Title: Smoke on the Horizon
Author: Paige Caldwell
Feedback: paigecaldwell@hotmail.com
Classification: MSR, S
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Through season six
Archive: Please do, just let me know where.
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, damn it!
Author's Notes: Sequel to Comfortably Numb.

Summary: A distant ship... smoke on the horizon... now that the truth about colonization is revealed, Scully struggles to find hope in a future that may not include Mulder.


Part 1

I told her that I'd never leave her...

I made this promise to her before we were lovers. Before she admitted the truth about extraterrestrials. Before I learned that we finally shared the same belief.

And, apparently, before she was ready to make the same commitment.

She's gone.

No parting kiss... no poignant farewell...

Okay, it's Scully. She may be articulate, but her expression is as eloquent as a doctoral thesis. Melodrama is not her style. She is concise in thought and methodical with words.

And, apparently frugal with explanations.

I should have seen this coming. The thread between us been tenuous, lately. One that I've stretched past the point of endurance, not realizing that each gossamer strand was intricately woven around my heart. Now that it's severed, blood red ribbons of fear and regret threaten to rip through my chest wall.

I crawl out of bed, naked and dizzy. Falling to my knees, my hands press against my temples which pound with the fury of a recent hangover. My symptoms are strangely similar. A queasy stomach, a tongue that refuses to budge from the roof of my mouth, an insatiable thirst...

Except I wasn't drinking.

I fumble for the glass on the night table. There's only a swallow left, but I tip it to my lips like a man who has crossed the desert and found a water hole.

That's when I see it.

A white, powdery substance that films the side of the glass. My finger scrapes a sample which tastes as bitter as my realization.

A drug...

Anguish turns to anger.

God damn her...

Damn her to hell just long enough to realize the hell she's putting me through.

The recovering addict has drugged me.

It takes three cups of coffee and a scalding shower to erase the haze that has permeated my brain. Standing in front of the vanity, I angrily wipe the steam from the mirror. I study my reflection, noting the shadows under my eyes and the gauntness to my stubbled cheeks.

In my frantic attempts to make her healthy, my own well- being has been crippled. Physically and psychologically. A month's worth of mental somersaults, backflips and cartwheels has taken a serious toll.

What is supposed to be her "renewal" period is turning out to be nothing other than a "withdrawal" phase. This disparity perplexes not only me, but our therapist. We continue to see Dr. Vandervanack once a week. Sessions that were once as charged as a pair of jumper cables now seem disconnected. Scully sits on the therapist's couch as silent and unmoved as a dead battery.

When our therapist asks her what she's staring at, she responds in a low, prophetic tone. "There's smoke on the horizon."

I recognize the lyrics immediately and regret ever having introduced her to Pink Floyd. She has taken her theme song a bit too literally. "Comfortably Numb" has become her haunted melody, a tribute to her former state of mind. Rather than cringe from the etude of drug addition, I'm beginning to think she mourns it. As destructive as it was, it was her insulation from the truth.

Granted, the truth pursued her like the dogs from hell. In a series of flashbacks, the memories of her abduction hounded her, chased her, nipped at her until she bled with pain.

Because I wanted her to accept "my" truth, I didn't bandage her wounds. Instead, I tore them open each time they tried to scab over. I debrided her cuts like a surgeon who diagnoses gangrene. The infected tissue of denial had to be severed for her to heal properly. And, if there were ugly scars, I could always use my skin to graft hers.

"Is that what this is all about, Scully? Does the feel of my skin chafe you? Did you run away to lick your wounds or to pick away at a new epidermis that you find uncomfortable?"

Whatever the reason, I'm going to find her.

When I do, I'm going to show her the true meaning of pain.

Pain is the cold, razor-edged betrayal of trust.

Because I'm a federal agent, I'm not without resources. But, for the same reason, I'm reluctant to use them. Rather than taint her Bureau record with "drug dependence", Skinner falsified his report to say she was on a "leave of absence". And, I was allegedly tapping into my supply of unused vacation. Now that we've been back to work for two weeks, after personally assuring Skinner that Scully was fit for duty, I realize that incompetence has more to do with my assessment than her condition.

Instead, I summon my trio of sleuths to help me find her. "Mulder's Angels" hardly compares to "Charlie's", but they do materialize within the hour. And, Langly's hair would resemble Farrah Fawcett's if it was layered rather than stringy.

Sex appeal comes in various forms and I'm as turned on by their technology as I would be by a string bikini. My "Gunbabes" transform Scully's apartment into their base of operation. Within an hour, her phone is bugged and her computer is hacked into. We scour her e-mail and search her internet history folder in an attempt to defrag a clue as to her whereabouts.

"She's been downloading a lot of abstracts from PubMed," Langly comments.

PubMed is a database of the most recent articles from medical journals. I lean over Langly's shoulder and stare at the screen. He scrolls through pages of what appears to be studies on the efficacy of vaccines.

"Mulder, I think you'd better take a look at this." I hear Frohike summon me from across the room.

"Okay... okay..." I mumbled, crossing over to the window where he stands. He pulls open the blinds to display his find.

Two strips of tape form an "X".

Oh God...

Like one of her "flashbacks", I replay an argument we had two days ago.

Having returned to our basement hovel, we were skimming through an assortment of X-files that had landed on my desk during our absence. I was settling back into my job with more enthusiasm than my partner. While I was immersed into the intriguing tale of clairvoyant janitor who swore he could hear the beating of other peoples hearts, she was otherwise occupied. That is, if you could consider pacing the room an occupation.

"You gotta hear this one, Scully," I told her. "This dude gives Edgar Allan Poe a real run for his money."

"You promised that when we came back to work, there would be no more X-files," she stated bitterly. "You said we would focus on isolating the vaccine, on securing our future."

"What would you have me do, Scully?" I interjected, feeling self-conscious and irritable. "Have me stand outside the Hoover Building holding a sign that says `ET, call home'?"

"You had no problem taping your little x's to your apartment window," she countered.

"That's when there was someone to answer the call," I reminded her. "No, Scully. As frustrating as it is, we're right where we're supposed to be."

"For what? The next breadcrumb of a lead?"

"Exactly." I gave her arm a reassuring pat. "And, together we'll follow it. Together, Scully. Remember?"

I should have known better. Scully was never the type to be condescended to. Nor, was she willing to wait for me to take the lead.

Apparently, she made the call, herself.

"Mulder?"

My three angels hover over me. I'm on the couch, having collapsed with the impact of what she's done. Byers is fanning me with a copy of Scully's Scientific American and I snatch it from his hand irritably. With a burst of fury, I hurl it towards her taped beacon. The window doesn't break, but the blinds clatter to the floor.

Figures...

Another fucking set of mini-blinds to be replaced.

"I guess the Scully chick has done more than just flown the coop," observes Frohike, scratching the back of his neck as if he has fleas.

"More like a coup d'?tat," I grimace. "She drugged me last night in order to make her rendezvous"

Byers sits down on the couch beside me. He's a man of quiet reserve and is as reluctant to pass judgment on Scully as he is on the wacko, Suzanne Modeski. With a sober expression, he asks me,

"Mulder, are you sure that it was Scully who drugged you?"

"What do you mean?" I snap.

"Are you sure she left here willingly?"

"Are you suggesting that she was kidnapped?"

"Maybe..." Frohike jumps right in like a loyal dog to a mistress who feeds him kibbles-n-bits. "Maybe she got in over her head..."

I snort at his supposition. In a scornful voice, I answer,

"She's not in so deep that she forgot to drag her designer luggage with her."

When the phone rings, we all startle. I quickly gesture Langly over to the taping equipment. On a silent count of three, I answer the phone and he begins tracing the call.

"Mulder?"

It's Scully.

I nod to Byers, who rolls up his sleeve to time the call with his watch.

"Where are you, Scully?" I demand.

"I can't tell you that, Mulder," she states firmly. "I'm sorry."

"Are you equally sorry that you drugged me?"

"What?" she gasps.

"The incredulity in your voice is very convincing," I sneer. "What was it, Scully? Percocet?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Mulder," Scully relays in a tight voice. "When I left, you were sleeping... snoring actually."

"I don't snore, Scully. You do. And, I have a glass that is coated with what appears to be your call brand."

There is silence on the other end of the phone. Frohike leans forward and whispers into my ear.

"If you don't stop acting like such an asshole, this is going to be a very short phone call."

I glance over at Byers who's still staring at his watch. His eyes meet mine briefly and he shakes his head.

We need more time.

"Scully," I change my tone and speak softly, "If you didn't drug me, then who did?"

I hear a sound that resembles a sniff. When she finally speaks, her voice is thick with emotion.

"I can't believe they did this,"

"Who, Scully?"

"I'm so sorry..." Her words drop off into a whisper. I can tell she's crying.

The sound of her tears completely unnerves me.

I jump up from the couch and move away from the Gunmen. Cupping the receiver, I murmur into it,

"Scully, I love you. Please... oh God, please tell me where you are."

"I can't," she insists. "I made a deal."

"Listen to me, Scully. Whatever deal you made, the other person has obviously broken it. So the deal's off."

"The deal's our only hope..." Her voice breaks again.

"Scully..."

"I love you," she tells me. There is a terrifying pause after she speaks.

She's hanging up.

"Scully..."

The line goes dead. The sound of it reminds me of a heart monitor flat-lining.

My heart...

"Do you have it, Byers?" I shout across the room.

"Got it." The man wipes his sweaty brow with the back of his sleeve. "It's a D.C. exchange, Mulder."


I'm not a Buddhist, but I'm chanting like one.

His name. Mulder. Over and over I intone his name like a prayer, hoping to meditate past this uncertainty and fear. Betraying his trust punishes me like a peptic ulcer. My stomach burns with a stream of acid that regurgitates to my throat. Neither Peptol Bismal nor my litany fails to coat the acridness of my despair.

By acknowledging the truth, I am forced to see the smoke on the horizon. It looms like an impenetrable fog, as thick and green as a bowel of pea soup. Aliens. Colonization. A future where mankind's role is limited to that of a living digestive or slavery as a human/alien hybrid.

The smoke has manifested itself like a series of stale, smoke rings. Cigarette Smoking Man. Our vile nemesis turned soothsayer. He predicts that I will survive this Armageddon, hinting that the vaccine has given me immunity to the alien plague. It's his hope that I become his post-apocalyptic vindicator. He wants me to validate the inhumanity of the experiments, knowing that the voice of a former lab rat will be believed.

As horrifying as his prophecy is, my real fear is that I may have to face it without Mulder. Ironically, this same anxiety also irritates me. I may no longer dependent on drugs, but I've become acutely dependent upon him. I've lost my autonomy. Without it, I'm no longer capable of free will, of navigating my destiny, of finding my own way back to the comfort of hope.

Unconditional trust is an alliance difficult to maintain. It requires balance between partners, and lately both of us seem to be teetering a tight rope of communication. My footing may slip, but his seems stuck. We wobble unsteadily like two inexperienced circus performers. Except, I'm tired of being the clown and he's reluctant to be the ring leader.

So, I quit the circus. By taping an "X", I advertised my willingness to try out my solo act.

And, I found someone more than willing to audition me.

Under the guise of grocery shopping, I met CSM in a neutral territory. He's the one who ridiculously suggested a supermarket. While I nervously pushed my shopping cart down the produce aisle, I caught a whiff of his signature stench. Or was it the fish? Either way, he waited for me by the seafood counter. The old fool was actually grinning at a tank of lobsters, snorting as they clawed each other seeking their escape.

"You know, there is a sign in here that says no smoking," I glanced around to make sure no one was present to overhear us. When my eyes returned to his, I saw them crinkle with amusement. As he pressed the unfiltered cigarette to his lips, I noted his tobacco stained fingers and added sarcastically,

"Not that you pay any attention to the rules of society."

"Actually, Agent Scully, I make them."

"Yeah, I know. You've watched presidents die, you turn the tide of history, yadda...yadda..yadda," I yawned, pretending boredom to disguise my apprehension.

"But, it is you that will turn the tide, Agent Scully." He smiled and tossed the cigarette into the lobster tank. For a moment, both of us watched the lobsters clamor towards it, believing it to be food.

"See how they scramble to preserve that which they need to survive?" CSM chuckled, delighted to have found a suitable analogy. "Even when the situation seems hopeless."

"They're crustaceans. I'm not impressed."

"You should be," He paused to pull out another cigarette from his pack of Morleys. Tapping it against his hand, he explained, "They will do anything to survive, whereas mankind hesitates for the sake of morality. I wonder what society will say when it finds itself on the bottom tier of the food chain?"

"Ouch, that hurts?" I offered flippantly.

"So the voice of rationalism does have a sense of humor," he commented, lighting his cigarette.

I was surprised he used a lighter when he could simply strike a match off of his coarse, leathery face.

Some things never change. As always, he repulsed me.

But, he was my only hope.

"The voice of rationalism needs some answers," I told him. I took a deep breath and asked the critical question, "Am I immune to the alien virus?"

When he blew smoke into my eyes, I didn't blink. My hands tightened around the bar of the shopping cart, but I held my ground. Lifting an eyebrow, he answered my question with another.

"Are you willing to find out?"

"Are you willing to hinge your hopes on a muted voice?"

"Touche, my dear," he replied. His sinister tone was accentuated with puffs of smoke. "My colleagues and I believe that the vaccination grants immunity to the original virus. However, in its mutated form we only have speculation and no proof."

"I can be that proof," I offered firmly.

A moment of silence followed my proposal. Not because he was surprised, but because a gaggle of shoppers were clucking their way past us. CSM leaned over the tank to tap the glass and taunt the lobsters. I lifted the store's circular and flipped through the coupons.

"Of course, my cooperation comes with a price," I add.

CSM straightened up and gave me a smile, saying,

"I imagine the costs involves vaccinating your partner."

"Consider it a bargain." I assert. "Two historians for the price of one."

He snickered and beckoned the deli help over to the seafood counter. Pointing at the lobsters, he said,

"I'll take two..."

This is how our deal was made. Over lobsters. He knew the fragility of my shell when it came to my partner.

I, in turn, offered my blood like drawn butter.

Does my DNA hold the recipe for salvation?

By tomorrow, we'll know for sure. In the morning, the experiment is scheduled to take place.


Part 2

Rather than accept CSM's gracious offer of accommodation, I find my own. Because I'm a willing participant, he doesn't see the need to detain me. He knows I'll be back promptly at 8 a.m. Just as he realizes that this is one assignment I have no intention of sharing with my partner.

But, he insures my end of the deal by drugging Mulder. The one person capable of stopping me from resuming the Consortium's lab rat.

I want to run. I want to tuck my tail between my legs and scamper home.

I don't.

I sigh, drawing the curtain to the window of my motel room. Kicking off my heels, I fall back onto the king size bed and close my eyes. There are no "magic fingers" to pulsate me to sleep tonight. And, I'm not talking about a quarter eating machine that generally find their way into such tacky motels.

God, I miss him...

When I hear the knock on the door, I roll off the bed and reach for my wallet.

A mushroom topped pizza will not fill the void, but it may stop the queasiness of my stomach.

As I open the door, I realize the mistake I've made. Not about the pizza, but about the delivery man.

It's Mulder.

Without a word, he pushes me back and slams the door. In my nebulous haze of being both thrilled and terrified to see him, I don't realize that what grips my wrist is actually the cold metal of a handcuff.

He jerks me towards the bed and clicks the other cuff to the headboard.

I don't think he has a titillating experience in mind.

Actually, all he intends is a tirade and for me to be his captive audience. He rants on about my behavior as he wears a path along the frayed carpet. I try to explain, but he's not willing to listen. Each time I start to speak, he cuts me off with another round of belittling accusations.

By the time I've heard "reckless" and "irresponsible" for the third time, I'm irritated. It's like the pot calling the kettle black, except I'm chained to the overhead stove hanger.

When his big, oafish feet almost trip over my shoes, I frown.

"Hey," I exclaim. "Those shoes cost me a day's pay."

"Wanna raise?" Mulder snaps his fury. "Why don't you ask your new boss for one?"

"He's not my boss, Mulder," I clarify. "I'm a volunteer."

"You're a fucking lunatic, Scully," he retorts. "Smoking Man isn't to be trusted."

"You didn't have a problem trusting him to dispose of your ex-wife's body."

I must be a lunatic. I'm taking a situation that still haunts him and am throwing it into his face.

"I had no choice," Mulder bellows, advancing on me, trying to block me with his body.

Where in hell does he think I'm going to go? Under the mattress?

"Choice in what, Mulder? Killing her or covering it up?"

"You really can be a bitch, Scully," He hisses, inches from my face.

I gaze at his turbulent mouth and fight off my temptation to lick it. I can't help myself. My emotions are in turmoil and the closeness of his body sends a current that's capable of short-circuiting all my senses.

He must feel it, too. Like the pull of two magnets, our lips fuse together. When he tears open my mouth, my tongue is more than happy to do battle with his. Over and over, we clash like warriors in an arena of control. I'm not willing to be subjugated and he's tired of being my doormat.

The second knock at the door makes me groan inside his mouth.

"That will most likely be the pizza."

"Don't go anywhere," he snickers as he gets off the bed.

The expression of the delivery boy is priceless. He gapes over Mulder's shoulder at my disheveled clothes and wrist securely cuffed to the headboard. Shifting uncomfortably in his shoes, I can tell that he's debating whether he should take his money and run... or simply run.

"It's okay," I call over to him. "We do this all the time."

"You sure, lady?" He eyes Mulder suspiciously.

"It's how I work up an appetite," I grin back.

When Mulder shuts the door, he shakes his head slowly. As hard as he tries, he can't suppress the laughter that ripples across his body.

"You're hopeless," he chides me, balancing the pizza in one hand as the other tosses me the keys to the handcuffs.

"Not any more," I relate, unlocking the cuff. "But I'm willing to share my pizza and my definition of hope."

We sit cross-legged on the bed like two Indians on a buffalo skin. Steam rises from the pizza carton as if water has been poured over its ceremonial slices. Each of us inhale it like a peace pipe. Mulder and I have always been respectful towards our ritual of food.

As I slide my hand under the largest, mozzarella dripping slice, Mulder grabs my arm and says,

"I thought all good Catholics confess before they break the fast."

"Not since we've had a pizza loving Pope," I tell him, hunching over to drag the cheese off with my teeth.

I almost choke on a mushroom when he pushes the sleeve of my blouse past my elbow. He twists my arm over and studies the pin pricked, bruised skin. Tracing my vein with his finger, he shakes his head in disbelief.

"What have you done, Scully?"

"I donated a little blood," I pull my arm away.

"It's more than that," Mulder snaps. "Don't lie to me, Scully. You didn't go sneaking off in the middle of the night to just give a blood sample. And, Smoking Man didn't drug me to prevent only your so-called donation."

"Like you said, Mulder, the future may course through my veins," I advise. "The same vaccine you injected me with could eradicate this alien plague."

"The vaccine was formulated with the original virus in mind," he reminds me. "Not the mutated form. For all we know, there may be no defense."

"Without my cooperation, we'll never know."

"Then I guess we'll never know," Mulder growls back.

"That's not a decision that you get to make," I retort, seizing a paper napkin and sopping the grease from my fingers.

For a minute, he contemplates my stubborn expression. Lifting another napkin, he gingerly wipes the daub of sauce from my lips.

"I thought we were partners," he comments in a hurt tone.

"We are partners," I insist.

"In all perspectives," he clarifies.

"Well, we're better at some angles then the others."

"I'm talking about parallel minds, Scully, not horizontal bodies."

"Mulder," I flip the lid down on the pizza box and shove it aside. Arguing with him may stimulate my mind, but it can also ruin my appetite. "If I cooperate, then we'll have a future where we can explore every linear line of our relationship."

"Define cooperation, Agent Scully."

"My exposure tomorrow to the mutated virus," I tell him, bracing for his reaction.

What I really need is bomb gear. The force of his explosion almost knocks me onto my back. I'm not sure which makes me more dizzy, his wave of obscenities or that he's back on his feet, circling the carpet like a top out of control.

"I'm not going to let you do this," he yells.

"You can't stop me," I say, frowning when I realize that I sound like a petulant five year old.

"Then I'll find someone who can," he threatens.

Once again, my lover turns into my baby sitter.

"Don't you dare call my mother and involve her in this."

"Actually, I was thinking of Skinner and protective custody," he remarks dryly. "But, I like your idea better."

"Mulder..."

"Look, Scully," Mulder says, taking me by the shoulders. "I'm too exhausted to keep up with this mental marathon of yours. Every time I think we're close to the finish line, you go sprinting off to do another lap. Well, this time, I need to pass the baton to another runner."

I squint at him resentfully.

"And, to think you call yourself a long distance runner," I sniff.

"And, to think the Consortium considers you the voice of rationalism," he retaliates. "Where's that steadfast logic of yours? Rather than err on the side of caution, you're plunging headfirst into danger. It's reckless, it's irresponsible... it's..."

"Exactly what you would do..." I cut in. "If our roles were reversed, you'd ditch me in a flash and offer yourself up like a sacrificial lamb."

"Yeah? Well, that lamb isn't as proverbial as you think." Mulder responds. "If the vaccine doesn't work, then you'll be lying on that altar with your gut torn open and your entrails half-eaten."

"Stop sugar coating it, Mulder, and tell it to me straight." I try out his classic witticism to deflect him.

"Try this, Scully. Your blood will be spent for nothing. Nothing other than confirming or denying their speculation."

"You call it speculation," I argue. "I call it hope."

"It's called being played, Scully." Mulder's hands skim up to my face. He forces me to stare into his hazel eyes, which shift from green to brown, from agitated to disappointed. "Cancer Man has read you like a open book. He's taken this latest chapter called "fear" and has monopolized on it."

"Are you saying that I'm being set up?"

"Look at this way, Scully. If the vaccine works, it works. It was introduced into the biological system of that ship when I injected it into you."

"What are you saying?"

"If the vaccine is a reliable defense, then it's already contaminated their plans. If it doesn't, then the vaccine was never a valid hope to begin with."

I close my eyes. The weight of my head drops into the palms of his hands.

"I never thought of it that way," I sigh heavily.

I feel his fingers twine through my hair. He smooths the strands over my ears, trying to either placate me or ensure that I'm listening closely to his next words.

"I know the truth scares the hell out of you," Mulder murmurs. "It scares me, too. But, my real fear is no longer limited to death."

"What do you fear most, Mulder?"

"Losing your trust, Scully," He admits sincerely. "Without it, life means nothing. Love is only caricature of what it's supposed to be. And, death would be a blessing in disguise."

"Oh..." I can barely speak, much less argue with him. He has a way of making me despise my actions, which now seem thinly veiled good intentions.

"I trust you, Mulder."

"Prove it..."

His breath feels hot and desperate against my lips. I try to cool his impassioned mouth with mine. The tip of my tongue slides around the perimeter of his lips, silently pleading to accept and forgive me.

But, he pulls away and says,

"That's not what I meant, Scully."

It's my turn to cup his face in my hands. I steer his gaze to meet mine.

"I won't go through with it, Mulder," I assert. "I won't let one truth defeat the more important one."

"Which is what?" He holds his breath this time.

"That unconditional trust and love spans more than a lifetime," I tell him.

Because, this is Mulder and melodrama pales in comparison to derisive humor, I add,

"And, I have no intention of waiting several reincarnations while you toy around with that Confederate girlfriend of yours,"

Mulder's response is somewhere between a gasp and a chortle of laughter.

"Don't tell me that you believed all that regression crap," he says.

"Oh, now you call it crap." I roll my eyes.

"I knew it was crap the first time I kissed you," Mulder confesses, easing me back against the pillows.

"Why is that?"

"Because it was the first time I got close enough to see my soul in your eyes."

Trust Mulder to come up with a line so poignant that I want to cry. And, trust Mulder to wring my heart like a rag one minute, then have me writhing with desire the next. While I'm blinking back tears, he's popping open the buttons to my blouse.

The sound in my throat resembles a gurgle, the strangled cry of a woman who wants to express herself, but doesn't know how. I've never been the type to convey my emotions through words. I think he accepts that, but seeks reassurance in the only language we don't banter in. Body language.

But, this time it's different. Maybe, because I feel different. He's not only stripping away layers of clothes, but levels of anxiety that have been suffocating me like a shroud. Released of this oppressive cerement, I take the first of several deep, clean breaths. The acrid smell of smoke is replaced by the scent of him. The subtle mixture of adrenaline and cologne reminds me of the sea air, both refreshingly salty and sweet.

Even the tone of our lovemaking is changing. What is generally a pattern of give and take is weaving itself into a tapestry of mutual pleasure. Neither one of us loses eye contact as our lips gently caress each others. When his fingers slide between my legs, mine find their way to ease down his pants.

Mulder and I are like two pieces to an intricate puzzle. Apart, we are as abstract as two disjointed individuals. Together, we create a perfect landscape where the horizon only promises a brilliant sunrise. I can feel its glow against my skin, illuminating the darkness ahead of me.

Hope is now. It's the feel of him inside of me. It's the sensation of lifting upwards, of hips swaying together in a rhythm distinctly ours. It's his fingers twining around mine, the depth of his eyes, the resonance of his voice as he calls my name.

The moment doesn't define us. We define the moment.

I greet his cry with my own.

I think we've defined the meaning of trust.

When I wake the next morning, I discover the definition of deceit.

He's gone.

After a night filled with passion, I feel as disillusioned as if I've just had a one night stand.

It's worse than that...

The coldness that grips me is not just despair.

It's handcuffs...

It may not have been a one night stand, but I'm certainly cuffed to one.

God damn him!

What happened to unconditional trust?

I told him I wouldn't go through with the experiment. I even admitted that I was wrong and he was right. That confession alone should have bought me eternal salvation.

But, I'm not dealing with the Catholic Church. I'm dealing with Mulder. And, although his creed may begin with "I want to believe...", the rest of the dogma should read "... but, I'm too paranoid to do so."

At least he could have left my clothes within arms reach. Being cuffed to a table is one thing, being naked and trying to hook my underwear with my toes is another.

While I wait for him to return, I stare at the ceiling and fantasize about my partner. But, not the type of fantasy he would drool over. After this humiliating gesture, I seriously doubt if I'll be able to be in the same room with him, much less share the same bed.

How easy it is to imagine his contrite expression as he offers breakfast as a token apology. Because he accuses me of "distorting my vision", I do so now. I imagine his coffee splashed shirt after my agile foot kicks it out of his hand. I see donuts flying like little alien saucers around his startled face. I imagine a certain part of his anatomy as two eggs that I'm ready to boil, scramble or fry...

Within thirty minutes, my stomach is growling from my menu of analogies.

Where the hell is he?

My answer comes in the muted chirp of my cell phone. It's buried somewhere in between the tangled sheets and tattered blanket. My free hand digs under the covers to retrieve it. When I do, I vent my fury into the receiver.

"You have less than five minutes to get your ass back here, Mulder, or I swear you'll be wearing more than just the imprint of my heart."

"Scully..." Mulder's voice is unusually serious. "I want you to listen to me closely."

"Mulder..."

"Don't talk," he hisses. "Just listen."

His curtness not only startles me, it silences me. I draw up the blanket in an effort to cover a nakedness that now feels more vulnerable then embarrassing.

"In a couple of hours, the maid service will come to clean your room," he advises me. "When they do, tell them that the keys to the cuffs are in the top dresser drawer."

"Where are you, Mulder?"

"I'm on my way to buy you hope, Scully," he informs me in a dull tone. "The experiment will go on as scheduled. But, you're not going to be the Consortium's lab rat. I am..."

I clutch the phone frantically. It begins to slip from fingers that seem wet with perspiration, but are really tears sliding off the side of my cheek.

"Don't do this, Mulder," I begin to whimper. I no longer care if I sound weak. "Please... oh God... please, don't do this."

"I have to, Scully. There really is no choice."

For a minute, all I hear is the sound of my own sobs. When his voice cuts through them, I detect a hardness that I never thought possible.

"Stop sniveling, damn it. Your a federal agent, for God's sake. Start acting like one."

Before I can gasp enough air to respond, the line is cut off.

"Mulder..." I scream his name. Panicked, I dial his cell phone only to find that he's turned it off.

Oh God...

After everything he said about the vaccine and the experiment, how can he do this?

Mulder made me believe. He twisted my perspective, trashing my resolve with an argument more powerful than skepticism.

He convinced me that hope is now. That faith in our trust and love is more compelling than any fear of the future.

He lied to me. Last night was only an effort to divert me. This morning was his way of detaining me long enough to...

Oh God... to replace me... to offer himself, instead.

I wipe my eyes angrily against the edge of the blanket. Like most hotel linens, it smells as stale as the recirculated air in a sealed off room. It smells like...

Wait... I know this smell...

Like a bloodhound, I lift my nose and take a whiff, immediately detecting the foulness in this atmosphere I call deceit.

Except it's not Mulder's...

Someone else was in this room recently. His stench still lingers in the air.

Cigarette Smoking Man...

I realize then what Mulder was trying to tell me. His abrupt manner should have been my first clue. But, his words were meant to be more than an attempt to intimidate me. They were "smoke" signals... a distress call... a SOS that at first, I was unable to decipher due to the static of my own insecurities.

Unconditional trust not only begins with the willingness to believe. It's knowing someone so well that what fringes on deceit is only a curtain drawn over the danger he's in.

I think I finally understand his communiqu?.

As I punch another number into my cell phone, I acknowledge the most terrifying message of all.

When it comes to the Consortium's experiments, there are no "volunteers".


Part 3

"An Emmy winning performance," CSM tells me as I click off my cell phone.

I'm not interested in his critique of my acting ability. All I can think about is Scully's reaction to it.

Had there not been a gun pointed to my head, I wouldn't have lied to her. My dialogue was pre-written and I was forced to make this call of deceit. I tried to ad-lib a few lines at the end, hoping to prompt Scully into a different interpretation. But, finding herself handcuffed to an empty bed must have been as stark as my "wake-up call". She perceived my action and words as a betrayal of trust, an unforgivable cruelty after last night.

Under the cloak of darkness, we reached out to each other more than once. All it took was a reluctant sigh or a restless shift of limbs to remind us that this was no ordinary night. While I covered her body like a blanket, she cushioned mine like a soft, downy pillow. Words often thought, but seldom said, fell easily from my lips. Her low, dulcet voice murmured in return, offering me the reassurances I needed to hear.

She loved me...

She trusted me...

The sound of her... the feel of her... it was both poignant and potent. I had already discovered passion, but this... this was rapture. It was the texture of her skin that rippled with delight as my fingers and mouth sought out her most intimate places. It was the sensation of our hips swaying together, the slow ascent of her legs to my shoulders, the resulting depth and increased pleasure. It was the abandonment of her cries and the echo of mine as I filled her over and over.

We were no longer just lovers seeking comfort or gratification.

We were two souls trying to unite.

The smoke on the horizon wasn't just anxiety about the future. It was the fear of giving ourselves completely to each other and our vague attempts at unconditional trust.

Now that we were on the brink of succeeding, our faith was being tested once again.

And, it was my fault.

I had made a classic mistake. Rather than respond to the danger we were in, I let my guard down. I was more concerned in protecting our relationship than our safety.

I should have known that sunlight would bring forth the shadow of the Consortium. Exhausted, both of us failed to wake when the door to the hotel room opened.

The phone call was CSM's idea. Like a dialogue coach, he made me rehearse my lines. And like a director, he warned me that my performance better be convincing or it would be my last curtain call.

I wish I sucked as an actor. Judging by her sobs, which were as startling as undeserved applause, I didn't.

Oh God...

I should have chosen death over the demise of her trust. The pain of this loss is far worse than the crushing impact of a bullet.

My sour mood intensifies into cynicism when I try to roll down a window to filter out his smoke. It's locked. We're in a black limo, whipping through morning traffic as if we're late for the ball. Except the driver looks more like a thug than a coachman, and my fairy godmother waves a Morley rather than a magic wand.

"Relax, Agent Mulder," CSM conveys. "Once the sedative wears off, Agent Scully will undoubtedly find a way to free herself."

"You drugged her?" I gasp in disbelief.

"Sprinkle...sprinkle..." He flicks his ashes like fairy dust onto the floor of the limo. "And, it wasn't the Parmesan cheese."

The pizza.

Like a fucking drug lord, he poisoned us both.

"Why?" I snap my fury. "Why play Arsenic and Old Lace, when you already had Scully lured into your trap."

"Because she wasn't the prey. She was the bait."

"You were after me all along, weren't you?"

"Don't look so shocked, Agent Mulder," he grins so wide that the smoke filters through his teeth. "Actually, you should be honored."

"Honored?" My voice rises with sarcasm. "Why?"

"Because you're being offered the role of a lifetime," CSM says. "You've always been ideally suited to play the martyr."

"Well, if it's really an offer, I think I'll pass," I retort.

"Would you rather see your understudy take your place?" he challenges.

"You'll full of shit, old man," I counter. "You never intended Scully to be exposed to the mutated virus."

"You really are a quick study," CSM replies. "But, my intentions for Agent Scully are quite different than you imagine."

"What I imagine is that the blood you sucked from her has nothing to do with this experiment."

"Right, again." He smiles at my words, his face brightening with an almost perverted delight.

"What I can't imagine is why you're bothering with this experiment in the first place."

I cast this observation like a fishing rod, hoping to snag more information from this wriggly, rotten fish. When he doesn't respond, I bait him further,

"Unless, you're assuming the vaccine will fail."

"You know what they say about those who assume," he snorts.

"Yeah, I do," I respond. "If the vaccine fails, it makes an ass out of you and a main course out of me."

"Then neither one of us can afford to be so pessimistic," CSM reminds me as he inhales another healthy dose of nicotine. "The vaccine may work."

"Not to tax those oxygen starved brain cells of yours, but how do you expect to test the vaccine on someone who hasn't been vaccinated?"

"You were immunized two nights ago." CSM studies the cremating edge of the cigarette filter. "That drug induced sleep was more than just a my guarantee that Agent Scully would able to leave undetected."

"Okay...," I swallow hard, trying to dislodge the knot of fear that's creeping up my throat. "So, the lab rat's prepped. Now what?"

"If I gave you all the answers, then what fun would it be?" he taunts, crushing his cigarette in the palm of his hand.

I cringe as he flicks off ashes and deadened skin to the floor mat.

The limousine pulls down a narrow alley and stops in front of what appears to be a series of abandoned warehouse. It's not what I expect. At least, until we get inside. A freight elevator takes us down into a cavernous underground facility. Tunnels shoot off like five points of a star. In the center is a security station that's equipped with technology that makes Ft. Knox look like a piggy bank.

"Welcome to the Consortium's version of the Pentagon," announces CSM, puffing out feathers of smoke like a proud peacock.

"Do I get the grand tour, or am I to be taken straight to my cage," I sneer back.

I'm in more trouble than I thought. I'm in a facility whose security is as airtight as a Zip-locked bag. My partner is chained to a bed, most likely relapsing into a desensitized state of distrust. And, my captor no longer fears my martyrdom.

He's planned it all along...

****

What have I done?

I may be handcuffed to a cold, empty bed, but what really imprisons me is fear. It always has. For years, I tried to suppress it. I distorted it until it manifested itself as pain. Then I used drugs to anesthetize my terror, not understanding that the side effect were emotional numbness and addiction.

Although I'm supposed to be emancipated by the truth, I'm still shackled by my inability to deal with it. How easily I slip my wrist into my former handcuff of anxiety. But, it was never the drugs as much as it was the addict.

It was me... the one who pretended to be unafraid, while cowering inside like a frightened child.

I think Mulder knows my secret. Perhaps that's why he chases after me like a hen, desperate to protect a wayward chick. Not only have I lost my sense of direction, but once again, I've managed to wander off towards danger.

He's right. It's time for me to stop sniveling and start acting like a federal agent. Maybe if I resume the role, I'll be able to revive those characteristics I miss the most about myself. Logic... rational thinking... a solid sense of self... Each one was stripped away in an effort to reconnect my emotional awareness. But, these qualities made up my armor and I need them to combat the Consortium's latest threat.

I also need back-up and an arsenal of technology.

The Lone Gunmen...

They arrive at my hotel room within a half-hour of my phone call. One look at me, chained to a bed and obviously naked under a thin sheet, sends the trio into a parody of the "Three Stooges". Byers instantly flushes as red as Larry's bozo hair. He stumbles backwards into Langly, who, in turn, trips over my shoes and knocks Frohike over my suitcase.

But, I don't laugh. I'm embarrassed. And, the discomfort of a full bladder is adding more than edge to my perspective.

Of course, Frohike's the first to recover... both his composure and the key. Like a little toad, he hops from the dresser to the side of the bed, as if I'm a fly who's landed on one of his lily pads.

"Put your tongue back into your mouth, Frohike," I reprimand him as he releases my wrist. "I'm not your catch of the day."

"From what you said on the phone, Mulder is." Langly chirps in, crossing over to the window to peek through the slit of the curtains.

"Yup." I wrap the sheet around me like a toga. "And, we're going to get him back."

The strength of my voice impresses me. Despite feeling tired and humiliated, I sound as charged as the Energizer Bunny. Impressed with my own analogy, I spring to my feet only to fall on my cotton tail. My legs have no substance and my head begins to pound like the damn rabbit's drum.

"Scully...," Frohike leans over to help me up. "You okay?"

"I...I think so..."

Gathering my sheet and the loose ends of my dignity, I waddle off to the bathroom. Inside, the fluorescent light confirms my suspicion.

My eyes are as glassy as two marbles.

Oh my God...

I think I've been drugged...

"Okay, guys... let's put together our game plan."

I take another sip of coffee while Frohike helps me with my boot. Granted, he's taking his sweet time coaxing the zipper up my calf, but I can't do it myself. Every time I bend over, I get dizzy. And, despite those toe flexing exercises earlier, my feet actually feel numb.

"Welcome back...," the voice of the addict greets me.

"Shut up," I snarl to myself.

"Scully?" Byers gives me a questioning look.

"Sorry," I frown, shaking my head.

I've got to pull myself together. Too much depends on my ability to stay lucid. Taking a deep breath, I describe the underground facility where they've taken Mulder. The Gunmen listen attentively to my narrative. Not only am I aware of their complex security system, but I'm able to describe the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city blocks.

"That's impressive for just one visit," Langly adjusts his glasses and studies me closely.

It's not impressive... it's another flashback. I'm not sure if it's his words, the drugs or my heightened fear for Mulder's safety which triggers it. But, the series of memories aren't as frightening as they are informative.

I remember the underground facility. Not as a visitor or a recent blood donor, but a lab rat trying to escape. In every frame, I'm awake and trying to detect a weakness in my caged environment. The problem is that my recollection is fragmented. Each time I come close to completing my plans, a syringe sedates me past the point of comprehension.

"Air ducts...," I say suddenly.

"What did you say, Scully?" Frohike asks.

I look down at the man squatting at my feet. I grasp his shoulders and give them a firm squeeze.

"That's how we're going to get in," I advise them excitedly.

"Sounds like a tight squeeze to me," comments Langly.

"We've been in tighter," responds Byers calmly, tugging the knot of his tie loose.

"Let's go, then," Frohike says, hauling me to his feet. For such a small man, he sure has a strong grip. "Let's go show these assholes what `Three Men and a Little Lady' are capable of."

***

I don't know what's worse. Being strapped to a table or wearing a hospital gown that no one thought necessary to tie up in the back. Bare assed and bound... Next thing you'll know, Krycek will show up and I'll have to pray that his farewell kiss was a Russian custom rather than a demonstration of his sexual proclivity.

I've been in this examining room for several hours. They injected me with a sedative to keep me "calm", but my stomach churns with the apprehension of a man waiting a rectal exam. I'm almost forty, a time of life when the snap of rubber gloves takes on a different meaning. Unless, of course, the hands belong to a little red-haired doctor. Then, it might actually be fun...

I squirm against the restraints, trying to free myself of the straps and the kinky vision of my partner.

"Mulder..."

Shit...this is really bad. Not only am I fantasizing about Scully in a most inappropriate way, but I'm adding sound to the mental pictures.

"Mulder... up here."

My eyes dart up to the ceiling. What hovers over me isn't an angel, but she sure looks like one. I can barely see her face behind the metal screen, but there's no mistaking her red-gold halo.

"Scully..."

"Hang on babe, I'm coming..." she promises, as the screen is tugged aside.

Babe?

Jeez... which one of us is on drugs, here? Her or me?

Either way, I'm mesmerized by her term of endearment... and her new found agility. Like a gymnast, she swings herself down from the opening in the ceiling. I hold my breath as she prepares to drop to the floor. This is no gold medalist, but Scully... a woman who easily stumbles over her own two feet. I exhale with relief when she lands solidly on both.

"How did you get in here, Scully?"

"I'll explain later," she murmurs. Her steady fingers unfasten the straps. Once freed, my hands pull her on top of me. She writhes impatiently in my embrace, trying to both push me away and pull me towards her. Unable to make up her mind, I do it for her. I tear open her mouth with mine, silencing her protests with my tongue. She gurgles with exasperation, but her body collapses against mine.

Okay, the experiment is over. She's still mine.

"Hey, babe..." I abruptly push her off the gurney. "We better get the hell out of here."

"You're such a jerk, Mulder..."

"That's better," I jump to my feet and lift her towards the vent. "C'mon Nadia, show me your stuff."

Suddenly, the door to the examining room crashes open. As two guards rush in, I frantically shove Scully up. But, instead of pulling herself into the air duct, she lets go. Fighting me, her legs hook around my neck. I lose my balance and we both tumble to the floor.

"What the hell was that maneuver called?" I snap at her as the guards haul us to our feet.

"It's called the `I'll never leave you' maneuver," Scully says stubbornly, twisting her arm from the guard when he tries to restrain her.

"I call it fucking stupid," I shoot back, lunging for the guard when he gets rough with her.

"You want to know what I call it?" A sinister voice comes from the doorway. The guards release us both. They don't need to detain us when the sight of the old gargoyle is capable of turning us to stone.

CSM suffocates my hope of escape with a stream of smoke filled words.

"I call it... two for the price of one..."


Part 4

"The experiment will proceeding according to plan," CSM announces in a low, prophetic voice. "Exactly as I have foreseen it."

It may be the effects of the sedative... it may be my warped sense of humor... but I swear he resembles the evil Emperor of Star Wars trilogy. He doesn't walk towards us... he actually glides, rubbing his long, clawed fingers together with diabolic success

Scully and I stand like two fatigued Jedi Knights, awaiting pronouncement of our destiny. I lean down to her, brushing her shoulder with mine, murmuring,

"This must be the part where he asks you to come over to the dark side."

My little Jedi says nothing, but her eyes slice through me like a light saber. She turns them on CSM and states in a sizzling voice,

"You deceived me."

"You deceived yourself, Agent Scully," CSM responds. "It was your fear... your anger that led you to me, just as I knew it would."

This is really getting bizarre. Granted, we're dealing with an intergalactic conspiracy, but Scully's not supposed to be Luke Skywalker...

I am...

Maybe it's because she's the one wearing pants and I'm draped like Princess Leia in a white hospital gown.

"Your future has been predestined." CSM circles her like a dark, menacing phantom. His voice drops to a beguiling whisper, "You've been chosen... just like the before you."

"Oh, for God's sake," I interrupt him. "Can we just cut out the Star Wars crap and come to the point?"

Both of them give me a startled look... like I'm on drugs or something. Then I remember...

I... am... on... drugs.

The sedative...

I give myself a rough shake. I've got to snap out of this. This isn't a movie where good inherently prevails over evil. We're in danger... She's in danger...

"... predestined... like the one chosen before you..."

Oh my God...

Panicked, my heart begins to pound with a frenzied beat. It pumps the last of the sedative's effect from my brain and infuses adrenaline into my voice.

"Don't listen to him, Scully. He never meant to test the vaccine on you."

"He's right of course." CSM slithers back, allowing my partner enough space to turn her head and give me a questioning look. "You're far too precious to be sacrificed in the name of science."

"But, I thought my name was science," Scully protests.

"No, Scully...," I practically scream so that she finally understands. "They want your name to be Cassandra..."

Scully takes a quick, startled breath. Her realization sparks like the lighter that CSM flicks before our eyes. Although she holds her ground, I can feel her mentally recoiling. The color drains from her face, giving her an almost cyanotic glow. It's as if her body already understands the metamorphosis which is about to take place. Her pale lips tremble as she asks,

"A human/alien hybrid?"

"We prefer to call you the genesis of a new race," CSM conveys.

"Call someone else," Scully snaps. "I'm not interested."

"But, a deal is a deal, Agent Scully," he insists. "I held up my end of the bargain. Your partner has been vaccinated."

"It was a fraudulent conveyance," she retorts. "That negates my obligation."

"Then I'll have no choice but to obligate your partner," CSM shrugs indifferently. "Like you said, my dear, there is no hope in a muted voice. One way or the other, the Consortium must have proof that you will, indeed, survive..."

Both Scully and I are speechless, horrified at what CSM is implying.

"We are the Creators, Agent Scully. And, as such, we give you free will. You must choose your fate, which in turn will decide Agent Mulder's."

Suddenly, I'm infuriated by the dilemma my partner finds herself in. Pulling her towards me, I shield her body with my own.

"There is no choice," I growl. "Scully won't agree to your terms."

"Free will, Agent Scully," taunts the old man. "Not his... not mine... but your own. You'll agree to be our voice of the future in exchange for guaranteeing Agent Mulder's life."

"I'd rather die, Scully," I plead with her. "You know that. Better that my blood is splattered than for yours to be changed from red to green."

I don't know if she flinches from the my gruesome description or the severity of my voice. But, as she disentangles herself from my arms, I experience the most chilling revelation of all.

She's no longer mine... to influence or protect...

Was she ever? Probably not. From the beginning, she was a woman who defined herself by her autonomy. Dependence on another was a term foreign and disturbing to her. That she became reliant on pain killers was just a bitter irony of what she really was.

Better to seek the relief of drugs than the comfort of her partner.

Better to regress to a solitary voice if the joined one spoke an uncomfortable truth.

The real dilemma is the one going on inside of her mind. She's become a paradoxical mix of trust and skepticism, of pushing and pulling, of need and the resentment of needing.

"Scully," the tension threads through my voice. "If you do this, you won't save me. You'll kill me."

"Mulder, it's my fault this happened..." She inches away from me.

"That's the addict in you talking, numbing logic with guilt," I explode, grabbing her wrist. "Don't distort what's taking place here. He's using you, making you believe that you're a necessary sacrifice..."

"I have to be," Scully interjects. "I won't let them destroy you."

"If you do this, Scully, you'll still destroy me. Remember Cassandra... how she begged me to kill her once she realized what she had become. You'll do the same in the end, either pleading for me to kill you or turning a gun on yourself."

"This is why exactly why we chose Agent Scully for the lead role," CSM chides me. "You've always been too melodramatic to be convincing."

"This isn't a theatrical, old man, it's a farce," I lash out at him.

Turning back to Scully, I try again,

"Scully, listen. Don't believe for an instant that he's going to let me go. He's been directing this little opus all along. You may play the role of the hybrid, but I'll still play the role of the host."

Scully's averts her attention to our nemesis, stating in an uncompromising voice.

"You will release him first."

CSM bows his head in agreement.

"Then I agree to your terms," she accepts in a monotone voice.

"Brava, my dear," he smiles.

"Noooo..." My shriek is stifled by the sound of applause.

It's not applause... it's gunfire.

The lights flicker and go out. The facility becomes a cavern of darkness, where only the illumination comes as a beacon of death. A scream can be heard in the distance. It's the type of noise that curdles one's blood, that foreshadows the talons of a beast clawing its way to the surface. Icy dread pricks my skin and sharpens my senses into a keen alertness.

"The facility has been infiltrated," CSM crushes his cigarette on the floor.

"The Gunmen...," Scully whispers to me.

"I don't think it's just the...," I begin, but my voice is cut off by another scream.

"What is that?" she cries as her body tenses against mine.

Whatever it is, the sound of it turns the facility into instant chaos. There's another blast of semi-automatic weapons, followed by footsteps. Those who are firing are now swiftly retreating. The guards abandon their post, more terrified by the approaching threat than the intimidation of their superior.

"Mulder..." A voice can be heard from the air vent above. I glance up quickly, momentarily blinded by the beam of a flashlight. Frohike turns the light on his face to identify himself. He reaches towards us with his outstretched hand and urgent voice.

"Langly hacked into their security system, but I think he did more than just trip the locks."

"The containment field has been breached," CSM snarls. As a siren howls through the corridor, he moves through the darkness to slam the door, trapping the three of us inside.

"The alien creature," I gasp. "You've had it all along?"

"Not it... Agent Mulder. Them..." CSM pushes the examining table so that it's positioned under the vent. "Five inches of steel has allowed us to study them, to house them as we search for a way to destroy them. As you can see, we haven't been successful."

"Holy shit..." I yank Scully by her collar and propel her towards the examining table. "Climb up, Scully."

"The steel to this door is only an inch wide, Agent Mulder," CSM prompts in an urgent tone. "You've got to get her out of here...now!"

Our enemy turns ally. He holds the table while I clamber onto it. Lifting Scully into the air vent, I grab the rim to follow her. As I hoist myself up, both she and Frohike grab my arms.

"Move, you two..." I prod them with my voice. As they crawl up the shaft, I lift the screen to the vent. Hesitating, I peer back down into the examining room.

CSM lights another cigarette and leans casually against the examining table. The glow from his lighter reveals his face. There is no fear, not even concern. Stunned by his composure, I can't help but call down to him,

"You're not even going to try to escape, are you?"

"Agent Mulder, you have yet to comprehend who I am," he says cryptically. "But, you don't have time to find out. The facility is compromised. Those who remain will follow protocol. Within minutes, there will be a series of detonations that will collapse the tunnels and level this underground structure into a cave of debris."

"And, you along with it?" I ask.

"Let that be your hope, Agent Mulder," he snickers softly. "But, don't neglect your partner when she discovers hers..."

His words are ambiguous as usual. But, he's right. I don't have time to decipher his innuendos. Already, I sense the tremors of the first detonation. It shakes the facility, causing the air way to roll unsteadily. I turn away... from him... and his perverted altruism. I'm no longer interested in why he's helping us to escape or whether he'll survive the finale he's staged.

Scully and Frohike are one level above of me. I scurry after them like a rat, grateful that my bare tail is behind them rather than in front of them. I can hear the echo of their startled voices as another discharge shakes the passageway. Smoke begins to filter into the vent. Choking and gasping, I flatten myself onto my stomach.

I can hear Scully crying out my name. I don't stop to answer her, but continue to creep forward. When the third explosion crushes the air shaft behind me, I maneuver the rest of the distance in an army crawl. Elbows and knees dig into hot steel. My eyes close to narrow slits, trying to focus on the light ahead of me.

I can't breathe... the air is ignited with a burning heat. I feel it scorch my lungs. Below me, the facility is collapsing, but the energy of the demolition is propelling me upwards. Either that... or my fear of fire is launching me like a rocket. Two pairs of hands catch my arms and tug me through the opening to the air vent.

Langly and Byers are waiting inside the Gunmen's van. We make a run for it. Like the tremors of an earthquake, the ground shakes beneath us, cracking pavement and street. When I stumble, Frohike grabs the hem of my hospital gown. Like a bulldog, he jerks me along, growling that he'll bite my ass if I don't move it.

Once we're safely in the back of the van, I fall weakly onto the floor. Scully leans over me, examining me for burns. Her soot darkened face is streaked with tears. They feel cool as they drop onto my face.

"Is he burned?" Byers kneels down beside us.

"No," she answers in a strangled voice. Her fingers push back my hair which is sticky with sweat and ashes. "Just a little singed."

"Should we head towards the hospital?"

"Just take us home," I answer gruffly.

Byers nods and turns discretely away. He, too, can see the emotional breakdown on Scully's face. She's crying... harsh, guttural sobs of shame and self-loathing. Her body shakes over mine. The intensity of her remorse is demonstrated by her hands. She attempts to touch me, to soothe the injury that she thinks she's caused. But, as her hands skim my face, she abruptly pulls them back and stares at them. Uncertain, she clenches her fingers tightly, whispering,

"What have I done?"

My hands close around hers. I meet her gaze, pleading with my eyes and my voice.

"Scully, it's okay."

"No, it's not okay," she chokes out. "We're not okay..."

"Let it go..."

"I can't...," Scully pries her fingers from mine. "And, you won't. You may think you can forgive me, but in time you'll view my choice as a betrayal. It'll eat away at you..."

"Hey," I reach up and grip her shoulders. "If you and the Gunmen hadn't come after me, it would have been my intestines that were eaten away."

"But, Mulder..." Her whisper sounds like a self-invoked curse, "... who created the danger in the first place?"

When I don't immediately respond, the pupils of her eyes withdraw into a obscure, vacant stare. She shrinks from my hold, receding to the farthest corner of the van. I want to follow her, to pull her into my arms and cradle her against me. But, I'm exhausted. Physically and mentally.

And, she's right. I hate to admit it, but there is a part of me that resents the choice she made. Not her sacrifice, but the futility of it. It was offered out of guilt, not love... because had it been love, she would have never done it. She would have known that there are some sacrifices that should never be made... not under any condition... and certainly not at the price of our trust.

But, I love her. I'll never stop loving her. Whatever her destiny may be, I already know mine. It's to be with her. I don't care if we have to fight every inch of the way back to each other. I'll even drag her kicking and screaming into therapy, if necessary. I won't let her be defeated by her guilt or allow her to withdraw into denial.

There is light beyond the smoke on the horizon. I've seen it in her eyes... felt it in her touch... heard it in her voice. The hope she seeks is already there inside of her. She's just doesn't realize it yet.


I fumble through the darkness of my own despair. We're home now. The Gunmen have left, taking with them the last of my edged determination. We've accomplished our mission, saved the day and rescued my partner. But, instead of triumph, I only feel defeat.

I may have won the battle, but I think I lost the war...

Mulder turns to me, waiting for me to speak. The look of forgiveness in his eyes only accentuates my guilt. It makes me want to run, to add as much distance as possible to the chasm I've created.

"Scully..."

I spin around and stumble towards the bathroom. Once inside, I strip off my clothes, the smoked-filled vestments of my attempted sacrifice. The heat of the shower doesn't compare to the hot torrent of tears that pour down my cheeks. Rather than turn my face into the spray of the water, my head drops forward. I gasp for breath. This time steam doesn't relax me. It only heightens my feeling of suffocation.

A blast of cold air hits me when the shower curtain is yanked back. Mulder is suddenly behind me. He doesn't try to pull me from the scalding water, just reaches over my shoulder to turn down the temperature. Closing the curtain, he secures the location. His body stops mine when I try to retreat. His muscular arms become a barrier... his chest a wall...

I spin around, disoriented and intimidated by his presence. I almost slip, but he catches me easily. Without a word, he glides a soap filled sponge down my back. The scent of bath gel mixes with the smell of smoke. The combined odor reminds me of burnt roses. I gag on the putrid fragrance, visualizing the petals as the cremated remains of our love.

But, Mulder isn't affected by my reaction. He continues to bathe me, turning me around to move the sponge down the front of my body. The soothing motion of his hand slowly eases my nausea. Small circles of soapy bubbles increase as he kneads my belly and breasts.

I don't think he intends more that an sensual cleansing, but it's not long before I do.

I've discovered more than one way to numb my pain.

I take the sponge from his fingers. Pouring more gel onto it, I begin to lather his skin. I massage his shoulders, chest and narrow hips. He stands motionless, allowing me to wash the dirt and soot from his legs, tensing when the sponge slides between his thighs.

Mulder grabs my hand.

"Is this all we've become, Scully?"

"Your erection seems to think so, Mulder," I say before I stand up on my toes to nuzzle his neck with my lips.

I don't want his philosophical attitude. I want physical altitude. I want to be raised to a different level of comprehension... where pain becomes pleasure... where the emptiness of my soul is filled by the feel of him inside of me.

Mulder sighs and lifts me so that my legs can hook around his waist. He pins my back against the shower wall, entering me with one solid thrust. Rather than feel elevated, I'm being plunged to a lower level of despair.

This is wrong...

My hair is sliding up and down the slick tiles like the frayed ends of a rag. Because my emotions are as spent as a tightly wrung wash cloth, I feel nothing. Nothing other than the coldness of the surface behind me and the soapy residue of my ill intent.

"Is this all we've become?" Mulder asks again.

"No... never this..."

He pulls out of me then. When I slip down to the bottom of the stall, he turns off the shower and steps out. I draw my knees to my chest, curling up into tight ball of humiliation.

"Why?" I moan. "If you knew, then why did you..."

I can't even finish my sentence. The words clog in my throat.

"Because you'd rather find the answers on your own. You don't trust me enough to help you find them."

I gasp with sudden clarity and meet his gaze. There are tears in his eyes. And, mine. He nods slowly, reaching for a towel from the vanity shelf. When he offers it to me, I take it. I finally realize what he's trying to do.

He's trying to teach me how to trust.


Part 5

I told her that I'd never leave her.

Of course, that didn't mean that I wouldn't take a little vacation from her.

Just one night...

I returned to my apartment to nurse my own wounds rather than let her play doctor. Her offer of sexual healing was highly unethical, even for me.

So I left...

I was trying to illustrate a point about trust. But, it was hard to be a beacon of truth when one's erection was at full salute. So, rather than explain my own lack of scruples, I tucked that tail between my legs and scampered on home.

And, here we are. Disjointed partners, in every aspect of the word. It's the following afternoon. We've been summoned to Skinner's office to give an explanation about our "questionable activities".

If he only knew the extent of it...

Seated behind his desk, our supervisor rubs his temples as if he's trying to massage away a headache. He's just read my report, and although Skinner is too seasoned by now to be surprised, he reacts with typical exasperation.

"I don't know what to say, Agents," he addresses us both. "You're both back on the job for less than a week and already you're knee high in..."

"I was drugged," Scully interrupts. "So was Agent Mulder. Neither of us were willing participants in the Consortium's latest scheme."

He gives her an incredulous look behind his wire-rimmed glasses.

Talk about a poor choice of words.

"Well, that's open to interpretation, wouldn't you say, Agent Scully?"

I squirm in my chair, trying to adjust to my discomfort. Not only am I sore from sleeping on my couch, but I'm uneasy with the decision I made while tossing restlessly on it. Banning myself from Scully's bed is one of several steps that will either estrange us or bring us back together. The second one involves work, or what I perceive as her inability to function with good judgment. Ordinarily, I wouldn't hesitate to understate my report if it meant sparing Scully. But, not this time. My narrative is vivid with detail, not so much about the Consortium, but her reckless determination to deal with them.

I admit it. I'm scared. The recovering Scully is as frightening as the addicted Scully. While one skidded off the highway, the other has been racing towards a head-on collision. Although our roads never ran parallel, we always managed to be there at the intersections, warning each other like flashing red lights. But, she's become oblivious to traffic signals and I've no choice than to set up a few road blocks.

"Agent Mulder," Skinner addresses me in an unyielding tone. "You'll be working with a task force that's been assigned to sift through the wreckage of the facility. Local law enforcement is handing it over because they suspect domestic terrorism. The obvious firepower used to level the facility knocks it into our ball park."

I nod silently, tensing for the real detonation.

"Agent Scully," our superior removes his glasses to give her an unobstructed view of his steely eyes. "You are being temporarily reassigned."

"To where, sir?" There is a growing suspicion in her voice.

"Home," Skinner concludes. "I'm placing you back on disability leave. This time make the most of it."

Scully rarely loses her composure. Her facade, which is as stoic as a Gothic cathedral, now crumbles as if mortar has turned into sand.

"What exactly is in Agent Mulder's report, sir?" she asks in a trembling voice.

"Enough for me to determine that you're not fit for duty," he responds, replacing his glasses and shifting his focus to his paperwork. "That will be all, Agents."

Scully takes a breath as if she's going to speak. Suddenly, her mouth clamps shut and she bolts for the door. Her departure is less than dignified. What should be the crisp sound of three- inch heels actually scrapes off floor varnish.

"I better...," I grimace and motion with my thumb over my shoulder, indicating that I should follow her.

"Do better, Agent Mulder," Skinner admonishes me. "More than just your working relationship depends on it."

The hallway is congested. When the 5 o'clock bell rings, government employees are like cattle stampeding towards a grain elevator. I press forward, trying to spot my roan stray among the herd of piebald business suits. But, the round-up doesn't include her. I realize it the minute I pass by the ladies room door.

Sighing, I steer myself into the bathroom.

Scully might be corralled in a stall, but the wagon train analogies stop there. She's sick to her stomach again.

Oh God...

Maybe I should wait outside...

But, the site of her heels peeking under the door stops me. It fills me with pity and remorse. So, I pinch my nose and push open the swinging door.

"You okay in there, Scully?"

She's not so incapacitated that the door doesn't come slamming back into my face.

"Jesus," I flinch. "you trying to knock me off my feet?"

"No, Mulder..." she manages to croak a few words between bilious gasps. "you're the one who does that."

"Scully...," I move over to the sink and grab a handful of paper towels. Turning on the water, I moisten them into a rag. "I don't think this stomach thing of yours is psychosomatic."

"I'm not interested in your diagnosis, doctor," she sputters a response.

"I think you're sick..." Squatting down, I pass the paper towels underneath the stall door. "... physically sick."

"As opposed to what?" sneers Scully. "Mentally?"

"You're not losing your mind, Scully, just your lunch..." I try to humor her.

"I didn't eat lunch."

"Okay, your breakfast," I substitute.

"I haven't eaten all day."

I jump away from the door when she propels it open.

"So much for your ability to clinically assess me," she snaps. "You should have left it to the experts, Mulder, and definitely left it out of your report."

I give her a wide berth as she crosses over to the sink.

"Okay, so let's consult an expert," I suggest as she turns on the faucet, trying to divert her from that "report" reference.

She gives me a acrid glance before lowering her head to the sink. Cupping water with her hand, she rinses out her mouth. When her hand fumbles for a dry paper towel, I quickly grab one for her.

"I can do it, myself," Scully retorts, pushing me away.

"Yeah, right...," Frustrated, my voice absorbs some of her sarcasm. "God forbid you listen to me. That would require an element of trust, wouldn't it?"

"Fine," she says between gritted teeth. "I'll make the damn appointment."

"Good," I nod, watching how she crumples the paper towel into a tight wad. When she discards it into the trash can, I wonder if she intends on throwing me out along with it.

"Let me take you home," I offer.

"I don't need a chauffeur, Mulder," she says reluctantly. Sighing, she drops her head and tries to smooth the wrinkles from her skirt.

"What do you need, Scully," I reach out to rub the back of her neck.

"I need you," she murmurs.

Soup... Campbell's chicken and noodle...

An old fashioned remedy... wholesome... good for you...

When I enter the bedroom, balancing the tray, I notice that my napping partner has shifted under her night shirt. What should be covered is not.

Think soup, Mulder... not sex...

She's naked from the waist down...

Damn...

How am I supposed to focus on Campbell's soup when all I hear is the jingle "mmm... mmm... good..."?

Scully's eyes drift open and meet mine. Rather than frown, she actually smiles. I catch my breath, like one enchanted by the brilliance of the sun. Granted, it's a small, languid beam, but I've been in the dark so long that I've forgotten what it's like to feel warm.

"Hey," I greet her with what must be a silly, eager grin. "How ya feeling?"

"Better... and hungry."

"Now, that's a good sign," I hold the tray while she props the pillows behind her. "Just soup, though. And, a few saltines."

"Perfect." She takes the tray and settles it onto her lap. Her eyes slide up to mine, and she teases, "This isn't another one of your tests, is it Mulder? I certainly hope that I'm allowed to feed myself."

I reach down to pass her the spoon.

"I don't know which one of us is really being tested, here." I sigh.

"Maybe we both are," Scully answers. She pats a spot next to her on the bed. "Come lie down next to me, Mulder. I promise to be a good girl if you try to get some sleep. You look tired."

"I am tired," I admit. Careful not to jostle the bed, I stretch out beside her. "But, never tired enough to wish for you to be a good girl."

"You made the rules," she reminds me gently.

"Stupid rules," I yawn, closing my eyes.

"Well, you know what they say about rules," Scully begins, gingerly sipping her soup.

I turn my head and gaze expectantly at her.

She gives me a side-long glance and continues,

"They're made to be broken... or was that trust?"

I stifle my angry retort and roll over.

That's when I hear it.

God damn her!

She's slurping her soup and all I can imagine is how her mouth looks as it puckers around a noodle.

*****

The day Mulder practices what he preaches will be the same day I convert from Catholicism.

I think my rosaries are quite safe...

Actually, they're buried somewhere in my lingerie drawer. They're probably either twined around a pair of garters or crushed under a stale pack of cigarettes. Talk about blasphemous! But, at least I'm not the only sinner.

In less than 48 hours of celibacy, Mulder's scruples are being threatened by his hormones.

Of course, he won't admit it. And, that is the most profane response of all.

So, while he pretends sleep, I slurp soup.

By the time my spoon scrapes the bottom of the bowl, Mulder rolls back over and grabs my hand.

"You're driving me crazy," he moans.

"I'm just enjoying my dinner," I protest.

"You're enjoying it too much."

"You're the one who insisted on fasting."

"I just don't want you to replace one addiction with another," Mulder asserts.

"Don't flatter yourself," I snort, insulted by his remark.

"I'm not," he tells me. "The compliment is all yours. I'm in love with you, Scully. What may seem as an act to you is an expression to me."

The spoon drops from my hand. I gaze into his hazel eyes, seeing for the first time how susceptible he is. Exhaling my regret, I say softly,

"Mulder, I'm sorry about what happened in the shower. But, I can guarantee you that I wanted more than sexual gratification. I wanted to feel you... to lose myself in you. And, if that's not an expression of love, then..."

My voice breaks off. Once again, I'm being strangled by a clump of emotion.

"Scully..."

"Hmmm?"

"Lose the tray..."

I shift it over to the night table. Mulder tugs me into his arms and kisses me deeply.

Oh...

My breasts are so sensitive to his touch. It really is remarkable how he affects me...

The next morning, Mulder re-enacts his role of "Rob" to my "Laura". He comes into the kitchen whistling cheerfully as he straightens his tie that is as putrid green as I feel. Standing by the stove in a bulky white bathrobe, I almost gag. My stomach is flipping in rhythm with the pancakes. Nauseous and irritable, I'm tempted to hit him with my spatula when he kisses the back of my neck.

"And, a good morning to you, too," he chuckles.

I grimace and stare at the mess I'm making. The formula...ah...recipe on the box instructs me to add two eggs, milk and a little oil. It promises fluffy, mouth-watering pancakes. Instead they're flat in the pan, bloated and disgusting.

Or is that me?

Well, at least Mulder and I have found common ground. With one look over my shoulder, he cringes and backs away.

"Thanks, Scully, but I think I'm late."

"What do you mean, you think?" I growl. "You're either late or you're not."

"Okay," He eyes me cautiously. "Let's just leave it with... late."

"Fine..." I snap. "You're late. I'm late..."

Suddenly my throat is as clogged as my pancake batter.

Oh... my... God...

"Don't forget our appointment with the Vanderquack." He reminds me, making a dash for the door.

"Appointment?" I choke.

"Our therapy session, Scully," Mulder opens the door. "Three o'clock this afternoon, remember?"

I nod, silenced by the buzzer of my internal alarm clock. When he leaves, I stagger over to my wall calendar to scan the month for my symbolic "dot". Holding my breath, I flip back to the previous month... then the one before...

I can't be...

It's impossible...

There's got to be a mistake...

Two hours and three home pregnancy tests later, I'm making another appointment. This one is with my gynecologist. The nurse sighs as I nervously ramble on about my infertility. I recite every medical improbability that exists. When I pause to breathe, she interrupts me.

"Ah...Dr. Scully...why don't we just bring you right in?"

"It has to be a false-positive," I diagnose.

"All three tests, huh?" There is a hint of amusement to her voice.

"Look. There is no way I can be pregnant."

"Well, let's just use a quote from one of my favorite movies," the nurse responds. "Nature... finds... a way."

"That's from Jurassic Park," I fume, slamming down the phone.


Part 6

I'm pregnant.

Pregnant...

Seated on a park bench outside my doctor's office, I try to regulate my breathing before I start to hyperventilate. My skin feels flushed, almost feverish. Because I'm afraid I might pass out, I dump the contents of my complimentary "Now that You're Pregnant" goodie bag onto the bench. Holding the bag to my mouth, I lean over to inhale the stale, plastic air.

Eight weeks pregnant...

How did this happen?

In my haze, I visualize my high school biology teacher who is trying to persuade a class of sniggering sophomores that sex is only "a merging of genetic material".

Well, Mulder and I had been doing a lot of "merging", but neither one of us saw the necessity of birth control. We both knew I was as barren as a wasteland. What he didn't know was that infertility wasn't just limited to my body. It was a state of mind, where hope had dried up and scattered to the wind.

Until now...

A baby...

My hands drift to my abdomen.

Mulder's baby...

The thought of bearing his child awakens such joy that my anxiety attack quickly passes. My struggling lungs fill to capacity. I turn my face to the sun, allowing its warmth to caress my face. The breeze is cool and refreshing. It's Spring. A time of rebirth and renewal...

Oh, I want to believe...

I want to subscribe to the nurse's remarks that "nature finds a way". But, I don't want to be reminded of Jurassic Park, where life is drawn from a fossilized piece of amber that is too similar to my hair color. I'd rather compare nature's wonders to a soft, fuzzy movie biosphere... like... like Bambi...

No... no... bad choice... Bambi's mother was killed, hunted down by those who claimed superiority over nature.

Try something else...

Suddenly, a shadow eclipses the sunlight.

Try reaching for your gun...

With one swift movement, I drawn my gun from the waistband of my slacks. It's not only the action of a well-trained agent, but the instinct of a new mother, sensing an immediate threat to the baby she carries.

Cigarette Smoking Man...

Blinded by the darkness of his ominous presence, I determine to fire randomly. I will penetrate his cloak of deceit, spill his blood rather than let my blood be compromised. As my finger tightens around the trigger, I hear the sound of his amused voice.

"I see you found your hope, after all," he snickers.

"And, I see you've managed to crawl out of the rubble," I retort.

"But, of course." He shrugs, unimpressed by the warning of my gun or my expression. "If only to be here long enough to congratulate you on the blessed event."

He knows! The realization is a chilling one. His words imply that this pregnancy is not a miracle, only another omen that has been signed, sealed and delivered by the Consortium.

Bolting to my feet, I align my gun with his chest.

"You're about seven months to soon. But, you're just in time for an event that God will certainly bless."

"My death?" CSM gives me a condescending smile. "I am God where you're concerned, Agent Scully. The life inside of you is my gift. My benediction to your desperate prayer for hope."

"You're the blasphemy of hope," I answer, lifting my gun higher so it will fire into the crag of his mouth. "And, if you're trying to tell me you're responsible for my pregnancy, then start saying your own prayers."

The bastard actually does. The litany drools from his fangs like the venom of a cottonmouth.

"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth... of all things seen and unseen..."

CSM stops only to bestow his pious gaze, but it only looks reptilian.

"Don't be so skeptical, Agent Scully. Just because you don't believe what you see, doesn't mean that it isn't there. It's a matter of faith."

"In what...you?" I snort.

"I returned to you that which was taken," he says in his typical oblique style.

"How?" I demand.

"With the same technology utilized before," CSM replies. He sits down on the bench and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. "Remember that drug intervention known as the RAND unit? While you were under anesthesia, another procedure was performed besides your detoxification."

"Why?"

"Because I know better than to put all my eggs into one basket," he answers. "Unlike your partner, I realize and appreciate your need to have hope."

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Although I don't ask the question, he eagerly gives me an explanation.

"Didn't Agent Mulder tell you about the fertility clinic where your ova were stored? How he broke into that carton of eggs and slipped a few into his pocket?"

"You're a liar," I snap, my hand tensing around my gun.

"Ask him, yourself," he suggests. "Mulder had the ability to return hope to you all this time."

"I don't believe you."

"You don't want to," CSM corrects me. "Because if you believe me, you'll no longer trust him."

"I'll always trust him," I assert. "If what you say is true, then he had good reason not to tell me."

"What do you consider a good reason?" He asks, lighting a cigarette.

What indeed? My mind scrambles for an acceptable answer to reassure my own soft-boiling doubts.

"My addiction to drugs," I state flatly.

"Not to play on words, my dear, but what came first, the chicken...or the egg? Had you known that he possessed a vial of your ova, would you have fought harder to accept the truth? Would you have numbed yourself to pain if you knew there was a way to replace one of your losses?"

"I don't need you to play shrink," I retort. "I already have one."

"And, you also have a profiler," CSM adds. "One capable of discerning your thoughts and motivations. Yet, he either overlooked your obvious need or didn't trust you enough to allow you to make your own decision."

"I think I've heard enough about Agent Mulder's motivations," I interrupt him angrily. "Right now, let's focus on your own."

"You are... and will continue to be... my hope for the future. My vindication depends on you."

"You tried to blackmail me into becoming your next hybrid."

"To ensure your survival," he insists. "You came to me, remember? Like I said before, Agent Scully, I'm not foolish enough to put all my eggs in one basket. I presented several alternatives to allay your fears, but time has run out. My facility is leveled, the labs have been destroyed and the beasts that were contained are most likely scouring the sewers for their next meal."

CSM's crinkly eyes leave mine to focus on something in the distance. They glaze over with an umbral sheen, appearing both gloomy and prophetic.

"The smoke on the horizon is closer than you think," he continues in a morose tone. "Take your hope, Agent Scully. Take it and run as far and fast as you can. Stay away from populated cities. Don't let Agent Mulder dissuade you from bearing your hope to fruition."

"Wouldn't it be his hope, too?" I counter. "That is, if the child is his and not an implanted alien/human hybrid."

"Relax, my dear. The child is his. What I've given you is sufficient incentive to accept your primary role and choose survival over sacrifice. Mulder, on the other hand, has yet to consign himself to playing a subordinate part. He sees himself as the savior of mankind. He won't flee from what he believes is his destiny."

"You're wrong," I insist.

"He'll try to convince you to stay," the man predicts. "To assist him... to follow him... to believe in him... In his mind, you've always played the secondary role. Don't you understand? The fact that he never told you about his egg snatching is just another example that he demands trust, but isn't willing to give it in return."

My eyes narrow in on him. So does my gun. He holds up his hands in mock surrender.

"Try trusting yourself for a change," he prompts, rising from the bench. "Don't allow yourself to become dependent again, Agent Scully. Your strength has always been your autonomy."

*****

I'm fully fueled for a confrontation by the time I reach Scully's apartment. My level of anger has been simmering all day. Scavenging through a mountain of rubble for proof of the Consortium's plans has left me frustrated and dirty. I wheeze dust all the way over to Dr. Vandervanack's office only to discover that my partner is a "no show".

"Where the hell were you?" I demand, tossing my grimy jacket onto the couch and unsnapping my shoulder holster.

My domestic goddess is hard at work. Not in the kitchen, where dirty breakfast dishes are still piled in the sink. Instead, she's seated at her computer. Glasses perched on the the bridge of her nose, her hand scrubs the mouse over it's pad as if she was cleaning the counters.

I yank my tie loose and cross over to where she sits. Glancing down at the computer screen, I discover that she's online. Not surfing, but trading...actually selling stock that I wasn't even aware she had.

"This is more important than our therapy session?" I snap.

"I need to convert my assets into cash," Scully states firmly, not bothering to meet my incredulous gaze.

"Why?" I ask. "I told you that I would cover your expenses while you were on disability leave."

"Yeah," she scoffs. "I just didn't realize that being a kept woman meant being kept in the dark."

What the fuck is she talking about?

When my hand closes over hers, Scully jerks the mouse away from me. Confused, I grab the arms of her chair and turn her towards me. Leaning over, I try to see past the lenses that have fogged over.

"Care to enlighten me, Scully?"

"I'm busy selling, Mulder."

"Consider me one of your buyers." I reach over her shoulder to turn off her monitor. "Name your price."

"An honest answer," she snaps.

"In comparison to what?" I retort, insulted by her innuendo. "Your cheap offer?"

"You're the one with all the resources," she conveys bitterly. "And, you certainly have no problem managing mine."

"Is this another clue, or just your attempt to build up suspense?" I ask. My temper is already ignited. Her cryptic remarks are only inciting the flames further.

"What happened to the vial containing my ova, Mulder?"

She fires her question with deadly accuracy. It penetrates my heart and tears open an old wound that I've spent two years trying to heal. Sweat drips from my skin like blood, pooling under my arms and soaking into the fabric of my shirt.

Seeing my reaction, she removes her glasses and reveals her own. Her reddened eyes confirm my worst fear.

"Scully," I gasp her name. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

Her lips drop open to speak, but agony has silenced her cry. Clutching her throat, she mouths a one worded question.

Why?

"I found the ova the night that Penny Northern died, the same night you rediscovered your will to live." I try to explain. "But, you had cancer, Scully. As much as I wanted to believe that we would find a cure, I also knew that we might not. To return the ova to you at that point seemed cruel."

"Cruel?" she manages to whisper.

"I was scared, Scully. You said it yourself, you needed to leave something behind, even if it was only the dignity of your memory. But, what if I gave the means of leaving something more... a child? Would you have made the choice of in-vitro fertilization over chemotherapy?"

"You decided to make the choice for me?"

"I delayed the choice for you," I clarify. "I found a cryogenic lab in Richmond and had the ova frozen."

A solitary tear squeezes from the corner of her eye. She impatiently flicks it from her face, saying,

"I've been in remission for a long time now, Mulder."

"And, during that time you were abducted again, exposed to an alien virus, shot in the stomach and then addicted to drugs."

I replay history not to hurt her, but to make her understand. Suppressing my own regret, I continue,

"At what point would you have tried to become pregnant?"

"None of the above," Scully flinches at my inference. "And, if you really knew me, Mulder, you would have trusted me not to be so irresponsible."

"Well, trust is a tricky thing, Scully. It needs to be nurtured between two people. Lately, it's been more like a sporadic impulse."

"Are you speaking of me or yourself?"

"Both of us," I sign, kneeling before her chair. "We've lost so much of it this past year, Scully. What happened? There was a time when we never second-guessed each other like we do now."

"I lost hope... and you... you just ignored the warning signs." Scully says in a dull tone. "The X-files took precedence over the chromosomal "x". You blinded yourself to the woman because all you wanted to see was the partner."

"No..." I shake my head, reaching out to clasp her shoulders. "No... you're wrong."

"You fell in love with Scully the partner, not Dana the woman. Because it was impossible to physically separate the two, you found a way to keep the one by delaying the choice of the other."

Her words smart tears from my eyes. When they begin to trickle down my face, I wait for her fingers to catch them. Even in our worst moments, she's always been the one to absorb my pain and heal my insecurities.

But, not now... Her hands are folded tightly on her lap and her expression is apathetic.

"I needed the one to help build the future for the other," I choke out. "Only Scully could help me find a way to give Dana the life she wanted."

Suddenly, she gasps as if my words have breathed life back into her dying soul. Her fingers tremble as they tentatively reach out to touch my face. I quickly grab her hand and press her palm to my lips.

"Mulder, I have something to tell you," she murmurs.

"Just don't tell me that we're done," I plead.

"We're not," Scully says, gently withdrawing her hand. She brushes the tears from my eyes so that I have a clear view of her face. "We're going to have a baby, Mulder. I'm two months pregnant."

It's my turn to gasp.

Scully slides off the chair and kneels in front of me. Wrapping her arms around me, she holds me steady so I don't topple over with shock.

"Scully...," I press my chin against her hair. "How?"

I can feel her breath quicken against my neck. When she begins to shake, my awe transforms to apprehension.

"What is it, Scully?"

"There's more that I need to tell you..."

Scully may be the one pregnant, but she hauls me to my feet. Leading me to the couch, she encourages me to sit.

"So, I don't fall down?" I squint at her nervously.

She nods and joins me on the couch. In a solemn voice, she describes the positive pregnancy tests... the examination... the ultrasound, which gave her final proof and a first glance at our developing baby. Her manner is so circumspect, that I begin to wonder why she hasn't attached any emotion to it.

Only when she tells me about the reappearance of our enemy do I understand her clinical approach.

This conception is no modern miracle... only the manipulations of the Consortium.

"What?" I bellow, springing up from the couch.

"Please sit down, Mulder," she says quietly. Her hand moves to her stomach protectively. "Whatever the source, this is our baby."

"What makes you so sure?"

I regret the question even as I speak it. She winces as if I've just slapped her. Dropping her head, she replies,

"Because, according to the ultrasound, this child was conceived at least two weeks after I was discharged from the RAND unit."

"I'm sorry, Scully."

"I understand, Mulder," she murmurs. "Like you, I'm aware of the implications of the Consortium's involvement in this pregnancy."

"It's just the timing is..."

"A little too convenient... I know...," Scully lifts her eyes to mine. "At first, I was afraid that Cancer Man had me impregnated with an already developed embryo."

"Like Emily?"

"A hybrid," she admits. "But, the gestational age would be much older now. The ultrasound definitely places the baby at eight weeks gestation."

"Are you saying it's impossible?" I ask.

"I'm saying that it's improbable," Scully answers.

"Can you live with that, Scully?"

"Can you?"

"It's your choice, not mine."

"It's ours, Mulder."

Scully's gaze shifts to the window as if she's distracted by something outside.

"What is it, Scully?"

"Mulder, I know this is sudden and unbelievable. But, I have this feeling inside of me... I don't know if I can't explain it properly... but, it's like a rising sense of fear."

"Well, it's not unusual for a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy to experience a certain amount of emotional instability," I try to reassure her.

"No...," she shakes her head. "It's not the baby."

"What is it?"

"They're coming, Mulder," Scully says in a urgent, frightened tone. "I sense it... feel it... Cancer Man only confirmed my suspicions. He told me that I should leave D.C. as fast as I can."

"He's a fucking liar, Scully," I growl. "Don't let him make you paranoid. Remember what he's capable of."

"He also told me that you would try to prevent me from leaving."

"Did he?" I scoff. "And, did he also tell you to hurry home to log onto e-trade and sell your stock? Or, was that your idea?"

"Don't do this, Mulder,"

"Do what?"

"Prove him right," she says in a contorted voice.

Oh, shit. I've made her cry again.

Sinking back down to the couch, I tug her into my arms. She buries her face against my chest. Her tears feel like acid rain. Hot and astringent, they seep through my shirt and burn my skin. What scalds me is how she's willing to trust that liver-lipped soothsayer. Like a charlatan, he's deceived this woman into seeing an illusion.

His vision of the future... not mine.

"Scully, listen to me," I pry her hands from my shirt and clasp them in my own. "There is no proof that colonization is imminent. In fact, there's proof to the contrary. Don't forget how the introduction of the vaccine sent that spaceship hightailing it out of here. And, don't ignore that there's another force at play, the Resistance, who's primary objective is to stop colonization."

"How could I forget, Mulder?" Scully asks. "I'm living proof of both side's objectives. Immunized by one and almost incinerated by the other. Well, I'm not going to stay here and speculate which side will prevail. I can't. Not when our child's safety depends on it."

"If it is our child," I add reluctantly.

For a minute, Scully says nothing. She gazes at me with wet, forlorn eyes which silently convey a new prediction.

"You're going to leave me," I whisper, turning away to hide my pain.

"I'm not leaving you, Mulder," she responds mournfully. "Just D.C..."

"I don't believe this," I shake my head, stunned by her defection.

"That's been the problem all along," Scully states in a hurt tone. "You'll accept any version of truth as long as it coincides with your own."

I return my gaze to hers. There is such depth to her eyes... why haven't I noticed that before? Probably because I never tried to see past my own reflection. I needed her trust like a stamp of approval...validating my truth...sanctifying my quest...even if it meant ignoring her's.

Maybe the smoke on the horizon is my own creation. I've been obscuring her vision of hope because it didn't fit into my agenda. I didn't want her to be a voice of the future... just the present... endorsing my actions, not the Consortium's.

Maybe the time has come. Not to pursue what I thought was my destiny, but to share Scully's. If that distant ship is closer than I think, then I need to focus on keeping her safe... and our child.

Our child...

I can't think of a more noble cause.

Neither can she...

The only thing I abandon is the couch for the computer chair. I flip on the monitor and begin typing.

"What are you doing?" Scully reaches over my arm to retrieve her glasses. I catch her about the waist and pull her onto my lap.

"Mulder..."

"Just a little electronic banking, Scully," I advise. "Did I ever tell you that I inherited quite a bit of money from my father?"

"No," she answers, her eyes widening when my portfolio scrolls across the screen. "Oh my God, Mulder... you're really rich, aren't you?"

"I always considered it our nest egg," I murmur into her ear. "But, I think it's time we leave D.C. to find one further north, don't you?"

Scully doesn't respond. Actually, she can't. She's crying so hard that her tears are dropping onto my hands.

"Stop raining, Scully... you'll short circuit the keyboard," I tease, pulling her against my chest.

My hand settles on her stomach.

Her hand covers mine.

I think we've found balance, at last.


Part 7

Handing Skinner our letters of resignation turns out to be much more than I expect. He reads each one carefully before lifting his solemn gaze to my face. But, the facade is expertly painted into place with makeup. When his eyes lower to my stomach, I resist the urge to fold my arms over it. While it's too soon for me to show, I feel as bloated as a beached whale in my gray skirt and blazer. The waistband is already tight, yet I can't blame it on a first trimester pregnancy. It's the result of last night's MSG feast, courtesy of China Town...which delivers Sesame Chicken and water retention in forty-five minutes or less.

My eyes slide over to Mulder's. Arching an eyebrow, I give him my "what the hell did you say" look. He ignores my stare, preoccupied by his own agitation which is being tapped out like bongo drums on his knee caps. Decision made, he's ready to move on. He's mentally cleaning out our office, planning on what he wants to take or leave behind. Knowing him, packing light means bringing those things he treasures the most... which translates to boxes of X-files to be stuffed next to my grandmother's china in the back of the car.

"Your resignations are not accepted," Skinner's words jerk my attention back like a yo-yo. My mind clicks into place, although my emotions are as taut as string that has been stretched beyond the point of endurance.

"Excuse me, sir?"

"You have both invested too much into Bureau to just walk away," he states firmly.

My arms immediately cross in silent defiance. I wait for Mulder to take the lead, to respond with something trite or cynical to spare me the discomfort of confronting our boss.

He says nothing...

"That is...without this," Skinner adds, handing me a envelope.

My fingernail cuts through the paste of the envelope like a letter opener.

It's a marriage license...

For Fox William Mulder and Dana Katherine Scully...

Staring at the document, I shake my head in disbelief.

"How?"

Skinner breaks into a smile that almost stretches his lips to the point of cracking. In the seven years of working for him, I don't think I've ever noticed how straight and white his teeth are.

"It's time for the Bureau to give back," beams Skinner. "Immediate access shouldn't always be limited to undercover operations or conspiracies."

"I think I detect a little of both," I comment, glancing over at Mulder. "A marriage license requires a blood test and a signature."

"Remember that Ford lease I had you sign yesterday?" Mulder gives me a suggestive look before grinning. "Gotcha... gotcha good."

"But, what about the blood test?"

"Hell, you've been donating enough blood around town that getting a sample was the easy part," he responds.

"Well, what about the proposal?"

I don't mean to sound antagonistic, but I can't help it. My level of agitation is spiraling as high as my hormones, and this marriage is as contrived as any shotgun wedding. Except I'm the one whose pregnant, not Mulder. He should be the one dragged kicking and screaming down the aisle... not me...

"I could have saved you both a great deal of effort," I comment in a flat voice, rising from my chair.

"Would you excuse us?" Mulder is instantly on his feet. Taking me by the elbow, he ushers me out into the hallway.

"Listen, Scully..." He drops his head so that his eyes are level with mine. "We really don't have time for this,"

"Time for what?" I snap back. "A simple question? We had plenty of time to shop for that Ford Explorer yesterday, to clean out our bank accounts and to hit the mall for your new pair of Reeboks. I would think sometime during the day you would have found an opportunity to at least ask me to marry you."

"When?" he retorts. "While you were pushing pedal to the metal, test driving our new truck? Maybe I should have asked at the bank while we were arguing over the choice of travelers checks verses cash. Or, maybe I should have popped the question while you were in Barnes & Nobles, searching for that "what to expect when you're expecting" book which, by the way, is rather silly considering the fact that you're a doctor."

"Pathologist," I correct him. Glancing down at my feet, I stare at my swollen ankles and sigh.

"Scully..." I feel his fingers brush the hair over my ears. "I'm sorry if this seems awkward or unromantic. I guess I was just considering the practical aspects, given our time frame for leaving town. Skinner helped me cut through the red tape and even offered to witness the civil ceremony this afternoon."

"This afternoon?" My head jerks up suddenly. "I can't get married looking like this..."

"Like what?" He gazes at me in confusion.

"Like a Beluga whale," I whine loud enough for passerbys to notice.

Or is it his laughter, which literally bounces off the walls of the hallway?

Either way, Mulder knows how to harpoon me and reel me in. He reaches into his pocket and produces an exquisite velvet box. Inside are two wedding bands. His is plain gold, but mine is circled with brilliant diamonds. Speechless, I gape at the rings, trying to focus on the sentimentality of the gesture rather than visually estimate the carat weight of the gems.

"The jeweler told me that it's not a standard wedding band. He called it an eternity ring and well, I liked the sound of it."

"Oh, Mulder..." I press my trembling fingers to my lips, feeling tears sting my eyes. What is it about this man that he's capable of transforming the most annoying moment of my life into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie special?

"It's...it's beautiful," I tell him softly.

"Want to try it on?" He takes the box from my hands.

"Ah...," I hesitate only to sniff loudly. "Okay... sure..."

The box snaps shut.

"Then get your Beluga dorsal fin into gear, Scully. We've got a judge waiting for us."

If this is his idea of a marriage ceremony, then I can hardly wait for the honeymoon.

*****

"I now pronounce you husband and wife..."

I lean over to give Scully a long, memorable kiss, but am granted only a chaste peck before she's whisked away by her three bridesmaids. Figures. I always knew the Gunmen would side with her in the end, even if it only meant her side of the wedding aisle. While Byers studies her ring with a squinting eye that resembles a jeweler's glass, Frohike practically dips her to the ground in a Casanova-type embrace. As he slobbers a kiss over my bride's astonished, and unfortunately open mouth, I'm left standing with my best man... Skinner.

"You have envelope I gave you earlier?" he murmurs with quiet urgency.

Before the ceremony, our supervisor slipped me a overstuffed envelope containing our badges and FBI credentials. It was his wedding present, a way for us to re-activate our status and accessibility to the Bureau should we need it.

"Got it..." Patting my jacket pocket, I take this moment to address him with all the respect I denied him over the years. "Sir, I'd rather see you focus on your own plans to leave town then worry about us."

"In the works, agent." Skinner advises. "Earlier this morning the Bureau was placed on alert. A number of field offices have reported some disturbing events that has caught the attention of FEMA, not to mention the military."

"Are you saying..."

"What I'm saying is that you had better skip the champagne and congratulatory handshakes, Mulder."

"Maybe the first, but not the latter," I reply, staunchly offering my hand. "It was a honor working with you, sir."

"I'll remind you of that someday," Skinner clasps my hand briefly. With his eyes, he signals my attention to Scully who is sniveling her goodbyes to the Gunmen. She presses her small bouquet of white roses into Byer's hands, whispering something into his ear.

"Take good care of her," he reminds me.

"Don't worry," I tell him. "She's a lot stronger than you think."

"I'm not worried about Scully. She's a survivor. What concerns me is you, Mulder, and that obsessive nature of yours."

"My wife is my obsession, now."

Nodding his approval, Skinner moves over to Scully and takes her small hand into both of his. Blinking back tears, she stands on tip-toe to kiss his cheek. While it's highly unprofessional, her gesture is charming and poignant. Unable to speak, the Assistant Director offers her a contorted grin before turning to leave.

I lean towards Langly, who's wiping his fogged over glasses with the hem of his black t-shirt.

"Time to saddle up, Tonto... and take the Lone Rangers with you," I prompt him. "By the way, I would suggest riding off before the sun sets."

"The Pinto van is ready to roll," Langly answers.

"Okay, then," I reach out and yank Scully by her sleeve. "Get over here woman, and let me make a sandwich out of ya."

Scully buries her face into my shirt, using the end of my tie to dry her eyes.

"I wish my mother could have been here," she whispers.

"No you don't," I try to console her. "We both know she's safer with Billy the Kid out in California. He's the type to shoot first and ask questions later."

If she's insulted by my off-handed remarks about her brother, she doesn't show it. In fact, she seems reassured by my lethal observations. Maybe she realizes that Billy Boy's killer instinct has merit now that it's not directed solely at me.

"So, where are we to spend our wedding night?" Scully asks, studying her ring out of the corner of her eye.

"It's called the honeymoon highway," I tease her, draping my arm around her shoulders.

"We're leaving tonight?" she gasps. Her red-rimmed eyes narrow with suspicion. "What aren't you telling me, Mulder?"

"I'll even let you drive." I pull the keys to the Explorer and dangle them in front of her nose. "I know how much that eight cylinder engine turns you on, Scully."

"I think I'm going to throw up," she responds, clutching her stomach.


Our marriage is off to a fine start.

I'm in a public restroom inside the court house. Hunched over the toilet, I try to shake off spasms of nausea that produce nothing by dry, gagging heaves. Once again, I've gone almost an entire day without eating. Anxiety conflicts with appetite. My stomach, which was once capable of digesting iron nails, is now sickened by the mere thought of food.

I try to mentally divert myself by staring at my ring. Even in the dim light of the bathroom, the diamonds sparkle. I'm astounded by Mulder's taste which I thought was limited only to his own wardrobe. His gifts of the past taught me well. But, this was different. Not only did he open his wallet for me, but apparently his heart.

And, that is the one thought that finally eases my physical and mental discomfort.

Married...

Granted, it was as tacky as one of those Los Vegas ceremonies, but I'm leaving with one hell of a souvenir.

And, I'm not talking about the ring...

Mulder...

Standing up, I smile and triumphantly flush the toilet with the tip of my shoe.

That's when I see it...

The toilet isn't filling with water. The liquid that swirls around the bowl is black and thick... like motor oil.

Someone in the next stall suddenly screams.

Oh my God...

I stumble back, crashing open the door to the bathroom stall. The toilet is overflowing. Black oil is spilling over the rim, streaming onto the floor... not puddling, but snaking towards my feet. Gasping, I retreat from it as if it was a corrosive acid.

By the time I reach the hallway, a fire alarm is blaring and people are making a mass exodus of the building. They're not running from what is surfacing from the underground pipes, but what has apparently arrived to stop it.

And, it's not a team of plumbers...

Faceless, torch-bearing men appear at both ends of the hall. The Resistance. They're igniting everything in their path as if hell fire is the only means to salvation. Terrified screams and the smell of burnt flesh overwhelm my senses. I try to run, but as I turn around I collide with a man who has no intention of letting me pass.

It's Mulder.

He grabs me around the waist and tugs me back into the bathroom. Already, he's assessed our predicament and realizes that we'll never make it through the panicked crowd. Our escape is to be through the bathroom window, which he yanks open with a vengeance.

As he hoists me up to it, I peer over his shoulder and cry out. The woman who had been in the stall next to me is now approaching us. Her eyes are glazed black and her hand is stretched out to make contact with Mulder's skin. Instantly, he whips out his gun and shoots her. He doesn't hesitate or aim to disable her. The bullet shatters her skull, spilling dark-tinged blood against the wall.

It really is a mercy killing compared to the fate awaiting her, but I'm shocked nonetheless.

"Move, Scully..." Mulder shouts at me. "Move!"

I drop to my feet outside the building, grateful that we're on the first floor. Mulder scrambles out after me, shutting the window behind him. Taking my arm, he leads and I follow. This time, I'm more than happy to play the subordinate role. He maneuvers us through the alley, shielding me from shards of hot glass which are exploding from the windows above.

By the time we reach the parking lot, sirens are closing in on the court house. Within minutes, the street will be inaccessible because of emergency vehicles. Because of this, I run at full speed, ignoring the teetering of my high heels. When I trip, Mulder catches me. Lifting me into his arms, he carries me the last twenty feet to our new Explorer. Depositing me into the passenger seat, he gives me the keys while he races around to the driver's door.

"Mulder!"

My partner... my husband... is intercepted. A featureless figure in black spins Mulder away from our truck. He's thrown with enough force that he lands roughly across the hood of the car next to us. Screaming his name, I crawl over to the driver's seat and start the engine. When the Resistance Fighter takes a step back to lift his torch, I jerk the gear into drive.

Pedal to the metal takes on a whole new meaning...

All eight cylinders kick in at once. The impact knocks the fighter off his feet. Whatever type of life form he is no longer matters to me. I want him dead and am determined to make sure of it. Slamming the breaks, I throw the gear into reverse. I back the Explorer over his body, gritting my teeth with determination as I feel the tires crush his bones like a tin can.

"Scully..."

Only then do I notice that Mulder is hanging on to the driver's door, banging against the window to get my attention. I drag him back a few more feet before hitting the button to lower the window.

"Grab his torch, Mulder," I bark. "We may need it."

Mulder gives me an incredulous look but follows my directions without protest. I slide back to the passenger seat as he climbs in. When he hands me the weapon, I clutch it like a trophy. Only when we pull out of the parking lot do I begin to shake.

"Have I told you today how much I love you?" Mulder asks in a tense voice, gripping the wheel as he accelerates the truck down the street.

I can't answer him. I'm speechless with terror and a sharp sense of exhilaration over my road kill. Dear God...what have I become that they taste of death is suddenly satisfying?

The ring on my finger catches the light from the window.

What have I become?

A wife... and I'll be damned if I let anyone, or anything, threaten me with the vow "until death do us part"...

"I love you, too," I say strongly.


Part 8

Welcome to the doomsday derby...

My driver's reflexes are quick and alert as I maneuver the Explorer through the congested streets of Washington, D.C. What began as a late afternoon traffic jam quickly disintegrates into bumper-to-bumper chaos. The road to suburbia has become the passage to safety. But, getting there is the tricky part. Panic, rather than fuel, propels cars... into each other.

"So much for leaving in an orderly fashion," I scoff, jerking the wheel to spin us down an abandoned alleyway.

"Well, this is no fire drill." Scully remarks, bracing herself as I slam on the breaks.

The government responds with its usual inefficiency, blocking the road ahead of us. Military convoys creep along the city street as if their heading towards a Veteran's Day parade. Maybe it's the floating ash that reminds them of ticker-tape. Because I already know what their up against, I roll down my window and yell in my most Trekker voice,

"Resistance is futile...run!"

"Mulder..."

My navigator is tugging at my arm, trying to show me a road map. Even in this worst moment of our lives, Scully is reacting with cool, rational composure. Instead of being overwhelmed by the danger of our situation, she's busy plotting out our escape route.

God, I love this woman...

When there is a break in what I consider our military's death march, I screech the truck to the other side of the road.

"Which way, wife?"

"Don't wife me, now...just turn left at the next street."

We may be married less than an hour, but the honeymoon is definitely over.

Another explosion rocks the pavement under our truck. Behind us, buildings are crumbling like they're made of matchsticks. Gas lines burst and ignite the city scape with fire. Sweat drips down the side of my face, saturating my collar and staining the front of my shirt. Gripping the steering wheel with one hand, I yank off my tie and strip off my jacket.

"Mulder, look!"

Scully is pointing towards the on-ramp to the beltway. I shift the gear into overdrive and the Explorer lurches forward in response. Tires shriek and the smell of burnt rubber mingles with the acrid air of gaseous destruction. The truck sways as I swing it through a sharp angled turn. For a second, I think the stress on the frame is going to make the truck roll. But, it's tonnage settles on all four wheels and we speed up the incline of the ramp.

Those who are fortunate enough to make it this far are rewarded by a relatively clear highway. It helps that there's no oncoming traffic. All eight lanes are heading in one direction... the "get the hell out of Dodge" direction. I drive near the edge of the road, ready to use the shoulder, the grass... whatever it takes to get us to Interstate 95.

For the next hour, neither one of says a word. Both of us are listening to the radio, searching for a station that delivers more than just a heart-stopping beat of the Emergency Management System. Scully repeatedly punches numbers in her cell phone, trying to make contact with Skinner and the Gunmen. At first, the circuits are busy, but soon the lines sizzle to a charred silence.

All we can do is drive... and hope...

Scully shifts around to place the Resistant Fighter's torch in the back seat. I take a moment to mentally snap a picture of my bride. While my memory already contains a vast portfolio of Scully looks and expressions, the one she wears now is worth framing. Never have I seen her more alive. Her blue eyes flash with an almost menacing vitality. Despite the perspiration that beads her upper lip, her mouth is set in a thin, controlled line. She's already in survival mode, calibrated to react with instant certainty and equal threat.

No longer will this woman be a victim... to either her own fears or the manipulations of others.

I'm damn lucky to have her by my side...

"You were right, Scully," I tell her. "About everything... I'm sorry I ever doubted you. You've saved us both."

"Well, not quite yet, Mulder," she responds solemnly, but the corner of her mouth lifts up slightly. "Of course, if we do manage to survive, I'll expect a very generous reward."

"What might that be, Mrs. Mulder?" I try to tease a full smile from her lips. "A few more carats of diamonds to dangle from your wrist?"

"I'd rather have a few more decades of you."

"Aw, Scully... you're not going to get all sentimental on me now, are ya?"

"I think I better, just in case..."

I reach over to take her hand.

"You don't have to say anything, Dana." I murmur. "I know how you feel."

"Do you? Do you know how much I love you, Mulder?" she says in a impassioned voice. "I'm the one who should be apologizing... for not telling you every single day."

"We'll have those decades together, Scully," I promise her, sealing it with kisses on the back of her hand. "There may be smoke on the horizon, but I think it's going to stay there."

"What do you mean?"

"The black oil surfaced from beneath the city's streets," I explain. "The court house was within a few miles of the Consortium's underground facility."

"Do you think there's a relation?"

"I think those creatures were doing more than slumming the sewers. And, I believe the Resistance was there to stop their attempted oil spill before it spread any further."

"But, Mulder... those fighters were incinerating everybody, whether they were infected or not."

"Call it damage control." I offer. "Just on a cosmic scale."

"I don't know, Mulder." Scully shakes her head. "Granted, the Resistance appears determined to stop colonization, but mankind is a little too expendable for me to be appreciative. You would think that given their vast technology, they would find a better way."

"Well, I think they've only found a faster way." I point at the dark, gathering clouds ahead. "Tell me that I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing."

"Oh my God..." she gasps.

A distant ship...

No... it's more than one... and they don't resemble the gigantic ship I saw in Antarctica. They look like small, deltoid lightening bugs...buzzing with electromagnetic radiation and a speed that breaks the sound barrier. Thunderous waves shake the earth around us.

"Get down, Scully!" I yell, pushing her to the floorboard of the truck.

I swerve off the side of the road to avoid a collision with the vehicle in front of us. Cars are spinning out of control. Clutching my ears in pain, I throw on the emergency brake and hurl my body over Scully's.

I must lose consciousness, because I wake to find myself in the passenger seat. It's dark now, but a strange glow illuminates Scully's profile like an aura. She's crying, grasping the steering with one hand while she wipe her eyes with the other.

"Scully," I call out her name. She doesn't turn to meet my gaze. Peering closer, I realize why.

There is a fine trickle of blood seeping from her right ear. And, both of mine. I can feel the stickiness along the sides of my neck. Our eardrums have been injured... our sense of hearing deafened by the roar of the alien crafts.

I sit up and squeeze Scully's arm, signaling to her that I'm awake. She gives me a sidelong glance, before motioning with her eyes towards the rear-view mirror. I turn around and instantly shudder. What I thought was the sunset is actually the fiery maelstrom of our former capitol.

Gone... D.C. is gone...

The whole skyline is in flames and the presumed loss of life is staggering. Although the power used to annihilate the district wasn't nuclear, the force of destruction appears to be massive.

My heart begins to pound with a delirious rage. I pound the dashboard with my fists, hoping to dent my horror with physical pain. I know I'm screaming enough obscenities to break the vulgarity barrier, but I don't give a fuck. No one can hear me, anyway...

When my knuckles begin to bleed, Scully pulls the truck off the road and cuts the ignition.

She reaches for me, tugging my into her arms. In the shelter of her embrace, my own tears begin to flow. They mingle with hers and both of us clutch each other, spilling our agony and desolation in hot torrents of tears.

Scully is the first to stop crying. The nurturer... the healer... once again she ignores her own pain in an effort to ease mine. In the flickering darkness, her lips sponge the salty wetness of my face. Instead of being comforted, I'm incited by the warmth of her breath. I tear open her mouth to inhale her breath... to imbibe the last of life's sweetness.

Call it profane... the desperate act of a man who is being asphyxiated by his own lack of hope...

Call it whatever you like...

At least, I can call it mutual...

Scully practically swallows my tongue in her own frantic need. I lower the passenger seat as she climbs onto my lap. Her shoes are already gone and her stockings are so tattered that they peel away like tissue paper. As I jerk down the zipper to my fly, she slides off her panties and hikes her skirt above her waist.

We consummate our marriage with an intensity that tests the shock absorbers of our truck. Although I can't hear her, I can feel her moans against my mouth. I unbutton the front of her jacket. Her back arches as I push aside the lacy fabric of her bra. When I fill my mouth with her nipple, suckling it with the moist pull of my tongue, she climaxes instantly. Her hot, tight tremors triggers my own orgasm, which feels like an 8.8 on the Richter scale. Without meaning to, my hips launch her like a rocket, propelling her into the midnight blue felt of the truck's ceiling.

Talk about an ejection...

I pull her head towards my face, rubbing the back of her head and mouthing the words "I'm sorry". She's shaking with laughter, hinting that we're either shell-shocked or deranged. It doesn't matter. We're both grinning now... if not with post- coital happiness, then with absurd humor of how we've turned the front seat of our truck into a wedding bed.


By midnight, my hearing returns. Oddly, the world is quiet. The only sound I hear is the steady hum of the truck's engine. Mulder is driving now. He glances nervously at the gas gauge which is close to empty. We're going to have to stop soon, to refill the tank and hopefully allow me the chance to relieve my bladder.

Not that I'll ever grace a toilet again. I'd rather squat in the woods than be blasted off the seat by an oil gush.

"Can you hear me yet, Mulder?" I try speaking for the first time in hours.

"Yeah," he responds, nodding. "Both you and your stomach growling."

"We're going to have to pull off the highway soon and find a gas station."

"Not to mention a McDonalds. How does a filet of fish sound to my little beluga?"

"Well," I counter, eager to hang onto this thread of easy banter. "Not all of us can afford to survive on love... as romantic as that might sound."

"Especially the mother of my child," he says softly. "You're eating for two, now."

"I really do love you, Mulder,"

"That's the second time you've said it today, wife. Careful or you'll spoil me."

"Then drive faster, slowpoke... I'm starving."

We're deep into the farmland of Pennsylvania. Finding a gas station takes us time, especially locating one that's open. Finally, we pull into a station that boasts a convenience store. There is only a single attendant left. He doesn't bother to offer to fill our tank with gas, just sits morosely behind the counter listening to the static on the radio.

"Help yourself to anything you want." He waves us off when Mulder tries to pre-pay for the gas. "By tomorrow, money won't mean shit to any of us."

"Why are you still here, then?" Mulder asks, leaving the twenty dollar bill on the counter.

"Got no where to go. The sky is falling...so sayeth the Chicken Little of CNN."

"It seems pretty quiet around here," I offer.

"That's because even little green men need their sleep," snickers the gas attendant. "Come morning, we'll see more than just the White House leveled."

"What about the other major cities?" My voice sounds shaky. I want to mention L.A., but fear for my family stops me. " How about New York?"

"These aliens have taste. Who the fuck wants a bite of the big apple when the core is infested with the worms of humanity. Nah... all the dens of iniquity still stand."

"Ah... okay..." I nudge Mulder before I hobble towards the restroom. My shoes are ruined. One heel has fallen off, but the thought of walking around in my bare feet scares me.

It takes me several minutes to work up my nerve to straddle the toilet. Once done, I wash my face and neck in the sink, scraping the dried blood on my neck with my fingernail. The pain inside my ears has settled to a dull ache, but my injury seems minimal.

At least on the surface...

Actually, my surface looks pretty shabby, too...

I glance in the mirror and study my wan reflection. Lines of tension crease my forehead and my eyes are speckled with broken blood vessels. I pull the lids up, checking for minute fragments of ash. There are none. The condition is either stress related or sex related, depending on one's viewpoint and definition of explosive encounter.

There's a discrete knock on the bathroom door. I turn around to find my husband and one of my suitcases.

"Thought you might want to change while we're here." Mulder says, closing the door behind him.

"I like how you think," I respond gratefully, reaching around my waist to unzip my skirt.

"What the hell is wrong with your eyes?"

"Just a little eyestrain," I mumble, lowering my head. "Nothing to worry about."

But, he is... I can tell by how his instant shift of demeanor. His hazel eyes take on the classic "I know more about medicine than you" look. It's almost as annoying as being lifted up to the bathroom counter so he can tie my sneaker laces. When I open my mouth to protest, he reaches up to gag me with his hand, saying,

"Don't Mulder me right now..."

Muted, I roll my eyes which is the worst thing I can possibly do. It gives him a circling tour of my blood stained eyes. Before I can tuck my shirt into my jeans, I'm off the counter and into his arms. He carries me out of the bathroom, through the convenience store and into the semi-darkness of the parking lot. Hanging onto his neck, I try to coax him down from his teeth-gritting agitation.

"Is this your idea of carrying me over the threshold?"

"No more fun and games, Scully. You need you to rest."

"Fun and games? Exactly what is your definition of that? Highway humor or intercourse on the interstate?"

"Jeez, Scully..." He flinches at my description. "Why can't you just humor me for a change and let me protect you."

"Because we're partners..."

"We're more than just partners," Mulder relates as he eases me into the back seat of the Explorer. "We're prospective parents. I just want to keep it that way."

Who can argue with such sweet, paternal silliness?

Dana Scully, M.D. might...

But, Mrs. Fox Mulder can't... She's reduced to tears by her husband's anxiety over the welfare of their child.

"Don't cry," Mulder whispers, making a pillow out of his jacket so I can rest my head. "I don't want to upset you."

"I'm not upset," I snivel, wiping my nose with the back of my hand. "I'm just in love..."


Part 9

The entire country is vacillating between profound shock and deep mourning. Except the media... They hover over our former capital in helicopters, broadcasting live updates as the death toll rises. It doesn't matter that martial law has been imposed. Disasters pull in ratings and the networks feed off the public's panic as if they were buzzards devouring road kill.

Scully and I have no choice but to stop our journey the following night. To douse the flames of alien-induced hysteria, curfews are imposed and enforced with the full might of the military. It seems our Forces have little left to do other than flex their muscles at the populace.

Maybe it reminds them what it once felt like to be a superpower.

Capitol Hill has effectively become Capitol Hole, a gorge deep enough to give to the Grand Canyon a run for its money. The energy used to topple the seat of government was of an undefinable level, a firestorm so massive that it turned D.C. into a crematorium and the Potomac into a lava flow.

Yet, the fiery pit did have a rim. And beyond it, the rest of the country remained unscathed. This led me to believe that the Resistance chose depth over width. They toppled a city to unearth the sewers beneath it, to ignite oil with fire in an attempt to "purify" the pathogen within it.

Who was the Resistance? The enemy... or just an intergalactic clean-up crew?

There was a point that my need to know outweighed every other factor in my life, including my own safety. But, I'm no longer a federal agent or a "free agent", for that matter. I'm a married man, a father-to-be... and unlike those before me... my family will come first.

Scully and I now sit in our motel room, planning our migration north. My little beluga is submerged under the bedspread, chomping on her sandwich as if I just tossed her a tuna. When I pass her a carton of milk, she frowns and reaches to the nightstand for my coffee.

"Think calcium...not caffeine," I gently elbow her.

"Which one of us is the doctor, here," she gripes.

"Pathologist..." I remind her. Spreading a road map across the bed, I study alternate routes to the Adirondacks in upstate New York. These honeymooners aren't heading for Niagara Falls, but Lake George. Waiting for us is a cabin that once belonged to my fly-fishing, alien-hunting father. It's rustic in terms of charm, yet functional with modern amenities that include plumbing and electricity. He spent a small fortune renovating it, tapping into a nearby power plant and installing back-up solar panels and generators.

What I thought was to be his retirement haven was actually a refuge. Isolation meant safety, and he deeded the cabin over to me in his Will. Perhaps he knew that the end was near, and like the "Last of the Mohicans" he feared his son would be the last of the "Mulders"...

But, I'm not...

Scully has extended me more than a branch of the family tree. She has given me a dream... a woman to love and a child to hope for. And nothing, not even the answers I sought for over a decade, will lure me away from my last chance at happiness.

"Mulder," Scully calls to me in a soft, appealing voice. I lifted my eyes from the map to find her patting the pillow beside her. "Put the map, away. It's time for you to get some sleep."

Love... honor...and, although Scully would snort with laughter at the thought... I obey.

I toss the map to the floor while she turns out the light. Reaching for each other, our legs twine together like living vines, drawing us into a embrace that is peaceful and secure. She rests her head next to mine on the pillow, soothing the singed hair away from my temples. Crooning words of love and reassurance, I drift away to the sound of my wife's lullaby.

Of course, she can't sing worth a damn...but I can dream, can't I?

In the middle of the night, the dream turns into a nightmare. I wake to a blinding light that streams through the curtains, piercing through the crevices of the door like a laser. Instinctively, I dive for my gun. I push Scully off the bed, screaming for her to hide as the door rattles on its hinges. The floor trembles beneath my feet as I race to block the entrance to our motel room with my body.

It's useless...

The door crashes open, throwing me back against the wall. Gun lifted, I squint into the beam of light, ready to pump bullets to penetrate the shadows that approach us. As my finger tightens on the trigger, I hear a sound behind me... the noise of a flame igniting... the preferred weapon of choice these days...

Scully...

She stands fearlessly in the shaft of light. Her hands swing up the Resistance's torch as if it was a light saber. Once again, it's Princess Leia to the rescue... her fierce countenance poses as much threat as the firesword she wields.

Even, Darth Vador would think twice...

Her side-kick, Fox Chewbacca can only howl for her to run... not fight.

But, these storm-troopers don't wear masks...or faces, for that matter...

It's the Resistance...

They must have tracked us down, to either vindicate their tire-squashed comrade... or to less than politely ask for his light saber back.

Suddenly, my warrior princess lowers the torch and cuts the flame. Her eyes fill with tears, recognizing the figure who stands in the doorway.

Oh my God... it's Lady Vador...

Or, more popularly known as Cassandra Spender...

"I knew I'd find you," Cassandra smiles at Scully, reaching over to place a soft hand over mine. "Lower your gun, Agent Mulder. We're not here to harm you or Dana."

"Why are you here?" I ask in a disbelieving tone, jerking my head towards the battalion outside. "And, why are you with them?"

"To deliver a message," she says calmly. "I speak on behalf of those who seek to preserve our world as we know it. The Resistance is not our enemy, Agent Mulder. They're here to stop what the others have started."

"Colonization?" I ask.

"More like an evolutionary paradox," the woman relates, closing the door so that the light doesn't blind our vision of her sincere face. "Mankind isn't the only race threatened by the spread of this prehistoric oil. The Colonists have dug a bit too deep... they've unearthed more than then they bargained for."

"What they excavated is the threat of their own extinction." remarks Scully, drawing Cassandra's gaze to her. "These creatures are to them what the dinosaurs were to us."

"Yes, Dana." The woman's aqueous grey eyes brighten with admiration for my wife. "How far you've come from the days of being a non-believer."

"My conversion was far from comfortable," relays Scully. "But, it is complete."

"You've suffered a great deal," Cassandra comments sadly. "I can remove the source of your pain."

"You can't," I wag my finger in front of the woman's face to show her my wedding ring. "She married me two days ago."

"Mulder," Scully sighs, shaking her head. "You've never been the source of my pain... well... other than a pain in the neck, sometimes."

"Actually, the source is embedded in your neck," relates Cassandra. "The micro-chip, the last fragment of the Consortium's control over you."

"You can't remove it," I protest. "It's the only thing that keeps Scully's cancer in remission."

"It is also the means by which the two of you can be tracked down," Cassandra advises. "And, the Consortium will eventually try to find you."

"Why?" I ask, tensing at her implication.

"To steal the hope they gave you," she imparts. "Your child, Dana. You have conceived more than just an ordinary child."

Scully's frightened eyes meet mine. I reach down to clasp her hand and ask the pivotal question we've both been avoiding.

"A hybrid?"

"No." Cassandra holds up her hand to allay our fears. "The child is yours, Agent Mulder. But, as Dana's child, the baby will receive a natural immunity against the alien virus. Or so, they expect. They will want to test their theory."

"What am I not surprised?" I scoff the question.

"He planted the eggs, Cassandra," Scully gasps. "He warned me to leave D.C., that an attack was imminent."

"Only that your child would survive, Dana," insists Cassandra. "Don't you understand what a monster he is? He will stop at nothing... not even murdering our son... to ensure his ultimate victory."

"So much for being the voice of rationalism," Scully snorts with contempt. "I'm back to being the Consortium's latest lab rat."

"Remove the chip, Dana," urges Cassandra. "Don't let them find you seven months from now when your baby is born. My ex- husband is more than deceptively ruthless. He's the Mephistopheles of the modern age. He'll trick you into a state of being comfortable, playing on your worst fears or most hopeful dreams."

"How do you know all of this?" I demand, reluctant to trust anyone at this point.

"Because I was his unfortunate bride... and then his neglected wife... only to be treated with the same type of apathy he reserves for his latest lab rat." Cassandra says vehemently. "I know what he's capable of. He murdered his own child... my son. I make it my business to know, Agent Mulder, and I have spent these past months developing certain skills that enable me to do so."

"Can you read minds, Cassandra?" Scully's voice has dropped to a desperate whisper. "Can you read mine, now?"

"Yes, Dana." The woman reaches out to touch my wife's face. Her fingers fan across Scully's cheek, crossing the bridge of her nose to close the lids of her eyes. "I can take away the cancer, Dana. But, only you can believe that I've done so."

I hold my breath as Cassandra cups Scully's face in her hands. The woman's eyes roll back into her skull like some type of voodoo practicing priestess, except she's not chanting out loud, only in her thoughts. I can't hear them, but see the signs of focused concentration, of healing hinged on faith... both hers and Scully's.

But, I'm a pagan. The closest thing I embraced to religion is Scully, and I'm not about to test Cassandra's "developing skills" by removing the one thing proven to keep my wife's cancer in remission.

"He was hoping you'd think that way, Agent Mulder," Cassandra murmurs, opening her eye to acknowledge my thoughts.

"Who? The smoking Beelzebub?"

"Now's not the time to turn into a skeptic," she cautions me. "You can open your eyes now, Dana. Hopefully, you'll be able to persuade Fox to do the same."

"Leaving so soon?" I can't help the level of sarcasm when I see Scully's moist, grateful gaze follow her to the door. "Are you off to host the next oil baron's ball?"

"Mulder, shut up," Scully hisses. She hurries after Cassandra to embrace the woman in farewell.

"Next time you and your faceless friends want to drop by, tell them to lower their headlights," I yell, smirking at the sewn-shut faces of the Resistance.

Of course, I do this knowing full well that they can't stick their tongues back at me.

Scully slams the door, almost taking my nose along with it. Scowling at me, she crosses to the closet and fumbles through the darkness for her medical bag. It's dark, now... The Resistance leaves with what can only be described as the speed of light... which is a term I toss sarcastically to Scully. But, rather than swim over to catch my latest offering, she only looks ready to bite my head off.

My cute beluga has transformed into an orca...a killer whale whose cold, blue eyes warn me that one false move and I'm fish bait.

I stand back, allowing her to drag her bag over to the night table. Scully turns on the lamp and begins to dig through her stash of pre-natal vitamins. She draws out a small lancet and a tube of lidocaine, which I instantly recognize as a topical anesthetic.

"Scully...no!" I hurry over to grab her hand. "Don't do it."

"I'm not," she says through clenched teeth. "You're going to do it for me."


Part 10

There was a time that faith was a matter of convenience. I believed in God, but practiced my religion out of habit and an occasional yearning for the child-like comfort it gave me. As I grew older, science became my creed. I chose tangible facts over ethereal concepts, appropriate for what I considered to be my educated and sophisticated mind.

Yet, now I'm clinging to faith like a zealot...

Not in God, but in Cassandra Spender... a human/alien hybrid who with one touch has vanquished the dark cloud of cancer that has dimmed my horizon.

And, she has delivered a message, a prophecy that I'm more than willing to accept.

Our child...Mulder's and mine... will be the first of a new generation... biologically immune to the alien plague.

Hope is inside of me. But, so is the gauge by which I have cautiously measured it. The micro-chip embedded in my neck, programmed to keep my cancer in remission, has a dual purpose. Like a homing device, it enables the Consortium to monitor my movements, to track me down and steal my hope from me.

Because of this new threat, I'm an instant convert, no longer willing to debate science over faith.

Unfortunately, Mulder is content to remain an excommunicate. His recites cynicism as a creed, a studied theologian of distrust.

"I won't do it!"

He throws the lancet down as if I just handed him a scalpel.

"I'm not asking you to perform exploratory surgery, Mulder."

"No, you're asking me to believe that Cassandra Spender is some type of psycho-healer."

"Don't you mean psychic?"

"Nope." Mulder retorts. "She may be flying over the cuckoo's nest with the Resistance, but she still belongs there."

"You're afraid, Mulder," I state flatly.

"Damn right, Scully." Mulder snaps. "We know the chip keeps your cancer in remission. It's unrefuted, hard evidence. As a scientist, you know that, yet you're willing to chance your own health... and our baby's... on what? The affinity you feel towards Cassandra? The sisterhood of the chip?"

"Mulder," I murmur, dropping my head. "Why is it that, after all these years, you're still incapable of seeing the forest through the trees?"

"Maybe because you're asking me to play lumberjack with your neck," he retorts. "And, don't ask me to hack away on my tree of life."

Only Mulder can expand a metaphor to make it both harsh and poignant at the same time. I lift my face to his, beseeching with my eyes which have always conveyed more than I'm capable of speaking. But, the articulation of my soul seems lost upon him. He cringes away, hurt and disillusioned by what he thinks is a hybrid of my trust.

"Please try to understand, Mulder," I tell him, reaching for the lidocaine and lancet. "I won't bring our child into this world to be hunted down as a congenital lab rat."

When he turns away from me, I sigh and go into the bathroom. Leaning over the sink, I rub the back of my neck with the lidocaine. As the lancet sinks into my skin, I suppress a cry of pain... more emotional than physical... for in the mirror, I see Mulder's reflection.

Tears are sliding down his face in silent protest.

A sob catches in my throat, but I continue prodding for the implant. Blood begins to trickle down the side of my neck. Unable to feel the contours of the tiny chip, I stab for it repeatedly, digging deeper into the epidermal layer of my skin.

I can't find it. Shoulder's tensing, I stop to grip the edge of the sink and take several deep breaths. I'm not only losing my nerve, but dexterity...

"How am I to isolate a minuscule piece of metal that I can't see or feel?" I moan in frustration.

"I can't fucking watch this..." I hear Mulder swear under his breath.

Just when I think he's going to leave, he steps behind me and takes the lancet from my bloodied fingers. Pushing aside my matted hair, he lowers my head so that the light of the vanity falls on my torn flesh. Within seconds, it's over. The chip is removed and washed down the drain with his tears and my blood.

"Thank you," I whisper in relief.

"Don't thank me," Mulder's voice cracks. His hand acts as a temporary bandage as he reaches for a washcloth. "Just promise that you won't die on me."

"I promise," I sniff, finally allowing tears to dampen my eyes.

"I want to believe...," he quotes his own worn-out motto.

"Unconditional trust, Mulder," I remind him, turning around to press my forehead against the solid warmth of his chest.

"In Cassandra?" Mulder's voice is tight with apprehension. "A bug-eyed Yoda wannabe?"

"In me... and the force of my love for you."


Being a skeptic of Scully's hope is hard, time-consuming work. Especially when I see her thriving with health, blossoming like a rose in the mild heat of a northern summer. Pregnancy suits her well. Her face, now absent of makeup that once masked her discontent, shines with a glow that is remarkably youthful. In the three months that we've spent at our cabin in the Adirondacks, time has erased the stressed-induced signs of her premature aging.

I can't help but want to be young with her...

Sighing, I glance out the window of the cabin to watch her. While I've spent the majority of my days by the radio, listening for news of another catastrophic event, Scully traipses through the forest like some type of woodland fairy. Although we have enough food and provisions to last us into the next century, she scavenges the countryside daily. I think she's looking for nature's edibles, hoping to tempt me from my fast in life.

Today, she carries a bucket of wild strawberries, half of which have made it into her mouth. Peering closer, I'm instantly aroused by the vision of lips stained red by crushed berries. It doesn't matter that she'll spend most of the afternoon futilely trying to bake a pie. A gourmet cook she's not, but right now she looks as tasty as croissant. Already I'm imagining the warm texture of her buttermilk skin, the sweetness of her juice-filled mouth.

Oh, Scully... I want to break the fast...

Like you, I want to believe...

Scully no longer searches the horizon. To her, the dim fog in the distance is only the mist on the lake. While I wait for the next attack, bristling with anxiety when I sniff smoke in the air, she only shrugs and reaches for a fishing pole. When I accuse her of returning to her "comfortably numb" state, she shakes her head slowly and says,

"No, Mulder. I've only chosen to live in hope rather than fear."

It's time for me to join her. The world has and always will be an uncertain place. Whether the destruction of D.C. was the beginning of the end, worrying about the future won't change it. I can't martyr myself to the unknown... not now. Not when my reason for living... Scully... has found balance at last.

Not to mention that she's promised to take me fly- fishing...

I turn off the radio and my melancholy. I can hear her steps on the porch and feel the lifting of my heart as I open the cabin door. She's here. My wife... wrapping her tanned arms around my neck, pressing her berry flavored lips against mine.

"You're home early, Nature Girl," I greet her between kisses.

"There's something I wanted to show you," Scully replies. Smiling, she takes my hand and places it on her belly. Through the thin material of her shirt, I feel a small flutter. When I startle, she only laughs and pushes my hand back.

"Is that what I think it is?" I gasp.

"That's you child saying hello," Scully says softly. "Would you like to say something back?"

Grinning, I lower my head to Scully's stomach.

"Message received, little one," I murmur gratefully.

Hope has found me, at last.

The End...

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