Title: Breathe
Author: Terri
Written: December 1996
Rated PG
Category SR
Keywords: Mulder/Scully romance.

Summary: Future -- MSR -- PG-rated

It's set in the future after Mulder has disappeared and a fearful Scully gets in contact with him. It's full of serious Scully angst and some mild but bittersweet MSR ... it's PG-rated for some of the more "adult situations" ...

I do not own the characters upon which this story is based, those are the sole property of THE PRODUCER Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions and Fox Broadcasting, I stole them for my own grotty ends and will realize absolutely zero profit from the endeavor ... I grovel endlessly at CC's feet for creating this amazing show.

Thanks to Debbie Hewett for her deft editorial skills, pep talks and other nervous author hand-holding.

And by the way, Carole Isabella Monture-Wicks was born at 12:58 a.m. August 24, 1996. I missed the re-run of "Quagmire" for it ...

Berkeley, CA
September 2003
4:35 a.m.

It was always the same dream.

She was standing in the sterile corridor of a top-secret research facility, her heart beating as loudly and rapidly as a booming drum in her ears.

"Purity Control" someone kept whispering over and over, like a mantra, like a prayer. A puppet on a string she was forced to walk down the corridor, approaching the gleaming glass window at the end of the hall with the taste of fear in her mouth and adrenaline coursing through her body. But there was no escape. She was compelled to move closer, tugged forward by an irresistible force.

And then she was looking in the window.

It was a hospital nursery. Row upon row of empty isolettes stacked like wood *or tombstones* she thought helplessly, hysterically. All of them empty except for the one front and center. She didn't want to look, but she looked anyway.

In the slow-motion deliberation of nightmare, she was suddenly inside the room, looking down at the isolette. Inside was a baby. Her baby. Frail and tiny, perfectly formed. Her heart swelled. Here was the culmination of five years of hopes and dreams. Excitedly she reached for the child, wanting nothing more than to pick it up and hold it close to her heart. Her arms were no longer empty and she whispered a lullaby, a prayer of gladness and thanksgiving.

And then it changed. Its head swelled to grotesque proportions, three times the size of a normal newborn's. Its skin was a horrible, sickly gray and veins could be seen pulsing through the paper thin surface. And then it opened those huge pupil-less eyes and stared unblinking up at her.

"Mama," the tiny voice squealed in her mind.

Her heart stilled its beating, her breath stopped in her throat. She could taste her fear. And then her breath started again, expelled forcefully in a terror-stricken scream ...

Dana Scully always woke at that point, her mouth open in a silent scream, her hair matted to her forehead with sweat, her hands curled protectively over the nine-month bulk of her belly. As if in response to the turmoil in her mind, the baby squirmed, roiling within her body so forcefully it was indistinguishable from pain.

Her heart hammered in her chest. She turned toward the warmth of her sleeping husband and thought about waking him, but decided against it.

Geoff was sleeping on his side, one arm flung out over the side of the bed, his blond hair tousled over his eyes like a child's. She looked down at him, so peaceful in the dim light reflected from the streetlights and knew a sorrow that welled like bile up from her stomach.

She could never tell Geoff. He would never believe her, never even consider that something might be wrong with this child, with this baby that they had sweated to conceive, utilizing every state-of-the-art scientific fertility technique to achieve this pregnancy. Five years of heartbreak and hope.

Five years of unspeakable fear that something was dreadfully, horribly wrong with her.

Dana heaved herself off the bed and padded into the bathroom, splashing cool, forgiving water on her sweating face. She dried herself off and wished fervently, hopelessly, with the familiar dull throbbing ache deep in her chest, that Mulder was here.

She knew that was impossible. Mulder had disappeared.

When their enemies had made it clear that he had crossed them one too many times, he had gone underground. With the help of several of his shadowy contacts, he had simply not shown up for work one day. When she had tried to contact him, she was unable to reach him either at his apartment or at his cell phone number. She had gone to his apartment later that day. A young, harried woman with a toddler clinging to her leg had answered the door of his apartment, the floor strewn with toys and furniture that looked as if it had been there forever.

Dana Scully had stood there, speechless and flustered, helpless in the face of the young woman's impatient wonder. And then she had known.

Mulder had gone without even contacting her. And that had hurt worse than anything she had ever experienced. Worse than a death, for she never had the chance to say good-bye, there was no grave to mark his passing. It was like he was in limbo, in purgatory, and there was no way of contacting him because the danger was simply too great. She couldn't be angry with him for she knew he had done it to protect her -- letting her know where he had gone endangered her as well. To the end, he had thought of her, put her safety before his own. Even as she cursed him for being stubborn, for going off without her, she respected his choice and loved him for it.

So she had gotten on with her life, transferring back to Quantico and the forensics lab. After a lonely year of what could only be described as mourning, she met Geoff Leonard, a software consultant who was developing a national forensics database to be tied in with the existing VICAP system.

His work and hers often meshed, and they spent a lot of long hours building the system together. At the end of the project, Dana had taken a long look at him and realized that somewhere along the line she had fallen into a kind of love with him. It was strange; based upon a sort of mutual respect for each other's intellect, and on a genuine affection for each other, it really wasn't a passionate, soul-melding kind of love. She had decided this was what adults felt and so had consented to marry him, even following him back to Berkeley where he taught at Stanford.

She would be a liar if she said she never thought about Mulder. He occupied her thoughts daily. Dana worried and wondered about him but respected his silence and never once tried to contact him.

She missed him more than she could say. She especially missed him calling her "Scully," in his dark drawling voice. She no longer thought of herself as "Scully" these days. And no one ever called her that. To the rest of the world, she was Dr. Leonard, assistant pathologist in the Marin County Coroner's Office.

Dana looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her face was puffy and there were dark circles under her eyes. Five days away from her due date, she was indescribably tired. She had finally stopped working last week and had spent her time since then trying to sleep, but every time she lay down, the nightmare intruded and now she found herself clinging to the shadowy edge of exhaustion.

Dana waddled back into the bedroom and looked at the bedside clock. Only a few more hours until dawn.

An idea grew in her mind, formless at first, then unfolding itself with greater urgency. At dawn, she told herself. Then it would be 9 A.M. in Washington. And they would probably be there.

She shut herself in the spare room that was in the process of being transformed into a nursery. She and Geoff had spent a weekend painstakingly stenciling pastel dinosaurs on parade at waist level around the room. It was an odd contrast to the desk in the corner opposite the crib, where she kept her work files and lap-top from her Bureau days. Dana sat at the desk and opened the bottom drawer, withdrawing from it a gunmetal gray strongbox. She placed this on the desk beside the computer and heaved herself out of the chair. On the refinished antique bureau was a little music box that had belonged to Melissa; her mother had sent it to her, along with reams of baby clothing. Dana lifted the lid and a dancer twirled around in an eternal pirouette to the tinny refrain of "Swan Lake". She put a finger through a small tear in the satin lining of the box, extracted a key.

She had always felt rather guilty about concealing the contents of this box from her husband, but this was hers, a part of her past that did not belong to him. Geoff knew a little bit about Mulder, but she had always been vague and her manner cold when he questioned her about him, so he had long ago let the matter drop. The key felt cool and solid in her warm palm; Dana returned to the desk, sat down and fitted it into the lock of the strongbox.

Lifting the lid, she looked down at the box's contents.

Her FBI-issue Smith&Wesson sat on top, magazine empty; her badge and ID wallet was next, a younger and less careworn Dana Scully staring seriously from the photo. These she set aside without another glance.

But now the box was open and a dozen memories spilled out, revealed to the open air for the first time in five years.

A stupid, garish birthday card Mulder had sent her *I did remember your birthday, didn't I, Scully?*. The trailer key from Gibsonton, Florida. A book of matches from the nameless diner in Maryland where they had met Skinner and bargained for their safety. The necklace that Tooms had stolen and Mulder had returned to her. She touched it with a wondering finger and it slid down to the bottom of the box to rest beside the now empty vial that had held the strange microchip she had recovered from the back of her neck.

A shiver ran through her. The baby kicked again, almost urgently. She absently rubbed the side of her belly where the kick had been and forcibly put the thought of the chip out of her mind. There was too much pain associated with the memory of that strange object and it felt almost as if it had happened to someone else ... but the fact of her recurring nightmare put lie to that small comfort.

A photograph. Turning it over, Mulder stared up at her from the palm of her hand. At first glance, it was a serious, sober Mulder in standard FBI drag, but the tiny, scarcely noticeable grin and the dark twinkle in his eyes belied that notion. She had taken it one day when she was testing out a camera she had been using for a stakeout; Mulder had been her reluctant test subject but started hamming for the camera once she had persuaded him to pose. He was standing against the office file cabinet, arms crossed across his chest, staring straight into the camera as though he were staring into her eyes.

The sight of this photo sent a pang of longing and a hurt that Dana was surprised to realize was grief shuddering through her body. She stared down at it, biting her lip; an absent finger slowly caressed the image of Mulder's face. The pain of his absence tore at her; with monumental effort she pushed the feeling away. She did not want to acknowledge how she felt; it was just another complication. Dana rationalized that what she was about to do as just another way of making sure her baby was going to be safe and healthy, and there was only one person who would be able to give her that reassurance.

At the very bottom of the box she found what she was looking for. A scrap of paper with a D.C. area phone number on it; this she folded into her hand and set the photograph carefully back into the box, along with the other items she had looked at and discarded. Quietly she locked the box up and returned it to its drawer, then put the key back in its hiding place and left the room.

Dana picked up the portable phone from the coffee table in the living room and then changed her mind. A land line would be a little more secure in the unlikely event she was still a target of surveillance; she uncoiled a length of phone extension cord for the handset from the kitchen. Phone in hand, she unlocked the sliding door to wander out into the garden.

Dana had always wanted a garden; in D.C. there had been no place for one nor the time to tend to it. Here she had both and had spent the earlier childless years of her marriage putting all of her nurturing energy into it. Now the heady perfume of late season lilies, dahlias and roses filled the air, luscious and wet from the morning dew. On the far eastern horizon a tinge of pink heralded the impending dawn. She eased her bulk down on a bench set in the far corner of the garden and dialed the number.

The voice that answered was wonderfully familiar and despite herself, she smiled.

"Lone Gunman."

"Frohike," she said, suddenly feeling the years drop away. "It's Scully."

The name slipped so very easily off her tongue; it was as if Dr. Leonard was merely a disguise she had been using and was now free to discard.

"Scully!?!" His voice was surprised and positively delighted. "My God! How *are* you?"

"I'm well," she answered. In the background she could hear Langly and Byers shouting hellos at her over Frohike's shoulder.

"Glad to hear it! Is there anything we can do for you?"

"As a matter of fact, there is."

Frohike was boisterous in his eagerness. "Just name it, Scully. I'll try my best ..."

She ran a hand over the bulky curve of her belly and mentally crossed her fingers. "I need you to find Mulder for me."

Two Days Later
11:21 a.m.

Dana pulled the voluminous maternity smock over her head and frowned at her reflection in the mirror. She was as big as a house. The discreet pattern of tiny roses on a cream-colored background only emphasized the firm bulge of her abdomen and the sensitive bud of her now-inside out navel. It looked like she had swallowed a basketball.

"I look like I've swallowed a basketball," she muttered mournfully, but there was a secret tinge of pride in her voice. She sighed and waddled out of her bedroom, ignoring the fact that her hair was still wet from her shower and that she was barefoot. "Only three more days 'til the due date's up. Then we'll see ..."

Geoff had left the house at his customary 7:30 departure time after giving her a gratefully received back rub. He had gone with the cheerful promise of another one when he got home and had hinted at the possibility of a foot massage, too. She was looking forward to it as the high point of her day.

Her left foot had been cramping and there was a dull ache in the very base of her spine, one of the myriad pains that she had been prone to in these last three months.

In the kitchen Dana poured herself a glass of orange juice, wishing it was a very large and very strong cup of coffee. She padded into Geoff's study to check the e-mail from his computer, the only one in the house set up to access the Internet.

She had been doing it roughly every hour since she had talked to Frohike, hoping against hope for a response; the Lone Gunmen had been infuriatingly evasive about whether or not they were able to do anything for her, protesting that they had no idea where Mulder was, making it sound like they just didn't know whether he was dead or alive.

Dana didn't believe them. She had heard the hesitation in Frohike's voice and the too-loud denials of knowledge from Langly and Byers and knew they were hiding something. Years of questioning suspects had given her the immediate, intuitive ability of knowing whether what she was hearing was the truth or a lie, and she knew that for all their practice at subterfuge, the Lone Gunmen were incapable of lying to her.

And so she had been relentless with Frohike, pressuring him with every interrogative tactic she knew and playing on his fondness for her until he had agreed to at least initiate a cursory search for Mulder. He had promised to let her know by e-mail if he had been successful.

Breath held, Dana turned on the computer and logged onto the Internet server. The mail was infinitely slow downloading; she blew out a frustrated sigh when she realized it was all for Geoff. Disappointed, she turned the computer off and left the study.

Dana opened the sliding door and stepped outside; the mid-September sun was unusually warm this morning, the concrete patio stones almost hot beneath her bare toes. She frowned at the rosebushes alongside the fence marking off their property from the neighbor's. There were a disconcerting amount of deadheads on them and if she wanted to make sure the bushes continued to bloom, she would have to get rid of them so that the new buds could come forth. She padded back into the kitchen, found a pair of shears and her gardening gloves and went back outside.

There was a certain Zen to gardening, Dana had discovered over the years; the concentration on nothing more than the task before her was calming and helped clear her mind. This morning the steady sound of the shears and the sweet perfume of the red roses helped dissipate the remnants of last night's version of the recurring nightmare and the strain of waiting for a response from Frohike. She was free to do nothing but breathe the cool morning air, rapidly warming in the heat of the sun that beat down on her arms, and feel the spongy earth beneath her feet.

And so it was Dana was slow to realize that someone else had crept into the backyard while she worked and now stood silently regarding her.

Something caught her attention; whether it was the remembered intimacy of breath, or scent, or just the fact of the dearly loved enigmatic presence, she slowly turned when she realized she was no longer alone.

He was standing five paces behind her, his lean form silhouetted against the morning sky. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt and the well-worn leather jacket; his skin was bronzed and lines had been deeply grooved around his eyes from the force of a fierce sun. He seemed thinner than she remembered him to be, his body taut with a deep, wary-to-the-bone tension. But his eyes were the same, the bright hazel of them darkening to a delighted forest green as he looked at her. And then a twitch of that sensuous mouth, a corner lifting in a brilliant smile.

Dana could only stare in stupefaction, jolted into stillness as though a ghost had suddenly appeared before her. Goosebumps broke out over the surface of her skin and she shivered, not with cold but with bewildered joy. Tears blurred her eyes and she remembered another bittersweet time when she had thought him dead and he had appeared before her. With a glad cry she launched herself at him, burying her nose into his chest, inhaling deeply of his familiar and beloved scent. His arms came around her, wonderfully solid and real, tentative at first until they tightened around her so forcefully it was if he wanted to pull her body into his own.

"Scully," Mulder said, his silken voice warm against her ear, "You look like you've swallowed a basketball."

She made him come with her into the house, ever mindful of his safety.

Geoff had an fervent interest in cryptography; as a result of this passionate hobby, his study was shielded against all manner of electronic and photo surveillance and it was here that Scully brought Mulder, not even noticing that Geoff's presence was everywhere in the room. She didn't care.

All that she cared about at this moment was Mulder. Scully couldn't stop staring at him, almost afraid to look away in case he should disappear.

He had named her so, and now she could safely think of herself as Scully again. She felt recharged and renewed, full of fire and purpose. A million questions came to mind but she pushed them away, suddenly shy with the weight of six years of silence.

So she found refuge in banter, in the easy camaraderie they had always shared. "Nice tan," Scully said, handing him a glass of water. "I hope you haven't forgotten your sunscreen."

Mulder had tossed his jacket over a chair and was carefully examining the room, but now he turned to her and smiled. She felt warm beneath that smile and became acutely aware of how much she had missed him. "I've been in the desert," he told her.

She nodded. "I guessed as much. New Mexico?"

"Sometimes." He was evasive even as he smiled at her. "Scully, you look wonderful."

She was embarrassed, suddenly made too aware of the circles under her eyes, her rounded face and belly, the frumpy maternity smock and her bare feet.

"I look like hell."

"Not to me you don't." His voice was soft and warm; there was no hiding the depth of his feeling for her.

Scully felt the flush creep up the side of her face and looked away. This was harder than she thought it would be. The weight of six years absence had made her shy with him, even though she had longed for this moment almost more than she had wanted the baby.

If Mulder was aware of her embarrassment he didn't show it. He was still looking around the room. On a bookshelf there was a small framed wedding photo; this he took down and looked at. A fleeting expression that Scully couldn't name, but was pretty sure was regret, crossed his face.

"I went to your wedding, you know," he said casually, but there was a slight tremor in his voice that slipped past his control.

She glanced at him. "You did? How?"

"You'd be surprised how good a pair of eighty power field binoculars are," he deadpanned in typical Mulder fashion. But there was no mistaking the regret he felt as he looked away from her, down at the photo of her and Geoff smiling happily for the camera. "You were a beautiful bride."

She closed her eyes, feeling the pain of the past, a past that had gone so horribly awry. "I wish you had been there," she whispered. "You *should* have been there."

Mulder stiffened. He replaced the photograph on the shelf. "Yeah, well, forgive me for not RSVPing, but I was running for my life."

"Mulder, why didn't you come to me?" she asked, unable to keep the anguish out of her voice as she looked up at him. "You know I would have done anything to help you."

He would not meet her eyes. "I couldn't risk it. I couldn't put you in jeopardy. Not again. Not ... not after the last time." A low moan from deep within his throat escaped him. "I only wanted you to be safe."

Scully swallowed the retort about being able to take care of herself that rose to her lips. He was still tormented by the memory of her abduction.

She knew he had blamed himself and she had some inkling that this was the reason why he had fled without contacting her, but this, naked pain visible on his face, this was proof of the depth of his care and concern for her.

And then she realized just what his decision to flee had cost him.

She was flooded with a jumble of emotions -- regret, anger at the way their lives had turned out -- but more than anything else she felt was a deep and abiding love for him, built on a tapestry woven of respect and trust that warmed and strengthened her.

Unable to help herself, needing only to touch him, Scully reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. He was stiff and strained beneath her hand but suddenly he slumped, all resistance to her mute statement of thanks gone.

Mulder sighed heavily. He reached up and placed his hand on her own, pulling her into his embrace. She went willingly, her eyes closing. Nothing else mattered except the reality of this man, to know that he was safe and warm in her arms. Everything else -- the nightmares, the separation, the different paths their lives had taken -- none of these things meant anything to her for this all too brief moment.

It was Mulder who broke the embrace, pulling himself away from her with effort. "Sorry, Scully," he whispered. "It's just that -- I -- well, I really missed you."

His schoolboy shyness made her smile. "Don't be sorry. I missed you, too," she murmured, her arms aching to hold him further. "You know that. Are you okay? Are you still in danger?"

Mulder shrugged. "I'm all right. There hasn't been an attempt made against me in over two months."

Scully was startled with fear for him . "What -- who --?"

"Don't worry," he soothed her. "It was a very half-hearted attempt. I think they're getting bored with me. But I'm not planning to let my guard down.

Not anytime soon." He smiled at her. "So you're pretty lucky you got Frohike to call me when you did. Two months ago there would have been no way I could have come here to see you."

She didn't ask who "they" were; she didn't want to get into it. "So I take it you're not going to tell me where you've been -- or where you're going?"

Mulder shook his head. "No. But only for your safety. I'm not risking that."

There was no point in fighting with him about it. Scully knew better than to push when his mind was made up. She could only damn the circumstances that made him this intractable.

The baby chose that moment to kick her, and kick her hard. She gasped involuntarily with surprise and rubbed the spot. Mulder watched her, his expression strangely pinched, but there was nothing but concern in his voice as he asked her, "How are you feeling? Is everything okay?"

Scully nodded. "I -- I'm fine ..." The words escaped her without thought but then she bit her lip. There was no point in lying to him; she had to ask him the one question that had burned in her, had preoccupied her for the entire length of her pregnancy. "Well ... maybe not. I've not been ...

it's been ... I'm not sleeping too well at night," she finished lamely.

Mulder said nothing but his eyes bored into her. Scully began fumbling with the computer on Geoff's desk, straightening the mousepad, brushing imaginary dust off the keyboard. She had never been able to hide her feelings from Mulder; that much hadn't changed. It made her aware of just how well he knew her. He was probably the only person in the world who could claim that knowledge. Not Geoff, not even her mother knew her, had seen her naked soul in the way that Mulder had. And so it was that she couldn't lie to him.

"I've ... I've been having ... There's been a lot of bad dreams," she said, barely audible.

"What kind of dreams?" he asked softly. He perched himself on the desk beside the computer, as close as he could get without touching her.

Scully took a deep breath, steeling herself. "Remember when ... when they took you and *he* made the exchange and they shot him? Just after that, Skinner closed down the X-Files ..."

Mulder nodded, remembering, but remained silent, waiting for her to go on.

"I keep dreaming that ... that I'm back in that research facility, only this time there's a live baby in there ..." Scully trembled with the memory of her terror, the dream so tangible and real it had power over her even here, in the full light of day and in the presence of the one person in the world who had faced other nightmares with her.

Mulder put a steadying hand on her arm and she drew comfort from that.

"It's my baby. So I pick it up and hold it close, and then I..." The tears welled up in her eyes and spilled over. She swiped at them angrily, damning herself for losing control and praying this was just another pregnancy thing, her emotions so close to the surface. "And then ... it ... it turns into ... turns into one of *them*." She bit her lip, unable to continue.

The empathy and compassion in Mulder's eyes nearly made her lose control, but she took a deep breath and went on. "It looks like the fetus that was in that cryogenic flask. And it ... it calls me ... it tells me I'm it's mother." This time the tears really did come and she made no attempt to hide them.

Mulder reached for her again, folding her into his arms and she let herself cry, the fear that something was horribly wrong overwhelming her. The safety and comfort that his presence lent her was wonderful and eventually she calmed herself, her need to always be in control and strong asserting itself. She wanted to stay in his arms but reason took hold and she reluctantly pulled away from him.

"Maybe it's just a pregnancy anxiety thing," she managed.

"Maybe," he allowed. "Your hormones are probably bungee-jumping right now."

"Have you ... do you remember ... you remember the place with all the files?"

Mulder nodded, instantly understanding her question. "It's not there anymore. I checked." He tried to smile at her but it came out strained and worried. "Surely you had some tests done for the pregnancy ... a maternal serum screen, an amniocentesis ..."

Scully nodded. "It took me so damn long to get pregnant, I had to make sure everything was okay. They all indicate things are within normal parameters, but ... well, let's just say I've seen things that convince me that all the ultra-scientific tests in the world don't and can't have all the answers."

He smiled slightly, bemused at her reluctance to believe in her beloved science. "And the blood tests, the ultrasounds?"

"The routine blood tests and the ultrasounds have been fine. I just ... I just need some reassurance." She took a deep breath. "Those nightmares have been terribly realistic."

"They're just nightmares, Scully. It's understandable that you're feeling some anxiety."

"But they're so real," she whispered. Her fists were tightly clenched, she suddenly realized and shivered, bringing her hands up to hug her arms to her body. "So real ... You've never seen any other evidence of the tests ... especially ... the tests they performed ... on me?" It took all of her control to be able to phrase the question.

"No, Scully, I haven't. I'm sorry, I wish I had an answer for you." Mulder lifted his hand and gently caressed her cheek. "Everything will be fine. I know it will."

She smiled up at him, grateful for his faith and nuzzled his hand with her cheek. "I hope you're right," she murmured. Even though he hadn't been able to give her the answers she sought, his presence was reassurance enough.

Suddenly she was ravenous. "I'm hungry, Mulder. Do you want something to eat?"

Without waiting for his answer, Scully started to waddle out of the den, planning a lunch aloud. "I think I'll make some omelets, I've got all kinds of fresh veggies --"

She gasped in the onslaught of the contraction that felt like a steel belt wrapping itself around her vitals, and there was a gush of warm water that ran down her legs.

Mulder was alarmed. "Scully -- !"

She looked up at him, wide-eyed with shock. "Oh my God, Mulder, I think the baby's coming."

Mulder paled. "Should we call your doctor?" He touched an anxious hand to her back.

The contraction was subsiding. She managed to take a deep breath. "No, it's okay, I've got plenty of time."

"What?! Your water just broke! I don't know nothing 'bout birthing no babies." He was agitated, but she understood that it was only because he didn't want to see her in pain.

"Relax, Mulder. This is a first baby, and first babies are notoriously slow. Just let me go and get cleaned -- Owww!!" The force of the contraction rippled through her body, leaving her with breath only to shout in agony. She felt a slow trickle of blood ooze down her legs.

"Scully, you're bleeding!" Now Mulder was seriously worried. "I'm calling an ambulance."

"No!" Despite the discomfort, she could only think of him. "It's not safe for you. Just let me call Geoff and then you can leave -- Ohhhhh!" She couldn't believe the strength of the contraction. She sagged against Mulder, stupefied by the display of her body's will, her legs drained of strength.

"I'm not leaving you, Scully." Mulder was determined. "Just tell me what to do."

"Something's wrong," she managed to gasp. "These contractions are coming too fast and hard, this is like second stage labour and they just got started --" Scully gulped in a frantic mouthful of air as another one hit her with as much subtlety and warning as a train wreck. She grabbed a hold of Mulder's arm, her fingers digging into his flesh as she was tormented by the contraction.

If she hurt him he didn't even acknowledge it. "Breathe, Scully," Mulder urged. "You're holding your breath and you need the oxygen for you and the baby. This is like any kind of physical exertion, you have to keep breathing. Just breathe through it, you can do it, you're strong, you're the strongest woman I know. That's it ..."

She exhaled sharply. "Mulder, you have to get me to the bathroom because I'm bleeding all over the floor." She had only time to tell him this before the next contraction tore through her body.

Mulder picked her up as if she were as light as feather, his strength born from adrenaline and fear. He sprinted into the bathroom, Scully clinging to his shoulders as she bit her lip against the pain.

"Don't hold it in," Mulder panted as he set her down. "Scream if you have to, you don't need to impress me. Now I'm going to call an ambulance, Scully, and don't argue with me --"

"Mulder, you can't!" she shouted at him, her breath ragged in her throat.

She went instinctively into a squat, hanging onto the side of the bathtub.

"It's not safe. Besides --" She gulped in another mouthful of air. The contractions were practically coming on top of each other by now. "I think I'm having a precipitous birth."

"A what?!"

Scully gritted her teeth. "It's a condition whereby the cervix dilates unusually fast and the baby's head crowns almost immediately. I don't think an ambulance will make -- oh God!" She ended in a shriek.

Mulder crouched beside her. "Scully, this is crazy. I'm going to call for a paramedic team --"

Scully gripped the side of the bathtub so hard her knuckles went white.

"They'll never make it ... oh no, I have to push ..." She moaned, a low animal sound that made Mulder cringe. When her breath returned, she panted, "Mulder, you've got to check and see if the baby's head is coming through --"

"Me?!" He squeaked in an unusually high voice. "Scully, we haven't even dated --"

"Mulder, *you have to*. I can't -- oh God! I can't push yet, not until you've checked to see what the dilation is --" She gritted her teeth and clawed blindly at him, the pains so intense and strong they were not unlike being reamed out with a steel spike. She rode out the wave of pain and managed a weak imitation of a smile at him. "Don't tell me you've never seen that part of the female anatomy before, I won't believe you."

Mulder swallowed his panic. "Just not yours ... Okay, Scully. But you're going to have to talk me through it -- I've never done anything like this before -- Ow!" He ended with a gasp of his own as Scully grabbed his hand, digging her fingernails into his palm.

"I -- I need -- doctor's bag, it's in a drawer -- bedside table," she rasped through lips gone suddenly dry. "And towels -- in the cupboard. And something to wrap the baby in ... Aaarrgghhh!"

Mulder flew out the door and Scully tried in vain to remember the breathing techniques that she had learned in her prenatal classes, but they were of little use against the spasms that consumed all conscious thought. She felt herself gulping in air and then holding her breath against the contraction, which she knew was wrong but couldn't seem to find the correct rhythm. It was becoming more and more difficult to breathe properly and she felt herself on the verge of hyperventilating.

Mulder came back trailing towels and a sheet that, Scully was chagrined to see, was part of a very expensive wedding present set. No help for it now -- OH GOD THIS HURTS!!

"Scully," Mulder knelt beside her, one hand supporting her back, the other reaching for one of hers. "You have to breathe, don't hold your breath like that. Look at me --" She screamed again, barely hearing him, but undaunted he put his mouth against her ear and crooned, "Come on, Scully my love, you can breathe, I know you can do it, it's easy ... Inhale ... good ... now blow it out slowly ... that's my girl ..."

If she had been more in control of the situation, the sweet endearments that she heard Mulder whisper in her ear would have taken her completely by surprise, made her lose what little equilibrium she had. But here, in this moment with the pain so bad she felt like her body was going to be torn asunder, it seemed only natural that he speak to her this way. Six years of separation vanished as if they had never been apart and their connection was re-established.

Scully followed as he had commanded and found a breathing rhythm that, while it did nothing to take the pain away, at least enabled her to think.

"My kingdom for an epidural ... Okay, Mulder," she rasped as another contraction began to well up on the heels of the last, "You've got to check the dilation ... Owwww ... If you can feel a space ...Ummmpph ... a space like the one ... Ooohhhhh ... between your thumb and pinkie, then it's safe for me to push because-oh-God-I-really-have-to-please-hurry-up-and-look!!!"

Mulder flushed but helped her to sit down on the floor with her knees wide apart. Scully was beyond caring about modesty and wriggled out of her hated maternity underwear. Kneeling before her, he tore the wrapper off a pair of latex gloves and fumbled one on, then hesitated a moment. "This is too weird," he began, embarrassed.

"JUST SHUT UP AND DO IT, GODDAMMIT!" Scully hollered, ending with a shriek of pain.

This seemed to spur him into action and gingerly he did as he was told.

Scully felt his reluctant intrusion and with a wince braced her feet against his knees. "I can feel the head!" Mulder said, wonder in his voice.

"It feels -- I think -- I think you're dilated, Scully." He extracted his hand and peeled off the glove.

"Oh thank God," Scully panted. Her hair was matted to her forehead with sweat but she felt cold and her teeth were starting to chatter.

"What do I do now?"

"Get -- get the sheet -- scissors out of the bag -- there should be some sutures in there --"

"I don't know how to do a stitch --"

"Not for me," she grunted. "You have to cut ... cut the cord and tie it off so the baby ... baby doesn't bleed ... AAAUUUUGGGHH..." A scream she didn't know she had the strength for rose out of her throat and her body seemed to bear down of its own accord. She scrabbled frantically against the side of the tub and squatted, feeling her insides burn and ripple in the passage of something hard and round through her lower body.

Mulder knelt before her, the designer sheet spread between his hands to catch the baby. "Okay, Scully, keep pushing ... you can do it, I know you can." He was pale and apprehensive, her screams obviously bothering him, but he was determined to help her. "Keep breathing, you have to breathe ...

there, I can see the baby's head -- what beautiful red hair -- come on, my love, just a little more, you're doing fine ..."

Scully gathered every last shred of her strength and pushed so hard she bit through her lip. The pain was so monumental, so staggering that she couldn't scream, could only whimper.

Mulder was awed and his voice cracked with excitement. "Here -- here's the head -- what a beautiful little face -- oh God, Scully, the cord's wrapped around the neck!"

His fear jolted through Scully like a knife. "Gently pull it up and away, Mulder, you have to get it away so the baby can breathe," Scully managed to say, sudden terror nearly constricting her throat closed.

"Okay, I think -- there, I've got it. Push a little more, Scully, the shoulders have to -- that's the way, you're doing a marvelous job -- it's a girl, Scully! What a beauty -- " He stopped suddenly.

Scully's whole body was shaking, but she propped herself up on her elbows.

"What? Is something wrong?"

Mulder didn't answer.

"MULDER!" Scully screamed his name.

"Scully." His eyes, when he looked up at her, were huge and frightened.

"She's not breathing."

Scully sat bolted upright, ignoring the pain and dizziness that swept through her body, the metallic taste of fear and nausea in her mouth.

"She's got to be suctioned," she managed to say, clamping down on her terror with iron control. "You'll have to wipe away the mucous that's blocking her nose and mouth."

Mulder's large hands performed this task with a tenderness that belied his urgency. "Come on, little one, breathe," he murmured. "Please breathe ..."

He looked up at her, his eyes wider than she had ever seen. "She's not --"

An animal noise, a kind of keening that raised the hairs on the back of her neck filled the room. Scully was amazed to realize she had made the sound, the anguished cry bursting out of her throat before she could stop it.

"No," Mulder whispered hoarsely. "No --" In desperation, unable to bear Scully's torment, he turned the baby upside down and thumped her back.

There was a sputtering, coughing sound from deep within the baby's chest, and all at once she took a deep breath and instantly expelled it in a wail that sounded like rage.

It was the sweetest sound Scully had ever heard. "Oh thank God, oh thank you," she cried, holding out her arms for the baby. Mulder wrapped the wailing, empurpled baby in the sheet and gently handed her over to her mother, the cord still attached to her and staining the sheet bloody.

"Oh my sweetheart, hello," Scully whispered. She quickly looked the baby over. Ten fingers, ten toes, her eyes were normal sized ... and a sparse fringe of red hair encircled her tiny head. "You look like your granddaddy!" The baby did look like Captain Scully in high dudgeon.

She raised her eyes to Mulder's and held them, unfathomable emotion passing between them. His eyes were warmly joyous, glad for her but a sad, deep hurt that he could not hide rested there as well. The realization crashed over her like a wave -- this child should have been his.

The regret made her feel cold and clammy and she was still trembling, her arms holding the baby weak and in danger of dropping her. "The cord, we have to cut the cord," Scully managed, breaking their eye contact. It hurt too much to look him in the eye.

Mulder busied himself with the instruments, finding a pair of scissors. He looked at the cord and swallowed. "Maybe you should do this."

"I don't think I can, my whole body is shaking," Scully confessed. "Just tie a suture around the end closest to the baby and wait for the blood to drain away -- then you can cut."

He did as commanded. "What about the placenta?"

Scully was shivering now and feeling very dizzy. "Um -- I think you should call for an ambulance now," she whispered, hugging the baby to her chest.

"We'll let them deal with it, because I can't possibly push any more --"

She felt the baby slipping from her grasp. "Here, Mulder -- I don't think I can hold her, I'm feeling too shaky."

He barely caught the baby. "Scully, what's wrong?" he asked her sharply, concerned.

She felt herself falling down a dark well. "I ... I think I'm ..." She struggled to form the words. "I think I'm going into shock ... cold, I'm so cold." Her teeth were chattering.

Mulder looked around wildly, then got up, taking the baby with him. Scully vaguely heard the sound of doors being slammed, Mulder's excited voice muffled by the murky veil descending upon her consciousness. Time protracted and her vision went fuzzy on the edges. She found her earlobe and pinched it mercilessly between her fingernails. The sharp pain wrenched her awake for only a minute before everything started to go gray again.

Mulder came back, awkwardly cradling the baby in one arm and carrying a blanket in the other. "Come on, Scully, you have to stay awake. An ambulance is on its way." He wrapped the blanket tightly around her shoulders and sat beside her, folding his long frame close to her body and holding the baby so that she could see her. "She's a beautiful baby, Dana. Looks just like you." He lovingly stroked the baby's tiny cheek. "What are you going to call her?"

Scully was wrapped up in a gray gauze that obscured all rational thought, but heard his gentle use of her given name and smiled. "Mulder," she said dreamily.

"I'm flattered, Scully, but that's hardly a name for a little girl." It was one of those rare Mulder smiles and shone through her haze to warm her heart.

"No ... Mulder, I'm ... thank you. I want to thank you." And then she knew that she had to say it, to say the words so that he would hear her. "I love you, Fox Mulder."

He was startled. "Scully, what --"

But she was glad she had said it before she slipped deeper into the quiet gray fog.

"... I think she's coming around now ..."

Scully heard the voice from somewhere above her and opened her eyes. Geoff was hovering over her, his blandly handsome features drawn into a worried frown. She looked around, feeling like she had been hit by a truck. She was lying in a hospital bed, an IV needle taped to her left arm delivering blood back into her body. When he realized she was looking at him he broke into a relieved smile.

"Hi, sweetheart," he said. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," she whispered through dry, cracked lips, the lie coming automatically. "Where's --"

"The baby? She's beautiful, everything's okay, she's in the nursery getting checked out by a pediatrician." Geoff reached for her hand but she withdrew it.

His hurt look of non comprehension made her feel guilty. Scully had meant to ask about Mulder, but realized at the last second she couldn't. The memory of what had happened flooded over her. "How -- when did I --"

Geoff stood aside for a dark-haired nurse who stepped up to initiate a flurry of professional activity, checking her pulse, taking her temperature. "Do you want some pain relief?" the nurse asked, her warm hands gentle on Scully's forehead. "You were torn up pretty badly and lost a lot of blood."

"I ..." Scully bit her lip, considering. She only felt numb.

"Well, it's here if you want it," the nurse said cheerfully. She picked up the chart and scribbled on it, then left the room.

Scully was alone with Geoff. She stared up at him, realizing with a jolt that physically, he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed and far more sanguine version of Mulder -- not as intense, not nearly as driven, but a pale imitation of the man she truly loved. Even his expression now, as he stared down at her -- she had seen that hang-dog, worried look years before on a much different face. Geoff was the same height, the same build; shocked, she saw then that she had unconsciously chosen someone who would remind her of Mulder.

For the first time since their marriage, she felt she was with a stranger.

And then the revelation hit her -- she had been fooling herself all these years. She had been using Geoff. She had tried to make him into a substitute for Mulder. And now that she had been in contact with the real thing, Geoff was redundant.

The guilt that flooded her made her nauseous. What a stupid situation this was, she thought helplessly, damning the unchangeable onslaught of years.

At a time when she should be sharing the joy of her baby's birth with the child's father, all she could think about was how much she really didn't love him.

"An ambulance brought you in," Geoff said. "Some man was with you. They thought he was your husband, but he said he was just a delivery guy. He disappeared before anybody got a chance to ask him anything." He looked away, clearing his throat the way he always did when he was nervous.

Scully flinched. The habit drove her insane, she admitted to herself. "Did he hurt you?"

Scully glared at him. "No, of course not."

Geoff's blue eyes were troubled. "Who was he, Dana? The nurses thought he was your husband. They said he was really concerned for you, asked all kinds of questions about you and the baby before he apparently vanished. They made me show tons of ID and our marriage certificate before they'd let me come and see you."

Scully managed a weak smile that was intended to reassure him. "He was just some guy, Geoff," she lied easily. "He was delivering a package from my mom when I went into labor. He must have called the paramedics for me. I really don't remember anything."

Her husband searched her face. Scully held his gaze evenly, willing him to believe her. All at once Geoff's shoulders slumped and he sighed. "Well, we owe him a great deal of thanks. You could have died, Dana, and the baby with you." He sounded strained and she suddenly understood how serious the situation had been. Geoff cleared his throat again. "Did this guy deliver the baby?"

She licked her lips. "I -- I guess so," she said, injecting the right amount of querulous uncertainty into her voice. "Really, Geoff, I don't remember. The contractions started and I --" She turned her head away. "I don't know what happened."

Scully could feel how tense he was and how curious, yet he was unwilling to press her. He had never been able to push her, to make her reveal more than she wished to, ever; many of the compromises they had made during the course of their marriage had been on her terms. Scully knew this and exploited it ruthlessly. All she could think about was protecting Mulder.

Geoff nodded slowly. "Okay, honey," he said softly. "I'm really sorry I wasn't there, I should have been there." His guilt was palpable, filling the space between them. Scully sighed. This was something she should deal with, but because she knew she didn't love him, she didn't really feel like easing his pain.

"It's okay, Geoff," she soothed him, forcing a softness she did not feel into her voice. "How could you have known what was going to happen? It's over and everything's okay. The baby -- how is the baby?"

"I think she's fine," he said, visibly relaxing. This was a Dana he could deal with -- not the remote, cool woman he had just talked to. "They said everything looked okay. She's a beautiful baby, Dana. Looks just like you."

Scully froze at those words, having heard them so many short hours ago. She turned her face to the wall and closed her eyes, wondering where Mulder had gone ... and hated herself for thinking more about him than about her baby and her husband. About her family, for better or for worse. She took a deep breath. This was her life and she was committed to it. With tremendous effort she erased all thought of Mulder. Opening her eyes, she looked up at Geoff and reached for his hand.

There was a soft knock on the door and a petite woman wearing a doctor's coat slipped through, followed by an older, bearded man. They wore identical masks of professional distance, compassion touched with just the right amount of detachment. Scully recognized the expression immediately, having utilized it herself on occasion.

Her grip on Geoff's hand tightened as the woman smiled at her. "Drs.

Leonard? I'm Dr. Embry and this is Dr. Strombroski."

They nodded at each other. Dr. Strombroski clasped Scully's free hand. "Dr. Dana Leonard, pleased to meet you. I've heard of you professionally."

Scully forced herself to make the proper small talk. "Likewise, although I'm afraid I --"

He smiled sadly. "I don't believe our fields would have much contact with each other. I'm a pediatric neurologist."

Scully looked at him and then at Dr. Embry, who was looking at the floor. A dawning dread streamed through her body, leaving her numb and cold in its aftermath. She felt as if she were underwater, her breath catching in her throat.

Dr. Embry straightened her back, finally meeting Scully's eyes. There was an ocean of compassion in the pediatrician's soft blue gaze. "No," Scully whispered, the word exhaled out of her in a small sigh.

"We've completed a thorough examination of your daughter--"

"No," Scully whispered again, as if the denial would prevent reality.

Geoff's hand in hers was cold and clammy. She pulled her hand away, suddenly unable to touch him any longer. The nightmare rushed back to the front of her consciousness, the antiseptic room, the changeling baby, the terror that stopped her breath.

"-- And I'm afraid we have some bad news ..."

It was night, maybe an hour after midnight. She had lost track of time. The muted light from behind the blinds was unchanging and she could hear the steady footsteps of nurses making their rounds on the floor.

Scully lay on the narrow hospital bed and stared at the IV pole that dripped blood and drugged fluids into her arm, the cracked vinyl chair, the ugly print of pastel flowers in a cheap plastic frame. She stared as though committing the room to memory could conjure up some primitive magic and heal her daughter.

Her daughter. That sweet little face, the silky red hair and little hands like stars ... her beautiful little baby that she had moved heaven and earth to create ... her flawed little baby with the cornflower blue eyes that would look out over the world and never recognize it ...

Hot tears seeped out from beneath her eyelids. The hopelessness, the helplessness welled up in her but with a savagely controlled hand she pushed it away and refused to let it into the open. Scully willed herself to think of something else, to think of anything but that. She stared hard at the wall, the floor. The wall was painted a faded pinkish beige, the tiled floor flecked with corresponding colored chips. It looked like a tie Mulder had worn once.

Mulder. Where did he go when he went into hiding? Somewhere safe, she hoped, some place were the world didn't intrude, where he could watch without being seen, where he could continue to look surreptitiously and carefully for Samantha ... Idly she wondered if he had made friends, if there were people who looked out for him, if there was someone who loved him ... someone who loved him as much as she did ...

Scully closed her eyes against the pain, hearing something that sounded like a sob. She was not too surprised to realize that it was her weeping.

Her cheeks were wet with unchecked tears and the pain sat like a stone in the middle of her chest, making it difficult to draw breath. Rolling into a ball, her arms clutched the place where her baby had lived, her flesh soft and doughy like a pillow that had lost its stuffing, and abandoned herself to her grief. It was easy to muffle her sobs in the scratchy sheets of the hospital bed, unwilling to let anyone know that her heart was breaking.

Scully cried until she had no more strength and lay exhausted in the sodden sheets, her face and hair wet with salty tears. She took deep calming breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly, forcing herself to think of nothing but the sound of her own breathing, eyes closed against her drab surroundings.

The door was opened quietly and she could hear a small rustle as the curtains around her bed were pulled aside. It was probably time to be poked and prodded by the nurse; Scully kept her eyes closed in the vain hope that the nurse would go away and leave her alone.

"Scully, I know you're not asleep because you're not drooling." His rough velvet voice shocked her into opening her eyes. Mulder smiled down at her, his hand reaching down to brush her cheek. He frowned slightly when he realized how wet it was.

"Mulder ... What are you doing here?" She could not hide the surprise and gladness in her voice. Feeling better already, she wiped away the tears and struggled to sit up.

He shrugged and it was then that she realized he was wearing green emergency room scrubs, a stethoscope slung authentically around his neck.

"I wanted to see you before I left, to make sure you're okay." His frown had deepened, there was worry and tender concern in his eyes. "But I can see that you're not."

Scully wouldn't meet his eyes. "Where did you get those?"

Mulder knew she was stalling but let it pass. "Stole them out of a supply closet. I've been telling anyone who asks that I'm Dr. Carter -- wasn't that the name of the cute doctor you liked on that TV show?"

He could probably tell her what she had been wearing and what they'd had for lunch the day she had mentioned that six years earlier. Sometimes his eidetic memory was unnerving. Scully tried to smile at him, but the expression was more like a rictus of pain. "Mulder ..," she whispered, all pretense at being in control crumbling. That he should come here at all, to put himself in such danger for her was a gift of love, and she knew it.

"The baby ..."

Tears poured down her face, surprising her since she thought she had cried herself out. Mulder sat down on the bed and enfolded her into his arms.

"Shhh, it's okay, Scully," he murmured.

She shook her head violently. "No, it will never be okay." The words flew out, bitten off as if she could draw blood. "*They* did it to her."

Her voice wavered on the edge of hysteria and she felt herself falling into a dark pit of sorrow. Mulder's eyes were shadowed with compassion and sadness. "Scully --"

Anger came then, flooding through her as if a dam somewhere had burst and it felt so very good, so much better than blind, impotent grief. "Damn them. *They* changed me, Mulder, damn them all to hell."

Dawning comprehension shadowed his eyes, and with it, a stark horror and sadness that reflected her own. "What is it, what -- it's the baby, isn't it?"

She nodded robotically. "My poor nameless baby. She's beautiful, perfect in every way ... except there's no evidence of higher brain functions, no brain waves other than those put out by the autonomic system. The neurologist who examined her doesn't believe she will live much more than a month or two at the most."

Mulder went pale and he closed his eyes, reaching mutely for her hand.

Scully looked at the cheap print hanging on the wall and the anger burned fiercely inside her, so hot that she felt she would turn into a flame. "She is a newly constructed house, Mulder -- all the lights are on but no one will ever be home. A little flesh robot without any programming." Her voice broke into a sob. "She won't ever know who I am, that I'm her mother ...

and God, how I wanted her to be healthy and whole and it can never, ever be that way ..."

Mulder held her wordlessly until the worst of the sobs subsided. Gently he asked, "Do they know what caused this?" A horrified note crept into his voice. "Was it because we didn't resuscitate her in time?"

"No, it has nothing to do with that. She was born this way." Her sigh was heavy with her pain. "The results of the genetic tests won't be available for another day or two, but there is indication that there was some corruption of the base pairs contributed -- and I can't say that I'm that surprised -- by me."

"Scully --"

The words were like a cry. "Those goddamn tests ... They changed me, Mulder, they took everything that is me and corrupted me, made my genes different ... and they killed my -- killed -- oh God --"

The pain was too great. The anger drained away and all she felt was utter despair. She moaned out her heartbreak and Mulder cradled her against his chest, rocking slightly and crooning her name softly, over and over.

He said gently into her ear, "I know you wanted this child badly, Scully. I know you would have been the best mother you could be for her, and that you will do as much as you can for her while you are her mother. Don't let them beat you by giving in to your anger." He tightened his arms around her and she held on to him as if he were the life preserver that would prevent her from drowning in her misery. "The best and brightest thing you can do for her is to love her."

That he spoke with such great compassion and love soothed her heart. His voice was lulling and hypnotic. "In a way she's an absolute innocent -- to never know how hard life is, all of our struggles and heartbreaks, but neither the joys and beauty. I guess she lives in a perfect state of grace, a place with no pain and just the transcendent sweetness of merely being able to breathe."

The tears slid down her cheeks like warm mercury. "Thank you, Mulder," she said quietly.

"For what?"

"For giving her a name. Grace." A beautiful name that would forever mark her place in Scully's heart.

At length Scully gathered up the tattered remains of her composure and took a deep breath, banishing the sadness. This would be the last time she would cry. "I'm sorry, Mulder," she said, voice muffled against his chest. "I didn't mean to --"

"Don't apologize," he told her. He tilted her chin up and smiled gently at her. "Besides, doesn't love mean never having to say you're sorry?"

"That's got to be the lamest --" Knowing he was teasing her she blushed red to the roots of her hair anyway and rested her forehead against his chest, not yet willing to relinquish his embrace. "Oh God ... I did say something like that to you, didn't I?" She slumped against him, her pride struggling with her honesty. Finally she whispered in a small voice, "I didn't mean to scare you..."

"Oh, I'm shaking," he chuckled.

"I'm serious, Mulder," she remonstrated him.

"I know. So am I." He sighed. "I wish I had a time machine. I'd erase the last five years ... or I would have taken you with me when I had to leave, but I never believed you would drop everything to come with me."

Scully sighed. "You never even gave me the chance, Mulder."

"I know, and I'm sorry I didn't, but all I could think of was making sure you would be safe." His eyes were weary with the weight of his regret.

"There's been no color in my life, Scully, without you. All these years, all this running and hiding ... it seems the only reason I stayed alive was so that I could come back to you."

The warmth in her chest was her heart expanding, making her feel light-headed. "Mulder ..."

"All I've been doing is surviving. I'm not living. I can't if you're not with me." His lips brushed her forehead, close to her brow. There was an infinite tenderness in his voice as he whispered, "So I guess you know what I'm trying to say to you, Scully. And I wish I'd said it sooner, if only it would have changed the past ..." He exhaled slowly and the words were a mere whisper. "I love you."

Scully closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around him, reveling in the moment, feeling his lean strength seep into her exhausted and pain-wracked body. Mulder was the one good thing left in the waking nightmare her life had become. And then she pulled herself away from him. There was no point in making this any harder than it was going to be. "Mulder, I --"

He touched his finger to her lips. "Shhh. I know. Let's just pretend for a little while that everything is neat and tidy, that you don't have a husband, that I'm not in danger of dying, and that the little baby you had is ours and she's perfect ..."

The tears welled up again and Scully brushed them away. She had promised herself she wouldn't cry, and she meant to keep that promise. She leaned into him, suddenly feeling utterly wiped out. "Mulder," she said sleepily.

"Will you do something for me?"

He kissed the top of her head again. "Name it, I'm yours ... but nothing too kinky, okay? It wouldn't suit my professional demeanor."

It was a weak joke but she giggled anyway, her exhaustion making her giddy.

"Will you lie down here with me and hold me for a little while?"

"Of course." Scully scooted over for him as far as she could but there was still hardly any room. Mulder wrapped his arms around her and she was comforted by the steady beating of his heart and the sound of his breathing. The last thing she felt was his lips pressed warmly against her cheek.

When a nurse woke her to check her vitals, Mulder was gone.

Sanostee, New Mexico
Navajo Indian Territory
March 2004
5:15 p.m.

The sound of the Piper Cub engine was like an angry hornet that faded fast into the sharp blue sky. Scully watched the small airplane until it disappeared over the red-brown cliffs in the distance. A hawk drifted high overhead, lazily moving in ever-broadening circles.

Great clouds of dust were kicked up by her feet as she walked to the tiny ramshackle building that stood at the end of the airstrip. A broken-down porch faced the road. A wizened Navajo grandmother was sitting patiently on the porch's only chair, staring at her with dark eyes that were bird bright with curiosity. Scully smiled hesitantly, then turned to watch the narrow, pot-holed road. With her Scully carried one suitcase and a carry-all. It was all she had brought with her to start her new life ...with the exception of one memento.

In a tiny silver frame, wrapped in silk and buried at the bottom of her suitcase was a picture of Grace Scully-Leonard, two days old, uncommonly beautiful for a newborn, her big blue eyes blank and unseeing.

Scully thought of her lost child, her special angel, and felt a pang that sliced through her heart. The pain was still there, would likely be with her for the rest of her life. The baby had drawn her last breath in Scully's arms seven weeks after she had been born. It had been the most excruciating moment in Scully's life, far worse than anything she had ever lived through. It felt as if her soul had died. Days turned into weeks and a grieving Scully had walked through that time like a zombie.

The only thing that had kept her going through that terrible darkness was the memory of Mulder's words to her, his admission of his feelings. In those moments of her greatest despair she would take out the memory and replay it, comforting her soul with the blanket of his love. And even though he had not contacted her during her bereavement, she could feel his concern and worry for her daily.

Her marriage hadn't been able to survive Grace's death. Geoff had walked around pretending everything was fine, but his eyes constantly accused her.

Accused her of being flawed, of being secretive, of being unfaithful to him. Which she had been, she admitted to herself, unfaithful in all ways except the actual physical way. Once she had admitted to herself that it was Mulder she loved, had always loved, and that she had merely been using Geoff as a surrogate partner, she had been stilted and cold with him. Which had not helped in those dark days after the baby's death. At a time when he needed her, when they should have drawn together in order to bear the terrible pain, Scully had withdrawn, unable and unwilling to shoulder the burden with him.

There was only the dismal memory of the final night of their marriage, when Geoff had finally walked out. She could hear him throwing clothes into a suitcase and felt only guilt at how relieved she was. His eyes were dark with pain and resentment when he told her he was leaving her. Seeking refuge in a glacial politeness, she told him her attorney would be contacting him about the sale of the house.

And so it had ended, her marriage as dead as her little daughter. Scully wasted no time in getting out, getting as far away as possible. She wanted nothing more than to escape the tragedy that her life had become.

A large dust cloud was suddenly kicked up on the horizon. Scully shaded her eyes with her hand and saw a red pick-up truck in the center of the roiling dust. A great welling of anticipation grew in her chest; stepping down off the porch, she walked forward to meet the truck.

The truck stopped some twenty feet in front of her and the door opened.

Mulder stepped out, his eyes searching for hers with a hopeful intensity that broadcast itself across the distance. Scully felt her heart expand, her breath come a little quicker at the sight of him. It was as if she was dying of thirst and he was the water she needed to sustain her life.

He stopped within arm's length of her. "Hi, Scully," Mulder said quietly, looking suddenly shy.

A nervousness that made her mouth go dry gripped Scully. "Hello, Mulder," she said, but the words came out in a bare whisper.

An emotion that spoke volumes passed between them and Scully lost her nervousness. She took a step forward and without conscious thought found herself in his arms.

He pulled her into his body with a soft moan of delight. "I hardly dared dream you would come." The whisper was spoken into her ear.

A shiver of pure delight wracked her body. "I had to see you. There's nothing left for me. Grace ..." The pain stabbed at her and she faltered, but the strength that his embrace lent her allowed her to go on. "My baby died, Mulder. She left me. I -- Geoff and me -- it's --"

"Shhh. I know." There was nothing but compassion and a dark sorrow for her in his eyes. "I wanted to go to you, Scully, to be there for you, but I couldn't, it's been too dangerous --"

She put a finger to his lips. "I know you wanted to. I felt your strength and it gave me the courage I needed to live without my baby." She shuddered, a coldness passing through her body and he pressed his lips to her forehead, warming her. "It hurts so much."

"I know it does. And it will for a long time. But I'm here, Scully, and I'm not letting you go. Let me help you bear your pain."

Scully could only nod, too overwhelmed to speak. He kissed her again on the cheek, a chaste kiss but one with much promise, then released her to pick up her suitcase. She followed him to the truck and got in, sitting beside him in the place where she had always belonged.

And only then did she remember to breathe again.

The End

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