flinched and dropped her hand. "We should keep moving."

Mulder didn't argue. In silence they followed a trail that sharply descended the mountain. Picking their way down this path in the dark was going to be dangerous if not fatal. Even as Mulder thought it, Scully's foot slid, sending pebbles plummeting over the rock ledge. Mulder caught her arm and pulled her sharply toward him. Her small body collided with his. He stepped awkwardly to the side but maintained his balance as his hand clasped her shoulder. For a moment Scully rested against him, her bright head pressed his chest. However, only seconds passed before Scully pulled away.

Mulder missed the contact.

"We're going to have to stop for the night," Scully announced. "If we keep going in the dark, one of us is going to break his neck." She looked up at the gray-blue sky that was deepening to a misty shade of violet. "And, Mulder, you don't need to be exposed to the elements. Under any other circumstances you'd be hospitalized right now."

"Yeah, well, I specialize in 'other circumstances.' I'll survive." He looked around them. "It wouldn't hurt to have a better idea where we are though."

"Considering the lack of development, I'd guess some national park," she surmised. "It would make a certain amount of sense. Government owned lands could be a a convenient place to hide a federal research facility."

Mulder looked at her sharply.

"What?" Scully asked.

"I'm not used to a normal person taking my shadow government conspiracies seriously. A militia nut might buy into it, but most rational people call me paranoid and crazy."

Scully frowned and looked offended for him. "You may be overly enthusiastic, but you aren't crazy." She looked around them. "So do you buy the theory that our mystery men set up shop in a national forest?"

Mulder didn't miss her saying 'our,' as if the two of them could possess something together, as if the search was shared. The question of who this woman could be was fast becoming his new obsession. Suddenly pain shot through Mulder's temple and he became aware of a faint buzzing noise.

"Mulder, you need to sit down," Scully insisted.

The buzzing grew louder until a helicopter passed overhead. Mulder caught Scully's hand and pulled her beneath the canopy of fir trees.

"Looks like they discovered we skipped out without paying the bill," he muttered.

Scully glanced in the direction they had hiked. "There can't be much distance between us and a search party. We haven't exactly made record time."

"And we aren't about to begin to. We're going to have to lie low."

"Where?"

Another helicopter passed overhead. Pulling Scully deeper into the shadow of the trees, Mulder searched for a path of escape. "Somewhere out of sight of those."

A third copter buzzed by.

Scully pointed up the rock face. "Is that a cave?"

In the deeply shadowed light it was hard to tell, but Mulder was willing to go on a hunch. He took Scully's hand, and abruptly changing direction, they headed up the mountain instead of down.

He drawled, "Let's hope we're not disturbing Yogi and Boo-Boo."


To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull facilities can comprehend only in the most primitive forms-this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious... Albert Einstein


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Pisgah National Forrest
9:53pm

Scully sat on the flat, slightly damp stone floor of the cave as she watched beams of diffused light float in the darkness.

"They're still searching," Mulder noted as he looked at the woods below them.

Scully nodded. "They've been at it for hours."

He leaned his head against the stone wall and closed his eyes. "So they get brownie points for persistence."

Scully didn't answer but tried to focus on the lights in the fog only to find her own eyes drifting shut. When she felt her breathing become deep and even, Scully realized she was on the verge of falling asleep. Swiftly jerked herself to an erect sitting position, she glanced over her shoulder to see Mulder watching her through one open eye.

"How long since you've slept?" he asked.

"Months." Scully saw him frown and amended her statement, "I mean it feels like months. Actually, it's only been a couple of days."

She had told the truth the first time. She hadn't had a good night's sleep since he had disappeared.

"You need to rest." Mulder's voice was warm and soft and comforting. For a moment Scully almost believed she could rest.

"I'm okay," she reassured. "You're the one who needs to lie down. You-"

"Just had brain surgery."

Scully glanced at him sheepishly. "Have I repeated it that many times?"

He smiled. "I lost count at thirty-four."

She crossed her arms. "So when are you going to follow my advice?"

"Immediately after you follow it. Do you really need me to say 'physician, heal thyself?'"

Scully tilted her head toward the glowing lights. "I'll follow my advice as soon as they leave."

Mulder moved closer to her. "You know watching them search doesn't prevent them from finding us or make them go away any faster."

"Perhaps. But I feel better standing guard."

"Okay, then." He shook himself a little and sat up straight. "Seen any good movies lately?"

"No."

"What about television? Anything good on?"

"It's summer re-runs."

"Found any aliens?"

"Not a one." After a heartbeat Scully turned to face him. "Mulder, we don't have to make small talk."

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

"Good. I suck at small talk."

They sat in companionable silence for a very long time. They didn't say anything. Maybe they didn't need to say anything. Scully surreptitiously looked at Mulder. From the moment she had met him they had shared the ability to sit in silence without the silence being awkward. It wasn't that they lacked for things to say. They debated. They argued. They discussed, but they were able to sit side by side in perfect peace without a word passing between them. Silence felt comfortable and comforting. It felt safe...which was rare...which was very rare.


Pisgah National Forrest
11:48pm

Mulder watched Scully bring her knees up to her chest as lights swiveled and danced, illuminating the jagged outline of trees in the forest below the cave where they sat. The searchers moved away and the lights dimmed.

As they plunged into total darkness Mulder asked, "Shouldn't we have knit caps and a handheld camera?"

Scully frowned. Mulder couldn't see the frown, but he knew it was there.

"Blair Witch pop-culture reference," he explained. "You know, weird sounds in the woods followed by impenetrable darkness." When she didn't answer Mulder added, "Okay, as pop references go, it's a couple of years out of date, but give me a break, I just had brain surgery."

Now she smiled. He couldn't see the smile any more than he could the frown, but he knew the smile was there.

A helicopter with blinding white lights buzzed by, momentarily silhouetting the ghostly skeleton of dead trees against a deep indigo sky. "What do you think caused that?" he asked, indicting the trees.

Scully shrugged. "Insects. Acid rain. Forest fires. Who knows."

"I read somewhere that it's a common problem in the Southern Appalachians, particularly above fifty-five hundred mark in the Black Mountains."

Now he had Scully's attention. "You think that's where we are?" she asked.

"From the time frame you gave, it sounds about right." Mulder winced and massaged his temple.

"Don't." Scully gently caught his hand then stretched over him to check his bandage. "Are you in much pain?"

"I have the headache to end all headaches, but it's manageable."

"Go lie down. Get some rest."

"You first."

She didn't move.

"Scully," he said softly. "The lights are moving down the hill. They aren't coming back."

"They always come back," she said with the kind of resignation that made Mulder wonder how long Scully had been running from black helicopters. How long had she been peering into dark corners? Long enough to know the monsters that lived there were real.

Mulder recognized Scully's complete emotional exhaustion even as he felt the determination that drove her. He shared it. It was in him, and it was in her. Somehow, fundamentally, they were the same. For so long his quest had been a lonely one. No one understood, not really, until now. But from the moment he had gazed into Scully's tired blue eyes it was as if he had never been alone, as if she had always walked by his side.

Unbidden, Mulder remembered the visions he'd had in the hospital, memories of this woman taking his hand, of standing by his side in the midst of more nightmares than he cared to count. There were memories of her sacrifices, and of Scully earning his absolute trust. Memories that both were and were not real-as implausible as that description sounded.

Mulder touched the bruise marring Scully's cheek. "That must hurt like a sonofabitch."

"Only when you touch it."

He drew his hand away.

"That guy had a pretty hard left," Mulder sympathized.

"I'll survive. And after you whacked him with the bone saw, I'm sure his headache is worse than yours."

Mulder arched a brow. "You think that's possible?"

"If there's justice in the world, it's possible."

"That's the best thing I've heard all night." His eyes had grown accustomed to the dark so Mulder could make out the lines and curves of her face. "So... "

She tilted her head to the side. "So?"

"It was a conversational gambit."

"No talking. You need sleep." Scully pulled away and stretched across the cave's floor. Mulder watched as she twisted one way then another. She looked uncomfortable.

Mulder remained where he was. "I'm not sleepy." He wasn't sure if he said it because it was true or just to have her turn and glare at him. He waited patiently for her to say something, to say anything. She didn't, and for a moment Mulder thought Scully really had gone to sleep. He looked closly. No, even considering how exhausted she must be, Scully looked too uncomfortable to sleep.

He pressed, "You never explained how I know you."

The silence remained unbroken for a very long time. Finally Scully asked-and from the tone of her voice it was clear that she was reluctant to ask- "DO you know me?"

"Yes." It was that simple and that true...despite the fact that knowing her was impossible.

"You're not him," Scully whispered in the darkness.

"Who?"

"Mulder. You're not him. You're not real."

"I'm just doing an amazingly lifelike impression of him? Come on, Scully, what you're saying doesn't make sense."

Her voice sounded small and hesitant. "Don't ask me to make sense of this."

"Just resign ourselves to confusion?" She turned over. "I can tell you what happened, but I can't make sense of it." And she explained how she had been assigned to investigate the disappearance of Steven Doerstling. She described her conversations with Mike Stilgoe, and her decision to venture into the CESR. Then Scully described finding herself in Georgetown Memorial's M.I.C.U. gazing at him.

"You're saying you've fallen into an alternate universe," Mulder realized.

"I didn't say that."

"Yes, you did."

"I never once said that," Scully snapped. "I said that I was investigating a case where a physicist theorized the existence of alternate universes."

"And then you fell into one."

"No." She shook her head. "That's impossible. Even if alternate universes do exist, a person couldn't fall into one."

Mulder watched her carefully. "So what's your explanation for what's happening?"

"I'm probably in the I.C.U. of some hospital in Ithaca. Odds are this is nothing more than a desperate dream."

"Why would you be desperate to dream about me having a headache the size of Alaska? And if it's your dream, why am I the one with a headache? For that matter, why would I be in your dream at all?"

"Because I'm desperate to find you," Scully confessed.

That pulled him up short. Her words held the unmistakable ring of truth. Mulder blinked. "Why would you want to find me?"

Her sad eyes moved over him. "Why wouldn't I? Do you have any idea how much I want to save you, to bring you back? This is nothing more than wish fulfillment."

Mulder gazed at her doubtfully. "Exactly what wish are you fulfilling? A latent desire to see me lobotomized?"

Scully's expression made Mulder feel like an ass for teasing about her. There was a world of pain in her eyes telling him that Scully was dead serious when she said she was desperate.

"Mulder, when you disappeared, I wasn't there to save you. I can't help you. I can't find you. Now suddenly I can do all three? Don't you see? Your..." She took a deep breath. "Your abduction was connected to the anomalous brain activity you experienced last fall. It only makes sense that my desire to find you has become mixed up with my memories and your descriptions of your surgery. That would explain why I arrived at this point in time-"

"Arrived," Mulder repeated. "You don't 'arrive' in a dream. This is real, Scully, and you know it."

"No, it is a dream. It has to be. It's not even an unusual one. Do you have any idea how many times I've dreamed of having you back?"

The fervor in her voice affected him. Her loyalty to him was astounding and unexpected and beyond anything Mulder had ever known. And despite what Scully was saying, it WAS real. "This isn't a dream, Scully. I'm here. I exist."

"Then maybe I don't. Maybe I'm her. Maybe I'm Dana Waterston and not Special Agent Dana Scully."

"Now you're grasping at straws."

"I know things that Dana Waterston knows," Scully explained. "I'm aware of medical minutia outside of my specialty, but not outside of hers. Maybe she is the one who is real and Dana Scully is the dream."

"Am I a man who dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly who dreamed he was a man?"

Scully slanted a glance in his direction. "Don't be flippant."

"I'm not being flippant. I'm trying to figure out why you would diagnose yourself as being schizophrenic rather than admit to an extreme possibility."

"Mulder, this isn't paranormal."

"No, it's science so why aren't you buying into it? Just say it, Scully. Say you've fallen into an alternate universe."

She shook her head. "It's impossible."

"Impossible? You can see it. You can touch it. It's all around you. How can you not believe your own eyes?"

"Senses can lie. There are all kinds of hallucinogenic substances that-"

"You can't do it, can you? Even with the evidence staring you in the face, you can't believe."

Scully's eyes snapped with blue fire as she demanded, "Instead of passing judgments on what I choose to believe, you might ask yourself why you need to force me to believe as you do."

"I don't-"

She cut him off. "Why do you need me to agree with you? It's not my loyalty you want. You have that. And my agreeing with you wouldn't make your beliefs any more or less true. Beliefs are personal. Belief is faith, and faith can't be proven."

"That's religion, not truth."

"And truth is your religion."

Mulder opened his mouth to speak, but Scully stopped him. "Don't mock faith, Mulder. You might not believe in religion, but you've always functioned on faith. Always. You couldn't martyr yourself to something you don't believe in, something you don't have faith in. And, damn you, you martyred yourself in this quest."

"I'm not dead."

"Aren't you? How the hell am I supposed to know? You got on a plane to Oregon and never came home!" Her voice broke, and she began to shake.

"Scully..."

"Damnit, Mulder, how could you? You dragged me into your mad crusade then walked away!" She angrily wiped away her tears. "Did you see the chance to find answers? Is that all it took? You left me behind, and don't give me that excuse that you didn't want to lose me. You lost yourself. It's the same thing in the end, and it's no more bearable...only I'm the one who has to bear it."

"Scully, please-"

"You son of a bitch, you ditched me." He dragged her into his arms but Scully struggled against him.

"Let go." She pushed against his chest.

"No."

"Let go. Ditch me. It's what you do best."

"No."

"Damnit, Mulder!"

He held her tightly and threaded his fingers though her hair, "I know I didn't mean to leave you," he said urgently. "I would never willingly do that."

"Ha! You do it all the time."

"But not like this."

She stopped struggling.

He held his breath. "Scully...?"

"You never left me like this," she whispered. "This time you didn't come back."

He cupped the back of her head and rocked her gently. "I'm sorry."

Mulder felt a shudder pass through Scully as she buried her face against the crook of his neck. He felt her hot tears against his bare skin, but Scully never made a sound. Not a single cry. Her grief was terrible in its silence. There was no solace in her tears or in his embrace. There was only agony and silence.

Helplessly he whispered, "I'm sorry."

A single sob escaped her. Her arms wrapped tightly around him as her fingers clutched his shirt in tight fists. Mulder searched in vain for words of comfort, but what could he say that could compare to the eloquence of her tears. .. so he held her. His body wrapped protectively around hers, holding her close, keeping her warm. They clung to each other, providing anchors in a sea of loneliness and confusion.

Scully gave a huge sigh that seemed to pass through her entire being before she fell limp against him. Silently Mulder urged her to let go over her superhuman self- control, to relax, to rest. Scully seemed so very tired-tired to the depths of her soul.

"Rest," Mulder murmured as his hands moved over her back. He felt her breath against his throat growing soft and even. She didn't move but appeared content to stay locked in his arms. Mulder let the silky strands of her hair pass through his fingers.

"You aren't him," Scully said into the darkness.

"No, I'm not."

"He's still missing and now so am I. This isn't home."

"Just an incredible facsimile."

Scully started to move away, but Mulder held her against the wall of his chest. She didn't struggle. It was as if Scully no longer had the energy or the strength.

"You feel like him," she said with her palms pressed flat against his chest and her head resting on his shoulder. "You even smell like him. If I close my eyes tightly enough I can almost believe you are him, that you've come back...that this isn't a dream." "It isn't a dream, Scully," he insisted gently.

"Maybe not, but you're still not him."

Mulder pressed his lips against the top of her head. "Some part of me must be. Otherwise how can I feel what he feels? Know what he knows?"

She lifted her head and gazed at him with tearful eyes. "Do you?"

"Yes."

"How can one being be two people?" she asked before giving a watery smile. "Other than garden variety schizophrenia, that is."

"Light can be both a particle and a wave, right? Can't this be something similar?"

"I don't see how."

Mulder frowned as he concentrated. "Contradictions are part of the universe-or the multiverse as the case may be-and every action has an equal and opposite reaction-"

"Don't talk science to me, Mulder, you're creeping me out."

Without letting her go Mulder shifted their weight so that he could lean back against the wall of the cave. He closed his eyes. "Okay, what if I say that mystics have pondered the true meaning of consciousness since the human race wandered around in caves drawing on walls-and, yes, I'm aware that at the moment we're wandering around a caves but please note we aren't drawing on walls."

"Your point being?"

"My point being that maybe only a thin veil separates your world from mine. Maybe there are times when our realities are close enough to see or touch, or maybe even pass through. The Australian Aborigines believe in the Alchera/Tjurjunga-the dreamtime. Their myths describe people's spirits making journeys through the void."

"As in someone's consciousness traveling to another universe?"

"Maybe."

"That might explain why I'm not me." Scully paused and looked dismayed by what she had just said. "I mean-" She stopped and shook her head. "This isn't my hair cut." She held out her hand and exposed a nearly invisible razor thin scar on her forearm. "I didn't have that. And there's no chip in my neck and...and there are other things."

"Meaning even though you have Scully's memories, this is Dana Waterston's body?"

"Yes."

"So only your consciousness, your sentience went from one universe into another. What if whatever happened in the CESR completed some cosmic circuit creating a consciousness loop making it possible to be two people at the same time?"

"So why would you be affected?" Scully asked. "You weren't in the accelerator."

"Anomalous brain activity. If it was enough to read the thoughts of everyone around me, maybe it was enough to also reach through the veil." He opened his eyes. "The beach. The figure I saw on the beach. It was me." He paused. "That is, it was Mulder. Your Mulder. Maybe the connection was made there, in dreamtime."

Scully sat up with an intent searching look on her face. "So you might really know what Mulder is thinking?"

"Knew. Whatever was done to me in the operation quieted the voices, including his. I just remember everything I've experienced up until that point."

"But you heard him thinking? He's alive?"

"I'm Mulder too, you know."

"Is HE alive?" she pressed urgently.

Mulder cupped her cheek, his thumb resting along curve of her jaw. "Yes. He's alive"

"Thank God." Scully closed her eyes as her forehead fell against his chest. "Thank you, God."


Syndicate Research Facility
12:13am

The surgeon entered the recovery room then rushed forward. "You shouldn't be sitting up."

The Smoking Man eyed him with a cold stare. "Have our fugitives been found?

"Your men are still looking."

"Tell me, Doctor, how many acres of national forest are outside our door? Enough to conceal two people who don't want to be found?"

"I'm sure your men are well-trained."

"Oh yes, they're well trained but our fugitives have need on their side. Never underestimate desperation as motivation." He leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes. "I miscalculated."

The Smoking Man opened his eyes to see the surgeon looking at him questioningly. "I underestimated Dr. Waterston," he explained. "I knew she had a plan of action, but I thought to outmaneuver her. Now I find she can think on her feet. Mulder has acquired a formidable ally." The old man motioned for a nurse to fluff his pillow and straighten his sheets. Settling back against the cool, white linens he announced without inflection. "They both have to be eliminated."


Look and remember. Look upon the sky; Look deep and deep into the sea-clean air, The unconfined, the terminus of prayer. Speak now and speak into the hallowed dome. What do you hear? What does the sky reply? The heavens are taken; this is not your home. Karl Jay Shapiro "Travelogue for Exiles"


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Pisgah National Forest
6:40am

Scully came awake slowly. First she was aware that half of her body was freezing while the other half was comfortably warm. Then she felt the weight of something lying across her. Finally, her synapses began to fire, and Scully remembered that 'something' was Mulder.

He was pressed against her back with his knees drawn up behind hers and his arm draped over her shoulder; hence the reason her back was warm and snug while her fingers and feet were freezing.

Briefly Scully remembered the verbal tussle preceding their sleeping arrangements.

Mulder had noticed, "You're shivering."

"We're in the mountains. It's cold. I shiver. It's perfectly normal."

"Is it normal to ignore the fact you're freezing?"

It was at that moment Scully had realized Mulder would wrap his arm around her and settle himself against her back. He would surround her with his warmth and wordless comfort...and she would allow it. She longed for it. Mulder had held her in exactly the same way on their last night together in Oregon...which was why she should say no even as he moved toward her. Her memories were too painful to be resurrected.

Scully had warned him, "Don't try the 'let's share body heat' excuse. I've heard it before."

Mulder gazed at her with an all too innocent expression.

"It isn't raining sleeping bags," she had snapped.

"Is sleeping bag precipitation a common problem in your reality?" He had grinned.

"It's a very rare phenomena," Scully said darkly. "Almost unheard of."

"But not impossible," Mulder said as he settled against her. "Besides, what's the alternative? Hypothermia?"

Scully had known she should push him away. For her own sanity she needed to keep this familiar stranger at a distance...The problem was she didn't want Mulder at a distance. Not this Mulder. Not any Mulder. She wanted to touch him and reassure herself that he was here. Scully knew that he wasn't her Mulder, and yet somehow he was...he most definitely was.

Scully rubbed the bridge of her nose. Now she was the one with a headache. She was tired of trying to find explanations for the impossible. She was sick of trying to find order in chaos, of divining reason where there was none. She wanted to close her eyes and believe. Even if it was only for one short, deluded moment, she wanted to believe that everything would be okay; so when Mulder touched her, Scully hadn't pulled away. She had sighed and allowed her eyes to drift closed enjoying the feel Mulder's long fingers intertwined with hers. As Mulder squeezed her hand Scully let go, if only briefly, of her confusion and allowed herself to be lulled into peaceful slumber.

Now it was morning. Sunlight was visible at the mouth of the cave. It was time to sit up, stand up, and face the day. Scully didn't want to.

She felt Mulder shift behind her.

"We should plan our strategy," Scully said still clinging, though no longer quite as desperately, to the rational side of her nature. "We aren't out of this yet."

"What's there to plan?" he asked. "We leave the cave and avoid the bad guys."

She started to move away. "So simple."

"It is if you let it be." Mulder pulled her back against him. They lay in silence. Scully could hear the sound of his breathing. It was so steady and reassuring, so utterly and infuriatingly calm.

"Mulder, don't you ever plan for the future?" she asked quietly as she glanced at him over her shoulder.

His eyes remained closed. "I don't think about it."

"Never thinking about the future is the same thing as not planning for it."

Mulder rolled onto his back. "Okay, I don't plan much for the future."

"Why?" She leaned over him, bracing her arms on either side of him. Only inches separated their mouths. "I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Ever since-" Scully stopped abruptly as Mulder brushed a strand of hair away from her face.

Scully was momentarily distracted, but determinedly pulled herself back to the point she was trying to make. "At some point after you disappeared I realized we've never been very interested in the future." Her gaze locked with his. "Knowing what we know, isn't that strange? You would think we'd be obsessed with it. Instead we only seem to look to the past."

When it looked like Mulder would protest Scully added, "Think about it. What are the questions we ask until we're so sick of them that no answer would be enough to satisfy us? What happened to your sister? Who took me and put the chip in my neck? Who killed your father? Who killed my sister? All of it is in the past. If the answers were handed to us tomorrow, it wouldn't change a thing."

Uncertainty almost overwhelmed her. "What if we've been asking the wrong questions? What if we've been fighting the wrong fight?"

Mulder's dark eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"

"We've spent so much time fighting the future, that we never stopped to wonder if we should fight FOR it. Why is that?"

A frown creased the area between his eyebrows. "Well, there's always the old cliche about ignoring the past and being doomed to repeat it."

"There's also a cliche about beating dead horses." Scully sat up. "I just don't know if there are enough answers for all of our questions. Maybe at some point we have to say enough is enough and stop looking to the past." Scully touched her flat stomach, her depressingly flat stomach. "At some point shouldn't we start looking to the future? If we had done that I-" She stopped, frowned, and quickly turned away.

Mulder touched her shoulder and waited for her to turn to face him. "If we had done that, what?"

"I wouldn't have lost you."


Glenwood Cemetery
Washington, DC
10:13am

Dana Waterston had driven down Lincoln Drive three times. The first time she had told herself she had only intended to drive by the cemetery. The second time Daba had resolved to see Daniel's grave, only at the last moment to decide against it and drive away. Finally, on the third try Dana crossed the grass reading the names on tombstones as she went.

She pulled at her shirt collar. It was impossible to ignore the rising heat of the late summer day. With Scully's endless collection of black clothing Dana felt a bit like she had slipped into an oven set on broil. There was a bead of sweat rolling down her spine when she finally found the grave she was searching for.

Waterston was emblazoned across granite. She stared at the headstone in dazed disbelief. The man who had never been Dana Scully's husband lay six feet below the earth. Dana knelt to lay lilies on his grave and wondered what she was supposed to feel.

What was the rational response for a situation like this? For that matter, what was the irrational response? Miss Manners had never written the appropriate etiquette for such patently bizarre circumstances. Exactly what should she be feeling? What should she do? There were so many ways to react, so many ways to feel.

"I never loved you." Dana was shocked at the words that came out of her mouth...but they felt true.

"I was infatuated once," she confessed. "You were fascinating. You had such control. I envied that. I wanted that. I always wanted control."

Somehow she found herself sitting on the grass. It might stain Scully's suit, but Dana found she didn't care as a sense of self awareness began to overtake her. "I was fourteen when Charlie decided that he wanted to buy a motorcycle. Dad didn't want to hear anything about it, but Charlie wouldn't give up. He took a job as a bagboy at the supermarket. He sold magazine subscriptions." Dana smiled. "He was determined, and in the end he did it. It was old and beaten up, but it was his. He was so proud."

Her smile disappeared. "Then Dad found out about the bike and took it away. He said it was dangerous and irresponsible. Dad sold it and said how disappointed he was in Charlie." Dana noticed that she was fingering the delicate yellow petals of the lilies, bruising their soft buttery color. She pulled her hands away. "My father was an admirable man, and I loved him. I never wanted to disappoint him. I never wanted him to look at me the way that he looked at Charlie. So I had to keep myself under control. I had to follow the rules. I was taught to admire order and control."

Dana looked up at the way light filtered through the leaves of the cherry trees shading this corner of the cemetery.

"I never rebelled," she admitted. "At least not much, not in public...not like Charlie." Dana smiled ruefully. "Not even like Scully. At least she followed her own path and joined the FBI. I, on the other hand, followed my infatuation with control all the way to you."

She laid her hand on the vibrantly green grass. "But I never loved you."

Dana rose to her feet. "I realize that now. In fact, I realize a lot of things. Charlie wasn't irresponsible. Look at what he did to earn that bike. He worked his ass off, and before Dad came home Charlie took me for a ride. I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I loved the freedom, the wildness, even that thrill of danger. It was exhilarating."

Dana looked at her hands clasped together so tightly it turned her knuckles white. She deliberately relaxed her grip and stretched her fingers. "For a long time, I've denied that part of myself. I chose control over everything, even my own spirit."

She stepped back from the grave. "I chose wrong. That's the difference between what I'm feeling, and what Scully feels about losing Mulder. Control is an illusion. What's between Mulder and Scully is real. It's visceral and constant and true. It's right. If there is any sort of reason why this has happened to me, I think it's to show me that I don't belong with you, Daniel. I never did, and finally I'm strong enough now to face that."

She turned and walked away.


Pisgah National Forest
The Black Mountains, North Carolina
10:45 am

Mulder stood reading a marker. "Bee Tree Gap." He looked at Scully. "Should we take that as a sign?"

"I'd rather take the sign pointing us toward the trail leading to the visitor's center. They probably have toilets."

He looked at the glyphs on the sign. "And a picnic area. Good. I missed breakfast."

Scully gave him a look that said he was straining her patience. So Mulder decided not to add how intrigued he was that the sign also told them they were in the Pisgah forest. If he believed in omens Mulder might find significance in the fact that Pisgah was the name of the place where after wandering the wilderness for nearly 40 years, Moses finally saw the promised land.

Mulder looked at Scully. What a strange, contradictory creature she was. She seemed to have such fierce loyalty and affection for him and yet she also seemed to consider him to be her personal cross to bear. She sought out the irrational and then insisted on applying logic to it. She could believe one moment and deny it the next. She was an enigma and Mulder was damn glad he had found her.

"So what are we going to do when we reach that road below us?" Mulder asked. "Hitch a ride?"

"Something like that if we're lucky."

They slowly made their way down the steeply sloping trail while also keeping an eye on what was behind them. They may have found a way to hide in the forest, but they hadn't found safety. Though there was no sign of the searchers who had scoured the forest last night, Scully and Mulder had agreed it was highly unlikely that CSM's men would just give up.

Mulder reached the road first, but Scully was only a few steps behind him. It was at least another mile to the visitor's center. "I hope that visitor's center has a hot shower and a Denny's," he muttered.

She grimaced. "Can't you do better than Denny's?"

"IHOP then."

Scully grumbled something about a bran muffin and fresh honeydew melon. The idea didn't seem so great to Mulder. He was thinking more along the lines of a grand slam cholesterol fix. Just three quarters of a mile to go. Then he heard something. "Car," Mulder warned.

"Shouldn't we hide or something?"

He shrugged. "I was thinking more along the lines of hitching a ride. I'm too tired and filthy to think about hiding."

Scully didn't argue, that must mean she felt the same way. A car came around the bend. No, actually it was an ancient, battered VW van. In fact Mulder could almost swear it was. . .

"You two look like hell," Frohike announced as the van came to a stop.

Mulder shook his head. He must be hallucinating. "What the-"

Langly jumped out of the van and demanded, "Are you two going to just stand there?"

Scully nudged Mulder, and he started across the road. Then it struck him that Scully didn't seem surprised to see the Gunmen. As a matter of fact, now that Mulder thought about it, the Gunmen didn't seem surprised to see Scully either.

"What's going on here?" Mulder asked as he climbed into the van. "And where's Byers?"

"He's waiting at the visitor's center with a rental car," Langly explained as he threw a duffle bag at Mulder. "Frohike and I have been up and down this stretch of road half a dozen times in the last hour looking for you."

Mulder unzipped the duffle bag. "How did you know where to search for us?"

"GPS tracking device," Scully explained as she took a seat next to him and buckled her seatbelt.

With a nonplussed look Mulder asked, "What tracking device?"

Frohike snickered as he put the van into gear. "The one in her bra."

Mulder's eyes widened in a look of amazement.

Langly was riding shotgun, but turned in his seat to look at Mulder and Scully. "Oh yeah, we've had a bead on you two from the beginning, but we couldn't get close to you until now. Rangers wouldn't allow us on the back roads but they couldn't keep us off the public one. We've been up and down this pain in the ass until we know each and every pothole by heart. Nice hat, Mulder."

Mulder self consciously touched the dirty white bandage wrapped around his head..

Langly added, "And that's quite a shiner, Scully."

Mulder almost smiled when Scully touched her bruised cheek and looked as self conscious as he felt. Mulder said, "The guy who gave her that shiner probably looks much worse than she does this morning, and is walking crooked to boot."

Frohike glanced over his shoulder. "Oh yeah?"

"Eyes on road, Frohike," Mulder warned.

Looking toward the duffle bag in Mulder's hands, Langly told Scully, "Everything we talked about is in there-passports, credit cards, bank book. Everything you need to go totally MIA."

"Guns," Mulder noticed as Scully removed a Sig Saur P226 9mm pistol from the duffle bag. He arched a brow. "Any other surprises in there?"

Scully handed him a 9mm Beretta.

"Thanks." Mulder tested the weapon's weight in his hand, then checked the clip. Rummaging through the bag he found six additional magazines of ammo, a pair of Maglight rechargeable flashlights, two cell phones, two Swiss pocket knives, and a pair of handcuffs. He glanced at Scully.

"What?" She looked defensive. "I liked to be prepared."

"So I see." He returned to inspecting the contents of the bag. "Hannibal and all his elephants didn't pack this much gear to cross the Alps."

She zipped the duffle bag. "Hannibal and his elephants are a couple of millennia out of date."

This was certainly a woman who believed in planning ahead. Mulder caught Frohike's gaze in the rear view mirror. "Where are we meeting Byers?" Mulder asked.

"At the picnic grounds." Langly tossed a map to Mulder. "Those are the directions to a safe house near Cape Lookout. Pirates used to hide there during the 1700s. It should hide you too."

"A friend of mine made a killing with a dot com," Frohike answered Mulder's unspoken question. "He has a summer place on the Banks. I told him I needed a vacation so not even he knows that you two are there."

Mulder glanced at Scully. "Sounds like you made kickass vacation plans without telling me."

He thought he saw a sparkle in Scully's eyes as she said dryly, "You were difficult to reach at the time."

The van came to a halt. "Here we are," Frohike announced. "Hey, who's that with Byers?"

"Shit," Langly said in a low hiss as a stranger out from behind Byers. The bastard had a gun held to Byer's temple.

"Hit the deck," Mulder ordered.

He didn't have to say it twice.

Once on the floorboard they all looked at each other. "That's the guy who gave Scully the shiner," Mudler explained.

The VW's floorboard was littered with empty beer bottles and Cheetos bags which Scully gingerly pushed to the side before reaching to straighten Frohike's glasses. Frohike smiled.

I think Frohike's in love, Mulder mused.

"Now what?" Langly asked.

Mulder reached up to the seat and dragged the duffle bag to the floor. He opened it and began searching for the guns.

"You know what I want," the hitman called from outside. "Get out of the van."

Scully's expressive blue eyes met Mulder's, and he searched his suddenly blank mind for something to say. Something meaningful. The kind of thing the hero always said before he went to the shoot-out in the O.K. Corral. Unfortunately the only words wandering around his heard were R-rated expletives.

"Mulder's hurt," Scully called in a voice far too large for her small body. "He began hemorrhaging right after we left the research facility. I can't move him."

"What the hell?" Frohike asked under his breath.

The hitman insisted, "You get out then."

Mulder grabbed Scully's hand as Frohike cried "No!"

"Look," Scully said calmly. "It's not Byers they want."

"No, it's the two of us." Mulder's gaze narrowed. "I can't let you take this kind of risk."

"It isn't your choice."

"Let me do it," he insisted.

She gave a ghost of a smile. "I already told him you're injured."

"Scully-"

"You can't stop me this time, Mulder. Not so long ago I did what you wanted. I stayed behind. I've regretted it ever since."

"At least you lived to regret it. I'd like the same result this time."

She handed Mulder the Baretta. "That's going to depend on you."

"This is dangerous," he growled as he checked the ammunition.

"I know." Again Scully's expression lightened with what could almost be called a smile. "Look at it this way, for once you have my full permission to protect me."

Mulder looked at the gun in his hand and then up at the woman whose small form held the heart of a lioness. "There won't be much time," he warned.

"Almost none."

"Seconds."

Her gaze held his. "Mulder?"

"Hmm?"

"I believe in you." With those words she opened the van door.

Scully gazed at Mulder for just a moment. Her skin was pale and translucent in the morning sunlight. Mulder wanted to reach out and haul her back into the van, back into safety. There was a pain in his chest, as if an unseen hand had grabbed him and was sqeezing the last drop of blood out of him. He hurt, and he didn't need to be told that he hurt because of her. Mulder didn't want was to lose her.

"Scully..."

Her foot hit the ground and it was as if time slowed down as Scully stepped from the van. Every moment seemed to stretch like those in a car accident when you could see the crash coming but could do nothing about it. Every second stretched into an eternity.

Mulder saw the determination in Scully's eyes as she pulled away. He watched the way a single strand of her hair fell into her face as Scully straightened her spine and stood her ground. He saw the hitman shove Byers to the side, dragging the gun away from Byers' temple and aiming it directly at Scully.

There wasn't time to think, just react.

Mulder raised his gun and fired. And with the sound still ringing in his ears Mulder saw Scully fall to the ground.


It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. . ."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery "The Little Prince"


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Cape Lookout, North Carolina
5:14am

It was funny but Mulder had never before noticed how similar dawn was to dusk. Light streaked the clouds in various warm hued pastels even though half the sky remained dark. It was a precarious balance that would last only moments, but Mulder found himself wishing the twilight would linger just a little longer...which was curious for him. Usually it was the darkness that inspired his imagination.

Seagulls cried overhead, and as Mulder turned to watch their flight, his attention was caught by the beacon in the distance. It was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse which had stood vigil over the coast for over a hundred years. It rose above the dunes and the sea grasses in picturesque isolation.

Mulder sat alone on the beach contemplating all that had happened. So much had changed and had changed him. Mulder knew he should consider what 'they' had done to him and why, but somehow the questions seemed less important than searching his mind for memories of Scully.

Mulder had always been alone. And then suddenly he wasn't. And now?

"You've never been an early riser," Scully said.

Mulder turned to watch her approach across the sand.

"Have you slept?" she asked.

"I've slept." They had spent the night at the 'safe house' Frohike had arranged for them on the Outer Banks.

Scully wrapped her windbreaker more tightly around herself. "You slept well and yet turn up on the beach at the crack of dawn? Why am I not buying this?"

"I never said I slept 'well.'"

Mulder stretched his legs in front of him and waited for Scully to sit. When she did, she curled her arms around her knees and joined him in watching the horizon.

"What are you doing out here?" she asked softly.

"Thinking about the future."

"Found any answers?"

He gave a half smile. "So far I'm stymied by the fact that I can't find a way to talk about changing the world without sounding like a hippie."

Scully smiled. "Now that's a question for the sages."

Damn, he was glad she was here. The memory of Scully hitting the ground outside the Lone Gunmen's van would remain seared into Mulder's brain forever. He hadn't even paused to check whether his shot had found its mark before bailing out of the VW to go to her side. As Mulder had felt for Scully's pulse, Byers had stumbled toward the van. Looking up, Mulder had seen the assassin laying in an ever-growing pool of blood.

Then Mulder had felt movement at his side and turned to find Scully gazing at him with an amazingly calm expression. She had shown not one sign that her near death experience had disturbed her in the least. In fact she had sat up and matter of factly dusted off her clothes. "I thought it was best to give him as small a target as possible," Scully had explained.

Mulder hadn't been sure whether to hug her or shake her until her teeth rattled. Instead of either option he chose to give what he thought she most deserved-respect. Then Mulder blew the moment by saying dryly, "Well, you ARE short."

Scully had nudged him. "I meant falling to the ground."

"Oh, yeah." Mulder had stood and offered her his hand. "I knew that."

Okay, so he had been full of shit. The bravado act was to cover the fact that this incident would revisit him in sweat-drenched nightmares for years to come. He had nearly lost her. Mulder couldn't forget that as he watched the sun rise over the water, so he blindly took Scully's hand. She didn't say anything, just laced her fingers with his.

The sun was considerably higher in the sky when to his own surprise Mulder said into the silence, "They're coming, you know."

She didn't ask who. "I know."

"They have to be fought."

"I know that too."

He looked down at their clasped hands. "Are we going to be fighting alone?"

Scully tilted her head. "Meaning you here and me... wherever I'll be?"

"Yes."

"The answer is yes." It was that simple, succinct, and painful. She pulled away, and Mulder watched as Scully studied the way sand slipped through her fingers.

"I won't be here," she announced quietly.

"Are you sure?"

"Fairly sure." Now Scully looked at him. "She'll be here."

"Dana Waterston."

Scully nodded. "I have more of her memories every minute. I've even begun to 'remember' what she's done in my life since I've been here. She and Dr. Doerstling have developed sort of a consciousness rubber band theory."

There was a sinking feeling in his gut and Mulder intuitively knew what she was trying to explain. "You'll be snapped back to your own life." It wasn't a question.

"In theory." Scully stood and walked to the water's edge. Mulder didn't follow, but he contented himself with watching her back.

Finally he couldn't stop himself. He had to say it. "Stay."


He doesn't know, Scully reminded herself. He doesn't know how profound or cataclysmic a single word can be- a word like 'missing' or 'pregnant'...or 'stay.'

A single word could change your whole life. It had changed hers. She and Mulder had sat on his sofa discussing her experiences at the Buddhist temple while he was in England searching for crop circles.

Scully remembered Mulder asking, "How many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices? We don't know."

"But what if there was only one choice?" she had countered. "And all the other ones were wrong, and there were signs along the way to pay attention to?"

The last thing she remembered was Mulder saying, "All the choices would then lead to this very moment. One wrong turn and we wouldn't be sitting here together. . ."

Later Scully had discovered that she'd fallen asleep on the sofa and that Mulder had covered her with a blanket. The clock on the VCR flashed twelve but that gave her no clue about what time it really was.

She had started to rise then noticed Mulder standing silhouetted in the doorway, his back against the light. He'd had a towel slung low across his hips as if he had just stepped out of the shower, and he held a toothbrush in his hand. Mulder had said, "It's late."

"Too late?"

Something had flickered in his eyes before he shrugged. "I don't know. You've driven over here in the middle of the night more times than I can count. I suppose you can drive home the same way now. There's nothing to stop you."

"Do you want me to go?"

He'd looked surprised by the question.

Mortification washed over her. Scully jumped to her feet and began looking for her shoes. "I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't-" She glanced at him anxiously. "Forget I said that.

Scully was half way to the door before Mulder said, "Stay."

She didn't look at him. She was afraid to look at him. She felt stupid and awkward and the only thing she could think to say was, "What?"

"Stay."

She wanted to. The desire had been there before, but now it felt like compulsion. "I should go." She breathed into the silence. "This would change things."

Mulder shrugged. It seemed like such a nonchalant gesture, but there was nothing casual in his eyes. "Things change."

And there it was. A moment. A path. A choice. Go forward into the future or stand where she was, staring at a door, reluctant to walk though it but afraid to stay where she was.

Scully looked at Mulder, at his thoughtful, searching gaze. There was tension in him. There was a hint of uncertainty as he watched her. Oh, he tried to look confident and unconcerned. He tried to look as if he was in control. If she denied him, Mulder would laugh and pretend that this was just one more innuendo in a string of many. But Scully knew him too well. There was something in the way he fixed his jaw and held his shoulders. He was serious. He was waiting for her answer.

God, why was it so difficult? What held her back? This was Mulder, the man whose face she had seen almost daily for nearly eight years. There was almost nothing she didn't know about him or he about her. It wasn't even like they'd never had sex. The night he had come to terms with his sister's death they had sat holding each other until the embrace had turned into something different-something heartfelt and warm and giving. Something they had both desperately needed.

The next morning in silent agreement, they hadn't talked about what had happened. They had stepped back into their normal roles in each other's lives. It wasn't that what had happened had been a mistake. It had felt too right to ever be called a mistake. No, they had pulled away because they had both known that to acknowledge what had happened would be to change things. Forever.

That was what held Scully back as she stood halfway to the door. This wasn't a moment shaded with loss or grief or desperate need. This was the silence of the night. Stillness surrounded them and the only sound to be heard was that of their own breathing. Nothing pushed or pulled them to make a decision or a choice. Nothing but themselves.

Scully looked at Mulder. At the way he held himself motionless, as if he knew that to move would be to make this moment slip away, and it was a very important moment.

Stay or go?

But why go when she would only return here tomorrow? She always did. Scully returned time after time. She'd had a million opportunities to walk away, but she never did. Scully could have gone anywhere tonight, or countless days and nights before it, but she had chosen to be here...with Mulder...where she would always choose to be.

Scully blinked. How strange to realize that the most momentous decision of her life had been made so long ago that she couldn't remember when. Which was the the moment when she'd looked into his face and seen more than a partner, more than a friend? Which was touch of their hands that had started to mean more than comfort or understanding? Did it matter? Or was all that mattered was that it existed now?

Some things only became clear in hindsight. Scully couldn't pinpoint exactly when she had turned her back on any life save this one, but now she knew it didn't matter. It was as inconsequential as trying to pinpoint the exact moment when a child was conceived. All that mattered was that something extraordinary had been brought into existence.

Scully smiled at Mulder. Would it be enough? Please, let it be enough because if she had to find the words to describe how she felt, she would only garble them. Words could not equal her emotions.

Moments passed, and Scully saw the tension ease in Mulder's shoulders. A relaxed expression crossed his face. Scully gazed into his familiar eyes and saw all the understanding she would ever want or need.

Mulder reached his hand out to her, and Scully took it. She felt the warmth of his palm pressed against her own as he pulled her near. She felt his breath across her face, and the gentle pressure of his hand at the small of her back. And without a single word, her decision was understood by them both. She stayed.

Mulder, this Mulder, brought Scully crashing back to the present as he stood and crossed the sand. "We can fight this," he told her. "You don't have to go."

"I don't have a choice. I can feel it."

"But do you know it? Do you know without a shadow of a doubt that this can't be fought?"

Scully shook her head, but it wasn't a denial. It was only an expression of internal confusion. "Dana figured it out with Dr. Doerstling," she explained. "The switch between us was like a note being played, and now the vibration is fading. The very fact that I know this means that with every moment that passes more of her is here. What I knew of her before was long term memory. This was recent. My time here is almost up."

"Fight it. Damnit, Scully, what's there to go back to? A lone crusade?"

She lifted her chin. "Someone has to fight the monsters."

"Alone?" Mulder demanded. "Is that what we're reduced to? Fighting the 'good' fight but always alone?" Mulder seemed unaware of the way he began to shift and move as if there was more energy in him than he could contain. "Stay, Scully, and we'll fight the monsters together."

She gave him a watery smile. "Side by side."

"Marching forward one cursed step at a time."

Her smile died as Scully pulled away. "We have to think of the future."

"Funny, I thought that was what I was doing."

"No, I..." She lifted her hands helplessly. "I'm thinking of a different future."

"Yours and his?" Mulder said that like he thought her Mulder was an entirely different person. Then again wasn't that the way she had always referred to Dana Waterston? "He isn't there, you know," this Mulder pointed out with brutal honesty.

"I know." And the knowledge hurt. If she returned home, Mulder would be lost to her...again. Standing in the vibrancy of his presence it was possible to keep the loneliness at bay. Her grief, though still very real, seemed like little more than a figment of her imagination. This Mulder was real, and he was standing beside her. If she returned home, she would be alone. This could be the end.

Mulder approached her. Scully turned her head and held up her hand as if that would hold him back. It didn't. He gently swept his fingertips over her temple.

"Please," Scully said out loud while inside she pleaded, please, don't ask me to stay...and please don't let me go. It was a contradiction, but then her entire life was a contradiction. Science and faith. Skepticism and belief. Contradiction was her nature...and Mulder's. God knows, Mulder was a contradiction.

The heat of unshed tears burned her eyes. "Mulder..."

He kissed her.

Surprise rocketed through her, but as Scully felt Mulder's lips pressed against her own, she relaxed. Their mouths met, melded, then released only to meet again...and again...to taste, to touch, to cling. To break apart and to reunite.

Scully's hand moved over Mulder's shoulder. His hand smoothed over her back. She pressed herself against him, and he answered by holding her closer still. When Mulder lifted his mouth just a few inches above her own, Scully found that the limits of her vision was Mulder's face, and that his face was all that she needed or wanted to see.

"I have to go," she whispered and hated herself for doing so. "There's no choice in this."

Mulder threaded his fingers through her hair. "I want to say there is a choice."

"But there isn't."

"There are still questions to be answered," he told her. "The future to think of."

Scully confessed, "The future I'm thinking of isn't ours, Mulder. It's our child's."

Mulder stopped breathing. He pulled back and looked at her. There was no way to describe the way he looked at her. A lifetime of loneliness and searching and pain shadowed his eyes, mixing with something else. Joy? Satisfaction? Bemusement? All those things and more must shadow her own gaze as well.

Mulder pulled Scully against him. His arms enveloped her, holding her tightly. So very tightly. She held him too.

He placed an exquisitely tender kiss on her forehead as they stood being battered by the wind kicked up by the surf. They stood against it unbending and unbreaking.

At last Mulder said, "So you have to go."

Scully nodded because she couldn't speak.

"It'll be okay," he promised. "Do you believe that?"

Swallowing hard, Scully managed to say, "There's no acceptable alternative."

He smiled as he cupped Scully's face between both his hands. With his thumbs he gently brushed away her tears. They stared at each other for a wordless moment before Mulder kissed her one last time. It was an infinitely gentle benediction.

Scully sighed and rested her cheek against his shoulder. And reminded herself to breathe as the sun rose over the ocean and seagulls cried overhead.

This wasn't the end.


"Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can safely be exchanged for fidelity and happiness."
- George Santayana Skepticism and Animal Faith IX


Epilogue

Dana Scully's Residence
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
6:45pm

Scully slammed her hand over the snooze button of her alarm clock, abruptly cutting off the music. She didn't move. She didn't open her eyes. She waited-and prayed-for her nausea to pass. Maybe if she laid there long enough...

No. It was hopeless. A few minutes after running into the bathroom she walked out with a towel in her hand. Absently dropping it on the floor as she climbed back into bed. Then she stopped dead in her tracks.

Scully blinked and looked around herself.

It was her bedroom looking exactly as her bedroom had always looked. Nothing was different. Nothing. Her hand drifted down to her stomach. Her baby. She had her baby. She closed her eyes and took a deep, contented breath...then doubts began to creep in. Had it all been a dream?

She had told Mulder that it was entirely likely that everything she had experienced was just wish fulfillment. As Scully sat in her own tangled sheets looking at the familiar curve of her own headboard she had to admit that the dream theory made far more sense than any "alternate universe." It was beyond belief that a human being could fall into a parallel world, much less do so unharmed. Then to return to her old life in the blink of an eye? Impossible.

Scully looked at her relentlessly familiar surroundings. She gazed at herself in the mirror hanging over her dresser. Nothing had changed. There was not one anomaly she could point to that supported the idea that somehow she had defied the laws of logic to experience something that had never been definitively proven to exist.

How could anyone believe in something so extreme?

Scully did.

She lay back against her pillows with her hand resting on her stomach, intently aware of the tiny life that dwelled there. She gazed out her window and almost laughed at her epiphany. "I believe," she said out loud, and Scully was amazed at how good it felt to finally admit it. Then, more solemnly she whispered again, "Mulder, I DO believe."


Cape Lookout, North Carolina
5:14am

Dana Waterston sat with her toes digging into the sand as she studied the brooding expression of Special Agent Fox Mulder, a man who should be a stranger to her but wasn't. A man she had only met once in the emergency room. A man for whom she had shed countless tears as she sat in another woman's apartment.

Mulder looked over his shoulder at her. "I've been thinking. . . "

She looked at him expectantly.

He turned and approached her then crouched to meet her eye to eye. "About that evolutionary universe theory of Dr. Doerstling's, is it me or does it bear some similarity to the idea of a Platonic Ideal?"

Dana frowned and searched her memory. She had only read Plato in college, but from what she remembered Plato had said something along the lines that somewhere there existed a universal ideal, a template, and everything else simply imitated or reflected what truly existed in an ideal state.

Dana tilted her head to the side and said, "I'm not sure I follow."

"If all these universes are evolving, and evolving similarly, exactly what are they evolving toward?"

"The Ideal?"

A light entered his eyes. "The Platonic Ideal. The single destination that all of us are trying to reach. There may be billions of possibilities, billions of universes, billions of versions of us, but there is only one right answer."

He stood and offered his hand. "What do you think, Waterston?"

"That it sounds an awful lot like fate."

Mulder shook his head. "Not fate. We have free will. We make our own choices and mistakes. We can go down the wrong paths."

Dana felt his hand tugging at hers, pulling her toward him with gentle, constant insistence. As she rose to her feet she asked, "And exactly what is the right path?"

Mulder shrugged. "I don't know, but I have the feeling that I'm supposed to look for it with you."

She didn't say anything. But she didn't pull her hand from his as they walked down the beach...and somehow Dana Waterston found herself believing that at long last she had a sense of direction. She knew where she wanted to go and where she needed to stay -by his side.

The END


Author's END Notes:

Andre Linde (who is mentioned in the story) is an actual person who has written papers detailing a theory for multiple inflationary expansions. The theory of "evolutionary universes" was proposed by Lee Smolin of Penn State University. Both theories have been manipulated with a sci-fi/X-File slant and are not accurately portrayed in this story. Literary license was taken. The real theories are nicely summarized and explained in Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" ...which is an excellent book for any non-science professional like myself who is interested in learning more about string theory and the way it relates to the Theory of Relativity.

The song that the character Mike Stilgoe is singing and downloading off of Napster is "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden.

The song Scully hears in the bar is "(Are You)The One I've Been Waiting For" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

The songs that are implied to be playing on Scully's stereo were "Do What You Have to Do" and the acoustical version of "Possession" by Sarah McLachlan.

And if I could choose closing credits I would probably pick Sarah McLachlan's "Elsewhere."

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