Title: Regrets and Resolutions
Author: Paige Caldwell
Keywords: MSR, mytharc
Spoilers: "Requiem" and Season 8
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me. No infringement is intended.

Summary: "What good are New Year's resolutions if you don't understand the truth behind your regrets?"


New Year's Eve, 2000

My family believes that I've forgotten him.

Mulder....

They think I've chosen the love for an unborn child over the loss of a man abducted.

They couldn't be more wrong.

As I sit at my mother's dining room table, I realize how my family has never understood the complexity of my love for Mulder. Perhaps, it's my own fault, for I've never been able to articulate my feelings about him in a coherent sentence. To describe a relationship that was equally as frustrating as it was passionate seems impossible. There aren't enough words. Besides, expressive language left me the moment he did.

I can't believe that a year has passed since our first kiss. Granted, it wasn't the romantic interlude that I was hoping for, but it was certainly a prelude of better things to come. It didn't take us long to crave the taste and texture of each other's mouths. Within weeks, we became lovers, both greedy and insatiable. Maybe, we should have sampled the fare more delicately. Instead, we devoured each other's bodies like half-starved cannibals.

No wonder my soul now feels eaten away....

"Dana," my mother's voice slices through my flesh desired thoughts. "Aren't you hungry?"

I glance up from a plate filled with food, queasy from metaphors which are now confused with meaning. My mother has prepared a sumptuous feast to bring in the New Year. Yet, the roast lamb with peppercorn crust is too symbolic for me to eat. Lamb reminds me of the sacrifice I made, one which I now regret.

"You need to eat, honey," my mother urges gently. "Think of your baby."

"That`s exactly what I did, Mom," I hear myself murmur guiltily, my hand sliding down to my swollen belly. "I thought of my baby."

"Regrets, Dana?" my brother asks in a pious voice, typical of a man who waited most of his life to ascend the pulpit, if not the head of the Scully dinner table. Now secure behind his place setting, he was free to wield his opinion as he would the carving knife.

"None that you would understand, Bill," I remark, lifting my napkin to my lips. "Or, easily digest."

"You know what they say," Bill continues to bait me. "New Year's Eve is a good time to make resolutions."

"It's also a good time to reflect on the year that has gone by," my mother reminds him. "Don't forget why you're sharing the holidays with us, Bill."

Only then do I realize the spuriousness of Bill's attitude. Bravado aside, my brother was devastated by his separation from his wife. He had returned to San Diego on shore leave only to discover that Tara had hoisted anchor and set sail for her parents` house. Taking their son, she left Bill floundering in an uncharted sea of abandonment.

"I haven't forgotten," Bill murmurs as he toys with the stem of his champagne flute.

"Regrets, Bill?" I ask him softly.

"More than you'll ever know," he responds. Lifting his glass, he drains the champagne in one gulp.

"Want to talk about it?" I prompt, watching him refill his glass.

"Why? Do you?" Bill counters, his blue eyes flickering a challenge over the candlelit table.

An uncomfortable silence follows, one that finishes dinner and spoils dessert. When I offer to clear the dishes, my mother shakes her head. By the expression on her face, I can tell she needs a moment to herself. She, too, must be experiencing her own sense of regret. With each passing year, our holiday table is growing smaller and the ties that bind us more fragile.

Sighing, I drop my gaze to hands. My fingers are noticeably puffy. I'm retaining water like a camel, but the desert analogy stops there. Like a failed nomad, I stopped searching for Mulder at the first threatening mirage. I knew he was still out there. But, so was danger. Not only to me, but my unborn child.

And, now during this time of regret and reflection, I find myself agonizing over the choice I made.

"I should have kept looking for him," I whisper to myself. "He would have never abandoned me, as I did him."

"You did the right thing, Dana," Bill comments, pouring himself another glass of champagne. "You had your pregnancy to consider."

"Did I?" my voice chokes on a sob.

Bill gives me a scrutinizing look. Between my face, which is stained an embarrassed pimento and my ocher green maternity dress, I feel like a stuffed olive on a serving platter. But, rather than nibble away at my insecurities, my brother chews his lower lip thoughtfully.

"C'mon," he says, getting up from the table. When I hesitate, he clamps his hand around mine and hoists me to my feet. "Let's go sit in front of the fire and talk."

"Talk?" I can't help the snicker. "Since when do we talk?"

"For old times sake," he prompts, leading me towards the living room. "Like when we were kids."

Incredulous, I waddle after him.

"Just don't expect me to sit Indian style on the floor," I remark. "My ankles are swollen."

"So are mine," he chuckles. "I think it's gout."

"I think it's the booze fest you've been celebrating," I advise dryly.

"Maybe," Bill admits, easing me down onto the couch. He then collapses in the arm chair across from me and continues, "Tara always hated my drinking."

"Then why didn't you stop?"

"Because it numbed the pain of disappointing her," he responds.

"I don't understand," I pause, trying to decipher his words.

"Don't you?" Bill interrupts. "I would think of all people, you would understand ambition. With me, it was my naval career. With you, it was achievement within the Bureau."

"I wish it was that simple," I murmur.

"Dana, it only becomes complicated when you try to obscure the truth."

"And, what truth is that, Bill?"

"That you're in love with your career as much as your partner."

"That's ridiculous" I protest. "I would have gladly given one up to save the other."

"Isn't that what you did?" my brother asks pointedly.

"No," I cry out in an anguished voice. "I stopped searching for Mulder because of my pregnancy. It had nothing to do with my career."

"You can lie to me, Dana, but don't lie to yourself," Bill states firmly. "You walk a thin line of danger on a daily basis, swollen ankles and all. If you were concerned about your baby you would have resigned from the Bureau the minute you discovered you were pregnant."

"I needed the health benefits," I murmur a flimsy excuse.

"Tell it to your partner, if and when they find him."

"Why are you doing this, Bill?" I sniff, blinking back hot tears of guilt.

"What good are New Year's resolutions if you don't understand the truth behind your regrets?"

Before I can answer him, my cell phone chirps loudly. I reach into my pocket and lift the phone to my ear.

"Saved by the bell," snorts Bill, his amusement fading with the flush of my skin. "Or, condemned by it... Dana, what's wrong?"

Stunned, I hand the phone to my brother.

They've found Mulder.


Bill and my mother support me by the arms as we cross the icy parking lot of George Washington University Hospital. They're afraid that I'll either fall or the blustery wind will carry me off like an over-inflated Macy's Day balloon. Despite being safely tethered between them, I wobble with every step. It has nothing to do with my bulbous ankles, which are almost twice the size of my feet. It's the beat of my heart, pumping frantically to support my weight and an even more burgeoning guilt.

From what Skinner told me, Mulder was admitted to the hospital for exposure and severe dehydration. He was listed in critical condition, but apparently coherent and mad as hell. While doctors and FBI agents hovered anxiously over his hospital bed, he answered each question with an impatient one of his own.

"Where's Scully?"

By the time I reach CCU, I'm sweating from exertion and the stifling wool of my Kinsdale cloak. I bought it last month to disguise my third-trimester pregnancy. Full length with a gathered hood, I thought the chocolate color flattered the tint of my hair. But, now as I pass by the window of the nurse's station, a less than confectionary truth is reflected in the glass.

"I look like a glazed donut," I joke self-consciously with my mother.

"Dana, you're nine months pregnant," she murmurs sympathetically, giving me a tissue to blot my face. "What did you expect?"

What did I expect? I'm not exactly sure. As the months passed, I began to hope that Mulder would return after I gave birth to our child. Call it silly, even vain, but I didn't want him to see me like this...a round, sticky-faced Pillsbury Dough Girl....

Outside of Mulder's hospital room, I'm greeted by Skinner, who is as humid as I am. His brow is beaded with perspiration, which is really an understatement considering the broad expanse of his forehead. Silently, I pass him the tissue before his glasses steam up. He accepts it gratefully and says,

"He's been waiting for you."

"How is he?" I ask, fanning my flushed face.

"Not good," he remarks, taking me by the elbow to lead me aside. In a hushed whisper, he briefs me on Mulder's condition. "They had to sedate him after he attacked an orderly."

"What?"

"He's highly combative, Scully," Skinner explains. "He refuses to allow the doctors to run any tests. Not that I blame him.... not after what he's been through."

"What do you mean?"

"Mulder has visible signs of abuse," he tells me, gripping my arm to steady me. "Whoever, or whatever, did this to him wasn't just conducting experiments. The scarring on his chest, his feet and hands....Scully, they were torturing him."

"God, no..." I gasp, covering my mouth as bile regurgitates from my empty stomach.

"That's enough," Bill interrupts, wedging himself into our huddled conversation. "Don't you realize how fragile her condition is?"

"Yes, I do...." Skinner retorts. "But, Mulder doesn't. Which is exactly why I'm forewarning her."

Turning to me, he continues,

"Scully, you don't have to do this. It might be best for you to wait a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks."

"I need to see him," I choke out, swallowing hard to clear my throat.

"Are you sure, Scully?" asks Skinner. "Think about your baby and the problems you've had with your pregnancy."

"It's his baby, too," I remind him. "And, he deserves to know that his suffering was not in vain."

"He doesn't even remember it, Scully," he argues. "The abduction, the tests... not even how he got here."

"How did he get here?" I glance down the hallway at the group of agents by the elevator. "Does anyone know?"

"Doggett is downstairs interviewing the emergency room staff," Skinner advises. "So far, no one is sure who brought Mulder in."

"He just mysteriously appeared?" I comment sarcastically. "How convenient."

"Dana," my mother interrupts in a soft, coaxing voice. "What's important is that he's back. Don't allow regret to undermine your resolve."

She's right. I can no longer avoid the horror of his abduction. I can't hide from the truth or avoid the consequences of my actions. This isn't just a nameplate to be guiltily tucked away in a desk drawer. This is Mulder.

"I won't abandon him, again," I tell Skinner in a tight voice. "Not for my job...not even for the safety of my child."

Resolutions should never be made in a time of emotional crisis. I realize this the instant I enter Mulder's hospital room. When I see his pale, haggard face, I almost collapse in the doorway. My legs feel like jello. It takes every ounce of my strength to cross the last four feet that separate us.

As I approach the side of his bed, his eyes flutter open. He senses my presence even before he sees me.

"Scully...." he whispers my name.

I reach down for his hand, careful not to upset the IV line taped to his forearm. His fingers feel so cold. I lift them to my lips, trying to warm them with my breath.

"I'm here," I murmur.

Unable to say more, I press hot, anguished kisses against the palm of his hand. I can taste the salt of his blood from a puncture wound not yet healed. The cruel mutilation of such tender flesh horrifies me.

Shocked, angry tears begin to slide down my cheeks.

"What have they done to you?" I whimper brokenly.

Mulder cups the side of my face, sighing as the saline of my tears bathes his torn skin.

"Nothing you can't heal," he answers in a hoarse voice.

"If only I could," I cry, reaching up to cover his hand with mine.

"You already have, Scully," Mulder says sluggishly, the sedative beginning to take effect. "I knew you'd find me. I knew you would...."

I close my eyes and sob quietly into the cup of his hand.

"I'm not the one who found you, Mulder." I weep, "I should have been the one, but I wasn't...."

"What are you saying, Scully?"

The sudden edge to his voice triggers an alarm inside my head.

Too much, too fast.... my brain cautions. He's not ready for this.... You're not ready for this....

I instinctively pull away, lowering my head to avoid his penetrating stare. When he realizes that I'm avoiding him, he pushes himself up to a sitting position.

"Who found me, Scully? How did I get here?"

"I don't know, Mulder," I sniff, drying my tears with the sleeve of my cloak. "But, Doggett will find out. If anyone can, he will."

"Who's Doggett?"

I groan, burying my face in my hands.

"Oh God," I murmur, cursing my carelessness. "I'm sorry, Mulder. It's just that you've been gone for a long time."

"How long is long?"

"Eight months...."

"Eight months?" he gasps.

"Oh God," I repeat, my hand now fumbling for a chair.

I need to sit down before I fall down.

"There is so much I need to tell you, Mulder," I sputter helplessly. "I just don't know where to begin."

"Try explaining why you're so nervous that you've just pee'd yourself," he suggests, pointing to the floor.

I glance down at the puddle by my feet.

I think my water just broke....

"I have to leave," I mumble, turning around so he can't see the frightened expression on my face. My cloak may hide the bulge of my belly, but the sweeping hemline is far from waterproof.

I'm going into labor, three weeks early....

But fortunately, only three floors away from the delivery room.

"Scully...."

I can hear the frantic rustling of sheets as he swings his legs over the edge of the hospital bed. Mulder grabs the back of my velvet trimmed hood, knocking over the IV pole in a desperate attempt to stop me. Not that I would even dream of fighting him off. His arms, now encircling the former curve of my waist, are protective and secure. I actually lean back into him, allowing him to feel his way to the truth.

His fingers gently unbutton the collar of my cloak so that his hands can skim the length of my torso. Breasts, heavy and tender, are momentarily cupped, then abandoned for the more expansive girth of my stomach. The fine hairs on the back of my neck bristle as his breath chills with excitement.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he cries.

"I was trying to find the right words," I explain weakly. "The right time... the right moment."

"Looks like we did," Mulder comments, carefully turning me around so he could find the answer in my eyes. "The last IVF procedure?"

"No," I shake my head. "We conceived this baby the old fashioned way."

"Well, looks like we're going to deliver this baby the modern way," he says, his jaw squaring with determination.

"What do you mean?" I ask, gasping as he tears the intravenous needle from his arm. "Mulder, what are you doing?"

"I'm going to be with you, from the first contraction to the last push." .

"Mulder," I reach up to caress his wan face. "You're in no condition to do this. You're severely dehydrated."

"I'll suck on ice chips, if you'll share them," he remarks, limping over to the closet.

He opens the door to find only hangers. "I don't suppose you know what happened to my clothes."

I study his legs, bare beneath his short hospital gown. Once muscular, inactivity and malnutrition have atrophied his limbs. There are thick, crusty scabs on his ankles, the result of more punctures wounds. He stands like one maimed, unable to shift his weight to a more supportive stance.

I sink heavily onto the hospital bed, unable to carry my burden of guilt.

My nightmares were his reality.

"I'll get you clothes," I promise. "I'll get you whatever you want."

Mulder turns around and assesses me with wary eyes.

"Isn't that what I'm supposed to say?"

He knows me too well. Already, he suspects that I've gestated more than our child, that beneath my rotund facade is a woman swollen with regret.

Suddenly, the only sound I can make is a discordant moan. I clutch my abdomen as a contraction stretches my uterus like an accordion.

"Oh...."

"Hang on, Scully," Mulder urges, hobbling over to the door of his room. When he opens it, I see my brother spring back like a 200 pound rabbit caught in a trap. His nose, still pink from drinking, twitches with suspicion as if eavesdropping didn't tell him all he needed to know.

"Scully's in labor," Mulder yells, sounding an alarm that sends Skinner and my family racing into the hospital room. Our private reunion is about to turn into a three-ring circus. Over the crowd of concern and panic, I see a familiar shadow darken the doorway.

Oh, no....

"Are you a doctor?" asks Mulder.

The man shakes his head and extends his hand,

"I'm John Doggett," he says. "Agent Scully's partner."

~~~~

"Partner?" Mulder manages to form the word from a sharp intake a breath.

When Doggett doesn't answer, Mulder turns to question me with his gaze. His hazel eyes flash a dangerous citrine before the pupils retract into dark points of disbelief. I try to respond, to both confirm and deny in a well-chosen phrase, but speech is seeping down my legs into a pool of amniotic regret.

"Partner", Mulder repeats, nodding to himself.

He glances down at Doggett's shoes. I can't tell if he feels rejected or is assessing the size of the man's feet. Maybe he's judging whether or not Doggett has symbolically filled his leather Florsheims. Of course, when it comes to style, my taste in partners is as distinct as his choice of footware.

Mulder is comparable to none....

Meanwhile, Doggett stands firm in his loafers with rubber sponge outsoles. It doesn't matter that his shoes probably came from a J.C. Penney clearance sale. Doggett is a practical man. Panache isn't as important as shock absorption and durability. The same could be said about his nature. I may have been reluctant to trust him, but over the months, I grudgingly realized that he was dependable...

Worse yet, as a partner, Doggett made me feel comparable to none....

"I was assigned to find you, Agent Mulder," Doggett explains. "When I failed to do so, I was rewarded the X-files for my inadequate efforts."

Mulder gives the man a curt nod, a half acknowledgement of an appreciated cynicism. For now, he will tolerate Doggett, who has managed to side-step his innuendo. But, it's only a matter of time. I know Mulder will displace Doggett's foothold on the X-files the minute he's capable of limping his way back to the Hoover Building.

Just as I know that he'll replace my nameplate with the one I buried in his desk.....

"Looks like Agent Scully could use a wheelchair," Doggett suggests in a tone balanced with concern and pragmatism. "Looks like you could use one, as well."

"Thanks...." Mulder dismisses him without another look.

He's now intent on my face, which I know is stained a hideous magenta. Between contractions and confrontations, my eyes are about to pop blood-vessels.

"Try to control your breathing, Scully," Mulder remarks as he hobbles back to the bed.

"I am controlling it," I sputter.

Actually, I'm holding it, waiting for the next proverbial "shoe to drop"....

"You did manage to fit in a couple childbirth classes, right?" he asks warily.

"Does Lamaze.com count?" I release my breath as those around me exchange dubious looks. "What? Has everyone in this room forgotten that I'm a doctor?"

"Honey," my mother addresses me solemnly. "There's a difference between delivering a baby and giving birth to one."

"I'll be fine, Mom," I insist.

I'll be more than just fine. The second I'm wheeled into the labor room, I'll be pushing up my sleeve for a shot of Demoral. By the time I'm three centimeters dilated, I'll be paging the anesthesiologist with my cell phone. Natural childbirth? Try epidural. If I can host a slug in my spine without neurological complications, I can certainly manage a pain-relieving catheter.

"She'll be fine," snorts my brother, rolling his eyes. He kicks off his Reeboks and offers them to Mulder.

"Looks like you'll be needing these."

Mulder glances at Bill skeptically, as if my brother has shape-shifted from an asshole into a heck of a nice guy.

"What?" Bill chortles. "You want my socks, too?"

"He's going to need more than just socks and shoes to get into that maternity ward," Skinner comments, stripping off his suit jacket and loosening his tie.

"You're kidding, right?" I gasp as the two men escort Mulder to the bathroom.

Do they really think they can transform Mulder from a trauma victim into a birthing coach? They seem intent on doing so. Within minutes, he reappears in Skinner's suit and my brother's sneakers. He looks pathetically absurd. His thin body is shrouded by the charcoal gray jacket which hangs too loosely from his shoulders. The pants sag from his waist, despite the extra notch Skinner pierced into his belt with the help of Bill's pocket knife.

"How do I look?" Mulder asks.

"You look great," I lie, reaching up to smooth his tousled bangs.

"She must be further along than we thought," he comments. "The pain is obviously distorting her vision."

"Well, I'm not seeing double," I sigh as Doggett enters the room with only wheelchair.

"I'm sorry," Doggett apologizes. "The nurses said that Agent Mulder is not permitted to leave this floor without doctor's orders."

"Did they?" I grunt. "We'll just see about that."

"What are you doing, Scully?" Mulder catches my arm as I hoist myself to my feet.

"As your personal physician, I'm signing you out," I advise. When his eyes brighten, I darken my tone and add. "Temporarily, Mulder. The minute this baby is wheeled into the nursery, you're being wheeled back to your room."

"Now, that's the partner I remember," he responds, giving Doggett a territorial look as he takes command of the wheelchair.

"Doctor," I correct him, ignoring his implication. "I'm going to order a complete battery of tests. A full work-up, including an orthopedic consultation. And, you're going to agree to cooperate or I'll set those ankles, myself."

"Would you call that a threat, Scully?" he jokes, helping me into the wheelchair.

"I'd call it a resolution," I murmur to myself.

"How is she?" Mulder asks as the nurse takes my blood pressure.

Her smile is tense as is the cuff on my forearm. I glance at the gauge and frown.

"What is it?" Mulder leans forward to look.

"My blood pressure is 160 over 90," I tell him before informing the nurse. "My last urine test was two days ago. There was no protein detected."

"You have severe edema," she assesses. "I better get your doctor in here."

While the nurse is gone, I try to move onto my left side to take the weight off my large blood vessels. My body is unwieldy and the fetal monitor makes it difficult to turn. Mulder slides one arm around my shoulders and the other beneath my legs. He lifts me without effort. Very gently and without disturbing the cord of the monitor, he lowers me onto my side.

"Better?" he asks solemnly.

I nod, focusing my gaze on our child's heartbeat..

Mulder silently strokes my hair, which is already sweaty and matted down to my scalp. He's educated enough to realize that there's a problem. I'm tutored enough to diagnose it...

Pre-eclampsia.

For the past month, my obstetrician had been monitoring me closely. Until today, my symptoms had only hinted at this threatening complication. My doctor had prescribed bed rest and bi-weekly urine samples. I, in turn, purchased a portable wrist blood pressure monitor which conveniently fit into the glove compartment of my car.

I probably should have been more careful. Between the holiday rush and my own last minute layette shopping, I spent too many days waddling the mall.

"Is your health in danger?" he demands when I define my condition.

I should be flattered that my welfare is his primary concern, but I'm not. Mulder never wanted this baby for himself. He wanted it for me. He had profiled my biological time clock down to the last digit. Time was running out. Given my past medical history, I only had a few years left to safely carry a child to term.

But, what I didn't know was that Mulder was at the eleventh hour of his life. I learned later that he was dying. Only then did I realize that by donating sperm, he hoped to fertilize a different future for me. One that didn't include the X-files.

We both glance up as my obstetrician enters the labor room.

"Well, Dana," he greets me. "I understand that you're ready to have a baby."

"How ready is ready?" I ask while he conducts an internal examination.

"About four centimeters ready," he remarks, stripping off his gloves and glancing at the latest blood pressure readings. "And, two diastolic mm Hg's higher than ten minutes ago. I want an anesthesiologist to immediately hook up your epidural. I'm hoping that that the anesthesia will both increase the placental flow and decrease your blood pressure."

"You won't get any argument from me," I gasp as another contraction splits my resolve in two. I fumble for Mulder's hand. "Still here, partner?"

"I'm not going anywhere," he reassures me.

Please God, let that be true.

While we wait for the anesthesiologist to arrive, Mulder helps me to sit up and unties the back of my hospital gown. His fingers stop at the top lace.

"What's this?"

I can feel him trace the outline of the scar at the top of my spine. Before, I can respond, he quickly unlaces the rest of my gown.

"Jesus," he mutters. "What happened to your back, Scully?"

"Long story...," I wince as he gingerly touches the knobby scar that spans the distance of all five lumbar vertebrae. "But, trust me, it had nothing to do with Christ."

"What?" he exclaims.

"Never mind." I shake my head, trying to dispel the memory of being a host to a slug and hog-tied to a filthy bed. I don't want to talk about it. The case marked me with more than just a crusty keloid scar. It abraded me with guilt. I took an unnecessary chance to prove a silly point.

"And, exactly what was that point?" Mulder asks.

I glance up, startled to find that the buzzing in my ears is actually the sound of my own voice.

Oh, God....

Suddenly, the fetal monitor bleeps a terrifying warning. My doctor rushes back into the room and examines the strip.

"Dana, the baby is starting to show signs of distress," he says quickly.

"Take it," I moan. "Do a C-section."

"We won't have time to use regional anesthesia," he advises. "I know you wanted to be awake during this delivery."

"Use general," I practically scream. "Just save our baby before it's too late."

Within seconds, I'm being wheeled towards the operating room. Mulder limps painfully to keep up with me, his hand clamped over mine on the guard rail.

"It's okay, Scully," he pants like a long-distance runner. "You're going to be okay."

"Mulder," I plead urgently. "If anything goes wrong, the baby has to come first. Agree to it, Mulder. Please say the baby comes first."

A nurse interrupts us at the entrance of the surgical suite.

"You'll have to change into scrubs before you go in," she instructs Mulder.

"Scully...."

"Go...." I disentangle my fingers from his, realizing that he can't say the words. "I'll be fine."

Of course, fine doesn't include the lack of dignity of being naked and spread-eagled on the operating table. Fine isn't the cold sensation of betadine being splashed over my abdomen. Fine couldn't possibly describe my panic as the anesthesiologist covers my mouth and nose with a mask during induction.

Mulder....

Where is Mulder?

"Take a couple deep breaths," says the anesthesiologist.

I push aside the mask and cry weakly,

"Mulder...."

"I'm here, Scully."

Mulder leans over me, momentarily sheltering my gaze from the surgical headlight. He's here. Such beautiful eyes... prismatic in color... a kaleidoscope of expressions. With one look, he tells me all I need to know. He loves me. He loves our child. He won't sacrifice one to save the other. If it comes down to a choice, he'll fight for both of us. And, knowing Mulder, he'll find a way.

That's the difference between my two partners. Mulder never gives up and never gives in. And, that same stubborn tenacity has saved me countless times.

In his eyes, hope eclipses fear. I stare into them as I relax my grip on consciousness.

I wake hours later to the same pair of hazel eyes. They're glistening with tears. I follow his gaze to the small bundle in his arms. My own eyes fill with emotion as I see our daughter's face for the first time.

"Oh, she's beautiful," I whisper.

I'm too weak to lift my arms to receive our child. Mulder lowers her gently to the bed so I can touch her soft skin and marvel at the miracle we've created.

When she opens her eyes, I smile.

They're hazel....

~~~~~

"What are you doing out of bed, Mulder?"

"I could ask you the same thing, Scully."

Two days later, we meet outside the nursery window, each of us pushing our IV poles aside before they clank together.

Dehydration meets edema.

While he limps on legs shriveled down to two toothpicks, I'm waddling like a water buffalo. In my left hand is a cup of ice chips, frozen pellets of instant relief. I shake a few in my mouth and suck on them thoughtfully.

"You look a little down in the mouth," Mulder says as he observes my puckered expression. "What did your doctor say?"

"I still can't breast feed," I relate, crunching ice between words. "I'm taking too many medications to lower my blood pressure."

"But, you're allowed to walk around?" he asks in a skeptical tone.

"Actually, he encouraged me to get back on my feet," I advise, glancing down at my puffy ankles. "However, you're supposed to be off yours."

"Just don't tell my doctor," he teases.

"Mulder, I am your doctor." I protest.

Mulder places a finger against his lips. I can see the humor in his eyes, bits of light trying to pierce through my dark mood. Leaning down, he whispers,

"Call it post-partum depression You see, there's this patient in the maternity ward. Actually, two. Mother and daughter. And, I can't stand being away from them."

A piece of ice slips down my throat.

I start to cough, then gag.

"You okay, Scully?" Mulder asks, startled by my less than flattered response.

I nod, lowering my head.

"Then why are you crying?" he prods gently.

"I'm not crying," I whisper, my face flushing with embarrassment.

I'm leaking. And, in more ways, that one.

I glance down at the front of my robe. The sound of a nursery full of babies has turned on my breasts like a pair of faucets. I can't stop this incessant flow of sour milk. The nurses gave me a breast pump, but so far it's only elongated my nipples into painful, chapped udders.

I feel like a cow.

Worse, yet, I look like one.

Stick a daisy in my mouth. Parade me in front of the FBI bullpen, now. See the bovine expressions as they part a wide path for Agent "Suey".

"C'mon," Mulder urges, taking the sash of my robe and leading me back to my room. "We can visit our daughter, later. Right now, I think we need to talk."

"About what?" I sniff after Mulder closes the door behind us.

"About this..."

He cups my face in his hands, lowering his lips to graze mine. His mouth is so soft and moist that I practically salivate. I feel my bottom lip quiver with an odd mixture of want and thirst.

God help me.

He's offering a tender kiss and I'm about to guzzle his mouth. I can't help it. Maybe it's the diuretics, but my parched tongue has discovered an oasis. The drought is over. Morning breath be damned. This is Mulder and I have waited an eternity to re-hydrate my soul.

My cup runneth over...

And, my IV bag falls to the ground.

I've accidentally knocked over the pole. The bag bursts on contact, saturating my mood and the hem of my robe.

"I'll call a nurse," Mulder chuckles at my dampened expression.

I don't need a nurse. I need him. And, it has nothing to do with sex. Between incisional pain and uterine contractions, I'm hardly in the mood. But, a little "lip service" never hurts. Actually, it helped. For a moment, I felt as light and delicate as a water nymph.

Now, I plod heavily back to my bed.

While the nurse readjusts my IV line, I send Mulder for more ice chips. I need to get him out of my room long enough to stuff his medical records into the drawer beside my bed. He's already suspicious of the tests I've ordered. Rather than just play the compliant patient, he's competing with my role as his doctor. He's profiling my intent like a medical review board.

I can't take this. No wonder my blood pressure remains elevated. Every single one of my arteries is clogged with a lie. Doggett may have dug up the dirt on Mulder's medical condition, but I'm the one who's trying to bury it. Not for Mulder, but for myself.

At first, I couldn't face his terminal illness. Then I realized that my pain metastasized from a different lesion, a malignancy of distrust.

I lost Mulder months before he was abducted.

I want him back. All of him. Not just the partner of my past, or the man who fathered my child. I want Mulder, the only person who ever truly believed in me. I need his trust as much as his love. Without it, I'm not complete.

As Mulder hands me the cup of ice, I chill my voice to freeze my resolve.

"Mulder, I want to order a MRI of your brain."

He holds my gaze, allowing me to view his cycle of death. Anger, despair and, finally resignation. Sighing, he sits down and says,

"How long have you known?"

Oh God, it's true...

"Why didn't you tell me? I falter.

"Would it make any difference, Scully?" he asks, turning his head towards the window. "Then or now?"

I reach out to take his hand.

"Of course, it makes a difference," I tell him. When he withdraws his fingers from mine, my voice cracks. "You make the difference... Mulder...."

I can't complete the sentence. Once again, Mulder has rendered me speechless and an emotional basketcase. I end up sobbing over my cup of ice, melting each cube with hot, agonized tears.

"Scully...."

He pries the cup from my trembling fingers.

"You think I just wanted this baby for myself?" I cry out. "I wanted her for you, too, Mulder. You had lost so much... your family... your interest in life. This was our second chance. A new beginning for both of us."

"Scully, please...."

"I should have known better. You were dying, Mulder. Dying. Your gift of love was nothing more than a last bequest."

"Listen to me," he demands, capturing my hands in his. "I only wanted to give back that which I'd stolen from you. Your infertility was my fault, Scully. You were abducted because of me. Do you know how long I've been living with that regret?"

"You should have taken it to your grave," I remonstrate. "I would have."

"Yes, you would have," he agrees. "You would have gone silently into the night, a mere shadow of a woman who abandoned hope in lieu of a dying man. I didn't want that for you, Scully. That's why I didn't tell you."

I gaze into his eyes, realizing his remorse is a reflection of mine.

"It's strange," Mulder continues in a low voice. "For years, we've been fighting an invisible enemy. Yet, in truth, we've been really fighting ourselves. And, I'm tired, Scully. I'm so damn tired of living with regret. Aren't you?"

I nod, muted by the impact of his words.

"Order the MRI," he states with finality. "It's time we both face our future. But, remember, Scully. Whatever the results, you have an obligation to move past this. If not for me, then for our daughter."

I lower my gaze to our hands which are clamped tightly together.

"I tried to move on," I confess in a agitated whisper. "But, for every step I took, I fell two steps behind."

"Scully," he leans over and presses his forehead against mine. "C'mon. Don't step over my grave until I'm in it, okay?"

"Okay," I sniff.

We both glance up when the nurse wheels in our daughter. I try to smile through my tears as Mulder lifts her from the bassinette.

"She still doesn't have a name," he gently reminds me, cradling her in his arms.

"She does now," I say. "If it's alright with you, I'd like to name our daughter Hope."

Later that night, my blood pressure drops to a level where IV medication is no longer necessary. Freed of my leash, I spend several hours in the nursery rocking my daughter as she sleeps. I'm reluctant to leave her. But, I can't stay in this tranquil, warm glow of new life when Mulder is in a cold hospital room facing death.

His MRI is scheduled for eight a.m. Only hours separate us from the truth. I don't want Mulder to spend those hours alone.

I kiss the downy head of my daughter and place her back in the bassinette.

Downstairs, the night nurse greets me and hands over Mulder's chart.

"He's a little restless," she advises. "But, he refuses the sedation you prescribed."

"Thank you," I reply, placing his chart on the station. "But, tonight I'm not here as his doctor. And, if it's okay, I'll be staying with him until morning."

The nurse nods sympathetically. Earlier that afternoon, I incorporated Mulder's past medical records into his chart. She's undoubtedly seen his neurological profile. Cerebral inflammation... abnormal brain activity... lesions... She knows that it's doubtful that he'll ever leave this hospital.

I take a deep breath and open the door to Mulder's room.

Inside, he lies motionless on what he must imagine is his death bed. He stares at the window, his eyes illuminated by an opalescent moon. There are tears on his face. They shine like stars, each one born of a collapsed grief and emerging acceptance.

He knows that time is running out.

Perhaps, the Bounty Hunter knew, too.

Maybe, that's why he was returned, to suffer the final torment of dying once he discovered the will to live.

Lying down next to him, I wrap my arm around his waist.

I don't speak. There are no words of comfort to ease this kind of pain. This isn't torture of the body. It's a torture of his soul. ~~~

"You've got to hold still, Mulder."

I'm standing behind the glass of the control room as the technician re-positions the imaging coil around Mulder's head. Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a non-invasive procedure. It does not require iodinated contrast agents, as would a CT scan of the brain. However, the patient must remain motionless for three to ten minutes at a time while a series of images are collected.

So far, Mulder hasn't been able to hold still for more than thirty seconds.

For a man who could giddily spend an hour with his head locked between my thighs, he sure picks a lousy time to develop claustrophobia.

I'm tempted to share this analogy with him over the intercom, but I don't. The situation is too tense to be alleviated by quirky bedroom humor. Besides, I'm having a hard enough time playing the role of his doctor, much less a stand-up comic. How am I to be funny or remain professionally detached when I'm standing here agonizing in my bathrobe?

I should have changed.

Clothes and professions.

"Mulder..." I lift the microphone after he's slid back into the imaging tube. "You've got to remain absolutely still, just for a few more minutes. They're almost done, sweetheart. Please, do it for me..."

Sweetheart....

I chose this term of endearment like a stun gun, hoping to immobilize him. It works. The technician scrambles at the controls while I sprinkle words like artificial sweetener over the intercom. I'm up to my third serving of "honey" when the radiologist gives me a thumbs up.

The MRI is complete.

I take a deep breath and watch as Mulder is being glided out the imager. He's completely motionless. His eyes are closed and his hands are folded placidly across his chest.

Oh my God....

I've induced a sugar coma.

The last thing I need is for Mulder to become insulin dependent. I've acquired his taste for salt down to the last sunflower seed. For me, salt has become the spice of life, from seasoned banter to the mouth-watering tang of his skin.

God, I can't lose him....

"I'll be with you shortly," I state crisply into the microphone before turning it off.

Mulder glances up from the pillow, his eyes meeting mine across the dimly lit room. He offers me a weak smile. He understands why my saccharine tone is placed by the acidity of fear.

It's time to view the results.

Inside the reading room, the radiologist is studying the images of Mulder's brain. He turns to me, his face mixed with skepticism and confusion.

"Are you certain this man's last MRI showed abnormal findings?"

My mouth opens to answer, but all that comes out is a gasp.

I'm visualizing a multiplanar miracle.

His brain couldn't appear more normal.

"No tumors, neoplasms or demyelination," recites the radiologist. "There are no positive findings."

"I don't understand," I finally say. "Less than a year ago, this man was diagnosed with cerebral inflammation as well as multiple lesions."

"Without the benefit of comparative images, I can't explain what you saw on his previous scan," comments the doctor. "But, take a look at this...."

He draws my attention to a tiny dark spot on the image, near the top of Mulder's spine, directly beneath his brain stem.

"Whatever it is, it must be made of high quality stainless steel. Most pieces of metal, such as shrapnel, would have distorted the magnetic field."

Only then, do I realize I'm not beholding a miraculous recovery.

I'm staring at an implant.

"A what?" Mulder exclaims as I tug open the back of his hospital gown.

Once we're behind the closed door of his hospital room, I begin to strip-search him for evidence. I need to feel what my eyes refuse to believe.

"A microchip," I repeat, running the tip of my finger over the base of his neck. "I don't know why I didn't look for this before."

"You sound angry instead of relieved, Scully," Mulder comments in a puzzled voice. He winces when I scrape the tiny scar with my fingernail.

"I am angry, Mulder," I retort, pulling my hand back before I gouge his skin. Sighing, I let it fall heavily to my side. "And, relieved...."

Turning around, Mulder scrutinizes my expression.

"Which emotion should I profile first?" he asks, frowning.

"This one," I murmur, pulling him towards me. Only when I feel the hardness of his chest against my cheek am I able to relax. I can hear his heart beating. The sound of it resonates strength, a pulsing rhythm that is undeniably alive. My own heart quickens to match his steady beat. A feeling of warmth spreads through me as my blood thins.

I am no longer coagulated with guilt.

"I'm sorry, Mulder," I whisper against the scratchy cotton of his hospital gown. "I'm not angry with you. I'm angry with myself for not understanding."

"Understanding what?" he asks, his breath fanning the top of my head.

"Why you stepped into that energy field," I respond.

I wait for him to wrap his arms around me, to embrace both me and my understanding. Instead, he backs away and holds me at arm's length.

"Exactly, what are you implying, Scully?"

I study his eyes which have darkened to a moss green.

"That you went willingly with the Bounty Hunter," I answer honestly. "That once you stepped into that energy field, you realized that you had nothing to lose."

"I didn't want to lose you," Mulder argues.

"I believe you," I convey. "But, I also believe you saw a beacon of hope in that energy field. You knew that abductees returned with implants. And, you were always convinced that my microchip held my cancer in remission."

"If anything, I was searching for the truth," he protests.

"Mulder, I think you were searching for a cure," I insist.

He holds my gaze without blinking. What I had hoped would be a heartfelt confession has now turned into a staring contest.

Damn it.

Why doesn't he blink? Why does his eyes now resemble malachite, hard and unyielding?

"I'm not criticizing your decision," I offer amenably. "Under similar circumstances, I might have done the same thing."

"No, you wouldn't," Mulder interrupts in a caustic voice. "You would have summoned the family priest and practiced Catholic Extremeunction."

"Right now, I'm trying not to practice extreme annoyance," I retort. "Remember, Mulder. I've lain on a deathbed. Yes, I held a rosary in my hand, but I also allowed your faith to be implanted in my neck. Do you know why I did that?"

"Because, Bill told you not to?" he retorts, recalling my brother's objection to the microchip, or as Bill put it, "science fiction" methodology.

"No," I relate. "Because, I would have done anything not to lose you, Mulder. And, that's what death meant to me. Losing you."

"Well, like you said then, Scully... my heart was in the right place," he concludes.

Judging by his tone, his words are far removed from his attitude. I fold my arms, miffed at his lack of response to my confession. I expected more, maybe a chastened look, a couple of Mulder tears....

What happened to the man who just spent the night sniveling in my hair?

"I guess the profiler doesn't like being profiled," I comment gruffly.

"Which is another reason why I didn't tell you about my illness," Mulder says pointedly. "Just listen to yourself, Scully. Rather than accept the ends, you're dissecting the means. What does it matter how or why I was cured? Isn't it good enough that I'm not dying?"

"Of course, it is, Mulder," I tell him. "But, what if your illness was never there in the first place? What if your first MRI was fabricated in an attempt to trap you?"

"I guess we'll never know," Mulder responds, climbing into bed.

That's not the answer I'm expecting. Granted, I'm prodding him, hoping to elicit the truth from the web of lies he calls "withholding information". Maybe, it's me. Perhaps, I've become accustomed to a different partner and a different approach. Doggett would never avoid a question because my answer might be right. Sure, he'd challenge it, but at least, he'd hear me out.

God, what am I thinking? How dare I compare the one with the other? There is no comparison. Mulder is my partner. Doggett, if anything, is my reluctant side-kick.

"Mulder...."

Mulder closes his eyes and our conversation. "I'm tired, Scully. So, are you. Why don't we both get some sleep."

"Fine," I say in an octave lower. He's dismissing me without a look. Had he spared me one more minute of his gaze, I would have blinked first. I always have. Call it weak. Call it my "don't ditch me" eye stratagem.

Either way, I'm the one leaving the room without resolve and a hell of a lot of regret.

"What do you think you're doing, Bill?"

Inside my own room, my brother is reading all the cards attached to my flowers. He grins with amusement as he counts the number of roses Agent Doggett sent me.

"Two dozen," he remarks. "At least your new partner isn't a cheap as your last one."

"I'd call that a cheap shot," I smirk, holding my belly as I ease onto the bed. Damn incision. Too bad my doctor took out my staples yesterday. I could have used them to staple my brother's mouth.

"You're in a lousy mood," comments Bill as he pulls up a chair. "What did Mulder do now?"

"Nothing," I mumble.

"Well, when it comes to Mulder, those 'nothings' speak for themselves," he assesses, lifting the lid to my breakfast tray. "Hey, are you going to eat this?"

"Bill, is there a reason for your visit?" I sigh, collapsing against my pillow.

"Since when do I need a reason to visit my sister and her new baby?"

"Since about two minutes ago."

"Don't expect so much from Mulder, right now," Bill picks up a piece of bacon and bites it in half.

I turn my head to watch him chew, wondering if I'm capable of digesting his advice.

"Why?" I ask.

"Because, he's got a lot on his plate."

Taking the hint, I slide the tray closer to my brother.

"What do you mean, Bill?"

"Well," he hesitates, lifting a fork to help himself to my scrambled eggs. "Look at what he's been through. Wherever the hell he was, his captors must have done a number on his head. You heard the Assistant Director. Experimentation... torture..."

"But, Mulder claims he doesn't remember a thing," I argue.

"Do you?" Bill asks, pointing the fork at me. "Do you remember your abduction?"

"I don't want to talk about it." I immediately recoil from his question.

"Exactly," notes Bill, studying the tip of the fork. "And, I bet he doesn't want to talk about it, either."

"What?" I lean forward and grab the fork from his hand. "Do you think he remembers?"

"Dana, I saw it during the Gulf War," he advises. "Technically, there were no violations of the International Red Cross mandates, but we knew better. Prisoners were treated inhumanely. Civilians, even worse. And, in every instance, these people responded the same. I think there's a psychological term for it."

"Post-traumatic stress disorder?" I offer.

"Let's put it this way, the prefer to forget the atrocities committed against them. Just like you, and just like Mulder."

"I never thought of that," I admit. "I've been treating Mulder from a medical perspective."

Bill chuckles, lifting a paper napkin to wipe his mouth.

"Dana, you've been treating Mulder from a guilt perspective."

God, I hate it when my brother's right.

"I know," he snorts, leaning back in the chair to put distance between my scowl and his grin. "You're thinking 'back off, asshole', which is exactly what you need to do with Mulder. Give the guy some space, Dana. Trust me on this. I know what I'm talking about."

I then remember that my brother is in a similar situation.

"Is that why you won't call Tara?" I ask in a tentative voice.

Bill nods.

"Which is also why I'm considering coming ashore for good." he relates. "Next week, I have an appointment with the Secretary of the Navy here in D.C."

"Does that mean you're sticking around for a while, Bill?" I joke softly. "Mom will be so pleased."

"Yeah," Bill yawns, stretching his arms above his head. "Looks like Mom's going to have one top many houseguests. That is, if you're still intending on staying with her when you and Hope are discharged."

"No." I shake my head. "We're going back to my apartment."

"We?" he asks. "Does that include Mulder?"

"No." I shake my head, again. "He can visit, of course, but for now, I think you're right. Mulder needs his own space. He still has his apartment. He can stay there."

"Leave it up to him, Dana," Bill recommends. "I bet that sorry, son-of-a-bitch doesn't last one night away from his new family."

"I hope you're right, Bill."

~~~~~

Bill couldn't have been more wrong.

Mulder came to visit, but he never stayed.

For six weeks, I rationalized every excuse why his visits grew shorter and shorter. He had physical therapy... months of mail to sort through... bills to pay... fish to feed....

I should have flushed those fish down the toilet the first week he was gone.

Instead, I fed them, nurtured them and even named them. After all, fish were pets and I was raised to consider pets as members of the family. Of course, it didn't matter that Mulder had chosen the type of "family" that required little time or attention. His idea of parenting was limited to shaking a few flakes into the aquarium or sprinkling a little baby powder during a reluctant diaper change.

"I don't get it," he says, as Hope tries to wriggle out of his grasp. "Why won't she hold still?"

"Stop pinning her legs like she's a Butterball," I suggest irritably. "She's a baby, not a turkey."

Mulder gives me a quick glance. He looks both annoyed and anxious to leave.

His attitude sparks my temper like a pop-up timer. To think I spent all afternoon cooking, hoping to entice him into staying for dinner. I suffered through a whole hour of the "Frugal Gourmet" learning to stuff Cornish Game Hens. I chopped rosemary, minced onions and damn near cut my finger off in my food processor switching the blade. Not that he'd notice the aroma of a home cooked meal. From the minute he walked through my door, his nose was out of joint.

Goading him into diaper duty only made it worse.

"Fine, I'll do it." I snap, elbowing him aside. I lean over Hope and coo softly until she stills to the sound of my voice.

"I'm sorry, Scully," he says, his nose crinkling as I pass him the soiled diaper. "I have to go."

"Take your apologizes outside with the trash, Mulder." I retort. "They're both full of shit."

The expression on his face is priceless. I'm tempted to reach for my camera and snap a few pictures for Hope's baby album.

See Daddy shocked...

See Daddy sorry...

See Daddy run....

I glance up at Mulder, who is completely frozen, his fingers still pinched around the diaper. He's stunned, either paralyzed by my venomous words or dazzled by my stringy haired beauty.

Like Medusa, I've turned him to stone.

I can't think of a more fitting ending to the epic hero's adventure.

I lift Hope into my arms and carry her out to the living room. Settling in the rocking chair, I begin to hum a lullaby. And, cry... I can't help it. My mood is as discordant as my singing.

I should have know that giving birth to a child would be the swan song of our relationship. After all, he warned me. When I initially approached him to father my child, he was "flattered", not "thrilled". But, instead of listening, I remained stubbornly tone deaf. I wanted a child. I wanted a family.

I wanted all things to change for both us....

And, he wanted none of it.

I don't know what revives Mulder, the smell of the diaper or the sound of my singing. Either way, he flees the scene, grabbing the trash on his way out. The slam of the front door reverberates through me. I stop rocking and begin to shudder...

What have I done?

Bill warned me not to push Mulder and that's exactly what I'm doing... pushing him right out the door. It's strange how my brother has become my confidant. He's the last person in the world that I ever expected to understand my feelings, yet he's become the first person I call when my world starts falling apart.

Shifting Hope onto my shoulder, I reach for the phone. He's still at my mother's house. Given Tara's refusal to take him back, he's likely to become a permanent fixture in her living room... and our lives.

"Scully residence," he answers the phone like a 911 operator. "It's your dime, make the most of it."

"Bill, it's me." I snivel into the receiver.

"How long did he stay?"

"Not even ten minutes," I whimper.

"Did you do as I suggested?" he asks.

"Yes," I answer, frowning. "I cooked, damn it."

He chuckles softly, knowing me too well.

"Yeah, but probably ended up serving Mulder's head on a platter."

"I couldn't help it," I whine. "Bill, I tired. I can't remember the last time I had a decent night's sleep. I can't eat. I'm anemic and the iron supplements make me vomit. I had to put Hope back on the bottle because my breast milk dried up."

Suddenly, I hear my front door being closed. I glance up, startled to find Mulder glaring at me. I was so wrapped up in my dial-up confession, I didn't even hear him knock.

"I have to go," I mumble into the receiver.

"Tell him the truth, Dana," my brother urges. "If that doesn't work, you can always tag along with me tomorrow morning. I have an AA meeting at ten, but 'Parents Without Partners' is right across the hall."

"Very funny," I snap, clicking off the phone.

"Why didn't you tell me, Scully?" he asks.

"Why didn't you notice?" I counter.

Mulder's shoulders drop to an acceptable level of contrition.

"I guess I was too busy hiding things from you," he admits.

"Like what?" I lean forward in my chair.

"I can't sleep lying down," he confesses in an agitated whisper. "It's like my body has forgotten how."

"Oh, Mulder," I sigh, dropping my gaze to the floor. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why didn't you notice?"

Only then do I glance up and notice the gauntness of his face, the shadows beneath his eyes.

"Because, I've been looking for more and seeing less," I murmur, closing my eyes to hold back my tears. "Mulder, I want you stay. I have a recliner. You can sleep sitting up, if you like."

"I've been having nightmares, Scully." he murmurs, kneeling before me. "There are nights when I can't sleep, at all."

"Then you can have the midnight feedings," I pass our sleeping daughter into his arms.

I wake to the sound of shrieking. For a minute, I lie startled and disoriented in my bed. I'm not sure if I should reach for my gun or a pacifier. But, as I struggle to my feet, I realize that it's not a cry of alarm or hunger. It's Mulder. He's out in my living room, screaming and thrashing on the recliner.

"Mulder...." I call out his name, leaning over the chair. "Wake up. It's only a dream."

He doesn't respond. There is sweat on his face and his hands are clenched around the armrests of the chair. I pry one loose and lift it to my lips.

"Wake up," I plead, kissing it. "Please, honey... you have to wake up."

Suddenly, he fingers tighten around mine, crushing bone and flesh n his steel-like grip.

"You left me," he hisses. "You left me in that desert to die."

His eyes are open. In the semi-darkness of the room, they are like two black suns, eclipsing light and reason. I begin to struggle as cold fear drips down my back.

"Mulder, no," I choke as his hand now closes around my throat. "That's not how it happened. Oh God... no... Mulder."

"Scully," he screams my name over and over.

I can't breathe.

"Scully..."

His nightmare is mine.

I wake again, not to the sound of his screaming, but my own. He's leaning over my bed, his fingers tugging at the invisible grasp around my neck. Only then do I realize that it's my own hands circling my throat.

"I can't breathe," I rasp as his lips sponge the tears from my face.

His mouth opens mine and a rush of air fills my lungs.

He's kissing me.

The phantom of guilt is asphyxiated with the reality of his lips. His tongue draws mine away from the dangerous cavity of my throat, coaxing it into the tantalizing warmth of his mouth. I start to make small, pathetic noises that resemble whimpers. I'm no longer suffocating with regret, but the intensity of my own need.

Mulder has become as vital as air.

My hands clutch his shoulders, urging him to crush me against the wall of his chest. He's bare from the waist up and the fly of his jeans is half open. I don't ask why he's already erect, nor do I care. All I want is to feel him inside of me. Resolutions can wait until morning, when dawn casts it's cruel lucidity on my past sins and misdeeds.

Tomorrow, Mulder is scheduled to meet with Doggett to review our case files.

No wonder I went to bed without dessert.

"Where's Hope?" I whisper as he eases me of my pajama bottoms.

"Dreaming sweet dreams inside of her crib," he murmurs against the side of my neck. "Unlike her mother. What were you dreaming about, Scully?"

"Nothing," I lie, squeezing my eyes shut as he kisses the skin over my throat.

"Why are you closing yourself off to me?" he asks, nudging my legs open with his knee.

"Because I don't want to be profiled," I retort, tugging down his jeans. "I want to be fucked."

"Interesting," Mulder comments as he enters me with a solid thrust. "Is Dana Scully now abandoning foreplay in lieu of her guilty conscience?"

"Mulder..."

"What are you hiding from me?" he demands, pinning my hands over my head. "Why do you want to be taken, instead of giving yourself to me?"

"Please..."

"What are you not telling me, Scully?" Mulder persists, his hips grinding into mine. "What truth are you choking back?"

"Stop...."

There is no pleasure in this coupling, only rawness of body and soul.

"Of course, I'll stop...." He pulls out of me and releases my hands. "Because, I'm not interested in fucking you, Scully. Anymore than I need to be fucked over by you."

I curl up into a fetal position and begin to sob.

"I left you in the desert, Mulder," I cry out, gagging on my own words. "The reason I never found you is because I stopped looking for you." ~~~~

Guilt is a predator. It stalks us in the shadows of our mind and pounces when we least expect it. What a better time to rip out my soul than when I'm naked, trying to cover skin and vulnerability with my hands. When Mulder touches my shoulder, I recoil, shrinking into a tight ball of pain. He tries to comfort me with words, but I don't want his understanding. I want him to see me for what I am... scarred, petty and manipulative.

I'm not the woman of his dreams, just the one who's tired of sharing his nightmare.

"Scully, listen to me," he tries to coax me into his arms. "You're not to blame."

I push his hands away.

"Then who is?" I snap. "For Christ's sake, Mulder. See me for what I am. I abandoned you."

"For the sake of our child," he protests.

"For the sake of my career," I lash out. "Yes, our baby figured into the equation, but not until the end. Not until I spent a considerable amount of time dividing fear from my own ambition."

"I don't want to believe you," he murmurs, shaking his head. There are tears in his eyes.

They reflect my own....

"You will, though," I tell him mournfully. "Tomorrow, you'll see how well I safeguarded my job, not my pregnancy."

He grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me tightly against his chest.

"Don't make me read it in a case file," he whispers brokenly against my neck. "I need to hear it from you, Scully. At least, give me that..."

"The scars on my back," I murmur against the heat of his skin. "I earned them in my first trimester, not trying to find you... trying to be you...."

He swallows hard and asks,

"Why?"

"Because, I couldn't change you," I say, my voice cracking. "Oh God, Mulder...."

He's crying. I can feel his tears trickling down my back. They feel like fire, burning my skin like antiseptic. I welcome the sting. It sharpens my pain so I can recognize the gnawing infection inside of me. The disease has a name. It's called resentment.

"The X-files always came first," I remonstrate. "And, I was tired of playing the secondary lead, at work and in your life. So, when Kersch offered me a staring role, I took it."

For a minute, he doesn't speak. His arms tighten around my back. He's shaking. I can feel tremors of doubt building into a huge, gutteral sob.

"Did it give you what you needed?" he finally chokes out.

This isn't the question I expected. Harsh accusations are what I deserve, not grief-stricken inquiries about my need.

"N...n..no," I stammer, crying harder. "It only cast me in a very poor light."

Mulder pulls away slightly, his hands now cupping my face.

"Scully, I was the one standing in your shadow," he tells me. "It was your faith, your undying optimism in life, that made me want to believe. If anything, I wanted to be like you."

I try to speak, but I can't.

It's not the answer I expected, either.

His lips graze mine, rendering me mute other than the peculiar bleating in the back of my throat. I sound so needy, even sheepish, but I am... My motives were as false as a lamb in a wolf's clothing. It was never really about ambition, just disguised as such. I didn't want his job. I wanted him. Unable to tempt him through the garden gate, I hopped over the chiasmal fence.

No wonder guilt stalked me. It knew the scent of malice before I did.

I don't want his forgiveness. I need for him to understand what I've become.

Perhaps, that's why I offer my body as a substitute to an apology.

My breasts, once shriveled and useless, are now supple in the palms of his hands. I may not be ready to speak contrition, but my I'm ready to supplicate to his need. And, mine. I grip his shoulders as his tongue lathes moisture over my chapped nipples. It hurts, but in a exhilarating way.

Mulder pulls away from my breasts to study my expression. I don't know what he sees, but it prompts him to roll me over on my stomach. His hands are no longer gentle and soothing. He jerks my hips up, poised to enter me.

I gasp with shame and delight. Yes, this is what I want... to be punished... to be taken...

This way I don't have to give what I'm not ready to receive.

I should have known better...

He won't abandon his resolution, anymore than I'll voice my regret.

Instead, his lips are brushing the scar on the back of my neck. He's kissing it, his tongue lightly tracing the ugly perimeter of raised flesh. I begin to shudder as the contrast of hard and softness permeates my mind.

I have a choice.

I can settle for less or ask for more.

In life and in this relationship.

"Mulder...," I whimper his name. He releases my hips and presses his face close to mine. I can tell by his breath, short and contorted, that he, too, is waiting for my decision.

"I want you to love me," I plead in a desperate voice. "Scars and all..."

He sighs, gently turning me back over.

"I wouldn't have you any other way," he murmurs.

In his eyes, I see myself for what I am. Not perfect, but certainly loved.

This time, when he kisses me, I kiss back.

We sit, rocking into each other, my legs wrapped around his waist, his thighs cushioning my hips. This is what lovemaking is meant to be. Slow, deliberate and beautiful. His hands are caressing my back, each finger trailing ripples of pleasure down my spine.

My body eases into his rhythm, no longer competing, but matching it. I feel myself lifting upwards to an ecstasy I once considered too far removed.

It has always been that way with us. Reaching for something we wanted, but could never have.

Perhaps, he was right. We never fought the enemy. We fought ourseves.

But, when I cry out his name, he answers me. And, then I realize that the desert has been crossed. He is here... and I am with him.

For now, it's enough. What battles that await us by day can't compare to the surrender of this night.

"Don't forget the list," I remind Mulder the next morning.

He slurps down the last of his coffee and reaches for his cell phone.

"I'm late for my meeting with Agent Doggett," he says.

"List, Mulder... list." I balance Hope in my arms, pointing to the kitchen counter with my elbow. "Remember the store? Diapers?"

"You think of everything," he chuckles, leaning over to kiss our baby's forehead. "Efficient, as always."

"Yea, that's me," I say, frowning as he races towards the front door. "Excuse me, Agent Mulder. Aren't you forgetting something else?"

"Shit," he exclaims, hurrying back to kiss me.

"Yes," I smirk, handing him the latest bag from the diaper pail. "But, in this house we call it poop."

"Figures," he says, grinning at me on his way out. "I offer you a kiss and you give me a load of crap."

Once he's gone, I nuzzle my daughter's cheek with my lips.

"Does Mommy think of everything?" I coo to her. "Well, not all the time. She almost forgot a little detail, but something that could get her into a shit-load of trouble."

Hope yawns, bored with the sing-song quality of my voice.

I reach for my phone and call Doggett.

"Agent Doggett, here," he answers after the third ring.

"And, Agent Mulder is on his way," I advise quickly. "Can you do me a favor?"

"What it is, Agent Scully?"

"Get my name plate off his desk."

"Why?" he asks. "Is that a problem?"

"No, just a preventative measure," I clarify. "I know he's meeting with you this morning to review case files. I want him to feel at home."

I also want him to come home...

Shit...

"Agent Doggett," I bark suddenly, causing Hope to startle in my arms. I lower my voice to hushed murmur. "There is some medical research in the drawer, some articles in a folder I'd like for you to remove."

"Can you be more specific?"

I can hear him rustling through the files in Mulder's desk drawer as we speak.

"Look for a folder titled 'Recent Developments in Anovulatory Infertility'," I tell him. "It's clearly labeled."

Not to mention that it spells out my deceit in bold faced letters.

"I don't see it, Agent Scully," Doggett advises. "Are you sure the folder is here?"

"Maybe not...." I cover the receiver of my phone, cursing under my breath. "Shit... shit... shit...."

Hope blows tiny bubbles of approval.

"I'll keep looking," he promises. "If I find the research, what do you want me to do with it, Agent Scully?"

I glance down at my daughter's perfect face.

Some mysteries are best defined as miracles.

"Throw them in the trash," I tell him abruptly.

I click off the phone, scared, but more resolved than ever.

Mulder returns later that morning, toting case files and a bag of diapers in his arms. I don't know what I should grab first. One saves the day while the other threatens to ruin it.

So, I offer to take both. After all, I'm efficient.

"I don't know, Scully," Mulder says, surrendering the diapers, but tightening his grip on the files. "I just don't know..."

"Don't know what?" I ask, pulling my hand away before he notices the claw marks on the sleeve of his jacket.

"I don't know how I fit in to all of this..."

"Fit in to what, Mulder?" I open the bag of diapers and groan silently to myself. Speaking of fit, how is Hope going to fit into these diapers? They're two sizes too large, not to mention the wrong gender.

"This equation of yours," Mulder replies, collapsing on my couch. "This partnership between you and Doggett. Where do I fit in?"

He looks exhausted and confused. Yet, when I offer him a pillow, he curls his arm around the files, instead. I sit down beside him, weighing my irritation over leaky diapers, his sodden attitude and a partner from the past who still chafes me.

He's worried about "fitting in"? Try agonizing over being shut out, which is exactly how I felt when Diana Fowley entered the equation. Talk about exhausted and confused. How many sleepless nights did I have to endure while he was deciding which one of us was the "right" fit? Try competing in "no-nonsense" pantyhose when your adversary is gliding around your partner's subconscious in garters.

But, I don't want to make this a competition. Fowley is dead and Doggett means nothing to me.

"Maybe you need to remove yourself from the equation," I suggest. "Take a look at this partnership with Doggett for what it really was."

"What exactly was it, Scully?" he asks, tensing for my response.

"A matter of convenience, not choice." I tell him frankly.

"It's hard," he admits. "I spent all morning reading how well the X-files went on without me. You and Doggett were doing just fine."

"Then spend the afternoon reading the small print," I advise. "Fine is not how I would describe it, Mulder. Fine was the line I walked, trying to preserve your work and balance my own frustration."

"Like you're doing now?" he asks, his eyes meeting mine.

"Like I'm doing now," I sigh, dropping my gaze.

"Doggett thinks you're coming back to the X-files," he announces suddenly. "Is that true?"

"I have a child to support, Mulder."

"We could get married."

I close my eyes and shake my head.

"Again, a matter of convenience," I murmur. "Not choice."

"For me or for you?" he asks in a small voice.

I open my eyes and see him for what he truly is. Insecure. Vulnerable. He's not being protective about his work or his partner. He's feeling possessive about the woman he loves.

I'd marry him right now if he'd asked me again...

Yet, there are still so many things left unresolved between us... half-truths that are really lies and secrets that could shake our foundation of trust.

"For both of us," I say softly. "We have so much to work out, Mulder. I just don't know where to begin."

"Last night was a good start," Mulder hints, moving the files onto the coffee table.

"Yes, it was," I admit, exhaling slowly as he draws me into his arms. I know we shouldn't avoid the discussion by not having it. But, there is one truth that neither one of us can ignore.

As lovers, we are the perfect fit.

~~~~

"There's something I need to tell you...," Mulder murmurs against my neck. "...something that may upset you."

What is it about sex that makes us want to bare more than our skin? Have we become so dysfunctional that apologies have become foreplay? He might get turned on by a heart-felt confession, but right now I'd settle for a meaningful kiss.

"Last Spring, there was this case," he begins.

"Do you want to tell me about it?" I solicit casually, trying to hide the frustration in my voice. I'm naked, straddling his lap and he's thinking X-files? Fine. If the truth is still out there, so are my panties. He can search for one while I scavenge the couch for the other.

"It wasn't an investigation as much as I was looking for something," Mulder relays.

"Did you find it?" I ask, still empty handed, sliding to the floor where my clothes are piled on top of his. Strange, the last to go is the now the hardest to find. But, I'm determined to track down my durable cotton. I refuse to acknowledge another "Mulder ditch" sitting bare-assed on my couch. Instead, I crawl along the floor, nude, but with enough purpose to clothe my insecurities.

"Well, yes and no," he stammers. He sounds puzzled at my attitude, or should I say, posterior angle. I suppose he thinks he deserves my full attention rather than an even fuller view of my backside. "Let's just say that I found a potential answer to my dilemma."

"Dilemma?" I glance over my shoulder. "Are you talking about your medical condition, Mulder?"

He nods, gripping the sides of the couch, lifting the cushion slightly. His hands are tense, but beneath his fingers I spot elastic. Underwear! I should have known that I would find resolution buried beneath his gesture of regret.

"Were you looking for a cure, Mulder?" He closes his eyes and nods again. I use his moment of embarrassment to retrieve my own scrap of dignity. "Are you familiar with Native American healing rituals, Scully?" he asks.

"You've got to be kidding," I remark, stepping into my cotton armor. "Don't tell me you consulted a shaman, Mulder?"

"Very good, Scully." He compliments my education of the mundane. "But, in this particular instance, I'd use the term 'soul eater'. A man capable of healing the sick by consuming their illnesses."

"Well," I pause to give him a scrutinizing look. "I don't see any bite marks."

"I couldn't go through with it," he sighs, leaning back against the couch. "The ritual, I mean..."

"The ritual...," I repeat, my arms crossed and breasts covered. "Exactly what part did you go through, Mulder?"

"The part where I went back and put the creature out of its misery."

"You killed him?" "Or, so I thought," he murmurs. "Until Agent Doggett informed me, otherwise."

"Doggett?" Startled, my arms fall, taking my make-shift bra with them. "What the hell does he have to do with this?"

Mulder opens his eyes and stares incredulously at my face. "I just told you that I tried to kill a man, Scully. And, instead of being shocked, you're territorial?"

"Oh, I'm shocked," I retort. "Not as much that you considered euthanasia, Mulder, but the fact that you tried to cover it up."

"I was trying to protect you," Mulder argues. "From what?" I interrupt. "Your inability to trust me?"

"More like my inability to trust myself...."

I should know better than to argue motive with a profiler. Especially bare breasted. I'm not about to stand there titillating his eyes while debating his state of mind. Gathering up my clothes, I retreat to my bedroom.

Of course, he follows me. He may not be able to trust me, but at least I've trained him well.

"I was wrong not to tell you," he apologizes. "Hindsight or foresight, Mulder?" I snap. "The only reason you're telling me now is because Doggett knows. You're not sorry...you're afraid."

"I've always been afraid, Scully." Mulder explodes. "Don't you understand? Everything I did...every chance I took...was out of fear of losing you."

I try to hush him, glancing at the crib where our daughter is napping. "It's alright, Mulder. I understand."

"Do you?" He abruptly seizes my hand and forces it flat against his chest. "Do you feel these scars, Scully? Do you want to know how I earned them?"

"Mulder, please...."

"I would have done anything to stay with you," he lashes out, "...anything!"

"You're going to wake the baby," I offer weakly. I can't take this guilt, this repetitive "I did it all for you" admission that feels more like an accusation. "What if I do wake her?" he retorts, suddenly caustic. "Isn't it time for you to acknowledge the cries of others instead of your own?"

Pissed off is much better. "Are you insinuating that I'm a bad mother?"

"Jesus," he exclaims, shaking his head in disbelief. "You just don't get it, do you?"

Okay, maybe I don't "get it". But, when Mulder storms from my bedroom, I realize that I'd better "get it" soon. If I don't, I'm going to lose him...not to aliens, but alienation of the heart. So, instead of clothes, I try on a little warmth and understanding. I trail him back to the couch where he's angrily tugging on his underwear.

"I'm sorry," I murmur, reaching up to caress his face. His jaw feels hard against the palm of my hand. I abandon the stubborn contour of his chin for the softness of his hair, gently stroking his bangs. "Tell me what happened with the shaman."

"I was desperate," he admits, jerking away from my touch. "There was no cure by your standards, Scully. Modern medicine couldn't even diagnose my 'mysterious brain ailment' much less cure it."

"So you decided to try an alternative approach," I prompt him, offering him his shirt.

For a minute, Mulder stares at me uncertainly. He's not sure if I'm handing him an excuse to stay or permission to leave. Another dilemma. But, this time, I offer a solution that needs no interpretation. I put on his shirt, sliding my arms through each long sleeve. "While you were gone, I used to sleep in your shirts," I confess. "It helped me then...think it'll help me now?"

"I don't know, Scully," he considers, reaching out to play with the cuff of the sleeve. "There's no substitute for human warmth, is there?"

"No, there isn't," I agree. "But, then the Bounty Hunter had no compassion. And, you did. That's why you wouldn't allow the shaman to heal you. You knew that it would cause him pain."

"Scully...," he moans my name, collapsing on the couch. "I couldn't do it, not even for you."

"I know," I murmur, sitting down next to him. "Instead, you found another way in which you suffered yourself. Can you talk about it, Mulder?"

"Only to say that it was worth it," Mulder says through clenched teeth. "Because, for every minute of pain, I hoped to buy more time with you."

I turn my head away, pressing my fingers against my lips to stop them from trembling. Jesus, I can't do this. How can I help him through post-traumatic stress disorder when I'm the disorder that prompted the trauma?

"You're crying," he remarks in a tone that sounds both surprised and concerned. "Don't cry, Scully...please don't cry."

I can't help it. There is no worse regret than to be the cause of such a desperate act. He suffered because of me. And, rather than offer him comfort, I've been as cold and unfeeling as the aliens who tortured him. Even now, he ignores his own pain in lieu of mine. He pulls me onto his lap to console me, rocking me against his scarred chest as the sobs tear from my throat. "It's okay, Scully," he murmurs. "It's okay...."

"It's not okay," I whimper. "I'm the one who's supposed to be comforting you. It's hard, Mulder. I want to do or say something to make it okay, but I know I can't."

Mulder lifts my chin so I can see the tears in his eyes. "Scully, listen to me," he says. "I felt the same way about your abduction. And, trust me, there is no greater pain than guilt. That's where I went wrong. By not telling you...by allowing myself to be abducted...I caused you to suffer."

I press my forehead against his. "But, you found a cure," I murmur. "You're alive. I can live with my guilt, Mulder."

"You shouldn't have to. We both shouldn't have to...." He brushes the tears from my lashes. "You know, Scully, we have a tendency to hide our pain from each other. That's got to stop. If were ever going to move past this, we have to learn how to talk about it."

"I know...." I close my eyes and exhale slowly. He catches my sigh on his lips. For a minute, I'm not sure if he means to draw out a response or silence me with a kiss. But, then he kisses me deeply, with enough passion to mute any pretext or doubt. This is what I want. An agreement to try harder followed by a demonstration as to why it's worth it.

"Let's try again," he suggests.

"Are you talking about talking?" I ask.

"Not unless you mind me talking with my mouth full," he grins.

Mulder eases me back onto the couch and slowly glides my underwear down my legs. He glances down at my eyes, seeking permission to give me pleasure in the most intimate way possible. I silently open my thighs. This is expressive language at its best, where his non-verbal skills are as profound as an Oxford dissertation. His tongue finds my clit with the first bold stroke. I gasp with desire as his fingers expand his oratory. Today's theme is clearly pressure and moisture. He delves one to increase the other. And, within minutes, I'm lost to his sexual rhetoric. My cries punctuate every articulation of his tongue and flourish of his hand. Realizing I'm close, he tosses me a decorative pillow which I press against my mouth. The man knows me too well. I'm about to come shrieking like a high-pitched soprano. When I do, the sound is muffled by three inches of poly-fill...thank God, I buy only the best.

"Thank God, you didn't wake the baby," Mulder chuckles, lifting his chin to rest it on my belly.

I lay on the couch, smothered but satisfied. All is well with the world. Mulder is both aroused and amused and our daughter is still napping. For once, I don't feel guilty. I feel wonderful. Tossing the pillow aside, I grab him by the shoulders and pull him on top of me. "Try not to moan," I tease, guiding him inside of me.

"How about an encore?" he banters, measuring his thrusts to the rise of my hips. You have to love him for trying. His resolve to make me climax twice is almost as endearing as the downward curve of his mouth. His lower lip drops into a petulant frown when he realizes that he's not going to make it. I can't resist...I give it a little nibble. He groans my name loudly. When I offer him an entire couch cushion, he wedges it under my ass. "I'm going for it," he pants, slowing his pace. "Two for two, Scully."

"This isn't a marathon, Mulder." I remind him, catching my breath as his thumb grazes my clit. I'm not as desensitized as I thought. He grins as my legs wrap around his waist. My ankle lock secures my position. He's going for it and so am I.

"I love you, Scully."

"Play fair, Mulder."

"I'm serious," he grunts.

"Play harder...seriously harder...oh God!" As I climax, I begin to shrill like an unstrung harp. "I love you....I love you...."

Repetition at three octaves higher brings the house down. Mulder rises then falls to the resounding relief of the couch springs and our daughter's wailing applause. For a minute we lay there, spent and breathless, before resuming our roles as parents. "She's awake," he announces, rolling off me. I scramble to my feet only to fall to the floor. "You okay, Scully?"

"No, I'm curtsying," I snort. "What do you think?"

"I think you should rest and let me take care of Hope this afternoon," he suggests, helping me back onto the couch. This is better than sex. He's volunteering to be an actual father without me having to guilt him into it. "Keep this up, Mulder, and I may just take you up on your offer," I tell him. Of course, he's thinking about going "three for three", but I'm considering another proposal...one that would make three people a family. I'm thinking about marriage.

"Is it okay if I heat Hope's bottle in the microwave?" Mulder calls from the kitchen.

Well, maybe it's a little too soon to jump to any conclusions. ~~~~~

I answer the phone by the second ring, anxiously cupping the receiver close to my lips. It's Bill calling for his evening update. "How goes it, Dana?" he asks, sounding suspiciously enthusiastic. Glancing into my darkened bedroom, I answer him in a hushed voice,

"Better than expected."

"Care to elaborate?" he prods.

"Not particularly," I whisper back. My eyes are fixed on Mulder, who is sound asleep with our baby snuggled against his chest. He's lying flat on my mattress. Imagine that. Horizontal has replaced vertical and my recliner is once again a chair rather than his bed. In one exhausting afternoon, Mulder has conquered both his sleep and parenting disorders.

I should sex him more often. Better yet, I should alternate sex with babysitting. Both prove equally effective.

"I have news," Bill announces in a chipper voice.

"Spill...," I tease, closing the door to the bedroom and paddling barefoot back into the kitchen.

"Tara's agreed to see me. I'm flying out tomorrow morning."

"That's wonderful, Bill. Are you packed?" I say, balancing the phone against my shoulder while I wring out a mop. To celebrate my domestic triumph, I'm cleaning my kitchen floor.

"Mom's ironing shirts as we speak," he relates. "Judging by her use of spray starch, I'd say she's determined to be rid of more than just the wrinkles in my clothes."

I chuckle softly, sliding the mop across the floor. "Tell me, what are you going to say to Tara?"

"I'm working on my speech right now," Bill conveys. "So far, I've written three words."

Sighing, I lean against the counter. How sweet. How romantic. "What are they?" I coax gently.

"Take...me...back!" he howls loud enough for me to drop the phone.

I catch the receiver before it lands in the bucket. "Bill," I admonish him, gripping the phone tightly. "Tell Tara that you love her, that you need her...that your career means nothing in comparison to your family."

"Listen to you," he snorts. "Have you told Mulder the same thing?"

"No," I respond carefully. "But, then I'm still waiting for Mulder to acknowledge that we are a family."

"Maybe you're the one who needs to make a few concessions," he suggests.

"Like what?" I ask, twirling the mop handle between my fingers. "I've given him a child, a home... an occasional microwaved meal...."

"Give Mulder his X-files back."

"Excuse me?" I croak.

"You heard me," my brother replies. "Face it, Dana. You stole them from underneath his prominent nose."

"You're wrong, Bill." I retort. "If anything, I preserved the X-files for him."

"By showing the FBI that you solved more cases without him?" he asks. "Trust me, sis, there's nothing worse than for a man to feel not needed."

"Speaking from personal experience, Bill?" I ask.

"More like personal regret," he answers. "God, had I not been so damn proud and self-reliant, I wouldn't be in this position. Same with you. We were both raised to be independent. Little did we know that the same quality that would distinguish our careers would also ruin our relationships."

"You're really depressing me," I mumur.

"I'm trying to help you," he clarifies.

"I don't need help," I reply. "Unless you're handy with a mop."

"Don't expect Mulder to make all the changes," he persists. "You're partners, remember?"

"I remember," I respond, ending our conversation before I'm threatened by it. "Give Tara and Matthew my love."

Hanging up the phone, I glance down at the bucket of soapy water. Do I really need to clean up my act? Certainly, there's enough dirt on my hands. Guilt that can't be scrubbed away...secrets that are like grime in a stagnant pond. Sometimes, I feel like there's too much emotional residue between Mulder and I to start fresh.

But, he's worth it. Mulder is the father of my child. He's my touchstone. He's also the one man capable of giving me multiple orgasms.

I plunge the mop into the bucket and make my decision. Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to meet with Kersch to discuss my reinstatement to the X-files. My maternity leave is over.

Or, is it just beginning?


Kersch reminds me of a bulldog, a puny man who compensates size with viciousness. He practically snarls when I reject his offer to continue my work on the X-files. I half-expect him to lift a leg and pee on my chair when I suggest that he reinstate Mulder instead.

"We're not discussing Agent Mulder," he barks loudly.

"Then we should be," I interject. "There is no one more suitable to work the X-files than Agent Mulder."

"I beg to differ," he argues. "The solve rate with you partnered with Agent Doggett demonstrates otherwise."

Since the hound begs, I throw him a bone. "I'm sure the success is directly due to your supervision, sir."

"Then you'll trust me to make the correct administrative decision," he replies, refusing to even nibble on my compliment. "The FBI is no place for a man's personal crusade."

Just your own personal vendetta, I think to myself. Folding my hands demurely in my lap, I address him calmly. "Yet, we both realize the distinction between a career and a life's work. You can take away the one, but you will not be able to curtail the other."

"What are you insinuating, Agent Scully?"

"The obvious, sir." I tell him. "Agent Mulder is the X-files. His work will go on, with or without the FBI. But, wouldn't it be to your advantage to have him in a position where you can monitor his activities?"

"You play a dangerous game," Kersch assesses, removing his glasses so I have a clear view of his eyes. They're dark and fierce. I hold his gaze steadily, unmoved by the threat of his stare.

"That's because I have nothing to lose," I respond.

"You could lose your job," he poses.

"I'll find another." I say indifferently.

"You would sacrifice your career over Mulder?"

"Gladly...," I assure him. "But, we're not just talking about my career, sir. We're talking about yours."

"In what respect?"

"Doggett is not qualified to manage the X-files alone," I relate. "And, with a lesser experienced agent, those statistics you value will fall."

"I could shut the X-files down," warns Kersch.

"You're the one playing games, sir." I pursue. "If that was your true intention you would have done it already."

Kersch contemplates my words as he adjusts the frames of his glasses. My instincts were right. Someone apparently holds the bulldog's leash. He may bark, but he doesn't have the authority to bite. "No, I think you're more invested in the X-files than you care to admit." I say, tweaking his collar to see how snugly it fits.

"What exactly do you want me to do, Agent?" he asks gruffly.

I have his full attention now. Like a good dog, I expect he'll roll over.


I return home triumphant in time to suffer my greatest defeat.

Rather than fold laundry, Mulder spent the morning reading case files. Like a misplaced sock, he found my medical research tucked between my investigative notes on Zeus Genetics. The truth about Hope's conception is no longer a secret. Instead, it's scattered across my coffee table. God help me. I glance nervously at Mulder, who sits on my couch with his head between his hands. My blood pressure drops when I see that his bags are packed and waiting by the front door.

"You lied to me," he greets me with an accusation. "Experimental hormonal therapy to stimulate ova production."

I step over his bags, careful not to trip over cheap canvas or an even cheaper excuse. "I didn't lie to you, Mulder. I just withheld information."

"Is there a distinction?" he asks angrily.

"You taught me the distinction when you hid the truth about my ova," I assert, sitting down next to him.

"You had terminal cancer, Scully," Mulder retorts, bolting to his feet. "How could I tell you then?"

"You could have told me when I went into remission," I state bitterly. "Instead, you waited until years later, a guilty afterthought delivered between floors on an elevator. No apologies, no regrets...just an excuse that 'they weren't viable, anyway'. Do you know what that did to me, Mulder? Did you even stop and consider how that might affect me?"

Mulder assumes a defensive posture, hands on hips and lower lip compressed to a thin line. "Did I or did I not agree to father your child?" he demands. "When you tried in vitro, was I not there with my Dixie cup in hand?"

"Just as you were more than happy to toss that cup in the trash when it didn't work," I reply, gathering up my research papers. "Never give up on a miracle...so quotes the man who believes in everything, but miracles. Well, I didn't give up, Mulder. I found my miracle. I just happen to find it through modern medicine."

"You should have told me, Scully." he persists. "I had a right to know."

"Yes, I should have." I admit. "But, then you should have been honest with me, too. You should have told me you weren't ready to be a father."

"Who said I'm not ready to be a father?" he asks, passing an agitated hand through his hair.

"The bags parked by my front door." I conclude. "And, the last thing I want is for you to feel trapped into a role that you're not ready for. That's why I decided to set things straight."

"What are you talking about, Scully?"

"Kersch is reinstating you to the X-files, effective next week." I announce, taking a deep breath. "I'm being transferred to Quantico as an instructor."

"I don't fucking believe this," he says, shaking his head. "First, you try to change me only to change me back."

"I'm sorry, Mulder." I say, suddenly tired and defeated enough to be totally honest. "By trying to change you, I avoided the necessity of changing, myself. I can't go back to the X-files. Hope deserves a mother who comes home everyday, who doesn't risk her life to further her own ambition."

"What about a father?" Mulder asks, rubbing his temple. "Doesn't Hope deserve a father, too?"

"Her father will ensure that she has a future. By returning to the X-files, he'll guarantee that we all do."

For a minute, Mulder says nothing. He glances at the front door and then my face. I can see the indecision in his eyes, the dark conflict that obscures a clearer vision. He has yet to see that by coming to terms with my regret, I'm finally capable of making a worthwhile resolution. That's what it's always been about. Our inability to understand each other began with our reluctance to accept our own shortcomings.

I know I should say more, but expressive language is leaving me. Mulder picks up his bags and is reaching for the door knob. All I can do is make this pathetic gurgling as my throat constricts trying to suppress a sob. I don't want to lose him. God, help me to accept those things I can't change. Help Mulder to remember that I only want the best for him, that I love him enough to let him go.

"So, what about daycare?"

My breath comes out in a sputter. "What?"

Mulder locks the front door and carries his bags towards the bedroom. "Since we're both going back to work, we need to decide on daycare. I hear Quantico has a decent program for working mothers."

I clear my throat and get up from the couch to follow him. "Well, we can drive down there tomorrow and check it out."

"Good," he nods his approval, setting down his bags beside my bed. We both pause to glance at Hope who is napping quietly in her crib, allowing our baby's tranquility to relax the tension between us. She may not be a "miracle" child, but she's certainly worked wonders on her parents. As Mulder's arm steals around my waist, I realize that he's willing to forgive and try again.

"You look tired," he whispers in my ear. I sigh audibly and let him guide me back to the couch in the living room. For a woman, both proud and self-reliant, I'm more than happy to allow him to take the lead. I'm exhausted. Panic has left me drained, my face flushed and sticky with tears. Seeing this, Mulder unbuttons the front of my jacket and helps me out of it. He eases me down onto the couch and lifts my legs onto the coffee table.

"Let's get those heels off," he suggests, pushing the case files aside and removing my shoes. His deliberate care is comforting and I'm unwinding to his both his gentle touch and amused attitude. "It looks like you spent the morning kicking Kersch's ass," he jokes.

"Not really," I comment. "Once Kersch realized that I had his number, he was willing to deal."

"How so?"

"By removing myself from the equation. There isn't room in that basement office for two believers. For the truth to remain out there, he needs a balance between belief and skepticism."

"Why doesn't he just shut down the X-files?"

"Because he can't," I answer him. "He can't stop you. He can only hope to control you. By partnering you with Doggett, he believes there will be adequate enough restraint."

"Will there be?"

"Only time will tell," I shrug. "But, look how you managed to change me over the years. For better or worse, I'm not the woman you first met."

"Speaking of which...." Mulder lifts my hand and stares at my fingers thoughtfully. "There is one change I'd like you to reconsider"

"What?" I ask, glancing over at him.

"If I'm going to lose my partner at work, I'd like to gain a partner for life," he says. "What will it take to get a ring around Agent Scully's finger?"

"Not much," I tease, but only because his expression is so adorably serious. "Well, maybe a two carat diamond solitaire and a vow to fold laundry."

He grins, lifting his legs to join mine on the coffee table. "I think I can manage that."

"Any other terms you'd like to negotiate?" I ask, snuggling against his chest.

"We need a bigger place," Mulder remarks. "Hope should have her own bedroom so her naps aren't interrupted by the opera star's orgasms."

"I'm open to suggestions," I tell him, rubbing the heel of my foot across his crossed ankles. "Want to discuss it over lunch?"

"Only if you're the main course," he laughs. "God knows, you can't cook worth a damn."

"Well, some things never change, Mulder," I remind him as he hikes up my skirt and pulls down my pantyhose. "Cooking is one of them."

"You just need the proper motivation," he invites, twirling my underwear on the tips of his fingers. "Three for three, Scully. If I win, three home cooked meals on the weekend."

"What if you lose?" I snicker when he drapes my legs over his shoulders.

"A three carat diamond and earrings to match," he counters, his hazel eyes sparkling with challenge.

I settle back against the couch and grab my favorite throw pillow. "Oh, Mulder. You are so going to regret this."

He chuckles and begins to kiss his way down my thighs. "Scully, when it comes to this type of resolution, there are no regrets."

The End.

Author's notes: My many thanks to those readers who hung in there as I struggled with my own resolution to complete this story. To Kimberly, my beta who will always be a gem in both fic and life. And, to the members of IWTB who inspire me daily with their enthusiasm and talent.


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