Title: Impossible Choices
Author: Ally
Classification - MSR, Mythology, character angst. 
Rating: PG 13 for some adult language/situations.
Spoilers: "Requiem" some slight for "Emily"
Archive: Anywhere. Please let me know though so I can visit.
Feedback: Good, bad or indifferent. I lap it up always. Feed me at Ally112038@aol.com
Summary: Mulder is returned. But at what cost? When does a choice become an impossibility?
Disclaimer - All characters herein are the sole property of Chris Carter FOX and 1013 productions. I mean no disrespect and no money is gained from doing this. Just lots of headaches from staring at the puter for too long. Don't sue me. the eye strain is punishment enough.
Author's notes - Thanks to my lovely beta team as always. You point me in the right direction in the nicest way. Pam, you're just the best friend I could wish for. Thanks for the never ending encouragement. I wrote this because it was running around in the hollow recess of my brain and refused to go away. It's gone now. <bg>


"Georgetown Memorial. Go there now Agent Scully."

I blink eyes in response to the cold, hard voice that rings menacingly in my ear through the telephone handset I have fumbled for in the dark just seconds earlier.

"Who is this?" I demand.

I don't expect an explanation. I'm just asking out of habit more than anything else. Falling back on my years of investigative training, unconsciously slipping in to the mode of an Agent of the FBI.

"Georgetown Memorial Agent Scully. He's waiting for you."

A click as the connection is severed, leaving me half leaning out of the bed as if bringing myself closer to the phone will make the mystery caller miraculously reappear. He doesn't though, and after a few seconds, the sound of the dialling tone is replaced with a high pitched whine that urges me to replace the handset.

I can't seem to move though. It's as though those four words have turned me to stone. I understand their hidden meaning immediately. I've been waiting to hear them, every second of every minute of every day for over seven months now. I've heard them in my dreams so many times. Been forced from the arms of sleep by the sound of Mulder's voice in my head, only to be confronted by an empty room that is darkened by the shadows of night. Darkened by the fact that he isn't here. I have found myself living my day to day existence hidden behind a wall of steel. Allowing no one to see or understand my innermost feelings. It's been hard enough just coping with the whispers that follow me along the halls of the Hoover building. Head held high, I have retreated within myself. But it has hurt so much. Special Agent Dana Scully MD. Pregnant with Spooky Mulder's baby. The fact that he is missing has made little impact on my peers. If anything it has become a great source of amusing speculation for them. With Mulder gone I have finally slipped effortlessly in to the role of Mrs Spooky. A name Tom Colton christened me with so long ago, but one which hadn't really stuck. Until now that is.

I am aware, as I always have been, that I work within a man's world and a heavily pregnant female Agent is obviously a little hard for the members of the boy's club to swallow. Of course I'm not on field work now. I haven't been for some months. Skinner allowed me to stay within the Bureau in a strictly supervisory role. My new *partner* - even now the word sticks in my throat - does the leg work for me. Reporting back to me, keeping constant contact through cell phone and e-mail as I sit at Mulder's desk, in Mulder's chair, in Mulder's office.

His nameplate still graces the thick hardwood door. His handwriting still categorises the filing cabinets. I have changed very little in the layout of the office. It's an office I have, these past months, shared with a ghost. The ghost of the man I refused to mourn. So sure was I that he would return. I never stopped believing.

And now, as I stare dumbly at the phone, I realise with a start, that it is finally over.

<He's waiting for you>

It's enough to galvanise me in to action. The extra weight of the baby inside me makes moving quickly difficult at best, but for the first time in weeks, I manage to swing my legs over the side of the bed and get to my feet in one fluid movement. My back protests just for a second but the pain is quickly forgotten as I grab my robe from the hook at the back of the door and exit the bedroom.

Heedless of the lateness of the hour, I hurry over to the sofa where my Mother sleeps, wrapped in a heavy quilt to protect her against the chill winter air. I don't notice the cold though. Because he's waiting for me.

"Mom?"

She awakens before I have even closed my mouth. Instantly alert as she struggles in to a sitting position.

"What is it honey? Is it the baby?"

I realise my mistake as her eyes widen in anticipation. She has been here in the apartment with me for almost a week now. Insisting that, as I grew nearer to my due date, that I shouldn't be alone. Not once did she suggest that I should be the one to move in with her. I didn't need to explain my motives for remaining here for as long as possible. She just knew. She immediately understood that I needed to be here for when Mulder returned and I loved her for it.

Seeking to reassure her that I am indeed okay I lay a hand on her shoulder and squeeze it gently.

"No, Mom, I'm fine. But I need you to drive me to the hospital. I...I got a call...and..."

I feel the tears rush to my eyes as I stumble over words that stick in my throat like glue. I've waited for this for so long, and now the moment's here, I can't bear to acknowledge it. I can't bear to tempt fate by speaking his name aloud. Because I'm afraid that if I do, I will wake up and realise that this is all a cruel trick of my mind.

But she understands immediately, grasping my hand even as she rises to her feet before me, enveloping me in an awkward hug that calms me immediately.

"It's Fox, isn't it?"

I can only nod shakily against her shoulder as the tears begin to flow. So much sorrow, so much hope, so much disappointment. I'm not sure I can bear anymore. Not sure I can bear it if this turns out to be a hoax of some kind. But her touch calms me marginally.

"It's okay sweetie. I'll get dressed."


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
3:41a.m.

I head through the automatic doors in to the foyer of this vast building. It's a building I know all too well. Too many visits over the last few years have made it as familiar to me as my own apartment and I skirt around the edges of the humanity which are milling around within it's confines in an attempt to get to the admissions desk with as much haste as possible. It's Sunday morning and the aftermath of Saturday night is still pressing down heavily on the hospital's resources but despite this, the desk, when I finally reach it, is clear of people.

The nurse behind it raises his eye brows questioningly as I stand before him, his gaze flickering over my burgeoning belly. The fact though that I am seemingly alone, fully dressed and exhibiting all the calm I can muster reassures him immediately that I am not in labor. That my business here is unconnected with the tiny new life I am growing within me.

"Can I help you Ma'am?"

I feel a hand rest gently on the small of my back as my Mother finally caches up with me. With typical practicality, she has been parking the car in the designated long-stay parking area. Like me, she is already sure that one way or the other, this will be a long night. Her presence gives me the courage to open my mouth. Flipping my little used FBI identification out of the pocket of the long, black jacket I wear I hold it in front of him.

"My name is Dana Scully. I have reason to believe that my partner may have been brought in here at sometime during the night."

The nurse is obviously more in awe of female government Agents than my own work colleagues are because he immediately snaps in to action, tapping a few words in to the computer terminal beside him.

"Okay Agent Scully. I have admissions up now. Can I take the name of your partner please?"

I close my eyes, praying silently to myself even as I feel my baby kick impatiently inside me, almost as though he is urging me to make haste. To take him finally to his father.

"His name is Fox Mulder...but he may not have been in a condition to give his name. He...he has been missing for a long time..."

The nurse shakes his head, cutting me off abruptly.

"I'm sorry Agent Scully. No one of that name has been admitted tonight...it's been a crazy night though...I could check descriptions of any John Does though if you wanted..."

I manage to flash him a grateful smile despite the worry that is gnawing away at me.

<Please God, don't let this be another hoax.>

"Yes, please if you would."

His fingers fly across the keys once again and out of the peripherals of my vision I see a list of figures flash up on the screen in answer to his query. He doesn't look up at me as he quickly asks me for basic descriptions. Age, height, approximate weight, hair color possible nature of injury.

I answer quickly, stumbling over his final question and I have to admit to him that I have no idea. Injury could be as insignificant as a cut finger, as mind numbing as a fatality with every possible scenario in between.

Finally, he looks up at me, smiling reassuringly, no doubt in response to both my condition and the fact that I am now gripping the edge of the admissions desk hard enough to whiten my knuckles. No doubt my face is similarly devoid of color.

"Okay Agent Scully. I have four males who have been admitted to the ER in the past twenty-four hours. Two suffering from gunshot wounds...I'm sorry, but they were pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The other two - both IC one males in their late thirties/early forties, approximately six feet tall are still in the hospital. One suffering from minor concussion and apparent memory loss is unable to furnish us with his personal details at this time. The other..."

He frowns suddenly as he skims his eyes over the details on the screen.

"The other was admitted three hours ago. But there must be a glitch in the system somewhere. It says here that he was discovered on a gurney. Unconscious and apparently physically unharmed. No admitting information aside from that...I'm sorry, if you hold here for a minute I'll try..."

I raise my hand slightly to cut him off.

<Mulder>

"That's him." I insist ignoring the way his eyes widen in response to my tone and I realise how it must sound. Of course he has no way of knowing that I have more insight in to this than they can ever imagine in their worst nightmares.

"Could you please tell me where he is?"

He shakes his head apologetically.

"I'm sorry Agent Scully. It's standard procedure in cases like these to first ascertain some kind of connection between the John Doe and the relative...I'm sorry, but you don't fall in to the criteria of relative...now if you could perhaps furnish us with the details of his next of kin so that a proper identif..."

I can't believe I'm hearing this. Seven months of waiting. Seven months of heart wrenching uncertainty only to be now held up by bureaucratic red tape. But I have a final card hidden deep within my sleeve, one which this eager young man couldn't possibly have imagined. FBI Agents or not, we have a connection that will slice effortlessly through the bureaucracy.

"If you would care to check Agent Mulder's past medical records you will see that as from January 1997 *I* am listed as his next of kin."

His expression hovers somewhere between a new kind of respect and out and out disbelief. I'm sure he's heard the same proclamation a hundred times in the past from desperate individuals searching for their loved ones.

"That might take a couple of minutes to check up on Agent Scully. If you'd like to take a seat for a few minutes, I'll have someone come down and speak to you."

I follow the direction in which he waves, seeing row upon row of hard, uncomfortable leather backed chairs. No doubt I would be more comfortable standing, especially now that the baby weighs so heavily on my frame, but I don't want to make waves so I acquiesce and allow my Mother to lead me away from the admissions area.

We sit, not speaking. I'm not sure that I could at this point. Anticipation has stolen my voice from me. My mouth is dry, my head beginning to throb with the suppressed tension that has been threatening to burst free ever since my telephone rang, tearing me from sleep. It was less than an hour ago. It feels like centuries. But I'm okay. I can get through this. I have to. For Mulder I will remain calm. To start shouting now would only delay what needs to be done in order to see him. Out of a desperate need to do something with my hands, I begin to gently trace circles over my belly with my palms, feeling the solid, reassuring presence of my baby's tiny rump through my taut skin. Like magic, my breathing slowly returns to normal.

I have waited for so long. I can wait another few minutes.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see my Mother's hand reaching across for mine, but instead of grasping it, she simply covers it with hers, smiling gently at me as she too feels the tiny boy who lays, protected within. Not once in the last seven months has she allowed herself to voice the fears she must surly hold. Fears for what might happen if my stubborn assurances that Mulder would indeed return should prove fruitless. Not once has she berated me for not admitting to the intimate relationship Mulder and I shared in those last weeks before he was taken. Not once has she questioned my choices. Not once. She is of course, in the minority.

My eyes are still locked on to the vision of our two hands caressing my baby when the voice cuts in to my thoughts.

"Doctor Scully?"

I get to my feet immediately finding myself face to face with a man that I recognise from so long ago.

"Doctor Daley?" my voice must be bordering on incredulous, because he smiles reassuringly at me. Extending his hand which I grasp briefly.

"It's good to see you Dana,I was about to ask how you were...but I see you are indeed blooming. Literally."

"Thank you. Doctor Daley...Can you tell me? Is my partner here?"

He releases my hand. Becoming all business once again. But his expression is troubled. I see it clearly in his eyes.

"I'm not sure Dana. When I received the call a few minutes ago telling me you were here, asking after him, it immediately fell in to place. There had been something bothering me about the way we found him, no admission paperwork, no notes on how he came to be there. Just like you were found...but I confess, I never really thought to make the connection. Five years is a long time in a busy hospital Dana...it's been a crazy night and..."

I shake my head. Waving away his apologies.

"It's okay. I understand, really I do. But I need to see him. Please. Can you take me to him?"

I am holding on to my composure by just a thread now and I know that if he refuses, I will simply push past him and search this damn hospital until I find what I am looking for. The potential consequences of those actions mean nothing to me. Maybe he sees that, because he nods carefully. But there is caution in his tone as he grasps my arm.

"I'll take you there Dana. But understand that it might *not* be your partner."

I swallow heavily. Chasing away the tears that have suddenly gathered in the corners of my eyes.

"It's him." I whisper. "It has to be."


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
4:01a.m.

I'm a little surprised when I realise that Daley isn't actually heading in the direction of the ICU. I guess I had been expecting Mulder to be in pretty bad shape. Certainly needing a level of care that could only be found in that most specialised part of the hospital, but I find myself following him along one of the many standard corridors that house the many patients in need of basic nursing.

"I'm sorry Doctor Daley..."

He stops dead at the sound of my voice. The uncertainty is evident even to me as I hear myself questioning him.

"I thought...I mean, I was told that my partner was unconscious when he was brought in...I just assumed he would be in the ICU..."

I can clearly see that it's on the tip of his tongue to remind me that this man *might* not be Mulder, but he swallows the words and instead tells me what I need to hear.

"Yes that's right. He was indeed unconscious when discovered. But pulse, respiration and temperature were all normal. The ECG came back clear although it's too early to ascertain if there are any anomalies in his blood work. His condition hasn't changed since then. We saw no reason to subject him to the rigours of the ICU unless his condition should worsen. We're monitoring him carefully and so far it hasn't."

His explanation should soothe my fears, but inexplicably just hearing it causes my heart to begin hammering painfully in my chest. I have a terrible feeling about all this. It's a feeling that has been building from the minute I replaced the receiver in my apartment. Maybe it's a combination of the numbing fatigue I have been feeling lately and the fact that I so badly need all this to work out *right*. Whatever it is, I am scared. So scared right now that I am tempted to spin around and head right back to where I have left my mother. I had wanted, had *needed* to do this alone and she had remained, ensconced in a small, comfortable room specially put aside to house worried relatives. Now though, I wish more than ever that she was here by my side.

But I don't. I simply nod slightly and drop my eyes from Daley's. My action prompts him to continue walking and I try to keep pace as best I can. He is a fairly tall man. Not as tall as Mulder, but even so, his strides are worth two of mine.

Finally, he comes to a halt outside a plain, hardwood door. No different from any other door we have passed during this journey. But of course it *is* different. Because behind this door lays an answer that has the ability to lift me skywards with joy or to plunge me back in to the depths of despair. I've been waiting so long for this moment and now it's finally here, I am almost afraid to discover which one it will be.

There have been so many disappointments. So many journeys like this one. A roller coaster ride of anticipation and disappointment. But this time is different. Something deep within me senses it. If pressed, I couldn't explain it. Couldn't explain how I just *know*.

<Mulder>

Daley reaches for the door knob, but before he can close his fingers around it I reach out and tug at his arm slightly. He freezes at my touch, but his eyes when they turn to me are clouded with concern.

"Agent Scully?"

"I'm sorry. But I need to do this alone."

He hesitates for just a beat before dropping his hand back to his side. He understands I think. Maybe it's because of our previous connection. Or maybe he sees the yearning that I am sure is shining in my eyes right now. By allowing me to enter the room of what might be a stranger to me he is breaking Hospital protocol. It's a fact that hasn't escaped me. But equally he seems to understand in some small way what I have been through and it prompts him to nod his head slowly, stepping back to allow me access.

I grasp the door knob, the metal cold in my palm but before I turn it I briefly close my eyes. The final step. The final few seconds of waiting. It's both exquisite and excruciating. But the moment passes quickly and I open the door, stepping over the threshold as I simultaneously open my eyes.

The room itself is shrouded in half light. Dark enough to allow the patient within to remain undisturbed. Bright enough to allow the medical personnel to go about their business. Certainly bright enough for me to see him. The figure on the bed is tall. Eyes closed he appears for all the world as though he is simply sleeping. His breathing is evenly spaced, serene even, his lips slightly parted. Relaxed. But the man on the bed is thin. So painfully thin that I have to look twice to be sure. But then I see it. A glint of gold in the darkness that catches my eye.

The waiting is over. One way or another my desperate search is over. Because it really is him. No more disappointment. He's been returned to me. In what condition remains to be seen. But he is back and right now I can't think beyond that.

The image before me blurs and for the first time I am aware of the tears that are streaming down my face. Whether they are of joy or sadness I can't be sure. Because as I get closer to him I can see what all this has cost him. His dark hair, the same hair I had enjoyed running my fingers through after we made love is now tinged with a smattering of grey. There is evidence of bruising on his face, bruises that, even in the half light, lend an unhealthy tinge to his skin. And he is *thin*. So damn thin. I can see the deep hollows in his cheeks, the way his skin seems to be stretched too tightly across his face. But it doesn't matter. Because he is there before me. And to me he will always be beautiful.

"Mulder."

I don't know why I speak his name. I don't expect him to respond. But something deep inside me needs to hear it. If only to reassure myself that he is really here. I reach him finally, standing above him, watching my tears fall on to his pale skin until I kneel awkwardly, curling my hand around his as I lower my head to his chest. I hear his heartbeat in my head. Strong and regular it blocks out the sound of my gasping sobs. Until finally, something within me is set free. Something that has held my heart in it's iron grip for so many long months and I am able to finally cry the tears I have suppressed for so long.

Because he is *here*. Finally I have found him. Finally it's over.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
9:18a.m.

"Agent Scully?"

The familiar voice pulls me from the arms of sleep and I am immediately aware of a piercing pain that slices across my back when I try to straighten up.

Skinner hovers above me, his face twisted with anxiety as he recognises my discomfort. It's an expression I have come to both recognise and appreciate in the months since Mulder was taken. Blaming himself needlessly for Mulder's abduction, he has remained by my side, supporting me throughout this time. He has become far more than simply my superior agent. Much more than that he has become a trusted friend. I remember vividly the night he came to my apartment. A little over a week after Mulder disappeared, he had returned from making his report to the OPR revue committee that had been hastily assembled in response to happenings in Oregon. Questions had been asked of Skinner. Demands made that he should explain his actions that night. Veiled threats that he would be held solely responsible.

In response to their questioning, Skinner had calmly recounted the details as he saw them. With no regard for his future position within the Bureau he had placed an official stamp on the work of the X-Files department. He had spoken of things that, only weeks ago he would have dismissed as being fantastic, events that would hold him up for ridicule for the remainder of his career. He had laughed bitterly when he had told me that part. I think we both knew that, whatever the outcome of the revue, his career was now effectively over.

They hadn't believed him of course. This assembled group of respected senior agents had dismissed all but the very basic details of his report. Accused him, as they had accused me in the past, of becoming enchanted with Mulder's passionate beliefs, of becoming drawn in to a web of misplaced loyalty and an almost comical paranoia that *they* were indeed out there.

Mulder was officially listed as missing, presumed dead by unknown method. No more to add. No more to say. Skinner had come to me that night a broken man after being forced to retract his statement in order to keep his position within the bureau. Weighed down by an all consuming guilt that he had failed us once again. For the second time in the space of a week, I had seen him weep and the bond between us had strengthened never to be broken as I had held him in my arms, whispering assurances that he hadn't failed. That I understood his reasons. That, more importantly, Mulder would understand his reasons.

He retained his position as Assistant Director if not his reputation, and in doing so, ensured that I kept my own place within the X-Files. He had hand picked me a new partner who I tolerated out of a sense of loyalty towards this man who had risked everything for Mulder and I. He had allowed me to retain my position even when, officially, I should have been on mandatory maternity leave. Perhaps more importantly, he remained the one person who truly understood what I have been through these past long months since Mulder was taken.

So, to look at him as he stands here now seeing the concern for me radiating from him does not surprise me.

In answer to his unspoken question I attempt a smile which I am pretty sure doesn't quite come off and finally straighten the kinks out of my back sufficiently to sit up. I notice that my hand still covers Mulder's. That even in sleep I was unwilling to let him go.

"I'm fine." I assure him. "I don't think final trimester pregnancy and bedside vigils really compliment each other. I've been getting a lot of back pain recently that's all. It's normal at this stage of pregnancy."

I feel Skinner's hand rest gently against the back of my neck, beneath my hair that has grown longer, softer, over the last few months. It's now almost the same length it was when I first met Mulder. Longer than I have worn it in years. Like a child who relies on silly superstition, I made a decision not to get it cut until Mulder was returned. Stupid really. Even I don't understand it. I close my eyes against the pressure of his palm on my skin. This simple gesture of concern and protection that causes my breath to catch in my throat. He has slipped effortlessly in to the role of Father figure. Determined not to fail me as he perceives he failed Mulder, he has hovered on the fringes of my life to ensure my constant well being.

"You shouldn't be here Scully."

I nod. I know he's right. I am in no shape to be doing this. Maybe six months ago I could have handled the physical and mental strain of watching over my partner as he lays before me on the bed, but now, with less than two weeks to go until my due date I should be resting. I should be concentrating all my energies on preparing for the birth of my baby. Of Mulder's son. Of bringing him safely in to this world. But the advice that the pragmatic, sensible medical doctor part of my brain gives me is currently far out weighed by a much greater need inside of me. It's a need that comes straight from my heart and one that I refuse to ignore.

"I know" I answer simply, flicking my gaze back to Mulder for a second before I continue. "But I can't leave him. Not now."

The pressure against the back of my neck increases slightly and without even looking around, I sense he understands. My belief is only compounded when he immediately switches his attention to Mulder, choosing not to get in to a discussion he knows he won't win.

"How is he?"

Now there's a question if ever there was one. I've been asking myself that very same question all night and in the cold light of day I am none the wiser. I have endlessly questioned the medical personnel who have drifted in and out of the room during the hours I have been here. Read the charts that hang from the end of the bed so many times I almost know them by heart.

Temperature normal. Pulse normal. Respiration normal. Blood work normal. Brain patterns normal.

Everything about him is so *normal* I could scream with frustration. If there were a reason for this I could accept it. But there is nothing to go on, no where to turn. He is slightly dehydrated. Malnourished. But those things are slowly being rectified with the insertion of canulars in his arm that are feeding him a steady dose of high dosage glucose. I'm not sure if it's my imagination, whether desperate hope is clouding my medical judgement, but it seems to me that just the tiniest hint of color has returned to his skin. But still he sleeps. On and on. Unmoving. His pupils react to light stimulant. His reflexes are alert and active. He flinches slightly when subjected to localised pain. But that is where it ends. I have talked constantly to him throughout the night. I believe he can hear me, can recognise the sound of my voice, and I have told him of our son, my voice breaking as I implore him not to give up. That he has so much to live for now. Maybe he hears me. Maybe he doesn't. It doesn't matter. Because I have to believe that he does. But still he continues to sleep.

So I find myself unable to answer Skinner's question. How can I explain this to him when I can't explain it to myself. So I just shake my head numbly.

"I don't know. There is no medical explanation for why he should be like this. All we can do is wait."

A cloud passes across Skinner's face and my eyes narrow slightly at the sight. It's a look I have come to recognise well over the years. It's the same look he used to unsuccessfully try to hide when confronted with a dilemma in the way he managed Mulder and I. A look that suggested he was wrestling with his conscience over giving us information that might spell disaster for all of us and the sight of it causes a cold shudder to work it's way down my spine. I feel like someone has dumped ice water in to my bones.

"What is it?"

He works his mouth slightly, pulling at his lower lip with his teeth as he regards me in front of him. The silence stretches between us, the atmosphere in the room becoming charged, crackling almost as if laden with electricity. I feel the tiny hairs on my arms prickling as gooseflesh chases away my warmth. And I am suddenly scared. So scared of what he is about to say to me. Even more so as his eyes involuntarily drop to settle on my belly. Almost unconsciously my free hand goes there. Fingers spreading as though in an attempt to protect the child within.

"Sir?"

Until finally, he speaks.

"I received a call. About Mulder. About *you*. They...they want to make a deal."


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
9:06a.m.

My eyes widen as the true meaning of Skinner's words settle over me like a death sentence. It's so quiet in here. Only the sound of Mulder's breathing suggests that there are people in here at all. I don't think I'm breathing right now. I'm not sure I'll ever breathe again. Time is standing still. Before me, Skinner remains, his impenetrable gaze is locked with mine as he allows me a moment to process. But how can I possibly process this? I had thought it was over. Have I really allowed myself to become so naive as to think that they were finished with us? That they would allow us to live out the simple pleasures that others take for granted? So stupid. I've been so stupid for so long.

"Who?"

My voice is barely above a whisper now and I am sure that under normal circumstances, Skinner would have a hard time catching the single word. But the room is quiet and it cuts through the silence to hang between us like a swirling leaf caught in an autumn breeze. I don't know why I'm even asking him. I already know the answer.

Admittedly I don't know their names. These shadowy men who have ruled Mulder and I for so long. The men who have taken away those that we love as though they were simply pawns in a game. The most precious parts of our lives as expendable and insignificant as a fly caught in a trap.

"You know who Dana."

Skinner drops on to his haunches beside me. His face only bare inches from mine I can feel the warmth of his breath on my skin. His voice is so gentle I could weep. Or scream. Or both.

I close my eyes against the sight of Mulder. And for the first time since I entered this room, I pray that he can't hear me. Because the thought of him hearing my words that before had comforted me in some small way, now fills me with horror. So I struggle against the fatigue, as I attempt to get to my feet, shrugging off Skinner's hand as he offers unspoken assistance.

"I can do it myself!"

For a second I feel guilt as hurt briefly flares in his eyes. But I don't want his help. I hate feeling this weak, this vulnerable. I want to be back to the way I was before all this. I want to be back to laying in Mulder's arms as we made whispered plans for the future. Watching him sleep, his face tinged golden by the coming of dawn as he lay in my arms. Comfortable. Safe. *Protected* And for the first time in so many years we had allowed ourselves to believe that somehow, together, we might make everything right again. Like children we had *believed*. And like children, we had come to realise once again that life can never be what we want it to be. That there is always danger lurking around corners. Oh yeah, we had become vulnerable. We had made ourselves vulnerable. Our new found happiness had opened doors for them once again. We should have known. *I* should have known.

I reach across and trace my hand along Mulder's jaw line, down his neck until I reach the thin strand of gold that encircles it, fingering the delicate cross that has remained with him through all this. I had been surprised to find it there. If only because the hospital had allowed it to remain. But when I questioned one of the nurses regarding it's presence she had simply smiled and shrugged. He had appeared at the hospital with nothing. Naked beneath the blanket that had covered him as he lay on the gurney, they had thought it only appropriate that he should not be severed from the only item that might be a comfort to him. And so they had allowed it to remain. Bright and vibrant against his pale skin.

I lay the cross back down slowly. Arranging it so that it touches the hollow of his throat and slowly, with difficulty, I bend down to press my lips against his own. His lips are dry, chapped, but to me it is the most wonderful feeling in the world. I remain there for as long as I dare. Conscious of both the pain in my back and of Skinners eyes boring in to me. Finally, feeling the tears gathering in my eyes, I straighten up once more. Turning to face my superior I know that my face is set. Determined. Unfeeling. I effortlessly rebuilt my walls. Walls that Mulder had begun to chip away and I wonder now if I will ever let them crumble again.

"Let's go."

I pick up my discarded jacket, pulling it on even as I sweep past Skinner. I exit the room without looking back because I know that to look back now would spell disaster.


Arlington Virginia
11:08a.m.

"Why have you brought me here?"

I turn my horrified eyes towards Skinner as he coasts the car to a gentle halt in front of the red brick building I know so well. Following Mulder's disappearance I found myself drifting here at odd times of the day and night, drifting through the rooms within his apartment. Inhaling his scent. Consumed with memories as I just sat on his couch, staring in to space. I guess if someone were to push me, I would have to admit that back then, I was suffering from a low grade depression. But no one ever did. I hid it well I think. I doubt even Skinner could have imagined the depths of my despair. He would no doubt be horrified to learn that I had spent many hours here with helpless tears streaming down my face as I was forced to admit to myself that no amount of investigation, no amount of searching was going to bring Mulder back. I played a waiting game. It was all I could do. All they had left me.

But I haven't been here for weeks. Not really out of choice. There have been nights were I have yearned to make the trip over here, but as my pregnancy progressed I found the simple act of driving more and more difficult. Misplaced pride prevented me from asking my Mother to drive me over here. Not that I thought she wouldn't understand. I think maybe she would understand better than anyone else, but I didn't want to admit the need to her that I just wanted to be near to him. In whatever way I could.

So, I have stayed away. Relying on my memories of him to see me through. Until now that is. And despite my need to walk those empty rooms again I don't want to be here. Not like this. *Never* like this.

Skinner kills the engine and sits for a few seconds, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel lightly. The sound cuts through the silence like a knife.

"I was directed to bring you here."

I wait for him to elaborate, to explain further. But the silence stretches between us, engulfing the cramped interior of the car and when I can take it no longer I twist angrily in my seat to face him.

"Why here? Why now?"

My voice is harsh, the words ragged and I realise angrily that I am once again dangerously close to tears. Skinner's expression crumples slightly at my tone and I know that I am wrong to be taking this out on him. He's become a pawn, just like me. Following orders to stay alive. Allowing himself to used as they have used us all along.

"Don't you know?" He questions softly.

And I blink, because of course I know. They've summoned me here because it is where I will be at my most vulnerable. Surrounded with memories of Mulder I will be more easily manipulated, more willing to agree to their demands. It scares me to realise how well they know me. How well they know us both.

"What do they want?"

Skinner shrugs, dropping his eyes from mine for the barest of seconds. It's enough to tell me that his next words are a lie.

"I don't know"

A lie to protect me maybe. To prevent me from directing him to turn the car around and head back to Mulder. My touchstone. The one who I have always relied on to make everything right. Whatever his reasons, I am astute enough to realise that there will be no more information forthcoming. We've reached a dead end. Nothing more to say. Nowhere else to go. Everything that has occurred in our lives over the last seven years has been heading to this point. More than ever I am sure of it. All along they have known they would win. That one way or another they would get what they wanted.

My baby kicks inside me, the movement causing me to catch my breath as a wave of nausea passes over me and a voice inside my head screams out at me to stop this while I still can. To refuse to follow this thing through. To go far away from this place. To keep my baby safe. The vision of Mulder though is pushing at my heart, crowding the space that has been empty for so long and I pray that I am strong enough to do this thing right. Because deep down I know what they want. I think I have always feared that there will be no happy ending for us. No fairy tale vision of a cosy family inside a warm, safe home.

Oh no. A scenario like that belongs to other people. To *normal* people. But not to us.

So, instead, I square my shoulders as best I can. Preparing myself to confront the unimaginable that I am sure is waiting for me inside that warm brick building. To face my demons this one final time. To confront my fate.

I nod my head, the movement almost imperceptible and lock my eyes with Skinner's. My voice, when it reaches my ears, seems to belong to someone else.

"I'm ready."


I use my key to let us in to Mulder's apartment. I ignore Skinner's raised eyebrows as I fit it in to the lock. I think maybe he was expecting me to knock. To request permission before entering. It's something I absolutely refuse to do. Maybe it's out of defiance towards the men who have controlled my life for so long. It's childish I know, but just for a second I feel a sense of satisfaction that they haven't cowed me completely.

The satisfaction though, is short lived. Replaced quickly by a sense of repulsion so strong it overwhelms me. The vestibule of Mulder's apartment is fogged with a hazy layer of acrid blue smoke. It catches the sun's rays which stream through the window at the opposite end of the room. A swirling haze that assaults my senses and brings tears to my eyes.

And then I see him, rising to his feet in the fog. A shambling figure dressed in a sharply pressed grey suit he smiles benignly at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners in a way that reminds me absurdly of the kindly rat in the wind in the willows books from my long ago childhood. But beneath those wrinkled folds of skin his eyes glitter dangerously. Grey, cold, unfeeling they pierce me to my core. He exhales, sending a stream of cigarette smoke in to the already clogged atmosphere.

I'm aware that my mouth has dropped open as I stand there stupidly. Because whatever I was expecting it wasn't this. Not even in my deepest nightmares could I have imagined I would ever have to face this man again. I was told he was dead. Naively I had believed. Had rejoiced in the passing off this man who has stolen so much from me.

He takes a step forward, then another, coming closer as it becomes obvious to him that I have no intention of moving. And he's still smiling. Smiling as his gaze rests on my belly. It's an absurdly paternal expression, and just seeing him causes bile to burn in the back of my throat. He comes to a halt just inches away from me, bringing the cigarette once again to his weathered lips, drawing deeply before exhaling. I want so much to hold his gaze, return his gentle smile with all the hate I can muster. But almost involuntarily, I turn my head away from the deadly poison that streams from his slightly parted mouth. Protecting my baby. The notion seems ironic now.

"Dana. It's good to see you again. You look well...or should I say blooming?"

His words snap me sharply back to reality and before I can stop to think of the potential consequences I bring up my right hand and deliver a stinging blow to the side of his face. He barely flinches although anger briefly flares in his eyes. A faint, red blush spreads across his cheek where my hand made contact but he doesn't falter. He remains there. Standing before me until finally he chuckles. The sound cuts through me like a knife and it scares me to know that if I were carrying my gun I would have no compunction in pulling it out and blowing a hole straight through the bastard's eyes.

"Not exactly the welcome I was hoping for." He offers, his tone tinged with a trace of the anger I had recognised briefly.

It's mingled though with such condescension that I find myself clenching my fists by my side in an effort not to strike him again. Only the feel of Skinner's hands that settle on my shoulders prevent me.

"It's okay Scully. It's okay."

I shake my head numbly.

*Okay?* How is anything ever going to be *okay* ever again? It's unthinkable that this is heading anywhere other than towards heartbreak. Surly he knows enough to realise that.

The smoking man chuckles once again.

"Well, well, it would appear that the two of you have become rather closer than we envisaged. I'm surprised at you Dana. What would Agent Mulder think?"

This time, it is Skinner who stiffens. I feel his fingers dig in to the skin of my shoulders. Pain flares briefly as he attempts to hold on to his composure. Later on I will undress and see the evidence of his anger in the form of perfectly formed bruises. But right now I barely acknowledge it.

"What do you want?"

I am more than a little surprised when I hear my voice. It comes out strong. Steady. determined. I have no idea where I am drawing this facade of calm from. Because I am as tense as a tightly coiled spring. Ready to shatter in to a million pieces right in front of him.

He gestures his hand towards the living room he so recently vacated.

"Let's sit shall we?"

I hold my head up high. Attempting to grow in stature. To bring myself more on a level with him, folding my arms across my chest as I sweep past him with all the grace I can muster. Grace doesn't come easily now. Not now I am so weighed down by the final stages of pregnancy, but for once I am able to retain my posture. Ramrod straight I swing around to face him once more.

"I'd rather stand."

He shrugs.

"As you wish Dana. I hope though that you'll forgive me if I take my own advice. Agent Mulder's couch is...comfortable. But then you already know that don't you?"

And then it hits me. Like a bolt from the blue I understand. He knows *everything*. He is privy to the most personal aspects of my life. He has known from the very beginning when Mulder and I finally answered the need inside of us to turn to each other. Did they watch us through impassive eyes on grainy, low resolution surveillance tapes? Listen to the murmured words we had shared during lovemaking? Reducing our love in to something sordid. Rejoicing at the fact that they had found something else to use against us. The thought sickens me. It sickens me to think that they have known all along.

He watches me shrewdly as the emotions course through me even as I try my hardest to cloak them from him. Refusing even now to let him take anything more from me.

"What do you want?"

I finally throw the demand at him. Anticipation at his answer already prompting a light tremor to run through my body. But instead of answering, his eyes take on a far away look. When finally I think I can bear it no longer, he begins to speak softly.

"It was never meant to happen this way Dana. Like so many things in life it didn't turn out the way we planned. Another one of life's ironies. So many ironies don't you think? We planned so carefully but once again Mulder prevailed, thwarting our efforts unknowingly."

I shake my head. He isn't making sense to me.

"I don't understand."

"No. But then you wouldn't. I barely understand it myself. The power we wield has long been a mystery to me. I am a small part in a much larger plan Dana. Smaller than you can ever imagine..."

I cut him off then. Throwing cheap insults that provide nothing other than a brief feeling of satisfaction.

"I've never imagined you to be anything other than *small.* Don't flatter yourself."

He smiles at my embittered words.

"You still have fire Dana. I admire you for that. I always have...it's why we partnered you with Mulder. Even back then we knew that we had made the right choice. Of course it took a little longer than we anticipated for you both to come to recognise the need between you we had always hoped for. But we were content to wait. Ultimately, you didn't disappoint us."

"What? What are you talking about?!"

To the side of me I see Skinner shift his position slightly. Obviously uncomfortable as to where this is leading and *then* I understand. He knows. He's always known. The betrayal I feel is so acute that I am having difficulty remaining in a standing position. But I won't crumble. Not now. I will see this through to the bitter end.

"Don't you see? Don't you *understand* yet? Pairing you with Mulder was carefully orchestrated. We needed someone with whom he would feel he had found a kindred spirit. Someone he would learn to trust...learn to love. Someone he would gladly give his life for. As I said, it took a little longer than we envisaged. But eventually our patience was rewarded."

His eyes drop once more to my belly.

"In more ways than one, we were rewarded."

Pulling out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, he pauses as he fits one between his lips. Watching as he thumbs his lighter in to life I find that I am suddenly fixated on the bright orange blaze of light as it ignites. Like a moth I find myself drawn to the flame. He settles back on the couch and draws deeply before continuing.

"Do you have any idea how precious the offspring of Fox Mulder is to the project Dana? Do you have any idea? The *potential* for mankind such a child would broker is beyond the rational thought of most men. We've known for a long time that Mulder might hold the key to unlock the secrets of a conundrum that has puzzled us for years. His father knew it of course. That's why he refused to surrender his son to the project. Why he chose Samantha instead."

I hear his words, but I can't make sense of them. I don't understand. I hear the blood pounding in my ears, making it difficult to concentrate. What he's suggesting is impossible. To suggest that I was partnered with Mulder in the hope that one day we might come together to provide them with a child who might provide all the answers is ridiculous. I am staring across at the man who, along with others, conspired to take me from Mulder more than once. Giving me a disease that almost took my life. Leaving me barren in their pursuit for the greater truth as they took what was most precious to me. I am almost afraid to answer him. That by doing so I may be throwing myself open to even greater hurt.

"That's impossible. What you're implying is ridiculous. I was led to believe I was barren. *You* did that to me. During my abduction. We have documentation to prove that...medical records. Reports..."

"Then explain your pregnancy to me Dana. You're a medical doctor after all. Explain it to me so I can understand how an infertile woman can be standing in front of me nurturing a new life as you are doing..."

"I can't!"

My head is throbbing now. Perfectly synchronised with the rapid beating of my heart I feel it like a hammer with every pulse. I feel sick and I just want to flee back to Mulder. I want him to wrap his arms around me, to whisper assurances that it's going to be all right. I want to block all of this out. To pretend it's not happening. But my prayers go unanswered as he continues. On and on I hear his voice.

"I *gave* you that baby Dana. We came to understand that our hopes would come to fruition only by turning back to natural means. So much science at our finger tips, and yet we suffered failure after failure. Children that lived a few hours, a few months...even, on a few occasions, *years* before they withered and died. *Your* children Dana. Yours and Mulder's. Until we came to understand that what was required would never be found in a laboratory. That the missing link was *you*...but that baby belongs to *us*..."

The room begins to spin as the full meaning of his words slam in to me with the force of a runaway roller coaster. This is a nightmare. Please God let this be a nightmare. I feel the tears streaming down my face, the sight of him before me blurring, melding his features together like running tallow. This can't be happening.

A *plan*? A game from the beginning? The outcome assured?

"You're lying" I finally manage through the hitching sobs that threaten to wrench me apart. I want so much to shout at him, but the words come out as little more than a strangled whimper.

There is sympathy in his voice now and I squeeze my eyes shut in an attempt to block it out.

"Why would I lie Dana? What could I hope to gain? I already have what I want."

I take a stumbling step backwards in a futile attempt to get away from him. But there is nowhere to run and through the fog that has invaded my vision I see him rise before me. He is still smiling, holding his hands out in a gesture of surrender.

"I come to you today Dana to offer you a choice. To give us willingly what we would otherwise have simply taken. A final act of patriotism towards a country you have already given so much to. In return, we will allow you and Mulder to simply walk away. To continue your lives. To rebuild all that has been torn away from you. A final price to pay before gaining release..."

I slam my palms to cover my ears. A gesture so desperate, so violent, that I almost loose my footing. In the peripherals of my vision I see Skinner heading towards me as though in slow motion.

"NO! I will never let you take my baby..."

Another step towards me, his lips stretched across yellowing teeth. For the first time I notice the ragged, puckered circle of flesh at the hollow of his throat.

"I don't expect you to make your choice now of course. Before you decide I think it only prudent to let you know what you've been missing these past months. What you *will* miss should you make the wrong choice... I'm sure after speaking with Agent Mulder you will make a balanced decision..."

It is growing darker now. A dizzying sense of vertigo taking me over. Sickeningly, the room begins to spin as I feel the ground slipping beneath me. My last conscious thought is of Skinners arms around me as I begin falling towards nothingness.


12:13p.m.

I fight against the darkness that consumes me. I am aware of gentle hands against my face, stroking softly as my eyes flutter open. For just a second I allow myself to imagine that the touch is Mulder's. That the voice I hear, drawing me once again into consciousness belongs to him.

"Mulder?"

I blink rapidly, struggling against the hands that are now restraining me firmly, refusing to let me rise up in to sitting position.

"Ssssshhhhhh Scully. It's okay. Don't try to move."

Not Mulder's that voice.

I am disorientated for a few seconds, unable or unwilling to understand why I am laying here on the hard, cold wooden floor. More confused still by the sight of my superior's hovering face me as he kneels beside me. And then I inhale deeply, feeling my throat close up as the lingering scent of acrid smoke invades my senses. *Him*.

Despite Skinner's restraining hand I struggle in to a sitting position, glancing wildly around the room. A room that now appears empty.

"Where is he?" I demand. I'm not surprised by Skinner's response.

"He's gone. He left a little over five minutes ago. He siad he would contact you this evening...to further discuss...to discuss..."

He falters then and I can clearly recognise the strain in his voice. The tears that linger dangerously close to the surface pushing their way through his normally strong facade.

"I'm sorry Scully. I'm so sorry..."

I allow him to help me to my feet. Not because I want his help but because I know that I would never make it up there by myself. Finally, I face him accusingly.

"You knew? All this time you knew?"

His eyes widen with horror as my accusation sinks in and he involuntarily backs up a couple of steps. Widening the gap between us until it seems as wide as a ravine. I watch as he gropes for the right words. Does he really believe that mere *words* can make this right?

"In the beginning. I admit I knew in the beginning why you were paired with Mulder..." He gesticulates helplessly, his hands waving in the air as he implores me to believe him.

"...but I never knew the reasons *why*. I swear to you Scully. I swear I never knew about *this.*..."

I am in no mood to listen to him though. My head is still pounding and that, coupled with a spreading feeling of nausea has left me feeling used up and vulnerable. I don't want to hear his pathetic excuses. I only need one thing from him now.

"Give me your keys."

"What?"

I take a step towards him, extending my hand in front of me, palm up.

"I said give me your keys."

"Scully *please*. You're in no condition to drive. Let me help you..."

There is such hopeless yearning in his voice that I almost falter. I *believe* him you see. I believe that just like me, he has been played in all this. And maybe one day, I will draw from deep inside myself and forgive him. But that day isn't here yet. Right now I can barely even bring myself to look at him.

"You want to *help* me?" I laugh then. the sound ringing hollowly in my ears. "I think *sir* that you've helped me enough. Now give me your keys."

His eyes take on a peculiar sheen as they become moistened with unshed tears. But in his defence he is big enough not to allow them to spill over. And for that I silently thank him, because I know that I couldn't bear to see him weep again. He's shed enough tears to last him a lifetime. We all have. He doesn't speak again. He simply reaches in to his jacket pocket and removes the keys, dropping them in to my outstretched hand without ever meeting my eyes. I, in turn, close my hand around them, feeling the jagged edges of metal digging in to my palm. I welcome the pain. It reminds me I am still alive.

"*Thank you*"

Without another word I spin around and head for the door, trying in vain to ignore the sound of Skinner's harsh breathing as he tries in vain to hold on to his composure. He doesn't follow me though. He wouldn't dare.

My cel phone begins to trill even before I have completely exited the apartment. I hardly need to even answer it. I already know what the news will be. But, I go through the motions, depressing the send button as I continue along the corridor towards the elevator.

"Scully."

"Dana honey...it's Mom. Where are you sweetie? I tried you at home but there was no answer..."

"It's okay mom. I'm on my way back to the hospital now. Is there something wrong?"

I ask this redundant question out of a need to play by the rules. But as my mother's joyful voice crackles across the airwaves I am filled with despair. It has invaded every corner of my being. All consuming in it's ferocity as I close my eyes against her words. Knowing that the news she sends me is a cruel deception.

<To let you know what you have been missing all these months>

"Dana? Dana honey? Did you hear what I said?"

I snap back in to the here and now.

"Sorry mom, you broke up back then. Say again?"

She is laughing now.

"Oh Dana! It's Fox...he's awake...and he's asking for you."

"I'll be right there mom."

I look at the phone held in my hand, clenched tightly enough to whiten my knuckles as though it alone is to blame for all this, and suddenly, the fury builds in me. Boils up to the surface, refusing to be suppressed any longer.

There is a splintering crash as I hurl the phone against the door of one of Mulder's neighbors. Small pieces of black plastic fly through the air as the phone disintegrates with the force of my anger. But it feels good. So damn good to destroy as we have been destroyed. I half expect someone to appear in the hallway in response to the sudden noise. But it remains empty. It's the middle of the day after all. There is no reason for anyone to hear the effects of my fury. Nonetheless, I am conscious that to be confronted now would mean more delay. I can't afford delays now.

Not now that Mulder is waiting for me. Not when I have no idea as to how long.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
12:56p.m.

I don't know really how I managed to get here in one piece. I have no recollection whatsoever of the drive over here. Thankfully, some inane sense of preservation must have taken over, because I made the trip without mishap.

I am almost afraid to be here. To see Mulder, to share precious time with him, only to have him taken away from me again is almost impossible to bear. But I *am* here. I hear the sound of my footsteps reverberating around the corridor as I make my way to his room and they comfort me in some small way.

I have decided, subconsciously on the way over here, that I can't tell him of what I have learned. To burden him with this is both unfair and essentially futile. Of course, there is a small voice inside of me that reminds me constantly that the real reason I refuse to share this with him is that I am afraid of what he will say. Deep down I know that he will choose the life of his child over his own. The choice, that for me seems an impossible one, will become starkly simplistic to him. To him there will be no choice to make. And I am afraid that he will persuade me. As he has persuaded me of so many things in the past.

I pause outside his door. Breathing deeply as I attempt to arrange my features in to an expression of calm serenity. Preparing myself to face him. To lie to him as we have been lied to so many times before. I hate myself for it. For what I am to keep from him.

But finally, I am able to push open the final barrier that separates us, stepping over the threshold until I am standing in the brightness of the room. Sunlight streams through the open blinds, glaringly bright. But I have no trouble seeing him. It takes the tinniest fraction of a second for our eyes to find each other, locking together with such intensity it takes my breath away. He looks so pale, so thin, so frail as he watches me from across the room. He is slightly raised on the bed. Not sitting up exactly, but not laid flat like he was earlier. It allows me to see his face. To evaluate what I see there and my eyes fill with tears as I see the wonder in his face.

<The baby>

Of course. He doesn't know about the baby. In all the confusion of the day I haven't given his duplicity a second thought.

My mother, who is currently keeping a vigil by his bedside, rises suddenly, bending slightly toward the man beside her as she touches his arm gently. She murmurs something to him that, from my position across the room I can't make out. But Mulder tears his eyes from mine for just a fraction of a second to acknowledge her words before turning them back to me.

I feel my Mother's hand on my shoulder as she squeezes gently on her way out. Leaving us alone to make this most precious of reunions with no distraction. No onlookers.

And then finally he speaks. His voice reaching me like a sweet summer breeze.

"Scully."

Just hearing it, that same voice that has tortured me through long, lonely, desperate nights, allows me to finally move across to him. I am unaware of the journey. Unaware of anything until I feel his arms around me. Embracing me fiercely as he holds me against him as I half stand, half kneel beside the bed. We don't speak. Not for the longest time. It's enough for me to listen to the sound of his heartbeat against mine. To inhale the familiar scent of him that, despite his time here, the hospital has not managed to completely eradicate. Nothing exists for me now except him. I never fully realised how incomplete I was without him until he was taken from me. Never realised that without him by my side I am only half a person. A pathetic excuse for a Human being. And I shudder as the full weight of my choice hits me once again. It pierces my heart, invades my very core, because how can I choose? How can I live without him?

The thought is chased away for a minute as Mulder pushes me away from him, cupping my face tenderly in his two hands until our faces are level, inches apart. He slowly brings me back towards him and presses his lips to mine, hesitantly almost, then more urgent and I gasp as snakes out his tongue to trace a line across them. Opening my mouth to allow him access I relish the feel of him inside my mouth as we finally become one again.

It is so excruciatingly painful I could scream. To be allowed this one glimpse of what I have - of what could be between us, stops my very heart beating. I actually feel it cease in it's steady rhythm, and I know Mulder feels it too, because he pulls his mouth from mine, kissing his way up my face before drawing me on to the bed beside him. I am turned slightly away from him, at an angle that now makes it impossible for him to see my face and for that I am thankful, because I feel his palm press against my belly as he feels his child within.

"I didn't believe them Scully. I'm sorry. I should have believed."

His voice is so full of childlike wonderment that I can't hold on to the tears any longer, and I lace my fingers over his as he holds me against him. I feel his other hand reach up to cup my head, resting it against his shoulder as I curl myself in to him. he buries his face in my hair and I feel his breathe against me, warm and soft as he whispers soft words. Comforting words.

"Ssssshhhhh Scully. It's okay. Everything's gonna be okay."

His words though, instead of comforting me, only cause to intensify my pain. Because I know that nothing will ever be okay again. To hear his voice, to feel his touch against my skin is like torture. Because I know that whatever happens, we will never be the same again. How could we be?

So I don't answer him. I simply bury my head further in to him, shaking it slightly as I do so.

<You don't understand. Oh God Mulder, how can I choose?>

"It's all right Scully. It's okay. there are other ways."

My eyes fly open at his whispered assurance. Did I speak the words aloud? Did I allow myself to voice my fears despite my promises to myself? I already know the answer though. It goes against everything I believe in, but I realise suddenly that the words did indeed remain unspoken. I twist around to face him, drinking in the image of him before me, frowning as a tiny smile graces the edges of his beautiful mouth.

"There are other ways Scully." He repeats as he brings my hand, still entwined with his, slowly upwards until it rests at the back of his neck. My fingers come to rest on the tiny, ridge of puckered tissue. Just the tiniest bump beneath. I know what lurks beneath it. A chip. No doubt identical to my own. Controlling him. Controlling and cataloguing his every thought and feeling. His every action. Just as it controls mine.

A ticking time bomb that can never be diffused.

But what he is suggesting is unthinkable. To remove it would bring about a death sentence on him. A slow, lingering, painful death. I know. Oh yeah. I *know*.

I shake my head.

"Mulder no. We'll find another way..."

He continues to smile even as he runs a finger down my cheek.

"Do you trust me Scully?"

I don't answer him. I don't need to. He already knows.

"Then you have to trust me on this. I've seen things. I understand now where I didn't before...and whatever they say to you, whatever they try to do, you have to *trust* me..."

His eyes are beginning to droop slightly and my heart twists painfully as I realise that our time together is short. He realises it too I think, because his words become faster, laced with an urgency I recognise so well.

"You have to remove them Scully. You have to remove *both* of them..."

"But..."

"No. I know what you're thinking. But you're wrong. You can save us Scully...you can save all three of us."

He presses his hand once more to my belly, and I feel my baby kick, as though he is responding to the feel of his father. An invisible connection already established. Flesh and blood. Mulder's son.

He is becoming heavy in my arms, slipping towards sleep again, slipping away from me and I have to lean in close to catch his final words.

"Go to Skinner. He knows what to do...trust him Scully. trust him as you trust me..."

tears slip down my cheeks as once more, he closes his eyes. They roll unchecked down my face, crossing to Mulder's pale skin where they glisten softly in the light. He is heavy. So heavy and I am not sure for how much longer I can remain here, holding him in my arms. But before I lay him down I press my lips to his, feeling the cool softness of him as I murmur my assurance to him.

"I trust you Mulder. I'll always trust you."

Finally, I lay him against the pillow again. Allowing myself the luxury of watching him before I get shakily to my feet. I know what to do now. The choice has been made. Mulder has made my choice.

I only pray it is the *right* one.


It's all happened so quickly. Even I have been amazed by the speed in which Skinner has allowed things to happen.

I left Mulder at the hospital and sought him out. He was surprised to see me. I could see the relief shining in his eyes as I stepped over the threshold of his apartment, my shoulders set with a new kind of determination. Don't get me wrong - I found it hard to trust him. The hardest thing I have ever had to do. But the choice was made for me. Mulder had, with just a few words, allied my fears and brought everything in to focus.

We didn't speak of anything more than inconsequential things in his apartment. Skinner isn't stupid. He knows all too well the lengths these men will go to gather their information and is all too aware that what we all once took for granted is now an impossible luxury. He has his apartment regularly swept for bugging devices. It has become as normal for him as taking out the trash and I know the last time he ordered the sweep, his apartment came up clear.

But how long does it take to plant a surveillance device? A minute? An hour? It's a risk we weren't prepared to take.

So we left. In the great tradition of a million bad cop shows we 'took a walk'. I watched our breath combine in the freezing air as we planned. Or rather, I should say, Skinner furnished me with the details of *Mulder's* plans.

He hardly paused as he told me of the measures he had taken to keep us safe, to keep *me* safe should anything ever happen to him. I was both touched and a little afraid by the amount of trust my partner had placed in this man, but as Skinner spelled it out to me I slowly began to draw closer to him once again. Past digression forgotten as he drew me down beside him on a bench when I began to tire of our constant motion.

Two years ago, Mulder had come to him. Had furnished him with the details of an elaborate plan that would thwart even the most determined efforts of the men who sought to destroy us. Did he know even back then their true purpose? Had he seen things I couldn't imagine even in my worst nightmares? So many questions that pounded at my skull. Questions I couldn't possibly hope to answer.

And I learned so much that day. Learned things about Mulder I had never suspected. Not even for a second could I imagine the secrets he stored away in his heart. Secrets designed to protect me. Sitting on the bench with Skinner I learned that Mulder is a wealthy man. Not simply comfortable enough to furnish his life with the material possessions of the rich. No. That day I learned that my partner of seven years - the man who lives his life in a shabby apartment, the man who occasionally aims a well placed kick in the general direction of a video recorder that is less than reliable - is wealthy enough to have put the wheels in motion that, should this day ever come, we could be taken care of.

A house in Canada. Set in acres of its own grounds. Far enough away from the scrutiny of nosey neighbours but close enough to major amenities to make our lives easier.

A bank account with enough resources to ensure that, should we choose, we will not have to work for a living for the rest of our lives.

To hear Skinner quietly spelling it out to me was overwhelming in itself. To know that Mulder has been secretly putting the wheels in motion to ensure our survival was enough to bring a lump to my throat. And overwhelming as it was, his next words had shaken me to the core.

New identities. New lives.

A *safe* life.

But the cost is enormous.

To leave all that which is most precious to us. To walk away never to return. Because I know we can never return. To do that would spell disaster. A year, five years, *decades* from now they would still be waiting for us. Waiting to claim our baby for their own.

But we would have each other. Together we could weather the heartache such action would bring. I know it. Mulder knew it. Even before we admitted our true feelings to each other he was astute enough to realise that our hearts and minds entwined a long time ago. Enough to know that we could do this.

So, just three short days ago, I allowed Skinner to bring Mulder's plan to fruition. He refused to allow me to return to the hospital. Instead, he immediately rented a car and drove me to a small cabin in the Virginia countryside. He left me there, in front of a fire he insisted on lighting to keep me warm before turning on his heel and exiting this small, safe oasis in the middle of a forest. I sat, unmoving, watching the flames dance in the gloom of the winter evening, casting orange shadows on the rough log walls of the cabin. Occasionally I would lean forwards, just enough to add more fuel to the fire, to keep the fire bright. To warm my partner when Skinner finally brought him to me.

But I was scared. So scared. Because before he left he handed me a thick file of papers. The deeds to the house. The paperwork necessary for me to follow Mulder's plans through. Everything I would need to simply take my baby and disappear. I knew his reasons even if he didn't voice them to me. Simply, he gave me a salvation, somewhere to run to should he and Mulder not make it here. And despite the warmth of the fire I felt chilled at the prospect.

But my fears, this time at least had proved groundless. Because as the darkness had cloaked the tiny cabin my prayers had been answered.

That was three days ago. A lifetime ago.

Lost in thought, I stand, looking out in to the forest, watching the sunlight's rays filtering through the trees. The sunshine though is an illusion, because last night the temperature dipped, the air cold enough to cause a thin sheet of ice to form across the cabin's windows. I woke up this morning to a view of the surrounding area that was cloaked in a thick frost. So beautiful it took my breath away. I was heartened that I could still appreciate the beauty around me in the face of so much heartbreak. I still am.

I tense suddenly as I feel a presence behind me. I wait for his touch. To feel his palm at the small of my back. I am not disappointed. I know him. I know his every action, his every thought. Not in a literal sense maybe, but more in the way we have come together again. And I know his next words before he even has time to utter them.

"It's time to go, Scully."

I turn then to face him. Scrutinising his face for signs of fatigue. For signs that his recovery is not as complete as I hope it is. But I see nothing there. My fears, so far are groundless. He has slept a lot these last few days. I have held him awkwardly in my arms and watched him sleep. The nightmares I have been afraid will invade his slumber have so far remained dormant. I pray that they always will.

He refuses to speak of his incarceration. Shaking his head slightly every time I attempt to question him. Maybe one day, far in to the future he will open up to me. But for now it doesn't matter. Because he is here with me. Still too thin. Still a shadow of his former self. But everyday I see signs that he is becoming stronger. That he is recovering.

Twice a day I remove the small square of gauze that covers the fresh wound at the back of his neck. Scrupulously cleaning it to ward off the threat of infection. He is still so weak and infection might spell disaster for him. And when I am done, he returns the favour. Tentatively at first until I assured him that he wouldn't hurt me. That he needed to cleanse a wound that is healing slowly.

I had managed to persuade Skinner to perform the removal of the chip from the back of my neck. But he had balked visibly at the prospect of stitching the edges together. But the wound isn't deep. It will heal well I think.

He stands before me. Casually dressed in bluejeans and a thick chocolate colored sweater. It's a color that brings out the richness of his deep hazel eyes. The sweater bulks him up and I can almost imagine him the way he was before all this. But he will heal. We both will. Already, some color has returned to his pale skin. In just three short days Mulder has begun to come back to me.

He reaches out a hand and gently brushes a strand of my hair away from where it lays against my cheek and tucks it behind my ear. He doesn't remove his hand though. He leaves it resting against my cheek and almost unconsciously I press my face against it. Revelling in the warmth. Revelling in the feel of him.

"Scully?"

"I know. I'm ready. I was just thinking."

He nods then. he understands. He's always understood. So he remains silent, drawing me to his side where he wraps an arm around my back and it comforts me in some small way. Gives me the strength to do what I am about to do.

Together we walk across the room, leaving the bedroom and crossing over in to the living room. She is waiting for us there and her face lights suddenly with a gentle smile at the sight of us. But beneath it I can see the tears, glittering in her fine blue eyes. Dangerously close to the surface as she prepares herself to say goodbye. To let go of her daughter this one final time.

But there is no accusation in those eyes. Just a deep abiding love that pierces my heart as she holds out her arms to me. And like a child I allow her to wrap me in her warm embrace, holding me tightly against her as she transfers a lifetime of love in to me. It's not enough time. There's not enough time to say to her all I need to say. I feel tears, hot on my cheeks as I remain there but as my shoulders begin to shake, she draws away slightly, bringing up her palms to rest at each side of my head.

"No Honey. No more tears."

Even as she utters the words I hear her voice crack as she struggles to hold on to her composure. She swallows heavily as she smoothes her hands over and over against me, finally speaking once again, her voice barely more than a whisper.

"Your Father would be so proud of you. *I'm* so proud of you Dana. Never forget that. *Ever*. Do you hear me?"

I nod shakily.

"I hear you Mom..."

My words are lost as once again I begin to sob. Huge wracking sobs that make me ache inside and just for a second she pulls me once again to rest in her arms.

"I love you so much, my baby girl."

The words are only for me. Murmured softly in my ear before she steps away finally, turning her attention to the man who stands behind me.

"Take care of her for me, Fox."

He doesn't answer her. Instead, he steps towards her and embraces her briefly. I am surprised to see that his eyes are moist with unshed tears. But perhaps I shouldn't be. He is saying his goodbyes to a woman who has been more of a mother to him than his own ever was.

His words are soft, but they reach me without difficulty.

"You know I will. Always."

He releases his hold on her and she laughs. That peculiar sound that comes from people who are battling with both happiness and despair. The laughter a way to hold back the tears.

"Now go. The both of you before I change my mind..."

But I can't move. No matter how hard I try I just can't make my feet co-operate.

"Mom..."

Until I feel Mulder's hand grasp my own. Lacing his fingers through mine he breaks the spell. So I simply nod as I allow him to turn us away from her. We don't say goodbye. We agreed. No goodbyes. At least not spoken ones. To say goodbye would be to admit that this is forever. And through Mulder I've learned never to say forever.

And together we walk away. To where Skinner is waiting for us. Towards the future.


Epilogue

As I stand on the balcony of this graceful house, watching Mulder as he plays with our son, I can barely believe how much time has passed.

Two years almost since we made our last desperate bid for freedom. For normality. It seems like only yesterday and it reminds me once again how quickly time slips through our fingers.

Time has passed so quickly and together, we have watched our son grow from a tiny baby in to the sturdy toddler who squeals delightedly as he tries in vain to catch hold of the ball Mulder tosses gently to him in the golden light of late summer.

I remember the look on Mulder's face as I finally pushed our son in to the world. The look of wonderment as he held him, a tiny, squalling bundle of fury in his arms that night so many months ago. There were no hospitals that night. We couldn't take the risk, small as it was, that news of his birth would somehow reach across the miles and alert them to our presence here.

So instead, I gave birth here in this house, just five days after our arrival, aided by a kindly, shrewd looking doctor. A friend of the Gunmen, he asked no questions of us as he hovered in the background, giving me the encouragement I needed. Mulder had been assured of his silence and we had to believe that he was friend not foe. So difficult to trust anyone. It still is I suppose. But our faith has been rewarded. So far, we have been able to live our lives here enjoying nothing more obtrusive than the occasional racoon that snuffles it's way through the garbage much to the delight of our son who claps his hands with delight when confronted with one of these creatures.

We named him Jacob Elias. It took us almost a week to reach the decision. Around the same amount of time it took the Gunmen to put together a false record of his birth. Nothing about our lives now is true. Different names. Different birth dates. Our true identities have been erased so completely it is as though we never existed at all.

But here we are still the people we once were. Here, in the safety of our own little fortress we can be ourselves.

The gunmen have been, and remain our salvation. Our one connection with the past. Mulder insisted on it. He believed that to cut ourselves off completely would be as dangerous as remaining in plain sight. So, twice a week he sits down at the computer and sends correspondence across the miles. He has to trust that the precautions taken by the Gunmen are enough to keep us safe. A high tech, state of the art scrambler device is fitted to the terminal. It makes tracing the e-mail impossible. Because even the Gunmen are unaware of our exact location. It's the only way to keep them safe.

I think we realised that fully for the first time only when, six months after our arrival here, we received word from Frohike that Skinner was dead. The victim of a random shooting as he shopped for groceries in a small store just a hundred yards or so from his apartment. A robbery that went tragically wrong. But we know better. We know that there was nothing random about it. Just as we know the reasons for his death. Mulder brought me the news as I was laying Jake down for the night. White faced and shaking, he had handed me the bright white piece of paper that he held in his hand. I read the printed words and for the first time appreciated what this man had been prepared to sacrifice for us. His two renegade agents who he had held in a high enough regard to die for.

We cried that night. Bitter tears as we mourned the passing of a man who had saved us in so many ways. Comforting each other as we lay together, watching the first rays of dawn streak the night sky until finally, the hurt had lessened and we were able to carry on. For the sake of our son we carried on.

It hadn't taken us long to realise just how enormous the stakes had become. Mere weeks passed until we realised the true extent of what our son is. Of what he can be.

It started slowly at first. And for a long time I refused to believe that this tiny baby, who could gaze up at me with his china blue eyes that seemed to delve in to my very soul, might one day be the salvation of all mankind. There is no doubt though that he is special. This rough and tumble little boy who can chase away my tears with a smile can also reach out a pudgy hand to an injured bird and then watch with wonder as it rises once more in to the blue sky. The little boy who's brow creased with concentration only days ago as Mulder came in to the house, his face pinched with pain as he held a broken wrist against his chest, the result of an altercation with the barn door that had slammed shut when a sudden gust of wind caught it.

I didn't need an x-ray to tell me that the bones were out of alignment. the ugly swelling that marred it's smooth shape was evidence enough. Jake had been playing quietly on the floor when his father walked in. But immediately, he had pushed himself to his feet and toddled over to where Mulder stood, reaching out his arms to him until Mulder locked eyes with me and hunkered down on his haunches until he was level with his son. And I watched in wonder as Jake placed his baby hands over the ugly mottled flesh, heard the click as Mulder's bones knitted back together. It was perhaps the first time that we fully realised what our son can do.

He was absurdly pleased with himself and waited expectantly for Mulder to acknowledge him. In response, Mulder had picked him up and covered him with kisses until his son squirmed in delight.

But later, when Jake was sleeping I had felt a dread creep up on me that blotted out everything else. A dread born out of a love for my son that is so intense it is blinding. Because I know now why they want him. Why he is so precious to them. Mulder felt it too. Because despite the fact that I tried hard to hide my fear he immediately recognised it, wrapping me in his strong arms. Whispering assurances to me as together, we watched our son sleep. He kissed away my nightmares in much the same way I have occasionally kissed away his.

He still hasn't ever spoken of what they did to him during the months he was missing. I think the memory is too painful for him to share it with me. Wanting to protect me even now from my own demons. Part of me yearns for him to open up to me while at the same time a part of me is grateful he doesn't.

I love him so much now you see and I'm not sure I could ever really recover if I learned they had hurt him. It would crack a piece of my heart to hear him speak of the suffering I am sure he must have endured at their hands. But the only evidence is the occasional nightmare that surfaces in the dead of the night. When he awakens, shaking and sobbing until I reach out for him and soothe him back to sleep. He remembers nothing of the dreams when he awakens the next day. Or at least, if he does he chooses not to mention them again.

The nightmares though are lessening. For both of us. My dreams, that were once haunted by the sight of Mulder, laying in a hospital bed. Pale, thin, hollow eyed as I was forced to watch him die a slow, painful death, are now blissfully trouble free.

I understand now why he was so insistent about the removal of the chips. Knowing in some unfathomable way that the consequences I feared would result from such an action would never come to anything more than a handful of frightening nightmares.

Because not since Jake was born have Mulder or I suffered from so much as a cold.

I don't pretend to understand it. But I accept without question that our son holds a power within him to keep us safe.

I don't know what the future holds for any of us. I have learned to take things one step at a time. Tiny steps forward to what we both hope will one day be a normal life. But it has been hard. So hard to leave those we loved behind. But I recognise that to keep them safe, sacrifices had to be made by all of us.

The gunmen have somehow managed to find a way to keep my mother in touch with our lives. I receive regular messages from her, that in the beginning would bring tears of yearning to my eyes. Mulder would watch me from across the room as I tried unsuccessfully to keep my anguish from him. But he knew. He always knows.

And then came a day, not so long ago, when Mulder insisted we took a drive. He refused to give me any information as we wended our way along roads lined with pine trees. Laughing at me as I became more and more frustrated by his apparent secrecy. Until, finally, he came to a halt in front of a small rustic cabin. Much like the one we had fled on that frosty day almost two years before. He had smiled softly at me as I had silently questioned him, taking Jake from my arms before guiding me in to the cabin where my mother was waiting for me.

The risks such a reunion might have brokered melted away as I threw myself in to her waiting arms and cried tears of pure joy. We stayed together for just three short days. But it was enough. Enough time for me to say all the things to her I wanted to say. Enough time for her to get to know her grandson. But much more than that, she finally got to know Mulder in the way I had always hoped. No government conspiracies, no tragedies. Just the three of us sharing time and space as we finally put our demons to rest.

The sun is warm on my back as I stand here thinking. Watching the man I love with his son. Marvelling at the bond they share. And not a day goes by that I don't thank God for bringing them both together. To have to live without either one of them is an impossibility now. I will never forget the choice I was almost forced to make. Nor the choices I *did* make. But I have learned now that no choice is an impossible one. That our lives are made up of different roads. Some easy, some hard, but none are impossible. We travel the road until the day we die. Making choices every second, every minute that we live on this earth, always in the hope that we will somehow make it through to live another day.

I smile as Jake runs ahead of Mulder, climbing up the stone steps that lead to the balcony until he is able to straighten up and toddle across to me. Looking up as he raises his arms to be picked up. Right behind him Mulder follows. Shaking his head in amusement as he scoops up his son in strong, tanned arms. I've never seen him happier or healthier than he is right now. He glows with a vibrancy that takes my breath away. The lines have all but disappeared from his face. He has filled out again. Well muscled from hours spent in the small, purpose built gym attached to the side of this rambling house he makes my heart contract painfully every time I look at him. His hair is still tinged with grey. But it has slowly been replaced with his original deep brown color. Until, now, all that remains is a faint sprinkling. As though he has dipped the strands in white paint. The next time he gets a hair cut, they will disappear forever.

Oh yes. Here in this idyllic piece of paradise we have healed. We have healed in ways I couldn't even have begun to imagine during those frightening years when our very existence was, in itself something to hold on to. He drops a kiss on to the crown of my head and pulls me towards him. Still cradling Jake against him as he lets his free hand come to rest on the gentle swell of my stomach, feeling the new life within flutter against his palm.

A baby girl this time. I am sure of it. Although I couldn't explain how I know if I was questioned on the fact. A baby girl with deep blue eyes and a shock of blonde hair that will slowly turn darker with the passing of each year. I know this already. I know it because I met her once. For the just the blink of an eye I was allowed to hold her in my arms as she slowly slipped away from me.

But this time will be different. The final healing act that will allow me to finally move on. To allow us all to move on.

The future is still uncertain. There will be more choices to make. Some hard. Some easy. But no *impossible* ones. Not anymore. Because we have, in some unfathomable way, fought the future and won.

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