by Yahtzee

When I first watched "The Ehrlenmeyer Flask," I was still offline and cut off from other Philes -- in other words, I feared I had just seen the end of one of my favorite shows. I was very disappointed -- as good an episode as that was, I couldn't bear to think of it all ending that way. I thought up my own version of how I would have "liked" to see the show wrap up. Then, of course, I learned that the show would return, and tossed this idea out of my mind. Later, though, I decided to put a different spin on it and turn it into this story. As you might suspect, it doesn't really take place within the framework of the show -- it's just one way things might have happened. All the standard disclaimers apply: all characters are the property of the Fox network, and creations of Chris Carter. No copyright infringement is intended, although characters are used without permission. I authorize distribution of this story to whomever and wherever, as long as it remains in its original form and I am credited as the author. Any and all comments would be VERY welcome; send praise or flames to

Part One

McCrory College Department of Physics
Jonquil, South Carolina
November 21, 1999

Kellie sat at the desk, chewing gum and flipping through the latest issue of Mademoiselle. There was some filing she could be doing, but work-study did NOT pay enough to get her started on a new project at twenty minutes to five. She heard heavy footsteps thudding toward the door and rolled her eyes. GREAT -- with her luck, this was another professor wanting an exam typed up at the last possible minute. Kellie turned her attention back to the "Will He Come Back?" quiz; maybe she could get the points tallied before whoever it was got there --

A moment later, an FBI badge was pushed between the magazine and her face. Startled, she looked up to see two agents standing right in front of her. The one holding the badge said, "We need to speak to the head of the department. Is she in?"

"Um, oh, yeah, she's here. Last door on your left. I'll just buzz her --" Kellie's voice trailed off as the two agents strode down the hallway. Man, oh man, she thought. What would the FBI be doing here in Jonquil?

"Come on in," a voice called from within the office, just before they could knock. The man with the badge raised an eyebrow at his companion, and opened the door.

The office was rather plainly furnished; an old wooden desk, battered chairs, a heavily laden bookshelf taking up an entire wall. The only things that seemed at all expensive were the top-of-the-line computer and the crystal frame holding a picture of a young woman and a baby. Besides that, the only decoration was a poster of Albert Einstein, captioned "Mathematics cannot explain people falling in love." The head of the McCrory College Physics Department sat in her chair, hands steepled, with an eyebrow raised at her visitors.

"Dr. Dana Scully?" one of the agents asked.

"Yes, it's me," she replied evenly. "And I thought I'd seen the last of the FBI. What brings you to my door?"

"I'm Agent Kavyas, and this is Agent Dyer. We need to speak to you about a former associate of yours, Fox Mulder."

At that name, her face darkened. Dyer, the younger agent, was surprised -- during the sketchy preliminary briefing, he'd been told they were partners. But her expression was so hard, so remote --

"Former associate. Well, that's one way to put it. What specifically do you need to know? Has he sent me any postcards lately? No ---"

"Dr. Scully, this is a sensitive matter. Please take this a little more seriously."

At Kavyas' words, Scully flushed with anger; for a moment, Dyer feared she would throw them both out of the office. But she calmed herself and replied, "I do take it seriously, Agent Kavyas. If we're going to talk at length about this, it's better we go somewhere else. I try to keep tales of my -- shall we say -- colorful past out of the campus gossip. Come to my house in about an hour. That will give me time to finish up here." With that, she turned back to her work as if they had already left.

Kavyas cocked an eyebrow at Dyer and nodded to the door. As they left, Dyer realized she hadn't given them the address of her home. She obviously understood they already knew precisely where it was.

While her home was a tiny, somewhat worn old house, Dyer couldn't help admiring her view -- Dr. Scully's living room faced a wide expanse of coastline. She stood in front of that bay window now, her back to them and her eyes turned toward the sea. She'd changed from her professional clothes into blue jeans and a cream-colored flannel shirt, and loosed her red hair so that it fell freely past her shoulders; yet she somehow carried the same aura of command that she had in her office. "I admit, I'm curious about this visit. The bureau investigated Mulder's disappearance rather thoroughly when it happened. I have to give Walter Skinner a lot of credit; he spent a lot of money and manhours searching for him. But as I told them at the time, it was no use. Do I have to convince you of that all over again?"

Kavyas paused a long moment before answering. "When Mr. Mulder vanished in -- I believe it was October of 1997 -- you told the local officials and the FBI that you thought he was the subject of an alien abduction."

Scully turned, smiling brightly and artificially. "I certainly did. Have a problem with that?"

"Not at all, Dr. Scully. I have reason to believe you. I also have reason to believe -- though I cannot be certain -- that those responsible for taking Mr. Mulder away may now be willing to bring him back."

The smile evaporated from Scully's face; she turned back towards the sea for a moment, in a futile attempt to hide her shock from the agents. Kavyas kept his pleasure to himself; he'd been sent here to ensure her cooperation. Telling her that Mulder might be returned was supposed to be a last option, exercised only if she would share her information with them no other way. But the level of anger she'd directed at them had confirmed his suspicions: Dana Scully had too much reason to distrust the government to follow them now. She needed incentive; this would provide it.

"Why would they return him?" Dana whispered, trying to keep her voice from trembling.

"They want something from us, Dr. Scully. But we aren't precisely certain what that something is. It may be connected with the research the two of you were doing before his abduction; we're hoping that you can shed some light on the subject."

She nodded slowly, fingering the cross around her neck. "Nothing immediately springs to mind -- but I'll tell you everything. Anything, if it means getting him home." Dana turned from the window and sat on the sofa, facing the agents squarely. "Where should we begin?"

Dyer shrugged. "Perhaps when you and Mr. Mulder decided to leave the Bureau -- that's where our records end."

It was all Dana could do to keep from laughing at that; she knew full well the Bureau, and certain other organizations, had kept some form of watch over them ever since their resignations in the summer of 1996. But, just this once, the more she told them, the better --

"Our decision to leave wasn't really based on our paranormal research. Rather, it was inspired by one of our few 'regular' cases; Skinner pulled us from the X-Files to track a serial killer of small children." Scully noted, with dry amusement, that Dyer swallowed hard at that. This one is young, she thought, before continuing.

"You get used to seeing some horrible things in the line of duty. You try to prepare yourself against every eventuality. But there are some things you cannot guard against."

Locke Station, Iowa
March 1, 1996

"Oh, my God," Scully breathed as she walked into the den. Mulder, stepping beneath the police tape behind her, froze in horror as he, too, took in the crime scene.

A young girl, perhaps 3 years old, had been tied, spreadeagled, to the wreath that hung above the mantel. Her throat had been slashed; blood obscured her face, and was pooled on the hearth below. On the sofa nearby lay the ropes that had bound her horrified parents. While the agents stood there silently, the Locke Station police chief began speaking quietly.

"Mr. and Mrs. Williams woke up on the sofa -- how he got them there, I don't know. Lauren was -- she was already dead. They couldn't move or get free at all; it was about two hours before their neighbor happened to come by."

Scully finally found her voice. "That fits his M.O. He drugs the parents for freedom of movement, kills the child, creates some bizarre display, and then leaves the parents bound so that they are forced to witness it when they awaken."

The police chief shook his head slowly. "How many times has he done this?"

"Seven," Mulder answered, his voice rough. Scully shot him a look; this case was wearing on them both, but Mulder was taking it particularly badly. Today he looked drawn and pale, his eyes remote. She reached out with one hand to touch his shoulder, but he turned from it, and got to work.

During the taking of the trace evidence, they moved quietly and surely -- Scully felt stronger when she was doing something productive towards catching this monster, and supposed Mulder did as well. But her illusions about his steadiness were shortlived.

"The ambulance is here," the sheriff called.

Dana nodded, and motioned to Mulder and the deputies. "We need to get her down now, so they can take her to the morgue."

Mulder, seemingly impassive, moved from his fingerprinting at the doorway to help the taller deputy lift the wreath from its nails. His face remained a still mask until they lowered the sad burden to the floor -- and a lock of dark hair fell across her face.

"Jesus Christ!" he whispered; Scully tried to catch his arm again, but he ducked away from her and stumbled out of the house. The deputies stared after him, startled, then looked back to Scully to see what to do.

"Just -- just get her to the morgue. Don't disturb anything; I'll be doing this autopsy, and I'll be there soon. I'm going to go after him."

She ran into the yard -- a deputy stationed at the door jerked his head to the left. Looking in that direction, Scully could see Mulder sitting on the ground about 30 yards away, his face in his hands.

By the time she had stolen to his side, Mulder was attempting to dry himself off; yet his face was still ashen and drawn. Scully took his hands in her own. "I know it's hard, Mulder --"

"Hard, hell. It's impossible. I just can't stop seeing her --" His voice trembled into silence again. Dana squeezed his hands, knowing full well that Mulder wasn't speaking of any of the little girls they'd seen in this case. "Scully, when I see what this monster has done to them I try to tell myself that it isn't her, but how do I know that what happened to Sam isn't a thousand times worse than this --"

"Stop it, Mulder. Don't do this to yourself. Samantha's alive. And someday, we are going to find her -- no matter how long it takes. You believe that as much as I do. You have to keep believing it." Scully was surprised at the strength in her voice, and at the small answering smile she won from Mulder. Only much later would she realize that it was the first time she had spoken of the search for Samantha as if it were her mission as much as his own.

"I still believe, Scully. I do. I just don't know how much longer I can go on this way."

It took a moment for the full meaning of his words to sink in. "You mean, work on serial killings? Hopefully, we're going to get this man soon, and then we can go back to --"

"No, Scully. I don't know if I can even face the prospect of doing this again."

"Damnit, Mulder, this is our job! It may not the same for me, but if you think I don't have any trouble seeing little children cut to ribbons --" Her own voice choked up, and she rolled her eyes in frustration. Great, she thought, the sheriff calls for expert federal help and he's going to walk out here and find two sobbing FBI agents on the lawn.

Mulder pulled her hands to his face, comforting her now. "I'm sorry, Scully. I'll get myself together and we'll get back in there. I won't let my emotions get in the way of this case again, okay?"

She nodded, but sat looking into his eyes for a moment longer. "You really mean it, don't you? You're considering leaving the Bureau."

"Considering. That's all."

"But -- " (But what about us? You'd just leave me, walk away --) "But what about your paranormal research? How would you keep going without the Bureau's resources?"

Dana was surprised to see his face split in one of his rueful grins. "Leave it to you to find the hole in my plan, Scully. C'mon, let's get back in there."

Scully took a moment to study her audience; Kavyas was clearly bored and impatient -- this had nothing to do with what he wanted to know. Dyer, however, was leaning forward, listening raptly. She hoped to make them see Mulder as a person, to feel something for him, to regard him as something other than a pawn in their bizarre chess game. Kavyas was, perhaps, unreachable. But Dyer -- it might not be too late for him.

Kavyas took advantage of the pause to cut in, "Records say you brought Michael Mills into custody by early March of that year. Yet you remained in the Bureau until May."

She nodded -- then started, as the back door slammed. Dyer instinctively reached for his weapon, but Scully waved him off. A young woman -- Dyer recognized her from the office photo -- jogged into the room.

"Hey, Dana; oh, I didn't realize you had, um, company."

"It's okay. What's up?"

"I was going to take Rebecca to grab some ice cream; I thought maybe you'd like to come along."

"In November?" Dyer raised an eyebrow, but he was smiling at the pretty woman -- who didn't seem to mind the attention. She lifted her head up and crossed her arms in mock defiance.

"I firmly believe that there is NO wrong time for Mint Chocolate Chip. Except maybe now, huh, Dana?"

Scully smiled. "I tell you what; bring me back a pint, okay?"

"Got it," she nodded, and bounded back out of the room.

"She didn't seem that surprised to see us," Kavyas noted.

"Since Mulder' disappearance, my friends have become used to seeing investigators around. Now, where were we?"

"You were still in the Bureau. Now, what research were you pursuing that prompted you to leave?" Kavyas leaned forward expectantly.

Hate to disappoint you, Scully thought, but she settled back into the sofa to tell her story. "It wasn't as simple as one line of research, Agent Kavyas. We went back to paranormal cases after that, but the Mills murders had taken a lot out of us both. Although he never mentioned it to me, I knew that Mulder's commitment to the Bureau was gone."

Washington, D.C.
May 14, 1996

Scully realized the noodles were boiling over -- had been for a couple of seconds, despite the fact that she was standing right over them. "Damnit!" she muttered, stirring them back down. Her mind was too full at the moment to handle cooking on top of it all; thank God she'd gotten the pesto ready-made. New axiom, she silently declared: never make major life decisions while you're also making dinner.

The knock at the door startled her so badly she dropped the spoon into the water. "Great," she sighed, trying to ignore the fact that her heart was suddenly beating twice as fast. He'd come by even earlier than she'd imagined; any decision she was going to make had to be made now.

She opened the door to see Mulder standing there -- as she had known she would; the collar of his trench coat was turned up against the drizzling rain. He raised his face to hers slowly, as if frightened of her reaction; yet Dana just smiled easily, as if this were any other day he'd dropped by.

"You're just in time for dinner -- you do like pesto, don't you?"

"Oh, uh, yeah. Sure do." Still, Fox stood there, unable to actually step into the house.

"Well, get in here, before you catch your death," she gently scolded, shooing him through the doorway. While he divested himself of the soaking coat and shoes, Scully set another place at her tiny dinner table and poured them a little wine. We're both gonna need it, she mused.

They started eating without saying anything else; Mulder, no doubt, was looking for words. Scully was going over and over her options, realizing there was only one decision she could make.

"Scully, I -- I guess you heard."

"Yes, I did. Skinner was kind enough to come and tell me, since you didn't even leave a note." She understood why he'd done that, understood it better than he could ever explain it -- but the hurt was still in her voice.

"Scully -- Dana, I'm sorry. I had to do this."

She looked up towards the ceiling, trying to remain calm. "I knew you'd been thinking about leaving the Bureau, Mulder. But if you were going to resign, you could have warned me. Prepared me for it instead of just packing up all your stuff while I was at lunch, for God's sake."

"I know. I know. It just hurt too much to face coming to you; I was afraid you'd talk me out of it. And I knew I had to do this. Scully, I've got a chance to keep doing paranormal research. With even more resources and freedom than I've had at the Bureau. I couldn't pass that up, not even for -- not for anything."

What were you going to say, Mulder? she wondered. He took her hand in his own as he continued. "I want you to know one thing; if I didn't believe, absolutely, that we could remain close without working together, I wouldn't have done this. But we can, right? I haven't screwed that up --?"

Dana shook her head, but still refused to meet his eyes. "No, Mulder. We've been friends through tougher circumstances than simply not sharing an office. I just wish you had told me, that you'd trusted me to understand your decision and support it."

Mulder sat quietly for a moment, weighing her words. "You're right," he finally said. "This was cowardly of me. I apologize."

"Apology accepted. Just don't ever do that again." She looked down into his face at last, and was somewhat surprised at the depth of the grateful relief in his eyes.

They remained like that for a long moment, staring into each other's gaze, holding hands -- until Fox broke eye contact, blushing slightly. "Um -- this really is a spectacular opportunity, Dana."

"Tell me about it," she said, leaning back in her chair a little. This should be good, she thought.

"Are you familiar with McCrory College? Specifically, the founder, Martha McCrory?"

The millionairess had a familiar name; she'd endowed libraries and museums in several cities, including D.C. Scully nodded, and added, "Never really saw you as a teacher, Mulder."

Fox shrugged. "I think I'll enjoy going back to academia -- but teaching psychology is only a small part of why I'm going to McCrory College. It turns out that, when Martha McCrory was a girl, she had a paranormal experience -- she traveled outside her body for a long period of time. She told others about it; instead of being believed, she was treated for hysteria."

Dana nodded again. "And now that's she old and rich, and therefore qualified to be 'eccentric' instead of crazy, she's determined to prove that there are things in this world beyond the knowledge of man."

"That's what she said," Fox agreed -- then paused for a moment. "Actually, that's exactly what she said --"

"I know, because she said it to me, too. You see, Mrs. McCrory is of the opinion that you'll need a partner, and she'd like it to be me. And, barring any objections from you, I've decided to accept her offer." There -- she'd said it. Dana felt a little dizzy; within the course of a few hours, she'd decided to totally change her life, and it was overwhelming. But she also felt incredibly free --

Mulder sat across from her wearing such a blank expression of shock that she could've laughed. After a moment, he shook his head. "No, Dana. I can't let you do this."

"Since when do you get to 'let me' do anything, Mulder? I'm capable of making my own decisions -- and unless you don't want me for your partner --"

"No, no! It's not that, not that at all. But you've got a future in the Bureau, especially without me and the X-Files hanging around your neck. I never fit in there; it's something of a relief to be able to leave. It's different for you. No matter how much I might want you with me, I can't let you throw away your career for that --"

"Mulder, from now on, when you come in my house, check your ego at the door. I do want our partnership to continue, but I wouldn't leave the Bureau only to stay with you." Tempted though I might be, she thought but did not say. "Some of the things I've seen these last few years have shaken me, Mulder. Shaken all my preconceived notions. I can't explain them, and I have to try. Don't you see, Mulder? I can't push these experiences away as if they never happened. I have to seek my own truth now -- "

He nodded. "I understand, Scully. I really do." After a silent second, he gave her one of his most rogueish grins. "And the fact that we'll still be together --"

"Just the frosting on the cake, Mulder."

"The two of you weren't just partners, then," Dyer cut in.

"No -- we were very close friends. "

Dyer paused. That wasn't what he had been expecting. "Just friends? Not --?"

"Agent Dyer, I'm shocked," Scully said, lifting her hand to her chest in mock horror. "You certainly know as well as I do that Bureau agents aren't supposed to be romantically involved with one another, particularly if they work together. Or have they changed that?"

"No, no -- they haven't --" Dyer was embarrassed and a little flustered. Kavyas cut in, his voice grating with impatience.

"Your research, Dr. Scully?"

"Sorry if I've been wandering on a bit -- this sort of thing is just much more interesting than the research."

"It's the research that we need to trade for Mr. Mulder; I should think that fact would interest you enough." Kavyas' glare communicated much to her; he realized what she was doing, trying to pull Dyer into the story. Dyer obviously had already been told a fair amount; he hadn't blinked an eye when she'd spoken about Samantha, so he must know that much of their story, at least. But Dana needed to get past the details, involve him personally. And no matter how much Kavyas might snap at her, she knew she had to try it. Dyer was reachable; he was so young.

Krychek had been young.

Scully shook off a tremor of remembered fear, then got to the point. "We taught psychology and physics, respectively, at McCrory College. We both actually enjoyed the academic part of our job. The paranormal research, however, was our main responsibility, and we covered any number of areas. Yet I think I know the line of research that set all of this into motion."

Panola County General
Batesville, Miss
August 23, 1997

And I thought South Carolina got hot in the summers, Scully thought, wiping her forehead with the sleeve of her lab coat. Sweat had been trickling down the ridge of her safety goggles, itching horribly and adding to her impatience as the test blotting slowly scrolled out of the machine. Now, though, as the data peeled out in front of her, the Mississippi heat seemed to vanish. "Oh, my God, Mulder. Look at this."

"It showed up again?" Mulder turned from his laptop across the room to run to her side.

"Here it is. The genetic marker is identical to the ones we've seen in Maine and California and Wisconsin. I'm willing to bet that this shows up on the Nebraska trip as well."

"This is amazing," Mulder sighed, lifting the data sheet up into the sunlight. It had been Scully's brainstorm to do genetic mapping of all abductees; of the ones whose stories they believed, almost 100% shared this genetic subpattern. "We actually have evidence of what the aliens have done to them."

"No, Mulder, we don't." He glanced over at her, surprised. Dana took a deep breath before continuing. "I also ran a couple of tests on family members of abductees. They often share this pattern. It's inherited, not created."

Mulder slumped in disappointment, but Scully shook her head. "This isn't a setback, Mulder -- it's just not the data we were searching for. It may be even better." Here I am, encouraging him about alien research, she thought bemusedly. But Dana saw no point in denial after the hard data was in front of her -- as it was now.

"What do you mean?" The letdown had, at least temporarily, clouded Fox's imagination. Scully shook his shoulder in frustration.

"Mulder, don't you see? We have found this inherited pattern in almost all the abductees. But it is shared by only 5 or 6 percent of the general population."

She paused a moment while that sunk in. Finally, he added, "So, that means that this pattern -- this is what the aliens are looking for."

"Perhaps. Perhaps something about this pattern facilitates their tests. Or there could be some other motivating factor we can't guess. But this is important, Mulder; I'm sure of it." She waited for another moment before continuing. "Mulder -- I ran this test on you."


"Your genetic map remains on file at the FBI, and I still have enough friends there to get a copy. You share this subpattern. That means that, probably --"

"Samantha did too." They were both quiet for a long time after that; for the first time, Mulder had a reason for his sister's disappearance. Not much of a reason -- and no explanation -- but it was the first definite clue he'd ever gotten.

In an attempt to lighten the moment, Scully finally added, "Just for the record, I don't have it. Guess that's why they threw me back, huh?"

Mulder rewarded her efforts with a smile, but after a second they were both, once again, totally fixed on the data before them.

"Do you still have a copy of this data, of the genetic subpattern?" Kavyas was into the story now, she noted wryly.

"Think carefully about this, Agent Kavyas. The genetic subpattern can't be what they want. They obviously can detect that, and obtain it, quite well on their own." Scully folded her arms and watched him while that sank in. I hope he feels half as foolish as he looks, she decided.

"But you think that there is some aspect of that research they would trade for," Dyer prodded.

"It's got to be something to do with that; we kept working on it all through the fall. And it's what we were working on when Mulder disappeared." Scully bit her lip; she could talk about most memories fairly easily now. But the days surrounding his abduction were difficult --

"Can you be any more specific, Dr. Scully?"

"Actually, no; right around the time of the abduction, I hadn't been feeling very well. Mulder was running the show on his own for a change."

Oh, God, that last morning. He'd begged off breakfast -- breakfasting together was usually one of the highlights of the day -- and ducked out the door. He'd barely looked at her, and she hadn't thought twice about it, stumbling around the house tired and ill. Had he said anything as he walked out that door? Had she? It all seemed so mundane and forgettable at the time, nothing to take special notice of. Dana had replayed the scene in her head night after night; each time, she wanted to somehow reach backwards through time and shake herself into doing something differently. Talk to him, damnit; make him hang around. Find out why he's leaving so early, so quietly. Don't let him leave -- tie him to the chair if you have to. Or if you can't do anything else, at least notice what's happening. Make this last memory more vivid, more meaningful. God, I would have paid more attention, if I had known.

Scully realized she was tearing up; Dyer offered her a handkerchief, all courtesy and awkwardness. She took it, but made herself focus on Kavyas -- his searching, merciless stare did more to dry her tears. "I'm sorry," Dyer murmured. "I realize this is hard for you."

"You have no idea, Agent Dyer."

The back door slammed again; the young woman from before entered the room, carrying a pint of ice cream in one hand and balancing a baby on her hip with the other. Dyer recognized the child, perhaps a little over a year old, from the office photograph as well. "Still here?" the woman asked brightly.

"Yes -- but it's not like the other times. You need to know something; this isn't just another investigation. These men may be able to help us get Fox home."

The young woman froze. "You mean -- oh, God, you're kidding."

"Please, Sam, would I kid about something like that?"

It took a moment for that to sink in. Then Dyer whispered, "Sam. Samantha. You're Mulder's sister?"

Samantha nodded absently. "Dana, what do we have to do to get him back?"

"I'm not sure, honey; we'll find out. Whatever it is, we'll manage it."

Dyer was amazed, and unashamed of showing it. "This is incredible. You were supposed to be the victim of an alien abduction yourself. When did you return? How did it happen?"

Her lower lip trembled as she replied, "I was returned a little over two years ago -- when my brother agreed to take my place." Sam choked up a little at the last, and handed the baby to Dana. "Here, Rebecca; go to Mama." With that, she ran upstairs to collect herself.

Dana folded her daughter against her chest, only looking up to meet Dyer's wide eyes after a few long moments. With some detached amusement she realized that even Kavyas was openly surprised now. Didn't have that in your files, did you, she thought.

"This is your daughter?" Dyer finally asked.

"Yes, this is Rebecca. Honey, can you say hi?" The tiny girl looked at Dyer for a few seconds more, then buried her face in the side of her mother's neck. Scully smiled. "She's going through a shy phase right now. Don't take it personally."

"This is Mr. Mulder's daughter," Kavyas added. Not a question -- a statement of fact.

"Yes." Scully rearranged herself on the sofa, so as to both face the agents and cradle her child. "As you can see -- there's still a lot more to this than you know."

Part Two

The three of them sat in silence for a few seconds. Finally, Dyer cleared his throat. "You haven't been totally honest with us, Dr. Scully."

"Everything that I told you is true," she replied, smoothing her daughter's auburn hair as she spoke.

"Not precisely," Kavyas pointed out. "You told us that you and Agent Mulder were only friends, and shared no romantic relationship. You're now holding rather tangible proof that this wasn't the case. It makes me wonder what else you may not have disclosed to us."

"Think back to our earlier conversation; Agent Dyer thought that we were romantically involved while we were still at the Bureau. We weren't -- contrary to popular rumor." And probably to a notation in those files of yours, Scully mused. "Mulder and I broke FBI rules from time to time, and Skinner would let us get away with it. But dating? Skinner was a hard-liner about that. Although we never actually discussed the subject, we both understood that getting involved would mean that one of us was going to get transferred. And it was important to stay together, and to work together. After we left the FBI, we didn't have to worry about that any more."

Listen to me, she thought. I say that so smoothly, so easily, as if there were nothing more to it. Dana got up from the sofa, and walked to the window, looking for a moment at the child in her arms. The one with the achingly familiar hazel eyes --

She looked away, and out towards the sea. Scully wanted to tell these agents as much as she could, to help them understand her, perhaps to feel something for her and for Mulder. But some memories were too precious to share.

Jonquil, South Carolina
December 8, 1996


"Yes, Mulder?"

"If I ever, ever, ever again think about giving an essay exam, just pick up a gun and shoot me, okay? Trust me, it's the merciful thing to do." Fox picked up a bluebook -- filled, without margins, by the scrawliest handwriting Scully had ever seen, and in bright purple ink, no less. She burst out laughing -- after hours of grading her own physics exams, she was a little punchy.

"Look on the bright side; it's still less paperwork than we had at the Bureau," Dana reminded him, as she got up to stoke the fire.

Mulder nodded, running his hand tiredly through his hair; he was on the floor beside Dana's couch, propped up on cushions and surrounded by papers. "You're right about that; still, sometimes I think it was easier getting inside the minds of psychopaths than inside the minds of this freshman class."

Scully chuckled again, settling herself back on the sofa among her own exams. "Getting inside the minds of my students seems like a snap, since I learned how to understand you."

He raised an eyebrow at that. "Oh, really? Are you inside my mind now, Dr. Scully?" Mulder leaned forward onto the sofa, resting his chin on her knee.

"Absolutely," she replied, holding his eyes with her own for a long moment. Dana tried to ignore the little quaver of emotion in her stomach. Don't be stupid, it's just Mulder. Your best friend. The person you're closest to in the entire world. The man who's comforted you, cheered you, stood by you -- stop it. "Of course, there's not much in your mind to see --"

Fox grinned and tossed a cushion at her. She caught it, hurled it back at him -- and sent the cushion spinning into his exams, scattering the pages across the floor. "Oh, no! Mulder, I'm sorry."

He just laughed. "It's okay -- we can sort them easily. I don't think any two students used the same color ink."

For the next few minutes, they crawled around the floor on hands and knees, finding all the lost sheets. They said nothing; Dana's mind was racing. This keeps happening, she told herself. When are you going to face it?

There was no saying precisely when she had fallen in love with him. No sudden revelations or moments of reckoning. Yet within the first year of their partnership, Dana had known that she could never love any other man as deeply as she loved Fox Mulder.

But now, 4 years after they'd met, they remained no more than friends. Perhaps "no more than" is a bad phrase to use, she corrected herself. Their friendship was more intimate and powerful than many of the romantic relationships she'd had. It just wasn't enough anymore.

Friendship had been the only choice in the beginning; Scully wasn't so unprofessional as to act on an attraction for her new partner. By the time her feelings had deepened, the issue had become far more complex. They relied on each other completely by that point -- the danger of being reassigned was far more threatening.

Yet none of that explained why, almost 7 months after leaving the Bureau, the two of them had exchanged no more than friendly hugs and the occasional kiss on the cheek. Neither of them had ever pressed for more, or done more than their usual flirting. For herself, Scully knew, the issue was fear -- she could not bear the thought of Fox Mulder leaving her life. Nothing could destroy their friendship, but a romance -- that could go wrong, go horribly wrong, and then what would be left? Dana felt, instinctively, that the ugliest breakup in the world wouldn't keep Fox from her side if she needed him -- but it could keep them from seeing each other every day. From the easy intimacy they both thrived on. That she wasn't willing to lose.

But am I willing to risk it? Don't know -- and it doesn't look like Fox does either.

"Scully?" She jerked her head up, realized she'd just been sitting on the floor now for a few moments.

"Oh, sorry, Mulder. This is the last of them -- " Dana handed the final bluebook to him -- as she did so, he caught her hand and held it. Surprised, she looked up into his eyes. He seemed troubled, his eyes darkened by some sudden emotion. "What's the matter?"

"It's just -- this," he said, reaching out with his other hand to touch the tiny cross around her neck. "The firelight caught it for a moment there, and it -- reminded me. That's all." Fox sighed deeply, and let his hand rest against the exposed skin around the necklace. Dana's heart quickened; she felt certain he would be able to feel her pulse humming beneath those fingertips. "It's been over two years since you were back home safely; still, sometimes, the fear comes back to me as if it were yesterday. And being able to look up and see you beside me is the greatest gift -- "

Dana leaned forward into his arms, embracing him gently. Should I say what I've been feeling? Tell him everything, take the chance? I don't want to have my logic overruled by my hormones, I want to be reasonable -- oh, God, he's kissing my neck.

Which he was, his lips softly grazing her throat. She pulled back for a moment to look into his eyes again; Mulder let out another deep sigh. "Scully, if you don't -- want this to happen, just tell me straight and I can take it, no problem --"

And he could take it. He would brush it off with a joke, go back to grading the papers easily and casually, and never, ever, offer again. This is it, she realized. I have to decide.

"Don't act like you have to be careful about my feelings -- " Dana cut off his words with a kiss, gentle and quick, barely brushing his mouth.

"I will be careful with your feelings, Mulder. Be careful with mine, too, okay?"

He nodded, then leaned down slowly, as if still uncertain of her reaction. Scully touched his cheek with her fingertips, tilting his face slightly. Fox's lips brushed gently against hers. Then again. And again. Finally, he took her chin in his hand as his mouth settled possessively atop hers, the desire they'd held in check for years building to a passion beyond controlling. Not that she wanted to control it --

Mulder's kisses turned hard, hot, consuming. Wonderfully arousing. Scully loved the taste of him, the way his mouth slanted over hers time and time again, the low groan in the back of his throat as she pulled him still closer. After a moment, he pulled away, breathing hard. "Dana -- I don't want to rush you --"

She laughed through her own gasps and ruffled his hair affectionately. "You call making your move after almost 5 years rushing things? Thank God you didn't decide to take things slowly."

Fox smiled almost bashfully as he leaned forward to kiss her again. "Good point."

Her memories of their first lovemaking were always somewhat blurred; it was something she'd fantasized about so often for so long, that sometimes during that night it seemed almost unreal -- as if one of her dreams were spinning itself out around her. But she remembered vividly the feel of those first kisses, the weight of his body, the shadows the firelight created on his skin. In one moment of lucidity, Scully wondered how many people could ever experience a night like this -- she and Mulder shared both the complete acceptance and trust of longtime lovers, and the exquisite thrill of the first time in each other's arms. Utter security and tender revelation.

When finally he lay spent by her side, holding her close, stroking her hair, she felt as if the powerful emotions between them had somehow taken on fuller substance. Had become yet more real. As if their love was a tangible, living thing she could hold close to her.

Dana folded her arms still more tightly around her tiny daughter. She blinked away the last of her tears, and turned back to the agents behind her. Although she had stared out that window only a moment, Scully felt as if she'd removed herself from events too completely. Concentrate, she reminded herself. Enough of the mushy stuff. If Dyer's going to be sympathetic, he is by now. If not -- best you work with them as well as you can.

"Samantha?" she called. After a second, Sam reappeared in the stairwell; she was still teary, but had collected herself somewhat. "Honey, take Rebecca upstairs; she's sleepy and I'm going to be busy down here for a while yet."

Samantha nodded, and moved to take her niece from Dana. "What do they know? What's happened, Dana? Are we really going to get Fox back home?"

"I'm not sure of any of that, Sam. But I'll let you know as soon as I do, all right?" The dark-haired woman nodded and scooped the tiny girl into her arms. Scully noticed that Dyer's eyes followed Samantha all the way up the stairs -- I think baby sister has an admirer, she thought bemusedly.

Kavyas cleared his throat. "Very well; you and Mr. Mulder did not begin a romantic relationship until after you left the Bureau. I'll accept that you've been honest about that much of the story, Dr. Scully. But I do have to wonder whether or not you've been totally honest about your work in the days immediately preceding his abduction."

"Perhaps I have been less than candid, Agent Kavyas. But I wasn't attempting to mislead you. Those days are difficult to discuss, but I'll do my best." Dana took a moment to further compose herself - to make herself ready to discuss the darkest day of her life.

"I was being quite honest when I told you that I wasn't involved with Mulder's work in the time period just before he was taken. I had been feeling badly; although I didn't know it yet, I was in the early days of my pregnancy." A small sound from Dyer -- sympathy? Hard to say. Scully continued, "I only put together what he'd been doing after he was gone."

Montrose Peak, North Carolina
October 11, 1997

Dana ran up the steps of the hospital, frantic with worry. Fox had been missing for two days now; at first, she'd assumed he was in deep over his head with his research -- frightening enough, remembering some of the past scrapes he'd gotten himself into. But as days had passed with no word, no sign, fear had turned into panic. Now, this oblique call from a police officer -- he'd given her no explanation, just told her to come to this hospital. Scully was enough of a professional to understand what that usually meant; she was also desperate enough to convince herself that it didn't mean that this time. Fox isn't dead. I would know it, somehow, if he were dead --

She jogged up to the nurses' station. "I'm Dana Scully; Officer Lee called for me?"

The nurse nodded. "He's waiting for you in emergency."

Emergency! Her heart leapt. If he's in emergency, he's still alive. Thank you, God, however he's injured we can deal with it, as long as he's alive. She hurried down the hallway to the door she'd been shown, now ready for anything.

Or so she thought.

As she burst through the door, several heads turned; a police officer stepped towards her. "Dana Scully?"

"Yes, Officer Lee, it's me. You've found Fox?"

"No, ma'am."

"What? But I thought --" Dana's heart was in her throat, choking her. He's still missing after all. Oh, Jesus.

"Dr. Scully, we did find his car. And his stuff in it -- briefcase, wallet, all that. But no sign of him. It looks like a carjacking gone bad, I'm afraid."

Dana blindly put a hand out towards the wall, in an attempt to steady herself. Not that, anything but a stupid, random, violent death. She whispered the only thing she could think of to say, "Why call me to the hospital, then?"

The police officer shared a raised-eyebrow glance with the doctor nearest him. "Well, umm, I don't like telling you this, but we did find someone in the car. A woman," Lee said, voice dripping with something that wasn't quite compassion.

Scully straightened herself at that. She knew Mulder well enough to know he was faithful, even if this fool didn't. Still, whoever this woman was, she might know something -- "Is this woman injured?"

Lee seemed impressed that the news hadn't shaken her. "Not precisely, no. But she seems to be in shock -- she's been almost catatonic since we found her. She just lies there, shaking, and doesn't even seem to realize anyone's near her." He gestured over to a screen, showed Scully through it.

Dana stepped to the side of a young woman, perhaps her own age, with long dark hair. She was wearing an incredibly simple grey dress; at first Scully assumed it was a hospital gown, but then realized it was something different. The woman was trembling violently, and didn't notice Dana's presence.

Scully studied the face for a long moment. "She seems familiar--"

The others around her, assuming this to be a woman confronting her lover's mistress, kept watching curiously. Scully kept looking at that face. I know I have seen her before. I know it --

Then it came to her. From a photograph on Fox's desk, now years out of date yet familiar. From Fox's own face, lines and curves she knew by heart. "Oh, my God. Samantha."

At that, the woman started -- and looked up at Dana. Scully's mind was racing; she realized at last what Mulder had done. And that he was utterly lost to her now. Of course he would sacrifice himself for his beloved baby sister -- the same woman who looked up at Dana now, confused and terrified. Scully tried to give her a gentle smile. "Samantha, honey, don't be afraid. I'm a friend of your brother's."

"Fox?" Sam whispered, with a voice rough from disuse. "Where's Fox?"

Dana bowed her head, unable to hold the tears back any longer. "I wish I knew. Oh, God, I wish I knew." She squeezed Samantha's hand tighter.

Behind her, Lee cleared his throat. "Ma'am -- this is Mr. Mulder's sister?"

Scully nodded. He continued, "How come you didn't recognize her?

"I've never seen her before."

"She and Mr. Mulder didn't get along?"

"No, that's not it at all."

"Ma'am -- you seem to have figured out what's going on here. Wish you'd let me in on it."

She actually laughed at that. "I'll be more than happy to, Officer Lee. Though I doubt it's exactly what you'll want to hear."

Some time later, after Scully had explained UFO abductions to the officer and then to a couple of concerned doctors, she sat alone by Sam's bed. Mulder's sister had fallen asleep, and rather peacefully too. Dana leaned wearily back in the chair, propping her feet up on the box of Mulder's possessions they'd taken from the car. Grief had yet to fully strike; at that moment, she felt lightheaded and apathetic. The clinical section of her mind recognized this as shock, but that didn't change anything.

"Well, Sam, how can I best while away the time until the white coats come for me, hmm?" She picked up her feet, pulled Mulder's briefcase out of the box. Easier to go through this now, when it doesn't seem real, she decided. She opened it up -- his scribbled notepads, the bag of sunflower seeds, and all the rest of his paraphernalia lay there. Yet Dana was still beyond any pain, even when she breathed in the whiff of his aftershave as the case opened. "What could you have been up to, Mulder?"

She pulled up a couple of computer discs -- they were labeled "Bloodline," their name for the demographics project. "Oh, I see," she sighed. "No wonder you stumbled into a UFO."

"What was the Bloodline project? What can you tell me about it?" Kavyas was completely alert now, perched on the edge of his seat.

"It's not something so very interesting, I'm afraid. I told you earlier that we had identified a genetic subpattern common to most abductees. 'Bloodline' was simply an attempt to link together those families and areas with abductions. To trace the genetic links the aliens seem so interested in. It's not predictive or anything -- but many sites and families have repeated abductions. I suspect that when Mulder went back to Montrose Peak for some data, he came into contact with a returning ship." Dana fell onto the sofa, pulling her knees up against her chest and hugging them close.

"So this project conveyed no new information, but simply explained what the aliens had already done?" Dyer asked, his face falling.

"That's right. That means they couldn't possibly be after the Bloodline project either. But that's what he was working on at the end."

Kavyas got up and looked oceanward himself; his frustration and anger were obvious. He's had to listen to my little stories for nothing, she thought. Next to her, Dyer seemed puzzled. "I don't understand. You say Mulder ran into these aliens accidentally --"

"No -- that's what I assumed immediately after the abduction. But once Samantha had recovered enough to explain, she revealed that the aliens told her days in advance that Fox was exchanging himself for her. While the data don't reveal anything predictive -- well, Mulder always knew how to play a hunch."

"So he did know what he was going to do."

"He knew what he hoped to do -- he couldn't have been certain they would comply. But as long as they had Mulder's version of the subpattern, his sister was no longer a necessary subject."

Kavyas turned back to them. "Dr. Scully, I'd like to take the Bloodline data back with me if I could. While you say there's no predicting alien movements from it, our computers might be able to pick up some subtle pattern."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Agent Kavyas. You see, I destroyed the data."

That took a moment to sink in. "Destroyed it?"

She nodded. "After the first shock of Mulder's abduction passed, I got angry. Very angry. I destroyed his computer disks along with a lot of his stuff." The "I Want To Believe" poster. The Redskins jersey. The sunflower seeds. Dana remembered tossing it into the fireplace, standing in almost the same spot where they'd made love so long ago, her rage robbing her of the relief of tears.

"Why were you angry?" Dyer asked.

Scully shook her head. "Haven't you been listening to me? Haven't you heard any patterns here?" She couldn't sit still any longer; she got up and started pacing the floor, trying to burn off some of the angry energy returning to her now as she thought of it all over again.

"Mulder's quest. I knew about it from our first case -- he told me about Samantha, about his desire to find her, and said 'nothing else matters.' I was fool enough to believe that sometime over the last 5 years, I had begun to matter. But when it came down to it, he left me. Left me with a sister who needed intensive therapy, with a baby on the way, with a job that had lost all its meaning for me." Dana slapped her hand against the windowsill in frustration.

"He would make decisions without telling me, letting me know what I could or couldn't risk for his sake. What I should and shouldn't know. I asked him never to do that again, and he promised that he wouldn't. But he ended up contacting aliens, making a deal, and leaving my life without speaking a word.

"Don't misunderstand me -- I've come to love Sam as much as my own sister. She isn't a burden; in fact, I don't know how I would have made it through the last two years without her. I love Rebecca, and raising her alone is better than not having her at all. And I've done well for myself in the physics department. Yet in the end, I gave up everything I had known for the man I loved and for a search for truth. The man left me and that ended the search. I do still care about Mulder. But I don't forgive him."

"Yet you said you'd do anything to get him back --" Dyer cut in, bewildered.

"I would. Samantha hasn't been able to explain everything that happened to her, but I know that there's pain --- Oh, God. It's not something I would wish on anyone, much less the father of my child. But wanting him to be safe isn't the same thing as wanting him back in my life." Her face was hard now, her eyes dark -- Dyer recognized the angry expression as the same one she'd worn in the office when they first mentioned Mulder's name.

"There's nothing more you can tell us, Dr. Scully?" Kavyas was back to formal politeness now. She'd been wrung dry. No information.


"Why did you keep this going, then? I was certain you were holding something back."

She met his eyes for only a moment. "I was certain you were. But it doesn't seem there's anything I can do to help you."

"Well then. We apologize for taking up so much of your time; rest assured, we will continue to take any steps we can to bring Mr. Mulder home." Totally slick and polished now, Kavyas smiled at her, fooling no one. Dyer nodded at her, quickly, and they left the house.

Dana sat in the quiet for a minute, trying to clear her head of rage and pain. In a minute, she'd go up to Rebecca's room and watch her daughter sleep, the sweetest and most comforting thing she knew. Then she'd explain things much better for poor Samantha. But all of that would just be killing time. Now, she could only wait, and hope she'd succeeded.

Around midnight, Dana was awakened from her place on the sofa by a knocking at the door. She jerked up, immediately alert, and ran to open it.

Dyer stood there. "Dr. Scully?" He was pale and nervous, glancing around quickly.

"Yes. What have you come to tell me?"

"Ma'am -- I know where the exchange was going to take place if we'd had the stuff. It was tonight -- well, in the early morning. We could get there if we left now; I know you don't have stuff to trade but maybe we could do something --"

Scully stayed in the doorway, arms folded across her. "Is this a double-cross, Dyer? If it is, so help me --"

"No, no! Dr. Scully, I shouldn't be here at all. I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on you. I just think you deserve a chance to get him back -- and that you deserve to know that Kavyas wouldn't have handed the information over. A unit is being sent out to make the rendezvous, but they didn't have any intention on following through --"

"I realized that, Dyer. A snake like Kavyas is never going to be straight with you. So that's why I wasn't straight with him." At Dyer's raised eyebrow, she picked up the satchel she'd placed by the door earlier, and patted its side. "Bloodline. The data is complete. I may have been angry when I torched Mulder' stuff, but I wasn't crazy."

Dyer smiled at that, then caught himself, puzzled. "Wait -- I thought you said they wouldn't want it --"

"That's true enough, but -- hell, I'll explain later. If we're going to make this rendezvous, we've got to get going."

"It's going to be dangerous; the unit they've sent there means business, and they won't want interference."

"I'm prepared for that," Scully said, patting the satchel again. "I don't have as many reasons to shoot a gun these days, but I do remember how." She paused a moment by the end table, scribbling on a post-it note -- then slapped it on the window beside the door. "Let's go."

They ran out into the night. Within the house, the tiny yellow paper fluttered as the door shut; it said: "Sam. Take care of Rebecca for me, and don't worry. We've gone to pick up your brother."

Part Three

Alexander Stephens Parkway, North Georgia
1:30 a.m.
November 22, 1999

Dyer's grey rental car sped through the night at nearly 100 miles per hour. Thank goodness he has an FBI badge to flash if we get pulled over, Scully thought. She clutched the satchel in her arms, drumming her fingers against the side. "It's good of you to do this, Dyer."

He shook his head. "It's the only decent thing to do. I knew the plan all along but -- Kavyas made it sound as if the two of you had hidden away government secrets, like we had a right to steal back whatever we could get from you. But listening to you, well, I realized there was a lot more to it. And that a man's life is at stake."

Scully smiled softly, but kept her strategies to herself. "There's no guarantee this will work, you know. But this is the best chance I've ever had. Thank you for that."

"One thing kinda puzzles me, though," Dyer said, glancing sideways at her. "When we were leaving you sounded so angry. So bitter. Like you wanted him safe but didn't care what happened to him after that. You don't seem like that at all now -- I'm sorry if I'm getting too personal."

Dana patted his arm. "Not at all -- it's not as if you haven't heard half of my life story already. And putting yourself on the line like this earns you the right to ask any questions you like.

"Most of I said back at the house, I meant. I was infuriated with Mulder at first. I'm still angry that he didn't tell me about this -- that wounds me more deeply than I can easily tell you. But how can I regret the actions that brought Samantha home safely? Or the choices I made? I wanted knowledge about extreme possibilities; I may have gotten that knowledge at the highest possible price, but I did get it."

She sighed and settled back into the seat a little -- tension or no, the hours were getting to her. "I'm not bitter, nor am I some forlorn, throwaway woman who shucked her job for a man. I made my own choices and fought my own battles. The truth is still out there, Dyer -- and during this time I have been its guardian. It has been difficult, and lonely, but it was my role, and my choice."

Scully looked over at her companion, who seemed to understand. He cocked one eyebrow at her. "And -- you and Mulder?"

"That I don't know about. There was a time I would have said nothing could damage the trust between us, but I was wrong. I -- I'll just have to see how we both feel when he gets back." Dana retreated within herself; Dyer noticed her withdrawal and kept quiet for a while. For her part, she looked up at the moon, tinted blue at the top of the windshield, and thought -- when he gets back. Not if. Been a long time since I could say that. Since I could afford to let myself remember, in hope instead of pain.

Jonquil, South Carolina
July 21, 1997

The Omelets a'la Mulder have definitely improved, Scully decided, as she settled in to her breakfast. When Fox had moved in three months ago, they'd made a pact to share the chores equally -- although this had meant putting up with some bizarre meal combinations (his fault) and the occasional streaky windows (her fault), they'd stuck to it. They'd both improved a lot -- in fact, she sometimes found it amazing how easy living together was. She'd worried about quarreling over stupid details, longing for personal space, slowing down their sex life -- and it simply hadn't happened. After being so close for so long, she and Mulder fit together perfectly, as if time had worn their curves and edges, shaping them into two halves of one whole.

As she put a couple more biscuits on her plate, Mulder chuckled from across the table. "Watch out, Scully; if you keep eating like that, you'll get fat ankles and I'll have to divorce you."

Dana balled up her napkin and tossed it at him. "You shouldn't cook such great breakfasts, then. Anyway, to divorce me you'd first have to marry me."

"That's not such a bad idea."

She'd eaten a few more bites of omelet before that sank in. Slowly, she looked up from her plate to study Mulder's face. The teasing grin she'd expected wasn't there; Fox was smiling softly, but his eyes were serious. "I'm not trying to rush you, or anything. Just talking it over. Have you ever thought about it?"

Dana had to swallow a mouthful before she could answer -- strangely difficult with the sudden lump in her throat. She finally managed, "Yes, I've thought about it a lot." Good God, was she actually blushing? Scully managed to continue; "Sometimes it's hard for me to imagine us as an old married couple, but I have to admit, it's impossible for me to imagine being married to anyone else."

"Same here," Mulder said, taking her hand in his own. "Except I'm not having too much trouble seeing us as an old married couple any more." The intensity of the moment was almost overwhelming -- Dana delighted in it for a moment, but then could take it no longer. Glancing away momentarily, she added, "You and my mother. She's been thinking about this longer than either of us, I bet. Based on the last couple of times we spoke, I think Maggie's already ordered invitations, and just sits by the phone waiting for the call."

Fox laughed. "I can just see her. Now that's the whole reason I want to marry you, Scully. To get in that family of yours."

"You've been in the family for years, and you know it. But that's not really the whole reason -- ?" She angled an eyebrow at him, teasing.

"You know it's not," Mulder whispered, leaning in closely. She tilted her head back as he opened her mouth with his own, kissing her deeply and slowly. She responded warmly, flattening her hands against his chest, feeling his heartbeat quicken. After a few moments, he pulled away.

"Umm - neither of our summer school classes starts until ten -- "

"Good thing. Otherwise we'd have to call in sick." Scully kissed him again, quickly, then took him by the hand to lead him up the stairs. "I do have to insist on two things, Mulder."

"Okay, okay -- but I'm on top next time."

She swatted him. "I'm serious, Mulder. First of all, if we ever do marry, I'm keeping my maiden name."

"No problem with that," he shrugged, as they walked into the bedroom. Fox began untying the belt of her robe, and kissed her forehead gently as he pulled it from her shoulders. "Feminist principles?"

"Yes -- but mostly because it would be too strange, the two of us calling each other Mulder and Mulder."

He laughed joyfully, pulling his own T-shirt over his head. Scully, giggling, pushed him onto the bed, falling atop him as she did so. "Second, no bizarre proposals. It would be just like you to rent a billboard, or put the ring in one of these omelets -- "

"That's the only thing I haven't put in the omelets so far."

She was laughing as Fox rolled her beneath him, but his kisses soon silenced her; he explored the soft corners of her mouth with his tongue, slowly and deliberately, until her breath was coming in soft little gasps. After a moment, Mulder pulled away, serious now. "Don't worry, Scully," he whispered, his voice husky. "I would never make a joke out of proposing to you."

"Promise?" Dana murmurmed, then traced around the edge of his ear with her tongue. Fox shivered, and embraced her even more closely.

"No surprises. I promise."

Well, you lied about that too, Mulder, she thought, blinking damp eyelashes. They'd kept discussing and joking about the topic during the remaining two months he'd been with her, but no more -- still, in the spring near the end of her pregnancy, she'd found a tiny jewelry box in the toe of one of Mulder's shoes, which she'd been planning to give to charity. Wrapped around it was a note: "Dana, if you've been snooping, or for some reason want to wear my shoes, you've spoiled your Christmas. I had a big formal performance planned for your entire family, but if you've found this ahead of time -- I love you. Will you marry me?"

Scully had cried for almost an hour, cradling the note to her enormous belly, before she'd been able to bring herself to open the box. He'd chosen a beautiful ring -- a simple, perfect diamond, cut in the pear shape she loved. She was so tempted to wear it, to accept the paper proposal; it would have been a symbol of their love -- AND wiped the smirk off the face of that witch in her Lamaze class who couldn't get past the fact that a single adult woman was having a baby. But it would have been a lie. Mulder wasn't there to be married, and she was no longer entirely certain she could have married him. Not after an abandonment so complete and devastating.

"We're here," Dyer said suddenly. Dana looked up as they slowed down next to a gate that said, "Constance Park." He pulled his car up on the outside of the gate, stopping there. She didn't have to ask why they didn't drive in -- if there were people inside who didn't want their interference, it was important that their approach be extremely quiet, and their getaway as quick as possible. She took a deep breath as she slung the satchel around her shoulder, then fished her weapon from its pockets.

"I'm ready if you are. How long until --"

"According to the data I saw, about a half hour. But these guys don't exactly run on Eastern Standard Time -- you can't really clock them."

Scully nodded; together they set out into the park.

It was dark, truly dark -- miles and miles away from any form of artificial light and with only a sliver of crescent moon. Dana adjusted as best she could, but the finest night vision in the world wouldn't have made their uneven gravel trail any easier to navigate. She realized they were headed uphill; the gravel slipped under her tennis shoes, making her balance precarious. Hope Dyer's doing okay in those dress loafers, she thought --

When suddenly, he slipped. His arms pinwheeled out in an attempt to balance himself, knocking Scully over. She stumbled into the nearby ditch, her left foot punching through a rotting tree trunk on the ground with an audible THWACK! Streaks of pain shot up her leg, and it was all she could do not to cry out as she fell the rest of the way to the ground.

She might as well have screamed -- they'd been noticed.

A gunshot rang out; she heard both the bang and the impact in a nearby tree. As she went for her own weapon, trying to ignore the burning agony in her ankle, she heard Dyer return fire. After that, the only sound Dana could hear was her own gasping breath, the only sight she could see that same breath fogging in front of her.

Dyer suddenly ducked into her field of vision. "Are you all right?"

"He didn't hit me, but my foot -- " The pain in her ankle was lessening, but it was being replaced by a forbidding numbness. Scully could also feel blood soaking her jeans; the wood had apparently ripped the skin.

"Here, quickly -- " Dyer put an arm around her to try and lift her up. But the renewed pressure on her foot brought all the agony back.

"Oh, DAMN!" she hissed, unable to bite back her whole reaction. They're coming for you, Dana. You're going to get killed here and Mulder isn't going to get home, oh, damn. Enjoy your last sunrise --

It's only two in the morning. It can't be sunrise. Scully began to shiver from something far more profound than the night chill as she realized what the faint pink light at the top of the hill had to be. "Dyer, look!"

"They're here. We don't have much time -- let me do this." Dyer held out his hand for the satchel.

Dana bit her lip. Suddenly, this all seemed very convenient. Dyer came into her house with Kavyas -- couldn't that be a rather weak variant of the good cop/bad cop scenario? Dyer was pulled into her story so easily; he'd won her trust -- and now he'd 'accidentally' injured her just short of her goal, exposing her location to men who were no doubt running down the slope to kill her. And there he sat, hand out, trying to get the package the government wanted so desperately.

He could be lying.

He could be for real.

Call it.

Dana thrust the satchel into his hands, whispering only, "Run!" Dyer took off, his fleeing form silhouetted against the pale pink light. In a moment, even the sound of his footsteps had faded, and she sat in silence yet again. She hefted the gun up, two-handed firm grip straight from Quantico, and listened; Scully forced herself not to think about Dyer's authenticity, the aliens, or even Mulder -- forced her entire mind to focus only on listening. Only on the sounds around her in the dark.

Behind her, a twig snapped.

She turned, firing at the sound, aiming only by ear. The close-range BANG deafened her ears for a moment -- had that been one of the agents? Had she just fired at nothing, revealing herself yet further? In something approaching panic, she punched at the wood entrapping her foot, feeling it snap away. But as she pulled her leg free, wincing at the movement --

The light went beyond white, beyond bright. It came from no one source, it seemed, but somehow surrounded her, suffused her. The earth seemed to shift beneath her; still deafened by the blast, Dana felt but did not hear the vibrations of an immense power nearby.

As suddenly as it had begun it was over; Scully looked up, blinking her eyes against the aftereffects of the blinding light. After a second she could see the slivered crescent moon again, and realized the ringing in her ears was dying down somewhat. She pushed herself up -- the ankle hurt like hell, but wasn't broken, it seemed -- and looked around her.

A man in a suit lay not 15 feet away, a gun in his hand. Limping to his side, Scully checked for a pulse -- he had one, strong and steady. She'd hit him squarely in the shoulder, but if the other agents (and she had no doubt there were others) found him soon, he would live. Dana wasn't sure whether to be glad or not.

"Dr. Scully!" Dyer called. She looked behind her in vain -- nothing was visible more than twenty feet from her face. "Get the car! Hurry!"

Is Mulder there? Is he alive? Are you just going to escape while I go for the car? Dana wanted to scream all of this at him, but instead hobbled down the hill as quickly as she could, trying like hell to ignore the jabbing pains through her leg. He's right, we have to get out of here, you'll find out about Mulder in a minute - I don't want to wait a minute - I want to know now - GODDAMMIT Dana get the car.

She finally skidded to the bottom of the path and made her way to the automobile; Scully cranked it and hit the headlights, grateful for the illumination. She pulled up the narrow hillside path as quickly as she could, screeching to a halt only when she saw the form of the agent she'd shot lying beside the road. At the very periphery of the headlights' glow, Dana saw Dyer waving frantically. "Oh, God, he's for real," she breathed, driving away from the path towards him. As she came to a stop just short of the trees between them, she peered through the underbrush towards the clearing where Dyer stood. Lying there in the tall grasses, half-lit by her car's lights, was the prone figure of a man.

"Mulder -- "

Chickasaw County Hospital
Lambert, Georgia
4:00 a.m.

"He's severely dehydrated, and, I suspect, in shock. Other than that, I can't detect anything wrong with him. How did he get in this condition -- ?"

Dyer cleared his throat as he flashed his badge. "I'm sorry, Doctor, those details are classified. But Mr. Mulder's prognosis is good?"

"Yes; he'll need to stay in the hospital for a few days so we can keep a watch over him, but I don't see much potential for complications," the doctor shrugged.

Scully nodded impatiently. "Can I see him?" During the wild drive into town, she'd only been able to glance at Mulder's form in the back seat, where Dyer was ineptly trying to check him out. It was enough to convince herself that it was truly Mulder, but not nearly enough to satiate the deep hunger within her soul.

"Sure -- we're moving him to his room right now. Meanwhile, stay off that ankle; that's a nasty sprain and the stitches don't need straining either."

Dana glanced down at the bandages around her left foot; "No argument here. Just let me get to his room, and I promise, I won't budge."

"Room 268," the doctor offered, as Scully used her new crutches to pull herself to her feet. Dyer half-rose, as if to accompany her, then thought better of it and sat back down.

She made her way to the elevator and down the hall, her heart thumping wildly against her chest. Finally, Scully opened the door and saw him.

Mulder lay in the hospital bed, unconscious. After all the suspense, after all the infinite ways she'd imagined this moment, the reality was almost comically normal -- he was tucked in tightly, with his head propped up on pillows. Nothing so out of the ordinary, except the IV.

Scully hobbled up to his side, dropping the crutches as she sat on the side of the bed. Mulder had a beard now, and longish hair -- while he'd obviously been able to tend to both sometime within the last two years, he hadn't done it anytime soon. She put her hand to his cheek, drinking in the sight of him; he's got a few new wrinkles, she thought, and there's some grey in this hair. Why am I surprised? During his absence, he hadn't aged in her mind -- strange to think now that he was, after all, only a few months shy of forty.

"Welcome home," Dana whispered, closing her eyes against sudden tears. And as she sat there, looking down at her hand covering his, she missed the moment when he passed from unconsciousness into mere sleep.

Not this dream again.

Normally Mulder clung to his dreams -- they were the only escape for him now, the only break from the agony, the monotony. The only way for him to glimpse the life he'd had before. Even his recurring nightmares from before were vaguely comforting in their familiarity.

Yet this dream hurt too much. It was memory more than dream, and too painful and too sweet to relive. Yet his mind returned to it again and again.

Those last hours with Dana -- he'd made his pact earlier that day, sworn himself over to the force he feared most in the world. Fox had come home completely terrified, but determined to keep up a normal facade.

On any usual day, he never could have pulled it off; although he considered himself braver than most, the prospect of what faced him shook him to the core. Mulder had made a life's work of collecting abductee stories -- the horrors had always been personal to him. He'd known that Samantha was no doubt suffering them. The idea of these things happening to him was frightening -- although not as much so as his fear for his sister. Had it been otherwise, he couldn't have made this deal.

When he gave himself up, Fox would also lose whatever hopes he'd had of seeing Sam again. She would be as far from him as she ever had been. But she would be safe, Mulder reminded himself -- that, too, was an acceptable trade. Agonizing, but acceptable.

But Dana! Looking at her across the dinner table, knowing these were his last hours with her, was the purest hell he had ever known. She had been ill these last few days, some stomach thing, and so was simply padding around the house in her sweats; instead of talking over the day with him, looking into his eyes with that gaze from which he could hide nothing, Scully was simply forcing down a little dinner before she crawled off to bed.

After she'd gone up to their room, weak and weary, Mulder sat in the living room for a long time, crying with deep, racking sobs as he hadn't since - - God, since he'd thought Dana was dying so long ago. That was the first time he'd known how deep his love for her ran, the first time he'd realized she was a part of him now, someone he literally could not live without. And now, even knowing that, he was surrendering her.

Once he'd cried himself out, Fox went up to join her. Dana was fast asleep, curled up on her side of the bed. He undressed quietly and lay beside her; sensing his approach even in sleep, Scully snuggled in closely to him. Mulder wrapped his arms around her, breathing in the soft scent of her hair. "Oh, Scully, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. This is going to hurt you so much -- " he whispered.

"I'd give anything for there to be another way. Anything. But I can't let her suffer any more than I could let you Not if I could stop it." His voice choked as spoke, and he closed his eyes in an attempt to calm himself.

Yet he couldn't protect himself from the memories. Just lying there beside her reminded him of countless other nights -- of a hundred times they'd loved one another in this bed. "If I'd known we didn't have much time, I wouldn't have waited so long. I would have -- "

No. He wouldn't regret a moment he'd spent with her, or a single choice they'd made. The way things had happened had been beautiful. Perfect. Fox couldn't ask for anything else -- except a way out of this bargain. But he knew there wasn't one.

For a few minutes, Mulder contemplated waking her, making love to her one last time. Tired and ill as Dana was, she would still respond to his caresses, not begrudgingly but sweetly and tenderly, as she always did. Yet he knew it would be a mistake. He couldn't possibly bear knowing it was the last time.

Fox buried his face in her auburn hair, fighting past his exhaustion in an attempt to stay awake and treasure these last hours. Strange -- he'd spent a great deal of his life in emotional pain. Yet this ultimate misery was not without a deep comfort.

"It's worth every moment of the hurt, Scully. Loving you is worth losing you," Mulder whispered shakily. "Whatever happiness I've had in my life I owe to you. Even if we'd had a hundred years together, I could never have thanked you enough for that. I hope you'll understand -- "

The dream shifted again, pulling Mulder away from the bittersweet memory. He fought against the tide of consciousness pulling at him -- no, not again. I can't take the light, the pain, just after this. Just one more moment --

A light rap at the door stirred Scully from her reverie; she glanced up to see Dyer standing awkwardly in the doorway. For the first time, Dana noticed that he had a black eye -- apparently he'd run into a little resistance in the park himself. She grabbed a crutch and wobbled towards him.

"How is he?" Dyer asked.

"Resting comfortably. Physically, there's nothing extraordinary wrong with him; emotionally -- well, if Samantha's any basis for judgment, it'll be a while before Mulder's back to his old self. It shouldn't be as serious for him -- after all, she was missing over ten times as long as Mulder -- but it's not going to be easy."

"Your work isn't over, then," Dyer said.

Scully raised an eyebrow at him, then nodded. "You're right, of course. However long it takes for him to recover, I'll be by his side. After that -- " Dana bit her lip, then suddenly changed the subject. "Do me a favor? Last one today, I promise."

He smiled. "Sure thing."

"Call Samantha and tell her what's happened; I ought to do it but -- I think I'd get so emotional I couldn't explain everything to her. And tell her to bundle Rebecca up and come down here." Good Lord, Mulder was going to wake up to the baby sister he'd never expected to see again and the daughter he didn't know existed. Surprise, surprise --

"No problem -- but there is one thing you never explained to me."

"What's that?"

"Bloodline. It wasn't predictive, you said, and surely the aliens have better records of their activities than you did. Why did they want it, then?"

"They didn't want it. But they wanted to make damn sure the government didn't get it, either. Mulder and I -- we can only do so much about them. But the knowledge we had in the hands of the government -- well, that might be a different story." She folded her arms across her chest, and studied Dyer for a moment. "What about you? Kavyas isn't going to like this."

"I know. I think this will be too high profile for him to," Dyer paused and gulped, "eliminate me, but -- let's just say I see Arctic Circle pass checks in my future."

She smiled at his joke, but knew the danger Dyer had placed himself in on their behalf. "That's not what I see in your future. Know what I do see?"

Dyer shrugged, honestly puzzled. Scully continued, "I see you getting in your rental car right now and driving to FBI headquarters. You manage to get in to see Walter Skinner -- don't take no for an answer from that secretary of his. When you see him, tell him I sent you. And that I think it's time for an abandoned department to be reborn."

"The X-Files?"

"They're all still there, in the basement. Skinner's always wanted to reopen them -- but he's been waiting for the right agent to come along. I think maybe that's you."

"Me? I don't know that much about the paranormal -- a little about the aliens, but beyond that --"

"Trust me, Dyer, it isn't belief that matters. If it were, I never could have done it myself. What matters is a commitment to the truth, an open mind, and the courage to stand against whomever may oppose you. You've shown me that today; my recommendation should be enough to convince Skinner. Is it what you want to do?"

After a moment, he nodded. "The X-Files are always yours and Mulder's, really -- but I would be proud to serve as their guardian."

Scully smiled and touched his hand. "And if you ever need our help -- find us."

Dyer squeezed her hand, then headed down the hallway. She watched him go for a second, his trench-coated form disappearing into the darkness near the stairs. Dana then turned and sat next to Fox again.

Gently, Scully took his hand in her own. The light touch against his skin stirred Mulder from his sleep. No, no, not yet -- he protested against his waking, until realizing that he wasn't in the ship any longer. What the --

Fox opened his eyes; he was in an ordinary hospital room. In a normal bed. And Scully --

He clutched her hand with such force she actually jumped, and looked up to see Mulder staring at her in shock. "Mulder?" she whispered.

Before he could answer, Fox ran his hand up her arm, over her shoulder, touching her neck, her face -- "It is you. It really is. Oh, Scully -- " He pushed himself up from the bed, taking her in his arms so tightly she could scarcely breathe. She wrapped her arms around him, feeling his heartbeat against her own again.

"It's me, Mulder." Joy was overwhelming her, bringing tears to her eyes at the same time it brought laughter to her voice. "It's really me."

"I never thought I'd see you again," he murmured into the side of her neck. Fox sighed shakily, glorying in the rich scent of her hair; he thought he'd committed every detail of her to memory, relived it all endlessly and exactingly during these last years, but it paled so next to the warm, living reality.

"Same here. " She'd thought of so many things to say to him -- imagined everything from passionate declarations of love to slapping him in the face. We loved each other so much, she thought, and yet you still abandoned me. I know why you did it -- I wouldn't even argue with your reasons. But the lying, the lack of trust --

Yet even as she battled for words, Dana realized something new. Mulder's always taken things upon himself. Tried to handle things on his own. It's part of his dishonesty and his courage, to assume that he has to bear his burdens alone. Part of his arrogance and part of his self-sacrifice. All the bad qualities that had so injured her were elemental to the nobility and bravery that made her love Fox in the first place.

That made her love him still.

"There's so much to tell you, Mulder," she said, reaching up to ruffle his hair. "A lot has changed since you left."

"It doesn't matter," he whispered, taking her face in his hands. "Not as long as you're all right, and I still have you."

Dana caught the note of fear in his voice, and pulled him close yet again. "Oh, Mulder. You'll always have me."


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