The shadows were soothing.

Abused senses welcomed the darkness and the loss of color. The bitter smell of antiseptic still clung to every surface, but the aching assault of bright white had faded. As the door closed behind her, the voices in the hallway were muffled. Not completely.


Out of habit she picked up his chart, but she did not need to read it to know what it said. The doctors had been astonishingly open about the details of his condition. Somewhere deep within her she had known that they had been telling the truth. Until this minute, however, until the moment that she could hear him breathing, she had been terrified that it was all a dream.

Or a lie.

Setting the chart down she slipped into the chair someone had left beside the bed and studied his motionless form. The doctors had originally been concerned with the fact that she had only awoken this morning, but had finally chosen to put it down to exhaustion. Mulder had been moved into his own room after regaining consciousness two days ago and they were still leery of allowing him to move too much. He was under mild sedation to keep all motion down to a minimum until they were certain that the damage to his chest was as miraculously healed as all the x-rays were indicating.

The unnatural stillness was disturbing.

Until Mulder, she had never sat at the bedside of anyone she cared about. Had never had to consider what one did to fill the hours. Holding hands might look romantic in the movies, but she had found it awkward at best. Half the time the bed was too high or the chair was too low and angled wrong. The metal edges bit uncomfortably into the underside of her arm and the palms of unconscious people still grew damp and sweaty. Clammy. After twenty minutes she generally felt uncomfortable and foolish.

Or worse.

Mulder was not built for stillness. Even in sleep he moved and reacted. Unconscious, his hands were lifeless and too much like the hands in her nightmares. The ones that refused to respond when she held them. The ones that were incapable of responding ever again. Cold and lifeless.

It was better to hear him breath.

If she closed her eyes, she could ignore the hospital smells and the bitter edge of illness and it was just another stakeout. Curling her hands in her lap, she could pretend it was just another night in the car. Another late night pouring over casefile notes in a seedy hotel room and falling asleep to the sound of his pen and the many sounds of Mulder. The sigh as he connected with the victim. The pause and shuffle as he pulled out a photograph and stopped to imagine what life had been like for that person.

The burp as the chili-cheese dog she warned him about came back to haunt him.

Hiccups from drinking his soda too fast.

The flatulent legacy of three nights of pepperoni pizza.

The groan as he pried leather shoes from aching feet on his way to the bathroom, and promptly tripped over the high heeled ones she forgot she had left at the foot of the spare bed.

She wondered who else knew that somewhere after midnight he would rub his face as his beard began to itch. Five minutes after his fingernails started rasping across his jaw, he would stretch. He would not bother to get up. He would simply reach his arms back over his head until the vertebrae starting cracking and she could hear his shoulder joints popping back into place. Invariably he would lean too far back and nine times out of ten he would overbalance, cracking his knees against the underside of the table as he caught himself.

He always apologized for waking her.

She might have told him that she was not truly asleep at those times. She knew the profiler would understand that she found those sounds more intimate than all the grunts and gasps and basic biology of sex. The profiler would understand, but she sometimes wondered if Mulder would.

Then again, they had invested so little of themselves that night, intimacy had not been an issue.

Fear had ruled without mercy, and with very little hope.

Sighing, she shifted to get a bit more comfortable only to freeze in surprise. Despite the motionlessness of his body, hazel eyes were open and watching her. The delighted grin that jumped to her lips paused and faded as the expression on his face registered. She watched, alarmed,as with an ease that betrayed a shocking amount of practice he abruptly folded the raw emotion away.

For a long moment, both agents stared at each other across the rails of the hospital bed and Scully felt a yawning abyss shatter the distance between them. Shame flared as his eyes dropped and she glanced away before he would be forced to respond to the regret in her own. As it was, she had no idea how to respond to the anger and baffled pain hidden in his.

How did she apologize for something she would do again?

The sound of the door sent her spinning, reaching for her weapon out of reflex. Skinner glanced at the gun in her hand and grinned past her to the man on the bed.

"Barely conscious and already watching your back"

There was a tiny pause, then Mulder's trademark humor laced his voice as he replied,"Doesn't she always?"

Scully flinched.

Mulder stilled, his expression turned inward. Skinner, ignoring or missing the tension between the two agents, grinned again and waved a sheaf of papers at the man in the bed.

"You, my friend, are either the luckiest bastard on the face of this planet or your guardian angels are in therapy."

Mulder cocked an eyebrow while Scully snatched the papers from the AD's hand. She flipped through them rapidly as Skinner continued cheerfully.

" The damage to your right lung seems to be healed completely with no sign of secondary infection. You won't be running any marathons next week but the doctors say the scarring is so minimal that you'll have full capacity back in no time."

Mulder shifted his gaze to his partner.

She shrugged. "The arrhythmia caused by the pulmonary edema has cleared up, the ribs will be sore for a while, but they appear to have knitted solidly and even the bruising is subsiding. All in all, a miraculous recovery, Mulder." She managed a small smile and handed the release papers back to Skinner.

He barely glanced at her as she turned away and he waved them again.

"You're a free man, Mulder."

The agent was silent as he watched as Scully let the door swing shut behind her. A slight frown furrowed his brow as Mulder contemplated the limp barely discernible in her steady pace. Finally he looked back at Skinner and smiled tightly.

"You figure?"


The hospital had been kind enough to find office space for Dr. Stevens and his records. Looking at the mish mash of computer equipment that all hummed together smoothly, he rather though the good doctor had had a little help. Skinner shook his head. He had never met the three men currently under the watchful eye of the X-Team's band of military supporters. Mulder had alluded to their help on more than a few occasions, but had been deliberately vague about their identities and vital statistics.

He was not going to find out anything today either.

The SEALs were treating the three (at least, he thought there were three) as if they were an offshoot of military intelligence and were deliberately keeping them out of sight and out of reach. Skinner could only pray that that was only a result of a general SpecOps paranoia and not indicative of anything anyone in this building had planned.

"Can I help you?"

Skinner spun too quickly and had to reach to keep a stack of folders from tumbling. He opened his mouth to make a comment about the lax security and found himself turning to discover two human guard dogs standing politely behind a man Skinner recognized only from a personnel jacket photograph. The quiet lethalness emanating from the men hovering behind the doctor simultaneously worried and reassured him. He assumed that his FBI identification had allowed him this far into the building. From their expressions, they had known he was coming and had waited for him.

It was his relationship to Mulder and Scully that was on trial.

He smiled, teeth slightly clenched. He was not about to justify his choices to anyone at gunpoint. Not at another's choice. Not to someone he had no reason to trust and most definitely not to two men who were one step away from dereliction of duty as far as he could see.

Even if they did seem to be working on the side of the angels.

Doctor Stevens allowed the silence to stretch long enough to become uncomfortable, then waved the soldiers away. They hesitated just long enough to inform Skinner that they were leaving because Stevens told them to, not because they were convinced that he lacked threat potential.

"Thank you for sending up their medical files."

Skinner eyed the doctor consideringly, finding equal suspicion looking backing back. He wondered if the doctor was as willing to cut through the bullshit as he was. " The FBI psychiatrists are not convinced my agents will ever work in the field again."

"They might be right."

That was not what he wanted to hear.

"At least, not for the FBI."

Skinner eyed the doctor with surprise. " I'm not sure I understand."

A brief flash of contempt faded to something more like disgust. "Your FBI psychiatrists keep looking for something that isn't there and completely miss what is."

"You're saying that they were wrong to be worried?"

"Good Lord, hardly. But they were completely honest with you and with them. You just did not believe what they told you."

Another pile of folders waiting to be filed was threatened as Skinner flung out a frustrated hand."What didn't we listen too?"

"They were never lost."

Skinner stared at the Doctor is disbelief,"That's it? That your answer?" he stalked to the other side of the room, nearly a year's worth of frustration and fury threatening to boil over in one explosive second," They weren't lost?" He stalked back to the other side of the room,"They weren't lost?" He stopped.

"What the hell does that mean?"

Stevens flinched at the sheer volume of the bellow and the room dropped to an excruciating level of silence and both men turned to watch the door. When it neither flung itself open or was propelled open by a protective foot, Doctor Stevens pushed out a frustrated sigh and ran both hand through his hair.

"Look. Most of the time, people come back from these little adventures completely disconnected. We create our lives out of the world around us. The people, our jobs, the things that we expect to have in our lives tomorrow. All though bits and pieces are woven into unconscious projections of what we expect our lives to be like tomorrow, next month, next year."

Skinner sank into a nearby chair as the Doctor paused to consider his next words carefully.

"Most of us never really have to examine our daily choices. Not consciously-certainly not as often as your agents have been forced to do. Is this where I want to be? Do I stay because want to or because I need to? Do I really need to, or am I too afraid to look for other alternatives?"

The doctor's voice softened.

"Events like what happened to Agents Mulder and Scully usually precipitate problems because they force drastic reevaluations of the choices made. Add in the fact that when they get home, all of the support structures those choice were originally based on have changed and you have people who are reevaluating their goals, their identities and they've often lost the people and things they've depended upon. The ones left behind are angry at being abandoned-at what they themselves have lost- yet often have nothing concrete to be angry at. Are you supposed to be angry with someone for surviving?"

Skinner looked at the doctor for a long moment."Mulder and Scully were never lost."

Stevens looked him straight in the eye."They were never lost."

The folders on the desk were uncooperatively silent as Skinner finally tried to wrestle some meaning from the words. Finally, he just shook his head.

Stevens slowly unlocked his desk drawer and extracted a stack of folders. "Agents Mulder and Scully have no questions about who they are and why they do what they do. They left behind any issues of motivation a long time ago. They use the FBI and they let the FBI use them. The day to day confusion is just…emotional static. Anger, frustration, pain. It's something to get through, not something strong enough to alter the course of the paths they have chosen."

His fingertips traced the files folders delicately, almost fearfully.

" They have woven the entire future of themselves around each other. Their quest grows out of who they are and what they believe in. Neither of those things got misplaced. So everything else…is just details."

Skinner resisted the urge to pound his fist against the desk."Then what the hell are we seeing? What's wrong with them? And don't tell me nothing."

Stevens smiled crookedly,"Hardly." He hesitated several more seconds, then put the folders back in his drawer. " Who they are…who they are to each other has been evolving. It's a relationship after all, the changes have just been more rapid and drastic than most. Many of the rules and guidelines we use to judge relationships just don't apply to what they are because they are too many things too each other. We would never call that healthy…but we don't live in their world."

Skinner twitched reflexively.

" I think what they went through in Wyoming just gave them time to think about those changes rather than just reacting to them. It's possible that the event may even have speeded up the process-but make no mistake, it did not create anything that was not already there. Then when they got back, San Diego pushed evolution over the edge.

They just cannot hide it anymore."

How the hell was he supposed to sell this to the FBI. At least, without revealing things the FBI really really did not want to know. They had managed to make good use of their loose cannons all the while pretending that the cannons were completely under control.

It was easier to blame their problems on circumstance, than to look too closely at the possible circumstances that would create the types of problems they were seeing.

Mulder had Scully.

Scully had Mulder.

They were never lost.

Jesus Christ.


She was sitting in darkness, back resting against the headboard, the light on the dresser beside the bed turned off. The shadows hid her eyes, but not the tension that had been increasing all afternoon. Mulder wrinkled his nose as the unexpected smell of whisky assaulted him from halfway across the room. The liquid rattle of ice against glass preceded a decidedly aggressive thud of glass against wood.

"Go away."

For a moment he wondered if Stevens had made a mistake. Could have believed it if he had not seen the test results with his own eyes. Due to the recent stress on their bodies, their testosterone levels had fallen to near normal levels. Actually, less than normal for them. Normal enough for him to be certain that the emotions driving her were not artificially induced.

"Isn't it time to stop running?"

His challenge unfolded itself blatantly, blunt and graceless. She studied him for a moment, then her mouth tipped up at one end with an odd, angry smile. She let out a single, "Ah." still smiling that odd smile. She lifted the glass to her lips and stared at him over the rim of the glass, eyes dark. This time, when the base of the tumbler hit the dresser, her hand released it.

Weapons system targeting.

"As if that isn't the cosmic joke of the universe."

The pain and bitterness in her voice lacked the anger he was expecting and slid past his defenses without resistance.

"I don't have the luxury of running."

He had expected fear. He had expected anger…fury even. Scully did not like to be pushed and he was cutting off all her escape routes. He had thought that he had anticipated all of her possible responses-everything from disappointment to regret to defensive passion. Not this. Not a weary resignation that spoke of defeat and loss and a hurt too deep to result from the recent games he had been playing.

"I've never had the luxury of running."

Helplessly, he watched as she slipped off the bed and walked toward him. When she reached out to grasp his right hand carefully, he was not surprised to find that it was shaking. He watched as she delicately laced her fingers with his and he watched as she studied their joined hands sadly.

"Was this what you wanted this morning, Mulder?"

Her eyes were fey in the splintered light seeping in through the dust covered windows of the motel. Anger swirled in blue depths, but the sparks were tired, more habit than emotion. Her other hand came up and he shivered as her fingertips traced light patterns across his knuckles.

"Would this have been enough?"

His scattered thoughts flashed back to the look on her face when she had caught him in a moment of weakness. So he had hoped. So he had wished for one second that he could have had this. Was that so bad? That for one moment he could open his eyes and have what everyone else seemed to find it so easy to acquire. To have had some hope that something had changed.

That maybe she cared more than a friend.

"More than a friend..."

Her low voiced murmur repeated the phrase he had spoken inadvertently. When her head tilted back he grew cold at the anger and despair that flashed in her eyes.

It would seem he wanted too much.

"On the contrary, Mulder. You don't want enough. "

The bitterness in her low-voiced comment released him and she moved away until she could meet his gaze without straining her neck. She turned her head to stare at a pile of file folders strewn haphazardly across the tiny breakfast table and when she glanced back, her eyes were distant, unreadable.

He opened his mouth to argue; closed it in confusion when he realized that he did not know what he was defending. This was not what he had intended. He took refuge in temporary misdirection. He nodded at the whiskey bottle standing open on the dresser.

" New hobby?"

She studied the bottle, lips pinched tight. Then she shrugged."Just taking the edge off. This place reeks and the colors are enough to make your eyes bleed."

Mulder considered the bland carpet and matching wall-paper and said nothing.

"Why are you here, Mulder?"

He shifted his weight from his left foot to his right. Opened his mouth and shifted his weight back again as he reconsidered his question. Something that almost looked like surrender flashed across her face before vanishing into the shadows. He searched her face.

"Was it that bad, Scully?"

She flinched and he wished he could take back the wistful edge to the question.

"No",she said finally. Softly. "It wasn't bad."

Pushing his luck, he eased closer and reached to cup her cheek with his palm. She turned her face into the caress. They stood like that for a moment until she opened her eyes and her gaze was somber.

"You give too much, too easily, Mulder."

He hesitated, uncertain if she meant the comment as a complaint or a warning. He held her eyes, then shrugged it away as unimportant.

"Nothing I don't want to give."

He ignored the sad look that swept across her face and drew her close enough to wrap his arms around her. She tucked her cheek into his shoulder and he rested his jaw against the top of her head. In the end, he supposed the truth would have to do.

"I know it wasn't what you were looking for."

The unspoken hope that maybe it could be enough hung heavy in the night air. Her body went unnaturally still and for a moment he feared she would pull away. He did not even realize she was crying until he felt the dampness through the fabric of his shirt.

He snapped his head back.


Unconsciously, she pressed one fisted hand against her chest. Her eyes grew distant with an aching sense of loss he did not know how to comfort and her other hand reached up to touch his face gently. " So much the same. I should have seen it. I should have known." A flash of anger."You should have known. But it's easier to believe in possibilities, than the implications of that belief, isn't it Mulder?" The challenge in her voice was more bitter than angry. Resigned instead of attack. Tired.

"What should you have seen, Scully?"

She smiled sadly. "Daniel. Jack, Elliot…I was looking for you." A whisper of a sigh."So much for choices."

He just looked at her, trying to see what she was seeing. Trying to make sense of what she had just said. He caught sight of a file folder tucked under her pillow. Not hidden, simply as though the pillow had fallen over on it when she had placed it on the bed. Before he could connect what he was doing to what she was saying, he had dropped his hands and moved past her until he was close enough to read the words on the open page.

A weird sense of foreboding told him not to read it. With everything that was in him, he wanted to turn away. Close the file and pretend that he did not want to know what reading material Scully chose to go with her liquor. Pretend that he was not seeing connections. His hand reached out and pulled the file closer.

He did not know what he expected. Medical records maybe. A copy of her Bureau file. An X-File where she had played a starring role. It was a full sixty seconds before his brain made the connection between what his eyes were seeing and what the words meant.

He sank onto the bed, fingers curiously numb.

Patterson's handwriting. He would have to be dead to forget that handwriting. Every slashing backslant. Every aggressive mark of punctuation. Every word saturated with the certainties he had brought to his experiment. Ruthless. Arrogant.


Mulder watched his hand shake as he carefully flipped to the beginning of the file. Where had she gotten this? He glanced around for an answer and came up with an envelope with no return address. He recognized the handwriting on the label though.


He gathered the file close to his chest and was leaning towards the lamp on the other side of the bed when he remembered the other files. He knew. Somehow he knew before he stepped past her and reached the table. He knew what he would find. He was right.

Daniel Waterston.

Jack Willis.

Fox Mulder.

There were others. People who had impacted the Patterson Project by impacting the principals, but these were the files that mattered. Bill had been thorough in his analysis of her reasoning and her choices.

Their failures.

Patterson had been particularly intrigued with her deep-seated fear of being abandoned by those who claimed to love her. He had wondered how that edge would translate when she profiled. In his own words, her lovers had freaked when presented with a glimpse of the darker aspects of her personality. The profiler in Mulder was unwillingly drawn deeper into the portrait being painted. Deeper into the mind of his partner as Patterson speculated that Scully herself had sabotaged the relationships.

The part of his brain that never turned off, never let him ignore the truths he saw buried beneath the lies people told to themselves, considered that analysis calmly.

It was possible.

Probable even.

Patterson had amended his conclusions on her motivations after Willis. He painted a picture, not just of a young woman testing her lovers' resolve, he documented a pattern of anger aimed squarely at the men themselves. Scully had not just been testing them…she had been driving them away. Deliberately. In a calculated effort to end a relationship she found too constraining.

Dana Scully, it would seem, actively resented the authority she apparently craved.

In his notes, Patterson indicated a strong desire for Scully to be assigned to Mulder before she had a chance to become so confident in her experience that she would write him off as a lunatic. Her inexperience would provide the illusion of authority long enough for the relationship to become established, but Mulder lacked the strict authoritarian personality that the other men had possessed. Patterson had hoped that this would prevent her from sabotaging the relationship, but was worried that she might come to see only weakness. This, and the X-Files were Patterson's prime areas of concern.

A broken profiler who chased little green men lacked a certain credibility.

Patterson had been concerned that Mulder's beliefs might trigger a failure of respect so great it would overwhelm the sexual attraction he needed for the dynamic he was trying to create. A little was okay. The killer was supposed to despise the victim. Patterson was convinced, however, that they would need a strong sexual bond to overcome that mutual loathing. The fact that the other would harbor a piece of what they abhorred most was bad enough. The fact that both would be fully capable of knowing and recognizing what they hated and why was something else again. Patterson had looked forward to seeing the results in person.

Mulder wondered if it was too late to start believing in Hell.

He had someone he wanted to send there.

He was shocked when his own voice spoke, echoed coldly. He had not thought that he meant to say anything at all. "Score one for Patterson. Guess we now know why he thought you'd have a thing for profilers."

She just looked at him and he wanted to kick himself for the anger he felt when she said nothing He had spent the first four years of their partnership terrified that Patterson had been right. He had spent the next two thankful the bastard had been wrong and most of the two after that deciding he could live with it. Then the last few months had seen him ruthlessly plotting how to use Patterson's insanity against her.

A wave of bitter anger threatened to open his mouth and push forth something stupid. Like asking her if Patterson had been right. As if he had not always known. Young, hungry for the approval she obviously had not gotten from her family, cursed with an unforgiving sense of duty and honor and a soul-deep hatred of what the monsters could do…oh yeah, he had always known why a profiler would have done it for her.

Her opinions and conclusions were the straw from which they spun their devil's web.

They worked from forensic data. Relied on it. Throw in the fact that Willis was intelligent, dynamic and not likely to loose his cookies if the shop talk slipped and Patterson had prime bait for his hook. He did not even have to work for it.

Too bad the stupid asshole blew it.

He still remembered the irony in her voice when she had described Willis and the inevitable conclusions he had drawn about what had broken them up. He also had not missed the pointed amusement in her eyes as she described her ex-lover. She had left one obsessive profiler only to end up working with another. He had not been blind to the traits he shared with Willis-or the fact that she was fully aware of them.

At the time, he had only seen Patterson's hand in the whole set-up.

He still did.

<Someone like you> The words echoed hollowly. <Someone like you>

Echoes of the past.

The present was always constructed with the echoes of the past.

He abruptly realized that she was holding herself unnaturally still and that neither of them seemed to be moving. Was he supposed to be happy about this? Happy that his personality reflected Waterston's passion for his work, Willis's obsessive need to know, to hunt and capture. As for Elliot. What did he reflect of Elliot? He reached for happy.

A reflection.

A reflection of the men she had wanted, strong enough in places and shadowed by the realities of the choices she could not make. Realities forced upon them by the lives they led…and the ones they could no longer chose. Would a reflection be enough to keep her from regretting what she could not have? Or was it just enough to make acceptable, the only choice that she could?

<Someone like you>

She did not look happy at all.

Could he live with just being a reflection?

"What do you want, Scully?"

For a long moment, she did absolutely nothing. Her eyes were shadowed and her features hidden by the darkness. He would not have been surprised, regardless of her earlier statement - if she turned and walked away. He almost flinched when she abruptly started to pick her way carefully across the room. When she finally stopped a bare handbreadth from touching distance and looked down as he sat, frozen, he realized that he did not want to know the answer.

How odd.

Her eyes were still shadowed, and her voice held no discernable emotion, only commitment as she answered. "I want to you to believe."

For a split second, he almost thought she was joking.

"I want you to believe that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make me stay."

He tried to stand only to find her hands slamming down on his shoulders, forcing him to stay.

"I want you to believe that there is nothing you can offer me. You can't give me what I want. You can't protect me from what I fear. You can't make up for the lost children or the lost years or the lost chances. You can't bring me the Consortium as a consolation prize and nothing…absolutely nothing you can do will ever make up for Melissa and Emily."


"Do you believe me?"



Don't make me say it. He heard the words in his head, but this was the only thing she had ever asked of him.

"Tell me you believe me."

I believe you. PleasedontPleasedontPleasedont…

"Say it."

Her hands tightened painfully and for one brief second, he hated her. Hated her for the fact that there was nothing in her eyes he wanted to see, and nothing he could do to put it there. Nothing he could do. Not now. Not ever. He stood up, brushing her hands from his shoulders with the sharp movement.

She refused to step back.

He dredged up a painful, bitter smile and looked her straight in the eye.

"I believe you."

She nodded slowly, then added one more statement in a cracked whisper,"Now tell me that you believe me that there is nothing you can do to make me leave."

He stared at her blankly. Hurt and anger raged together, swirling around in frustrated dance of confusion. Was this a joke?

"You can't make one too many mistakes, you can't forget one too many birthdays. You can't leave me with too much paperwork, get me shot one too many times or embarrass me one time too many. You can't drag me anywhere I don't want to go, you can't back me into too many corners and you can't do anything I don't already know perfectly well you are capable of. You can't piss me off too many times, and you can't scare me away."

""What kind of game are you playing, Scully?"

"The game you started." Her eyes flashed briefly,"But I'm changing the rules. Now tell me you believe me."

He smiled bitterly. "Fine. You want it? You got it. It's not about me. I can't make you stay. I can't make you go. I can't do a god-damn thing. Are you happy now? Can I go?"

Ignoring anything she might have said, he stalked past her and grabbed the whiskey bottle. He stared at the amber liquid balefully. Fuck it. He did not want to be sober when she got to where she was going.

"I said that you can't do anything to affect my decision to stay or go, Mulder. I never said it had nothing to do with you."

He turned on his heel and glared at her. Defiantly he tipped the bottle back and let the whiskey burn down his throat. "Make up your mind."

"It took me 130 years to find you. Do you honestly believe I'm suddenly going to decide that you're not worth it?"

The room seemed to hang in the silence. He watched her with unreadable eyes, saying nothing.

"Implications, Mulder. If you believe your own theories, then I was always meant to find you. I've spent my life looking for you. Hell, we've spent lifetimes together. I doubt this lifetime would be the first time your choices could get us killed. Or mine could. But I'm a hell of lot less afraid of dying with you than living without you."

He licked his lips, then raised the bottle a second time. She stood silent as he watched her. Finally he laughed. A harsh bark that held no amusement. "You have no idea how ironic this is." He hesitated, then bared his teeth,"I wanted it you know. For it to be true. I ached for it to be true. I thought I'd finally found the one person in the world who would love me no matter what. Had been born to love me." He stared into the bottle, then twisted the cap back on and threw the bottle on the bed. " And she killed herself. I found her and it wasn't enough." He left the obvious unspoken.

That Fox Mulder was not enough.

" The one consolation in the whole mess was that I was wrong. Wonderful theory, revealed oodles about my inner psyche, but just a little shy of the facts. Like the fact that Old Smokey is too old in this life to have been a Gestapo in the last one. And now you tell me that you believe it? That we are destined to be nothing but friends? That my soulmate killed herself. That's just fucking wonderful."

Scully's eyes flashed dangerously, and her voice had a dark bite. "I never said she was your damn soulmate." Her body echoed the snap in her words," And just because some of what you saw might have been real, doesn't mean all of it was. Did you ever consider the possibility of alternate timelines? "

Mulder collapsed onto the bed for a second time and stared at his simmering partner. His hand snagged the whiskey bottle again. For one brief second, shock overrode everything else and all he could do was echo her incredulously,"Alternate timelines?"

A startled look crossed her face as he grinned involuntarily. She frowned,"A little focus here please, Mulder."

"Alternate timelines? Really?"

She glared and he dropped his gaze to his hands. His fingers discovered a corner that had started to curl, and his hands worried at the label.


He carefully pulled the edge back.


He dropped the bottle and met her eyes, his own dead serious,"Don't." The words were a warning."Don't ask me to believe this, Scully, because if I do, you leave me with nothing."

Her face paled.

He turned his hands over and studied both palms, as if waiting for the future to speak. Finally he looked up, eyes lost,"I could hear you, you know. Both of you. For all her flaws and her lack of loyalty, Diana really did love me. " He hesitated when she twitched, then continued softly,"I know you care for me. I know you respect me. But Scully…you are not in love with me. So don't tell me that who I am is enough. It obviously isn't. Not for you. Not enough for Diana to stay. Certainly not for anyone else. All I can offer is what I can offer." His smile betrayed him. Revealed a cynical outlook he generally hid well, " I can live with that. If that's all you want, I can live with that. But if I'm supposed to believe that the universe itself has decreed that all we'll ever be is friends, then that means I have to give up what I feel. That everything inside is a lie. It means I have to give up hoping that someday, if I get it just right, someday you'll feel something more. I can't do that. Don't ask me to. Because I ..can't…"

He looked away.

She breathed with him in the silence for long enough that he wondered if she was going to respond. If she could respond. What the hell did you say to an unwanted confession of unrequited love? Thanks but no thanks?

"You're a fool."


" Do you know what being in love is? It's passionate and powerful and ultimately blind. It has expectations and promises and needs trust to survive. It's a beautiful dream Mulder that lives on faith and lasts only as long as faith and trust are not broken…or if the passion behind it can turn it into something more enduring.It accepts limits imposed from the outside." She met his eyes and bared her teeth, " I accept none."

She stepped closer and stared down at him, blue eyes cold," Ask yourself why Cancerman never made me part of the deal. He offered you everything else; the truth, your sister. You would have accepted, in the end. You know it. I know it. You can be damn sure that he knows it. " Her smile was a shark's toothed grin."Ask yourself why he gave me up for free."

She shrugged," As for faith and trust. You can hurt me Mulder. Frustrate me and anger me beyond belief. You can break faith and trust and have. We both have. What you can't do is betray me. The only way to do that is to betray yourself. I know you. I know your heart and I know the depths of your commitment. The only thing I need is for you to continue to be you."

" It's not light, it's not the answer to everything and it sure as hell is not blind. It's dark, it's angry and it needs so badly I think sometimes I'm going to drown. We are too many people for it to be anything other than possessive and hungry and its all I can do to keep from taking more than you would chose to give. Do you want me to promise I'll never leave…I can't do that. Who we are means I can't do that. But I'll never leave because of something you did…and the only reason I stay is because of who you are. Who we are together."

She straightened, leaving her partner staring at her in stunned silence. She smiled at him, the edges dark and bitter. "Do you want to know the worst thing you ever said to me?"

She waited, but he could not answer.

Her smile tightened. "You said,' You owe me nothing' ".

She straightened carefully, less sober, he suddenly realized, than he had thought.

" You can't betray me because I know you…"

"…can you say the same?"


Someone was going to get shot.

Accidentally. Accidentally on purpose. It did not really matter. What would matter was the fact that when the media started taking photos of the bloodshed, someone in the FBI was going to be asking Walter Skinner why he let it happen. A reasonable question since the soldiers were standing on soil currently under FBI jurisdiction. Unfortunately, no matter what the official reason being given to cover their AWOL asses, none of these soldiers gave a rat's behind what it said on his badge and ID.

They were here to protect Mulder and Scully.

Skinner studied the chaos surrounding the hospital with grim foreboding. It had been bad enough when they had simply been rogue agents too smart and too committed for their own good. He was not sure it was possible to calculate their destructive potential now that they seemed to have hijacked an army.

The Navy sure seemed to be agreeable lately.

From the front seat of a borrowed army jeep, Dr. Stevens watched three soldiers corner and apprehend what looked like a photojournalist desperate for an inside peek at the tent city and barbed wired command post that had sprung up in the parking lot next to the Serenity Falls hospital. His driver, a man who had been briefly introduced to Skinner as a Gunnery Sergeant, downshifted, but let the engine idle.

Apparently, they were not expecting to stay long.

When he had walked out here an hour ago, the AD had simply been trying to clear his head. To get a handle on what his problem children had done now. None of the answers were doing anything to calm the acid in his stomach or the trembling in his fingers that had started the moment he had realized that his agents had just taken over a small town.

Dr. Stevens contemplated the disappearing photojournalist and then turned his head to look at Skinner.

"Was there a reason to transfer them to this facility?"

The AD almost laughed. Reasons? How about five FBI agents, several fucked up SEALs , a platoon of Marines, a serial murder investigation and a partridge in a peartree. Skinner glanced at the only psychiatrist he had found who was convinced that Mulder and Scully were completely sane. Mad, bad and dangerous to know…but essentially sane.

"The doctor originally treating their condition felt that he had done all that he could medically and advised moving them to a location where the security precautions would be less disruptive and easier to maintain."

That, and the fact that Vickery had promised to kill him if he ever set foot in Scully's room again.

Sanity, the AD reminded himself, was a measure of shared reality. Mulder and Scully simply lived a different reality. Skinner hesitated as something about that statement struck a sour note. It was not, he thought finally, that they shared a different reality. Considering the fact that they generally only got called to a crime scene after someone got eaten, everyone shared the same dangers. It was just that most of the people were oblivious to what lurked in the dark.

In some cases it was ignorance. Inexperience in others. Others still because the people had been told that monsters did not exist and it was easier to believe. Someone who believed in God was considered religious and someone who believed in aliens was a certified nut.


Neither had an autographed picture. Both had historical documents claiming providence.

Both had people who had claimed to have seen. According to Mulder, the possibility even existed that the aliens were God. That they had created Man. Of course, that then begged the question of who or what had created the aliens.

The difference between the two beliefs lay solely in the court of public opinion.

Skinner grimaced and stepped into the jeep. The driver glanced at the front passenger before spinning the wheel and heading towards the gauntlet laying siege to the Emergency entrance of the hospital. The AD considered the thin tissue of legitimacy the doctor had used to protect the men holding the guns. He realized that he recognized it. He had used it often enough himself, ultimately for the same people.

"A training exercise, Doctor?"

The driver's knuckles whitened around the steering wheel.

This was not supposed to happen. Marine platoons did not go AWOL. Navy Seals did not steal military transport planes and rogue FBI departments did not take over small towns. Things like that did not happen. Except that they obviously did.

They had.

Fourteen Navy Seals and other assorted SpecOps flavors had decided that they wanted to help the FBI. Well…maybe they were bored.They were also technically on medical leave, and were voluntarily spending that time with Dr. Stevens. They were free to leave at anytime. Not normally all at once, mind, but it was not illegal.

The pilot swore the gas was paid for.

Somehow, the Marines found out and somehow, someone got confused. They had been assigned to do wargames exercises with the SEALs and the SEALs were leaving. Which sort of, somehow, explained why a glassy-eyed Gunnery Sergeant came aboard a transport plane and found the entire platoon bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and rigged for war.

Someone even remembered to pack the paint pellets.

Well why not? They had tents and weapons and radios that worked over long distances. They managed to acquire the loan of a helicopter and Skinner really did not want to know where they had scraped up all that field-designed lab equipment. Nor the generators, the lights, the barbed wire or the Jet B helicopter fuel.

If he asked, he might get billed for it.

Dr. Stevens spoke again, his voice deliberately non-confrontational, but determined."I still think this is a bad idea."

Skinner eyed the activity inside the barbed wire. CSI teams wearily disembarked from mud-splattered jeeps and uniformed volunteers eagerly grabbed boxes of evidence. Under the eagle eye of Agent Elizabeth Landers, the evidence was hauled into a series of large canvas tents to be catalogued and cross-referenced.

"Duly noted"

There was a long pause, then a sigh. "At least show the tape to them in private first."

By all rights, he should. Everything in his manager's experience screamed at him not to do this to them cold and with witnesses. But…


He could not take the chance. The rest of the team had to know what they were dealing with. They had to know what the results of certain circumstances were likely to be, and they had to know the risks. That was a given. They also had to see more than the cool control she would show them after she was finished crying on her partner's shoulder.

The jeep stopped obediently as blank-faced Marines clothed in weapons and attitude gestured for it to halt. None of the passengers protested the indignity of having their finger pricked and the subsequent blood spot examined. The faces obscured by gas masks and the assault rifles in their hands were an eloquent reminder that this situation was being taken seriously.

It was…an odd feeling.

For too long, Mulder had Scully had chased monsters by day and dodged the Consortium by night. It was disconcerting to see the two combined, like a dream that would not quite come into focus but where everything was so out of whack, it was obviously a dream. Except that he could not seem to wake up and the soldiers were trying to keep his agents from being shot instead of being the ones doing the shooting.

There was no way in hell he could hide this one.

Ironically, it was the situation he could not hide, that just might let him hide one that could have been even more damaging. Not from his superiors of course, but they were the same people listening to the same special interests that they had always obeyed. However, even they could only do so much if the stories got too scary and there was enough blood in the headlines. Skinner considered the tape in his hand as he and Dr. Stevens headed for the hospital elevator.

Scary did not even come close.

Very few people knew. Vickery and Landers. The three SEALs who saw the event, the guard watching the tape, Dr. Stevens and a handful of medical professionals. Landers had acted fast enough to throw a security net and media black-out around the event and she had had enough pissed off military personnel to make her orders stick. Nobody in, nobody out and relocation to Serenity Falls as quickly as possible.

The relocation had made sense in light of the fact that the X-Files team was continuing the serial murder investigation that Mulder had reopened. Both agents would want to assist as soon as they regained enough strength to read the casefiles. It made sense in recognizing that their team would want to keep them close, somewhere they could see the security arrangements and somewhere where they were close enough to assist if needed. It made sense, but these people were not doing this to make sense.

They were establishing lines of trust.

Opening negotiations.

Declaring alliance on the field of battle.

The elevator came to a halt and two Marine guards confirmed the identity of the three men before allowing them to make their way to the conference room. Behind him, the crackle of a handheld radio betrayed the fact that Mulder and Scully were already present in the room as the guards informed Landers of their arrival. Skinner paused to absorb the fact that the door was closed before knocking gently.

It was FBI only behind closed doors.

Landers and Vickery were the only ones who knew what was on the tape and he had ordered them not to say anything. Mulder and Scully knew it had something to do with them, the others just knew it was important. Given a preference, Skinner would never have sprung this on them this quickly. Scully had been out of her coma for barely more than 24 hours - and part of that had been spent sleeping. Skinner paused mentally as he considered his agent as she sat with careful precision with her back to the windows.

It was hard to tell, but her face appeared paler than normal and he had the fleeting thought that she looked poised to shatter at the lightest touch. She was uncharacteristically wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, but he recalled that her doctor had reported that she was experiencing an oversensitivity to sound and light. Still, the immobility of her features and the fact that he could not see her eyes left him with little way to judge her state of mind.


Mulder was of little help. Usually Skinner could get a good read on her state of mind by watching how her partner watched her. Unfortunately, he did not recognize this particular attitude.Mulder had the same general air of distracted intensity that Skinner recognized from the BSU. In and of itself, that would not have surprised him. Mulder tended to regard near death experiences as minor inconveniences that merely got in his way. There was an undertone to the intensity, however, something the AD did not recognize. An oddly focused sense of observation in the agent's eyes that - if Skinner did not know better - gave the impression that he was profiling his partner.

Skinner sighed and dove into the issue at hand without preamble.

"You all know that the reason Agents Mulder and Scully were relocated to this facility was due to a second assassination attempt made within seven days of the first. That second attempt took place within the confines of a heavily guarded hospital and was very nearly successful."

Everyone except Landers and Vickery sat extremely still, their attention completely focused on Skinner's words. They were not stupid. They knew they were about to get the gory details. It was unfortunate that they did not know how gory it was about to get.

" The doctor originally responsible for Agents Mulder and Scully became increasingly concerned that Mulder would not survive and that Scully would eventually reach the point where she would not be capable of surviving his death on her own."

That was a polite way of wording the fact that the doctor had been increasingly determined to sacrifice Mulder in an effort to save Scully. Skinner had not realized the depths of that conviction - and the doctor had found Skinner's willingness to risk both for the sake of one to be unacceptable.

"He was approached by three individuals who convinced him that what he was seeing was a side-effect of military research and that all previous experiments had resulted in the deaths of both parties. The doctor was also told that Agent Mulder was shot while the agents were attempting to escape from the research facility."

It was a testament to the lives they had led that neither Mulder nor Scully looked particularly surprised at this revelation. The others were shocked, but the wheels were turning. He would not be too surprised if it occurred to them to wonder if maybe their original worry that Mulder and Scully were being held against their will might not be the correct one.

" In what he considered to be an effort to save Agent Scully's life, the doctor forcibly attempted to remove Agent Scully from the hospital."

The doctor's basic premise had been that if contact and proximity were dragging Scully into Mulder's deteriorating bio-patterns, that distance might break the connection. He had trusted that Scully's generally healthy condition-the stress fractures in her legbones not withstanding-would allow him to bring her back from wherever she had gone.

No showy fanfare. No Mexican stand-off with the SEALs. The doctor arranged security passes for his four cohorts. They slipped into the room shared by the two agents at a quiet hour in the middle of the day and hit her with a mild sedative. They then used the confusion generated by Mulder's spontaneous cardiac arrest to cover the fact that Scully was being wheeled out the front door. The next thing Skinner knew a frantic Marine was calling him on his cell phone to tell him that all hell had broken loose.

Skinner popped the tape in the VCR and hit play.

The flat colors of the tape added a gritty realism that captured the carnage in brutal detail. The camera had been unable to capture a good likeness of three men pushing her bed. The lens had only seen the first reaching to tighten the strap securing her shoulders as her body began to convulse.

Her teeth took the little finger clean off his hand.

Blood splattered the walls and floor and the other two turned as the first screamed. They slipped on slick tile as she began to thrash, throwing the bed backwards and forwards across the hall. One of the legs buckled when the bed crashed into the wall. Later, everyone would assume that the fall broke the ties, but Skinner had watched the tape. He had watched it until the image of her teeth severing bone was burned into the back of his eyelids.

The ties had been secure all the way to the floor.

The second man grabbed her as she hauled herself clear of the busted metal and torn nylon. That was his first mistake. He never had the chance to make a second. The heel of her hand slammed his broken nose bone into his skull. The autopsy records not only verified that he had been dead before he contacted the floor, the force of the blow shattered his cheekbone and popped one eye from its socket. The optic nerve bundle tore as the body fell, releasing the eyeball to bounce across the floor until a running Marine squished it underfoot.

The leg he broke as he fell probably saved his life.

There had been nothing of Dana Scully in the wild-eyed animal that had screamed and attacked the last of the men who had tried to restrain her. She should not have been conscious. She should not even have been able to walk, but like the trapped wolf that chews its own paw off to escape the trap, Scully's body had somehow turned on itself. Fatty tissue and muscle was ruthlessly consumed in a flashfire of desperation, her metabolism revving high enough to temporarily negate some of the sedative effect. In a ten minute rampage she lost fifteen percent of her body mass and almost triggered a cardiac arrest similar to the one that killed her partner.

She had known.

In her mindless panic, somehow she had known. Vickery had staggered out of the stairwell, blood streaming from a head wound she never did explain. Skinner had matched blood to the broken wrist of the doctor and decided he really did not need to know.

The taller woman snapped the neck of the last man as he pulled a knife on the deranged agent, then cleared Scully's path as she ran by the simple expedient of tossing people out of the way. Barrett and several of the Marines appeared and quickly followed suit. Subsequent damage was limited to breakage and bruising resulting from uncontrolled impacts with architectural elements.

Watching the video for the umpteenth time, he thought he finally understood. Threaten an animal and it will attack. Threaten that animal's family and it will attack. Threaten an FBI agent's partner and the result was a forgone conclusion.

This went beyond.

Beyond loyalty. Beyond anger. Beyond self-preservation.

There are always subconscious motivations built into any conscious action. Conditioned reflex that mimics instinct. Learned behavior that betrays childhood training. Learned standards of conduct or codes of honor that push the human organism to react beyond instinct, beyond self-preservation. To bend to civilized rules of law or fears of reprisal.

Dana Scully was not conscious. Her decisions were not driven by logic or reason, compassion or conditioning. Her instincts were primitive, her compulsions ruthless and absolute.

A cloth, a towel. It was hard to tell what it had been. From the shade of black on the monochrome security tape it was as blood-soaked as the walls two floors below. Whatever it was, it was enough to send her crashing into the side of Mulder's bed, scattering the panicked cardiac team. When she lifted her head and caught sight of the too still body beside her, one hand stretched out.

No hesitation.

No uncertainty.

Special Agent Fox Mulder had been clinically dead for two minutes and twenty-seven seconds when her hand grasped his and she steadfastly followed him into the darkness.

The room was silent.

In the sudden stillness, Skinner heard his watch count off the seconds with all the gaining accusation of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. Despite the fact that he had planned this, he realized that he was not prepared. He did not want to see what this was going to do to her.

Mathews leaned forward, the abrupt motion almost causing Skinner to jump.

"Are those earrings identical?"

Skinner stared at the ex-profiler blankly. Mathews dug a pencil out of his pocket and tossed it toward Landers. She caught it neatly and accepted the pad that Harris silently proffered. Mathews fumbled for the remote and rewound the tape to the point where Scully had sunk her teeth in the first man's hand and paused.

"See…right there."

Skinner stared at the frozen image of a man as he threw his head back in agony. Highlighted in monochrome silver was an ornate earring, a medallion at the lobe with several small beads hung below. He stared as Lewis leaned forward to study the image appearing beneath sure strokes of the pencil while Mathews slowly advanced the tape, looking for a clear shot of the other two men. He stared as Dr. Stevens and his Sergeant glanced at Vickery with narrow-eyed consideration, but no real surprise as the audible crack of snapping vertebrae echoed once more.

He shivered.

Scully sat motionless, her eyes hidden by the shadows cast by the windows and the sunglasses. Mulder sat as if stunned, eyes glued to the television screen. His face held a remote cast and she moved before he did. She did not even look at him, simply stood calmly and walked toward the door. The other agents glanced at her, then studied Mulder covertly for reaction as the door closed behind her.

One one thousand. Two one thousand.

Skinner had reached a count of seven before Mulder shook himself awake and exploded out of his seat after her. Harris glanced at Mathews. Mathews and Landers glanced at each other while Vickery watched the door. Skinner shivered again when he realized that Lewis had narrowed her eyes on him and was watching with feral calculation.

"Yep…those are all the same earrings. Look at that."

What had he done?

Dear God.

What the hell had he done?