Summary: In one short sentence: Mulder and Scully are spared from a plague that sweeps the earth.
Author's note: This is a long story. It is set after Memento, but before Gethsemane. [Actually, Gethsemane wouldn't have happened if this had.] Mostly it would fall into the category of angst, but it has a little bit of just about everything: Mulder/Scully romance including sex, mythology, a plot, and a [sort of] crossover. More information about Mission Genesis can be found at the SciFi Channel's page [http://www.scifi.com] or my page
I: First Do No Harm
The man sitting next to her on the plane was sick. He leaned dully against the window, sniffling softly every few seconds. Scully leaned away from him, trying not to breathe his air. She hated the recirculated, stuffy air on these long flights. She also hated sitting in the middle seat.
Mulder was on her other side, asleep with his head leaning out into the aisle. He was half-twisted away from her, with his legs stretched out into the aisle as well. Every attendant had tripped over him at least once. Sleeping Mulder was sweet, though, she had to admit. She'd been watching him for oddly long moments that she should have spent concentrating on her work or on the book she'd brought with her.
The young man sniffled again and Scully glanced at him long enough to catch him wiping his nose on his shirt. His red, watery eyes slid away, back to the window. She looked down into her lap. He half-choked, half-sneezed. She knew how that felt, drowning in your own head. Scully reached down into her bag and pulled out a small packet of Kleenex.
"Here," she said, offering them to him gently.
He looked at her, surprised. "Uh, thanks." His voice sounded like his throat was raw. She felt sorry for him. He fumbled trying to rip the packet open and finally, he freed one of the tissues.
"I have a decongestant, if you'd like to take it," she offered. Sometimes they helped make her feel better.
"I already took some stuff, but...sure." That explained the dopey look. He was not only miserable, but half
"So, what's your business?" he asked her.
"Hmm?" she asked.
"You and him. You're both wearing suits. I don't figure you're on vacation."
"What do you figure?" Scully asked. She was never really one for conversing with her seatmates, but she felt sorry for the boy.
"He's your secretary or something, right?" he asked, his eyes darting over to Mulder.
She laughed, soft and low. "No, he's not my secretary." She was going to have to tell Mulder that one. Maybe he'd even laugh.
"Well, I thought since you were doing the work and he was just sleeping, that you'd brought him along to carry your books or something."
She smiled. "No, we...we work together."
"God, I'm tired," the boy said suddenly. He looked like he was about to crash.
She patted his shoulder. He was shockingly cold to her touch. "You'll feel better in the morning," she promised him. His eyes closed and his head fell against the window. Scully sat back and returned to watching Mulder.
She'd gone to work instead of home after the plane landed in DC. It was there that Skinner called her into his office. She didn't know why and that gave her a nervous feeling in her stomach. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
She lingered by the door without actually going inside. She tried to keep her tone deceptively bright. Everything's fine, she tried to convey. But she didn't want this meeting.
"Yes, come in, Agent Scully." Skinner looked up from his desk, his eyes seeming to have trouble finding her before they focused on her face. It was late. He gestured to the chair opposite from the desk. The chair she always sat in when she and Mulder were here getting into trouble. But this time, she was the only one there. That was what worried her.
"Am I in trouble, sir?" she asked. She had no idea what she might have done wrong, but she already knew that it didn't take much to command disciplinary action when you were working on something so noticeable as the X-Files. You're only paranoid if they're not really out to get you.
"You tell me," he said, watching her.
"I'm afraid I don't understand -" He'd thrown her for a loop. Skinner could be a hardnose, but this was completely uncalled for. Obviously she was supposed to know what it was she had done wrong.
Skinner blinked. "Your health, Agent Scully. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine." How tired she was of saying that!
An uneasy silence settled between them. He didn't believe her. She refused to say more. Her health was her own business. She would deal with it. They watched each other, equally wary. Scully didn't understand that. What did Skinner have to lose?
"And the case?" He broke first.
"It's closed. The perpetrator was taken into custody by local law enforcement. Where he will remain for a long time." Skinner was still staring at her. The kind of look that made you wonder if you had an ink smear on your cheek or blood dripping from your nose. "If you don't mind my asking, why are you asking?" she said. "Why did you call me to come into this meeting?"
"I was concerned."
He didn't answer for a long time. Then: "You don't look well tonight."
"I just got off a plane."
"That's no answer."
"What exactly was the question? I seem to have missed it," she demanded. It wasn't worth making the effort to hide the way she felt. She hated the circular conversations and the insinuations and the lies.
"If you aren't well enough to serve out in the field, Agent Scully, I need for you to be honest enough to admit it to yourself. And to me. Before someone gets hurt."
She was shocked at the hard edge and accusation in his tone. "Agent Mulder's injuries on this case were both minor and of his own doing."
How dare he imply she would endanger Mulder's life, how dare he? But she was putting him in danger, wasn't she? It was that little spark of doubt that unnerved her.
"I'm fine." She was telling him as much as she was reminding herself. The look she gave him was close to a glare.
He got to his feet and she rose as well, thinking this farce of a meeting was over. "I'm only concerned about you," Skinner told her. His hand landed heavily on her wrist. With concern, she thought, looking up at him. She nodded and he looked away. The hand disappeared.
Maybe she should. She had to close her eyes in the elevator on the way down because it made her dizzy. But that wasn't one of her usual symptoms; she didn't see how it could be related. And it wasn't that bad. She was probably just tired. If she didn't feel better in the morning, she'd call her doctor, she promised herself.
It was a long ride home. It must not have been as late as it felt because public transport seemed more crowded than ever. She couldn't get a seat. The one night she really needed to sit down. She wrapped her hand around the pole and clung on. At least there was room to stand near the subway doors. She had trouble reaching the overhead grips on a good day. So what if she was bumped and jostled by everyone getting on or off the train? She was beyond caring.
By the end of the few blocks' walk from the metro stop, all she wanted to do was sleep. She was almost certain she had a fever. That worried her. There was no reason for her tumor to cause a fever unless it had entered her bloodstream and was increasing her white blood cell count.
She didn't think that had happened. She hoped it hadn't. All she knew was, she'd been fine in her appointment last week. Things couldn't change so quickly...could they?
But she above all others already knew a life could change in a heartbeat.
Hot bath and sleep, she thought, fighting with her front door as she did nearly every day. Her key worked, the manager told her. Sure it did - occasionally. Leaning one hand against the frame for support, she wiggled the key. Sighed. Tried it again. Blinked. Thought about ringing the manager's apartment and asking her to let her in. Tried it again.
Skip the bath, she thought. Just sleep, she decided, opening the door to her apartment.
The lights were on. She had *not* left the lights on for a whole week. She was careful about these things and paid attention. And it smelled like...tea?
"Mom, what are you doing here?"
"Where have you been?"
Oh no, she couldn't deal with an angry Mom. Not now. She plopped into a chair. "At work." It felt good to sit down.
"I have called everywhere looking for you, Dana! I was frantic!"
Her mother had completely gone off the deep end. She'd lost her mind. "Mom?"
"I called the hospital. Your work wouldn't tell me a thing. And then I started to wonder if you were here - " Her mother broke off and looked away.
It was enough. Scully knew what she had been thinking: if you were here, lying dead, like your sister. "I'm fine, Mom."
"You should have called me."
"Since when do I have to call you every time I go out of town, Mom?" she snapped, but then thought she sounded like an overrebellious teenager. The thought of it made her cringe.
"Since now, Dana. Since now."
She stared at her mother, stone faced. Angry and not wanting to let it show. Her head was beginning to throb. "I think you should go." It was all she could manage to say. And it sounded cold.
"I'm fine, Mom. I'm sorry you were worried. But this is my job."
"Maybe it's time for you to give it up, honey."
She didn't say anything. Refused to. She couldn't address that. It wasn't fair for her mother to have said it. "I'm really tired, Mom, I think you should go."
Her mother looked at her as though for the first time. "Are you all right?"
Why had she said anything at all? What was she supposed to answer - no, Mom, did you forget I'm dying? Neither of them could forget. "I'm just tired."
"It doesn't pay to wear yourself out. You need to save your strength." Her mother's eyes were wide, fixed on her.
"Okay. Then let me rest. I'll be fine in the morning."
"Have you seen your doctor?"
"A week ago."
"When do you see her again?"
"I don't remember, Mom. It's written down somewhere. I'm fine."
"Think about it, okay?" Her mother meant giving up her job. But it also meant her mother was giving up and was about to leave her alone.
Their conversation was finished.
"Okay," she agreed mildly, lying to placate her. This was her mother. She had to take care of her.
"Be safe." Her mother hugged her and Scully felt terrible. She felt even worse when she realized that was relief she felt when she closed and locked the door.
She fell asleep on the couch minutes later.
"This office looks like a bomb hit it," Mulder said the next morning, standing in the middle of the office. Scully had looked up when he walked in. "Even Skinner is home sick."
"I heard something about an epidemic. Had your flu shot?"
"Nope, had yours?"
She shook her head and went back to her papers.
"You feeling all right, Scully?"
She looked back up at him. Mulder had come a few steps closer and was looking at her intently. She had to wonder why. "Why do you ask?"
"You look a little pale, is all," he said. His casualness was not nearly enough to cover the worry he wore in every look and line of his body.
She put her hand on his arm. "I'm fine, Mulder," she told him, looking into his eyes. The way she had a million times before. Most of those other times, it had been a lie as well. Not that it was as big a lie at this point as it had been those other times. She was fine - as fine as any woman could be with an inch long tumor in her head.
And she did feel a little under the weather, but that was probably just a cold. Caught from the kid next to her on the plane, no doubt. A cold couldn't hurt her.
"You just stay that way," Mulder ordered her. His eyes held hers, and she heard the undisguised desperation in his tone. One of these days, they were going to have to have The Conversation. She didn't want to, but it was becoming inevitable. She just wished she knew which one it was going to have to be.
The Please, Mulder, you've got to get on with your life conversation? Or the We've been lying to each other long enough, Mulder, you love me and I love you, so what are we going to do about it conversation? She was dreading both of them. She'd had each in her mind a thousand times in the past months. Sometimes they worked out wonderfully. Other times, just thinking about it brought tears to her eyes. Not the fantasy material of a normal woman, she thought. They were both so final in their own way.
"Scully." His voice brought her out of her thoughts.
She didn't really have to ask. The tone of his voice packed an entire sentence into just her name. And now that she was paying attention, she could feel it. The warm ooze on her upper lip. "Shit." The word slipped out. She could taste the salty copper of her own blood.
She pushed her chair back and got up, reaching for the tissue box she now kept on the edge of the desk. Somehow she missed it and upset her pencil cup, sending half a dozen round objects clattering and rolling across the desk and onto the floor. For a second, the room swam in front of her eyes. Scully grabbed the tissue like it was an anchor and sank back down in her chair.
"Are you all right?" Mulder hovered, concerned.
"I'm fine." Same old automatic lie. She pinched her nose and tried to breathe through her mouth. She wished this would stop. Suddenly her head was pounding, and she was embarrassed. And frustrated that this kept happening to her. It made her feel so helpless.
"I'm sure it's just a touch of the flu. You should have seen the kid sitting next to me on the plane yesterday. He was really ill."
"Maybe you should go home and get some rest."
"Maybe I will," she agreed. He looked at her, surprised. She'd never taken him up on his advice before. But she didn't want to allow herself to get really sick; she couldn't afford to let this get any worse. Her eyes suddenly felt sandy and her head ached. She tried to hide even from herself how frighteningly weak these attacks left her.
It was more psychological than anything. She never lost much blood; it was the knowledge that this time it had been an unimportant blood vessel breaking. Next time she might not be so lucky.
"Need someone to tuck you into bed, Scully?" Joking Mulder was back. He was scared, too.
"In your dreams." She smiled at him. "See you tomorrow."
"Scully, turn on the news."
His voice was in her ear before she even realized she'd answered the phone.
"Mulder, what's going on?"
"Channel six, Scully, hurry."
She yawned and blinked, wondering what on earth was going on in his head now. She hit the button on the remote control, sitting up stiffly on the couch. It was after ten? She'd been asleep for almost seven hours. And she was still tired. She yawned again and tried to focus on the television.
They were showing a doctor and some worried looking people. The newscaster was speaking in dire tones. Business as usual. "What's going on, Mulder?" she said into the phone.
"People are dying," he said and his voice sounded hollow.
She looked at the television again, but the volume was too low for her to discern much. By the time she raised it, the program had gone to a commercial. "What?" she asked. "I don't know what you're talking about. Help me out here."
"This flu. It's not just the flu. People are dying. That's what was on the news. The emergency rooms are full, and people are beginning to panic."
"It's true," he told her. "They said something like 100 people have died in the last twelve hours."
"What are they dying of?" she asked, frowning as she muted the television, which had returned to cover a story about hookers on Capital Hill. Even people dying wasn't important enough to bump sex off the news.
"I don't know. Flu stuff? I wasn't really paying attention. This is scary, Scully," he told her.
"You're right," she agreed. "But it's the elderly and the very young who are most susceptible. And those figures have to be inflated."
"The boy they showed - the first victim - he looked about twenty, Scully. He should have been healthy."
"You never know," she said. Mulder sounded really worried. That was what alarmed her most. He didn't usually jump to conclusions or unfounded panic.
"How are you feeling, Scully?" His voice was cold. And then she understood. His mind unfolded to her. She wasn't healthy to begin with. She was feeling mildly ill. He thought she had gone home to die of this thing.
"I'm fine, Mulder."
"I need to hear the truth," he practically growled at her.
"That is the truth," she assured him. "I think I still have a low grade fever, but my sinuses are clear and my head doesn't ache any more."
"There's something else you need to know, Scully."
She waited for the rest of his sentence. There was no rest. "Mulder?"
"I - um - don't really know how to say this."
She began to feel panic race through her. "Just say it, Mulder. Whatever it is."
"Skinner's been in the hospital since last night. It...doesn't look good."
"Oh my god, Mulder," she said, drawing in a shaky breath. She felt as though she'd just been dropped from a great height. "He was - I talked to him yesterday and he was okay."
"It's so fast, Scully."
There was a faint click in her ear. Call waiting. She felt her skin crawl with dread. It had to be her mother checking up on her. "Mulder, I've got another call, can you hold on?"
"Don't hang up," she ordered him and pressed the button. "Hello?" she said, fully expecting to hear her mother's voice.
"Yes?" The bottom fell out of her stomach. Suddenly she was very, very cold. "This is Dr. Chappelle at the Annapolis Medical Clinic. I'm glad you answered your phone. I'm afraid I've some bad news. Your mother..."
Scully just closed her eyes. "Thank you for calling me," she whispered when the woman finished speaking. Hot tears oozed out from under her eyelids. She pressed the button, but couldn't make any words come out.
"Scully, are you there? Are you all right?" Mulder sounded desperate.
"Mulder, my mother's dead."
"I'm coming over."
She tried to choke out a protest - a thank you? - she wasn't sure, but the line was already disconnected.
She sat on the couch, numb, until he came. She knew she needed to think, to plan, but nothing came coherently into her dully aching head. Scully opened the door when Mulder knocked. One look up into his eyes was her undoing. She had promised herself to be strong. She dissolved into tears when she saw him.
His arms would have been so warm around her. So strong. So gentle. But she turned away before he could touch her. "This wasn't supposed to happen, Mulder." She wiped the tears away, but she could feel her eyes and nose were swollen.
"Scully, I'm so sorry."
"This is terrible."
"Your mother was a wonderful person."
"I have to go there."
"I'll drive you."
He was so supportive. So calm, yet not ignorant of the pain she was in. He felt it too. How could he not? She knew that things had transpired between him and her mother when she had been taken. Scully had asked him to tell her mother the thing that she couldn't face - that she had cancer.
She hadn't even told her mother herself.
She remembered the horrible scene in the Allentown hospital when her mother arrived, so scared and so angry.
She remembered the scene last night.
"Mulder -" She'd broken into tears again and couldn't help crying his name. "I did it again."
"I didn't tell her how much I loved her. How could I have not told her?"
"Scully, it's all right, she knew."
"She was here last night. We argued. I was cross with her for caring about me. Now she'll never know."
"Scully - " He had no words.
"I know better, Mulder, but I never learn. I didn't tell my father. I didn't tell my sister. And now I didn't tell my mother. This is my fault."
"It can't be."
"But it is," she sobbed, embarrassed but unable to halt her grief. She was overwhelmed as she never had before. Almost her entire family was gone. Soon she too would be gone. Perhaps sooner than she realized. And that was the reason she should have known better. She sniffled. "Let's go."
"You need a coat, Scully," Mulder reminded her gently.
She grabbed hers from the chair near the door and pulled it on. It seemed too large for her suddenly. She wrapped it around herself and went with Mulder to the car. It was a long, silent drive to Annapolis.
The hospital was madness. The parking lot was overflowing with cars. People lined the hallways inside, two and three deep, waiting for treatment. Their eyes were haunted. Scully knew she was looking at death. They appeared as wraiths already, beings departed from this world but too angry to leave entirely.
"I need to see Dr. Chappelle," Scully said to the charge nurse behind the counter.
"What is this about?" the nurse asked calmly. "Have you got it too?" The lack of emotion in her voice was betraying. The reason patients sat untreated in the halls was because there was nothing the doctors and nurses could do for them. They admitted them and waited for them to die.
Had her mother been ignored and left to die as well? Scully's confused emotions found anger, and she relished it. "No, I haven't got it. I've been crying. I had a call that my mother had died. I'm here to make arrangements."
Mulder couldn't help admiring Scully's matter of fact manner. She was strong.
"There are no arrangements to be made."
"They have been made for you."
"Please explain yourself, Nurse..." Scully's eyes found the identification badge the woman wore. "Nurse MacCoy."
"This is an epidemic. We have to do everything we can to stop its spread before more people die. I'm sorry about your mother, ma'am, but she's already been cremated. If you give me her name, I can tell you what time."
Scully felt all the blood drain out of her head. It was as close to fainting as she had ever been. All the while, she felt an overwhelming anger. Toward the hospital, at the nurse, at the world...she wasn't sure. Perhaps all of them. "Margaret Scully."
A few sharp clicks of fingers on a computer keyboard. "She was one of the first. It was about eight this morning. We tried to reach you all day, but there was no answer at any of the numbers we had. Staffs are down, of course. I am sorry."
Scully noticed the nurse was staring at her. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"Last night. About ten p.m. Why?" Scully bristled.
"This thing's got an incubation of about twelve hours. But if she'd infected you then, you've been a goner yourself long before this. She must have picked it up just after you saw her."
Scully shivered. "I'd like to speak to Dr. Chappelle, please."
"She succumbed a little over an hour ago. Apparently just after she phoned you. She was ill; that was why she was making calls rather than treating patients. Helped until the end. Admirable."
Scully gaped at her. This was so morbid. And the nurse was so calm about it, as though it meant nothing to her. "What about you? You've been in contact with this thing all day, what do you know about it?"
Sensing the woman's hesitation, she added, "I'm a doctor, and I'd like to do what I can to help."
The woman's gaze never faltered. "I've got it too. I've been on shift about seven hours. I've about five hours left."
Scully stepped back immediately, without thinking. "Mulder, get out of here," she ordered.
"Scully?" he asked, his voice close at her ear and instantly attentive.
"Go out to the car, now. And wait for me. You have your cell phone?"
"Scully, I don't understand."
"Just go." She couldn't allow him to remain in danger. If she too was infected, she'd call him and tell him to leave her here. This was so terrible, but she couldn't afford to lose her head now. Life and death decisions had to be made in milliseconds. She understood how the woman before her could be so calm about her own certain demise. Scully felt Mulder leave her side. When she was certain he was gone, she turned and looked to make sure. She didn't want to tempt him back with eye contact.
"Tell me everything you know," she ordered the nurse.
"I don't know much. It comes upon you suddenly. It's like a bad cold. And then...you're gone. Does something terrible to the insides."
Scientific, Scully thought. "The incubation is twelve hours?"
"The course is twelve hours. Give or take a bit. Depends on the person. But generally, twelve hours. The cases first started coming in last night. Reached their ends this morning. Like I said, your mother was one of the first."
"How is it transmitted?"
"Not airborne, or we'd all have gone the way of the dinosaur right now. The CDC reports outbreaks across the nation, but the highest concentration of deaths so far has been here in the DC area."
"Not airborne, but obviously highly communicable," Scully said.
The nurse nodded her agreement.
"Has anyone been able to isolate its elements? Track its course?"
"It's been hard," the nurse said gravely. "Everybody who works on it...only has their twelve hours to give. That delays progress."
"Oh my god," Scully recoiled, horrified.
"Perhaps you'd best go," the nurse suggested. "Before it's too late."
Scully just stared at her. Slowly, she began to move towards the door. "There's no test?"
Already she could feel it ticking by her. Her palms were sweating and she was afraid. Not for her own death - even though she had yet to face her own mortality in any concrete terms. She feared Mulder's death above all else. She could not be left alone in this world. Take me before him, she prayed to that god she had forsaken long ago, a god who had seemingly turned his back once and for all on his strangest of creations - man.
"Don't come back," said the nurse almost cheerfully. "There's nothing we can do for you."
Scully closed her eyes and left the hospital. She was trembling when she pulled at the door handle of Mulder's car. He looked at her, watching as she pulled the door firmly closed, and locked it, and wrapped her coat more closely around her body.
"This is terrible, Mulder," she said, her words weak in the face of what they had to convey.
"Skinner's dead," he said in an empty voice.
She looked at him.
"Apparently, he's been dead since early this morning. But the bureau just found out. The records were careless. It's a wonder he wasn't lost forever."
"But he is lost forever," she whispered.
"No funeral," Mulder said in that same dead tone. "Everyone's too afraid. And mandatory cremation has been policy from the first."
"She said there's nothing they can do. All those people, coming here for help and...there's nothing they can do," Scully said, scared and amazed at how helpless she could feel.
They looked at each other for a long time.
"We have to get out of here," Scully said with some urgency.
"And go where?"
"Just drive," she said, "I'll keep us on track."
They stopped at a convenience store on the border of Maryland. It had been ravaged and was now deserted. They got out of the car together and looked at the destruction. Scully was reminded of another time, another place - back when the world was simpler and more amusing. Her problems had seemed like so much, but next to this there was nothing.
A town gone mad over the possibility of killer cockroaches.
An invasion orchestrated by the media, like the one in "War of the Worlds." Only slightly more tangible.
"We can't run from this, Scully. It's everywhere," Mulder said as they stood side by side looking at the store.
She let her head hang, defeated. "I know."
"Either of us could be infected at this moment."
"We're not," she said.
"How do you know?" Mulder actually looked worried.
"We'd know. The nurse said there was no test for it. Yet all of those people knew they had been exposed, that they were dying. It's only a twelve hour period, Mulder. Not so very long that you wouldn't know."
Mulder didn't say anything. He turned around and walked to the car. He lifted the gas pump they'd pulled in next to and fitted it into the tank. She watched him. A sad, solitary figure. A tall, healthy man. A beautiful man. She loved him. Perhaps she always had. It didn't matter now.
But when had it ever mattered more?
Everyone else had gone out of her life without a word from her. She'd tried to ring her brothers from her cell phone in the car as Mulder drove, but had been unable to raise either of them. They were no doubt gone.
Already everything was ravaged. The radio stations were beginning to go off the air.
Twenty four hours and the world had changed. Where would they be in the next twenty four? If they were even still alive.
Mulder replaced the gas nozzle. "There must have been a run on gas too. I don't know if that's enough to get us back to DC."
It was simple math to figure it out, Scully thought, but didn't say anything. She didn't care enough to do the figures herself. She just got into the car next to him.
There was a news radio station broadcasting as they headed back to town, back to where they belonged. They listened in silence, like those listeners all those years ago must have clung to Orson Welles' voice to give them some clue in the madness. Had all those people ever really believed and panicked at the suggestion of an alien invasion?
Her eyes fell to Mulder.
Maybe it wasn't so hard to believe.
They kept giving the name of the first known victim in the area. Someone to blame. The media never changed, did it? A young boy, about twenty. His name had been Mike. Scully could picture him...an average kid. With a sunny disposition and a quick smile and the whole world to look forward to.
The whole world to infect.
Why did it make her think of the kid next to her on the plane?
He had all the symptoms.
But she wasn't infected. If it were him, she would be infected, wouldn't she? She'd be dead by now.
She was blaming herself where no blame was due.
She couldn't help thinking there was a connection.
"Scully, are you all right?" Mulder asked out of the blue.
"I'm fine," she told him.
Her hand immediately snaked up to her nose, seeking out an unnoticed nosebleed. There was none. "I didn't notice I was doing it."
"You said this morning you thought you had a cold."
Contracted from the kid next to me on the plane, she thought. "It isn't this. It can't be. Or I'd be dead already."
"It could knock your immunity down, Scully. You have to be careful," he said softly.
"Because I have cancer." Her lips twisted bitterly around the word.
How ironic could you get? Survive a plague that was killing thousands, apparently, only to die of cancer sometime later. Because all the doctors had died trying to treat the plague. "I'm fine," she told him.
"I don't want to be the only one left," he said, in a voice so low it seemed to resonate softly through her. He'd ventured close enough to touch her, brushing her hair back with his hand on her forehead in an imitation of taking her temperature. She was sure he was doing what his mother had done when he was a child, a gesture that had given him comfort, and that he had no idea the actual purpose of the touch.
She liked it when he touched her. She leaned into his hand, yearning for more. Then she pulled away.
Remembering. Skinner's hand on her arm.
They were both dead.
It wasn't airborne.
All those people bumping her in the train car last evening...
"What have I done?" she asked, shocked at her realization. She looked at Mulder, wide-eyed. "What have you done?"
"Don't touch me again!" she warned, getting out of the car. Why hadn't she noticed when they'd stopped?
Mulder followed her, getting out on his own side of the car. "What's going on here?"
"It's transmitted through skin to skin contact." She met his eyes. "But neither of us is infected. Or both of us are."
"No," she told him. He looked at her as though the tumor had begun to push into her brain and affect her reason. "I was infected on the plane last night."
"Not if I didn't die."
"But everyone else has died within 12 hours," Mulder argued.
"I can't explain it. I was next to that kid. The sick boy, I'm certain he was the first carrier. Skinner called me into a meeting. My mother was at my house. They both touched me, and now they're dead."
"Scully, you're hysterical."
"I'm not," she informed him.
"You're suffering some sort of acute survivor's guilt, probably brought on by what you've experienced and sublimated with your father and sister, and now your mother."
"You have to listen to me, Mulder. I know exactly what I'm saying. I just infected you. We have to do something to save your life."
"You think you can find a cure where everyone else has failed?" asked Mulder.
It did sound insane, and she faltered.
"Why do you think you would survive and become a carrier when everyone else has died?"
"I can't explain it, Mulder."
"Because it doesn't make any sense."
"You want to set yourself apart? You want to feel special in this, Scully?" asked Mulder roughly. "You want to feel like you matter?"
He was getting closer. "Don't touch me, Mulder."
"That's part of it too. You don't like to be touched, you want to be solitary. To stand on your own. At all times." His voice was so rich, she thought. "There's nothing wrong with a touch, Scully. And you're already special."
His arms went around her.
It was all over.
She hadn't the strength of character to pull away from him. She savored the feeling of his body next to hers. His fingers caressed her face, soothing her. Wiping the tears away. Making promises. He was so warm and she felt so cold.
"You're special because I love you."
"Mulder, no -" It made her stir against him, try to push him away. But she didn't try hard enough. He was stroking her hair now. "I've needed to tell you since I found out about the cancer. Before it was too late. What you said...you never get another chance. I've never had the chance to tell the people I've loved how much I need them. The moments always passed too soon. Not this time."
"Mulder, I -" She was embarrassed. Of all the inappropriate emotions.
"You don't have to say it."
But he kissed her then, so maybe she really didn't have to say it. For those few seconds she allowed herself, he was her entire world. Perception began and ended with her skin, with the way he was touching her. With her mouth, and his against it. With her nose and the way he smelled. Her eyes were closed. There was nothing but them.
Pulling away was the hardest thing she had ever done. "We have to get back and figure this thing out."
He nodded but he looked sad. Rejected. There was an ache in her chest. She wanted to touch his arm. To smile, to tell him she loved him, to kiss him again...but there wasn't enough time. There was never enough time.
She had to save him. So they could have the time they were entitled to. In a ravaged world. She got back into the car, sitting quietly in the passenger seat and fastening her seat belt. Mulder joined her a moment later. They didn't speak, but not for lack of words that needed to pass between them.
He was sniffling before they reached DC.
Scully walked into George Washington Hospital and no one noticed her. No one said anything to her. It was too far gone for that. The ER was not a bustle of activity, the way it should have been. It was quiet.
"This is creepy," Mulder whispered to her, his breath close on her ear. She couldn't help shivering. As in Annapolis, there were people sitting on the floor like refugees. Some of them stared up at her and she wondered what they saw. Two healthy adults, two privileged people who would soon be knocked down as in a revolution? Did they see their own ignorance of mere hours before? Or were they beyond caring? Some of them were. A lot of the bruised-looking eyes were closed. There was the stillness of death.
That stillness was something Scully knew intimately. The tiniest movement can ruin an MRI. It took all of her concentration sometimes, lying still as death inside that tube, waiting. She walked directly into the room where records were kept. No one cared enough to stop her. Mulder followed her, seeming a little dazed. She quickly found her own file and pulled it, handing it to him as she located his file.
"Scully, what are you doing?"
"Taking our medical records."
She didn't really know why. She just knew that she needed them. She didn't want to be without them in the days ahead. Their records were theirs. It was important information. And the information age was about to end.
She suddenly remembered a research paper she'd written on the Black Death all the way back in middle school. It had fascinated her adolescent morbidity. She'd wondered then, who buries the last of the dead, the man who had buried everyone who has died before? Who buries him? Who says the sacrament over his grave if he is the last?
She went back and looked for Skinner's file. She didn't know why. She put it into Mulder's hands like the others.
She didn't look at him. She was trying to think. "He died of it. Maybe there will be answers in there."
"Something no one else has seen, but you'll be able to see?" It wasn't like Mulder to question her like that. He was upset about this situation.
"I don't see anyone looking very hard for answers, Mulder. Where are the researchers? Where is anyone?"
They both knew the answer: Dead. There was a box of sterile gloves sitting on the counter. Scully thought of grabbing them and taking them with her. But she froze with her hand dangling over the box. Images filled her mind of other doctors pulling gloves from the box. With dirty, already infected hands. She couldn't bring herself to touch it.
"Where are we going?"
It was an excellent question. She hadn't thought that far ahead. "The FBI building." She longed for her familiar labs. The always freezing morgue, familiar in so many ways.
Mulder didn't ask why. He followed her the way she had followed him all those times before. She had his faith. She could feel the weight of it bearing down on her. "How are you feeling, Mulder?"
He gave a little cough, one she'd heard him give before. It wasn't entirely faked this time. "I'm okay," he told her.
She broke her strong stride then and turned and looked at him. He met her eyes. "I need to know the truth, Mulder."
"It is the truth." He coughed again.
She was going to need diagnostic tools, she thought. Her manner softened for just a moment. "I'm so sorry, Mulder."
"This isn't your fault, Scully." She turned away and began to walk again. "I'm serious," Mulder told her. "You did not cause this. Don't let guilt eat you alive."
She bit her lip, unable to believe him. She didn't know what to say; didn't know what to think or to feel. If she stopped to try to figure it out, she would dissolve into tears and fears and never return. She had infected countless people. "We need to stop at a store. Get supplies," she said in a voice less worried than she felt.
Mulder put his hand on her arm and spun her around to face him again, somewhat roughly. She looked up at him, surprised. Sometimes she forgot he was a foot taller than her, and male, and strong. Most of the time she worked to forget it. The look she gave him bordered on a glare and her tone was harsh. "Don't touch me again, Mulder."
"If I'm already infected, what does it matter?" he countered. There was something dark in his eyes.
"Are you infected, Mulder?" she asked in a small voice.
He didn't answer right away. "Possibly. Probably. I don't feel that bad. How long has it been?" She looked at her watch. "An hour and a half."
"Ten and a half to go." Scully cringed. "Don't say that!"
"Scully, if I only have ten hours to live, I'm going to enjoy them."
It sounded a warning.
"We have to get supplies, we have to get to the lab. I'm not going to let anyone else -" hell, be honest - "I'm not going to let you die of this, Mulder." A fierce whisper was all she could manage. She was so tired suddenly.
Defiantly his fingers encircled her forearm. Not hard enough to bruise, but making a point. He leaned in close to her, bending down slightly to put his face close to hers. "Didn't anyone ever ask you that question when you were a kid, Scully? What would you do if you only had a day left to live? What would you do? How did you answer that?" She had to close her eyes against the pain. "You think I haven't thought about that, Mulder? Planned my last days, my last hour, my last months? I've rewritten my will so many times I can list everything I own. This doesn't change anything."
"Why doesn't it?" he asked her. "What are you so afraid of?" She didn't know. A bubble of panic, completely uncontrolled, welled up in her chest and she could only look at him.
"It's not dying you're afraid of, Scully," he told her. "It's living." She felt as though she'd been slapped. She yanked her arm away from his hand, snapping their connection. She turned away and started walking, her face burning. Because he was right. She wanted to look back and make sure he was following, but she couldn't. After a moment, she heard him sigh, and then cough, and then start after her.
"How's the congestion?" she asked him.
"Not bad." She imagined fluid filling his lungs. "If you have trouble breathing, tell me."
"You are walking too fast," he quipped. A joke. She let out a rough breath that under better circumstances would have been a laugh and slowed her walk. He took her hand, his long fingers stroking her skin.
"I'm not going to stop, Scully. I like touching you. It gives me pleasure." Her stomach rolled with his words. There was a time and a place for desire - she'd always believed that - and this was neither. "Perverse pleasure, because that's how this is transmitted."
"It doesn't matter now."
"You're not going to die of this thing." A vow to herself as much as to him. He didn't answer. "I wish I knew the course of this thing, that it had been charted somewhere."
"It probably has been," Mulder said mildly.
"Look in Skinner's file." How long did the germs survive away from their host's skin, she wondered. Could they still be living on the folder, waiting?
"There's nothing," Mulder told her.
"Damn it." They'd reached the FBI building. It looked cold and sterile. There were no tourists rushing by on the streets. No vendors of hot dogs or ties or newspapers. Scully walked up to the door and found it locked.
Strange how a place you go every day can become so foreign when you stop to contemplate it.
Usually a guard opened this door.
There was no guard there now. Scully banged on the door, but no one appeared. She pounded harder, feeling desperate. She had to get in there!
Mulder pulled her hands away from the glass door, stopping them. She looked at him. "Don't hurt yourself," he said gently. "Use your shoe to break the glass." He was thinking more rationally than she was. Why was that? She was so tired...was it the stress of being so upset over this that clouded her thoughts? She needed to be thinking. She slipped off one of her high heeled pumps and shot Mulder a look before splintering the glass with it.
No alarms sounded. No one cared.
Instead of putting her shoe back on, Scully slipped the other one off as well. Might as well live dangerously, she thought.
Mulder put his hand on her shoulder.
She looked up at him and realized he was three inches taller than he had been when she was wearing the shoes.
"You'll cut your feet."
"My shoe is full of glass." He didn't say, "I'll carry you," but she could see his intent in his face. She didn't fight as he picked her up, but she didn't feel comfortable either. It seemed so silly. It seemed so very weak. With two broad steps, Mulder crossed the threshold into the building and then let her down.
Her heart was pounding and she didn't know why. She looked at Mulder and he looked like he was breathing hard. "Am I so heavy as that?" she asked, half joking.
His mouth turned up in half a smile and he shook his head.
Her amusement turned to distress. "Are you all right, Mulder?" she asked urgently. "Are you having trouble breathing? And you look flushed." Without thinking, she placed the back of her hand against his cheek. He was hot. She slid it down his face, feeling.
He turned his head and kissed the back of her hand. She pulled away quickly, her eyes widening on him. "Your hands are cold."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have -"
"I'm not," he told her. That look was back again. She found it hard to draw a deep breath. Just as Mulder had found it difficult. Suddenly she understood. Why the look made her feel so oddly threatened - he wanted her.
If only skin on skin didn't transmit the disease...
But he already had it.
She couldn't make love to him if he was going to die. It would make things too difficult.
God, don't let him leave me. The thought made her too lonely to bear it.
"We have work to do," she said and started for the basement. Mulder was at her side.
The building seemed different. The air felt different. Even their familiar office seemed forbidding. Silent and still. Scully sat down in her chair to think, propping her head against her hands and closing her eyes, willing herself to concentrate.
She could hear Mulder moving about the room. Unable to keep stationary. She could feel him watching her. There was a slight click and he turned on the radio.
A reporter's mournful tones filled the silence. Mulder favored the all-news station at work. Suddenly Scully felt a yearning need to know what music he listened to at home, when he was alone in his apartment in the dark of the night. Soulful, bluesy rock and roll? Music with passion you could feel? The man on the radio reminded her suddenly of the Hindenberg broadcast. Only his words were much more stunning and horrible.
"The last President of the United States has died. Four former presidents have succumbed in the previous day's time. With the Vice President gone and Congress decimated, it is over. In the end, we have gone without a fight. As it has been in nations throughout the world today, losing leaders and citizens alike. Few remain now, and those who do..." the reporter's voice crumbled. He fell into silence. Oh, the humanity. Mulder switched the radio off and she looked at him. His eyes were wet. As were her own, she realized.
They looked at each other for a long time, mourning. Thinking that they were thinking identical thoughts.
"What do I have that they don't?" Scully whispered finally. Mulder looked at her, his eyes refocusing as though he didn't understand.
"I've survived...why?" It hit him the same time it hit her. "Cancer." She discarded it almost as quickly. "There are people the world over who live with cancer, Mulder. If they were all living where the rest had died...someone would have noticed before now." Mulder nodded.
They stood looking at each other even longer. Then Scully went to the computer and turned it on. Mulder followed her, hovering behind her shoulder as she dropped into the chair, giving the machine her attention. She could feel his question: what are you doing? without his having to ask it.
"The internet," she said. "Global information."
"Would people be on their computers with this going on?"
"Wouldn't they?" she asked. "Just as they'd be glued to the TV, listening for the latest in the media. As the media failed them, they'd look for other sources. We can't know how many people have shut themselves into their houses to try to survive this. Here." Quickly she typed her ID and password and then contemplated where to begin.
It was overwhelming. An outpouring of angst and sadness. She couldn't look at it, it was all too deeply affecting. Tears began to cloud her vision. She'd just lost her mother. Her boss. Her friends. Her self.
Mulder sniffled wetly behind her and it reminded her of the urgency.
Typing in familiar URLs, she combed for reliable medical information.
Journal writing had trained some of these doctors well, she thought.
They'd converged to consult on the web, rushing to post their findings, so that they might benefit others.
Much of it was as she had suspected and already figured out for herself, but there was no hint of why she had become a carrier rather than a victim. The reports of the disease's effects were miserably incomplete. But there was a timeline of symptoms. She bookmarked it and rose from the chair, practically stumbling over Mulder.
"I need to do hands on research," she told him.
"I'll be here," he said.
She paused. She wanted to insist that he come with her. She didn't want to let him out of her sight. Not a moment without him, never again. Her pride wouldn't let her say it. "I'll be back soon," she promised him. He nodded gravely and she went out of their office.
Strange as it had been in there, it was still their haven, their nest of the familiar in such odd times. She went up the stairs and stopped in shock, sagging against a wall as her knees went weak. There were dead agents in the halls.
The building had become a mausoleum of workaholics, those who hadn't let their illness keep them from their work. Work rendered useless.
The victims' families were probably dead or dying. As were the criminals.
It gave her something to work with in the lab.
She returned to the basement office as quickly as she could. The autopsy had been terrible, and had afforded few answers. Perfunctory and hurried, it had still taken the better part of an hour. Now, standing outside the door to their office, Scully was afraid to enter.
Afraid of what she might find.
She pushed the door open and looked in. Mulder was sitting at the computer. For a second, she was frozen. He wasn't moving.
Then the screen flashed and she realized he was working the computer.
He still lived. She was so relieved. She walked into the office, closing the door behind her. She wasn't sure why, except that she could almost feel the presence of all those dead agents behind her. She wanted them on the other side of the door.
Mulder didn't look up from the computer. "Find anything?"
"Not really," she said. He didn't really have to know the terrible consequences of the disease. "How are you feeling?" She didn't touch him.
"I'm behind the timeline," he told her.
"The timeline could be subjective or wrong. We don't know."
"And I'm beginning to feel better," he added.
She didn't say what was in her mind about darkness before dawn.
Instead she glanced at the computer screen. "Reading alt.conspiracies always makes me feel better," she joked.
"Where else to look for facts on something of this nature?"
"Let me guess, Elvis brought the disease with him from Mars," she said, unable to find mirth in it.
"No, but you ought to see what I found on alt.UFO," Mulder told her.
"I don't think I want to know," she admitted, moving away and sitting down. She looked about the room.
"Scully," Mulder said in a soft voice. It prompted her to look at him. "Abduction," he said gently.
Instantly her skin began to crawl and her head thundered. "No, Mulder."
"It's what you have that they don't have, as you put it," he said. He was serious. His eyes held hers.
"So you found that all the loons on the internet who think they've been spirited away by aliens are still around?" she snapped, irritated. She didn't ask herself why even after all this time she couldn't accept the fact of her own disappearance. She had in no way begun to deal with it, even years later.
"Well, why not all?" she snapped. "There's so many people getting kidnapped by aliens, the streets shouldn't be empty! What are the figures up to now, Mulder? One in four will be abducted by aliens? The same statistic as rapes among women?" Why the hell had she said that?
He was giving her that look again. The one that implied he thought she was being hysterical, and he pitied her for it. "Are you able to hear me out?" he asked her honestly and patiently.
"You have a theory," she said and her voice turned out weird. It sounded like a sigh on the verge of tears. She took a deep breath. She *was* in control, she told herself, even if she didn't feel it.
Mulder nodded. She waited. When she didn't say anything, he began.
"I think there are two kinds of abductions, Scully. The run of the mill alien kind - lights in the sky, being frozen in bed, missing time." She nodded. "What's the other kind?"
"The other kind is what I believe you experienced. At the hands of men. Government men conducting experiments."
"You finally believe me," she whispered. She hadn't intended to say it. The thought just slipped out.
"I think that somehow, your abduction has rendered this plague inactive in your body."
"You think the government created the plague and unleashed it on the unsuspecting population of the world," she extrapolated.
Mulder's eyes were clear and bright. "Yes."
"Why?" She didn't want to believe this. Why did it make sense in that twisted unreal way?
"I think it has to do with the Project."
"What project?" She was leaning forward in her chair now, as was Mulder. Leaning towards each other across the space of the room.
"*The* Project. The one that the smoking man has something to do with. The tags in the smallpox vaccinations. The files in that mining tunnel. I think the plague was designed to facilitate the next step of the Project."
"Domination. They effectively wipe out the world's population with this plague, leaving only their clone colonies, who are designed to be immune. The leaders of the project have become the rulers of the world, vaccinated against this disease of their own making." It was all so simple in Mulder's mind. "You think they accidentally vaccinated me against it too," she said, her voice flat.
"The branched DNA that put you into the coma, Scully. It could be why you haven't contracted more than a mild form of the disease. You and other abductees who underwent similar..." there was a tiny pause as he sought the proper word, "treatments." She looked down. "The truth is, we don't know what happened, Mulder," she murmured, her voice incredibly small.
"We do know," he said, his voice at the same time growing richer and louder. He was walking towards her. He crouched before her chair and took her hands in his hands. She flinched, thinking of the disease, but he didn't let her pull away. "You know what happened, Scully." She shook her head. "I know what happened. Kurt Crawford was one of the clones. I met several of his...type. In a room in a fertility clinic that had your name in its files. There were other clones growing there. And more files. Of women's' ova. Taken from them to parent the clones." She didn't say anything. It hurt. She instinctively drew her hands in, holding the pain in, unaware that she was unconsciously pressing his hands against her belly as well. She swallowed hard, feeling nauseous.
She did know most of this already. But it still hurt so much. She had to draw a small breath, wet her lips, before she could speak. "What about you?" His hands rubbed closer against her. Comforting somehow. "Do you remember Ellen's Air Base?" She opened her mouth, surprised: a yes. "I don't," he said wryly. "They did something to me there." He didn't mention his experiences in Russia.
"I'm immune too." She fell against him, pressing her face into his neck as she hugged him tighter than she had ever held anyone in her life. "There are others," she whispered.
He patted her back, holding her close. Breathing deeply. They were both enjoying this embrace.
Too much. She withdrew. "You didn't come up with this all yourself, Mulder," she said, looking at his face.
He didn't even look disappointed that she doubted him. "No," he said and there was something beyond sadness in his face. "The Lone Gunmen,"he said. She knew from his tone that they had to be dead and she swayed. Her eyes closed against the wave of memories. Frohike in her kitchen. Langly being kind. Byers...
"I'm sorry, Mulder," she said.
"You lost your mother."
"It feels like we've lost everything," she said.
"Not each other. Not hope." She didn't remind him of the ticking time bomb of cancer in her head.
"We have to stop them," Mulder said fervently. "We have to keep them from profiting from these deaths."
"How?" she asked. "Where do we begin?" He squeezed her hand. "We just do."
II: To Protect and Serve
The world was cold and silent. The sun still shone and the buildings still stood, but the streets were empty. Mulder and Scully emerged from the FBI building to look at this new world. They stood together on the wide sidewalk, looking, as the sun turned the sky to scarlet and slipped beyond the horizon. At one point, Mulder reached over and took Scully's hand in his. A promise. In the end, this new world would be theirs.
Not by destruction, but by creation. By hope.
Not very far away, another man stood by the thin coated glass of a high rise building and watched the sun set over the city. He enjoyed a cigarette as he did so, inhaling and savoring the smoke as the sky turned colors and eventually settled into darkness. He enjoyed the darkness - it was his natural habitat. And he had just had his sunset, leading into his domination. With luck it would stay night for a long, long time.
This had been in his part his idea. He had carried it out. Done his duty, along with others who had served the same cause. This was his victory.
The city was black. A few stray lights shone, forgotten in horror, most likely. There weren't many. Not enough to worry about.
Everything had gone according to plan. He could relax now and enjoy the rest of his life. "One of the commandants." A man who he'd had killed had once called him that. He was right. That was why he was dead.
The man never stopped to ask himself what was the point of his accomplishment. He never stopped to ask himself why it had been done.
And so, he could be content.
The scientist lowered his head between his shoulders, dipping it deep, almost to his chest. The muscles ached. He took a deep, shuddering breath and then sighed. His eyes closed for a moment and then he opened them. He had been sitting on this stool in the lab for how many hours now? He'd lost track. Too many. Yet he couldn't leave. What he was doing was too important.
Why was it important? He had to ask himself the question. He had yet to think of an answer. He was so tired. Shakily, he got to his feet and walked around the small room. It was buried beneath the earth, a basement with thick concrete walls and no windows. He had no idea of what was going on outside at that exact moment. But he knew.
The plan had been carried out.
His protests had not even registered.
His work here was more vital than ever. No longer to improve the life of human kind, but to sustain it.
"Where do we begin?" Scully asked, looking up into Mulder's face in the half-light of evening.
"I have a few leads," he admitted. His voice was raw. She knew he was thinking of the Lone Gunmen again. "But not tonight." She nodded. "Where do we go?" She felt utterly lost. The city was enormous and empty around them. They could go any one of a hundred places. Which was why there was nowhere for them to go. She didn't want to leave him. She was too afraid when she looked for him again, he would be gone.
With her hand still in his, they began to walk. It would have been rush hour, had it been a normal day. There were no cars on the streets - people had gone home, gone to friends, gone to hospitals to die. The few who were left were hiding in fear of contamination. Scully felt a sudden crazy urge to find them so she wouldn't feel so alone. But she wouldn't want to meet new people, to feel for them, knowing they would die. Knowing she would make them die.
Thank god Mulder was with her.
Thank god Mulder was safe.
They ended up walking for a long time. They went to Mulder's apartment. He packed his overnight bag. She stood by his side as he looked at the apartment and then slowly turned and locked the door behind them. He was saying goodbye.
They went to her apartment. Her overnight bag was just inside the door. She picked it up and walked into the bedroom, leaving Mulder behind in the living room. She looked around, surveying her belongings, the things that made this place home. Had Mulder suffered this same dilemma of what to bring and what to leave behind? Why did neither of them believe they would ever see home again?
Did they think they were going to die? What did they unconsciously believe was going to happen?
She didn't know. Maybe because she didn't want to.
She took longer than Mulder had. She picked up the framed photographs that were in various spots around the room, looking at them. The faces of family and friends already long gone.
There would be no more.
Turning her mind away from the hurt, she began to pack. Quickly she picked out her favorite clothes - the black pants, the gray sweater, the comfortable shoes. The clothes didn't seem important. She found herself putting supplies into her bag as though they were never to be found again - tampons and aspirin and shampoo and a razor...what had Mulder put in his bag? she found herself wondering, trying to think ahead to his needs.
She was being silly, she told herself. They could have whatever they wanted. Thousands of abandoned drug stores, their shelves full of goods, lay across the country. Plenty for two people for as long as their lives lasted.
Would Cancerman's army of clones try to kill them? It hadn't occurred to her before.
She didn't have an extra box of bullets, anyway.
She took a last look about the room. The little cat figurine. The books on the shelves. The hot rollers. Everything.
She opened the top drawer of her nightstand and pulled out the slim notebook there, suddenly unwilling to leave it behind. She'd written in it at what she thought was her darkest hour - feeling abandoned and alone in a hospital, nauseous with poison in her system, ready to die.
She put the book into her bag.
Her hand moved to close the drawer, but the photograph lying beneath it caught her eye. She'd forgotten she'd buried it there. It was merely one of her baby pictures her mother had given to her, but the emotional impact it had on her at that moment was staggering.
Holding it in both hands, she crumpled onto the bed, tears tracking down her face almost instantly. Her mother...her sister...her father...
Her thumb tracked over the smiling child's hair, a vivid gray in the black and white photograph.
Her eyes looked so dark in this photograph. Wide and already questioning the world.
There would be no little redheaded children in her future. No more Scullys. No more of anyone. But she didn't know if she was mourning the loss of so much or if she was merely beginning to mourn her own personal loss.
It suddenly felt as though there were actually living babies who had developed in her body and been wrenched away from her.
"Scully, are you all right -?" Mulder stopped in the doorway, seeing that she obviously wasn't. "What happened?" He was by her side in a moment, sitting on the bed next to her and stroking her hair ever so gently.
"I'm okay," she said. Her head felt thick. She struggled to sit up and found herself pressed against him.
Mulder's eyes were close on her. He brushed her hair out of her eyes.
It was though he was searching her face to decide if he should believe her. He saw the photograph in her hands because there was nowhere she could hide and he slid it out of her fingers.
She watched him look at it. After a moment, his eyes returned to her face. Asking. "You?"
"Mmhmm," she murmured.
His eyes dropped down again, studying it more closely, knowing it was her. "Why are you crying?" She didn't want to say it. It was too stupid. Too weak. She feared sounding like one of those horribly desperate hags so often seen in TV-movies titled things like, "You Stole My Baby." She shook her head.
"Scully?" His fingers touched her skin again as he touched her hair.
"It's all over," she said softly.
"It's not," he told her. His fingers squinched in her hair, massaging her scalp.
"The things I'll never have...and everyone...everyone's...Why us, Mulder, why does the responsibility always fall down to us?" She was ashamed of herself, but she couldn't hold it inside. Not any longer.
"Ssh, Scully, ssh." She loved the way he said her name. He pulled her head against his shoulder and she went willingly. Had he really said he'd loved her? Had that really been just this afternoon? It felt like ten years ago. She knew it was wrong to, but she liked being stroked and petted by him. She liked to feel comforted. It was reassuring to feel so close to another person...to feel someone else caring about her.
She felt him press a kiss against her hair.
It took her back in time. The other times he'd held her. Other times she had been vulnerable and had suffered terrible personal losses.
How must he feel? she wondered.
She turned her head and pressed her lips against his skin. He was hot. His cheek was rough. He pulled back and looked at her. She looked back. "I'm all right now, Mulder," she said. It was a promise to herself and to him that he would never see her so emotional again.
She wished she could find the words to tell him she would be here if he ever needed a hug, or to break down and cry. But he knew...didn't he?
Just like your family knew you loved them, Dana?
She turned her head and kissed him again, surprising him. His body was rigid against hers for a moment, as though he'd been attacked, and it took a moment before he could respond. She kissed him urgently...desperately. Her mouth and tongue seduced him, drawing him deeper as she began to tug at his clothes.
"Scully -" He was out of breath. His hair tumbled down into eyes that seemed to contain endless depths.
"I want you," she said.
"That's fear talking."
"Tell me you don't want me, then." She met his eyes, challenging him.
He couldn't say it. She knew he wouldn't be able to. "You said you loved me."
"Yeah," his voice was almost inaudible. Was he ashamed or embarrassed?
"Then you must want this as much as I do." He lifted his head when he heard her words, looking surprised by her boldness. She stared at him.
As though she was memorizing his face for some time later.
"More," he said, and he was the old Mulder again. The one who took up so much space in her heart.
"That's not possible," she informed him. Holding his eyes locked with hers, she took his hand and guided it up under her skirt. She knew her panties were wet. She watched his eyes change. Savored that moment before he kissed her again.
They tried to take their time. To be gentle with each other, to enjoy what they were doing. But they couldn't. A sense of urgency drove them both to breathlessness. She tore at his clothes, and he seemed to be of the mind they'd be better off if they just ignored hers. The skirt was easily pushed up, after all. But when he went to put his mouth on her breast, she stopped him long enough to pull her blouse off.
He didn't linger long, kissing her there, and she didn't want him to.
She was frantic to have him inside her. So crazed with desire, and yes fear, that she met him up on the bed. She put one leg over his hip and forced him into her. For a second she couldn't breathe because it hurt - he was big and she was small and it had been such a long time - but it dissolved into a lovely kind of hurt. The kind that drew the blood down out of her head and made the world go fuzzy in time with the throb inside.
She gave a strangled cry as he moved with her down onto the bed. He groaned and the sound ignited her. She struggled against him, striving for something that had always seemed to be just slightly out of reach.
And she found her oblivion.
She opened her eyes slowly. She was in her bed. The way she'd imagined a thousand times or more. Tangled in Mulder's arms. His lips were close to her cheek and his breathing was still rough. His body felt warm and strong. She felt oddly cold.
He was finally here with her.
And just look what it had taken to get him there.
She swallowed and found her throat strangely dry. It hadn't been anything like she'd imagined. When she'd thought about it, dreaming on days past, she'd pictured this moment one of two ways. In one version, it was like a romance novel, with moonlight and candlelight and long, loving touches that went on past dawn as they took their time to explore every inch of each other, to experience and try everything there was to try.
The other way she'd imagined it, when she was being cross or moody or just plain old practical, was that it would be a scene straight out of real life. Some night, they'd come together uneventfully a motel in the back woods of UFO country. There wouldn't be love or even particular passion. Perfunctory kisses, the sanitary snap of prophylaxis, a tingle or two and lots of friction. Maybe he'd kiss her and roll away, sweaty.
She'd never imagined passion and overwhelming fear driving them to a feverish mating. And when she thought mating, she meant it. They'd behaved like animals. Desperate, in heat. Needing something and needing it now. It had been exciting. But now she had to wonder if it had any meaning.
She'd wanted him to comfort her. She'd wanted to bind them together.
She'd wanted for a moment to forget the horror of the rest of the world. She wanted to make sure she had him before she lost him.
Most of all, she'd wanted to make sure he knew she loved him by giving him this piece of herself.
Now she wasn't certain what she'd given. It felt more like a cheap trinket from a dime machine than a priceless gift.
She wondered what he was thinking as he stared at her, not moving. Did he feel an odd dissatisfaction and regret that maybe it had been too soon? She turned her head and looked at him. Their eyes didn't really connect. There was no real communication. Like turtles, they'd drawn into themselves for protection.
They were more alike than they cared to admit.
"We'd better go." She forced herself to rise from the bed, to dress and shoulder her bag and to walk out of the apartment without looking back. A moment later, Mulder appeared by her side. She put the key into the lock and closed the door. A wish to someday return and find things as they had been in saner times.
They ended up in a motel downtown. They didn't discuss sharing the room, it just happened. She wasn't willing to let him get that far away from her and she imagined he felt the same way. In a few days, their desperate closeness would grow wearing. For now it fed on panic and a real terror of being alone. She was a person who knew how to be by herself. She'd been on her own in one way or another for her entire life. She could fend for herself. But this was different.
Out there, she would be truly alone.
She had to admit it, she needed her partner. And she knew it was him she should be admitting it to, but she couldn't. It made her grab a pen and begin to fill the pages in the notebook.
For a little while, she worried that Mulder would notice what she was doing. That he might come over to her and ask to read what she was writing. She felt self-conscious about it. Writing was something she did in the course of her job, because it was required. But that was work, it wasn't personal. Even though now she was only setting down the facts of what had happened - not exactly personal - she knew it had the potential to become so.
She knew Mulder had looked at the book when she was in the hospital.
When she'd written in more than three well chosen words just how much she loved him. He'd never mentioned it again. He'd never felt the need to act on it...until now. His revelation that he loved her should have shocked her, but it didn't. What they'd done in her bed really should have shocked her. She'd absorbed it quietly, as she'd absorbed everything else. For now, it felt like nothing had happened. Maybe her emotions were working on a time delay...months from now it would hit her. She didn't know. It didn't seem normal, but what could she do but accept it.
Mulder was staring out the window. She found herself looking over and watching him for long moments at a time. She wanted to know what he was thinking. What he was feeling. She doubted he felt the same about her. She didn't understand this newfound need to understand him, nor the one to cling to him.
Things had changed.
When she stopped fiddling with the pen and dropped the book back into her bag, he turned around. The timing seemed significant, but she told herself it was self-consciousness talking.
"How are you doing?" he asked her in a careful voice.
She hated it. She'd been emotional in front of him more than once today. Now he felt he had to look after her. "I'm fine, Mulder."
"How's your head?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I'm worried about you."
"There's no need." He went back to staring out the window and she wondered why she'd closed him out again. Sighing, she stretched out in the bed and crossed her arms over her chest. She closed her eyes.
"You don't look very comfortable." His voice had grown closer.
She opened her eyes. The light suddenly seemed brighter. He was sitting on the other bed, looking at her. "You look like you're waiting for something to interrupt you and you want to be ready," Mulder elaborated.
"We don't know what's going to happen tonight."
"You're right, we don't." Why did his words make her feel a frisson of desire? "Do you think he'll come after us?"
"The cigarette man. You said this was his project."
"What makes you think he knows we're alive?"
"You think he doesn't know about the immunity?"
"Even if he does, why would he believe we could be a threat to him?" Mulder asked. "He's got what he wanted. He holds the cards now. All of them."
"Do you believe we'll be a threat to him?" she asked directly.
"I have to believe it, Scully."
"We'll need a plan."
"And more information and some help," Mulder added.
"We never needed help before." Why did she suddenly feel threatened as though their partnership was merely an official thing and with no more protocol, he was looking to dissolve it?
"Didn't we?" asked Mulder dryly. "Get some rest." He walked back over to the window, shutting off the light as he passed it. She watched him as he sat in the darkness, staring out. He looked scared...or was she projecting her own emotions onto him?
She was tired and it was making her confused, she decided. She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep.
She didn't see that Mulder was looking at a stolen black and white picture of a baby who had grown up to be someone important to him.
She wasn't sure what it was that woke her, all she knew was it was very dark and she was sitting up in bed, feeling afraid. Scully looked around but saw nothing. She listened to her heart pound as everything came crashing back to her.
She heard him before she felt him. Mulder sighed and the sound came from close by. A second later she felt his arms wrap around her waist; his body press up against hers. She turned and found him shaking, lying as close to her as he could manage to get. His eyes were closed.
Like a small boy who'd had a nightmare.
She was touched. Something warm and oddly happy spread through her chest, dangerously close to her heart. He trusted her. He needed her just as much as she had needed him in the past. All of these feelings weren't pitifully one sided. She was relieved.
The relief only lasted a moment. When she reached down to touch him with her hand, she found his skin damp and shockingly hot. She realized his hair was soaked with sweat. And yet he was shivering as though he'd been left out on a cold night without a blanket.
He's got it, that ominous voice in her mind proclaimed. You did this to him.
"Mulder, are you all right?" she asked.
His voice was strained and trembly. "No." Her heart sank. "Can you sit up?"
"Dizzy." She pushed at his hair again, feeling his forehead. It was a futile move.
"Yes?" She was afraid of what he was about to say.
"You have a fever," she told him. "A high one."
"I meant, can I have a glass of water?" She jumped up from the bed immediately, seeing to what he needed. The tap water smelled oddly like chlorine, even though she let it run for a few seconds before filling the pitifully small plastic cup that had been left on the edge of the sink. Mulder lay on the bed and watched her.
"Here you go," she said, sitting back down. He made no move to raise himself up or to even reach for the glass. She closed her eyes for a moment to gather all of her strength into the center of her being, and then she pulled Mulder up against her.
He managed a few small swallows. Even those didn't seem to be easy for him. He squeezed his eyes shut tight. "Thank you," he whispered, putting the glass back into her hands. Then he let himself slide back down on the bed.
"Can you take some aspirin?" she asked him, now glad she'd put the bottle into her bag. She wished she had some antibiotics, even though she knew they would ultimately have no effect on a virus.
She started to get up from the bed to get the aspirin and to see if she'd put a thermometer into her bag. In the middle of a plague, she seemed to have forgotten an awful lot of vital equipment.
Mulder's hand seized her thigh. "Don't leave me."
"I have to get the aspirin."
"It's okay," he told her. His hand never moved from her leg. "Just stay."
"Okay, Mulder. I'll stay. Anything you want. I'll be here." She reversed her position out of fear and nothing else. She'd never heard Mulder sound like this. Her eyes fell on the glow of the digital clock. It had been almost twelve hours exactly since he'd touched her.
She'd done this to him.
She was going to lose him.
She closed her eyes and held him with all her might.
The dawn woke her. She couldn't believe she'd slept. Its rays were lightly pink and cast the room into brilliance. Scully felt very cold for a moment until she realized Mulder was nuzzling up against her.
And he was warm.
Not fever hot.
Not deathly cold.
His legs were against hers and his mouth was open. His breath hit her stomach at regular intervals. His head seemed to fit perfectly into the inward curve between her breast and her belly. She threaded her fingers through his hair. It was dry. The fever had gone.
He was sleeping a lot like a baby.
If she moved she would wake him.
But she had to move. Slowly she began to edge away from him. As soon as she felt the cool morning air hit the parts of her body Mulder had left warm, she heard him groan.
"You're awake," she said.
He groaned again, sounding amazingly like Frankenstein's monster.
Mulder wasn't much of a morning person, from the looks of things.
"How do you feel?"
"I'd feel better if you stayed here," he murmured. She continued to move away. "Where are you going?" She didn't answer. Since his eyes were still closed, she began to quickly change her clothes. She didn't know why she didn't want him to see her. She'd made love to him yesterday afternoon. She'd spent the night with her arms around him.
"You're beautiful." He was watching her.
She froze, but only for a second. She didn't want to show him her dismay. "You're delirious."
"What happened last night?" She looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"I don't remember how I ended up here." She could feel her eyebrows rise. "You had a fever and you crawled in with me."
"Was I welcome?" That smirkish smile twisted his lips charmingly.
"I was terrified for you, Mulder," she admitted. She had to turn away, ashamed - afraid? - of her honesty.
"Scully?" His voice had turned soft.
"What?" She found her own had gone snappish.
"Have you ever been to the Pentagon?" Still the same seductive tone.
Scully let out a sigh of relief and a crazy desire to laugh. He was going to be fine. Trust Mulder to see the opportunity in anything, even this. The world disappears overnight and he sees it as a chance to find the truth.
"I think I took the tour when I was a kid," she said lightly. When she turned to look at him, he was sitting up in the bed, looking at her.
She couldn't help the smile that split her face. Mulder grinned back at her.
"What time do you suppose they open?" he asked her. "Nine?"
"Let's set our own schedule," she suggested. The moment before them stretched on a little longer. Then Mulder threw back the covers and started to get out of the bed. Scully felt panicked; she felt like he was getting up and coming after her. Something made her certain he was going to touch her and she felt equally certain she couldn't deal with that. She mumbled something and went quickly into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. She didn't come out until she could breathe normally again.
It wasn't him she was afraid of. It was her reaction to him. Her feelings for him. They were so strong, she didn't know what to do with them, except to bury them.
When she opened the door, Mulder was waiting on the other side. He brushed past her, going in as she came out. Their bodies touched. He didn't seem to notice. Scully went to the window and sat down, staring out and wondering what he had been looking at so intently the night before. All she saw was the blinding sun and the strangely sterile world.
They left immediately after Mulder emerged from the bathroom. They brought their belongings with them. Even with no one to trust, they were willing to trust no one.
Getting to the Pentagon wasn't as easy as they'd seemed to think it would be. They ended up stealing a car from a driveway only a few blocks from the motel. Scully found herself watching the house as Mulder worked at the lock. She was somehow convinced someone would come out of the house and yell at them to stop. When it didn't happen, she felt strange.
She thought about it as Mulder drove. She'd always had the thought somewhere in the back of her mind that if there was no one around watching her, she would be free. Then she would be able to do anything she wanted to and not care about seeming foolish. Suddenly Scully would be the sort of girl who didn't mind singing off key at the top of her voice out in public. She'd give in to the urge to dance when a good song came on, no matter where she was. She'd steal and break things and do whatever she pleased, so long as it did please her.
But now she felt even more overwhelmed by fear than she ever had. With no one watching her, there was no reason to fight. There were no appearances to keep up. There was no reason to struggle, nothing to struggle against.
Society wasn't keeping her from telling him she loved him.
The only thing holding her back was herself. It bothered her, knowing that she would never be free.
Without Mulder, she would just be alone.
"Here we are," Mulder said.
Scully thought about how many times she'd imagined cruising down the highway at the speed for which it was designed, if only all that damn traffic would go somewhere else.
She felt guilty.
She was a doctor; she should have done something to stop this.
Instead, she'd spread it and not even had the decency to die herself.
But she didn't want to be dead. She'd lied all those times she'd said death was a comforting thing and nothing to be feared. It terrified her. Because she was afraid of the unknown.
She realized that was what she was feeling now, instead of being free. She was afraid of the unknown within herself.
Her head jerked up. Mulder was looking at her quizzically. "Sorry," she said, feeling a twinge of embarrassment.
"Thought I lost you there for a second."
"I was thinking."
"Are you ready?" He met her eyes.
She nodded. He didn't mean, are you ready to break into another horribly abandoned building. He meant, are you ready to face the truth?
She wondered if he was. Mulder, finally learning the truth? She'd always thought it would destroy him.
She nodded and got out of the car. Mulder joined her and together they walked determinedly toward the building that symbolized so much of their country. Its strength. Its defenses. Its paranoia and its lies.
When the first of the shots whizzed past her, it took a moment to realize was it was. "Mulder!" Scully said sharply, looking at him, but he knew too. For a second they stared at each other. Then they realized it was stupid to stand there and wait to be shot at again.
They could drop to the ground and wait for the shooter to walk over and kill them personally.
They could run and take their chances that his aim was less than terrific.
"Run!" shouted Mulder, and they did. Scully could hear the shots being fired. For a split second, she wondered why they didn't fire back.
The shots were coming from the Pentagon. It was manned. They had been fools to think the country's most secure fortress wouldn't be able to protect itself from something so simple as disease. Scully was certain it would get them in the long run.
Unless they were the ones who had engineered the plague to begin with.
She had better things to worry about at the moment. Suddenly she was glad the Pentagon was surrounded by trees. All they had to do was make it to the edge of the parking lot, and they would be out of sight.
The shots sounded deafeningly loud as they split the otherwise still air. She didn't know if Mulder was beside her any more, she was too busy concentrating on running. She just had to assume he was there and he'd be all right. He had to be all right.
With a final burst of speed, she reached the cluster of trees. The shots seemed to stop. Hands reached out and grabbed her - hands that she instantly knew were not Mulder's.
"This way. Hurry." The words were practically whispered to her. She turned her head to look for Mulder. The hands on her body pushed her, urging her on. Her hand shot out and was captured. Mulder. She could breathe again.
The fall colors of the trees swirled around them as they went into what seemed to be a dark, dense forest. Scully's vision was starting to clear and un-tunnel from her panic and her running. A man was at her side and he seemed in that crazy moment to belong to the forest itself.
Mulder trailed behind them. She could feel the tug of his weight on her hand, hear him crashing through the woods.
Just as quickly, their surroundings changed. Cement walls grew up around them, dank and musty and cool. They met in a low ceiling.
Florescent lights sprouted from it. Until they were standing inside a laboratory not so different from the one Scully had once been assigned to at Quantico.
Mulder's hand tightened on hers.
Scully stood and looked at the man who'd led them out of danger. She couldn't help thinking they'd moved into more danger by following him, even though he didn't really look threatening. He was shorter than Mulder and had a thin, wiry build. He was wearing a loose pair of blue scrubs with white tennis shoes. His hair was white blond and spiky, his eyes wide and bright blue. He was scientist, like herself. That she already knew.
"Why did you do that?" she asked.
"Who are you?" Mulder asked at the same time.
He answered Scully. "I had to do something. What do you think you're doing out here, anyway?"
"Looking for something," Mulder said. He was putting on his tough act.
He must really be scared, Scully thought.
"Thank you, in any case," Scully said and was aware of not sounding very sincere. She realized something then: he hadn't been afraid to put his hands on her. Maybe it was the panic of the moment, but she didn't think so. "Where are we?" she asked.
"A secret government research facility," he answered.
Scully's eyes slid to Mulder. He nodded. It stood to reason. "Who are the men in the Pentagon?" Mulder asked him.
The man's shoulders gave a faint shrug. "Government. They're the ones pulling the strings now. They came in late yesterday. Once the team in the biohazard suits had come and gone."
"You're one of them," said Mulder. A statement rather than a question.
"Once," he admitted.
"You're here in their lab," Scully pointed out. She wanted to trust him, but she knew that trust had to be earned. Or it would get her and Mulder killed.
"Long since sealed off and forgotten. Highly concealed. I cleaned the place out, brought in my own equipment."
"When was this?" Scully asked.
He didn't answer. But it was clear enough: he had known the plague was coming. The three stood in silence for a long moment, studying each other. Then the scientist asked, "Coffee?" Scully broke into a smile, surprised. "I'd love some," she said, rather enthusiastically. The scientist's eyes shot to Mulder, who nodded coldly. Then the scientist turned energetically and left them alone.
"I don't like this, Scully," Mulder whispered.
"He knows something," she whispered back. Mulder waited, almost challenging her as though he didn't believe her. "He wasn't afraid to touch me back there in the woods." Mulder's look turned scornful, but she refused to acknowledge it.
"Thank you," she said brightly when the scientist placed a steaming mug of coffee into her hands. She watched Mulder secretly and saw that he wasn't so gracious.
"No cream or sugar, sorry," said their host.
Scully sipped her coffee. It was hot and fragrant and shockingly strong. She'd forgotten after years of tempering her coffee with sugar and cream. It was good.
Mulder held his but didn't drink.
"You're right not to trust me, of course," the scientist told them. "I don't know what I could say to make you believe me, even if you were inclined to listen to anything I say. These days everyone is out to get out - anyone left." Scully saw the curious look in his eyes. He was wondering why they were alive even more than he was wondering what had brought them there.
She set her mug of coffee down carefully and walked over to him. He was shorter than Mulder, just at a comfortable height for her to look up and meet his eyes. She stuck her hand out. "I'm Dana Scully. A doctor, among other things. It's nice to meet you..." He looked at her hand for several seconds. Then he broke into a charming grin and shook her hand vigorously. "John Anderson. Reb."
"Johnny Reb," Mulder said dryly, watching their exchange.
Reb turned that same grin on him. "Nice to meet you -" He even held out his hand.
"Mulder," Mulder said, not shaking his hand, still not drinking his coffee.
Reb turned back to Scully. "You're not afraid to touch me," he said.
"You're not afraid of us, either," she pointed out.
A wicked gleam came into his eyes that she had to admit she liked. It was the look of intelligence, of the anticipation of a problem to be solved, of challenge. "I think we could learn a lot from each other,"he said to her.
"I agree," Scully said, retrieving her coffee mug. With a hard sidelong look at Mulder, she followed Reb deeper into the lab and sat down on one of the tall stools across the counter from him. She tried to block her suspicious partner out of her thoughts. There was a lot she could learn, that she needed to learn.
She glanced back at Mulder, who was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. He didn't look happy. Scully looked up at Reb across the table and found him watching her. For some reason she felt embarrassed by his intense scrutiny. "Where to begin," she said.
"Why don't you tell us what you know," Mulder suggested, raising his voice slightly. His point was made: he wasn't to be left out of the conversation.
"Maybe if you tell me what you know, I can fill in the gaps," Reb suggested, his eyes not leaving Scully's face.
"Okay," Scully agreed, wanting to shoot a look at Mulder, but deciding not to. "This plague - it was planned. By you, and by the men who are now in the Pentagon."
"Not by me," Reb corrected. "They used me to get what they wanted."
"What did they want?" asked Mulder.
"A world of their own making," Reb answered, looking at him. "Power."
"And yet you walked away." Mulder had a skeptical eyebrow drawn.
Scully had turned in her seat to look at him.
"What they did was wrong," said Reb with passion. "I got out when I realized what they were using me for. I decided I would work against them if it killed me."
"You didn't die of the plague," Mulder said in a low voice, accusatory.
Reb set his jaw, looking angry. He turned back to Scully. "I'm a geneticist," he told her.
There was an unspoken question in his tone, leading back to her statement that she was a doctor. "My specialty is forensic pathology," Scully told him. "I am..." she paused as it sunk in how much the world had changed. Then she glossed over the words, not willing to retract them. "I'm an FBI agent. So is Mulder. If the men who brought about this plague are who I think they are, we're both familiar with their handiwork."
"Like what?" Reb asked, sitting forward, interested.
Mulder made a noise. Somewhere between a snicker and the need to shout, "Don't tell him anything!"
"Experiments on humans. Cloning. Genetic markers." She was watching his eyes and saw them change. "You know about this." Reb nodded. "I've been involved in the cloning." He didn't elaborate.
Scully felt her heart speed up. She wanted to ask him, but she didn't want to know.
"What about the genetic markers?" asked Mulder from his position outside the conversation. It was as though by distance he had also gained objectivity.
Reb gave a quick shake of his head. "I don't know much about them.
Except I've got one." His fingers went to the sleeve of his shirt and drew it up, exposing the smallpox vaccination scar on a surprisingly muscled arm.
"What are they for?" His head shook again. "They took genetic samples. To decide, I suppose. And for their own purposes. Marked people so they'd be able to find them again." Scully started. "It works as a transmitter?"
"No. But it emits the markers into the body's cells, enabling identification." Scully nodded and looked at Mulder. His brow was furrowed. He was remembering words his father had told him about the goal of the Project. His father had claimed they'd been gathering data for the purposes of post-apocalyptic identification. Maybe it was true.
Except they were the bringers of the apocalypse.
"Why did they stop the program?" Scully asked. Reb just looked at her. "Almost no one receives a smallpox vaccination these days.
There's an entire generation they've left unmarked. Why wouldn't they insist on continuing it?"
"They don't need them," Reb said, his words weighty as though he were wrestling with them.
"Cloning," said Mulder. "Your department."
"My department," Reb admitted, as though admitting guilt.
"Tell us," Scully urged, desperately needing to know. But she couldn't ask the questions. She felt like a fingernail torn down past the quick. It wouldn't hurt unless someone poked it. But someone was going to; it was inevitable.
"You're one of them," Mulder said suddenly. Reb froze, locking eyes with him. "I saw...children working an agricultural farm in Canada.
Drones. Made without language. Little girls..." his voice dropped out for a second, but came back stronger. "And blond haired boys. Where's my sister?" Scully was watching Mulder. He was standing absolutely still. It was very threatening. It was the tension of an animal readying to spring.
"I don't know," Reb said, obviously struggling with the words. Because they were a lie? Scully looked at him. Because they caused him pain.
Scully was thinking of Kurt Crawford. The images she'd formed in her head when Mulder told her of the secret rooms at the clinic, staffed by many Crawfords with hair as red as hers. She couldn't think of them as her children, but she wanted to know. "Who are the parents?" she asked softly. "The sources?"
"The clones are drawn from the original. Who is born of their own parents."
"And then taken." Mulder accused bitterly.
Reb shrugged, as though he didn't know or didn't care.
"What about the abduction of the women?" Mulder demanded. He didn't move. His restraint unsettled Scully. "Why do you take their ova? You don't need that to reproduce the clones."
"No," admitted Reb. "There are gaps to be filled. Genes that can be improved."
"You hurt them to fill the gaps," Scully whispered and she could feel the tears burning in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Reb swore. "I was always against it. There are other ways."
"So you left them," Mulder said. "Why?"
"I knew what they were going to do. I couldn't stop them. But I could thwart them," Reb said. He rose from the stool across from Scully and turned on a light as he passed it, illuminating a vast wall of steel divided into small metal drawers. It looked like a sick sort of card catalogue in a futuristic library. Which it was. "You know what you're looking at," he said.
Scully was on her feet, but she could only stare. She could feel her mouth was open, but she was too shocked to speak.
"The future of humankind," Reb told them. "Genetic material for a whole world. A thousand worlds. They don't control it."
"You do," said Mulder, sounding angry.
"It's a lot to absorb," Scully said weakly. She stumbled back onto the stool to prevent herself from walking over to those containers and looking through them. For herself, and for people she had known. How many names would she recognize? She would have to look eventually. For now she said, "What about the plague?" Reb looked at her, questioning.
"You're not afraid to touch us," she said.
"I have a natural immunity. We all do."
"So you are...one of them," said Scully. He was a clone. His head dipped, nodding once slowly. There were so many questions she had to ask him, so many things she had to know. But not here, not now. "And the mothers?" The word came out before she could think about it. She caught herself almost instantly. "The parents, the donors." Reb shook his head, indicating he didn't know anything about it.
"Mulder and I both contracted mild forms of the disease, but we didn't die. I believe we are carriers. Because of something they did to us when they took us for experimentation." Her voice sounded surprisingly strong in her own ears.
"It's possible," Reb admitted. "I can test you for the presence of the virus, if you like."
"There's a test."
"Of course there is," he told her. "A simple blood test." His hand was already on a syringe, pointing it at Scully.
"I'll do it myself, if you don't mind," she said, taking the needle from him. A moment later, she had a vial filled with her blood.
Meanwhile, Reb rose and walked over to Mulder.
"No," Mulder said forcefully. Scully looked at him. "Scully." He didn't trust Reb. The two men looked at each other, squaring off. For a moment, Scully was afraid they were going to do something stupid, like fight. She got to her feet and went over there quickly, insinuating herself between them.
She took the needle from Reb. "You might want to sit down for this, Mulder."
"I'll be fine." The strong silent type, she thought wryly. He was stiff and tense and his knees were locked. She put the needle into his arm and he flinched, looking away. Scully watched it fill and then withdrew it. And saw Mulder's skin turn pale.
Her arm went around his shoulders to steady him. "Bend your knees," she said softly into his ear. "Relax. Take a deep breath. Better?
Black spots receding?"
"Yeah," Mulder said, gruffly with a note of surprise that she'd known he was about to faint.
"Maybe you two should get some rest," Reb suggested. "There's a couple of dormitory-style rooms. The bunkbeds aren't fancy, but they'll do.
There's room so you wouldn't have to share unless you wanted to. The tests will keep. Half of this room is a freezer." Scully knew he meant the wall with the genetic material. She handed him the blood samples. "Thank you," she said. She put her hand firmly on Mulder's arm to lead him out of the room, knowing he wouldn't go willingly.
"I don't trust him," Mulder leaned down and whispered to her before they even were out of the lab.
"It will be all right, Mulder," Scully assured him, wondering where she got her conviction from. The room they found was simple but functional. She felt an overwhelming urge to crawl in next to Mulder on one of the narrow bunks and just feel him near her while they slept, but she knew she couldn't do that. Not right now. So she lay down on the bed across from his. She kept her eyes open a long time, watching him, making certain he was safe. Then she slept.
A dream startled her out of sleep. She was shivering when she woke.
She sat up and remembered. It was dark and she felt chilled. She looked at Mulder across the way from her, watching the lump of his shoulders rise and fall beneath the thin blanket. She wanted to go to him. She wanted to touch him. His skin would be warm against her icy fingers. But she couldn't make herself move. She couldn't let herself wake him.
The light on her watch told her it was 2:30 am. She realized she didn't have her flashlight. She was so used to taking it everywhere with her. Then she remembered leaving her overnight bag out in the lab where she'd set it when they first walked in.
She yawned and told herself to go back to sleep. But with the nightmare still lingering in her mind, she couldn't. Wrapping the gray blanket tighter around her shoulders, Scully ventured back out to the lab.
The light was still on. She stopped short when she saw Reb sitting on a stool at the counter, hunched over, studying something intently. But it was too late, he'd already heard the gentle scuff of her shoes on the tile floor or felt her presence. "Come have a look at this," he said, without raising his head from the microscope.
Scully ventured closer somewhat cautiously. Reb looked up at her and grinned, moving over to she could look through the eyepiece. "What am I looking at?"
"The virus. You see it there? That's your blood."
"It's not moving."
"Weird, huh? I figure it's because you don't have it, you just carry it. It's waiting for some fresh blood to become active."
"What makes it inactive in my blood?" she asked him.
He shrugged. "I don't know. Diseases aren't my thing. But there's something else strange..."
"Cancer," she told him. He met her eyes and she held them, daring him to look away. "It's also dormant, for the moment."
"I'm sorry," he said sincerely.
"So am I," she admitted, then realized her tone sounded rather arch.
"Tell me how you got involved with this."
"I was always involved with this," he told her, much in the same tone she'd used when she told him she had cancer.
"You really are a clone," she said, surprised.
He nodded once. "Though I couldn't prove it to you."
"The marker in your arm...it's different than your, uh, siblings'?" she asked.
"I believe that's why they developed it." She nodded. "I have so many questions."
"I hope I'll have enough answers for you."
"There are never enough answers for Mulder," Scully said, smiling when she thought of his relentlessness. Reb looked sad when she mentioned Mulder, or was she imagining that? "How does it feel?" she asked.
"What?" he asked her.
"Being a clone. I can't imagine it. I've tried."
"That I was created and not born, you mean?" he asked. "There isn't anything I can do about it."
"So you accept it," finished Scully. They looked at each other, understanding. "But what is it like?"
"Do you want me to say I never feel alone because I know there are...other me's...out there, somewhere? I don't know where you stand on the debate of nature versus nurture, but those beings are not me.
They haven't had my experiences. We are all as different as...siblings, the way you said. We share the same parent, the same basic qualities.
But we are all shaped by the different things around us, as surely as two siblings in the same family are even different."
"It's more than that, though, isn't it?" she asked, watching him.
"Of course. I know I have a certain purpose in life and that I was made to that purpose. That's no different than any normal child being born for their parents' reasons."
"How do they do it?" she asked. "The cloning."
"With tanks and compounds and special lights and nutrients. They can induce aging and stop it at will. Meaning they don't have to waste time raising children. They can spring fully formed from the head of Zeus."
"Zeus Storage," Scully whispered, thinking back to a time that seemed very long ago.
"Nothing, I was just...thinking." She looked at him, willing herself back from the past. "You miss the experience of birth."
"Women no longer need to suffer the bother."
"Despite their complaints, I imagine there are a lot of women who would like to suffer the bother."
"You for instance," Reb said, looking at her.
She smiled with a twinge of embarrassment. "Me, for instance," she admitted.
"Does he know?"
"Mulder?" she didn't know why the question surprised her. "Yeah, I think he might suspect." She looked down. "I can't have children." It was the first time she had ever voiced the words.
"I saw your name in the files," Reb said. "Dana Scully...you are that Dana Scully, aren't you."
"Yes." She wanted to ask, but she didn't want to know.
He seemed to sense it, because he didn't say anything more. "You know where the files are, when you're ready," was all he said. Scully nodded. "It must be hard, knowing."
"Like knowing you're a clone."
"All they took from me was my...what did they take from me? I wouldn't be here if not for them. They did worse to you."
"I'm not looking for pity."
"I know that," he told her. "And I know why you want to understand. I wish I could tell you what it's like. But it's always impossible to explain what's in your head to someone else."
"It is," Scully agreed.
"The virus in his blood is dormant, too. He also has a file." She nodded. "I might like to read it, later."
"Later," he agreed. After all, they had all the time in the world now, didn't they. "How did you come to be a pathologist in the FBI?"
"No bedside manner," she wisecracked sadly. "How did you get to be a geneticist for the consortium?"
"Sorry...that's what Mulder calls them. The men who run things. I suppose you know them as...something else." He nodded. "My contact with them was slight, actually. They gave me grants to live on and labs to work in. Told me which projects to work on."
"Didn't that make you want to rebel?" He nodded. "When you're born a slave, you expect to die a slave. I escaped eventually, didn't I?" Scully nodded, thinking. She had felt much the same way in her life for some time. Trapped in a pattern with Mulder, and her job, and within her own personality, unable to break free or change. A prisoner of what had been done to her, and of the choices she had made. But this plague had not freed her, as it had freed him. She did not know what it had done, or even how she felt any more.
"How long has this been going on?" she asked, although she thought she already knew. Since the 70s...the 50s...right after World War Two...
He didn't get to answer because Mulder walked in at that moment.
"What's all this?" he said stridently.
Scully turned and looked at him, frowning at his tone of voice. He sounded jealous. All she needed right now was for Mulder to lose his mind. "Sleep well?" she asked him softly.
He shook his head once and she could see the tension in his jaw. She took a deep breath, wanting to do something. She didn't know what. She didn't know what to do to help him. After all the years she'd known Mulder, that was the one thing she had never been able to figure out.
"What are you two up to?" His words were accusing, and his eyes were dark. He looked tired. She wanted to reach out and soothe him and tell him to go back to sleep.
But she couldn't. She suspected a nightmare was the reason for his ill temper, but she couldn't say anything about it. "Just talking," she answered.
She saw Reb glance at Mulder. "I should get some sleep," he said pointedly. "You two might try the same," he suggested as he slid off the stool and stalked out of the room. Scully could tell that he was angry, too, at the way Mulder was behaving.
She and Mulder watched him leave. Then she turned her eyes to Mulder.
"What was that?" she demanded.
"What was what?" Mulder demanded back, matching her tone.
She was beginning to feel very angry and she wasn't sure why. That uncertainty bothered her. Was it because she didn't know how to deal with Mulder? Had she ever, when she thought about it? It was a lesson she had learned hard early in life: you can't control other people, you can only control yourself.
So she took a deep breath and retreated slightly, dropping everything from her voice. "You seemed jealous," she told him calmly.
Mulder's jaw clenched even more and he didn't respond. Finally he said, "What were you talking about?"
"Cloning. And other things." It had been a private conversation. She couldn't say to Mulder the things she had said to Reb, especially not when Mulder was so angry with her. Mulder wouldn't understand.
Mulder just turned away. There were a hundred angry, hurtful things he was holding back from saying. She watched him, still wishing she could do something to ease this over, but knowing she couldn't. The world had fallen apart around them. There was no cure for that.
He walked over to the wall of metal file drawers and yanked one out.
His face changed and she saw it capture his attention. Some of the stress drained from him. Mulder shoved that drawer back in and began actively searching through, looking for something.
She didn't want him to look at her file. The very thought of it made her feel incredibly vulnerable, more so than if she had been stripped of her clothing and made to stand unwilling before him. This was stripping her of her dignity.
She walked over to him, struggling not to run. She didn't slam the drawer. She just placed her hands on top of his. "Mulder, don't."
"I need to know," he said.
She looked down and saw Samantha's file in his hands.
"Are you certain you're ready for this?" she asked, looking up into his eyes.
He nodded once, and looked down at the file. Leaving her hand on his arm, she stood behind him as he opened it. After a short moment, he closed the file and walked away.
Scully retrieved it before it could hit the floor and scatter the pages. She opened it and began to read for herself. Samantha was dead. She had been for some time. They'd killed her with their experiments and she had died horribly. Her genetic material had been extracted twenty years ago, before their technology had advanced very far. It had been done badly, and as a result, was of little use to the project. That was why the only remaining samanthas were mute agricultural workers on the farm up in Canada. They were scheduled for extermination very soon. The samantha line would end there.
Scully stood there, holding the file for some time, thinking about the project. It was run by men who wanted to control everyone and everything. What people thought, what they did and said and even how they looked and reproduced. When they would die. They controlled every aspect of civilization as surely as a child playing with dolls could decide which dolls to use and what they would be allowed to do.
It had to be an ideal situation for them.
It sickened her. You can't play with people's lives this way, she thought. But they could. They had, and they did.
They had to be stopped, somehow. And they were the ones who had to find the way - she, and Mulder, and Reb. Surviving was not enough, not any more, not after reading this. They had to fight. They had to preserve the human spirit. Any way they could.
She closed the file and slid it back into the cabinet, chilled when she saw and thought about all of the people the files represented.
Mulder's file was the one in front of his sister's. She stopped with her hand on it, tempted. And she raised her head to look at Mulder.
He was sitting at the counter, his body slumped over it. His face rested in his hands. She could see the muscles in his back straining and trembling. He was crying.
She removed her hand from his file and walked over to him. She didn't know what to do or say. What were the appropriate words for such a ridiculous situation? The death of someone who had been presumed dead for 22 years but held alive in hope. The death of a civilization. Most civilizations didn't make the mistake of leaving anyone alive to weep for them.
Tentatively, she placed her hand against his back. When he didn't turn on her and attack, her other hand followed. She rubbed, soothing, and the note in his muffled voice changed. It became more of a heartbreaking wail. She put her arms around him and hugged him from behind. After a moment, he transferred his pillowed head from the table to her chest.
He was heavy against her, but she held him. There were no words. She stroked his hair and eventually the tears ended. His head remained lying against her bosom and he didn't move. "Come on, Mulder," she said, struggling backwards as she pulled him up from the stool. "Get some rest. Things will be easier in the morning." She took him back into the dormitory room and helped him into bed. The blanket barely covered him, and it was thin, but she spread it over his shoulders and as an afterthought, brushed her knuckles against his cheek. Mulder's eyes closed and she believed he was asleep.
Scully was left wondering what to do. It was the middle of the night and she wasn't tired. If she got into bed, she wouldn't sleep. She walked back out into the laboratory. Another cursory glance at the blood sample under the microscope eye didn't interest her. The tiny abnormalities in her cells...they would kill her eventually.
She had to make her peace before then.
In order to do that, she had to know.
The files were beckoning to her. She had to know. She had to face this. Her fear of knowing what had been done to her was overwhelming at this point. Knowing couldn't be as horrible as wondering, she told herself. She could then distance herself from it. Begin to accept it, internalize it, and forget.
Steeling her shoulders, she opened the drawer and found her file immediately. Scully, Dana Katherine. Her eyes remained on it and her body didn't move. Suddenly she was freezing cold. Dread filled her.
She didn't want to know. She wanted to throw it back inside, slam the door, and run away to hide.
Her eyes closed as she drew all of the strength she could muster. Her hand pushed the drawer, closing it. She walked back over to the counter and sat down. The bright lights illuminated the file, reflecting off its gleaming white pages. No truths could remain hidden under such a bright light. She would have to face it all.
Abducted. She swallowed hard. Kept for 68 days. Her hands began to tremble. She could feel the ghosts of pain, the whispers through her body as it remembered what had happened. The leather straps against her wrists and her ankles. Her will too weak to struggle. Her terror too great for it to even occur to her that she could fight this. Lying on a table, staring up, her eyes wide with fear. Until they turned on the blinding white light over the table. There was no where else for her to look. After a while, it began to mesmerize her. Her thoughts began to dissolve into the white light above and she was separated from her body.
Even as the doctors surrounded her, she heard nothing. There were many doctors and many hands invaded her at once, from all directions. Tubes shoved up into her. There was nowhere she could move to escape. Her muscles strained against the pain and the straps. Something probed in through the skin on her abdomen. Sharp. They taped it into place. Her arms twitched with the need to rip it away.
A soft sound of air began. Whooshing. Calming for one moment.
Her belly began to expand in agony. Her breath came in gasps. The white light didn't help her. It seemed her skin stretched very thin and even through that pain, she could feel the tiny needle pricks. Then deeper as they reached their target.
She wished she could close her eyes and make it all go away. Her heart pounding impossibly in her ears and her breathing was so ragged it seemed to stop entirely.
That was when she heard the alarm siren.
The white light was abruptly turned off.
She remembered nothing after that.
Scully emerged from her flashback feeling drained. She blinked and looked back at the file. They had stolen her ova almost immediately after they had taken her. The rest of their experiments had been performed on her brain, which was why she probably could not remember them. They had induced dream states, unnatural states, hallucinatory states. They had stimulated nerves in her body to see what happened in her brain. They stimulated her brain to see what happened in her body.
It had been recorded through a series of devices they were striving to improve. Aural implants. The general purpose, ever popular nasal implant. Stuck in and removed seemingly on whim. The microchip in the back of her neck had been the final design they tried on her and apparently they'd liked it. When working properly, it could record and transmit every electrical impulse in the entire body. The command to move. Senses. Emotions. Thoughts.
There was an audio cassette, unlabeled, in her file. She didn't think she wanted to know. But she couldn't not know. Her fingers wrapped around it before she released it.
The last thing they had tried to do was implant an engineered fetus in her womb for development. Her own child, but improved. Changed. So very promising, the file said. But she hadn't healed from the earlier invasive procedures. No matter what they did to try to make the experiment a success, her condition weakened. They blamed her in the file for killing their creation. Its life had ended inside her and broken down before it was expelled. Their improvements, decomposing at a cellular level and entering her blood, along with the things that had done to her brain, were what had caused her coma. Useless to them and about to die anyway, they'd returned her.
She had come back.
She had survived so much. It seemed unreal to her. She couldn't imagine those things being done to anyone, let alone her. And yet there was the shadow of memory to assure its truth.
Her body temperature dropped and her stomach began to cramp.
Emotionally, it was too much for her to process. She couldn't stop her thoughts from repeating, seeking different ways in, picturing it.
Picturing herself being tortured. She made it into the bathroom before she threw up, but she couldn't stop shaking. She didn't think she'd ever feel warm or safe again.
Perhaps it had been better not to know. To heal from unknown injuries and be able to move on. Right now she felt as though it had been done to her yesterday. Tears snaked down her face. It was going to take her a long, long time.
There was a soft knock at the bathroom door. She wanted to cry, "Leave me alone!" but she couldn't. She had seen Mulder's need to protect her after she had been returned. It was hard for her to break through that.
She couldn't let it happen again. She would have to be strong outwardly and keep the pain inside. Bury it until it went away.
"I'm okay," she said, rising and opening the door. She was still shaking.
It wasn't Mulder on the other side of the door. It was Reb. His eyes were perceptive as they searched her face. "What happened?"
"I read my file."
"How does it feel knowing so much suffering was caused to enable your existence?" she asked him. She really wanted to know, and it kept most of the accusation out of her voice. This wasn't his fault. Like every other person, he had never asked to be born.
"Not everything they did to you was for the creation of clones," he said dispassionately. "Harvesting can be done in a matter of hours, otherwise there wouldn't be so many files out there."
"What then?" she asked, her throat dry.
"They were after something in your mind. My specialty was genetics, but I heard a little about something they were trying to do, to preserve knowledge and personality of someone who had lived. I think they hoped to be able to download it into one or many bodies."
"Stealing souls," she whispered.
"There's only so much genetics can do, only so many guarantees it can offer," he told her. "Much more effective to be able to implant intelligence or strength or courage."
"And the other?" she asked.
"I don't know why they did that. It must have been a short lived experiment, something that they wanted to do that required a living mother rather than incubation in the usual way. Usual for us, that is."
"Reb, I have to ask you something," she said, turning to him.
"Were you there?"
"No," he told her. "Not when they hurt you or anyone else. I analyzed blind DNA samples. Worked with gene mapping and enhancement. I never had anything to do with any of the rest. Not even selection."
"There were others who did that."
"Yes." He looked at her. "You look pale. And your hands are cold."
"I've had a shock."
"I think you should go to bed. We can talk more in the morning."
"What about you?" she asked. He'd only been out of the room thirty or forty minutes after he'd said he was going to bed.
"I don't sleep," he told her.
"Never? All humans need -"
"I lie down and I rest and sometimes there are blank spaces that I imagine are sleep. But you know you've slept when you've dreamed.
Otherwise, it's mere unconsciousness."
"You're telling me you don't dream?" He nodded. "It's something they did to me. Clones have flashes sometimes of their donors. When enhancements have been made, it becomes maddening and confusing. Elimination of the capacity for dreaming takes away the potential for the problem."
"So you can't remember who you were before." He shook his head. "Who my genetic donor was, before," he specified.
Scully just stared at him. how much of humanity was tied up in being able to dream. Even the word was so rooted in the way they lived daydreams were fantasies; dreaming was a synonym for positive imaginings of the future. Undoubtedly he still did these things...but were they stifled in some way? His creativity, his ability to feel...
"They're monsters," she said in an ugly voice.
"Please, get some rest," he told her. His hand on her arm reminded her how cold she was.
Scully nodded, feeling exhausted. She needed to sleep. To be able to wake fresh in the morning, with this all some hours behind her. To not have to think about it. She turned to go to the dormitory.
"Sweet dreams," Reb said softly after her.
Scully shuddered. She was so icy by the time she reached her bed that she was afraid she might freeze to death. Without even thinking about it, she lay down next to Mulder. She curled herself against his heat.
He stirred, surprised by her presence. But as soon as she closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of him, she was able to sleep. He made her feel both warm and safe. At that moment, there was nothing more precious to her.
She awoke the next morning disoriented. The bed was narrow and Mulder was hot lying next to her. She was still tired and wished she could go back to sleep, but she knew sleep wouldn't be coming back to her. It was so quiet. One of Mulder's hands lay heavy against her skin.
Then she realized he was awake and looking at her.
"How long have you been staring at me?" she asked, feeling cranky.
He merely smiled at her, and that simple movement of his lips turned her heart inside out. "You ready to get up now?" he asked her softly.
"I guess," she rumbled, upset with herself that cranky was the best she could do. She'd had a bad night and it hung over her like a threat.
They went out to the main room, which was empty. She wondered where Reb was. Did he feel as awful every morning as she did right now, waking from a dreamless sleep that seemed to count for nothing? Or was it better that way, never to dream and never to have nightmares?
Her file was lying on the counter where she'd left it. Mulder nudged it with his fingers and looked at her.
"I don't care," she told him. "But I don't think you want to read what's in there." His eyes met and held hers. "Might as well get it over with," he said. "You've read it?" She nodded. "Get mine." He lowered his head and began to read.
She stood by the file cabinet for a long time, feeling strange about facing him now that he knew about her. Finally she made herself cross the room and sit down on the stool next to his. He glanced at her.
"Read it," he told her.
"Don't you want to look at it first?" she asked.
"No." His voice was firm. She opened the folder.
It had happened when he'd said it had, when he broke onto Ellen's Air Base and was missing that night. She remembered the look in his eyes and his unsteadiness on his feet when they'd returned him. The horror she'd felt when he said in that broken voice, "How did I get here?" What they'd done to him seemed pretty straightforward from an "alien" abduction point of view. It should have scared her that she knew their procedures so well by now. They'd put drops in his eyes to blind him so he couldn't see their faces. They'd learned people didn't fight if they couldn't see, they were too frightened by the loss of their sense.
They'd taken blood, knocked him out while they ran basic genetic tests.
Determined his suitability. When he came round, they made him donate to their sperm bank. Then a quick session with a metal implant shoved up his nose, vibrating at a low frequency to knock loose the memories they didn't think he needed and he was back in her car.
He was looking at her when she raised her head. "I imagine you've guessed most of it." She looked at his hand which was resting on her file.
"I'm sorry," he told her sincerely.
She shrugged, feeling cold and hard with her determination not to feel anything. "It's behind me now."
"Is it?" his voice was soft.
"It has to be," she told him practically. She tried not to look at him while he skimmed his file. She could tell he was trying to keep his expression from changing, but he failed. His jaw grew tight with anger and disgust. The look in his eyes changed. He put the file down. "We have to get them, Scully."
"I know," she said. "But we need to have a plan. We can't just go in there and do the first thing that comes into our heads. Not if we expect to be successful."
"What do you suggest we do, then?"
"Rely on Reb. He knows the things we need to know," she said.
"I don't trust him."
"He's on our side."
"How do you know that?" Mulder asked quickly.
"I just do," she said. It wasn't an answer, but it was the only one she had.
He walked in then, and they were both staring at him. Scully could see that he noticed it and felt uncomfortable. There was a tension between his shoulder blades that hadn't been there before. He looked like he expected the two of them to jump him.
"What's going on?" he asked them.
"We want to take down the men in the Pentagon," said Mulder. "The men who did all of this."
"Take down?" scoffed Reb. "What is that? You think this can be settled with more violence? You want to kill whoever's left so that you can be in charge, is that it? You're no different than they are."
"No," said Scully. His eyes shot to hers. Her words failed under his scrutiny. That was what Mulder was proposing, wasn't it? Essentially?
"The things they have done," Mulder said, more calmly.
"You've been reading the files," said Reb. He moved in closer to them, lifted his chin as he looked at which ones they had on the table. "Just your own, I see. Maybe you should read the others. Get some perspective. The files of people just like you who had to be killed before now, before the main wave. Or don't they matter to you?"
"Of course they matter," Scully said quietly, remembering a woman dying in a hospital bed who had tried to comfort her, knowing that she was headed down the same dark path.
"I'm talking to him." Reb's eyes were like chips of ice.
"For them. For what they did to my sister. What they did to Scully.
Just because they are individuals doesn't mean I don't want revenge for all of them." Mulder's tone was even.
"Revenge," Reb said. Unhappy with what he heard. He shook his head.
"Anger, and revenge, and self-centeredness. I should let you go in there. You can all kill each other. It is the fate of the human race to destroy itself over petty injustices, isn't it?" He was angry.
"You think you're above it?" Mulder rose from the stool, challenging the other man.
"Stop this," Scully said, looking from Mulder to Reb and back to Mulder. "He's right. It doesn't matter what they did. What matters is what we do." Mulder's eyes met hers. He reached out and took her hands. "How can you say it doesn't matter when they're killing you even now?" She shook her head slightly and blinked away the tears. "Maybe that's why I can say it, Mulder. It puts it into perspective. This isn't about winning. It's about knowing. Knowing yourself. Knowing that you are better than they are. That you won't stoop to their levels. That you are capable of achieving something greater. For yourself." They looked into each other's eyes for another long moment.
Then she said, "Let's go."
"Where?" asked Mulder.
"Reb, you can lead us into the Pentagon, can't you? There are answers in there that we need." Reb nodded. Because she had spoken reason, he supported her. His eyes skimmed over Mulder, then he turned for the door. Scully followed him and heard Mulder scrambling behind them.
The tunnels were damp and musty. It was hard for her to breathe the air in them as they walked for what seemed to be miles. Roots from trees dipped down below the dirt ceiling and occasionally she felt one brush against her face or catch in her hair. She dragged one hand against the wall, feeling the earth, not caring that it was lodging beneath her nails and turning her skin brown. She was teaching herself the way, in case she had to make it back alone.
Mulder stayed close behind her. She could hear his breathing. She imagined they could all hear hers; her nose was closed and she had to breathe through her mouth. It embarrassed her, but every time she closed her mouth she choked. Mulder had no sense of direction. She had to learn the way for him, stick by him. Protect him. So he would not be lost.
As they came upon a lighted section of hallway, she heard Mulder draw his gun from its holster. Reb turned back and frowned. Mulder didn't put the gun away. It must have made him feel more secure. Scully had no such illusions. If they were discovered, bullets wouldn't be enough to save them.
"These are the storage rooms," Reb said, pausing outside a thick metal door. It had a sign on it with a map of the pentagon. It bore the words, "Know your exits."
"Not very secure for a security building," remarked Mulder.
Scully felt like a rat trapped in a maze.
Reb opened the door. She'd expected it to creak like something out of a monster movie, but it was silent on its hinges. Leading into a huge cavernous warehouse of a room. Metal shelves extended for feet above her head. Rows and rows of boxes. She wondered what was in those boxes.
"This is everything. Everything you could ever want to know.
Everything they've covered up." Reb said.
"Where do you begin?" Mulder whispered reverently as though he were in church. Our Lady of the Sacred Truth, Scully thought.
"No one comes down here any more," Reb told them in his regular speaking voice. "They've been careless for some time, not caring what got out. That's why you've heard more reports, maybe, of strange things happening, things without explanation. Things the government should have denied or covered up but didn't. They didn't care. Everyone was going to die anyway. It's perfectly safe. Look your fill." The three of them spread out. Mulder wandered quickly, almost manically, moving from this storage box to that, pulling them off shelves to peek into them. She could hear him scuffling through, undoubtedly getting the wrong ideas about everything he touched.
Scully found herself uninterested by any of it. She had no desire to look. She didn't care. When she admitted it to herself, she hadn't cared for a long time about Mulder's paranormal stuff. She'd followed him because it was his quest, it was his essence and she had to follow him. She took a few steps, looked up at the high shelves to see if anything interesting was hidden up there. She couldn't see that anything was.
Reb didn't go far. She turned and looked at him, suddenly more interested in his quiet movements than in anything that might lurk upon these shelves.
There was a noisy crash and she flinched. She opened her mouth to call to Mulder but instantly she heard him saying, "It's all right. I'm okay." She smiled and stopped her question. A smaller noise followed and she fought the crazy urge to laugh.
Reb had pulled a cardboard box off one of the lower shelves and sat down on the floor with it. He looked comfortable, as though it was something he had done often. She couldn't see what he was looking at but it immersed him. Scully crept closer and he didn't notice her presence. Even when she was standing over him, he didn't look up.
It was a photo album. It seemed old and decayed and dusty, but it wasn't actually that old. Its covers were plastic and it had self-stick pages. A few of the photographs were in color. Scully looked over his shoulder at them.
A pretty young girl, in the sunshine, in a field. One photograph had her smiling with wildflowers in her hair. Her dress was plain and hung to her ankles. Her hair was dark and thick and curly past her waist.
Wide blue eyes looked into the camera with a secret smile. Scully couldn't tell when the photograph had been taken. It could have been yesterday or twenty years ago.
Reb's fingers moved over the image. Scully looked at him. His lips were moving silently and there were tears in her eyes. Suddenly she wanted to run. She was interrupting a very private moment. She didn't want him to know she'd seem him, even though she was insanely curious about the girl and the album. Scully couldn't move, knowing she should turn away and pretend this hadn't happened.
Reb raised his head and looked up at her. The pain was obvious on his face. Whoever the woman was, he had loved her.
"Who was she?" Scully asked, crouching down next to him. He didn't answer, but she could feel him watching her as she looked at the album more closely. "She's beautiful."
"You loved her." He nodded. "She was the most wonderful person. Smart and kind and she had a way about her."
"They killed her." Scully wasn't asking. She knew it had to be.
To her surprise, Reb reached out and put his hand against her face.
Scully jerked backwards, but his fingers held her firm. She felt her eyes go wide with panic. "She would have died of cancer," he said and she realized why he was holding her this way. His fingers were over the tumor. The woman he loved had had the same affliction. She'd been tortured by the Consortium and the project the same way Scully had. And she'd died.
"Would have?" asked Scully.
"They killed her first. It wasn't exactly merciful, but maybe it was better." His grip gentled. Almost as though it were unconscious, his fingers began to stroke her hair. His eyes were fixed on the photograph. "You remind me of her. Her strength. This way she had about her. She got what she wanted. Yours is more the voice of reason, but...the same charm, the same light flickering." Flickering like a candle about to go out, Scully thought, chilled.
"We knew each other from childhood. We were raised together, on a farm, in Canada. It was beautiful. Like a fairy tale. Idyllic. This was before they peopled their work camps with drones. They had her, and they'd made me, and they wanted to watch."
"She wasn't a clone?"
"No. She was genuine. God, I loved her." His eyes closed. Scully remained by his side for a moment. He kept drawing deeper breaths as though he was controlling sobs by sheer force of will. She patted his shoulder and then got to her feet. She was getting a bad feeling. She had to find what Mulder was up to.
A second later, she heard the shouting.
"You fucker! You son of a bitch! You killed her, you killed them all! Tell me why I shouldn't blow your stupid head off right here!
Tell me!" It was Mulder, having one of his intense attacks. She had little question of who he was speaking to.
Scully began to run, and drew her weapon, knowing she had to stop this. As she slowed to a jog to look down the aisles she passed, she wondered why she did have to stop it. There was no conscience any more, no FBI. They didn't have to answer to the smoking man. She wanted him dead almost as much as Mulder did. She couldn't shoot Mulder to have the man's life.
She was running in case the smoking man had a gun, she realized. There they are. "Freeze," she ordered in her iciest tone, leveling her gun and walking toward them. Mulder grinned at her. "Both of you," she ordered. His face fell. She felt like the meanest kindergarten teacher on earth.
She forced herself to walk up to them. Right up behind him, where she could smell the cigarette stench clinging to his clothing. Scully swallowed hard and patted him down, one handed, while she held her own gun with the other hand. Touching him was like touching a dead body, only it nauseated her. "He's clean," she told Mulder.
Mulder didn't lower his gun.
"What's all this about, Mulder?" Scully asked.
He looked ready to crack, to burst into tears. "You know what this is about, Scully. He's one of them! He did this. He took Samantha and he killed her, and he hurt you, and he killed everyone!" The gun came up again.
"Mulder, you can't shoot a defenseless old man." He was standing there, listening to them debate his fate. He just stood there. She found it eerie.
"He's not defenseless, he killed them all!"
"Do you know we're both carrying the virus?" she addressed him directly. He didn't flinch. Guess he knew. Of course they would have found a way to immunize themselves, probably using whatever in the abductions it was a side effect of. Sickness rolled through her stomach.
"Scully, are you okay?" Mulder cried.
She opened her mouth to say she was fine, but realized she wasn't.
There was a roaring in her head and a sudden pounding pain. She was swimming in the world and none of it was clear. She crouched and put her head down, trying to remain conscious.
Mulder's hand touched her shoulder. "Don't shoot him," she managed to whisper.
But already he was walking away. She could hear the slow measure of his footsteps. "Don't come here again, Mulder," the man warned them.
"I know you're immune to the virus and alive. You won't stay that way for long."
"I'll kill you, you bastard, before you hurt anyone else."
"I wasn't talking about her, Mulder. It doesn't look like she's got much time left anyway." She put her hand to her face so Mulder wouldn't see her ridiculous tears. He was a weak old man who could only wage battle with words.
And yet he was winning.
Mulder fired and the sound of the gunshot was close to her ear.
"Stop!" she screamed, then opened her eyes and looked at him. For a second she'd been afraid he'd killed himself. She didn't know why she'd think Mulder would do that. He was safe. Her eyes flew to the other man. He was dragging his leg now, but still moving away. Mulder always had been a bad shot. He tended to miss low, the moron. She wanted to punch him but she didn't feel able. She felt strangely weak and foggy and she wanted to fight it but she didn't know how to.
Reb ran up to them and assessed the situation quickly. "We have to get out of here," he said urgently.
Mulder didn't move. Scully didn't think she could.
"He'll send them down here, we can't be waiting for them. You wounded him. They'll be angry. Come on, we can't let them catch us."
"Scully," Mulder said. It wasn't an excuse to Reb. He was asking her.
"I'm okay," she insisted, still feeling strange. She managed to lift her arm, to offer it to Mulder for him to pull her up. His fingers felt like they'd go all the way through her flesh. He pulled her to her feet. And then she fell against him.
"Oh, Scully," Mulder said, and she felt his arms go around her. She fought to get the signals to her feet to stand, to run.
"There's no time for that now," Reb insisted. She felt strong arms lift her and then she was upside-down, over his shoulder. Reb's.
Mulder would never do something like this. He'd be too busy worrying about her, and they would still be there when the troops came to finish them off.
She could only close her eyes and hang on as the two men began to run.
She heard other men give pursuit. They weren't shooting. Her head was clear enough to realize that. They just wanted to see where they fled to. So they could come for them later.
She came to in the dormitory room back at the lab. Mulder was sitting on the bed staring at her. "How do you feel?" he asked immediately.
"I'm fine," she insisted, and sat up, preparing to get out of bed.
Mulder placed a restraining hand on her arm. "I feel fine, Mulder, leave me alone," she informed him and got up. "We can't stay here."
"Reb is packing supplies," Mulder told her.
"Why aren't you helping him?" she asked, irritated because she already knew the answer. "They followed us far enough to know exactly where we are. The longer we wait, the more likely an attack is. They're probably busy ministering to the smoking man's bullet wound now and when they finish, they'll come for us. We can't be here."
"Then it's a good thing I shot him," Mulder said with a grin that sickened her.
"If you hadn't shot him, they wouldn't be after us."
"Why didn't you let me kill him?"
"Mulder, how can you ask me that? Killing is wrong."
"In self defense. This wouldn't have been self defense. This would have been murder, Mulder. Because you want to kill him. And that frightens me."
"What happened to you back there, Scully?" She shrugged. "No revenge," she told him. "I don't want anyone avenging me. Especially not you."
"It's not just you I need to avenge," he told her. Their eyes held for a long moment. Then she looked away.
"Are you ready? We have to go," Reb stepped in to say.
"We're ready." Scully got to her feet.
"Are you all right?" Reb asked her.
"Fine." She didn't feel fine, but she felt better and that would have to be enough. Reb handed a heavy backpack to Mulder, who shouldered it easily. He didn't hand anything to her.
So now it begins, she thought. The fostering and the coddling. They can't trust me with a pack because I won't be able to carry the weight.
They might end up carrying me. Or leaving me behind.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"I'll tell you on the way," said Reb.
He sat very still on the cold stone floor. If he stayed very still, his leg didn't throb as much. His blood oozed onto the floor, but he took no notice. It wasn't a bad wound. He would live.
He pulled the old familiar book onto his lap and the pages fell open easily. Once again she was there with him. The little girl he'd loved so much. It had been painful to see her die. As with losing all things. But everything died, whether you loved it or not.
Better to have loved and lost...
He wondered sometimes what he had accomplished.
Mulder was such a fool, he thought, and not for the first time. Mulder thought he had the monopoly on pain and suffering. He didn't see it was what bound them all together. Pain and suffering and hope and love.
Love for the same child who had 'disappeared' one cold November day. He put his head against the wall and listened to the beating of his blood.
Even when he closed his eyes, he could see her long dark hair and bright eyes. Even then, she would never leave him.
Part III: To Serve Man
The car they stole ran out of gas not far into Maryland. Reb was driving and he braked to a slow stop as the car began to shudder and cough. The engine died not long after they stopped by the side of the highway. "Everybody out," he said, in a voice more cheerful than any of them felt.
Mulder and Scully looked at each other. Mulder didn't move. After a moment, Scully reached for the backpack that sat on the seat between them and got out of the car. Mulder followed her. She slung the heavy bag onto her back, and began to walk.
"Where are we going?" asked Mulder, lingering behind them.
"Nevada," Reb answered.
Without meaning to, Scully sighed.
"You couldn't pick somewhere closer?" Mulder asked in that rough voice that might have sounded joking, but wasn't.
"It's not a random choice," Scully said quietly. "Is it?"
"There's a secret military complex in Nevada. It's been closed down for some years, but there's something there we need to get to." Mulder laughed. Opened his mouth, threw his head back and laughed.
"Area 51?" Reb nodded once, not looking away from Mulder's angry, bemused eyes.
"People called it that."
"What's there?" Mulder demanded. "What's there that's so important it's worth walking across the country to?"
"We'll find another car," Reb said. Not answering Mulder's question.
"Scully!" cried Mulder. She stopped and looked at him. "You're just going to go along with this?" I always went along with you, she thought. At the same time she knew that was why he was so afraid. Mulder feared he'd lost her loyalty.
"What else have we to do?" she asked him simply.
Mulder closed his mouth and began walking with them. His hand landed on the heavy backpack. "Let me take this," he said in a quiet voice.
"I've got it." He persisted, tugging at it, almost pulling her off her feet. "I'll carry it."
"Mulder, I've got it!" She stopped and glared up at him. "Please stop trying to protect me." His hand fell away. Mulder's face changed. She'd hurt him. But she had to, for herself. She couldn't apologize. Things had changed, but she had to go on as she had before. She couldn't let Mulder own her, or belittle her, or bully her into weakness.
On they walked. Night fell and it began to get cold. Scully wished for her flashlight and her thick down parka. She started to shiver and willed it to stop. Willing wasn't enough. Her shoulders and back ached from the heavy backpack. Once she had driven across country in a couple of days. Now she thought if they walked twenty miles a day it would take them one hundred days. One third of a year. But they had driven, picking up cars and then abandoning them. It helped. But everytime they got out after riding for a while, her feet and legs only hurt more.
She had no idea where they were. It was a dark, small town...somewhere. Even the city could be incredibly dark. When had she begun to be afraid? she asked herself. "We need to stop for the night," she said, raising her voice so the men could hear her.
They both stopped and looked at her as though she'd said something surprising.
"It's eight thirty, aren't you?" she shot back. "I think this would be a good place." Raising her arm, she gestured to the large display window of the department store.
"A store?" Reb asked, his eyebrows rising.
"I don't want to go into someone's house," she explained. A creepy feeling had settled over her and she was having trouble shaking it.
"We'll find a motel," Mulder said.
"We need things a motel won't have," she pointed out. The two of them continued to stare, waiting. "I need a coat. We need some food.
Things here will be clean and warm and safe." The three things she didn't feel.
"Okay," Mulder said, bobbing his head, and she could tell he was humoring her. She hated it, but she'd won. "It will do." They were thinking of the nights ahead. It was going to be a long journey. A long life, spent alone. With only each other for company? Scully could not imagine it. For the first time her life, the future seemed no more than a day in duration.
Reb didn't say anything. He put a determined look on his face and punched the glass window of the department store. He didn't even flinch as his fist passed through the glass, shattering it. Mulder rolled his eyes and tried the door, which was unlocked. Scully stayed behind with Reb.
"Did that make you feel better?" she asked him.
He shook his head, then looked at her. "No."
"Let me see," she said, reaching for his hand. The lights inside the store went on. Mulder was waiting for them. And Scully was still freezing. "I understand your frustration and your anger," she told him when he hesitated. "We're all feeling it. This looks bad," she said, turning his hand over. There was a deep gash along the side of his hand. "At least you missed the artery." She skimmed her fingers over his wrist, as though to point out to him where the blood flowed.
Reb yanked his hand away, making her look at him. Something in her stomach turned over and she was reminded of the moment earlier when he'd looked at the photograph of his childhood love. Whom he had compared to her.
"We'd better go inside," she said, not moving.
"Yeah," said Reb and his eyes seemed to glow in the dark.
Mulder was going to begin bellowing at her in a moment. She could hear it in her mind, something out of an old movie - "Scully!" It didn't have the same ring as Brando's "Stella." She put her head down and went into the store. Reb followed her.
Mulder was nowhere to be seen. "Let me see your hand," Scully ordered.
"It's okay," Reb told her, shrugging, holding it across his chest, between his body and his elbow. His skin looked transparently white.
Scully pulled her backpack off and set it on the tile floor. She unzipped it and began to dig through, hoping they had brought medical supplies. She wished she had been more aware when the bags had been packed. Remembering her attack, she felt chilled.
She pulled a heavy metal cylinder out of the bag and stopped. "What is this?" she asked. There were several more inside, explaining why the bag was so heavy. Her fingers moved to unscrew the two halves.
"Don't open it," Reb told her, dashing forward. He released his hand and she saw that blood was staining his shirt.
"What is it?" she wielded it like a weapon. A threat: tell me or I'll open it.
"It's a conveyance."
"Genetic material." Scully looked down at the container she held. Embryos and cells were inside, no doubt packed with dry ice or some other form of coolant. "I think you'd better tell me where we're going." Reb made a pained sound in his throat and held his hand out to her.
Scully knew it was a plot to distract her, but she couldn't let him suffer. "Sit down, and stay here," she ordered. Looking around, she got her bearings quickly. She didn't know where in the country they were exactly, but standing in the mens' department of a national department store, she knew where to find everything she needed. "I'll be right back." It was frontier medicine at its worst, and she wasn't proud of it.
They all did what they had to do now. That included sterilizing a deep wound with aftershave and binding it with strips torn from a three pack of Hanes T-shirts.
"Thank you," Reb said when she was finished.
Scully didn't acknowledge him. She picked up the backpack and turned away. "Mulder!" she yelled. He didn't answer and for a moment she was terrified that he'd left her. That angry, he had kept walking and she would never see him again. She threw the bag over her shoulder and began to walk quickly through the store. "Mulder!" she cried again.
Then she spotted him. He was lying on a couch in the dimly light furniture department. His eyes were open and he stared at a television that wasn't likely to broadcast anything for a long long time.
"Mulder," she couldn't help smiling at him. He looked at her and she didn't know what else to say. Her heart felt warm just seeing him.
"I got you a coat," he said, indicating the chair with his eyes. "I hope you like it." A deep jewel green ski jacket was folded neatly on the chair across from him. Scully picked it up and put it on. It was warm. It was also very puffy. She felt like a small child bundled up against the cold.
"It's perfect," she told him.
"I'm sorry you were cold." That was Mulder, guilty over everything, she thought. "How are you doing?" she asked him.
"I'm holding up." He shifted, and the couch sighed as he sat up and leaned forward, towards her. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Mulder." He looked at her like he didn't believe her. Or was that her own guilty conscience? "I am. I'm just tired. It's been a very long day." He nodded, and patted the couch, indicating that she should come and sit by him. A little reluctant, but suddenly feeling bone weary, Scully did as he suggested. She sat down on the couch gingerly.
Mulder pulled her against him until she was practically sitting in his lap. His hands were strong and hot against her skin. She wanted to close her eyes and remain there with him touching her. His fingers traveled up her back to her shoulders, clamping over them.
She let her head drop down so her chin almost touched her chest, an invitation and a submission. Mulder pushed against her tight muscles with his thumbs. He touched her like he was afraid he was going to hurt her.
"God, Scully," he said and she didn't know what he meant. She picked her head up, but couldn't turn to look at him because of his hands holding her steady. "Bruises. From the bag. Damn it, you should have let me take it."
"It's nothing," she told him, thinking of what had been in the bag.
She would have to tell him. She wondered where Reb was. There were answers he still held that she needed to know. That they needed to know.
Mulder's fingers began to move against her strained muscles again and she sighed deeply, from her stomach. Her eyes closed. She was so very tired and what he was doing felt so very good...
He squeezed her shoulders and didn't let up. "Mulder?" she asked, turning around to look at him. His hands slid away from her shoulders.
Reb had entered the room. His white shirt was still stained with blood, but he'd pulled a new flannel shirt on over it. "We need to talk," she said to Reb.
He nodded. She looked at his hand to make sure it was all right and no longer bleeding. The makeshift bandages were unstained. "Why are we taking genetic materials to Area 51?" She heard Mulder's sharp intake of breath when she said "genetic materials," but she didn't explain. She waited for Reb to.
"There's a spacecraft there," he told them. "Maybe two, I'm not certain." Mulder snorted. For a believer, he was certainly acting skeptical, she thought.
"Recovered?" she asked.
"Reverse-engineered," Reb answered. "They've been working on it for decades."
"Why?" asked Mulder.
"To be able to go into deep space. No one's ever tested it. No one's even certain that it works. We have to get to it before they do." Reb sounded determined.
"How are we going to do that?" Mulder demanded. "Do you think they'll be walking like we are? They must have jets, fuel, pilots -"
"These spacecrafts have been all but forgotten," Reb told Mulder. "As I said, the base was cleared out a few years ago. Even then, not many men knew about the craft."
"But you knew?" asked Mulder.
"How?" Mulder asked when the answer wasn't forthcoming.
"Back when this all began, when I was young, that was the reason for the cloning. To be able to staff a generational starship."
"For exploration," said Scully, thinking of science fiction novels she had read, and of course of Star Trek on television.
"Not exactly. For war. Against them."
"Them?" asked Scully.
"The aliens, of course," Mulder said dryly.
Reb looked at him. "Yes."
"Why did they scrap the plan?" Mulder asked.
"They made a deal instead."
"With who?" asked Scully.
"The aliens," Mulder challenged.
Reb nodded. "They turned against us -"
"By 'us' you mean clones?" asked Mulder.
"By 'us' I mean humans," Reb said bitterly. Scully cringed at where this was taking them. The tensions between them were running high; the day had been long and an argument was inevitable. She didn't want it to be clones vs. humans. She couldn't believe Mulder would turn it that way just because he was feeling angry or jealous or resentful of Reb. Maybe it was because she had a more personal feeling for the clones. She knew they were no different than anyone else. Even if they weren't born of mothers, they had mothers. And she was one of them.
"We have the chance to do what no civilization before has ever done," Reb told them.
"What's that?" asked Mulder, unconvinced.
"Preserve itself in the face of its destruction," Reb answered, his words weighted. "The knowledge of our age is available on computers.
We can load that and the genetic materials onto the ship and launch it."
"Then what?" asked Mulder.
"Wait," he said. "Eventually they will find another planet like this one, or they will return to earth. This is the only way we can fight back against what they have done. To beat them at their own game."
"A message in a bottle," Scully said.
"Seeding," Mulder said, thinking about it.
"The ultimate symbol of hope," Scully said, and she could feel Mulder's eyes on her. "To look beyond yourself, to use your pain and your problems and think about tomorrow, of someone far away receiving your message and the possibility that they will come to your aid. Even if it's too late for you, it's not too late for all of us." She turned and caught Mulder's eye. "The belief when you plant those seeds, that someone will be there in the spring to enjoy their beauty." Mulder put his arms around her then, catching her in a surprise hug.
"I realize this isn't your fight, that this isn't your goal," Reb said.
"But it's something I have to do. I worked for them for years and let them use me. I have to take what they did and do the right thing, finally, before it is absolutely too late. If the two of you don't want to, I'll understand."
"I'm going with you," Scully said immediately. To create new life, to have hope to cling to. What more could she ask as she prepared to face her own death? What better lessons could be learned along the path?
Mulder's arms tightened around her waist. "I'm with you." He meant he was with Scully, wherever she chose to go, but it was good enough.
"Get some rest," Reb told them, rising. "It's a long way to Dreamland." Scully noticed he was limping on sore feet as he walked away, leaving her and Mulder alone.
The world suddenly seemed very big with the two of them sitting so close. She didn't want to be intimate with him, but they already were.
She was sitting in the space between his thighs with his arms around her. She could feel his every breath. Feeling inexplicably afraid, she put her head back into her shoulder.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Mulder asked her.
"What else is there to do?" she asked him back. "Without purpose, there is no life."
"Philosophical," he said.
"It happens," she answered. "We have to do this, Mulder. It's our obligation. Just think where we might be today if the Romans or the Greeks had left behind more of their knowledge than they did."
"The Rosetta stone," he mumbled into her hair.
"The Ark," she answered.
"Animals marching two by two."
"They don't have to go two by two anymore, Mulder. The bag is full of frozen embryos and cellular materials. I don't know if it's enough to seed a new world, but it's a start."
"You don't think that's kind of...gross?" Mulder asked.
Scully tried to see it from his point of view. All right, picturing tiny frozen fetuses was a little disgusting, she supposed. But all it called up in her was hope. She turned around his arms and squeezed his hand. "These are our children, Mulder." She smiled at him, not knowing it was her brave smile that brought tears to his eyes and made him hug her tight.
After a moment, she pulled away, getting up from the couch. "Where are you going?" Mulder asked.
"I'm going to sleep in a bed," she informed him. "A real bed. A feather bed if I can find one." With that, she began to walk through the furniture displays.
"Like Sears sells feather beds," she heard Mulder mutter somewhere behind her. She didn't slow down or wait for him. She kept walking through master bedrooms and masculine bedrooms and modern bedrooms and kids bedrooms until she found the mattress showroom. Reb was fast asleep on a narrow mattress in the corner and she resisted the urge to check his hand. She hoped he would dream. Just once.
She walked around the room, testing the firmness and softness with her fist. Finally, like Goldilocks, she found one that was just right. She curled up, in her warm jacket not caring that there were no covers, and fell asleep almost immediately. Mulder, following her at a slight distance, did the same.
When she woke, Mulder was staring at her. She opened her eyes and found herself face to face with him. He breathed like he was asleep, but his eyes were open and he looked like he was memorizing her. She lay there for a few seconds, looking back at him. Waiting for the moment to change between them. Waiting for him to inevitably lean forward and kiss her lips.
He didn't. She tasted blood and suddenly it was everywhere - flowing freely from her nose and sliding down the back of her throat. Scully sat up and lurched forward, choking. Mulder sat up in alarm, but she couldn't tend to him right now. She put her fingers under her nose, pinching it closed, but it had never been like this before. Blood began to spill through her fingers. She felt lightheaded with fear as she found the bathroom.
As she wet a fistful of paper towels, she looked in the mirror. Blood made a line down her face. Her shirt was splattered with it. She dabbed it away with the towels and then held her nostrils closed. This was different. There was so much blood. It felt like it was coming from deep inside.
She felt so helpless.
The doctors had told her about this, when she'd begun to have the nosebleeds, when she had first been diagnosed. They had told her if this happened, to come in immediately. They would be able to cauterize the broken vessel and stop the bleeding. They would be able to give her a transfusion if she had lost too much blood.
And now...she was a doctor, but that didn't help her at all. She could look after Mulder, she could fix up Reb's hand, but she couldn't do anything for herself.
She looked at the paper towel in her hand. There wasn't as much blood. It wasn't stopping, but it was manageable. There was a heavy, urgent knock at the door. Mulder. "I'm okay," she called.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Yeah," she answered, even though she was breathing too fast. He didn't say anything and she was certain he was waiting just outside the door. She looked at herself in the mirror, willing herself to be calm.
The only thing she could do was pack the inside of her nose with rolled up pieces of the paper towel to absorb the blood, like someone who'd had a nose job. She looked ridiculous and she could only breathe through her mouth when she was finished. It was uncomfortable. But maybe the pressure would stop the blood.
She wondered if she should tell them to leave her here. In the end, she didn't have the strength to do that. She was afraid to be alone.
Mulder's eyes were on her when she emerged. They searched her face and then fixed on her stained shirt. The jacket he had picked for her was ruined. He looked so sad. Like he'd already lost her. It made her feel very uneasy. "Let me, um, go and change," she said, tugging at her shirt.
Mulder let her go. He began to follow her, and then stopped. She resisted the urge to look back at him. She couldn't let herself become dependent. Well, she already was, but she couldn't let it show.
She found a long sleeved top in the juniors department, a black cotton shirt. She pulled it on and tied a flannel shirt around her waist, for later, for in case the shirt she was wearing became stained. Walking over to the coat department, she found another of the green ski jackets. But she didn't put it on. She had ruined the one Mulder had picked for her. To choose another like it would feel wrong. She found a knee length wool coat and pulled it on. Then she headed back to where she'd left Mulder.
He was still there. Reb had joined him, with the two backpacks. "I'm ready to go," she told them. They nodded in silence and shouldered the bags. She wouldn't be carrying one again, she knew.
They had to walk slowly because of her. She had trouble breathing she kept forgetting and trying to pull air in through her nose. They wasted a lot of time looking for cars when it would have been easier just to walk. Concessions were being made for her. She hated it.
When they stopped a few hours later, she pulled the plugs from her nose. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. This time. For now. But they continued at their slow pace. She didn't complain. She didn't feel strong enough to go any faster.
She was sunburned. Hot. And desperately thirsty. Yet she continued to walk, not saying a word. She would never complain. She merely wiped the sweat from her brow to keep it from getting in her eyes and took another deep breath of the dry air.
"How much longer?" she asked, squinting as she turned her face to the sun, trying to look into the eyes of their guide who was unfolding a map as they walked.
"Not much farther," Reb told her. "Maybe another mile." Occasionally, they'd been able to find cars that had keys, and gas. In all, it had taken them about five days to reach Nevada.
"This must be the place." Mulder's droll tone made her pick up her head. They'd reached a barbed wire fence that promised to be electrified. It was decorated with signs ordering trespassers to stay away or be shot.
"Feels like home, doesn't it?" she grinned at him. How many times had he broken into places like this? Too many to count. Those signs got his blood moving, she suspected. The threat and the promise of the unknown that was worth guarding.
Reb found a dry branch on the ground and hurled it at the fence.
Nothing happened. "Power's off," he told them. He slipped his arms through the straps of the backpack he'd been lugging and began to scale the fence, pulling himself up with strong arms.
Scully put her hands on the fence too. She felt Mulder push her, giving her a boost up. "I can do it," she informed him.
"Just trying to help," he said. She instantly regretted being so standoffish, but she had been incredibly aware of it during this entire trip, the worried looks and the concessions being made on her behalf.
The day she didn't pull her own weight was the day she would die.
Period. Scully didn't want anyone's help. If she couldn't do things herself...
But she knew, even though she refused to face the truth that the day was coming soon that she would be unable to do much of anything for herself but wait for death to come to her.
The fence clanged and swayed as it supported Mulder's weight. He was over it in a matter of moments, dropping easily to the ground. Scully's arms ached with the effort it took to pull herself up, but she was determined to do it.
She fell hard onto her hands and knees. She hadn't meant to jump off the fence, she'd intended to climb down. But her arms had other plans for her.
Mulder's shadow over her blocked the sun. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she dismissed him. Her hands were scraped. She brushed them against her dirty jeans and followed the two men. A cut at the base of her thumb stung and she put her mouth against it, sucking the blood away. She didn't know why that made it feel better, but it did.
A moment later she noticed Mulder's eyes on her, heavy. Their lowered lids almost hid the intense look in them. She licked the cut a final time and pulled her hand away from her mouth. "Sorry," she said because she didn't know what else to say. He looked like he wanted to kiss her wounds himself.
The sand beneath their feet gave way to blacktop. It seemed to reflect the heat even more strongly. She could smell the asphalt, as though it had just been laid. They were on a runway for an enormous craft.
Bigger than a runway you would need for a plane. They passed the hangars without stopping, intent on a large complex of buildings on the other side of the airport.
"Area 51," said Mulder.
"Never thought you'd be here, did you?" asked Scully, walking next to him.
"Hangar 18," he said, letting his eyes linger on it as they passed.
There was a vague smile on his face, but it was also sad. Mulder didn't really need his paranormal beliefs any more. He knew the truth, or as much of it as he was ever likely to know. In the end, none of it had mattered. It hadn't even lasted to sustain him.
Scully wondered what was driving Mulder now. What was driving any of them, for that matter. All they knew was that they couldn't give up, because that would be giving in and throwing away their lives. Lives they had in spite of the consortium's best efforts.
"In here," said Reb. They went through the door into complete darkness. But it was cool and soothing after the relentless sun.
Scully could feel the darkness against her burned skin and a tiny sigh escaped from her.
"It is cooler," Mulder murmured agreement into her ear.
"All we need now is a nice deep bath," she said back. It seemed to be the stuff dreams were made of - a tub full of cool water would be heavenly at that moment.
"Now we see what shape they left this in," Reb said, sounding determined. A second later, tracks of lights began to glow. The room was huge and soon encompassed by bright white light. It was also empty.
"Damn it," Mulder said.
"They wouldn't leave anything important just lying around," Scully added. Mulder still looked frustrated.
"It's here." Reb said.
"How do you know?" asked Scully.
"I can feel it," he told her. "Let's look around and meet back here in two hours."
"Are you sure it's wise to split up?" she asked.
"This place is empty," Reb told her. "They sent most of the troops away when word began to leak out and it became something of an attraction."
"If you know so much about this place..." Mulder began.
"I'll find it," Reb told them. "Wherever they hid it, I know it's still here. The barracks are that way." He waved his hand. "You could use some rest." His last statement was directed towards Scully.
"I'm fine," she said airily. He gave her a long look. She met his eyes and didn't look away. To do so would have been a sign of weakness, of defeat. It would mean that he was right. After a moment, he reshouldered his pack and headed off into the facility.
Scully turned to head for the barracks. She wanted a bath, and maybe some sleep. She didn't care how it would seem to the two men, suddenly.
She was tired and didn't want to go on another wild goose chase. At that moment, she didn't care at all. It could wait.
Mulder followed her. His presence made her feel self conscious. She didn't lay down on the bed. She sat down and stared, deciding if she cared enough to take a shower. She had days worth of dirt and road dust coating her body and she knew the cool water would feel good against her burned skin. But she didn't move.
She felt the bed sink as Mulder sat down behind her. She could feel the warmth coming from his body. His knee brushed against her back.
His hands came to rest heavily on her shoulders and she closed her eyes.
"You seem tired," Mulder said gently.
"I am," she admitted. He probably didn't know it took more out of her to say that than all the energy to keep up her facade of everything being fine.
"You haven't been sleeping."
"Neither have you," she pointed out. Their journey had been physically taxing, but when night fell and the stars shone so bright in the undisturbed sky, she'd found it almost impossible to close her eyes, to surrender to the unconsciousness that threatened to overwhelm her. She was unwilling to give in to it.
"I could use a nap," Mulder said in a playful way she wasn't sure how to interpret.
Scully jumped up off the bed, suddenly reinvigorated. She refused to admit even to herself that she felt afraid of where this might be leading. "I want a bath," she said. Mulder looked at her with dark eyes, soulful because she had left him sitting there alone. "You could use one too," she told him.
His mouth quirked into a funny sort of smile. "You gonna wash my back?" he asked her.
"Maybe," she surprised herself by saying. He got up from the bed and joined her in her search.
The bathroom wasn't hard to find - the door opened off the dormitory style room they had been in. It was clean and sterile looking. Toilet stalls and shower stalls, decorated in white and gleaming metal.
"Damn it," Scully said. There was no big clawfooted tub. Rationally, she had known there would not be. But the desire to lie down in glorious hot water and bubbles was overpowering. She was disappointed.
"At least there's a shower," said Mulder.
"Of course there's a shower," she told him practically. She walked over to the supply cabinet and found bars of cheap soap and generic containers of shampoo. There were scratchy white linens in there too.
She tossed a towel at him and walked over to hand him the soap.
He was staring at her as he accepted them. She smiled at him, feeling a little self conscious. "We need to find you a razor," she said, raising her hand to feel the stubble on his face. It was rough. She liked the way it felt against her fingers.
Mulder kept staring at her as he leaned down, slowly, and kissed her.
He didn't hold her because his hands were full of the towel and soap.
Just his lips, on hers, exploring.
Seducing. She moved closer to him, opening her mouth and deepening the kiss. Scully could feel the beat of passion begin through her body.
What she had been so careful to avoid on their journey was now the only thing she wanted.
They fought the battle against their clothes with nimble fingers and won. It seemed like only seconds later that they were in one of the tiny stalls together, surrounded by the steam that rose from the hot water.
Scully had never realized how sexy soap could be, even government issue soap. Mulder's hands roamed over her body, sliding easily because they were coated with suds. He touched her everywhere. Long strokes on her legs and her back, a circular rub on her tummy, gentle caresses as he washed her face.
She responded in kind. Running her fingers through the sparse hair on his chest, vigorously scrubbing through the hair on his legs...she'd never realized until that moment how different men's bodies were from women's, in every place. He groaned as she rubbed her soapy fingers against him. He hadn't been so bold as to wash between her legs. His washing of her breasts had been more teasing than this. She liked the sound he made, so she stroked him again and he swelled underneath her hand.
"Scully," he cried, his head thrown back against the wall of the shower, the water hitting his face. "Don't start anything you're not prepared to finish." She almost laughed. They had both known where this was leading when they stripped off each others' clothes and got into the shower together, hadn't they? She had. If Mulder had any doubts, he was more naive than she thought. She pulled away, rinsing her body clear of the soap, letting the water send the suds on Mulder down the drain as well. Then she slid up against him, drawing his mouth down to hers in a kiss as she rubbed invitingly against him.
Mulder braced her against the wall. The difference in their heights combined with the slippery water made things slightly awkward. But they managed. Oh, did they manage. Scully would swear she had never felt like that before. When they reluctantly shut off the water, which had run cold, she had never felt so good or alive or, she had to admit it, so in love.
She loved him. It wasn't sex that made her realize it. Though that was what made her admit it to herself. She needed to tell him. There was no dearth of proper moments. She could say it as he toweled her off. She could say it as he wrapped the towel around her body and tucked the end in between her breasts. She should have said it when he kissed her gently on the top of her wet head.
But something kept her from speaking. She stood there and watched as he rubbed himself down quickly, wrapping the towel around his hips.
When he caught her watching him, she smiled. But she said, "You're all shiny and clean."
"You're glowing," he half-whispered, grinning back at her.
"I'm sunburned," she protested.
"You're beautiful." She began to turn away, embarrassed. "Scully, I -" She had to say it, but she couldn't. The words caught in her throat, making her angry with herself. "Mulder, I know," she said. Her voice was strained and curt, but she couldn't help it. She couldn't apologize for it. Ashamed, she walked away. Another perfect moment shattered.
She couldn't even wish she knew what she was so afraid of, because she did know. She was afraid of leaving him. Of dying.
There were uniforms in the cabinet in the barracks, but Scully didn't find any underwear. She refused to put her own back on after she was finally clean. Do without, she decided. She thought of her mother, for some odd reason. What a slut you are, she told herself, not entirely serious. It was her sister's teasing voice she heard saying the words.
Because she wasn't, really. She remembered Melissa saying that to her after she'd confessed to kissing a boy before they even went on a date.
It had been a joke between them for years, popping up at inopportune times and making them giggle like teenagers again.
Remembering didn't make her want to cry. That hadn't happened before.
The jumpsuit was large on her and she was sitting on her bed, rolling up the pants when Mulder walked in. She looked at him, but he walked over to the open cabinet and dressed with quick, efficient movements.
Briefs had been provided and she watched him slip them on.
She knew he knew she was watching him. He didn't know she had to bite her lip on the irrepressible urge to say to him, "What a slut you are!"
He would never understand. It would hurt him, actually. Someday he would be alone with a memory full of jokes they had shared.
How could she leave him alone? What would he do?
"I found the ship!" Reb burst in, excited. He stopped abruptly when he saw them. Mulder had the jumpsuit halfway on and Scully was staring at him. She'd jumped at the sound of Reb's voice, startled. Now she looked at him and saw he was edging backwards out of the room. "I'll come back," he said, his face turning red.
Mulder shot her a look. She got up from the bed and went after him.
"Reb, wait," she called. He was practically running and he didn't stop. "Reb -"
"Scully." Mulder's voice was firm behind her. She turned and looked at him. He was fully dressed, boots and all. She didn't imagine she'd find a pair of boots to fit her. "What was that about?" he asked.
"Is it so obvious what we were doing?" she asked him, feeling embarrassed. What had happened between her and Mulder was private.
His hand stroked the side of her face. "Yes," he said. "You're radiant." She shook her head, refusing to believe him. "And you're smiling."
"Is that really such a giveaway?" It felt like she had been criticized. She didn't know why she felt so embarrassed that Reb knew.
Maybe because of the way he had reacted. "Why would it bother him so much?" she asked Mulder.
"Think about it," he told her, walking back into the barracks, leaving her alone in the hallway.
Did Reb like her? she wondered, wrapping her arms around herself. It felt vain to even think it. Or was it just because she was the woman?
That made her angry. How did the old joke go - if you had 999 men and one woman on an island, they would all kill each other, but if you had 999 women and one man, everything would be all right? That couldn't be right, it didn't seem funny. Maybe Mulder didn't love her, maybe he just didn't have any other choices anymore.
It made her cold even though she knew it wasn't fair. They had been partners for four years, and he had never made any other choice in all that time. It was her he wanted. He had said he loved her before they had been the only ones left. She believed that he meant it.
It made her wonder again what would happen when she was gone.
She walked back into the room. Mulder was sitting on the bed with one of her shoes in his hand. The soles were worn down from walking and he was turning it over, studying it. He held it up, offering it to her.
She shrugged and let it drop to the floor. There probably wasn't any glass on the floor inside this clean military facility. She'd take her chances barefoot. The cold floor felt good against her feet. She felt free. "We need to find him," she said.
"He'll come back," Mulder told her.
She just looked at him. Then she turned and headed back out into the hallway to find Reb and the ship he said he'd discovered. She would have thought Mulder would be excited to see a spaceship. He must have been, she thought, because he followed her a moment later.
They walked together into a long, dark hallway. It was massive. Their quiet footsteps echoed off the walls. Finally they reached a turn, and when they saw what was beyond the turn, they both stopped.
It looked like a movie set. A cavernous room, the size of a small airport, with bright floodlights hanging from the ceiling. What they shone upon seemed impossible.
It was a space ship.
It was real.
Scully stood there, staring at it with her mouth hanging open. She had never thought she would ever see something like this. It couldn't be real.
Mulder let out a whoop and went up to it. He touched it and it didn't disappear. She blinked and they were still there.
It was as real as everything else that had happened. Slowly she walked up to it and stood next to Mulder. Her hand was trembling as she touched the metal of its outer hull. "My god," she said.
"We have to see inside," Mulder said, like a child at an amusement park he'd waited years to be allowed to go to. He grasped her hand and pulled her along. Around the side, there was a ramp leading up into the shuttle bay of the ship. Scully expected Chewbacca to jump out and say boo at any second. The shuttle was the size of a minivan. She was overwhelmed.
From the shuttle bay, they walked into a hallway. Mulder looked into every room they passed. "Sleeping quarters," he reported back to her.
When he found a room that wasn't a sleep chamber, he walked inside.
Scully knew what it was even as Mulder wandered about touching things, attempting to ascertain their meaning. "It's the doctor's office," she said, lacking the proper vocabulary to explain herself.
"Sick bay," he corrected with a smile.
"Hospital," she said.
"Let's go." He took her hand and led her out. Hospitals represented death. It wasn't something either of them wanted to think about.
"The bridge!" he cried gleefully when they walked into a dark room with a screen like a giant television on one wall. Scully had always wondered how those viewscreens worked - thousands of tiny video camera on the outside of the ship? She'd always thought they were the work of fiction. She'd thought this was the work of fiction. But it was real.
There were six consoles, or workstations. Scully had no idea what any of the buttons did. Neither did Mulder. She was afraid to touch anything, and so found it boring after a few minutes. She walked out into the hallway and found the door they hadn't yet tried.
It was bathed in a rosy light. Reb was sitting on the floor, both of the backpacks open beside him. Scully walked in and looked around.
There were chambers along the walls - tubes from floor to ceiling, just the size of a person. They looked almost like the transporter on the "Enterprise" or like the pneumatic tubes that had once carried mail through old buildings. Reb was taking things out of the bags and inserting them into a grid against one wall. It looked like a matrix of some sort.
"What are you doing?" Scully asked softly, hoping not to startle him.
He turned and looked at her. "Creating life." His face was serious and he went back to his work.
"These chambers are where the clones grow?" she asked, backing off and going to look at one of them in detail. As a scientist, she was fascinated.
"Yeah," said Reb. After a moment, he reluctantly got to his feet and joined her. "It's part of the programming to grow a placenta. It attaches here and is fed with nutrients. The ship controls the flow."
He touched something that looked like a faucet.
"Programming?" she asked.
"Of the genes in the enhanced embryos," he explained.
"Will they dream?" she asked him. Or were they the same sort of clones as he was, made by the consortium?
"They will," he told her. It made her smile. "Sleeping in space."
"Cryosleep, too?" she asked, her eyes widening. She hadn't thought it was possible.
"Not exactly. The ship can control how quickly the clones develop.
They could gestate normally and reach adulthood in nine months."
"Normally," said Scully as though it amused her.
He half-smiled at her. "Or they could gestate at the normal human rate, just reaching the birth stage in nine months. Or it could be slowed even longer than that, over years...decades..."
"Millennia," supplied Mulder, who had apparently joined them when they weren't looking. "The ship must have a hell of a computer." Reb nodded. "I don't know all that it can do. It's fairly self-sufficient. It uses neural nets and biomaterials in some of its functions. Beyond that, I don't know."
"You just work with the clones," asked Mulder. Reb nodded.
Mulder walked over to the matrix where Reb had been inserting the cells and embryos. "Who are they going to be?" he asked. "Or, who were they? I notice there's only six bedrooms, and only six chambers. It could get crowded pretty fast, with all this."
"Six have been chosen to bring the ship back to earth, or to pilot it to a suitable world. There they would bring out the rest of them," Reb explained.
"You've been working on this for some time," said Scully, only realizing the scope of it then.
"Much of the work had been done for me. I've been working toward finding this ship and sending out a colony for about a year." Meaning the consortium had been planning to kill everyone for at least a year. Where had she been a year ago? What had she been doing when the unforeseeable decision was made? It seemed so long ago.
"Who are they?" Mulder asked again.
"Just people," said Reb. "Leaders, fighters, doctors, scientists, thinkers...from diverse genetic backgrounds." Mulder was scowling at him. "For example," Reb bent down and touched a corner of the matrix, "this is Lise. She's a doctor, and she has an immunity to the virus.
Possibly passed down from American Indian ancestors. She also has European and Asian heritage. Or this is Bren. He's a military strategist. He -"
"What about Scully." Mulder finally came to his point. "What about me. What about Samantha?" Scully opened her mouth to say that Reb wouldn't know who Samantha was, but to her surprise, he answered Mulder. "I couldn't get her," Reb said. "All genetic samples from Samantha were destroyed." He looked so sorry. Scully wondered why. Did he feel that way about all the ones whose genetic samples had been lost?
"Are they all pure?" she asked. Reb looked at her. "Pure clones, who will have memories of their donors?"
"Mostly," Reb told her. "They will be able to use their inherent knowledge to solve the problems they'll face. That's why they have to be able to dream. There's no need to send pre-mixed genetic samples.
Once they reach their destination, they'll-"
"Breed," said Mulder wryly.
"Yeah," said Reb.
"What about Scully, or me? Or you?" Mulder asked again.
Reb met his eyes seriously. "I don't think you want to know," he answered. Scully put her hand on Mulder's arm. Reb was right. She didn't want to know if one day there would be a short, healthy redhaired woman standing on this ship. She didn't want to know if that woman would carry in her heart the knowledge of a man she loved, a man who may or may not also be on the ship with her.
"How strong are the memories?" she asked.
"Strong enough, but not too strong," Reb answered cryptically. It made sense to Scully. A clone of her would remember the science, but not be overwhelmed with a sense of loss for those she had loved, but never really loved herself. Scully nodded. She wanted to leave this room.
"If I finish this, we can launch the ship tonight," Reb said.
"That's not much time," Scully said.
"What's the hurry?" Mulder asked pointedly.
"You never know," Reb said. They both knew exactly what he meant.
"Is there anything we can do?" Scully asked. "To help?" Reb shook his head. "It's ready to go. All it needs is life." Mulder began to walk out of the room, probably to explore the ship or the facility more thoroughly.
Scully remained, lingering. "Are you sure?" she asked. "I feel like I need to do more."
"Go with him," Reb told her. His tone was flat and made her feel like she'd been cut. She put her head down and left, calling after Mulder to wait up.
"It's amazing," she said.
"Isn't it," Mulder agreed evenly.
"So much work," she marveled.
"Intended to propagate their evil," he supplied. She looked at him, surprised. "How do we know we can trust him?" Mulder asked her.
"We just do," she answered, and it was the only answer she had. "We have to."
"He was on their side. He may still be on their side."
"He helped us escape them, Mulder," Scully pointed out.
"How do we know he's doing the right thing? How do we know what he's putting in there to be sent out into space? Maybe it is warriors, like they intended. Or maybe it's the worst genetic mutants they could ever find." Mulder seemed angry.
Scully remained calm. "When it comes down to it, Mulder, what does it matter?" she asked. "As long as they succeed." His eyebrows rose and he looked at her. "Don't you want the best and brightest to survive?"
"Survival of the fittest takes care of that," she told him. "The weak or untoward would never make it. They wouldn't fertilize. Or they would, and half those embryos are so faulty they'll never develop. But we've seen their cloning, Mulder. We know what they can do." A thought settled and her face changed.
"What?" Mulder asked.
"Reb has red blood." Mulder just looked at her. "So he does." Neither of them knew what it meant, and it only served to point out their ignorance. They thought they were serving mankind in coming here. But Reb's was the only knowledge that was required. Or could he have made it along? she asked herself. All humans need companionship, she thought.
She squeezed Mulder's hand. "I'm going to take a nap. If we pull this off, it'll be a long night." Scully lingered, her pause an invitation for him to join her.
He didn't take her up on it. "I want to look around some more," he told her. "Take care."
She nodded and headed back to the barracks, her head full of ideas.
She was a little glad Mulder had gone on his own. She needed the rest.
Midnight. The witching hour. They had waited for it to come, intending to launch the new world with the birth of a new day.
They hadn't realized they had to get the ship out of the hangar before they could send it off into space. And none of them could find the reverse gear. Reb knew how to turn it on to launch it, to set it on a course for deep space, to set the computer to thinking. But he didn't know how to turn it on and back it out of its parking space.
Which meant they had to push it.
"Can't we just blast it off from here?" Mulder asked after several minutes of straining against the large metal craft.
"Not if you want to use this building tomorrow," Scully pointed out, pushing herself, but feeling that it was having no effect. "You've seen what happens when they launch the Space Shuttle."
"This is a little cleaner," Reb admitted. "But not much."
"So much for alien technology and miracle metals," Mulder quipped, kicking at one of the wheels. After he did so, it began to turn more easily. He ducked under the large ship and kicked the other wheel.
"Locked," he grinned at Reb and Scully.
After that the ship was more moveable. The night sky was beautiful, full of sparkling stars and a moon so full and bright it seemed close enough to touch. The three of them stood there for a moment, looking at the ship in the moonlight. Preparing to say goodbye. To put all of their hopes into the bottle and allow it to drift away into a sea of uncertainty.
"Someone has to go onto the ship to begin the launch sequence," Reb said after a long time.
"I thought you said it was dangerous," Mulder pointed out, his face drawing. He didn't like this. It was a surprise he hadn't known about when he'd thought he had the whole story.
"It is. I'll go," Reb said.
"No," said Scully firmly. "I'll go."
"No," the two men said at the same time.
"It makes the most sense," she told them.
"There's a sequence that has to be entered and I know it. I'll go," Reb insisted.
"I can learn it, and I type faster than either of you." She was avoiding the real issue and they were letting her. It made her angry.
So she had to say it. "I haven't been pulling my weight on this trip.
I haven't done all that I could. This is my chance to make that up. I know I can do this and get away safely. And if something should go wrong, it should be me."
"Scully, no," said Mulder.
"Yes," she said, meeting his eyes. "The two of you stand to live long and healthy lives. There have to be other people who are immune.
Somewhere. Or you can make clones to populate the earth. There's no reason to risk a perfectly good life when -" her voice gave out and she didn't think she could finish. She hoped they would understand, that they would let her do this.
"When there's a disposable life right here?" Mulder demanded, angry with her. "Don't say that, Scully. You are valuable. Even if you only live one more day. But I'm convinced that you will live a long time." She took his hand. "We both know that's not true."
"I'll go," Mulder said, holding her eyes with his.
"No," she told him. She turned to Reb. "Tell me what I have to do."
There was a long moment before he sighed and told her. She memorized it, and even then felt her knees begin to tremble. She was scared.
Scared that she would die. That everything would end right here and right now.
"Good luck," Reb told her.
It was time.
"Scully." There were tears in Mulder's eyes. "Don't do this."
"I have to," she said, surprised to find there were tears in her own eyes as well. She pulled Mulder close into a hug, which he turned into a kiss.
"I love you," he said, his hands buried in her hair.
She closed her eyes against his chest. And whispered the words into his warm skin, where he was certain not to hear them. Then she lifted her head and moved away.
"Come back to me, Scully," Mulder ordered.
"I will," she promised and began to walk through the dirt to the ship.
Reb caught her as she passed him, his hands touching her waist for just a second. She turned her head in surprise and his kiss caught her on the cheek. Then he released her with a push and she stumbled, then ran to the ship. The heavy pulse of her own blood made her feel alive.
The ship was silent except for the harsh sound of her own breathing.
It seemed to echo from the walls. She crept onto the command center, memorizing her way back out, determining how long it would take her. As a child, she'd always been afraid seeing relatives off on the train.
Her family would troop aboard to say goodbye and then get off before the train left. She was always terrified they would leave without her and she would be trapped on a train with people who were ultimately strangers to her, speeding away from the people she loved. It was that same feeling now. She did not want to be whisked away accidentally by a speeding starship.
She began to key in the instructional sequence. Her fingers were cold and they shook. Near the end, she punched in between two keys. She froze, wondering if she had made a terrible mistake. Eventually she was able to convince herself her finger had landed on the key she had intended. It had been more on that key than the one next to it.
Everything would be fine.
When she finished, and turned away quickly to get off the ship, she heard a woman's voice. It took her a few seconds to realize it was the ship's computer. It sounded so much like a real woman and not like a voice synthesizer. "One minute to liftoff." Shit! Scully thought, running. Reb had told her she would have four minutes. The key slip, she realized. She slid down the stairs and managed to take a breath as she got off the ship. Fresh air hit her face and that breath she'd taken was knocked out of her as she hit the ground, hard. She scrambled to her feet, thinking it had been more than a minute. She ran as fast as she could but it seemed to be in slow motion.
There was an explosion. She screamed because she could feel it in her head, exploding. She felt Mulder's hands steady her and pull her out of harm's way. She turned her face to the sky and watched the ship leave a streak of a brilliant blue as it left them. A spark of red came a moment later, like a shooting star. And then it was over.
"My God," she breathed, and felt herself shaking harder than she had before.
"That was stupid, Scully," Mulder said, and she knew his anger only betrayed how much he loved her. He released her and she swayed, needing someone to be holding her up. She heard the dirt crunch beneath his feet as he walked away.
She sat down in the dirt. Reb was standing over her. "My finger slipped," she said, looking up at him. Suddenly there were tears. "I'm sorry. I could have ruined the entire thing."
"But you didn't," he said, crouching down to her level. One of his fingers touched the skin under her nose. "You're bleeding."
"Damn it," she said, and wiped it with the back of her hand. "The pressure of the explosion must have..."
"Scully," Reb said in an incredibly gentle tone. It made her stop and look at him. "I think I can cure you."
"Don't," she said, feeling despair more acutely.
"You think cloning is easy?" he asked, and shook his head. "Cancer is caused by a gene, did you know that?"
"I'd read...they thought...a certain gene enabled it..." she responded.
Reb nodded. "When activated, it allows the cells to grow out of control. Just turn that gene back to off and cancer cells can no longer thrive. Gene therapy is all you need, Scully." His voice was soft on her name.
She met his eyes, filled with doubt. "You can do that?" she asked.
"I believe so."
"Can you clone other people? I mean, people from the cells in the bag?" she asked. "So the earth won't be dead any more?"
"Should we?" he asked her. "There's nothing we can do to affect the balance of power. The clones who are alive today are slaves to the men who killed everyone to get that power. What right do we have to -"
"What right do we have to let them win?" Scully demanded.
"We can't grow an army of clones to fight our battle for us."
"You don't even want to fight a battle! You want to sit back, complacent, and let these men have what they have worked for!" Scully cried. "Do you want this to be the end?"
"It won't be the end," he told her, his eyes following the trail in the sky where the ship had taken off.
"The end for us, now, here," she pointed out. "What's the point of curing me if we're all just going to die?"
"Do you want to die, Scully?" he asked her.
"No!" She stopped and looked at him, collecting her emotional control.
"Do you want to live like this?" He didn't answer. "Chances are, they were able to detect the launch.
They'll be coming here after us. We don't have much time, and the medical facilities we need are here." She looked at him, not understanding what he was telling her. He got to her feet and offered her a hand to pull her up. "Go and talk to Mulder. We need to begin the treatment tonight." His eyes burned into hers. Then she nodded, and turned to follow where Mulder had gone.
Keenly aware that Reb was still watching her, Scully broke into a run.
"Mulder!" she yelled, but he didn't answer.
She found him wandering in the hallway. He had an odd, scared look in his eyes. "What is it, what's wrong?" she asked, putting her hands on his arms.
Mulder shook his head. He wouldn't tell her. "We need to talk," she said, leading him into the barracks again. She sat down on one of the beds and waited for him to join her.
"Well?" he asked, and she knew that reserve well. He was afraid of being hurt. He was afraid because his feelings were out on the table and there was nothing he could do to protect himself. Everything had slid crazily out of his grasp. Again.
"Reb says he can cure me," she whispered, feeling excited.
"No," Mulder said, and fury darkened his eyes.
"Hear me out."
"I don't trust him."
"We have to trust him," Scully insisted.
"He kissed you out there!" Mulder cried, his voice going raw.
"Mulder," she said darkly. "That doesn't mean anything."
"Deny as much as you want, it meant something."
"Then you can trust him."
"I don't want to play this game with you, Mulder."
"Then don't *play* it, Scully."
"You know how I feel."
"Then why can't you say it?"
"Because I can't!" she snapped. "I've tried."
"Fuck you, Mulder."
"Was that an invitation? I never thought you'd give it away so easily, or I would have saved myself the trouble and just asked." Her hand tingled with the need to slap him. "I don't want to do this."
"Then don't do it, Scully."
"Please, what? What do you want me to give now when you can't - won't - give me a damned thing?"
"Mulder, I'm going to undergo genetic therapy in a few minutes. Please don't argue with me when I don't know what's going to happen." She didn't like begging. But she had to. He had to listen to her.
"Don't take the risk, Scully." His voice had gentled to plead with her.
"I have to."
"Because I don't want to die and leave you. I don't want you to have to be alone. I love you too much to hurt you that way." She'd said it, she'd said all of it. Why did it hurt so much? He didn't say anything and she wanted to cry at the look she saw in his eyes. "It has to be now because the equipment is here and they'll know about the launch and come after us. We don't have much time. So please hold me and tell me you love me before I do this." Mulder's arms went around her. "I love you," he said. It was heartfelt, not a command performance. He kissed her long and hard.
"Come back to me."
"Scully, I love you too much to let you go."
"Me too, Mulder. Me too." She broke out of his arms and went to face her fate.
Ten minutes later, she lay down on a metallic operating table and gazed up at the bright light above her. It brought tears to her eyes but she didn't close them and shut out the light. She smelled the alcohol a moment before she felt the cold swab on her arm. Then the sickening stab as the IV went in. She fought not to cringe, not to make a sound.
"I'm going to put you under," Reb told her, preparing to puncture the IV bag with a hypodermic needle.
"No," she whispered, her eyes so full of the white light she couldn't see him.
"It's going to hurt, Scully. You don't want to be awake."
"I do," she told him.
He sighed and put the needle down. She'd won, too easily. She wanted to be aware, to feel the cancer breaking down in her body. She wanted to feel it go. "You're going to feel like dying," he told her.
"As long as I don't, I don't care."
"I won't let you die," he promised.
"Then let's get started." Her voice was weak because she was afraid.
There was a moment absent of sound. Then she heard his rubber soled shoes on the floor. He picked up another needle. This one went into her other arm. She felt the tiny prick, and then the slide as the needle went into her skin.
A moment later her veins were on fire. It took only a matter of seconds for the blood in her arm to reach her heart and it left her gasping. She bucked and sat up, the pain bringing her stomach into her throat in an instant.
"Lie still!" Reb ordered her. "Damn it, Dana, do you want to die?" He shoved her back into a lying position. She gasped as the pain subsided slightly, replaced by endorphins released from her brain. They made her feel slightly high and she let out a breath, relaxing. "If the pain is too much, tell me and I'll knock you out," Reb promised.
"No." She had to struggle for the one word. She felt his hands against her wrist. "What are you doing?" she choked out, feeling panic.
"You have to lie still," he told her. "This is for your own good." He was strapping her to the table.
Tears slid out of her eyes, unbidden. "Please don't do this."
"I have to."
"No. I'll be good, I'll lay still, just don't..."
"Let me put you under," Reb said quietly. "Please." Scully closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She lay perfectly still and let him bind her to the table so that she couldn't move. It made her heart pump faster. Maybe the fear would make the treatment work faster, she thought. She hoped so. Because she was reliving a hell she'd never wanted to endure again. She was without any control. Powerless, undergoing a medical treatment she did not understand. Only this time she had asked for it. The tears continued to seep out of her eyes. She opened them and stared into the light. It mesmerized her as it had before, and she began to feel she was leaving her body and its pain behind her.
She became aware of their voices sometime later. She didn't know how much later. She didn't know what had happened.
"What the fuck did you do to her?" It was Mulder's voice. He was angry. Reb started to reply, but Mulder started to yell again. "You say you're going to cure her and you put her in a coma *just* *like* *THEM*!" Scully tried to open her eyes, to say, "Mulder, it's all right, I'm here," but she couldn't. She couldn't move. She couldn't make herself wake up.
"It's a protective state!" Reb shouted back. "The tumor is this close to her brain and it's dissolving. So her body has shut down to protect itself. She'll come out of it -"
"You'd better just pray that she does," Mulder said in an icy voice.
Scully felt him clasp her hand and lift it. She could feel the pressure, but she was tired, she was so tired. "Come on, Scully, wake up," he said.
- I'm trying. -
But he didn't get her message.
"You're going to be all right." - Yes -
"I need you, Scully." - I know. -
"Please..." The darkness came round her and she felt herself slipping away, like she was standing on an unsupported muddy hill in the rain and the ground just disappeared under her feet.
- Help? -
There was noise. It hurt her ears. It sounded like a car alarm, whooping and jarring, so much louder than Mulder's voice had been.
"Do something for her!" His shout was so loud it felt like it was inside her head.
"She's coming out of it," Reb said.
She heard herself moan, and suddenly she could feel her body again. It hurt and for a second she wanted to drift back into the warm dark place. Instead, she forced her eyes to open. The lights in the room were bright.
Mulder was at her side instantly. His hand was crushing hers. "Yes, Scully, you're going to be all right." She cringed back from the sound of his voice. This felt like the worst hangover she'd ever had. She didn't want to be awake, not like this. She tried to find her voice, but she couldn't. Turning weakly on her side, she retched. Violently.
Her stomach was empty already and it hurt. Mulder released her hand and moved away.
"Can't you help her?" he whispered desperately to Reb, who shook his head grimly. "Is she better?"
"She will be. These things take time."
"And...?" Mulder asked, sensing there was more than he was being told.
"We have troops at the ten mile marker. Headed this way. We have to get out of here now." Scully managed to lift her head while they were conferring. She even managed to sit up. She felt weak. She hadn't known it was going to be like this. Her head felt weird, like she had a fever. Her legs felt too wobbly for her to even think of standing.
"Where can we go?" Mulder asked.
"You're not saying we should stay here and let them kill us."
"No," Mulder said. "Can she be moved?" He glanced in her direction without looking at her.
Scully wanted to brush her teeth. Her skin felt coated and dirty, as though she had been lying in the bed for a long time. She wondered how long it had been.
"She has to be," Reb answered simply.
"That's not -"
"She'll be okay. She might not be comfortable, but it's better than being dead." Mulder didn't say anything. He agreed but didn't agree. Scully looked at her arms. The needlemarks didn't seem that old. She hadn't lost months again. Maybe a couple of days. She could live with losing a couple of days, she thought.
Fear touched her then. What if I'm not cured? she thought.
"Where are we going?" Mulder whispered to Reb. Scully realized they thought she couldn't hear them.
"The farm, in Canada."
"Another of their installations."
"They won't look for us there."
"They think it's been destroyed. For the most part, it has. They won't know where to begin looking. If they do find us, it will take a long time."
"Are you sure?"
"As I can be," Reb said. "We have to move, now. Go grab some supplies -"
"Mulder." Her voice was rusty and hurt her throat, but it worked.
He froze, then turned to her. A brilliant smile lit up his face. She didn't think she'd ever seen so much joy. "Scully," he said. "You're okay." He just kept grinning at her.
"I'm great," she told him, and felt herself grinning back. Her eyes shot to Reb. "Aren't I?"
"All clear," he told her with a nod.
She allowed her smile to fade. "We have to get out of here?" she said, not really a question. Mulder nodded grimly. She looked down, trying to figure out how to say this. "I'm not sure I can walk," she admitted.
Mulder turned on Reb with murder in his eyes.
"I feel sort of wobbly and strange," she continued to try to explain.
"My knees feel like spaghetti."
"It'll pass. And we won't be walking," Reb said. "There's a jeep we can use. It should get us out of this immediate area, and then we can take some time for you to rest."
"I'll be fine," Scully promised. Even though she felt far from fine.
"Mulder, go and get that stuff?" she suggested.
He nodded and did as she said, but only after his eyes lingered on her for a moment.
Scully turned to Reb, her manner very serious. "Am I cured?" she asked, searching his eyes for some flicker or sign.
"You are," he told her.
"How long was I out?"
"Fast," she said.
"You're not done yet," he cautioned.
"MRI?" she asked.
"Confirms the tumor is dissolving."
"But it's not gone." Her heart clutched up with fear.
"It will be." He put two films in her hands. One was the MRI. It did look better, she thought.
"That's this?" she asked, holding up the other one.
"Gene map," he said.
"I don't know how to read it." He leaned in over her shoulder. "This one says the onco-gene has been turned off. I could tell you what the others -" He sounded embarrassed.
"If it's been turned off, why do I feel so bad?" she asked.
"There's a lot of waste products in your blood right now," he explained. "The cancer cells, the tiny fragments of DNA shed in order to turn the switch to off."
"So I'm not out of the woods."
"It will take a little time."
"Which we don't have," she pointed out. He held her eyes, confirming.
"I need to get cleaned up."
"Can you do it yourself?" he asked.
"If you bring the water over here," she said. She didn't want a spit bath, she wanted a shower. A long, glorious hot shower. She wanted to wash her hair. She closed her eyes for a moment, gathering strength, trying to send the silly thoughts away. Even though she didn't have the strength to get out of bed, she reminded herself. Mulder could hold her up, in the fantasy shower she was having. Except she didn't want him to see her this way.
She began to sponge herself off, and the cool water only reminded her how hot her skin was. As a doctor, she was worried. Something could still go wrong.
She told herself she had to believe it wouldn't. We've come this far.
There were bruises on her wrists. They were deep, only beginning to turn from purple to brown. From the restraints. They brought tears to her eyes. She didn't want to remember.
It's over now, she told herself. All of it. The effects of the abduction would be gone now, with the cancer. And it could never happen again. Not as long as they stayed ahead of the men who were after them.
She peeled off the soiled hospital gown and realized she hadn't been wearing it when they'd begun the treatment. Reb must have changed her.
He'd cared for her, she realized, and it meant something. She tried to tell herself he'd done it with the impartiality of a scientist, but she still felt odd about it. She'd never had a doctor whom she'd considered to be a friend.
It doesn't matter, she told herself, putting on the spare uniform that was lying there. Someone had washed her underwear, for it was lying there clean. They must have found the women's' barracks, she realized, because she was wearing standard white cotton. Suddenly she felt vulnerable. Someone had had to do everything for her. Everything.
While she had just lain there, unprotected by her conscious mind. She felt herself begin to tremble and then she shut it off. She couldn't let any of this emotionally effect her or she would fall apart. She finished dressing just as Mulder came in.
He still smiled to see her. "Are you ready?" he asked.
"Let's go," he said, reaching out for her.
"I want to try."
"I have to -"
"Whoops," he said lightly, catching her as her knees buckled. "There you go." His arms around her held her on her feet. One hand snaked up to brush her forehead. "You're hot."
"Is that a complement?" she asked.
"Smart mouth," he said, but he was smiling. "It's good to have you back," he said seriously, looking into her eyes.
"It's good to be back," she whispered.
"Are you all right?"
"Fine." Not convinced by her proclamation, Mulder bent and nudged her knees with his hand. A moment later, she was in his arms, being carried to the waiting jeep. It had an open top and was painted a light military brown.
"You don't weigh anything," Mulder told her.
"Stop," she ordered him. She didn't want to talk about it. She'd been in a coma for five days. She had seen the bones practically coming through her skin when she'd changed her clothes. She knew, and it disturbed her enough not to want to talk about it.
Reb was at the wheel and it seemed like they were going 100 miles an hour. The wind whipping past felt exciting and alive, but the scenery only made her head spin more. Scully lay down in the back seat, pressing her cheek against the worn leather cushions. "Canada," she said, trying to open the conversation.
"Right," called Reb over the sound of the wind.
"I've always wanted to go there."
"It's beautiful," Mulder said, turning and looking back at her.
She sniffled. Her nose felt clogged full of junk. Then she realized: she felt like she had that day she'd had a mild case of the plague.
A mild case of the plague - was anything more ridiculous than that?
"I have it again," she said.
"What?" Mulder looked panic-stricken.
"The plague." Mulder looked at Reb accusingly.
"I think it's okay, though," she said. "My immune system's been hit hard, so the plague's been able to break through. Right?" Reb nodded.
"But you'll still be able to fight it?" Mulder sounded scared but he was looking in her eyes.
"I imagine it will keep coming back any time our immune systems are weakened," she said.
"We'll just have to get healthy and stay healthy," Mulder said, the edges of the bright beautiful smile still hanging about his lips.
"They're not going to catch us this time," Scully said. She hadn't felt this hopeful in a long time.
"No. They're not," Reb assured them.
"I think I'm going to like Canada," Scully said.
"You're going to love it," Reb promised intensely. He was concentrating on the road.
"Yeah," Mulder answered, because there was nothing more for him to add.
Epilogue: Where the Heart Is
The farm house was beautiful. Large and airy and it got strong sunlight through the windows almost all day. The furnishings were old, and sturdy. They were of a different time, before the disposability of the modern era. The time that dictated the way that they lived now.
The soil was rich for planting. They had acres and tried to make them count, growing a variety of vegetables and trying to cultivate fruit trees. Scully had never known how good home grown food could taste.
She wasn't sure if it was because it had come from her own labor, or if it was because it was fresh and good.
The air even smelled sweet. It was cool and clean. They knew that winter was coming and tried to plan. It would be a long trek into town to scavenge cans from the grocery store, so they tried to stockpile supplies. She herself had raided the pharmacy more than once, in an effort to be prepared for anything.
It was a hard adjustment from modern life for her and Mulder. Reb took to it like he had been born to it - because he had. He'd grown up on this farm. She saw the sadness in his eyes sometimes, as he longed for days that had passed many years ago. The sadness she and Mulder felt was more recent.
But the man she had once teased that he would go insane without television or a cellular phone was coping incredibly well. She smiled.
He didn't need his cell phone because she was never very far from him.
There was no danger of the sort they had once faced daily. Occasionally she looked at Mulder and knew he was wondering if the mutant and freaks had also been immune to the plague. She also wondered if there were abductees out there, alive, somewhere. She wondered how they were living their lives.Mulder read. A lot. She wondered what he would do when it was too cold to walk into town to trade books at the library every few days. Sometimes he read to her. His voice lent something to the inner thoughts and yearnings of even the dullest characters. Perhaps it was his intelligence, or his emotional understanding of the pain most novel characters were made to suffer. Scully had never enjoyed fiction very much, but some of her favorite times were when she lay in his arms and he read aloud to her in a soft voice until her eyelids grew heavy and she felt guilty for wanting to sleep.
She'd always known Mulder would be better than television.
They worked long days, outdoors in the fresh air. It made her sleep sounder at night. It didn't mean the nightmares didn't still come. It just meant she was more relaxed and able to deal with them.
But for someone who had never had trouble being alone, who had been happy in what might have been termed a lonely life, she found life in this farmhouse lonely. There were rooms that cried out to be filled.
There were only so many conversations three people could have.
She wanted children. The farm was the ideal place for them. There was room to run, to scream and sing and play, to contemplate. There was so much to be explored and taught. Even though she knew the full extent of what had been done to her and had no doubts of its thoroughness, she continued to hope and dream every month that a miracle had happened.
And when it didn't come, she knew she shouldn't complain. She'd had more than one miracle performed on her behalf already.
She could go crazy if Mulder wasn't there with her. There were days when he made her angry or irritated or annoyed, but she needed him. She saw the loneliness and envy in Reb's eyes, although he did a good job of hiding it. Sometimes she felt guilty for how much she loved Mulder and how lucky they were to have one another.
More than she wanted children, she wanted Reb to have someone. It was something she found equally unlikely. She tried to quiet those thoughts into silence, knowing the three of them would most likely grow old in this house, caught up in the cycle of everyday, to put food on the table and eat it, to entertain each other in the evenings.
But she got her wish.
It happened in the early winter. The first snow had just fallen, and Scully was walking in it. She relished its coldness, the sterility of the sun in the few hours it lit their world. Nights were long - she had never known nights so long, or how very dim candlelight could be. She had been toying with the idea of snares for animals, to get meat to supplement their diet of stored vegetables and canned food. As she walked today, she was debating it and watching to see if there were animals in the woods. Scully had just decided she wouldn't be able to kill a small animal and skin it and cook it to eat it when she heard a noise.
A woman in a brightly colored dress was standing near the creek.
Scully froze, watching her, afraid the woman would disappear if she made a noise. As she watched, the woman crouched and drank from the creek, her movements quick and precise as an animal's. Then she turned and looked in Scully's direction as though she knew she was there.
Scully took a deep, surprised breath. She recognized this woman. She was the one in the photograph Reb had been looking at that day in the storage facility of the Pentagon. The one he had known growing up on this farm. The one he loved.
But that wasn't possible. That woman was dead.
Then Scully realized she was looking at a clone. She continued to stare at the woman, wondering what she should do. If she called out, would the woman run away like a frightened animal?
She didn't have to find out because the woman began to walk toward her. "Hello," she called to Scully.
"Hello," Scully called back. That voice...
She realized it a moment before the woman reached her. She was tall, perhaps five foot eight. She tilted her head slightly as she looked down at Scully. "My name is Samantha," she said.
Mulder is going to have a heart attack, she thought. "I'm Dana Scully." No, he wouldn't have a heart attack. He would weep with joy.
"Where have you been living?" The woman inclined her head. She had been existing in the woods. The
"Are you cold?" Scully asked, shrugging out of her jacket and offering it to the other woman.
"I'm acclimated to it," she said, refusing Scully's offer. After a moment, she put her jacket back on. "You live in the house."
"Yes. Will you come back with me? You're welcome to stay with us for the winter...for as long as you'd like."
"Bad men in the house."
"I know," Scully said. "They're gone now."
The woman was looking at Scully as though deciding if she could trust her. "They killed."
"I know," Scully said again. "They're dead now, if it's any consolation."
"There are men at the house."
"They aren't the same men. They're friends. My friends. They will be your friends too," Scully promised.
She felt as though she were speaking to a child. This woman was not Mulder's precocious sister and she was not the Samantha whom Reb had loved. That would hurt them both. But that did not mean they could forsake her. All life was precious, from strong healthy men to cancer survivors to manipulative cigarette smokers to defective clones. All life mattered. Scully held her hand out, offering. "Please come with me."
The woman stared at her. Then she grinned and grabbed Scully's hand.
Scully grinned back.
"Mulder! Reb!" she called as they walked into the farmhouse.
"In the kitchen!" Mulder ran in not two seconds later, and Scully realized he thought she had been hurt. "I have someone for you to meet," she said. He was staring at the other woman, but Scully caught his eye. "Prepare yourself," she cautioned.
Mulder nodded and she saw that he already knew. Samantha didn't look like the woman who had once claimed to be her. But she looked like Mulder and she looked like the child in the photographs, with thick dark curly hair and bright blue eyes. "I'm Samantha," she said.
Mulder managed to smile even though his eyes were full of tears. "Mulder," he told her.
Samantha nodded. "It's good to meet you," she said sweetly.
Scully was debating whether to tell him she was a clone of the real Samantha when Reb walked in. His cheeks were pink from being out in the cold and his arms were full of firewood, which dropped when he saw the woman standing there. "Samantha?" he asked, as though he was seeing a ghost.
"Hello," she said brightly. "It's nice to meet you."
Reb blinked, realizing she didn't know him. "She's a clone," he said, shocked. Scully nodded, but she didn't know what to say. She couldn't imagine how much it would hurt to be looking at the image of someone she had loved deeply, who was them but was not them.
"Clone?" asked Samantha. With her eyes so wide and not understanding, she looked like a china doll. Mulder's hand fell heavily on Scully's shoulder and he had to turn look away.
Scully took a step toward her. "You are a...sort of a...copy...of another."
"Yes, there are other me's," she said, then stopped. Her brows furrowed. "But when the men came, they went away. And the boys went away too." Scully nodded, sympathetically. Samantha didn't realize the boys had been Reb, only younger. They must have staggered their ages to prevent fraternization from distracting their workers.
"You're safe here now," she promised.
"It is good," she said. "Lonely in the woods. I was afraid..." She frowned again.
"We won't hurt you," Scully promised.
"No," Mulder agreed, finding his voice. They stood in silence.
"Samantha." Reb's voice broke slightly in the middle of the word, but he managed. She looked at him and he resisted the urge to avoid her eyes. "Do you like being called that, Samantha?" he asked.
She shrugged. "My name. But it's long."
"It is long," he agreed. He took a few steps toward her. "Why don't we call you...Ann? A nickname."
"Ann?" she said, uncertain.
"Sam_an_tha," he pointed out, taking another step towards her.
"Sam_an_tha," she repeated, and smiled. "Ann."
"Ann," he confirmed. He was smiling at her now, even though there was some sadness there.
"Help you," she offered, dropping to her knees. Reb joined her on the floor. "Clumsy," she teased him with a charming, mischevious grin.
"Yeah," he admitted, looking embarrassed.
Scully turned and looked up into Mulder's eyes. "I think it's going to be okay," she said. "Are you all right?" He nodded. "It isn't her, not really."
"It is some part of her," Scully told him softly.
He nodded again and licked his lips, something he did when he was nervous. "Now we can play bridge," he joked.
Scully laughed out loud, surprised by the joke. Things were going to be all right if Mulder could crack jokes. She wrapped her hand around his and led him over to the counter to help her prepare supper. For four.
"Like babies?" Samant - Ann - asked suddenly, causing everyone to look at her.
"Yes," Reb said cautiously.
"Why?" Scully asked in her gentle voice. "Are you going to have one?"
"No," said Ann as that grin broke across her face again. "You are."
Scully felt her face drain and then flush as she turned pale then blushed furiously. "That isn't possible," she told Ann, who had to be hoping, or projecting or...something. Mulder was wringing the life out of her hand.
Ann got up from the floor and walked right up to Scully and smelled her the way an animal might. "No," she told Scully. "I can smell you. Baby." She poked Scully in the stomach. "Baby," she said again.
Scully realized she was squeezing Mulder's hand back equally as hard.
"How long have you been living in the woods, Ann?" She shrugged. "Since I was small," she answered. "A year?" she guessed.
Scully knew it had been more than a year. Ann had some concept of time, but not much. Her ways were human, yet oddly animalistic. Her language was full, but primitive. She was a very interesting woman. Ann had lost interest in the conversation and returned to sit on the floor with Reb, who stared at Scully for a moment too long before turning his attention to Ann.
"Do you think she's right?" Mulder whispered to Scully.
"I honestly have no idea," she said and hear the tremor in her own voice.
"Do you want her to be right?" he asked.
Scully could only nod and he enfolded her in his arms. "Then we'll see," he said. "We will see."
"Baby," Ann insisted again, and rolled her eyes. She'd been listening. And she thought they were idiots for not believing her.
Eight months later, the four in the small farmhouse became more than four.
It is amazing just how strong life can be, how hard it will fight in order to thrive under even the most impossible of conditions. Mutations, genetic weaknesses - the things most feared by parents - could sometimes turn out to be an amazing gift. No one knew better than Scully the power of one anomalous cell.
Scully wanted to choose the name Hope, but Mulder insisted on Starr. The slightest flaw in the wall of a single cell can cause it to divide abnormally. To separate itself entirely.
As it turned out, they got to use them both.
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"We didn't do it!"
"Whatever." -The Lone Gunmen [Unusual Suspects]