Summary: Scully in jeopardy, Mulder in mourning, and their connection. Rated: PG with a dash of NC-17 to taste. Acknowledgments and comments at the end. "We do not want our world to perish. But in our quest for knowledge, century by century, we have placed all our trust in a cold, impartial intellect which only brings us nearer to destruction. We have heeded no wisdom offering guidance. Only by learning to love one another can our world be saved. Only love can conquer all." -Dora Russell (1894-1986), final words of final volume of her autobiography. The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (1/9) By MD1016 The first thing Dana Scully was conscious of was the wet earth beneath her, and then the overwhelming urge to spit out whatever it was that was crawling around in her mouth. Spewing ants and dirt, her weak arms lifted her torso from the mud. But the dull protest from her biceps and shoulders were paled by the rage of fire sweeping over her skin. With groggy eyes, Dana glanced down to find her entire body crawling with tiny red insects. In a wild panic her hands swatted over her body and face, down her wet navy tee-shirt, through the matted strands of her short, reddish hair. Her voice escaped in small squeals of distress. Then, all at once, her eyes bulged in the horror of realization: fingers flew to the buttons on her fly and she stripped the heavy denim from her legs. Dotting the normally pale, smooth surface of her thighs and calves were hundreds of small, red bumps; many of which had already risen with white, pussy caps. Their burning stings told her that even in those impossible-to-see places, the ants had left their marks. Without a second thought, she pulled her socks and under things off as well; and, standing naked on the leaf-covered forest floor, she shook all of the clothing out - carefully inspecting the pockets - before the idea of modesty bloomed in her head. In an instant, the jeans were against her chest in a fruitless attempt to cover herself against possible on-lookers. But as she scanned the area, she chided herself. There was no one there. No eyes boring in to her back. No peeping Toms in the trees. And that thought furrowed her brow. She was alone. Looking over the jeans in her hands, Scully sighed. They were a mess. Mud, dirt, small rips and tears. With a deep intake of breath, and a small wince at the pain she found in her ribs, she reluctantly put them on again. Wet, muddy denim. Ugh. And then the realization hit her. It took a moment for the thought to gel in her still-swimming head. There was *no one* there. Just her and the buzzing air around her. And the ants. Scully balled her small fists, refusing to allow herself the pain/pleasure of itching the bites, and looked around. The density of the forest was consistent as far as she could see in every direction. The one clearing - where she'd been laying on the ground - looked to be the remains of a colony of small red ants. Everything else was lush, wet vegetation that went up and up and up. The sun barely reached down past the vapory fog in the air. But what few beams did penetrate fell on thick moss and ferns and ivy that blanketed the forest floor. There was no clear direction to go in; no real distinction to tell her which way she'd come from. "Where the hell am I?" The startling sound of her voice seemed foreign and unnatural to her ears. She coughed a little and the exertion made her head spin. Without a thought, Scully reached a hand out to brace herself against a nearby tree, nearly tripping forward in the process. Why didn't she know where she was? But then, she couldn't remember getting there, either. Car? Plane? The spruce trees did suggest a northern state - if, in fact - she was still in the United States. She looked down at the clothes she was wearing as if seeing them for the first time. Her heavy hiking boots, her favorite pair of dark blue jeans, a navy blue tee-shirt, and a red checked flannel shirt lay some five feet from the mound . . . that was obviously not hers. Too big. And the buttons were on the wrong side. A man's shirt. She sighed and flicked another ant from her shoulder. She cupped her hands around her mouth, "Hello-o-o-o-o-o-o?" The odd tinny sound she made was swallowed up by the thick air. Her brow lowered. It was like someone had taken all of the bass out of her voice. A practiced hand went to her throat. But the absence of any pain there lead her to the conclusion that it must be her ears that were effected. That also might account for the nausea and dizziness, she told herself. Inner ear infection? A virus? Congestion? And no doubt the pain of the ant bites wasn't helping, either. She allowed the simple explanations to take hold in her mind and focused more on her immediate need to get back to civilization again. She would worry about her head cold later. Scully picked up the over-sized shirt and tied the arms around her waist and with absolute determination, she stumbled straight ahead in to the undergrowth. "This direction is as good as any other," she whispered under her breath. "But you better watch out, Dana, you've started talking to yourself." The sounds of the forest surrounded her: things walking just beyond view, something flapping over head. A random rattle of wind through the branches. Each was a sensation in pain as it entered the dull throb just behind her ears and veined out to filter through her entire body. Both hands mechanically ran across her head looking for bumps and wounds, but the only thing she found was filthy, unwashed hair, and more ant bites. And, of course, the rhythmic throb of blood trying to flow. For a moment, Scully stopped to once again brace herself against the rough bark of a tree and inhaled deeply, filling her lungs to capacity. Attributing the fatigue in her muscles to a lack of blood and oxygen, she tried to force the liquid in her veins to seep through every inch of her body by sheer will alone. "Keep moving," she told herself. "Keep the muscles active." She stepped over a large twisted root and began to analyze her situation. What was the last thing she remembered? Her brow twisted in concentration. The last thing . . . the last thing . . .. And then Dana stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn't remember anything. Think back, she tried to calm herself. You know your name is Dana. Work off of that. Right. Dana. And then she remembered her family. Her mother and brothers. And Melissa. "Oh, Melissa." Her heart sank down and she stopped trying to remember. She closed her mind and just let her feet carry her heavy, achy body over the uneven terrain. After walking for some undetermined length of time, Dana felt for her watch. It was gone, along with her gun and any kind of identification, money and her cellular. "Now why would I be in the woods alone without my gun?" She slipped a hand to her brow, and itched the collection of bumps she found there, but couldn't get the memories to come. At least she remembered that she *had* a gun, which reminded her that she was in the FBI, which brought up an image of Mulder sitting with his feet propped up on his desk with that damned smirk on his face. Oh, God! Mulder! He would be with her! And her feet stopped. Where was Mulder? She hadn't seen anyone else in the immediate area, but then she hadn't really looked for him either. What if he was unconscious under a bush? Scully turned and ran back in the general direction that she had come from, uncertain how far she'd traveled. "The ant bed," she reminded herself, "Look for the ants." The foliage was unrelenting, and her run quickly became a jog, which ultimately returned to a walk. But even if her path had been cleared she wouldn't have been able to keep up any kind of pace. As it was, the muscles in her thighs were quivering from exhaustion. But somehow she kept moving forward - back to where she'd woken up. There would be no way she would go in to a forest alone and unarmed without her partner. It was against FBI protocol. He had to be there somewhere. "Mulder!" She called out as loud as she possibly could. "Mulder! Can you hear me?" But the squawk of birds in the blinding white of the canopy far overhead was the only response she received. She continued further; pushing bushes out of the way, and calling out every minute or so: "Mulder?!" Soon the energy it took to plow through damp, thick air left her panting, hair plastered to her face. She leaned against a tree to catch her breath. None of it looked familiar. She had no idea if she was even close to the path she'd originally taken away from the ants. The ground was fairly symmetrical, so she had 360 degrees with every step that could have taken her in the wrong direction. With one hand she pulled the soaked cotton tee from her chest. The bites stung like hell, and the sweat was aggravating the infections. But her mind was filled only with her partner. Mulder would never have left her, she reasoned. Of course, the nagging guilt reminded her that she might have done just that . . . unknowingly. No. If Mulder had been there, she would have seen him. If he had woken before her, he would have found her. No question. So the only logical explanation - the only possible explanation she would allow herself - was that for some inexplicable reason she and Mulder had been separated. Undoubtedly, he was looking for her. He would find her. He *would* find her. And then he would chide her for running off without him, and she would point out that he had done that on more occasions than she wished to remember, and with worse results. And he would smile his closed-lipped smile and blaze his narrow hazel eyes at her and she would have to look away just to keep from blushing. And then maybe he would take her hand in his, and tell her that he'd been worried about her. Terribly worried. But nothing more. Because, as partners, more would be . . . unsightly. What? What was she thinking? Scully closed her eyes in an attempt to clear her head. Everything was jumbling up in her mind; emotions and thoughts and an overwhelming sense of panic. "Mulder!! Can anyone hear me!?" She tried again, the echo dying before it had a chance to sound. Her heart was racing a mile a minute, and her ragged breath gulped down a lung-full of air at a time. Get control, Dana. You've been in worse situations. Mulder will find you. He's probably on his way. Just close your eyes and when you open them, he'll be there. Her eyes squeezed shut. Then opened again. Nothing had changed. Except the lump rising in her throat and the tears welling in her blue eyes. Okay, so maybe he wouldn't find her. With an ache of surprise in her lungs, Scully found that she hadn't really expected to see him. Not really. No one could find her - whereever she was. It was going to be up to her, and her alone, to get herself back to civilization. Scully was exhausted. Sitting with her back against the strength of a tall pine, she retraced the memories in her head. She had remembered Mulder, and these woods didn't look familiar - not like Virginia woods at all - so, there was a leap in logic made, and she decided that she must have been on some kind of a case that brought her in to the wilderness. It was possible that she simply tripped and hit her head, knocking herself unconscious, but she couldn't find any evidence of injury - save the ant bites. Were they chasing a suspect? Searching for evidence? She just couldn't remember. And the effort was intensifying the throb behind her eyes. Then came the overwhelming wave of nausea. And the painful dry heave that convulsed through her body like pounding surf. Gasping for breath, Scully tried to recover, rolling over on to the leaf-padded ground next to a fallen trunk. Must be too much over-exertion and not enough food and water, she tried to convince herself. Undoubtedly her electrolyte imbalance and low blood sugar was playing havoc on her system. She needed to find water. She needed to rest. And without really making a conscious decision to, Scully closed her eyes and sleep won out. ***** A cool breeze ran across her neck, and she started awake. Instantly her round, blue eyes popped open to the blackness of the night. The moon - if there was a moon - was completely hidden, as was the entire night sky, leaving the inkiest dark to surround her. Scully shivered against the tree. Everything was wet and cold. She pulled the shirt from her waist and laced her arms in to the dampened sleeves. The sounds were everywhere again: birds flapping overhead, things in the night moving all around her . . . something walking over to her right. "Who's there?" she screamed, but whatever it was scampered at the sound of her voice. Maybe a deer, she told herself. Sounded like it had hooves. She pulled the back of the shirt over her head and wrapped the front around her curled-up leg, creating a small tent for herself. There was no way she'd get anywhere until the sun came out. So, she decided to rest. As much as she could, anyway. Never could Scully remember being so terrified of the dark. Or so completely vulnerable. Or so alone. ***** Morning came as a diffused light that sifted through the branches to the huddled Scully. She lifted her head, moaning that some nightmares never ended, and she tried to straighten her stiff back and legs. The effort was more than should have been necessary. And this one thought terrified her. She'd only been in the woods for two days. And the weather, while not warm and balmy, was far from life-threatening. She couldn't possibly be suffering from exposure. Her eyes slid with a groggy weariness to the raised splotches on her arms, and then she forced herself to look away, trying to keep from acknowledging the bites. Then, she leaned heavily against the dead tree and forced herself to stand. The weakness in her legs startled her. She had to be able to walk if she was to have any hope of getting out of the woods alive. "I'm just stiff, that's all," she coaxed herself. But it was becoming increasingly difficult to believe her own words. "Walk it off, Dana." With a quick glance at her surroundings, Scully picked a direction and began stumbling forward. Her legs were shaky, and she had to brace herself against trees as she passed. Her belly gave off a painful grumble. But she pushed the thought of food from her mind and forced herself on. There came a point after several hours of walking that Scully felt the need to find a rest room. She huddled beside a bush, cursing the fact that she wasn't born a man, with the necessary anatomy to make "relieving au natural" a pleasant experience. Finding balance with her aching legs, and relaxing enough to accomplish anything, was far from easy. And by the time she was done, her chin quivered and her face was drawn tight and tense. Though she refused to allow it, Scully wanted to cry. When night threatened to fall once again, she was not only exhausted and hungry, but just about at her wit's end. For the life of her, Scully couldn't remember anything that might've given her a hint as to where she was and why she was there. The forest seemed to go on in every direction for as far as could be seen; endlessly taunting her original hopes of finding some kind of civilization. There hadn't even been any cabins or shacks that she could seek temporary shelter in. In stories of people lost in the woods, weren't there *always* abandoned cabins with several days' worth of canned food stocked up in the well-equipped kitchens? Where the hell were they when she needed them? And where the hell was Mulder? Half of her prayed that he was fine, and not lying unconscious somewhere near where she'd woken up. Well, more than half. But there was a small part that was furious that he wasn't there with her; that he hadn't found her yet. He was her partner. He was *supposed* to always be there. The light mist in the air suddenly fell in to large cold drops of rain. And then with a crack of thunder, the storm escalated. Sheets of water beat down heavily on Scully, and she was forced to finally collapse against the trunk of a small tree for support. She couldn't bear the weight of her body any longer, much less the force of the heavens opening up on top of her. The tepid shower washed away much of the collected sweat from off of her aching face and arms, and the well-itched pin-pricks that the ants had left behind didn't bother her as much. But the water that ran over her cheeks and neck chilled her itchy skin to a point when most of her body went numb. True, she felt cleaner, but within minutes her jaw began to chatter and her weary shoulders were racked with shivers that rippled down her whole body. She laid back against the trunk, ignoring the growing pool of freezing mud that she was seated in, and closed her eyes. "Just a little rest," she told herself, "to keep my strength up. Then I'll look for some berries or something." Catching a few drops of liquid in her open mouth, she swallowed away the dry sensation that had been with her for most of the day. She knew she couldn't afford to get dehydrated, but she was just too tired to make any more of an effort. With the darkening clouds, night crept in quickly, and Scully didn't awaken until late the next day. ***** The sensation of being wet and cold and heavy was very distinct. But the desire to move just wasn't in her. She left her eyes closed against the soaked flannel on her knees. After god knows how many hours she'd been sitting in that position, the pain of moving was something she simply couldn't endure. Her arms hung loosely around the bottom of her thighs. Or perhaps they'd fallen to the mud below her - she couldn't tell. And she didn't really care. Scully felt her stomach rise against the tops of her thighs and told herself that she was still breathing and therefore still alive. But the news didn't comfort her as much as she had expected it to. A chill worked its way up her spine and liquid cold traveled like a spider's web through her body. Sweat beaded up on her face and neck, and she could feel the tiny rivulets as they slowly ran down her pocked skin. Everything itched and ached and burned. From the middle of her shoulders, a constant shiver set up shop, and shook her upper body in gentle tremors. In her belly, there was a deep ache that reached all the way up and in to her throat. With a doctor's clinical distance she knew she would die from thirst before starvation and fever, and the morbid fascination that came with that knowledge consumed her thoughts. Some day, some hunter or urban developer was going to come walking along and find her bones in a pile. Maybe a few would be missing. Dinner for the woodland creatures. Or maybe there wouldn't be enough left of her to make a conclusive identification. And her family would never know for sure where her final resting place would be. And Mulder. He'd never know. The back of her throat constricted around the sob. "Mulder? Can you hear me?" She heard the sounds come through her trembling lips. Maybe he was near, her mind mused. If he had been looking for her, maybe he was close to finding her. "Mulder? Can you see me?" But it wasn't her voice. It was thin and raspy, and it held no strength at all. "Please hear me, Mulder. Find me. Help me, Mulder." God, Mulder. Where are you? I need you now. I'm in trouble, Mulder, and I need you to get me out. You're so good at that. Flying in at the last moment and coming to my rescue. Well, the last moment is coming, Mulder. Hurry. With the last bit of her strength, Scully forced her head up and opened her eyes. The light was much brighter than she had expected and she tried to blink it away. The rain had nearly stopped and the sounds of water dropping from leaves and branches became recognizable to her. Carefully, one leg was slowly straightened, and then the other. Both twitched as the blood began to flow through them again. And then the agony of her limbs' small movements hit her. She released a guttural scream to help alleviate some of the pain. Startled birds flew from over head. "MULDER!" She called out repeatedly, "MULDER! MULDER! Mulder! Mulder. Mulder . . . Mul . . .." Then she felt it. The sensation was like nothing she'd ever felt before. Her body turned off, one section at a time. First her legs went completely numb, and then her back went out. And as she flopped backwards on to the rough bark of the tree, she could feel herself sliding off to one side - and then she couldn't. She saw the brown earth, slick with rain water, come up and meet her face. And then it was gone. Everything went black. Then silent. And the last thing Scully thought was: "Oh, Mulder. So this is death." End of 1/9 "Let us go in; the fog is rising." -Emily Dickinson (1830-86), Attributed last words. ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (2/9) By MD1016 The nurse and young nurse's aid scurried around the room checking the various readings as Dana Scully swam up to consciousness. She was aware of them and their voices, but their actual words didn't register in her clouded head. Her body felt heavy and thick; her mouth was like the inside of a cotton ball. She tried to turn her head, to get a better look at wherever it was that she'd ended up, but the stiffness in her neck and shoulders kept her firmly in place. And at that particular moment she didn't really care. The warm smoothness of the sheets was like a cradle under her body. Scully let her eyes slip closed and she relaxed back in to sleep. ***** When she woke again, the room was dark - save for a dim yellow light that hung off in some distant corner of the room, and the constant red blinking of the heart monitor just to her right. The air around her was still. Scully inhaled deeply, wanting to rouse herself from the misty sleep that had settled through her. Something in her throat made her gag. She tried to sit up as the vomit reflex rocked through her, but the wires and tubes connected to her body kept her more or less in place. She flailed against her restraints, eyes tearing in reflex. Then wide hands were on her shoulders, forcing her back against the pillow. And the low rumble in her ear . . . vaguely male. "Relax," the voice whispered, "Everything is going to be okay now." She tried to focus on the figure, but everything was hazy and shadowed. "Mulder . . .." "Just sleep." There was no arguing with the voice or the hands. She was tired. Sleep came easily. ***** The hospital was alive with activity when she regained consciousness, and the dark man in the white coat smiled down at her as her eyes fell on his prominent cheek bones and deep brown eyes. "Well, hello." He was tall, and had a thin moustache that hung like a brow above his full, dark lips. "You finally decided to come back to join us." Dana blinked and felt his broad, warm hand scoop up her wrist. When she reopened her eyes, the doctor was staring at his leather watch. "How are you feeling?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "I'm Dr. Swaggen. Do you know where you are?" The room was minimalistic: mostly white with a row of beds along one wall, several of which were occupied. Directly opposite her, there was a TV that sat silently on a swivel arm, and just to her right there was a window. She could see trees in the distance. "Where . . ." Scully's voice was brittle and thin; like a crumpled saltine. " . . . Mulder . . .." Swaggen hesitated for a moment and then leaned closer to her. "You want your mother? Do you know her name? Can you remember your name?" Closing her eyes, she carefully lolled her head from one side to the other, "Mulder. Mull-Derr. Mulder." Her mouth was unbelievably dry. Her breath caught in her throat and she released a little cough. The doctor quickly jotted down the name on his chart and re-tucked the silver pen in his breast pocket. "Do you know anyone we can get in touch with? A next of kin or someone?" "Mulder," she insisted. Why wasn't the man paying attention? "Mulder. 555-2821." Scully wanted to sit up, but the strong hands of the man standing at her side forced her back. "Just relax. Don't worry, you're safe here." The weight of her head became too much for her and she did, in fact, find herself relaxing into the warm, dark eyes of the doctor's promise. "Mulder," she mumbled, and fell asleep again. ***** Scully was in a pit. That was all she knew. Or maybe a cage of some kind. But everything was black and cold and slick to the touch. No windows, no doors. No possible way out - or in, for that matter. She searched the floor for seams, or anything that might give her a clue as to where she was. But there was nothing. Closing her eyes, Scully sat back against the smooth wall, and allowed her head to fall back. The ceiling went up and up until it disappeared behind a white mist. Funny how she didn't notice that the first time she looked up. And there was a sound. A very distant hum worked its way down to her through the mist. Like a vacuum, she thought. Some one is vacuuming the sky. Then, all at once, the ground gave way below her. But instead of falling, she was lifted up. The sound got closer and the mist became brighter and she began to hear a man's voice calling to her asking her to wake up. No, he was calling to Mulder. "Mulder?" she thought aloud. Was Mulder in the clouds, too? Were they both dead? "Come on, Mulder," the doctor injected another syringe in to her IV. "It's time to come back to us." "Mulder?" Her speech was slurred and her eyes opened only a slit. "That's it," the man coaxed. He turned to the two younger men across the bed from him, and gave orders for new medications to be administered. Then he returned back to his patient. "Can you hear me?" Scully managed a weak nod, and licked her lips. "Water." The tall man poured a plastic cup half full with water from a nearby table; and, propping her head up, just the slightest bit, he lowered the straw to her lips and helped her take a swallow. The water was like wet silk over her tongue; cold and luxurious. When she was settled back in the bed, the doctor leaned over Scully. "The police have been here but there haven't been any missing persons reported with your name and description. Do you know anyone we can call? Do you have any family?" Scully just breathed. Mulder. Just call Mulder. Oh, God! Was he still in the woods? Had she left him there, while she'd been sleeping in a hospital bed? How long had she been asleep? She had to get back to him. She had to find him. The monitor at her bedside showed a dramatic jump in heart rate. "Mulder!" She tried to sit up. "He's still out there!" Swaggen spoke in his calming bass tones, "Hold it. Lay back and talk to me. Who's still out there?" "Mulder," she gasped, "He's in the forest!" "Wait, I thought you were Mulder." The doctor studied her eyes for any sign of haze. "I'm Scully." She gulped a lung-full of air as the words tumbled over themselves, "Dana Scully. Mulder is my partner. We're in the FBI. He needs help. I have to get to him." The doctor stood up to his full height. "The FBI?" He pulled the chart off the edge of her bed and flipped through to the meds page to see just what medications she'd been pumped full of. "Yes. I gave you a number, didn't I?" "You did. It was disconnected. There was no answer." No answer? Mulder's cellular? Disconnected? Surely he meant out of range. "I need to use the phone." With a grunt of protesting muscles, she managed to kick down the blankets covering her but was stopped by the sight of her legs. They were covered with what looked like healing chicken pox. And between them, a thin tube emerged carrying a warm clear-yellow liquid. A catheter. She gasped. "How long have I been here?" The doctor tried to cover her. "Just rest for now." But she wouldn't be deterred. "I have to use the phone. I have to get Mulder some help." She glanced up at the IV hanging on a rack just above her head and then the collection bag clipped to the side of her bed. "Please hand me the bags, I'll carry them with me." "I don't want you getting out of bed -" "Look," Dana was beyond playing the dutiful patient, and her head was swimming with haze and panic. "I'm a doctor; I know what I'm doing!" The black man looked at her with wide, sad eyes. "I thought you were with the FBI." "I am." She exhaled in frustration and rolled her eyes at his display of pity. "I'm not insane, okay? But I'm going to make this phone call." At a loss, Dr. Swaggen looked over her pale, determined features and hesitated for only a moment. "I don't know why I'm doing this," he started as he helped her unhook the heart monitor. Then, with a stern glance at her anxious features, he removed the plastic sacs and attached them to a rolling stand. "Just pull this with you," he requested and pushed it in to her hand. Scully gingerly slid off the left side of the bed, slightly embarrassed to find she wasn't wearing any undergarments under the thin cotton hospital gown. "Why they couldn't put a phone in this room, is beyond me," she grumbled under her breath. She wrapped the back closed around her naked bottom, and limped aching across the cold tile barefoot, surprised at how much her muscles quivered under her weight. It felt as though her entire body had been pummeled with rocks. The tall man followed behind her. "The phone is down the hall to the right in the waiting area. Here." He stopped her. "You're going to need this." In her hand dropped a silver quarter. Scully pushed the quarter in to the machine before she noticed the return number on it. More specifically, the area code. "9-0-7?" She turned to Swaggen leaning against the wall next to her. "Where the hell am I?" The dark man cleared his throat and obviously tried to look as if the question were perfectly normal. "9-0-7, that's Juneau." Slowly, she hung up the receiver and rested her head against the handle of it. Alaska? The last place she remembered being was in a small town in . . . "I was in Maine." She remembered. By God, she remembered the case! There had been . . . something to do with possible UFO abductees. Children taken during the night. Unexplained lights in the sky. Power outages. Mulder with his "Marvin the Martian" tie. "You were in Maine?" The man sighed, and his thick lips tried to form a smile. "Why don't you go and lie down, Mulder. You need to let the medications -" "Scully." She looked back at the phone and picked up the handset again, "I told you - Dana Scully." It was unnerving to be addressed by her partners name. Any yet, there was something faintly comforting in it, too. "Right." With a firm punch of her finger, Scully dialed "O" and waited through three rings before the operator picked up. "AT and T operator," the woman said, expressing every ounce of boredom in her. "How can I assist you?" Scully hesitated only a moment. "This is an emergency. I'm Special Agent Dana Scully with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I need you to put me through to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. I need to speak with Assistant Director Walter Skinner." "That is a long distance call, Ma'am. You will have to deposit $5.00 for the first minute -" "No, you don't understand." Dana's legs began to quiver below her. "I don't have any money. This is an emergency." "I do understand, Ma'am, but I cannot connect you without the initial deposit of $5.00-" Scully cut her off again; she didn't have time to argue with the woman. "Then connect me to the regional office in Anchorage!" She began to sway a little and had to steady herself against the wall to keep upright. She took a moment to look around and spied a plastic chair in the corner. Swaggen followed her gaze and pulled it up for her a second before her legs gave out all together. He loomed over her, his arms crossed. "You should be in bed, you know." When she didn't move his face shifted and he tried another approach. "How about you go back and lie down, and I'll see about getting the catheter out." But a second later, her fraying attention snapped back to the crackle in her ear piece as she was transferred to the automated greeting of the Anchorage branch office. She followed the instructions selecting from various menus until she heard a living person on the other end of the phone. Thank God. "This is Special Agent Dana Scully. My badge number is JTT9828432. I need to get word to Assistant Director Skinner in D.C. Somehow I ended up in Alaska, but Mulder, my partner, may still be in the woods . . . " she paused. There was a flaw in her reasoning. Was he in the woods in Alaska with her? Or was he still in Maine? Or was he somewhere else entirely? Why were things so cloudy all of a sudden? A voice from the other end of the phone line startled her out of her twisted contemplation. "Please repeat your badge number." Scully did, slower and more deliberately. She wasn't sure anymore if Mulder was in any kind of danger or not. She couldn't remember how she got from Maine to where she woke up in the woods, or even how she got from the forest to the hospital. She looked up at the doctor who seemed to be studying her very closely. "When you called Mulder - the number I gave you - did you use D.C.'s area code?" "Uh, no." His face and voice remained a little too neutral for Scully's liking as he slowly explained: "I thought you were from Maine." "No," Scully exhaled in frustration, "I'm from D.C.. We were in Maine, and now I'm here." She raised a hand to her temple. A dull ache was starting to throb behind her eyes. The phone person came back with: "The badge number you have given me is no longer in service. Are you sure you dictated it to me correctly?" "Of course, I'm sure!" Scully nearly leapt out of the chair. She was certain that she would have if she'd been feeling up to it. The insanity of her situation was wearing a little thin. "I'm Dana Scully. Assigned to the X-Files. In D.C. -" "Well, that badge number did belong to a Dana Scully, but according to what I've got here, she died five months ago." Died? "Died? No, that can't be right. Check again." She heard the tap, tap, tap of a computer keyboard and then a newly sarcastic voice came back, "Still dead." "Look." Scully sat back in the chair, exhausted and sore and closer to tears than she wanted to be. "How do I get a message to Assistant Director Walter Skinner in D.C.? It's an emergency." And as if the operator had never spoken to her before she asked in a purely generic voice: "What is the nature of your emergency?" Scully wanted to scream. "I'm in Alaska, in a hospital, with no money, no form of identification, my partner may be in serious trouble, and I've got a doctor here, who's breathing down my throat, and he looks like he's going to commit me to a psychiatric ward any minute. And, now, apparently I'm DEAD! I *have* to talk to A.D. Skinner immediately!" There was a momentary pause and then the voice said, "Uh-huh . . . let me put you on hold." Then Muzak swam through the receiver and Scully's headache turned itself up a notch. She slumped back in the chair and moaned. "Any luck?" The doctor didn't look hopeful. Scully let the receiver fall in to her lap and looked up at the man. "So, you know my name. What's yours?" "Oh. I told you before. I'm Doctor Swaggen," the man said. "And you, Dana Scully, need to get back in to bed." The towering man seemed adamant and a new fear began to surface. If he made her lie down, there would be nothing she could do. She was exhausted, and her brain was like pudding in her skull. No one would help Mulder . . . if he needed help. She was having trouble remembering if that was, in fact, the case. Oh, Mulder. Scully's eyes slipped up to the doctor's sympathetic face. She gave him the saddest, most pained expression and quietly asked, "Please." Swaggen looked down at her in the chair - left hand clinging to the IV pole to help keep her upright in the chair, right hand holding the black over-sized ear piece to her head, her red unkept hair flung every which way, and her white and red spotted legs falling out from under the cotton hospital gown - and shook his head. "Look." His voice was low and gentle. "I have to check my rounds. I'll be back." Then he added with some authority: "I want you in that bed when I return." "I promise." The blaring Muzak was interrupted and Scully returned the receiver to her ear. "I'm going to connect you to Assistant Director Skinner, now." Thank God. There was a click and a soft buzzing sound and then, finally, a ring. "Skinner." It was him. His deep, grumbling voice. Solid and authoritative. She could almost see him sitting at his desk, his white linen shirt sleeve rolled up to his elbows. A sight that she *never* thought would bring her such peace of mind as it did now. She nearly choked. "Sir, this is Dana Scully, sir." There was a pause where neither of them breathed. "I don't know who you are, but this is not funny!" he growled. She was sure he was about to throw the phone down in its cradle and she panicked. "No, sir, please, I am Scully. This isn't a joke. Skinner, sir, it's me. Scully. Please." There was another moment of enormous hesitation on his part. Scully didn't know if she was supposed to provide some kind of undeniable proof at this point or what. But at least he hadn't hung up the phone. She could hear him breathing. And then his heavy words sank through the receiver. "Scully's dead." "Yeah." She closed her eyes. "That's what they tried to tell me when I read off my badge number. There must be something wrong with the computers or something." "There's nothing wrong with the computers. Agent Scully is dead. I attended her funeral, myself, three months ago." To this, she had no response. "You know we can trace these calls. Impersonating a Federal Officer is a Federal offense. I wouldn't try this again, if I were you." Then she heard him disconnect the line. Scully looked down at the receiver for some kind of an answer. Her mouth hung open - she was at a loss. Her head was swirling with the movement of the room and her feet were freezing. She simply couldn't think. With a shaking hand she hung up the phone, too. Does Mulder think I'm dead, too? Is it possible? The hallway was immeasurably long, and with quiet resignation Scully knew she wasn't going to make it all the way back to her room. Not with the stand dragging along side of her. She was too tired. Too frustrated. Too angry to do anything but pick up the receiver again. "AT and T operator. How can I assist you today?" She took another deep breath. "Collect call." Dana gave the woman all the information requested and then waited through a series of beeps while billing verification went through. "Come on," she whispered under her breath, "Mulder, answer." But when a response came it was the woman's voice again. "I'm sorry, but your party didn't pick up." "I need to place another collect call, then." Dana wasn't about to let the woman go without a struggle. Hopefully her mother would be home. Oh, God, please let her be home. After the third beep, Scully was about to give up hope when she hear her mother's all too familiar voice. "Hello?" "Mom?" The hesitation was there. And then an angry hiss. "Who is this?" "Mom. It's Dana." "No . . .." And then Scully believed it - *had* to believe it. They all thought she was dead. How could this happen? This *can't* be happening, she screamed in her head. "Mom it IS me. It is!" Tears spilled over her lashes. "Mom, I woke up in a hospital in Alaska." "Alaska? Dana?" For an instant there was hope. And then: "NO! Who is this?" Then, in the back ground, he heard his voice. It was low and grumbling and she couldn't make out the words, but it was him. Unmistakably him. Mulder had gone to her mother's place. She smiled at the thought. If she could just get him on the phone . . . he'd hear her voice. Mulder would be at her side in a second. There would be nothing to worry about if she could just get Mulder on the line. But her mother responded with a gut wrenching sob. "MOM! Let me talk to Mulder! Please, this isn't a joke. I'm Dana. I'm your daughter! PLEASE! Give the phone to Mulder!" Her mother's cries continued and then there was a scuffle of the receiver changing hands. Mulder's tormented voice boomed in her ear. "Don't you have any respect for the dead?" "Mulder!" "Don't call here again!" "MULDER!" Scully's body lunged for the phone's wall unit. And when she heard the click, it was like a rubber band snapped inside of her, and she crashed to the gray tiled floor. She barely registered the long, sure hands lifting her bodily and carrying her back to her bed. End of 2/9 "The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep." -Robert Frost (1874-1963) ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (3/9) By MD1016 Mulder woke from the nightmare screaming her name. Just as he had every night for the past five months; ever since that night She had disappeared in the blinding white light. Not even the medication kept the visions of Her away. She haunted him. Clutching the thin cotton sheet to his chest, he rolled his legs off the side of the bed and stood up. The warmth of the Georgian summer settled over him like a blanket of molasses. It kept him from thinking clearly, keeping his body groggy and his mind fuzzy. But even in the haze he knew that She was there with him. The same inexplicable way he always knew. The visions of Her were so clear - so unbelievably real. They said it was hallucinations. Dementia. Grief. That's why he needed the pills: to keep Her away. To save him from insanity. And when the pills didn't work, there were always the restraints. Please. No more restraints. He tried to blink Her away. Will Her away. He even begged. But he couldn't get the image of Her huddled against the wet bark of a downed tree to leave the darkened corner of the room. God, She was so real. Her hair plastered against the wet sheen on Her face, his red flannel shirt pulled tight against Her body; Her look of desperation through him. Her lips fell open and he heard the agonized voice of the apparition calling his name, begging for him. And he ran to Her, wanting so desperately to dissolve into the shadows of the night with Her. He was on the street before the morning sun was over the horizon, walking steadily away from the Delmont Psychiatric Hospital. They couldn't help him. They'd said he was losing his mind. That it was insanity that made him see his dead partner and insist that She was alive. Out there. Somewhere. Calling for him and not understanding why he wasn't with Her. When the plain truth of the matter was that he'd been too slow. The light that had engulfed Her and pulled Her up from the Earth, had disappeared before he could reach Her. Three seconds was all that it had been between holding Her in his arms, and holding air. And *They*. They who lurked behind the smoke and haze. They had insisted that They knew nothing of her disappearance. That They couldn't help him search for Her because They didn't know where She was. For months They played that game of ignorance and double talk; refusing involvement. Until that day in March when *They* had claimed Her body had been recovered, badly mutilated. The remains of a brutal death. But Mulder had refused to believe Them without seeing Her body. Proof before belief. He'd learned that from Her. But, all attempts to see Her body had been blocked. At first by official procedure of a homicide case, then by suggesting that he was, himself, a suspect. That unconscionable accusation only supported his belief that They were desperate to keep him from discounting the body as a fraud. And then, They used his single-minded determination to find Her against him: They sent him away to that horrible hospital for God only knew how long. Between the drugs and his screwed-up sleep cycle, it was impossible to tell just how long he'd been there. A month? Possibly two. An enormous truck thundered past him on the road, and then slowed and came to a stop. "You want a lift?" The large, hairy man in the cab wore a yellowed tee-shirt ripped up the sides to fit over his rippled body. From his wrist to his shoulder he wore black and blue tattoos that proudly proclaimed that God was dead and anarchy ruled the land. Mulder shrugged and climbed aboard, not really caring one way or the other. He wasn't headed anywhere in particular - just away from wherever it was that he'd been. The truck slipped from one golden pool of light to the next on the interstate, passing the evening traffic with little interest as it sped by. Mulder shifted against the door and lolled his head up. Cars. Trees. Darkness. He snuck a side-ways glance at the burly driver next to him. At least She wasn't there. "Hey buddy," the man said louder than was intended. "You think you got enough sleep there? You were really out! Yeah," the man let out a full-body chuckle, "'round twelve hours. That's about five rest stops, buddy." Wincing, Mulder ran a hand over the crick in his stiff neck. "Sorry I'm not much company." "Hey, don't sweat it, Buddy. Just a warm body in the cab is company enough, you know? If you're hungry I got you a burrito a few stops back." He pointed his thick finger down to the paper bag on the carpeted floor between them. "I don't have any money to give you." "I'm not lookin' to get rich off you, buddy. Just thought you might be hungry. You don't look like you've been strappin' on the feed bag these days." The man eyed Mulder poking in to the bag with satisfaction. "So, buddy, what's your name? Mine's Marcus." "You can call me Buddy," Mulder chewed the cold, thick burrito around his hesitant words. "But most people call me Mulder." "I like that. Little Buddy like from 'Gilligan's Island'." Marcus let out another booming chuckle and smacked the steering wheel with his left hand. "So, Buddy, where are you headed?" It took a moment for Mulder to swallow the heavy food down. "Headed? Nowhere. Where are you headed?" "To Maine. Gotta drop off this load of corncobs." The mountain of a man looked to the haggard soul on his right. "You ain't got no money, and ain't headin' nowhere? What'cha gonna do where you get there?" Mulder glanced out the passenger window at nothing in particular. "I hadn't thought that far in advance." He ran a hand over his weary face. Maine. He couldn't go back there again. Too much pain was tied up in that part of the country. Her haunting would be relentless there. "Are you going through DC?" "Yep." Marcus pulled the last burrito out from the bag. "Should hit the capital at about lunch time tomorrow." Sighing, Mulder nodded. "You can drop me anywhere in D.C. I live there." "Sure, Buddy. Whatever you want." The endless summer stretched all the way up the eastern sea board, and was stifling DC with the same oppressive heat Georgia had had. Mulder stood in the dark hallway outside his apartment, the key in his hand poised to enter the lock. But the strength to push it in, turn it, and open the door wasn't in him. Nothing waited for him on the other side of the door but the destruction that his fury had left months ago. The fish tank that usually sat empty on the shelf had been smashed beyond repair. The computer had been thrown through the squat coffee table after all of the magazines and books in the house were hurled like ticker tape at a parade. Or ashes at a funeral. That night had been a flooded tirade of anger and hurt and despair that ended with the arrival of the police, an overnight stay in the drunk tank, and an official placement on medical leave with admittance to the psychiatric hospital in Georgia. He didn't want to go in and face the mess. And, of course, Her file was in there, too. With the pictures. The unconvincing pictures of Her supposed "murder". A twisted body with chucks of flesh and muscle ripped away. Disfiguring teeth marks on the neck and breast. The horrific black and white images were burned into his brain. Leaning against the dark door, fearing what lay just beyond, a chain reaction of cold sweats and nausea tore through his body. Even though he *knew* those photos were elaborate fakes, the idea of Her raped and dismembered body washing up on the bank of the Potomac shook him to his very core. A drop of sweat worked its way down his scalp and along the back of his neck. A shiver shot up his spine. Without even thinking about it, Mulder shoved the key back into the pocket of his jeans and stormed out of the building. He couldn't stay there. He couldn't stay anywhere She had once been. When Samantha had disappeared, he saved everything that reminded him of the little sister he hoped to see again one day. But with *Her* - anything that She might have touched ripped him apart. He had to get away. He had to escape Her. His car was still in its space in the back lot. Mulder ran the whole way. The bank was closed by the time he pulled into the parking lot - but Mulder expected nothing less. At the ATM, he pulled out as much cash as the machine would allow before sinking back into the cool air conditioning of his car. There wasn't really a question of what to do next. It was more a matter of where to start first. He'd already made two trips to Maine - to the clearing where he'd last seen Her - and neither trip provided any evidence or clues to where She might be. He couldn't do that again. Mulder started the car and drove aimlessly through the busy city streets opting for a left, then a right turn for no reason in particular. He found himself on the expressway. And then not. Around him a neighborhood appeared, and then a familiar white house with bold green shutters. Mulder stopped the car and watched. A figure appeared in the front door after awhile and peered quizzically out at him. The woman was small and hesitant as she approached his car. Nothing like She would be. "Fox?" Margaret's blue eyes met his through the glass. She seemed so tired to him. Older. Sad. His door opened and he knew her hand was on his arm, gently tugging at him. But he couldn't feel it. His entire body was numb. With a maternal care, she helped him out of the car. "Fox, come in to the house . . . let me make you something to eat." "I'm sorry," he stammered. His feet found the cement and somehow he was standing under his own power. "I didn't want to come here. I don't want to burden you." "*You* are never a burden, Fox. And you're always welcome in my home, you know that." Her nurturing hands slipped protectively around his slumped shoulders and she led him into the house. She sat him at her kitchen table and placed a hot mug of tea in front of him, along with a small jar of honey. "When did you get back, Fox?" "I left two days ago." His tone was tight and anxious. Immediately, Margaret knew what he meant. No elaboration was necessary. He had said 'left', not 'checked-out' or 'released'. Which also meant he wasn't planning on returning to the Bureau, since leaving the hospital would most certainly mean a dismissal. He'd given up on the X-Files. Mulder looked up at her sorrowful blue eyes and said with absolute resolution, "I'm going to find her." Margaret nodded. What else could she do? She didn't have to look at the haggard man beside her to see the devastating effect her youngest daughter's murder had had on him. She didn't need the evidence of his blood-shot eyes, the waxy tinge of his skin, the frail way his skin hung off his cheekbones to know that Mulder was dangerously close to complete devastation, himself. She had always known their bond had run deep; knotting their souls together. And she feared that that rare connection would pull him under. That she would lose him, too. Her heart went out to him and she found her voice. "But stay here and rest for a while. Even if it's just for the night." His violently shaking head pressed her into a more persuasive tone. "When you're fresh and rested, Fox, you'll think clearer. Do it for Dana." The sound of Her name exploded inside his head. Instantly images of Her all-too-brief smiles and questioning looks flooded his field of vision. The way Her hair flipped back around her ear. The curve of Her neck. The gentle slope of Her lower back. Her smooth voice. Overwhelmed, he squeezed his eyes shut and sat back in the high-backed chair. Why had he driven to Her mother's house? It only reminded him of Her. Everything he could see . . . smell. It was all a part of Her. But a calm came over him. The serenity that Her understanding eyes could always fill him with. "Just tonight," he breathed through the tension in his stomach. "For her." Margaret didn't bother to offer him an early dinner. It was clear that he was exhausted. Obsession and guilt had stripped him of all his allotted energy. With a mothering hand, she helped him into the guest bed and pulled the thick woollen quilt over his shoulder. But sleep didn't overtake him and grant him peace from Her haunting. And the satiny voice in his mind pulled him from the darkened room and forced him to seek solace in the light. He wandered downstairs, treading heavily on the floor boards. Her mother was in the living room at the bottom of the stairs. Sitting curled up in a chair. Just like *She* had so many times. He rounded the banister and collapsed on to the couch. "Couldn't sleep?" "I've given up sleeping." His mouth barely moved as the bitter words leaked out. He pulled his gaze from Margaret's face, finding too many ghosts in the blue of her eyes. "You don't believe me, do you?" Nothing moved in the house as he sucked in a lung full of breath. "You believe she's dead, don't you?" The question hit like an accusation. But one that Margaret was prepared to deal with. Her mouth tightened a fraction around her admission. "I believe she's dead, Fox." Mulder shook his head with the fury of a mad man before he buried his face in his hands. But Margaret calmly continued, never once wavering in her subtle certainty. "I buried a husband and two daughters. None of them will ever come back to me. The grief from that is tremendous, Fox, but it's one that we must accept." "Why?!" he demanded, his eyes flying to hers in defiance of the memories reflected there. "Because, until we do, there can be no peace for them." His eyes widened. Was that why She was haunting him? Because he refused to allow Her to rest? Was he torturing Her spirit by denying Her death? They had said at the hospital that it would be better for *him* to accept the facts that the police had shown him. But he didn't care about himself. She was all that mattered. "You believe she's dead." He tried to get his mind around the words his mouth didn't want to say. But his very being was repelled by the concept. "You believe she's dead," he tried again. "That Dana is dead." Margaret's muffled whimper from across the room barely registered in the tempest that raged inside his head. "Dana is dead," he chanted again, the images from the photos cutting through the billowing, black clouds that consumed his world. "Dana is dead." And then, he believed it. His heart stopped in his chest and his lungs refused to work, and he sat stone still on the couch willing himself to join Her in oblivion. The tears that slipped from his eyes went unnoticed. The twisting agony that burned in his stomach and chest became his whole world. Until he heard Margaret in the kitchen screaming. At first the sound was foreign. But gradually he heard her speaking and the words made sense. ". . . Dana? Who is this!" The woman slid down the wall to the ground just as he made it to her side. Mulder ripped the phone from her hand. Over and over Margaret woefully whimpered, "Dana's dead. My baby's dead . . .." The unfocused fury raged through his body and soul. His fist trembled with it as he lifted the receiver to his face. "Don't you have any respect for the dead?" His hoarse whisper was little more than a hiss. "Don't call here again!" Then, he slammed the phone in its wall cradle and wrapped Margaret in his arms. He pulled her to him, and the two of them huddled there on the linoleum for hours, weeping and mourning the passing of Dana Katherine Scully. When dawn arrived, Margaret woke on the couch, an afghan tucked protectively over her body. Fox Mulder was gone. She didn't expect to ever see him again. End of 3/9 "I give the fight up: let there be an end, A privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God." -Robert Browning (1812-89). Paracelsus, pt. 5. ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (4/9) By MD1016 She felt rough fingers slide over the inside of her wrist, and her eyes flickered back to consciousness. Above her, the ceiling was a brilliant white, spotlighted by the early morning sunlight that blazed across it from the nearby window. A little to the right, Dr. Swaggen stood in concentration, counting off her heartbeats to the ticking of his watch. "How am I feeling, Doc?" Scully managed a small smile, her voice stronger and more solid than it had been. "You think I'll make it?" His mouth returned her grin, but his eyes remained dubious. "Why don't you tell me." With her brow scrunched in scrutiny, she went through her internal checklist. Something she'd become very apt in doing over her years with Mulder. Head: no real pain; but heavy, like she'd slept too long. Arms: mobile and responding; no pain. Torso: much better; the nausea was gone. Legs: well . . . at least they didn't itch. "I'll survive." Then, the audible rumble from her mid section forced her to amend her first diagnosis. "If I get some food. I'm starving." "Well," Swaggen chuckled, "that's a good sign. I'll check on that for you." He flipped through her chart and made a few notations. "Do you have any food allergies?" "No . . ." her eyes fixed on the file in his hands. It was several times thicker than the usual patient's chart - if there was such a thing. Papers peeked unevenly from the sides catching her concentration. "May I . . . ?" With a shrug Swaggen gave her the folder and began explaining what she was seeing. "When they brought you in, you were comatose. Responses were nil, blood pressure was low and threatening to crash, pulse faint, body temp 94 degrees. Originally, we thought you must've been submerged in freezing water -" "Five pints of blood! That's impossible!" Her eyes bulged out as she read the type on the sheet. "You gave me five pints? How can that be?" Swaggen's eyes met hers and she recognize a faint veil of surprise registering in them. With annoyance, Scully insisted, "I told you I'm a doctor. I know what I'm looking at." Still doubtful, the doctor nodded and recollected his thoughts. "We were shocked when we pricked you for a toxicology and nothing came out. No one was thinking substantial blood loss because there was no evidence of a wound or puncture marks. No internal damage, no stomach bleeding, nothing. The marks on the epidermis -" "Ants." "Yes, well, they didn't account for the abnormalities that we found in your glycosides, either. Your T-Cells were next to nothing and the adrenalin in your system was three times the norm. We couldn't figure out why you were still alive." He flipped a few pages for her and pointed to the second table from the top. "Both the toxicology and virus scans came up negative. CT-Scans showed nothing conclusive. X-Rays - nothing." Scully shook her head. "I don't understand. If these oxygen levels are all correct, then why *am* I still alive? How did I walk around for two days in the woods?" It was just two days, right? Her memories, while stationary now, still held the fuzzy blur around their edges. She had trouble distinguishing a possible memory from something she might have dreamt. Or was she dreaming now? Again, Swaggen just shrugged. "No idea. But we're thinking it might have something to do with this." He pulled a black and white photo from the file and laid it on top of the stack for her to see. "Do you have any idea what this is?" "Uh . . ." her brow arched, "it looks like a DNA marker." "Right," his rounded finger pointed to one of the long striped ribbons, "These strands that are broken away - here - they're not part of your original genetic make up. At least, we hope they're not. We found something that is quite startling in them. This here, that you're looking at is not a normal DNA nucleotide. In fact, the lab guys suggest that they might have identified a new genetic pair. A fifth and sixth nucleotide." "WHAT?!?" Scully bolted up in the bed. "That can't . . . no . . . in my body? In my genes? That's not possi- I would be dead!" "That's what we thought. We had our lab guys doing flips for a couple of days trying to find out what was wrong with the equipment. Then I made a call to a friend of mine at John Hopkins. He's a genetic researcher. He says that this might be a result of branch DNA incorporating a synthetic genetic pair." In shock, Scully's jaw dropped open, but she was able to nod her understanding. "But, how . . .?" With his dark hand sweeping the side of his face, Swaggen peered down at his patient. "Actually, we were hoping that you might fill us in on what happened to you when you woke up -" There was a flash in her eyes and she demanded: "How did I get here?" "Uh . . ." Pulling the chart from her hands, Swaggen flipped to the last page. "Two men found you while they were out hiking. One swore he heard you screaming 'murder'. The police took their statements and filed a Found Persons Report, but nothing turned up." "Nothing at all?" She winced. It was quickly becoming obvious to her what must have happened. They'd taken her again. They had done experiments. They had dumped her body where They thought no one would find her. If nothing came up with police reports, she must've been erased from the system completely. And since everyone in DC thought she was dead . . . no one would have noticed. Mulder wouldn't have noticed. God, that hurt. "How long ago was that? How long have I been here?" The grimace on Swaggen's face preceded his voice of clinical detachment. "You've been here for forty-two days." "WHAT?" The walls of the room came rushing in to meet her, and the ceiling crumbled down on her head. Over a month? How was that . . .? "This can't be happening." Her mind tried to insist that it wasn't anything more than a really bad dream. At any moment the alarm would go off, and she'd be safe and sound in her own bed, where she would be considered very much alive. And Mulder would be there at work, and he would make a jab at her being late. And then they'd settle into a new case and everything would be fine again. Maybe she'd tell him about the dream this time. Tell him how terrifying the nightmare had been. Possibly even let him hold her . . . just enough for her to be reassured that it *was* all a dream. God, let it be a dream! Tears were forming, blurring her vision. But she blinked them back into submission. Get a grip, she told herself. Control, Dana. But then her mind flew in to an outrage. When had she lost command of her life? Why had They taken that from her? Five months gone? Dead? How could Mulder possibly think . . .? Wouldn't he need proof? How could They convince him . . .? And a month in the hospital! Alone! No one looking for her. No one even knowing her name! Her head fell back into the firmness of the pillow and she stared at the ceiling tiles. So much was gone. Not just from her memory this time, but also from her life. She didn't have her usual allies to help her though - no job, no family, no Mulder. Damn it! He'd heard her voice! On the phone. She'd said his name . . . hadn't she? Why hadn't he recognized her? How could he doubt her? Scully slammed her head on the pillow in frustration. How could she fight Them alone? And she *was* alone, for the first time in her life; not just wanting to be strong and stand on her own, but really, truly without a partner. A friend. Without Mulder. How could she possibly get her life back if he wasn't there by her side? And then, two fists grabbed her upper arms and a low timbre resonated down to her. "I know this is hard, but you have to concentrate on getting better. Your body has been through a minor war. Allowing yourself to become upset and depressed is only going to hamper your healing process." Scully knew that the doctor was telling her the truth, and that certainty helped to reassure her . At least she had that. She may have been out of control of her life for a while, but she wasn't out of the picture entirely. And damn it, she would take back everything that she'd lost. By force, if necessary! Dr. Swaggen collected the file and replaced the pictures. "There's still a lot we're not sure about with your condition. But you seem to be responding well enough to some of the stronger drug therapy." Scully inhaled sharply and nodded her head, hearing Dr. Swaggen's footfalls heading for the door. "I'll check on some breakfast for you," he said almost as an afterthought. "Just relax for a while and try not to think too much." ***** Thinking was, of course, all that she could do. From that first moment of realization on, Scully plotted and schemed; trying to force an answer to the question of how to get back to Washington. Getting Skinner to listen to her, seeing her mother - they were second in priority. First, she had to get home. Once Mulder saw her, she was sure he'd help her. He'd take care of everything. All she had to do was make her way back to him. Obviously, she didn't have any money to fly or rent a car. She didn't have any ID to get the local law enforcement to assist her. She didn't have anyone that she could contact for help - well, no one who would believe she was alive. She spent hours debating whether to try to call Mulder or her mother again, but in the end she reasoned that they would simply refuse the collect calls. And she didn't want to have to put them through the obvious pain they were in again. That would just be cruel. Hitchhiking was a possibility; but physically, she wasn't at her best, and DC was a long way away. There would be no point if she didn't arrive home safely. Because if she *did* run in to trouble on the road, there wasn't anyone who would come and find her. She briefly played with the idea of getting a grunt job and earning the money to rent a car, but with no ID, and more specifically, no working social security number, that wasn't a sure fire plan. And anyway, it could take months for her to earn enough money to travel the entire width of the continent. Around and around her mind ran through every possible scenario. And each one was repeatedly shot down by the pragmatist in her. How did one survive without an identity? Without family and friends to lean on in times of crisis? How could she live, even for a short time, without Mulder? That last thought had scared her. She'd known he had become an irreplaceable part of her life. Always there for her when she needed him and sometime even when she didn't. But she'd never really understood just how much she'd grown to depend on her partner. Ever since Scully could remember, she'd always prided herself on being able to stand tall on her own. To overcome any obstacle with her strength alone. And now, when that strength was really put to the test . . .. A familiar ache swelled up in her stomach. Scully pressed her right fist into the pain and forced in a deep breath. She was making herself upset again, and her body wasn't up to the torment. As much as she was feeling better, Scully knew - even without Dr. Swaggen telling her - that not all was right. And it seemed that her obsessing about Mulder just aggravated the symptoms. "How can I *not* think about him?" she whimpered to herself. It was torture knowing that he was suffering. Thinking she was dead, when in reality she needed him desperately. "No," she forced her eyes closed, "this is just temporary. I'll get back, and everything will be fine." But her mind kept on going. What would she do if they were ever really separated? If, say, she were to be transferred away from the X-Files . . . permanently. Well . . . she and Mulder would protest, of course. But part of the understanding that went hand in hand when one joined the Bureau was that one had to relocate where the Bureau dictated. Like the army. There wasn't a lot of choice. And if she was pulled from him . . .. She ached to see him again. To prove to him that she was all right. Visions of his tormented eyes followed her in and out of sleep. Her inability to touch him and comfort him colored her days as she became more and more obsessive about getting home soon. Before he had a chance to act on the self-destructive tendencies that had always plagued his life. God, Mulder, please hang on. Be okay for me. What about stealing a car? If she drove straight through she might make it in a week. How far was Juneau from DC, anyway? But there was a question of gas, and that took money. Which ultimately brought her back to square one and then the whole dizzying process repeated itself. Days of this passed, broken only by sleep and meal times. The answer came after a week and a half of these days. She had just finished her last dose of oral medication for the day, and settled back in to the pillows with the intent of writing Mulder a letter. She wouldn't put a return address on the outside, she'd decided, and she'd have one of the nurses address it so he wouldn't be afraid of her handwriting. Once he opened it, it would then be up to him to accept or reject. But at least she would know she'd done everything in her power to get a message to him. The trouble was, she wasn't sure how to begin the letter. And as the medication started taking effect, to became harder and harder to find the words. Dear Mulder? Hey, Shmucky-Who-Now-Believes-Everything -He's-Told? Please believe me? Please. Scully yawned. Damn that sleeping pill. Damn Mulder. If he hadn't given in to the popular belief for the first time in his life, she wouldn't have been obsessing over how to get back to him. He would've found her already. Therefore, she would have been able to sleep on her own, without the help of the sleeping pills. She hated sleeping pills. It took away just a little more of her control over her own body. Damn Mulder. Oh, Mulder. She allowed her mind to drift to an image of him in his soft tee-shirt and jeans, hair rumpled, face exhausted. He would be walking in the door as he sorted through his mail, stopping at her unmarked letter. Maybe he would think it was from a new informant. Another man with power and no name. He would open the letter carefully, ripping the top flap from the side. His jaw would tighten in that look of concentration he always wore when he expected trouble. The paper inside would slip out easily and he would slowly unfold it. "Mulder, it's me . . ." In a rush, the hospital room came back to her. Dr. Swaggen was at her side, gently patting her hand, trying to pull her attention to his face. "Dana, listen to me. This is very important. Dana?" "Hmmmm?" she blinked him into focus. "Do you remember that friend I told you about? The one at Johns Hopkins? Remember I told you he was a genetic researcher? Well, he's got the whole medical community over there interested in your case. He wants to fly out there. Dana, do you understand what I'm telling you?" Her eyes rolled around in her head as she tried to focus her concentration on the doctor. "Johns Hopkins? Baltimore?" "Right. And I thought this was a great idea since you seem so intent on getting over there, anyway. Tonight. We're going to get you on a flight tonight." Scully closed her eyes. Thank God. She was going home. Home. To DC and home and Mulder. Mulder. Mulder. The medication took a firm hold on her and dragged her towards sleep. But not before she felt her hand raised and paper placed under it. Then a disembodied voice floated past her. "Dana, I need you to sign this paper. Just write your name. Write Dana Scully." Yeah, she thought as her hand smoothed out the cursive, like Dana Scully means anything anymore. Her name was nothing more than a series of sounds that represented who she used to be. According to the world, Dana Scully was dead. Lost somewhere in the shadows of power. Just beyond the Truth. Never quite reaching Justice. Surrounded by the silence of a drug induced sleep. ***** And then she was awake. Just like that. Like a light switch flipped on and she was aware of being in a narrow room. All white. Light everywhere, pointing at her. Dana was laying on a cold surface, a single, heavy sheet draped over her form. There was a door at the other end of the room; she could see it over her feet. All around her there were instruments and machines and trays of surgical tools. She was inside some kind of make-shift operating theatre. Panic surged through her every molecule as the realization of just where she'd ended up hit her. She was back on one of those railroad cars. Where They'd done the tests on her before. She yanked on her arms and legs as a reflex to the terror that coursed through her, but the restraints held. She couldn't see them because of the sheet covering her, but they felt like leather cuffs. Probably similar to the ones used in mental hospitals to secure patients. "Finally." An unfamiliar man's voice was followed by a small clicking of a metal door shutting and the scuffing of leather on the floor. As he came around to her right side, she could see that he wore blue surgical scrubs. A white mask hung loosely around his thin neck. The dark hair that peeked out from under his cap was matted to his forehead where a light sheen of sweat glistened over his olive complexion. His dark eyes searched hers, intently. "I thought you'd never come around." With a flip of his hand, he whipped the sheet off from her, and Scully gave a startled cry, whipping her face away from him. Was he going to hurt her, with her conscious? Was she going to *know* what the butcher was doing to her? She was completely vulnerable; utterly at this stranger's mercy, strapped naked to a steel table. She couldn't fight him. She couldn't protect herself. Would he rape her? The horror of her naked body being forced to yield to the man sent tremors through her. And when his hot hand clasped her forearm, she squeezed her eyes shut, mentally preparing for the absolute worst. "Our Father, who art in Heaven . . ." A cool rush of air ran over her right wrist and she gasped. The restraint had been released. Then, he was down at the bottom of the table working on her feet. "We don't have much time left. The team should be here in less than ten minutes. Damn it!" He swore and yanked her left ankle free with a firm tug. "I *told* them not to cut it too close!" Scully watched the man with wide, confused eyes as he began to unfasten the cuff on her left hand. A myriad of questions and emotions was running through her head, not the least of which was: What the hell is going on?! "And you, Agent Scully," his tenor voice clipped out her name, "are starting to piss me off. This better be the last rescue attempt I have to make on you." "Rescue?" "There isn't time for explanations now." He threw the recently discarded sheet back at her and she quickly covered herself. He continued talking, taking no notice of her condition, covered or not. "You're going to go out that door," he pointed with a hooked thumb over his shoulder, " and take a left. About five cars down, you'll see a parking lot on the other side of the train yard. Look for the blue pick up with a round orange sticker on the windshield. Get in the cab and lock the doors and lay down out of sight. I'll be there in half an hour or so, just as soon as the excitement of your disappearance dies down a little." Stone-still and eyes wide, Scully sat on the table, not believing what was going on. "Who are you? What are you going to do with me?" How did he know she wasn't going to make a run for it? The scalpel was on the floor . . . if she made a lunge for it . . .. With frustration in his eyes, the man glanced at his watch. "Nothing. Jesus! There isn't time for this. Just go to the truck, Agent Scully." Then the man's gloved hand steadied her chin and his oval eyes searched her face. "You can walk, can't you?" "I . . . I think so." He pulled away from her and crossed his arms. "Look, you don't have to trust me if you don't want to. I don't care. But as I see it you have two choices. Them or me. And right now, I can safely say that if They find you still here, I won't *have* to make any more rescues on your behalf. There'll be nothing left to rescue." "Is that a threat?" "Just a statement of fact. It's your choice." He turned from her casually and purposely knocked over a surgical tray, sending the sterilized instruments crashing to the floor. He smiled when she jumped. "We have to make it look good, don't we?" The lesser of two possible evils. This man or Them. The unknown had always terrified her more than anything else, and at that moment, she was willing to take her chances with someone who seemed to be attempting to help her. The alternative wasn't a choice. Slipping down from the table, she pulled the sheet closer around her body and scurried barefoot to the door. "Oh, Agent Scully. I wouldn't try to make a break for it, if I were you. You're in a top secret government weight station. Completely surrounded by men with big guns and even bigger dogs." He turned his back to her and began sawing at the right table restraint with a scalpel, his teeth gritting his words under the force. "If you're not in the truck when I get there, I'm leaving without you." He glanced at her over his shoulder. "Do you understand?" "I'll be in the truck." She slipped out the door and the even brighter morning light struck her unprepared. She'd been out of the sun for nearly two months, and it took a second to adjust to the brilliance streaming down on her. Too much light. And too much heat. Why did it have to be so hot? She stepped down the three iron rungs and landed hard on the rail bed. The soft pads of her feet would surely be bruised and ripped apart by the loose stones in no time. Five cars, he'd said. Fine. The heat from the coarse gravel under her feet was painful as she made her way down the side of the train. No one in sight. Everything still and almost foreboding. Scully wasted little time studying her immediate area, though, five car lengths was a lot farther than it sounded. And the man had said time was running out. When she reached her destination she found the lot. It was on the other side of the train, about a hundred yards off. Only a few dozen cars were there, all just as deserted. The thick connecting arms of the train cars would have been difficult to climb over, and with the clock ticking, Scully opted for the easiest way across the train track. Underneath the train. A moment's hesitation was all it took to override her natural reluctance. Her survival instincts were strong and screaming at her to hurry. On her hands and knees, dragging the sheet with her, she crawled under the heavy body of the car, over one thick metal track, across the wooden brace, and then the other rail. The whole time holding her breath, praying that the wheels wouldn't move. After all, she was a pathologist. She'd seen first hand what a six-ton train wheel and track could do to a body. Once clear and on the other side, she scrambled to her feet, and ran the rest of the distance to the smoother pavement of the parking lot. Two rows back she found the blue pick-up with a round, orange sticker. On it, black letters spelled out: STAL. Stal? The hot asphalt began to burn her poor feet. She quickly opened the passenger side of the cab and pulled herself into the oven-like heat. It smelled like a new car. The upholstery and carpeting were clean and dark. Remembering the man's instructions, Scully closed the door and locked it. Then she reached over and locked the driver's side as well. Should she crack the windows? Should she risk it? As she laid down on the floor in front of the seat and pulled the sheet over to cover her head and body, she ignored the nagging claustrophobic tension in her chest. This wasn't forever. He had said twenty minutes. She could handle twenty minutes. He had said stay hidden. Fine. She was hidden. I'm lying on the floor, she thought, of a truck, completely naked. Because a man I don't know told me to. This is insane. This is something not even Mulder would do. I think. A droplet of sweat slipped down from her neck and ran between her breasts. Silently, she waited there and stewed. End of 4/9 "I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change . . . I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back . . ." -Erica Jong (b.1942). ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (5/9) By MD1016 The steaming summer sun had set hours before without Mulder's noticing. His small, hazel eyes had gradually grown accustomed to the fading light until it blinked out of existence and he was left in abject darkness. Pulling up all of his energy reserves, he lifted his weary body from the deep-set couch and crossed the dusty floorboards of his father's old summer house. The switch on the paneled wall flicked a few small table lamps on. The previous hours were nothing but a blur. Not knowing where to go or what to do, Mulder had fled Mrs. Scully's house in a panic; needing to escape the brutal pain of loss and grief. It was like She was taken just yesterday, not five months earlier. And in a very real sense that was what had happened. Actual acknowledgment had killed more than just his hope. It killed Her spirit. The part that had haunted him . . . the only part of Her that he had had left. He felt like a murderer. Before, when he had seen her ghost, it terrified him. In his head, it meant either she wanted to punish him, or he really was insane. Neither option left him with a zest for life. But now that he'd exorcised her from him - literally banishing her with his words - the small, infinitesimal pleasure he had derived from her image was gone. He'd banished her. Blind, he'd driven for hours - no destination in mind - until he'd found himself at the cottage. It was just as empty and dead as he felt. And, of course, She'd never been there. It would be easier to shut himself down. Maybe he'd be able to substitute one ghost with another. Mulder peered out the small kitchen window that overlooked the lake with indifference. The water would be warm this time of year, he thought idly. An absent hand scratched at the flat plain of his stomach, and he looked up into the adjacent room. Without having to open any, he knew the kitchen cabinets were bare. It didn't really matter. He had no intention of ever eating again. How could he possibly nourish his body when Hers had been so . . . defiled? It would be like Sally Struthers begging on behalf of all the starving children of the world. Too bad Mulder didn't have a TV remote for his life. A stabbing jolt through his chest sent one arm up against the wall for support, and the other clutching at his heart. Good, he thought, maybe a heart attack will finish me off. Stumbling back to the couch, he dropped himself down in to the soft, textured cushions and waited for his last breath with a morbid eagerness. Like a child waiting in line for the House of Horrors. Terrified. And yet, willingly taking on that terror. Wanting desperately to be scared to death. The end, however, didn't greet him. Instead, he laid on his back for most of the night, staring up at the shadows that spread themselves over the flat, white ceiling. God dammit. Cheated again. Why do I have to live when She can't? Is it about suffering? Do I have to suffer as much as She did in Her last hours? Is that my penance for not rescuing Her? For not being there? His eyes closed and he swallowed thickly. God. How can She be gone? How can what They said possibly be true? The graphic photos flashed through his head again, and he cowered from the images. So much horror. Someone had touched Her. Violated Her in the most gruesome ways possible. Taken not only Her life, but Her dignity and humanity, as well. Stripped Her of everything that She had held sacred. "Oh, God," his voice wailed in the still air. "Oh, GOD! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" The chaos of true fury spiraled through him, and he whipped the pillows from the couch. They flew across the room, destroying trinkets and baubles with haphazard precision. Mulder flailed his arms and legs over the edges of the sofa, unable to pick himself up and destroy the room properly. Flailing pathetically, like a fish on a dock. Deep wails forced their way out as he laid there, until the dawn peeked through the blinds and exhaustion won out. His sleep was peppered with visions of Her shadowed form, both remembered and imagined. But never Her face. Her eyes. Her soul. Those were gone from him. He'd traded them for a chance to bring Her some peace. Something he'd never thought to give Her while she was with him. He didn't wake up until the blazing sun was ready to set again. ***** Mulder emerged from the bathroom haggard and swaying against the brutal force of gravity. Hours of tortured sleep had left him drained. The only solace allowed him was the gradual emergence into the unmerciful reality of consciousness. The physical ache of hunger was nothing compared to the regurgitated pain and desolation of losing her over and over. Stumbling down the darkened hall, he leaned heavily against the paneled walls for support. His steps were slow and uneven; much like his ragged breaths. The pulse in his neck throbbed against his windpipe. He felt like shit and was sure he looked worse. A masochistic smile transformed his face, creating disfiguring planes with the shadows. And then, as if in a dream, Mulder looked down and he could see himself. Slowly making a path towards a brilliant golden light. Seeing his hands flat against the walls, but not feeling them any longer. He watched as the hall opened wider, giving him more space to move through; becoming hopelessly long. The light burned like radiant fire, hovering just beyond the end of the hall. Like a beacon, it called to him; led the way. Mulder blinked as his body followed, making its way at a snail's pace down towards the golden source. But with a flash of impatience, the yellow glow sped at him like a swarm of luminous hornets. And Mulder saw his arms and chest become engulfed in the gentle warmth of it. Then, once again he was in his body looking out. He no longer ached. The grief and pain were gone. And he breathed with a smile of relief. The glow lightly kissed his features before sinking in to him; becoming a part of him. The sensuousness of the contact briefly dropped his eyes closed. He relished the playful dancing of the colored orbs behind his eye lids. But when his eyes opened, Mulder froze in place. The light was gone. The dark had returned. And, on the ground before him lay a huddled figure. A heavy white sheet covered all. "No." Mulder whimpered as his hand, of its own volition, snaked down through the air and reached out for the cloth. "Please, no." His own fingers refuse to yield to his pleas. They curled around the hem of the sheet. Mulder wanted to run. He tried to turn his head away. He strained to force his eyes closed again. Anything to save himself from the already returning heartache and sorrow. His arm yanked on the cloth. And Mulder screamed. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Lying huddled like a new, wet fetus lay a woman. Her red hair was limp and dark against Her damp head and shoulder. Naked hips and legs curled up protectively against Her red-splotched torso. The line of Her form curved smoothly against the blackness that surrounded Her. She was still and glistening and all that existed. Blood raged through Mulder's body, swelling in the flesh between his legs. He could smell the sweat on Her skin. He could feel the heat from Her body radiating up to him; searing him. The roundness of Her perfect rear sloped gradually into a slender waist he recognized. It was the unmistakable lower back that he had touched so many times before. Flawless. Bare to him. Beaded with a sheen of perspiration. His body had forsaken him. The stiffness in his crotch pressed painfully against the firm denim encasing it. It was wrong, Mulder knew, but it was out of his control. He couldn't stop his hands from smoothing over his erection any more than he could force his eyes to look away from the arch of Her neck. Tears of disgust and anguish rolled unheeded down his unshaven cheeks. His hips bucked forward into the air without finding the satisfaction of friction. And, when She lifted her head the slightest amount and Her pure blue eyes looked up and locked with his, Mulder couldn't help the explosive release that soaked through the tight front of his jeans. His eyes rolled back as he gasped from the shameful pleasure of it. His knees buckled. Then, as his head sank, his boneless body fell forward over Her. Or, what his mind screamed should have been on top of Her. But as he collapsed, he could feel nothing except the unforgiving wood of the floor rushing up to meet him. ***** The stagnant air weighted him down. The desire to move was not in him. Self-loathing kept the tears pooling where his cheek pressed against the floor, and exhaustion kept him from caring. It wasn't enough that he had seen Her again; that somehow She had managed to find Her way back to haunt him. No, he had to succumb to the primal lusts of his body. To step in line with all the other men who had defiled her and reduced her to less than nothing. While She watched. NO! Mulder leapt up and bolted out the back door. His bare feet carried him over the dark grass towards the lake shore, his arms lifted the tee-shirt up and off of his torso. Stumbling a few steps in the dark, he freed his feet from the confines of the jeans and underwear before he hit the cool, blackness of the water head first. His slender fingers ran over his face, scrubbing fiercely at the guilt he held as if it were a thick mask of dirt. Every part of him felt filthy; sinfully so. His hands ran over his penis and thighs, washing away the previously dried cum. All the while, making his way farther out into the lake. The warmth of the air combined with the gentle current had a calming effect that gradually brought Mulder out of his frenzied baptism. Breathing hard, he sank back into the water, allowing his natural buoyancy to keep him afloat. The half moon cast its spotlight over the bloody blackness of the world around him. It would be so easy, his mind pondered, to simply sink in to the water and disappear. No mess for someone else to clean up. No pain. No more haunting. Like anything in his life could be that easy. Why did She continue to haunt him? Why wouldn't Her spirit let him go? Did She hate him for his failure to reach Her in time? And what would She say to him if She knew what he was doing? If She could see him treading water in the lake in the dark? If She knew he had looked over Her naked body and climaxed? It was sick. That he would fantasize about Her that way: shielding Herself from his view, trying to retain even the smallest amount of dignity. And still he was able to . . . do what he had done. Disgusting. Sick. But then, they'd said at the hospital that he was mentally ill. Over and over. That what he called 'Her hauntings' were, in fact, elaborate fantasies of a troubled mind. That, in reality, She was gone forever. She wasn't trying to communicate with him. And all he had left was fantasy. Well, that, and the comforting weight of his body suspended in water. Sinking. Slowly. Deeper and deeper. "Oh, Mulder." He could hear Her voice resonating in his head, as the water rose above his ears. "Mulder." The coolness of the sandy lake bed gave way gently under his feet. He let his legs bend as he sank further down into the blackness. With an almost euphoric calm, he ignored the pangs of self preservation that burned in his lungs. It would all be over soon. All of it: the pain, the emptiness, the guilt . . .. "Please. Mulder." Why was he hearing Her voice now? Why couldn't She just let him do what needed to be done? What he wanted to do. Why was She there when he wanted so much to deny Her? "Please." But then, he never could deny Her. Not really. His feet planted themselves firmly in the mud, and pushed his body up towards the surface. He didn't want to respond to the lunacy inside his head. But once again, it was beyond his control. His body was forced to obey Her; fantasy or no. Gasping for air as his head broke the water, a series of painful sobs shook through him. The air was warm in his chest. And moist. Mulder choked through the guttural cries releasing the anger and frustration that boiled within him. "I don't want to live without you! I don't want to live!" His words echoed over the glassy lake top. The lulling, nearly non-existent current eventually brought him back to the narrow shore. Without the strength to haul himself out from the water completely, Mulder crawled up the gentle slope until his waist was clear of the rolling movement and fell asleep. ***** Morning came slowly. But even slower still was Mulder's drift back to consciousness. It had been days since he'd eaten, and even then it had only been an frozen burrito. Hunger was starting to win its battle with his body, and Mulder was feeling the consequences: ranging from the throb in his head to the ache in every other part of his body; and then, the added pleasure of nausea and vertigo when he tried to stand on the uneven sand. It was no wonder when he fell over and nearly passed out. Thank god Scully wasn't there. She would be furious. Yet, something in him pulled his body up from the lake shore and got him in the house again. The hot shower was meaningless against his numbed skin. As were the clothes he found in one of the oak dressers. His fathers. The jeans were too big, and the shoes were too tight. But Mulder didn't even notice. Sensation was lost on him. He found the key on the hook by the door and headed out to the car. Nothing tangible was in his mind. He was running on auto-pilot, only vaguely aware that he needed food and something to drink. The guilt was gone. The ache and grief were forgotten. Only an empty hunger plagued him. And so, he left the house in search for something to feed it. End of 5/9 "I balanced all, brought all to mind, The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind, In balance with this life, this death." -W. B. Yeats (1865 1939), An Irish Airman Fooresees His Death. The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (6/9) By MD1016 "Would you shut up?!" barked the man driving the truck. His dark complexion was flushed from heat and frustration. Scully clamped her lips shut and fumed. It had been two hours since they'd left the train yard and she still didn't know who the mysterious man was or why he was 'helping' her. Most of that time they'd been speeding past open fields, and down back roads. She had no idea where they were, or where they were headed. And Mr. Congenial didn't seem keen on volunteering any information. And she was still naked. True, she had the sheet; but her ingrained modesty screamed for more. Especially since she was basically powerless and feeling less than her usual 'fine'. The oven temperatures in the truck had nearly rendered her unconscious by the time the small driver had finally shown up. In his defense, he had turned the air conditioning up full blast as soon as the air from the vents was cool enough to breathe. But, by that time, the sheet was nearly transparent from her sweat, and the combination gave her chills. It took her twenty minutes to drag herself up from the floorboard. And another ten or so for the dancing lights behind her eyes to fade away. Scully couldn't help the inevitable comparison. Mulder would have helped her up into the seat. He would have seen to it that she had water and was safely buckled in before he tore out on to the open road. And he certainly would have offered her his shirt if he had nothing else to give her! "I need water," Scully insisted, unable to ignore the demands her body was making any longer, "and clothes. And an aspirin or something-" "You'll get everything that you need when we get to the rendezvous point." The man clipped off the words with his teeth. As his shoulders rounded towards the steering wheel, he barked out: "We're almost there." His voice was higher than Mulder's, and the harsh tenor grated on Scully's last aching nerve. "Why won't you give me any clothes? Are you afraid I'll run away?" She heard a faint rumble set deep in the man's long throat as he slowly peeled his black eyes from the road. They met with hers before he slowly grazed her entire length with their touch. Her heart doubled its cadence. With a grimace, she pressed herself against the passenger door. Her hands pulled up defensively against her chest. His leer continued as he spoke. "Nothing I ain't seen before, sweetheart." Then his focus snapped back to the road an he continued at his normal, crisp rate, "I wasn't impressed then, and I'm certainly not now." His ability to leave her feeling cheap and violated without so much as laying a hand on her infuriated Scully. How dare he dismiss her like some piece of garbage he picked up from the side of the road! Her mind was whirling in and out of rage. Okay, so he wasn't going to rape her. Or fondle her. Or probably touch her unnecessarily. Asshole. It was all so horrendously demoralizing. The relief she thought she *should* feel was muscled away by the humiliation of his insult. Why? She had no idea. So, with all of the indignity that pulsed within her, Scully sat up straight again. The man treated her with a certain amount of familiarity. And a large dose of contempt. Did he know her? Had they met? She didn't remember him. Did she? She closed her eyes and tried to call up memories that didn't seem to be in her head. Well, she silently crooned, even if he did know her from somewhere, insulting her physically, while she sat unclothed - and feeling horrible - was a low. The guy hadn't even snuck a peek. Not in the train car, not when he got into the truck. At first she was relieved, but now! Even Mulder would have snuck a peek. And then given into the urge to tease her a little to lighten the mood. After he'd given her his shirt, of course. And some water. And after he'd reassured himself that she was all right. God, Mulder. Please. Please be all right. And once again it all came back to Mulder. She needed to see him, to have him with her when she was feeling so bad. To hear his voice and his reassuring presence. To know that no matter what, he would protect her . . . from people like the hateful man beside her. Another flash of heat slipped through her, followed by a moment of disorientation. When she got her bearings again, the truck pulled off the paved road on to a small, pitted private drive. They bumped along for a few minutes - just long enough for Scully to become nauseous - and then came to a stop before a small, two-story farm house, tucked neatly behind a row of evergreens. The new sickness only weakened her further, and as soon as she felt the motor die, Scully opened the door and fell to the grass. She landed on all fours, and emptied a yellowish bile from her stomach, coughing and sputtering. Her arms and legs ached. And when they finally threatened to give out, she crawled a little to the side and laid down in the shade. "Oh, Mulder. Why aren't you here? No," she closed her eyes, "I'm glad you're not here to see me like this." By the time Scully realized the man had gone into the house without giving her a second look, she was beyond caring. She spread out on her stomach - the sheet covering most of her torso and llegs - and gloried in the cool, pillowing blades of grass. There was a slight breeze that toyed with the hair at her neck. It felt so . . . good, like it brushed away the waves of unbearable heat that her own body was generating. To be shaded, and cooler was a welcome sensation. And she was so tired . . .. At some point later, someone lifted her from the yard and carried her into the house and she was placed upright . . . in a chair, maybe? A soft, velvet rested below her fingertips. A recliner? Her feet didn't seem to touch the ground. Or did they? Her eye lids were too heavy to open . . . Until she felt the sharp pain of a needle digging into her thigh. After that, Scully couldn't open them wide enough. Or scream loudly enough. "What the hell are you doing!?" Mr. Congenial held the syringe, filled to the brim with a translucent, green liquid. "STOP!" He was pressing hard on the end of it, forcing the solution under her skin. Scully's hands grabbed for the syringe on impulse, but two hands came from behind the chair and held her in place. It wasn't much of a struggle. Most of her energy was gone. The headache was worse. The chills were back. "Just relax, Agent Scully. We're here to take care of you." The voice was decidedly female. And soft. Honest. "Close your eyes. Relax in to the anti-toxin. Allow it to warm through you. It will correct much of what they tried to do to you." The hands began a gentle caress of her wrists and arms. Light and soothing. There was no option except to follow the voice. What else could she do? Gradually, as her breathing deepened, her shivering dissipated, starting from the inside of her body out. Without being able to stop it, Scully felt her only tangible protection - the sheet - lifted from her; a small tug releasing the part she sat on. Then, caring hands lifted her from the back of the chair, and slipped something over her head. A shirt. Soft. Cotton. Her arms were laced through it. Scully's hips were lifted in the same fashion and shorts were slipped on. At least, she thought they were shorts. Her legs still felt exposed. And while the pounding in her head shrank back a notch or two, she still couldn't bring herself to open her eyes. Knowing she wasn't asleep, but not quite awake, either, Scully faded in and out around hushed voices, both male and female. Their conversation buzzed around her. The sensation was unnerving. Catching "we've got to hurry" here and "all arrangements are made" there. "We work our asses off to keep these people safe, pull them out of danger time and again, and how do they thank us? By allowing themselves to be caught up in the net, again!" "I'm sure, given the choice, she wouldn't have decided on the tests They put her through." "She insisted on asking the wrong questions. It's the same thing." "They were the right questions -" "Yeah. Ask her kids that when they're born with no arms." A thin whimper eked from Scully. Her semi-conscious mind was flooding twisted images past her. Infants with stubs for arms. Babies with enormous heads and black, alien eyes. Her babies. Her tortured little babies. "No . . ." Then the woman's hushed voice was in Scully's ears again. "Listen carefully. You're safe. The anti-toxin should clean out your system in less than 72 hours. Normally we'd have you in bed, unconscious during that period. The side-effects are unpleasant. But there isn't time." "Right. And you shouldn't get the brunt of them until sometime tomorrow." The man cut in. His tone was less than pacifying. "Agent Scully. Your partner is in danger." Mulder! Scully lulled her head from side to side in an effort to shake off the lethargy that had enveloped her. "Muuul-er," she attempted; her tongue got hung up around her teeth. Danger? What kind of danger? "Don't talk, Agent Scully. Just listen to what we have to say." There was a momentary pause before the woman started again. Something cool and moist was placed on Scully's face. "You've been missing from your family and friends for over five months, now. Closer to six. The group that took you originally intended not to return you at all. While we regretted losing you, we owed your captors a certain . . . debt. You were considered a regrettable, but necessary loss." She took a calculated breath, "We didn't count on the extreme of Agent Mulder's reaction to your second disappearance." "Which is how we came to meet again," the man's grumble filled the room. "Mulder is a wild card that many of my . . . bosses . . ." he tripped over the word, "need playing in their field. They needed his success." "Your success," the woman added with approval. With a furrowed brow Scully tried to take in what she was hearing. Bosses? How many Theys were there? And Mulder. Why was he in danger? "Agent Mulder, " continued the woman, "was allowed, this time, to believe that you were dead. We figured in a drop in his success rate for a year or so, but the outcome has been far worse than we first imagined. Instead of simply mourning, he has given up completely, and our group feels that he may, in the perceivable future, decide to end his life." Scully's face screwed up around the rush of panic and grief. "No . . ." Her eyes flashed open to the swimming outlines of the room around her. NO! Mulder! Don't even think it! Hang on, Mulder! I'm here! PLEASE! The man leaned close to her face, violence in his voice. "You must stop him, Agent Scully. The X-Files must be reopened. The world cannot afford for our group to fail." FUCK YOUR GROUP! FUCK YOU ALL! Mulder! She had to get to Mulder. Her arms attempted to awkwardly push her weight up from the chair. The result was pathetic. How could it come to this? Mulder's life being thrust in to the hands of an invalid. "Help Mulder . . ." her voice wasn't any stronger than the rest of her. "You really should sleep now, Agent Scully, but as we said, time is of the essence. It's going to take about an hour before you're able to walk. Another hour before you'll be clear enough to drive. There is a map on the table that tells you were Agent Mulder was last sighted." "There's also some food and water." Scully forced her eyes open and the woman's face came in to view. She was beautiful. And somehow familiar. Her intelligent brown eyes peered down at the agent. "At some point in the future, I will be in touch with you again. There's too much information for you to process for now. Just know that They will be trying to get to you again, and this must not be allowed to happen." She tucked a loose bit of brownish hair behind her ear and smiled faintly back at Scully. "There's a car with a full tank of gas outside for you. We're working on getting the red tape thinned out so that it won't be too difficult to reinstate you amongst the living." Scully shook her head, "Why?" Her mouth was dry again. "Why are . . . you doing . . . this? For . . . Mulder?" "There are those of us who want him safe. Who believe in his work, and want to help him. And you." "But why?" "Because there is enough horror in the world. We're not all monsters, Agent Scully. There are some who believe that there can be truth if we fight for it. It is possible to right the wrongs. If we're not too late." ***** The nameless man and woman had left a little less than an hour before, according to the clock above the small shale mantle. And in the interim, as she waited impatiently for her body to begin to respond to her commands again, Scully hadn't heard any evidence of anyone else in the house. It was odd that they would just leave her there. But then, she expected nothing less. Nothing about the last several months of her life made much sense. Mulder. I have to get to Mulder. Mulder. . . don't be stupid. You've made it this long. Oh, GOD! Gradually, the heavy, groggy fatigue in Scully's body melted away, leaving a residue of aches and stiffness. Still, there was no doubt in her mind that she could easily sleep for three days straight. If that were a luxury that she could afford. "Mulder," she reminded herself, "he needs me." End his life? How could he even think . . .? But then, if one wasn't concerned about heaven . . .. Damn him! Making her suffer mercilessly. Knowing that she had to reach him, and reach him immediately. Before he took his gun . . . or a rope . . . or found a lake . . .. The second she trusted her legs not to give out underneath her, Scully pushed herself up from the comfortable, overstuffed chair. Sure enough, on a large wooden table behind her was a bag of food and water and a large map pinned down with tacks. There was also a pair of tennis shoes and a set of keys nearby. "Gee, it's almost like Christmas." And a large manilla envelope. With shaking hands Scully reached into the envelope and pulled out a nightmare. Five 8X10" photographs. Back and white. All of Mulder. His long, naked body was a sharp contrast against the dark shore line. Water blanketed his calves. His arms twisted unprotected out to his sides. His face was blank and empty. His eyes closed. "So," her heart wrenched, " it was a lake after all, Mulder." With everything that boiled within her, Scully ripped the pictures in half and grabbed the shoes and keys. The woman had said to wait at least another hour - God forbid she lose control of the car and get herself killed on the way to stop Mulder from attempting the same thing! But if she didn't arrive in time . . . if she made it to his side only to find she'd been too late . . .. NO! The thought of him not being there when she was finally so close filled her with a stabbing dread. Scully had trouble beating back the panic that threatened to reduce her to frenzy. It would have been so easy for her to simply give into the emotions that through her. To succumb to the hysteria that swirled through her and around her. Pausing at the door, Scully braced herself against the jam and allowed herself a deep breath. "Control," she told herself. "Mulder needs you in control." And if that's how Mulder needed her -- that's how she would be. All she knew was she had to see him and to touch him. She needed to feel him in her arms; to know that he was alive and all right. The craving to feel his hair against her cheek and smell his sweet tang took a firm hold of her insides with a jerk. It was a need that she'd never known before. At least, not for Mulder. Well, not that she allowed herself to acknowledge. The compact car was parked in the front yard next to an old pecan tree. The door was unlocked. Scully threw herself behind the wheel and pulled the map flat in front of herself, bracing it against the steering wheel. A large black circle marked a small back road as Frimyer, and a large red X was firmly situated over a small town labeled Quonochontaug. RHODE ISLAND!?! First Maine, then Alaska, and now . . . "My god," Scully sighed, "He's gone to his father's lake house." ***** The drive itself took all of twenty minutes. The longest twenty minutes of her life. Most of which she spent chanting to herself that everything would be okay, and that Mulder wasn't really as impulsive as she usually gave him credit for. "He won't do anything stupid. He won't do anything stupid." As her body woke up more, the aches and pains drained away, and the heat oscillated between sweats and chills. Once she stopped by the roadside to vomit, the symptoms dissipated somewhat and she was able to concentrate one the task at hand. Finding Mulder. Getting to the town, and finding Mulder. Once there, however, Scully was at a loss as to what to do. She had no address or directions. Her best bet was to stop in town, and see if anyone knew where the Mulder house might be. It was a small town, after all. Someone must know something. Christ! There wasn't time for this! Beside the local post office, Scully parked the car. It had taken an enormous amount of energy just to keep the car between the lines on the road. Though the pain was nearly gone from her heavy muscles, it would only be a matter of time before she passed out completely. And once again she would be surrounded by strangers who didn't even know her name. Even the clothes she wore didn't represent who she really was. A white and pink knit top that rode high on her waist, and a stiff pair of thick cotton shorts. Also a disgustingly Pepto color. And the heat was sinking back inside of her again. She had to hurry. Taking a deep breath, Scully stepped from the driver's side and tested her legs. Not bad. Achy, but functional. She looked up just as a tall man brushed past her off of the curb. Brown hair. Straight nose. Pouty lower lip. Mulder. He walked right past her without even seeing her. His eyes were glazed and miles away. His stride was slow and deliberate; set more by habit than destination. The hair on the back of his head was longer than she remembered it, and it fluttered with the summer breeze. But it was him. No question. Her vision tunneled to encompass only him, effectively silhouetting his form against the blackness of everything else. There was a swelling of her chest that burst into a massive swirl of butterflies in her stomach. Her straining heart pounded. A new energy ignited within her and she tingled inside and out from the sight of him. Knowing he was alive. That he was mere feet from her. Walking away. Without knowing she was doing it, Scully called out to him. There was a momentary waver in his stride; a nearly imperceptible catch in the mechanical swing of his arms. Scully knew he had heard her voice, or at least the sound of his name. But he didn't turn. He didn't waver from the path that was already chosen. "Mulder!" she yelled. "MULDER!" Her voice broke with the force of her desperation to reach him. Her legs tried to run to him, but the quivering weakness in her thighs was returning and all she could manage was a limp. "Mulder!" He stopped in mid-stride with his back to her; his body frozen. Then, without warning, he reacted, but in a way she never could have expected. His head shook. His trembling arms raised and both hands muffled his ears as if from some horrid offense. As she took another step she could hear his tormented pleas; his pained, "No . . . no . . . leave me alone . . .." "Mulder?" His cheeks were gaunt and hollowed by starvation. His intelligent eyes were dark and dull. Beside herself, Scully reached out and slowly brought her right palm to his heavily stubbled face. His eyes snapped to hers. And the look there terrified Scully. There was no recognition. Just hatred and death staring back at her. She gasped. His eyes held something else, too, and she was completely unprepared for it. Something that she couldn't put a name to. Beyond horror. Beyond agony. In the next second, she saw a transformation. He was no longer looking at her, but into her. The connection. And then his knees buckled and he slipped to the ground; a priest kneeling down before his God. The dull grey of his eyes never leaving her face, refusing to blink. Scully dropped down with him. Her shaky arms wrapped themselves tightly around him. He was warm against her, smelling just as she had remembered. Oh, thank you, God. Thank you. With all of the weariness her body held, she rested her head on the crook of his neck and pressed her chest firmly against his. She needed the contact. She wanted him to know she was there. With him. For him. Slowly, as his heart raced below her ear, his arms snaked around her middle and pulled her closer, squeezing her hard to his chest. So hard, that she had trouble taking a breath. The pain in her lower back renewed. "Mulder -" Suddenly, a string of sobs erupted from Mulder's chest like cannons, shaking them both. But Scully simply smoothed the back of his head and neck with her left hand and held him with her right. She rocked him gently. In her world, there was only Mulder and her. Wrapped tightly together. Never to be separated again. She would see to it. Scully realized with a quiet shock that their embrace was like that of two found lovers, not partners. Not friends. And that her need to touch him didn't end with their fierce embrace. But the newfound intimacy didn't scare her as much as the realization that came with it: He needed her to live, and she needed him . . . even more. Infinitely more. Tears began to fall down her own cheeks, quieter than his, but tears just the same. His arms continued to pin her fiercely to his waist and she could feel every breath that he took through the swelling of his belly against her own. His lips gently grazed her shoulder between sobs. His scratchy cheek scraped against her neck. He rubbed it softly up to the side of her face; his wet tears cooling the heat of her skin. Then his teeth scraped at the gentle incline of her neck and his tongue kissed its way up to the lobe of her ear. There, something unintelligible was whispered against her flesh. What was left of her rational mind fought to stay afloat in the rapidly thickening fog. He's kissing me, she told herself, somehow trying to make it more real. He's saying something . . . and kissing me . . . But she couldn't concentrate on the sounds he was making. Her whole being at that point was focused on the way he felt. The way he was making her feel. The sensations were new and powerful. Consuming. And she was powerless against them. One of his hands traveled down and cupped her bottom tightly against his lower body. Scully's whole being jerked to him, blossoming a ravenous need. They'd been apart for so long. She'd been so afraid for him. And now that he was safe in her arms, he wasn't close enough. She craved to comfort his tormented cries. To assure him and reassure him until they were both convinced that she was back and he was alive. Nothing else existed except for that need. Nothing else mattered except easing his pain. Stopping his suffering. Soothing his wounds. Satisfy the hunger. His mouth briefly suckled at her ear before moving on to the damp saltiness of her cheek. Kissing a line down to her full, dry lips. She knew his urgency. It was a part of her, too. Her mouth opened wide against his and her tongue slid over the smooth teeth she found there. She could taste him. And even though she'd never kissed him before, the taste of him was unmistakable. The kiss intensified, and beyond all reason - lost in a world that consisted only of sensation and passion - Scully moaned into his mouth. Then, all at once, she was pushed backwards and she hit the pavement, landing hard on her back. The sudden rush of adrenaline left her gasping for air. But Mulder's mouth refused to relinquish her lips and she inhaled the already moist air from his body. The sensation was electric. It consumed her. His hands were everywhere, grasping at her hips and breasts and face. His groin rutted firmly against hers. It was all she could do to keep another moan of pleasure from escaping. Her body was impossibly heavy and unwielding. Hot. Numb. She couldn't have sat up at that point, even if she tried. Not that she wanted to be anywhere than where she was. Under Mulder. "Oh, Mulder." The sound of her own voice registered a spark of realization in her mind. Just a glimmer, that at first she tried to ignore. But it quickly expanded, knocking the incredible physical desires down a notch, and she couldn't ignore the fact that Mulder was lying on top of her. In public. Mulder, her partner. Mulder, her best friend. Mulder, the man she had been kissing so passionately just a second before. "Mulder . . . wait . . ." His weight pressed her into the rough cement, and she felt her tee shirt beginning to ride up. A tidal wave of panic flushed through her. It would be so easy just to let go, she thought. The fatigue in her arms and legs was compounded by a sexual lethargy that she'd never experienced before. It felt so good. And after feeling so bad for so long . . .. "No," she tried to get out, even though her heart wasn't in it. "Not here, Mulder." His lips continued to grind into hers. Her palms pushed against his chest, and she tried in vain to push herself out from under him. She had to stop them before they went too far with an audience. He was just responding to the shock, she knew. Just as she had initially. And to the wonderful feeling of his mouth on hers. His hands on her. Reaching lower. Oh, yes, lower. "Mulder!" Two of his fingers found their way to her elastic waistband and one yank had the shorts down to her mid thigh. Before her mind caught up to register what was happening, she felt him forcing his way inside of her. "Oh, GOD!" The ripping pain was swallowed up by a flood of heat and need that saturated the lower part of her body. His full stiffness stretched her; feeding the ache that already throbbed there. His thrusts were powerful and rough. And his tongue continued to battle in her mouth, pulling moans of pleasure from her throat. With all the desperation and need that had controlled her, Scully climaxed around him in a hard, almost painful orgasm. She couldn't have stopped him, she couldn't stop herself. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head as she cried out. His frenzied rhythm slammed his groin into hers, even as she convulsed around him. She clutched his back and held on, unable to do anything else. She was beyond herself. Until a second later. He went rigid above her, and she felt a hot explosion deep inside her body. His eyes, though slitted, looked down into hers, refusing to close against the pleasure, and her name slipped out like a prayer on his lips. "Scully." Lifting her head, she whispered his in return. They were together. Literally, yes, but emotionally as well. The innermost parts of their souls sighed in relief. The pain was abated. Their separation was over. They were all that mattered. They were their own world set apart. Until, like a jolt of thunder, the real world barged in and refuse to be ignored. Gasps and crude comments and the realization that a crowd of people had gathered around them filtered through the mush of Scully's brain. Somewhere in the distance she heard sirens. Mulder seemed to pick up on the flash of panic in her eyes, because without a word he lifted himself from her, and slipped out. Scully tried not to cry out as he left her, only managing in stifling a small grunt at the abrupt separation. Her tingling pain grew in his absence. Her numbed hands slipped the shorts back in place over her sticky thighs and she was vaguely aware of being mortified with herself for losing so much of her control. Losing? Or surrendering? Mulder's hands were on her again, pulling her up to him, his eyes never lifting from her face. "Scully," he said again, as if the mention of her name would act like an anchor and keep him in the fantasy of having her back. "Scully." "I'm here, Mulder. But we have to get out of here . . ." It was at that point that Scully's legs gave out all together, and she clung to Mulder's arms to stay upright. The euphoric tingling pain that Mulder had left in her body drained away in the span of a breath. Once again the stabbing pain ignited, but this time it flared through every cell in her body. She screamed. And somewhere, through cotton ears, she heard him calling her name over and over. But the ability to respond had left her. At least this time someone knew her name. This time, she thought, I won't be alone. Then everything became silent. And dark. And calm. End of 6/9 "When I died last, and, Dear, I die As often as from thee I go Though it be but an hour ago, And lovers' hours be full eternity." -John Donne (1572-1631). The Legacy. ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (7/9) By MD1016 Mulder stared down at the limp body in his arms. The sound of his own horrified voice screaming Her name still rang in his ears, even after the sound of sirens squealed to a stop on the street in front of him. Someone touched his shoulder. They tried to turn him around. But Mulder continued to stare at the unkept cascade of red and gold that lifted gently in the breeze. Her hair. She had beautiful hair. She was real. She, the fantasy, was real. This time, She'd stayed with him, in his arms. Where before, She had vanished into the darkness. Two foreign hands were on Her, pulling. Trying to rip Her from his grasp. They wanted to take Her away. From him. Again. With all of his strength, he pulled Her against him; crushing Her body against his own. He wouldn't let Them have Her. They would never have Her again. Never. A slight vibration rumbled against his stomach; and then he caught a weak, muffled sound. Her head flopped against his chest. She didn't have the strength to lift it. Cutting through the crowd, a male voice yelled out: "My God, man! Stop! You're hurting her!" Mulder's head quickly shot up to search out the accuser, but then dropped down to the small woman he held upright. Her feet, in their white canvas shoes, barely scrapped the ground; Her arms hung awkwardly out to Her sides like a rag doll. Her eye lids were red and sunken against the almost chalky complexion of Her cheeks. Her pale lips cracked themselves open just enough to whisper, "Mulder..." He was holding Her too tightly. She couldn't breathe. In his panic to release Her from the stronghold of his arms, She slipped through his embrace and crumbled to the ground. A set of arms instantly snatched Her up, and a second later he was down on the cement -- face first -- with his wrists securely handcuffed behind his back. "Scully!" He couldn't see Her. They'd taken Her from his line of sight. "Scully!" He tried to roll to see where they'd taken Her. "Scully!" A sharp weight pressed into his back. "Scully!" A disembodied voice told him he had the right to remain silent. "Scully!" he screamed. And screamed. And screamed. They had taken him to the county jail, strip-searched him, put him in a cell, and locked the door. At one point in the night, an officer held a phone through the bars, saying he could make a call to make arrangements for council. Mulder had stared blankly at the man, choking out, "Scully?" as if the answer to that simple question would save his world. Or possibly destroy it. But the guard hadn't understood his plea, and had simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah. Whatever, pal. Suit yourself." That night She hadn't come to him. She didn't haunt his nightmares. Not even when he had begged Her to. Morning came with a hot cup of tasteless coffee and a visit from his boss. Assistant Director Skinner sat across from Mulder wearing a flawless white dress shirt and a navy and green speckled tie. His round wire glasses bobbed lightly as the bald man clenched and released his jaw. Apparently he hadn't liked the answers his favorite agent had given him. "What do you mean you don't remember?" he growled, his tense body hunched over the table in an effort to remain calm. "She was there, and I grabbed her . . . I don't really . . ." Mulder's face remained steady against the flashing images that flipped before his eyes and the sensations that accompanied them. The memories were so real - so vivid - that he could actually feel Her pulse racing beneath his lips as if he was, at that second, tasting the sweet flesh on Her neck. He closed his eyes against the feel of Her mouth on his. Her tears mixing with his. And the intoxicating sensation of Her convulsing around him . . . so tight and hot. Nestled between Her thighs. "Jesus." "Then tell me where you found her -- why you didn't bother to inform the rest of the world." Mulder ran a hand over his face. It came away wet with sweat. "I want to know how she is." "My answers first." "NO!" Mulder slammed the flat of his hand against the table. "She's my partner, damn it! I have a right -" "You fucked your partner, Mulder! In front of fifteen witnesses! In front of a goddamn post office, for crying out loud! You've given up any rights you previously had." Skinner took a moment to allow the full effect of his prior sentence to sink in before he dropped his next: "The doctors are even saying rape." The look of anger and frustration shifted to horror as all of the blood drained form Mulder's head. A soft ringing buzzed in his ears. "Ra . . .." He couldn't complete the word. Skinner shifted uncomfortably. "There are bruises. And some bleeding . .." he cleared his throat. "I don't really know the details." Mulder ignored the blatant lie. He didn't care if the AD was uncomfortable with the topic at hand. His only concern was with Scully. "Is she all right? Tell me what you know. How badly -" "Badly." Skinner didn't wait for the rest of the question. He didn't need to. "She hasn't regained consciousness." "What?!" Mulder shot up from his chair. The guard next to the door took a threatening step closer, his hand strategically placed over the hilt of his weapon. Mulder raised his hands in submission and retook his seat. He shook his head to refocus. Unconscious? No . . . what had he done? "Apparently there are other . . . complications." The way Skinner smoothed down his tie told Mulder that 'complications' was a mild word to describe the situation. "Agent Scully has, for lack of a better description, swelled up like, well, like nothing I've every seen. Her arms, her feet. Even her face. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Agent Scully was pregnant. At least eight months to term." Skinner lifted his eyes to meet the haggard ones opposite him, almost daring Mulder to tell him that he was wrong. The image that Skinner described couldn't solidify in Mulder's mind. It didn't make any sense. And the look his boss was giving him . . . "What are you saying?" "When she 'disappeared' six months ago, she wouldn't have been showing-" "YOU BASTARD!" Mulder lunged forward and managed to grab a shocked Skinner by the collar just as the guard hit him squarely with a night stick from behind. Mulder hit the table hard and winced at the burning sensation imprinted between his shoulders. "That's gonna leave a mark." Skinner, with all of the clam and dignity that he could muster, sat back in his chair and straightened his tie. "Agent Mulder, I suggest you behave or this is going to be a very short conversation." With an authoritative nod of his head, he dismissed the guard and looked back at the wincing man across from him. "And under the circumstances, I think it's wise to examine every possibility from every angle." "I didn't hurt her!" "The doctors are baffled. They say they've never seen anything like it." "They say she's pregnant?" Mulder tried again to picture a rounded belly on the petite woman he knew, and couldn't reconcile it to what he remembered of Her from the store front. Could She really have been . . . surely he would have noticed. It was impossible. Impossible. "They say they don't know what to think." "But they've done tests -" "They don't know! But, the EMTs insist that she wasn't as big when they recovered her from the scene. By that time she was comatose. No one seems to have answers." Raising a wide palm to his forehead, Skinner dabbed at a bead of sweat that lined its way down to his brow. "And frankly, Agent Mulder, I'm at a loss." Then he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Why did you attack Agent Scully?" Mulder shook his head and sighed. "I didn't attack her. I couldn't have. I never would." The day was becoming endlessly long for him, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that he wasn't going to be getting out jail anytime soon. To see Her any time soon. Not even in his nightmares. "I thought she was a ghost." His words whispered through the still air in the room. "I thought she was haunting me. Like before." A nod of understanding from Skinner told Mulder that the hospital in Georgia, and the reasons for his admittance, hadn't been forgotten. Licking his lips, he inhaled and spoke again. "When she touched me . . . when I could feel her . . . smell her . . . " Mulder dropped his elbows to the table and cradled his head in his hands. And hear her, his mind continued, moaning into my mouth. "Jesus." Skinner's eyes narrowed as he studied the haggard man. He looked only vaguely like the once pristine agent who would saunter into his office demanding the truth on a silver platter. The new Mulder was thinner; more frayed. Scared. That was the real difference: the Mulder before him knew fear. "We never," Mulder had to breathe for a second before the words would come out audibly, "I never touched her before today. Yesterday." Mulder shook his head at the correction. It didn't really matter anymore. Time would be measured differently, he knew. Before Her, and after. Before he'd discovered Her mouth and body, and after he'd tasted Her. Loved Her. "Did they really say . . . rape?" "Some suggested it." Skinner's face twitched. "Was it?" "No . . . no . . . I hope to God, no." There was a moment of painful silence where Skinner seemed to almost say something, but opted not to at the last second. He pushed himself from the table and stretched to his full height, taking in a cleansing breath in an effort to stall for lack of something to say. "Try to relax, Agent Mulder. We'll get this matter sorted out either way." "I have to see her." The tears that pooled in his eyes threatened to slip over his lashes as he looked up to his superior. "She needs me. She came back to me because she needs me. If she's hurt, she shouldn't be alone -" "Her mother is with her." "Please." "Agent Mulder," Skinner grumbled, not at all enjoying what he was going to have to say, "what do you want me to do? Even if I could get you released from jail on bond, you'd never be allowed into her room as long as allegations of assault are made." The calm desperation in Mulder softened Skinner's steel eyes as he continued his plea. "I have never asked you for any favors. Never asked for special treatment. But I'm asking you now . . . I'm begging you. Please. I have to see her." Mulder didn't blink, even as his elder looked away from the pain in his eyes. "Please. If she's really as bad as you say she is, then I'm throwing myself at your mercy. Don't let her die alone. Not without me. Not again." Skinner's lips pursed in consternation. The perturbed wrinkle just below his right eye spasmed as he bit out, "I'll see what I can do." ***** The plastic hospital chair was pushed as close to her bed as was possible without his knees touching the thin metal railing that separated them. Mulder's hands were still cuffed together, as per the judge's standing conditions, but Skinner had come through for Mulder, and gotten him to Her bedside. He watched the slow rise and fall of Her chest as She slept, Her inhalations keeping perfect time with the blips on the heart monitor to Her right. Wires spilled out of the neck of the thin hospital gown, first resting in the valley of Her firm, swollen breasts; before flowing across Her barely perceptible collar bone, and then on to the pillow beside Her smooth, fleshy neck and disappearing under a splay of auburn hair. Even rounded she was beautiful. The light sweep of lashes lying so peacefully against the curve of her cheek. Her small hands plumping beside Her slightly inflated belly. The doctors had explained that even though they had no idea what caused Her to swell, the height of the crisis seemed to be over. Even before Mulder had reached Her side, Her mother had commented that She didn't seem as large. And since then, over twelve hours had passed, shrinking Her down to . . . well . . . bigger than Mulder'd ever seen Her. Doctors had been by to check the status of their patient, all nervous and wary of having a man in shackles watching so intently over their ministrations. Especially a man, who, as far as they were concerned, may very well have raped the woman intrusted in their care. More than one complaint had erupted in arguments between Skinner and the medical staff over Mulder's presence in the room. The only one who didn't seem to notice the hubbub was Mrs. Scully with her sad smiles. "At least her mother is in there with her," one nurse commented to another, whispering loud enough to be audible to the entire floor. "Although, I I'll never understand why she let's him stay. The doctors are all saying she's okay with him in there with her. The bastard." But Margaret's smiles shielded him from the attacks, and he was able to focus back on his beautiful partner. Touching her, though, was forbidden. If Mulder made so much as a move to take her hand, the guard was under strict orders to beat him senseless and ask questions later. A command the over zealous man seemed intent on carrying out, given the chance. So, Mulder sat quietly in the chair. Waiting. Still dressed flawlessly, Skinner appeared near dawn the next morning. The cracking of the door woke Margaret, and she rose from the chair in the corner as two police officers accompanied him into the room. "He doesn't have to leave, does he?" Her worry was evident, even without the waver in her voice. Mulder winced. Her absolute trust in him pierced deeper than the countless accusing looks. "She hasn't woken yet." The single shake of Skinner's head pulled a sigh of relief from her. "These gentlemen are here to inform Agent Mulder and the officer guarding him that all charges have been dropped concerning the alleged attack on Agent Scully." The look of complete shock that registered on Mulder's face prompted Skinner to continue. "It seems that after talking to eye witnesses, Agent Scully's participation was . . . more than willing." Mulder just hung his head and nodded weakly. Not so much from humiliation that his boss and Her *mother* knew the naked truth; but from the understanding that She was now going to have to shoulder the blame with him. When She was blameless. When She had saved his life. When She was lying in the bed in front of him, waiting for him to return the favor, and all he could do was stand there and stare. A baboon in the monkey cage. The officers exchanged paperwork, released Mulder from his handcuffs, and then left, Skinner trailing after. All was quiet for a few moments before Margaret cleared her throat. "Fox." He looked up into her intelligent eyes. Eyes that mirrored Scully's in so many ways. "You can touch her now, you know." His gaze swept back down to the woman laying before him, like Sleeping Beauty in her tower. The index finger of his left hand slowly slid over the soft, smooth skin of the back of Her hand. "She's really here." A sound of affirmation came from the woman standing behind him. "She's alive." His fingers curled protectively around to Her palm, and he lifted Her clasped hand to his lips. "Scully." If he'd looked up to Her face one second later he would have missed it. The nearly imperceptible lift of Her right brow at the sound of Her name. He leaned in closer to Her. "Scully," he repeated, bending to leave Her brow with the lightest of feather kisses. "Scully, I'm here. For you." ***** The morning had stretched into afternoon, and when the sun hung low on the horizon, Mrs. Scully sent Mulder out for coffee. He understood that she was worried about him. That he was still thin and pale. That he didn't look like he had six months before. Before the case in Maine. But he'd eaten so little over the past few weeks, that his stomach had shrunk. His body was getting used to functioning with less food in it. He didn't need nourishment as much as he needed Her to wake up. He didn't want to leave Her side to eat. Not even for a second. What if Her perfect eyes opened and he wasn't there? Just get the damn coffee and drink it and get back there, he told himself. You promised her you'd drink a lousy cup of coffee, so do it. Mulder grabbed the pot from the end of the cafeteria line and poured himself a Styrofoam cup full. The line for the register was three people long -- too long, as far as he was concerned -- and somehow he managed to gulp down the scalding liquid before plunking down a dollar in quarters, and heading straight for the cafeteria door. Of course, Mrs. Scully was there in the exit, waiting for him. Her arms crossed authoritatively. "Fox, have a seat." "Did she wake up? You left her alone -" "Her doctors scheduled her for another MRI. They've taken her down to prep her." His shoulders sagged, and he turned slowly, knowing she'd follow him to the nearest table. It was time for the talk. He knew it was going to come. Sooner or later it had to. It was only natural that Mrs. Scully would want to know what really happened. The charges had been dropped, but that didn't mean she'd been given answers. "Fox," she began, and he shrank back in the chair, preparing himself for the inevitable, "she's going to be okay, you know. You don't have to be with her every second, now. If you make yourself sick, then she'll just end up taking care of you before she's recovered, herself." He watched with quiet wonder as the older woman sat back in her chair, not pressing the issue farther. And not starting the other. Christ, what a saint. But all along, when everyone else had been demanding answers, she was content in trusting that Scully would be okay. She had stood behind the mayhem and kept vigil. Never once did she waver. And not once had she blamed him. "Why did you believe me?" "Because the last thing you said to me was that you were going to find her. Because she was dead, and you found her anyway." Her face was open and sincere, so different from the callous way the hospital staff had treated him. "Fox, Dana believes in you. So do I." His chortle left a curious look on Margaret's face. "It's just that I always accused her of not being willing to believe. To hear you say that she believed in me -" "Says a lot." They stood in the open doorway to Scully's private room, side by side, staring in at the empty bed. And the woman just beyond it. Her wavy brown hair fell in clumps against the soiled grey oversized sweatshirt. Her arms crossed tightly against her chest as she took a step forward, not waiting for the bombardment of questions that Mulder was ready to fire. "They got her again." It was as if the floor below Mulder's feet opened up and swallowed him whole. He heard a gasp from Margaret beside him, as the brunette continued. "The MRI was a hoax. There's no time to lose." "Where is she?!" "I'll take you there." Before the woman reached the door, Mulder grabbed her arm and yanked her around to face him. "Who are you?" he demanded, the vein in his forehead already bulging. "There's no time for this. We have to leave now." She tried to pull away and head for the door again, but he stopped her and slammed her body against the wall. "NO! I want some answers! You say she's gone and just like that I follow? How do I know They took her? How do I know it wasn't you? How do I know she's gone at all?" "Fox, there isn't time for this. I warned her that they would try to take her again." Her slender hand ran from his left shoulder to his forearm and tugged him towards the door. "This time they won't be so kind." "What's that supposed to mean?" "They're going to make an example out of her. They're going to try and show us that we shouldn't try to take what They believe is rightfully theirs. No more rescue attempts with their merchandise." "Merchandise?" "Bought and paid for." Mulder pulled back from the woman. She gave no hint of fear or nerves at his earlier physical threat, and the new look she gave him bordered on a smile. "Who the hell are you?" "Your only chance at seeing your partner alive again." End of 7/9 "And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if . . . there weren't any other people living in the world." -Anne Frank (1929-1945). The Diary of a Younng Girl (1947), last words of last entry, 1 Aug. 1944. ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (8/9) By MD1016 "Always in history, there have been king-makers. Powers behind the throne pulling the strings on the puppet governments. After 1947, these powers coalesced into the six major Cabals that run just about everything, from yogurt flavors to college entrance exams to bugging and debugging the Oval Office." "'47. You're talking about Roswell." Mulder sat in the passenger seat of an old Jeep, watching the scenery fly by as the brunette continued. "Each Cabal has Their own agenda. The one that is interested in your partner isn't one of the strongest, but They are the most vindictive. Certain members of this elite organization call themselves the Helmsmen. They believe, as do we all, that by conducting the experiments on unwilling patients, They are leading humanity into the twenty-first century." The woman drove around a series of hair-pin turns with a familiarity that gnawed at Mulder's gut. "And your Cabal? Where do you fit into all of this?" She glanced up to the rear view window, and then darted her eyes back to the road. "That's harder to explain. We try to work towards the greater good." Mulder's face soured. "The greater good for all mankind? Don't feed me that crap-" "I'm not saying we're the good guys and They're the bad. All of us believe very firmly in what we're doing." "Well, it's good to know They believe firmly in killing my partner." His flippant remark was touched with violence. "Their power has been threatened. They believe that her death will discourage further attempts against them." Was she defending Them? Why did he feel like he had just walked in, in the middle of a David Lynch TV series? "Wait. Scully is that important to Them? To all of you? That her death would scare you into submission?" For a long moment the woman was silent beside him. He could see the small beads of sweat breaking at her hairline. The way her long fingers gripped and then re-gripped the steering wheel like she was trying to knead it into another shape all together. He had her anxious. Good. "Would it?" he repeated, more firmly than the last time. She inhaled deeply. She bit her lower lips as she debated his question. "It might. There is a shift in power, and everyone is scrambling to be on top. You and Dana are considered Untouchables by the Helmsmen." "What, they know us personally?" "Of course. You're father's involvement, however, kept you and you partner fairly safe until his 'untimely' death." My father, Mulder's mind reeled. So, Dad, I have you to thank. "But, Scully was taken before my father was murdered." "Yes, and she was returned." "So, who has her now?" "The Helmsmen." ""Wait, I thought they were on our side. The sacred cow thing-" "No, Fox. You were considered Untouchable to Them out of respect for your father. But They've never been on your side. By the very nature of your search for answers to the truths They've tried to hide, you are working against everything They represent." "But if we're Untouchable -" "Were. Your father is dead. His protection is gone. By taking Scully and making a example out of her, They're saying to the rest of us that They are willing to kill one of Their own. That no one is safe from Them." "No. It's doesn't work. Scully's not one of Them." "You father was. You were under his protection. There is no question to any of us as to what Their intentions are. That's why I'm here. Scully must survive for our project to succeed." "Now, I'm getting some answers. What is this project, and why do you need Scully?" "From 1951 the Helmsmen have made it their primary mission to create and cultivate an alien/human hybrid race." She was saying it. Admitting it. Alien contact. Hell, alien *involvement*! "What?!" Mulder could barely contain himself. "To what end, or to what extent they have been successful, we don't know, but we have reason to believe that the Helmsmen are not only using human test subjects against their will, but they're breeding their own. Our project is to end these unwilling tests. There is no need to involve the masses." Breeding? He'd heard the stories. Women who had sworn that they were pregnant and then suddenly were not. Miscarriages where the fetus was never recovered. Women who claimed to have been shown children that weren't quite human, and instantly known that they had mothered them. Mulder closed his eyes. He tried to stop the images of Scully's tearing eyes as she looked down the face of a baby she'd never be allowed to remember. A face that was foreign and still familiar. "You said they were going to make an example out of her. What are they going to do?" Shrugging, she checked the rear view mirror again. "Torture her, for starters. Torment and terror are their specialties. She's of no use to them now, because we destroyed the toxin in her body. Before, they were trying to glean what another throng was working on, from experiment residue and the like. We effectively foiled that plan. So, the only reason for them to take her again is to assert their power. They'll use her fears against her." Fears? Scully wasn't afraid of anything. "But why her?" "Why any of us?" Her focus drew Mulder's out the passenger side window. A large two story structure stood at the end of an overgrown drive. It looked as if it might at one time have been a mansion. Or maybe a private hospital of some kind. "There it is. You'll have to get out here." Every alarm in Mulder's head went off. "What? Why?" "I've risked too much in bringing you this far. I have people I want to protect, too." She leaned forward over him, and pulled a cell phone from the glove compartment. "You're going to need back up, I know. But I'm going to need some time to get away from here. As soon as I'm back on the main road, I'll call 911." "I don't trust you." "You don't have to. But right now, are you willing to risk Dana?" Damn it! He shouldn't have had to! Who the hell were these people playing games with their lives? Twisting them and manipulating them like pieces on a board. Hand fed only what They wanted them to know. Seeing only what They would allow. But the suffering, the repeated exploitation, *that* never ended. Mulder slammed the Jeep door and set off on a sprint towards the building. Just hold on, Scully. I'm coming. Don't let Them hurt you. Don't let Them scare you. We'll survive this, Scully, you and me. And tomorrow, we'll pick up the pieces and move on. He could heard Her screams even before he was close enough to see the door. She was terrified. Had to be. Scully simply didn't scream. Not shrill, shrieking screams that chilled him to the marrow. Not his Scully. The door, like the ten or twelve windows on the front of the three story building, was boarded up. But the plywood that blocked his entrance was old and greyed, and the nails had long since rusted even the wood around them. The bricks that held the structure up were corroding underneath themselves from weather and neglect. And from the hint of dawn that glowed like a ghosting light behind him, Mulder sized up the decayed barrier. And then put his foot through it. "Scully!" Her wails never stopped, and he could hear pain in Her ragged voice as well. He followed the sound down a long hallway and past a stairwell. Something was knocking against wood somewhere just ahead of him. Mulder's feet quickened the pace. Rounding a corner, he knew She had to be close. From the sounds of Her cries, he figured he must have been on top of Her . . . or below Her. Mulder's gaze shifted up to a gaping hole in the ceiling and floor boards above. Through the hole he could see a box. "Scully!" Mulder dashed back down the hall and bounded up the rickety stairs, two at a time. Pieces of railing dropped to the floor below as he passed, but he didn't notice. His whole being was focused on reaching Scully. On retracing a path on the second floor that would bring him back to the same location as the first. The halls were different - more forks and dead ends - but Mulder reached the source of the screaming: A large wooden coffin connected to the ceiling by four glass tubes inserted into its side. The box shook with the force of Her struggles. "I'm here, Scully!" Mulder was on the lid of the coffin in a flash. The steel nails kept the top firmly in place. Quickly glancing around for a hammer or crowbar -- anything that he could pry the lid open with -- his eyes fell on a metal brace that kept the box attached to the floor. It was thick and sturdy. And it was lazily held in place with just one short screw. "I'm coming, Scully!" With brute force, Mulder yanked the brace from the molded floorboard, and slid it into the groove under the lid. That's when he noticed the struggling had stopped, and the screaming had died down to whimpers. "Scully! Hold on! I'm here!!" He jammed the make-shift pry deeper into the crease and was satisfied when the lid lifted a fraction of an inch. Mulder yanked the brace out and repositioned it further down the side of the coffin; when, from the corner of his eye, he saw something shoot down the tube to his right. And then again. Swinging the metal in his hand hard against the tube, the glass shattered into large shards. A second later a long and soft form thudded down onto the floor near his feet. He jumped back. CHRIST! SNAKES!!! Mulder was like a man possessed. It took less than a minute for him to pry the lid up high enough to yank it completely free of the coffin. Inside, Scully laid huddled on Her side, still in the hospital gown, Her face hidden by the fall of Her hair. Around Her slithered at least twenty snakes of various colors and sizes; all knotting themselves possessively against the warmth of Her body. "Scully!" Mulder jerked Her up and out of the wooden cage, and was relieved when She clung to him a fierce strength. Her arms locked around his neck and Her legs around his hips; four vises squeezing to him with all of the strength she held. She trembled and whimpered and wept all at the same time. In the hazy reflection of what was left of the shattered tube, he could see Her eyes were wide with pure terror. "I've got you, Scully. I've got you." He made it back to the stairwell and managed to navigate the eroded stairs with little problem. The entrance to the building was a little more tricky, however. Mulder had kicked in a hole just big enough for himself. Holding Scully, they were twice as big. Maybe even a little more. Even though much of the unexplained swelling had gone down, her hips and breasts were still much fuller than her normally slender figure. They pressed heavily against his chest with each of her ragged breaths. She continued to shake in his arms, and her head crushed almost painfully into the side of his neck. "It's okay, Scully. I've got you." From outside the door, a man's voice called in, startling Mulder. Scully's vise-grip renewed, as a small cry echoed in the empty hall. "You the one who called about a fire?" The man, in full fireman's garb, poked his head through the splintered door. Mulder stumbled forward, trying to get a better grip around her thighs as the man kicked a larger hole in the door. "No. No fire. She's hurt, though. Snake may have bitten her." The man looked out from under his heavy helmet and nodded at Scully's semi-exposed back, "That's what it looks like from here." Mulder's eyes closed at the confirmation. Her worst fear. Snakes. He remembered a time, when She had been gone, and Her mother had told him a story about when She was a child. About a gun and a snake, and that despite the fact that Scully was deathly afraid of snakes, She held it in Her hand and tried to heal it by will alone. That was the beauty in Her nature. Her willingness to face a fear head-on to help others. And that was her tragic flaw. A paramedic came from the side of the ambulance, and led Mulder towards the rolling cot as the fireman relayed all of the information he knew. The bewildered look on the bulky man's face was evident, even though the thick black moustache. "What the hell were you two doing in there, anyway? With snakes?" Ignoring the questioning man, Mulder tried to lay Her down on the bed. Her breathing was labored, but She wasn't about to let go. With a fierce grip and digging nails, she screamed as he tried to pry her off. "Scully, come on. Lay down. These people need to look you over." She shook even harder, lost in her panic. My God, She's terrified, Mulder told himself. "Dana, listen to me," he smoothed a hand over her bare back, for the first time conscious that she was still in her hospital gown, "everything's okay now. I'm here. I won't let anyone hurt you." Another well-muscled man came from behind Mulder and steadied the cot. "Lay down with her. We need to get her to the hospital ASAP. Luis already called ahead for the anti-venom serum, but it'll take us fifteen minutes to get there. Do you know what kind of snake it was?" "Uh . . ." Mulder managed to lay back on the narrow bed without tipping it over. "There were all kinds." Scully's arms created a natural cradle for his head, Her own fitting snugly in the crook of his neck. Her legs still wrapped around his hips and the back of his thighs, which kept his knees bent and his back flat. But it wasn't at all an uncomfortable position, if not for the worried anxiety over her well-being. He'd never seen her even remotely like this. Never. It scared him shitless. The paramedics folded the bed down low to the ground and then lifted both Scully and Mulder into the ambulance. "All kinds, huh? Are you sure? Snakes don't usually behave like that. They aren't community animals." "Neither are the people who put them there." Inside the small ambulance, the two men did what they could to tend to Scully's wounds. "I'm counting three on her left leg," said the moustached man. "Okay, I've got two on the right and two on her back and hip. That's seven." "Oh, here's one on her left arm. How many snakes did you say there were?" Mulder didn't hear their conversation; and he sincerely hoped Scully hadn't, either. Slowly he whispered deep-held secrets into Her ear, as his hand gently caressed the back of Her head and neck. "You know what I missed most about you, Scully? Me. I'm at my best when I'm with you. I'm smarter, funnier. A whole lot better looking. Seriously. I thought, if you were gone - for real, for good - then there was no point anymore. Not for me, anyway, because there was no more me. Not the best of me. Not the real me. Not the me I want to be. "In all the years that I've known you, I've never told you . . . showed you ... but then, I don't think I really knew - or at least understood - what we . . . how you complete me. I didn't even really know it after you were gone this time, either. Talk about a thick skull, huh? I mean there were times when I could see you, hear you even. They had me committed. I let them commit me, really. Because I didn't want to have to face the world alone. It seemed so much easier inside a padded cell. But even then I didn't really understand. "I thought that you were trying to reach me. To make some kind of connection that transcended normal human connections. That you were sending me messages through some kind of bond. Never once did it occur to me that maybe it was me trying to reach you. That I was so desperate to find some kind of reason to keep going, to keep trying to find the truth . . . Samantha . . . and you were the only thing that could . . .. "But then, when I saw you on the street, and you touched me, and you were solid and . . . and real . . . I realized - no, I should say 'I felt' because there really wasn't any thinking going on at that point - but I *felt* that simply touching you wasn't enough. That I needed you inside of me, under my skin . . . in my heart. That's where you've always belonged, Scully. No matter how hard I tried to deny it. And believe me I did. Self- denial is a specialty of mine, you know. "I know you know." Mulder nuzzled Her head lightly, and it lulled easily against the slight pressure. "Scully?" There was no response. He stilled his body as much as was possible in the bouncing vehicle for any slight movement that might tell him - "She's not breathing!" The panic in his voice snapped the paramedics from their tending of the wounds, and on to the lack of movement in Scully's back. One of the men was already on the phone with the hospital giving the stats of his patient, dictating them to the doctor on the line just as quickly as his partner finished the procedures. "Breathing: nil. Blood pressure: nil. Heart beat: can't find a pulse. Should we ventilate? No, on her stomach, we had some trouble getting her to lie down on the gurney. Time was an issue. Right. About two minutes from the hospital." "One minute!" called the driver from the front. "One minute. Right. Okay. Be ready for us, I think we counted nineteen total, but we haven't see her front yet." The man hung up the phone and recited to his partner: "We're not to resuscitate. We don't want to get her heart going and circulate the poison anymore than it already has. There should be a six to twelve minute window, right? Before brain death." Mulder stared at the ceiling. He couldn't think of anything else to do. Brain death. Scully was lying on top of him. Dead. Her body, even without its life, still held his head. She still felt warm. Soft. He focused up, past the roof of the ambulance, and wondered if She was up there, looking down at him. Many people who claimed to have near death experiences describe hovering over the heads of the people around them; looking down on their own bodies, before seeing the light. It could very well have been that Scully was up there, somewhere, and that would be the last time he would ever be able to make a connection with Her. After all, where She was going, he most certainly wouldn't be allowed to follow. "I love you, Dana Scully." The doors slammed open and Her weight was lifted from him. Stripped from him. He was cold; bereft. He heard the people screaming orders for injections and IV drips. There was a hum that steadily rose in pitch as the shocking paddles powered up. Then the slamming boom of a startling jolt that shook Mulder to his very core. And then another. And another. One of the paramedics sat down next to Mulder on the bed, and placed a hand on his arm. "Are you hurt, too?" "No." His voice was low and understanding. "You want to get up yet?" Mulder didn't move. He listened to the doctors working on Her. Trying desperately to restart Her heart. "No. Not until she does." End of 8/9 "For the sword outwears its sheath, And the soul wears out the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe, And love itself have rest." -Lord Byron (1788-1824). So We'll Go No Moree A-Roving. ***** The Rarity of The Human Connection And Several Months Missed (9/9) By MD1016 Scully woke up screaming. She could hear her screams apart from herself, echoing in the confines of the coffin. Coffin! They'd buried her alive. No! She's wasn't dead yet! Help! "Help me! Mulder! Muuuulder!" Light streamed in like thick lasers at her sides, illuminating a strange cross section of her body, highlighting the curves and rounded edges in such a way that she had to run her hand over her breast to prove to herself that it wasn't that big. Of course, it was. Then, she heard it. The WHOOP sound, followed by a soft thud. Then quiet. Scully held her breath. Something cool moved against her leg, and there was the faintest whisper of a hisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. "Mulder!" Scully screamed, her fists and feet slamming as hard as she could without leverage. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" And then the walls of the coffin gave way; softening while still remaining solid. And then the sides came in and wrapped tightly around her thick body, pulling her up, pinning her arms in an X across her chest, rocking her back and forth, smoothing her hair against her neck and shoulders. And then his voice melted through the hissing and her screaming, and the words reached her and pulled her out of the darkness of the coffin, and into the brilliance of the hospital room. It was like all of the other countless hospitals that she'd been in. White, sterile, bright. A complete contrast to everything she could remember remembering. Mulder's chest was pressed against her face, with the smell of him filling her nose, mouth, and soul. "I've got you, Scully. I'm here." His voice was tight, almost a forced whisper against her hair. His fingers worked slow circles against her shoulders and neck. Comforting and reassuring. The snakes were gone. The ants were gone. The nightmare was over. Mulder was holding her. Now everything would be all right. "You awake, Scully?" From the top of Mulder's left shoulder, her mother poked her head around, and smiled broadly. "She's awake." Under her cheek, Scully felt Mulder's body shift; pulling away from her gently. His arms loosened their grip on her. He was letting go. "No!" In a moment of panic, Scully's nails drove into this back and jerked him back to her. "Don't leave me!" Without hesitation, his arms squeezed back around her, securing her against him firmly. "I'm not going anywhere, Scully. I'll never leave you again. I swear, Scully. Never again." When the doctor came in, Scully was still sitting up against Mulder, though her arms were nearly limp as he coaxed her back to sleep. "You need your rest, Scully. Don't fight it. I'll be here when you wake up, don't worry." "Mulder?" She could feel the calmness settling within her. His heart bounded steadily in her ear. "I want my clothes. My own clothes." "I'll get them." "No," she stirred a little, her fingers locking again behind his shoulders. "Don't leave me." If he left, then They'd be back. And she'd be lost again. "I'll get you some clothes, Dana," her mother's hand smoothed across her back. "I want my own clothes." She'd been naked for so long. Both physically and emotionally. It was time to start pulling herself back together. ***** The house was quiet around Scully, and the once familiar sounds of the air conditioning kicking on did nothing to help her sleep. Her mind twisted and turned over the darkness that surrounded her. It seemed to constrict like a snake around her throat. Squeezing its cold, smooth body tighter and tighter, cutting off blood and air, making her eyes bulge and her mouth fly open. She yelped. And the sound of her own voice startled her out of semi-consciousness and back awake. Bolting up and flipping on the light convinced her that she was safe. For the moment, anyway. "You're losing it, Dana," she said to herself. "Get off the emotional roller coaster before you crash." A small knock at the door turned her head. "Dana?" her mother asked in a whisper, before opening the door. "Are you okay?" "Fine." She sighed, running a hand through the limp strands of hair that had fallen in her face. "Just scaring myself." Margaret looked over her daughter, and stepped inside the room. "Do you want to talk? You know, I'm really good at listening." "I know, Mom. Just not now. Not yet. I have to sort things out some before I'll be able to voice them." Sitting, Margaret sighed, "You always were a thinker, first." The older woman ran a protective hand over her daughter's shoulder and down her arm. "Mom." Scully pulled away a little, not enough to be insulting, but enough for Margaret to take the hint. Her daughter wasn't in the mood to be babied. "Pancakes in the morning, okay?" Scully tried to cover with a wan smile, but the effort was empty. "Is this about Fox?" "No. This is not about Mulder. This is about the loss of control of my life. Of my body." She looked down at the still heavy breasts that hung from her chest like tumors. They weren't hers. Her own breasts fit into a B cup and didn't get caught up in the car seat belt. These things, they weren't hers. "I don't feel safe, Mom. Not here. Not anywhere." She sighed and shook her head. "I shouldn't stay here. If they decide to come to get me, you might be hurt. I'm putting you in unnecessary danger." More than a minute passed between them, neither knowing just what to say. "Mom," Dana whispered, "I love you." "Oh, baby." Margaret hugged her daughter to her. "I love you, too. No one is coming to get you in my house." Scully smiled. She knew that in truth, if They wanted her, They could take her anywhere. But just hearing her mother say it with such certainty made her feel infinitely better. It lifted a small cloud from her heart. "Thanks, Mom." Kissing Scully's head, Margaret headed for the door. "Try to sleep, Dana. The meeting is early tomorrow, and you're going to need your strength for it." Scully nodded. Margaret left the door slightly ajar, and Scully could hear her footsteps retreat back behind her own shut door. Mom. Ugh! Scully rolled her eyes at the memory over dinner, when her mother had announced that she'd made up the full bed in Dana's brother's old room. "I think the two of you will be more comfortable in there." A sweet gesture, really. But mortifying just the same. Scully had looked up to judge Mulder's reaction, but he'd just pushed a few peas around on his plate and muttered, "Uh, I think I'll take the couch, if you don't mind. I . . . haven't been sleeping much . . . " The look her mother had given her was one Scully would never forget. Somewhere between confusion and sadness. " . . . and Scully needs her sleep." "Actually, I'd rather sleep in my own bed, Mom. Mulder can go ahead and sleep in Andy's room." That suggestion had ended the conversation dead. The tension in the room had been almost painful. Scully shook her head. It was cloudy from exhaustion. Out of the hospital didn't mean recovered, Scully knew. Her body was going to take some time regaining its strength. Scully stood and headed for the door. She cursed herself for not being stronger. For knowing that he was in the other room, and needing to be with him. As if he hadn't been with her every second in the hospital. As if it hadn't been enough that he agreed to stay at her mother's house with them. He, himself, had said he wasn't comfortable sharing a bed with her. So why was she standing outside the door that used to bear a Crayola sign proudly proclaiming Andy's Room? One thin door. And the width of the room. She listened for any sound that might tell her if Mulder was awake, but nothing made a sound. Slowly, Scully turned the knob, and peered into the darkness. Sill nothing. She took a shy step and whispered his name. "Mulder? Are you awake?" His response was quiet and low. "Come in and shut the door." He didn't seem surprised that she'd come to him. In the night's shadows, she couldn't even make out his form, but she knew from the sound of his voice that he was in the bed. So close. She heard the click of the door closing and then the soft tread of her bare feet over the thick carpet. The bed was just three or four steps into the room, against the far wall. After two, she felt his warm hand reaching for her, and then clasping her arm. He steered her to him, leading her onto the bed. There was no awkwardness between them. "I think we should talk, Mulder." "No." She didn't want to say it, and yet, still she said the words. "Please. We should talk about what happened between us. On the sidewalk." "There's no need. I know. We both know, Scully." "Do we?" "Yes." "Then why are we sleeping in separate rooms?" "We're not." No shy words. Nothing clumsy that could be misconstrued. Just the minimum. That was always their way. Instinctively they knew what the other was feeling; needing. Because it mirrored their own individual longings. So, they wouldn't talk about it. They would simply move forward. Following the understood demands of their link. Scully climbed into the bed and found herself kneeling beside Mulder; his hands running up her sides and then behind her back, drawing her down to him. There was no force in his manner, and no hesitancy in hers. She laid down beside him, curled against his warm body. Her hand roamed over the plane of his chest, finding its own resting place just above his strong beating heart. She felt one of his hands draw low on her hip, and then a blanket pulled up over both of them. Her body relaxed comfortably against his. He was warm and solid and just what she needed. And what she wanted, she realized with an easy smile. Her left leg lazily drifted across his as she sighed. Then once again, the house was quiet, and Scully drifted off to sleep. ***** As they sat in the coffee shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, Scully watched the man in front of her sip down a swallow of the steaming brew with a look of disdain. "Not good?" "I think I miss the hospital coffee." Scully smiled and inspected her own mug. In the pervious two weeks that she spent in the hospital, Mulder had faithfully stayed by her bed side, leaving only for the occasional visit to the men's room and a trip to the cafeteria to gulp down a cup of the infamous hospital coffee. And she'd needed him there. More than she wanted. The once independent and strong woman that she'd been had suddenly been reduced to a frightened, clinging blob. But Mulder was there, allowing her weakness, and embracing the more swollen version of her body without complaint. Scully's mother had even told her that she'd caught him downing an entire cup while he was still in line to pay so that he wouldn't miss her when she finally woke up. Finally being the operative word. It had taken her longer than it should have to recover from her injuries. Whatever it was that they'd been doing to her during the abductions was taking its toll on her body. From what she read of her charts, the ER doctors had to give her three times the normal dosage of the anti-venom serum before her body began to respond. And then, it nearly killed her. But in the end, she'd survived. There wasn't much choice, really. Not when she knew what Mulder would do if she didn't survive. That thought terrified her; chilled her to the bone. Scully tried to suppress the shiver that worked its way up her spine, but the tremor won out, and Mulder's concerned eyes were on her in a heartbeat. "You okay, Scully?" "I'm fine, Mulder." He gave her an ironic chuckle and nodded. "Yeah. You always are." He took another distracted sip from his mug. Scully sighed. "Mulder," Scully started slowly, "what are we going to tell Skinner at the meeting?" "Skinner?" Scully glanced down at her watch. "We've only got an hour." "We're not meeting with Skinner. Blevins." Sitting back in her chair, Scully took in the harrowing look on Mulder's face. The Director of the FBI, himself. Not the AD. "You think the news is bad?" "I think it's bad." "But after we explain, Mulder-" "What?!" He laughed then, and the sound was almost painful to Scully's ears. There was a definite bite in it. "That . . . that I ravished you on the street, but I'm real sorry. It won't happen again." His patronizing stung a little. "That we weren't well," Scully corrected, trying to save some dignity. "Neither of us. That we weren't in our right minds -" "Well, that's just it." Mulder's face darkened and she could see a struggle playing out behind his eyes. "I wasn't." He put down his coffee mug and slowly ran a finger around the lip of it. Then he pushed himself away from the table, sat back in the chair, crossing his arms. "I don't think they'll dismiss us for what happened in Quonochontaug. That wasn't anything more than a drastic response to reconnect." "Nothing more than shock and need." "And release." "Right." He took a breath and his eyes dropped down to the black liquid swirling under his fingertip. "But I'm pretty sure they'll have my badge anyway." Her stomach was tightening as she watched him fiddle with his coffee. He didn't want her to know something. Something that she guessed she was going to find out in less than an hour, anyway. "What? Why?" "When you were gone . . . I lost it. Big time. They put me in a mental hospital. In Georgia -" "Who?" "FBI psychologists. In-house doctors." Mulder took a deep breath, signaling that the *bad* news was still left to come. "After a while, I left." "You left?" That didn't sound so bad. "I hitched a ride back to DC. I ran away from the hospital." Oh. "AWOL is bad." "An offense that screams dismissal." "Not always." Actually, she couldn't think of an instance where it didn't, but she had to have something to hope for. Something to hold on to. So much had happened in the last half-year of her life, so much had changed, that she needed the stability of knowing that she still had Mulder as a partner. That the X-Files were still there in the basement. That she still had her science and the protection that it offered. That she - "Scully." The look on his face told her that she was denying the answer she already knew was forthcoming. "It's Blevins." He sighed heavily and then sat forward again, resting his crossed arms on the table. "Besides. It doesn't really matter anymore. They'd never let us work together again. Not on the X-Files. As partners." Slumping forward, Scully closed her eyes. It was true. She knew it. A part of their lives had already changed; twisted beyond repair. The things she took for granted before -- his midnight calls for no reason, answering the door and knowing it would be him there on the other side -- they were a luxury from the past. "This is a nightmare." "Yours, too?" She saw the hint of a smile that crawled across his lips, but the sincerity in the statement screamed out loud and clear. It was in his hands, as they worried over the paper napkin; in his jaw that clenched against the tension and pain. "Mulder, what you said before . . .." She watched as he forgot the shreds of paper in his hand, and refocused on the mug next to it. "I'm sorry to have to ask you this, Mulder, especially now . . . but I have to know . . . before we face Blevins. I need to know, Mulder . . . if you regret it." His eyes closed against her question and she was relieved that he didn't play stupid and ask 'regret what?'. Mulder could avoid a topic when he wanted to -- forever if need be. But he didn't try to squirm out of his answer. He simply took a moment and then looked her in the eye. "I did when I found out that I'd hurt you." Apology was written all over his face. "I never wanted to hurt you Scully." "You didn't, Mulder. Not really." She could tell from the way his eyes darted back down to the strips of napkin that he didn't completely believe what she was telling him. And she needed him to believe. "You're just . . . you have to admit: I didn't have a lot of time to prepare myself." He looked up to her face again and a smile broke over his features that mirrored her own awkward grin. "Mental note. Scully likes foreplay." A voice cut through their conversation. "Nice to see you both alive and well." Standing not two feet from their table was the woman with wavy brown hair. Her dark eyes matched the playful tone in her voice. "Is anyone sitting here?" Scully looked to her partner to see the look of surprise on his face. "You know her?" By the time she glanced back at the woman, she had seated herself at the table and called to the waitress still at the counter, "Coffee. Black, please." Then she turned back to Scully. "I told you I'd be in touch with you again, Dana. Don't you remember?" This time it was Mulder's turn, "*You* know her?" The woman interrupted Scully's attempt at an explanation. "Just a passing acquaintance. The same as you and me, Fox. But there's some more information that I have for the both of you. And since I heard about your meeting with Director Blevins today," as she said his name, the disdain in her tone was clear, "I decided this would be an opportune time. "You see, I also have a proposition." ***** They walked out from the J. Edgar building side by side. Down the steps, along the path, and to the parking garage elevator. Neither of them spoke a word. There wasn't a whole lot to say. Scully stepped into the elevator first and pressed 3. The meeting had been a study in humiliation and degradation. She had watched as Mulder sat glassy-eyed, seemingly unperturbed by the accusations and disgusting remarks of the Director and the other officials present. His face hadn't flinched when they ripped his badge out of its protective leather casing and threw it on the floor. Scully thought she even caught a glimpse of a smile when Blevins had some lackey read off the list of offenses that Mulder had been charged with. All of which, as Mulder had expected, called for his immediate, and irreversible dismissal. Horror had ripped across his face, however, when Scully finally stood up and interrupted his symbolic flogging. The Director, with his puffy red cheeks and chubby hands, demanded that she take her seat; that he would deal with her shortly. But she continued to spout her own disgust at her superiors, people she no longer trusted or believed in. She threw her own badge on the floor, handed over her own gun before Blevins could form a response, and marched from the room with fire in her heart. Before Mulder joined her in the hall outside, she heard one of the male voices growl in a fierce accusation, "She was once a good Agent, Mr. Mulder. You did this to her." "She's still a good agent, sir. She's just not willing to work for immoral men under a corrupt government any longer. And I WISH I could take credit for that. Nothing would make me happier. But it's your own fault. You're the ones who played along with the Shadow men. You're the ones who lied and covered up the truth." Mulder's biting tone had turned bitter, and from the hall it was difficult to make out all of his grumbles. "But you forgot to take care of your own, gentlemen. And you forgot that nothing stays buried forever." When they reached the car, Mulder took a moment in buckling his seat belt. From the corner of her eye, Scully caught him looking at her, and she turned. "What?" His gaze was stong and unwavering, and it seemed to pull her in. "Back there. You gave up your career." It was hard to place the tone of his voice. Worry? Regret? Admiration? "There wasn't much left of it anyway." With a shrug, she turned away from him. "Besides, I wouldn't be able to go back without you." "You're thinking about taking the woman up on her offer." "We'd be working together. Doing similar work to what we've done before-" "We'd be working for Them, Scully." "We're already working for them." She knew in her heart that he was right. That she was selfish to even consider forcing him into anything that the mysterious woman had suggested. It went against his makeup. It went against her morals. Even if They weren't the They that they'd been fighting. Even if it was a different group. The idea and principle was the same. They were people with power who shouldn't have it. They weren't elected. They weren't controlled. "It would mean giving up any chance for a normal life. Of seeing your family regularly -" "I'll never have a normal life, Mulder. Not now. Not when I know they can get to me anywhere. Anytime." He sat silent for a minute. His hands went from resting lightly against the steering wheel to the tie knotted at his throat. He pulled it away, and then off completely, tossing the strip of material into the back seat. The top button of his dress shirt was next. "Now we don't even have the Bureau's protection. Not that it really helped before." She hated herself for bringing up these points, knowing that he'd agree to anything that helped to keep her safe. "The woman, she said that They weren't done with me." "I know." He looked beaten. Tired and warm and beaten. She knew he hadn't slept at all the previous night, and before that, he'd been at the hospital for weeks without a bed, and before that . . .. He needed rest. He needed quiet. He desperately needed the normal life he'd been talking about. "Mulder," Scully's head shook in disgust, "I don't know why I'm trying to convince you. I don't want to work for Them. I don't want us to become one of Them." "You're scared." She was. And it infuriated her. They'd stripped her down to this. Changed her. "I never used to be." "I always was." "Not like this." "No, not like this." ******* In the darkened room, only the mahogany table and the plush leather chairs that surrounded it were visible. But the two occupants cared little for decoration. The short man with the olive complexion sat still and calm across from his brunette partner. "So, you brought them in?" "Yes, the Group needs their expertise." "How did you do it?" The hint of a smile skimmed her thick lower lip. "I can be very persuasive." "What did you promise them?" "Something they thought they needed." "You lied?" She nodded once. "It had to be done. Their knowledge and experience would have been lost to us if I hadn't." Her brown eyes lifted from his face and traveled to a nowhere point behind him. "Christ, woman! They would have been alright if you'd left them alone. They would no longer be of any interest outside of the Bureau. They would have faded into society. And might I mention that they wouldn't have caused any more risks to us, as well!" "I can keep them safe. There won't be a problem." The certainty in her voice didn't play for her partner. "Safe? They're still in the game, for crying out loud!" The woman's shrug seemed to infuriate him more. "Christ! He's your brother!" Pushing herself from the table, the woman stood and walked into the darkness. "My friend, there are some things that are bigger than personal interests." The End. "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." -John Milton (1608-74). Satan, Paradise Lostt. Acknowledgments: Thank you first, to Karen Rasch who edited and critiqued far and beyond the call of duty. The hours that you spent on this story mean so much to me that simply saying thank you seems entirely inadequate. Also a hearty thanks to Nic, Dia, and Kathy who helped me settle the "sidewalk" scene. And also to Dia again for proofing. Believe it or not, I think my spelling is getting better. :) And also, also: a sincere thank you to Kathy again for helping with plot -- the evil four letter word. And to Lacy, for everything. "Only love can conquer all."