This story is also available at this location on The Archive of Our Own, where all my current stories and comments can be found. I am no longer updating this site.

Some can gaze and not be sick
But I could never learn the trick.
There’s this to say for blood and breath,
They give a man a taste for death.

AE Housman

With deep gratitude to my beta reader, Debbie Goldstein.


Day Three

Dana Scully reached down and took off her shoes. First one sensible black pump, rubbing the toes a little as she went, then the next.

Five minutes later, she realized that she was still standing in the hall, shoes in hand. She considered just throwing them against the wall, but she didn’t have the energy. She dropped them to the floor and left them where they fell, leaning against each other like tired soldiers.

She wanted nothing more than to sleep. Without dreams. Without closing her eyes, because when she closed her eyes instead of blackness there was brown, crusted blood, hair and brain and bone fragments. Mulder did not walk her dreams whole; that was not enough punishment. It was only fair that he would haunt her as she’d last seen him.

Dana shuffled slowly down the hall to the kitchen. She tugged a chair out from under the breakfast table and placed it in front of the refrigerator. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was doing. She would try to think, but every thought got cut off half-way when the litany of self-hatred pushed its way to the center of her attention. Worthless, faithless, betraying bitch. Feckless, weak, hostile and strange. Nasty, brutish and short. She thought she might run out of words before she ran out of time, but only because time had been given a running start.

Standing on the chair was hard work. Her skirt rode up and twisted around her waist as she raised herself to reach into the cabinet above the refrigerator and pull out the whiskey.

Dana blanked out again for a few minutes, and came back when she almost dropped the bottle. She couldn’t afford to break it. There was no more in the apartment, and she’d rather shoot someone than have to interact enough to make a trip to the liquor store.

She stepped heavily down off the chair and stumbled over to the breakfast table. She ought to move the chair back to its starting place, she supposed, but there was another so that she could sit and, anyway, she had no particular need to access the refrigerator.

She couldn’t sit yet, she realized. Not without a glass. The walk to the cabinet by the sink seemed to take years. Deserts had been crossed in less time. *

*

* Earlier

The funeral had been the most tasteful event Fox Mulder had ever been at the center of.

Christina Mulder had refused to allow an autopsy, had insisted on a traditional Jewish burial. There would be no embalming, only the quick rotting that Washington’s swampy climate guaranteed. Dana knew Mulder didn’t consider himself Jewish, had rejected both his father’s faith and his mother’s, but funerals were about the living and if Mulder had wanted to keep God out of his death he should have left a note.

Phoebe Green flew all the way across the ocean to come. She wore black. She cried. She sat behind Dana during the service, and after she’d paid her respects by the coffin she’d sought Dana out.

“You and Mulder–you never…you weren’t together, were you.” Her voice was soft and it was not a question.

Dana shook her head, keeping her face a mask.

“I’m sorry,” Phoebe said, with what sounded like real regret. “I think–he might have wanted that.”

She forced herself to nod politely and turn away. So, basically, Phoebe thought that Mulder was dead because she hadn’t been willing to fuck him. Well, at least it was an engaging new reason to blame herself, however implausible.

She walked over the funeral wreaths and fingered a white blossom. She couldn’t identify the species. Its petals were smooth and cool under her touch. If she had said “yes” one of those nights to the question that had sometimes lurked in his eyes, or if he’d done the same to her, might he be alive now? Or would the sex have been one more weapon in their struggle?

The leaves on the wreath were sharp and pointed. They smelled faintly of evergreen.

None of the agents was willing to talk to her, the Widow Spooky, though they’d come and she supposed that they were demonstrating a kind of respect by even attending.

Not even Skinner confronted her directly. He did bring an older couple over to her, two people she didn’t recognize. It turned out that Mulder had rescued their daughter from a serial rapist and killer. He’d written the profile and then led the search team to the man’s hideout, just in time.

“I wish he’d known how much it meant to us,” the woman said, and she turned into her husband’s embrace. “He used his gift for us. People like that–they touch people and change their lives. I wish he’d known.”

Dana touched a cold hand to the woman’s shoulder. “Thank you for coming,” she said, and it felt like the most enthusiastic response she could muster. *

*

* Later

She ignored the pounding on the door. It couldn’t be anyone she cared to see. It was possible that she was hallucinating it, even, wanting Mulder back from the grave and demanding entrance. She wondered whether, if she opened the door, there’d be anything there but cemetary dirt.

There was a muffled crunch, and she heard the door swing open. She decided not to have it replaced. She carefully did not reach for her gun.

“Agent Scully?”

She realized with a faint sense of surprise that her Assistant Director was making a housecall. He hadn’t insisted on confronting her at the funeral, only hovered nearby. Whenever she’d sensed that he might approach her directly, she’d focused on the coffin–the closed coffin, the one that hid the worst of her work from the public eye. Chefs eat their mistakes, but doctors bury them, isn’t that right?

He came into the kitchen, though she hadn’t responded. “Agent Scully, we need to talk.”

“Go away, please.” The ‘please’ had been automatic. She hadn’t meant to say it.

“I can’t do that.”

“Then get a glass.”

He didn’t. For a few minutes, he simply studied her as she poured herself another shot and downed it. The liquor barely burned her throat going down.

If he kept looking at her, she would not be able to forget who she was and what she was doing.

She was so cold. She had not been warm since Mulder’s nearly clotted blood had smeared, jellylike, over her fingers, because it wasn’t real until she’d touched him. The cool blackening blood had transmitted its chill to her. An ocean of hot water wouldn’t wash it away. It was the heat death of Dana Scully.

“I want you to go away,” she said, barely slurring the words at all. She smoothed the wrinkled tablecloth beside the liquor bottle. The cotton felt rough and abrasive underneath her fingertips. She noticed that her nail polish was chipped.

“You need to talk to someone.”

“I talked plenty at the hearing, didn’t I? Surely you heard the report I gave. Did I leave out some detail? I haven’t yet received my thirty pieces of silver, but I’m sure Accounting will take care of it.” She poured another shot. Her hands shook so much lifting the bottle that she decided to wait for a moment before raising the glass.

“Drinking yourself into a stupor won’t help,” he said softly, and his pity was the worst thing of all.

“Then I won’t stop at a stupor, will that satisfy you?” She stood and faced him, nearly losing her balance when a wave of dizziness swept her. And suddenly he was holding her up, when she hadn’t even thought that she was falling.

“I can’t…do this,” she said into his chest. “Why can’t you leave me alone?” She wanted to cry, now, to scare him off and show him that she was beyond help. But there was a tearing emptiness in her chest, nothing but bones left, and there were no tears to display.

His arms went around her, slowly, gingerly. His hands were so large; he could break her neck with two fingers. Perhaps he should.

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “Mulder shouldn’t have done this.”

She pulled away. “I’ll be sure to tell him that when I see him.” She was unsteady on her feet, and she stumbled back into her chair, managing to sit in it and not fall to the floor only with the aid of luck.

Skinner followed her and bent at the knees, bringing himself down to her eye level. “This is wrong, Dana. Don’t throw yourself away like this.”

“You were there!” she nearly shouted, then pulled back from him and tried to gain control. “I’m not throwing anything away. I’ve been thrown.” The words came out dully. On the last word, she felt a surge of nausea, and she pushed past him and stumbled towards the bathroom.

God, who seemed willing to grant all her unimportant wishes, helped her make it to the toilet before she began to vomit. Enough alcohol was already in her bloodstream to keep her drunk for a while, but it looked as if alcohol poisoning was out of the question. <More’s the pity,> she thought when she realized that destruction had been temporarily denied her.

Skinner had followed her flight, and he was standing in the bathroom door. She raised her head and saw him in blurry outline. He was right next to her bathrobe, which was hanging on the back of the door, and she realized incongruously that it would barely reach to his knees if he tried to wear it. “Why is everyone so much bigger than me?” she whined, and then covered her mouth with her hand, shocked by her own pettiness.

“I brought you a glass of water,” the Assistant Director said.

She shook her head, but the motion made her ill again. She retched pitifully until it became obvious that there was nothing left in her stomach, and then looked up. He was still there. He’d even moved closer, kneeling by her to make sure that she didn’t collapse into the toilet.

“If I drink it, will you leave?” she asked distrustfully.

He shook his head and extended the glass to her.

Dana blinked. Skinner was only an inch taller than Mulder, than Mulder had been, but he seemed twice Mulder’s size. He was still all in black, even his tie barely leavened with a few forest green stripes, and for a moment she entertained the fantasy that he was Death, coming for her.

She felt his hands around her wrists, his fingers taking her pulse. She let her eyes close, and did not resist when he tipped the glass at her lips and told her to drink. The water tasted like blood, like metal, like the barrel of the gun must have tasted, and she drank it. *

*

*

Someone had taken a hammer to every one of her extremities, and was lifting all of them for a fresh set of blows. She groaned, and regretted it when the sound reached her ears.

“Dana?”

She didn’t recognize the voice, and her arm thrashed wildly about, searching for her gun. It wasn’t on the bedside table, though she heard a glass fall to the floor. She wanted to open her eyes but the light hurt so much; it was as bright as one of Mulder’s UFOs.

“Dana, it’s all right. I have your gun for the time being, but no one’s going to–I’m here to protect you.”

Even as hung over as she was, she knew the speaker had meant to say that no one would hurt her, and he’d had the honesty to check himself before producing that comforting lie. The realization helped her identify the man in her bedroom–Assistant Director Skinner.

Slowly, details of her last period of consciousness began to return, and with them the one, overwhelming fact of her existence: She’d killed her partner.

“You should have let me die,” she said, and rolled over to hide her face in the pillows.

She heard footsteps on the floor. Skinner put something down on the side table, and she heard him pick up the glass and put it out of the way. “I couldn’t do that, Dana.” His hand brushed her shoulder tentatively.

She began to cry, dry sobs that pulled her entire body into a ball. She no longer cared that he saw her weakness. “I hate him so much,” she choked into the pillow. “I don’t have time to accept it. I don’t have time to forgive him.”

Two hands on her shoulders; the bed sank underneath his weight. Skinner wasn’t talking, but he was making a low, comforting noise, a sort of soothing hum. He pulled her into his embrace and it was not surprising that she was lying in her bed with her Assistant Director’s arms wrapped around her, one leg thrown over hers. She’d never even spoken his first name, she thought at precisely the moment she realized that she was feeling his erection poking into her hip.

It concentrated her mind wonderfully. Her head hurt as if it were being squeezed in a vise, and she’d throw up again if there were anything in her stomach, but she felt a great detachment rise in her, the wonderful objectivity that had been helping her die with such dignified anger.

Skinner wanted her. Or wanted to protect her and his body had confused that with a different kind of wanting. Wanted to save her, because, maybe, he hadn’t saved someone else, a long time ago. Why he wanted hardly mattered. She could let him fuck her, and then he’d leave her alone with her thoughts, her tumor and her gun because he’d think he was taking care of her. She could let him fuck her and try to live a little longer so that she wouldn’t be doing to him what Mulder had just done to her–she could refuse to be another conduit in this deadly game of Telephone.

She could tell him no, and he’d hang around just as if she’d said yes. Maybe the regret would be worse if he never got inside her, because he could tell himself that he could have saved her if he’d only been able to get through to her.

She was so tired.

Somewhere in all her calculations, she’d stopped crying. She felt herself straightening out, unfurling like a plant seeking the sun to press herself against Skinner’s body. He was so much taller that her head was under his chin but her feet still just scraped his shins.

Grief, she realized with a sudden surge of lust, was powerfully erotic.

She put her hand out to his chest. His muscles were hot and firm even through the dress shirt he wore; a night of watching over her had left him smelling rank and dangerous.

She skimmed her hand down the shirt, feeling the fine Egyptian cotton with a sensitivity she usually lacked, and stopped where the shirt disappeared under his pants. She could feel him breathing, feel the muscle twitch in his neck right by her mouth.

“Yes,” she husked, and licked the salt from his skin as she jerked the shirt roughly away from his body.

He gasped and grabbed her hand, preventing it from snaking over his chest. “This isn’t why I’m here.”

“The hell you say.” She was furious with him now. Would someone just once before she died be willing to tell her the truth?

“Not like this,” he said, even as she began to unbutton his shirt with her free hand. He was wearing an undershirt, she realized; how charming.

“Then like this.” She bit at the tendon straining in his neck, and he reflexively tilted his head up, allowing her better access. She smiled viciously and sucked at his Adam’s apple. His grip slackened, and she managed to insinuate her hand under all the layers of fabric and stroke his belly, feeling the hair growing there brush stiffly against her fingers.

He groaned and grabbed the back of her head with one large hand. He jerked her head back with his grip on her hair and forced her to look in his eyes. They were grey, like ashes.

She wanted him to stop looking at her. He didn’t need to learn anything about her to do this. She snarled and pushed her hand down his body. She could feel his cock jump, half-hard against her questing hand.

She needed him to get it over with.

“Make me feel alive,” she commanded, and his mouth descended on hers like a conquering army. She closed her eyes and tried not to show how much those last words had cost her. It was one more lie, by indirection; not much, among all the others she’d told, but it felt final.

How could Skinner make her feel alive, when she was already a walking corpse?

She fell quiescent underneath him. He had surrendered; now the work was his.

His mouth ate her breath. She thought it might suck the oxygen from her blood.

With her eyes closed, he was as large as the world. Mulder’s mute body spun away, out to a corner of her mind. Skinner’s fingers skimmed over her forearms, the thin skin of her wrist. It was as if he drew the pulse out of her, made her heart beat again.

His hands moved over her body like air currents, soft and fast. Then a hand found her breast, and she gasped. He was napalm–sticky burning clinging *hot*, so hot, and surely she’d been wrong, surely it was within his power to transfer that heat to her and save her. She imagined tigers hunting through the forest.

His mouth was a river; it would dissolve her. She felt the thin edges of his teeth, bones unhindered by flesh, at her collarbone, moving down to her breasts. Unbidden, a small noise of satisfaction left her throat. He deserved praise. She tried to give herself over to the sensation.

She was a hateful creature, rutting while the man she’d killed was only beginning to decompose, the bacteria still bubbling in his gut and the earth not yet settled down over his grave. She deserved everything that had happened to her.

Her blouse, her skirt fell off like dead leaves. He hesitated, a moment, with her underwear, but she groaned and arched up into his hands, and he continued.

She drew in a deep breath as Skinner entered her, and she could taste the blood in the air. With her eyes closed, she could still see the sticky stains on the floor, drying fast as she watched the EMTs zip up Mulder’s body bag. End 1/6Blood and BreathRivkaT@aol.com2/6Sometime

Fox Mulder’s world was breaking apart at the seams.

When he’d woken into greasy darkness and the smell of boozy vomit, he’d known that he wasn’t in his apartment any more.

All he could remember was watching Carl Sagan and Ashley Montague talking about the wondrous intelligences that must exist out there in the universe, and then there was a blank.

The darkness around him was so complete that he wondered if he’d been blinded. He reached up and rubbed his head. There was a tender spot at the back, and his hair was stiff with blood. He was lucky his skull hadn’t caved in with the monotonous diet of blows it received.

He was on the ground, cold concrete, next to a wall. The floor felt dirty to his questing hands. He struggled to his feet and began feeling the wall for an exit.

Two corners later, he got lucky and found a light switch, next to a doorframe.

The light was shockingly bright to his ill-adjusted eyes, but no one took advantage of his wincing to attack him, so he had to consider the operation a success.

He looked down at himself, checking to make sure everything was still where it was supposed to be.

Taped to his chest, like a kindergartener’s identification, was a note. He did not recognize the handwriting, but he thought he smelled a faint familiar perfume.

“You’ve been taken out of the game for a time to protect you,” the note read. “Events are moving swiftly to a final resolution. Two days from now, at 1013 Chestnut Street in Herndon, you will find some of your answers.”

He crumpled the note and put it into his pocket, where his hand encountered his keys and wallet. His captors had behaved fairly well, for kidnappers and head-boppers; he wouldn’t need to hitch a ride home.

Speaking of which, where was he? The room was nondescript. It looked like an empty janitor’s closet. The doorknob turned when he twisted it, and he saw a flight of stairs.

Shrugging to himself, he went up. At the top, there was another door, one that opened into a parking lot.

His car was parked in the handicapped space. It had a ticket.

He ignored it and left the lot. There was a major street a few blocks away, as he could tell by the flow of cars. It turned out to be Wisconsin Avenue; he was in the middle of Bethesda. He drove home, taking his time, wondering what came next.

When he got to his apartment, he found police crime scene tape plastered all over the door. Both his guns were missing–he hoped they’d just been left in the apartment–so, of course, he went in unarmed, breaking the tape with his keys.

The inside of the apartment was even more dismaying than the outside. The place had been trashed. There were files everywhere, take-out containers with their contents spilled over his possessions, clothes and books strewn about with such abandon that he concluded that, even if the ransacking had initially been a search, it had turned into pure destruction. His computer disks were gone, and a black object on top of the hard drive looked suspiciously like a magnet.

Mulder scratched his neck. Was the note just to throw him off track and make him think that there was more than one secret group interested in him? Maybe Chestnut Street was a red herring, and They’d been looking for something specific he knew.

The alien body? He didn’t have any evidence for that. They’d destroyed all the evidence at the warehouse. It made no sense to destroy his apartment as well. If They wanted him to go public and be humiliated, rooting through his possessions only made it look as if someone was trying to silence him and could increase his credibility.

He made a half-hearted attempt to straighten up and put things in piles. It would take days for him to discern everything that had gone missing or been destroyed.

Then, by the couch, as he bent to pull out some crumpled editions of The Lone Gunman, he saw it.

The bloodstain. Blood and brains both, by the look of it. No one walked away from a shot that left a stain like that.

He bent to examine it more carefully, trying not to touch anything. Why wasn’t there powder or other marks of investigation? The police had obviously been here.

By his knee, there was a black splash. It had trapped a hair as it dried.

A red hair, with just a hint of brown at the bulb.

Scully.

She’d gotten over her snit, come looking for him. When he didn’t answer his phone, she must have feared catatonic schizophrenia–not exactly an unreasonable fear. So Scully came over and–she might have surprised whoever was searching.

He told himself that Scully could have come in later to investigate. But then why were there no messages blinking on his machine? And who would have been in a position to get herself killed in his apartment, if not Scully?

If she was dead, surely he’d know.

He had to find out.

He rose and nearly ran to the phone. It was still working, even though it had been kicked into a corner.

Her cell phone had been shut off, and her home phone rang and rang. The machine didn’t even pick up.

Mulder dropped the phone and ran to the closet. His spare gun had been thrown onto the floor. The carrying case was split open, but the gun was still there. He took it and a few clips of ammunition and headed for the door. He didn’t bother to lock it; let the tape scare people away. If it didn’t, he could hardly be worse off.*

*

*

Walter Skinner sat on the edge of Dana Scully’s bed, looking down at her. He rubbed his face with his hands and wondered what he’d done.

He hadn’t healed her, that much was certain.

She had not been able to look at him once through the entire encounter, after the first few moments. It should have been a signal to him; the Dana Scully he knew could look all of her choices in the eye.

He had never intended for this to happen. In an odd way, the smoking bastard’s sly innuendos about why he was sacrificing so much for Agent Scully had pushed them to this moment, this bedroom. It was as if assigning his actions a reason, giving his emotions a name, had helped to create the reason and the emotions. Each choice narrowed his path still further, until this afternoon he had been helpless against the need to obliterate all her regrets and his betrayals.

There was blood on her pillowcase, dried blood. He couldn’t remember if it had been there before.

His reverie was interrupted by the sound of someone knocking at the door.

He was only half-dressed, and he didn’t care to explain his presence. He doubted Dana would want to explain it either, were she awake, and so he simply sat.

Then he heard the door open, and remembered that he’d broken the lock. Cursing silently, he rose and strode to the dresser at the other end of the room, retrieving his gun. He took up a position behind the door and waited.

Footsteps came down the hall. “Scully?” he heard. The voice was tense and nervous. He should recognize it, but something was interfering with his memory.

The man came to the threshold of the bedroom. The barrel of a gun was visible poking past the edge of the door, and Walter almost threw himself at the door, hoping to slam the intruder in it, but the gun dropped away from Dana quickly and the man stepped into the bedroom.

Fox Mulder stepped into the bedroom.

Walter felt the bile rise in his throat.

The figure turned, swinging the gun around. Skinner jumped before the gun could reach his corner of the room and brought the other man down. The intruder made a surprised noise and struggled, but Skinner had landed on top of him and he couldn’t move.

“Who are you?” Skinner whispered in the man’s ear. He had Mulder’s messy hair and a bad case of five-o’clock shadow. Skinner pressed the man’s face into the floor, mashing his nose into the clean wooden planks.

“Skinner?” The muffled voice was incredulous.

He pushed his knee into his captive’s kidneys, and the younger man yelped. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”

“I–ow!–I’d have thought you would recognize me pretty easily, since I get called up on the carpet all the time. What’s going on?”

Skinner looked down suspiciously. It sounded like Mulder. But surely Dana hadn’t deliberately misidentified a body, that would be completely unlike her–and her grief was real, of that he had no doubt.

His mind whirled. Doppelgangers and body doubles were not impossible, not even unlikely. He’d read the cryptic reports Dana and Mulder filed periodically, and, though he’d initially found them ridiculous, he was by now willing to credit almost any insanity. The million-dollar question was, which one was the real Mulder?

What purpose would be served by sending a phantom Fox Mulder back to torment Dana? Her role in this twisted game was over. His own time as a servant of darkness was just beginning, and his path on the road to hell couldn’t be changed whether Fox Mulder lived or died.

He relaxed his grip, and the man underneath him twisted around. Mulder’s eyes looked right–they were madman’s eyes.

“Haven’t you hurt her enough already?” He’d meant to sound angry, but he also sounded sad, and too tired.

“Jealous much, sir?” Mulder–it had to be Mulder, he concluded instantaneously, no impostor could be so aggravating–asked superciliously, craning his head up to look at the small figure on the bed above him.

Skinner glanced at Dana. She’d somehow managed to stay asleep, perhaps because of the alcohol still working its way through her system. Her arms were splayed at her sides. She was clearly naked underneath the white sheets, and her lips were still swollen from his kisses. “It seems that I should be asking *you* that, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder snarled and tensed himself to attack again, but Skinner pulled his fist back and Mulder thought better of it.

Dana murmured, and they both turned to her. Skinner released his last grip on Mulder and the agent sat up, his face nearly level with Dana’s, and looked at her. He looked at her like a priest looking at the Shroud of Turin, confirming his deepest beliefs; like a child watching a meteor shower, newly awakened to the wonders of nature; like a soldier who sees that the way back is blocked and that the enemy is advancing, and knows that he will die for his comrades because they’re the only cause worth dying for.

As if she sensed his presence, she turned onto her side and faced him. They were breathing each other’s breath. Her eyes fluttered. “Go away,” she said distinctly, then lapsed back into sleep.

Skinner looked down at his wayward agent. “Come into the living room and let’s talk,” he said.*

*

*

“Three days?” Mulder asked incredulously. “I don’t–I guess I’m a little hungry, but–”

Skinner smiled a death’s head grin. “Hungry is better than dead, Agent Mulder, and that’s what everyone but you, me, and whoever took you thinks you are.”

Mulder paced around the room. “So who was killed in my apartment?”

“Your long-lost twin brother?”

He felt light-headed. Eddie van Blundht? No, the monkey-boy should have reverted in death. Shapeshifters? Didn’t they dissolve into nothing? He’d never seen one bleed red and leave brain matter behind. A doppelganger, surgically created?

“Who made the identification?” he asked. He could only imagine his mother’s face as she impassively identified the son she’d denied so vigorously in life.

“Agent Scully,” Skinner said, not saying the “of course” implied by his tone. “She was shaken, at the scene, but when she’d had a few hours to think about it she insisted on viewing the whole body. She said that the scars were unmistakable.”

Yeah, well, Scully’d been wrong before. Especially about him. “Did she do an autopsy?”

“Do you really think I would have allowed her to do so?”

Skinner was watching him circle the room. The man seemed unhappy that he’d survived; the AD might like him better dead. Hey, Skinner had gotten lucky based on Mulder’s death, or so it seemed.

“I want to wake her up and tell her,” he said abruptly, and headed for the bedroom. Skinner moved lightning-fast to stand in his way.

“You can’t just wake her up and tell her that her world’s gone upside down again. She’s–she’s not well.”

“Well enough for consensual sex, apparently. Or is this just part of the FBI counseling package? Grief therapy, sexual surrogacy, it’s pretty much the same thing, right? I should count myself lucky that Scully’s not–” he broke off, horrified at his own words. Skinner, who’d moved toward him with the apparent intent of inflicting violence on him, stopped and let Mulder’s guilt do the work.

He spun away and headed for the hall, trying to forget the last few minutes.

Mulder opened the bedroom door. He wasn’t sure if Scully would still be there, waiting for him.

But she was, and he saw her as if for the first time. Her apricot-colored eyeshadow hadn’t faded, though her mascara had settled into thin black lines under her closed eyes. Her hair fanned out on the pillow, not quite covering a recent bloodstain. Her little nose, like a confident arrow, pointed straight at the ceiling. Her mouth was slightly open and he could see the edges of her upper teeth.

The setting sun was outlining the slats of her windowshades, yellow lines against black. The light that seeped in was brownish and blended all the colors of her bedroom into dull darkness.

He opened his mouth and realized that he had no idea what to say to her.

<”Good evening” might not be a bad start,> he chided himself. “Ahh–Scully?” She shifted in the bed and turned on her side, bringing one pale arm up to cradle her face as her other hand pulled the sheets up to her chin. She frowned, marring her smooth white skin. The lines looked familiar.

“Scully?” Louder this time. He did want to wake her, after all.

She moaned like a wounded animal. Her eyes screwed up, as if she was trying to shut off a vision.

“Scully, wake up. You’re–you’re having a bad dream, Scully.”

She opened her eyes and saw him. Her expression was unsurprised for a moment, but then it flickered and her pupils dilated with shock. He heard her breathing speed up and she pulled more tightly at the sheets.

“Why are you here?” she said, looking over his shoulder, and he couldn’t help glancing back for a moment. Then he realized that she must think she was seeing another fetch.

“It’s me,” he said, and her mouth dropped open. She’d never said that the others had talked to her, only that they’d mouthed words she couldn’t understand. She was panting now, on the way to hyperventilation, and he stepped forward to touch her, to confirm his existence.

She scuttled backwards on the bed as he reached out for her arm. He saw in her eyes that she was close to breaking; that she couldn’t tell whether she was more afraid that his hand would pass through her or that she’d feel his touch.

His knees on the bed, he followed her and caught her by the wrists, preventing her from falling off the other side in her terror. “It was a lie, Scully. I don’t know who did it, but someone took me and left a body in my place, but it wasn’t me.”

Scully shook her head rapidly. “No, no, no,” she repeated, punctuating each syllable with a little jerk as she tried to free herself. “No, I can’t, please–”

Mulder had never considered what it would take to convince Dana Scully that she was going crazy. Now he needed to know how to convince her that she was not.

He pulled her into his arms, encircling her. As he let go of her wrists she tried to pull back, but not with any real strength, and he easily kept hold of her. She was stiff in his arms; she felt as brittle and breakable as a paper straw.

“It wasn’t true,” he whispered into her ear, hoping his warm breath could communicate to her more effectively than far-off words. “I’m back,” he told her as he began to rock her, just a little. “I was taken to a warehouse and dumped. I don’t know why. But I’m fine, okay? Scully? I need you to tell me you understand. Dana?”

She shuddered, and finally looked up, pulling her head back from his chest. “M–Mulder?” He saw the belief rush through her like a flash fire. “Oh God Mulder.”

And she pushed him away and self-consciously drew the sheet, which had slipped some, back around her chest. He scooted off the bed and stood again, looking down at her. A slow flush began somewhere around her cheeks and under her chin and radiated out until her face and chest were red.

He had the sense that if he could only find the words, he could make everything all right again. He’d tried so hard to learn her code, he really had, and if he could just have a minute to think he’d certainly be able to tell her–to bring her back to him.

His own breathing sped up. His brain, however, refused to work. <Tell her tell her tell her,> his voice screamed in his head, but it didn’t enlighten him as to what he should say.

Scully was transfixed below him, a perfect white butterfly on a pin. Her tongue darted out to lick her round bruised lips.

If he tore his heart from his chest and gave it to her, would that be enough? Would she understand then?

The only sound was their breathing, each uneven, each in its own separate rhythm. For a moment, her outline wavered and he saw right through her, to the stained sheets below. Her thoughts remained stubbornly opaque.

Scully looked away, toward the closed shades that were keeping the room mostly in darkness. He could feel her tightening in on herself, reasserting her boundaries and defining him out.

She turned back to him, slowly, and her breath came evenly now. “I thought you were dead,” she said simply, breaking the moment.

He shook his head and cursed his stupidity.

She was still waiting. The only explanation he could provide to her was just as unsatisfactory and incomplete as anything else he could give her. “It was a lie, Scully. They must have rigged a body to look like mine–microsurgery, maybe. I don’t know. Maybe there are hybrids that don’t bleed green now, science moves fast these days. The important thing is that I’m not dead, and someone wants to keep me that way.”

She was staring off behind his shoulder again. He wished she wouldn’t do that. It was distracting and it made him worry for her.

“I think I should get dressed,” she said, and he could hear the tears that weren’t quite in her eyes.

“I’ll be outside. Um, Skinner’s still here.”

“Right,” she said distantly, and watched him leave.

Mulder staggered back into Scully’s living room, rubbing his eyes against the brighter light here, where the lights were on. Skinner was waiting on the sofa, his hands carefully arrayed on his knees.

Skinner’s gaze cut like glass. “Is she all right?”

He made a little noise. “She believes I’m alive.”

“What will you do now?”

Mulder reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled note he’d found when he woke up–it seemed ages ago now. He offered it to Skinner, who waited a few moments and then rose to take it.

The older man smoothed out the paper and read it. He put a finger to the side of his nose and rubbed, as if he were trying to take away some pain. “Do you believe this information?”

“I’ve just come off one elaborate hoax,” he replied. “I don’t know if I believe anything. Either the people who took me saved me from being killed, or they killed someone to make me think they’d saved me.”

Skinner took off his glasses and shook his head wonderingly. “Last year,” he said, “I thought that evil was uncommon, that stupidity and chance accounted for more of your adventures than you were willing to accept. I often wish that I could still believe that.”

“I’m a dead man now,” Mulder told him. “You can go back to your pristine uncorrupted world and I’ll see this through.”

“So you’re going to go to Chestnut Street?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Skinner looked up, and he was grimacing, face tight with anger and frustration. “There is *always* a choice, Agent Mulder. It is your refusal to recognize that fact that has made your quest so dangerous–for yourself and others.” He didn’t need to look back down the hall to get his point across.End 2/6Blood and BreathRivkaT@aol.com3/6Day Three

It was ending as it had begun: with a nosebleed and her disbelief.

If she had access to a bomb, she would cheerfully have dropped it on the whole city. That would have to be better than the alternative of continuing on and on like this.

She sniffled and wiped the last traces of the blood from her face. She almost was grateful for the distraction of bleeding and cleaning; it prevented her from having to think about what she was going to do next.

Her pale, strained face stared at her from the mirror. The room faded away behind the mirror-Dana like a carnival funhouse image.

She drew her fingers down her cheeks, watching the pale lines from the pressure linger and then disappear. Her face was solid underneath her fingertips.

And this was getting her absolutely nowhere. She smoothed her hands over her hair to get it more in place and walked out, into the fire.*

*

*

When Scully came into the living room, Skinner grew visibly uncomfortable. Not looking at either of his two agents, he stated that he was going to look for information on this latest development. Mulder didn’t ask what sources Skinner planned to use; he had a fairly good idea.

He’d thought that having Skinner gone would help, but as soon as the door clunked shut–it wouldn’t close entirely any more, but it should keep out casual passers-by–he realized that being alone with Scully threatened to destroy him.

She’d recovered enough to be angry at him. “Did you know that if you blow your brains out you still get an American flag from Uncle Sam for the coffin? I always thought it needed to be line of duty, but I guess not. I have it, if you want it.”

Her anger was a tonic to him, helping him rediscover his own pains. “How did this get to be *my* fault? I was kidnapped and unconscious, Scully, it’s not like I decided not to phone home. And if anyone should be angry–” He stopped, realizing that he wasn’t supposed to have a reason to be angry.

She sighed and looked away. “I know you’re unhappy about–about Skinner.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Scully was sitting on her couch, wearing leggings and a sweatshirt that hung around her like a tent. The black fabric highlighted her pallor. “Dammit, Mulder, why do we always have to lie to each other? We lie all the time. How can we do that when we’re supposed to be searching for the truth?”

He snorted. “How’s your health, Scully?”

“The cancer has metastatized,” she said quietly. “It’s in my bloodstream. By the time I die the cancer will probably weigh more than I will.”

He paused momentarily, trying to absorb the revelation. Then, as usual, he decided not to hear it.

“I’m just surprised that my death was cause for a celebration for you. Or maybe I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. She stared at him. After a moment, he began again: “That wasn’t fair. I–”

“No, Mulder,” she said. “You started this, and you’re going to hear about it. When I left your funeral, I was planning to go home and die. If anyone had asked, if my mother had asked, I would have told her that I was going to drink until I choked on my own vomit. That was what I expected to happen.

“Skinner broke down my door. He held my head over the toilet and cleaned me up. When I was sober again, he took me to bed. Any more explanation isn’t mine to give you.”

He reached for her, then stopped, his hand checked in midair as if by a force field. “Scully…”

“I just want…I’d like to have things settled with you. I don’t want you to have…I don’t know. Regrets, wishes, whatever. I want you to be able to go on and expose the truth about what happened to me, to all the women who were taken.”

“Well, you know what the Rolling Stones say,” he said, and she looked at him blankly. “You can’t always get what you want,” he prompted, and she hissed with anger. It was the strongest reaction she’d yet given him, and he liked it.

“Your nose is bleeding,” he said, insultingly, and was immediately ashamed at the pleasure it gave him to be able to throw her off balance. She paled and covered her nose with her right hand, trying to collect the blood.

He dug through his pockets. Funny how he’d always carried handkerchiefs until Scully was diagnosed, as if lack of preparation could protect him from the facts of her dying.

“I’ll go get some tissue,” he said, still not looking at her. She made a small sound, protest and pain. It tore him apart. He could feel the muscles in his chest separating, fibers rending.*

*

*Night

He met Marita on the balcony of the Kennedy Center, during the intermission of an opera. Around them, men in suits and women in gowns were swilling expensive, inferior champagne. The white marble of the massive building surrounded them, as solid and certain as if there were no lies in the world.

“I need to know why Fox Mulder had to die,” he told her.

She settled her gauzy shawl around her shoulders and gazed blindly up at the stars. “He was weaker than I thought. He simply…shattered.”

“And you really believe that?” His skepticism caught her attention.

“Why do you want to know?” Her liquid, undefinable accent made her sound like a psychiatrist who had him on the couch, trying to get him to divulge his secrets.

He took his own cue from a shrink’s tactic, meeting question with question: “Who do you work for, really? What do you get out of all of this?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she said.

“I don’t believe you now,” he pointed out. She looked away, down at the Potomac, at the white lights glowing in the water. She was wearing a white sheath, he noted automatically, with a high slit nearly to the top of her thigh. A true thoroughbred. She reminded him of Sharon, all ice with no fire underneath. Once, he’d thought that was what he wanted. But that was before he’d known what burning was really like. He wondered if she was carrying any weapons, or if that kind of thing wasn’t part of her job description.

“I thought Agent Mulder was stronger. His death…complicates my objectives substantially.”

“Is there a way to bring down the men who drove him to this?”

“I will…look into it. Are you prepared for all the potential consequences of taking up Agent Mulder’s mantle…his obsessions?” She made it sound like a promise.

The black water moved, out beyond the balcony. The buildings shimmering in it, reflected, might have been real in some alternate Washington.

“I don’t make promises any more,” he said, and she nodded as if she knew exactly what he meant.

She glided away, and while he was impressed with the artifice it was the sort of appreciation he felt when he saw a Picasso: it was amazing that such things existed, but not very attractive.

Marita was a dead end, he was certain, leading him on another search for the conspirators’ equivalent of a left-handed monkey wrench, as if it were some sort of bizarre initiation ceremony to the underground world she inhabited. He’d known how useless she’d be when he left Dana Scully’s apartment. At the time, though, it had seemed more important to leave than to have anything real to do once he was gone.

Walter was sure that Agent Mulder was in some way responsible for the disaster his life had become. Without Mulder, there would be no quasi-division shoehorned into his budget and his bailiwick. No cigarette smoke in his office, no reports of alien invasion on his desk. No Dana Scully dying with grim determination, and no pointless sacrifice.

Without Fox Mulder, there would be no one at all even trying to untangle the complex web of deception that, he was now convinced, the American people had been subjected to for years, maybe decades. He remembered voting for the first time, back when you had to be twenty-one to do it and eighteen to drink, and how much he had loved his country. The system was at his fingers, literally, when he took that ballot and punched the holes in it. And it had been a lie all along.

He’d made Dana Scully’s cancer into his personal mission, and that had been his fatal weakness. He should have kept his eye on the larger plan. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.

The silent black water lapped against the concrete underneath the Kennedy Center, and it did not reveal any of the answers he sought.*

*

*Day Five

Two days had passed in a blur of work, information-hunting, and getting the proper weapons for the job. Still preserving the fiction that Fox Mulder was a dead man, Scully stayed away from work and Skinner went in to do his job. Mulder and Scully passed the time in the company of the Lone Gunmen, whose nonchalant acceptance of Mulder’s second resurrection made Mulder wonder, a little, about their mental health. Paranoia and magical thinking apparently went together well. The Gunmen were, however, quite helpful in the search for information on 1013 Chestnut Street.

It was a government facility, funded apparently from line items in over twenty budgets. Defense, Agriculture, State, Energy, even the EPA had a taste. What went on in there, no one would say.

They didn’t have time to probe further. It was unquestioned that they would go in. What was surprising to Mulder was Skinner’s apparent commitment to the break-in. His principles had apparently become more flexible over the past few months. Mulder didn’t think of it as a weakness; his own principles had been taffy for some time now.

Scully, too, seemed certain that she wanted to do this. She fought with him, for appearance’s sake, but he could see how much she wanted answers. She was willing to break the law because, he thought, she believed that she didn’t have much time left, and shortcuts were her only option.

The night of the break-in, they checked into a cheap motel just outside of the District line, about fifteen minutes away from their target. Skinner had insisted; he didn’t want to be surprised by a nicotine-tinged visitor, and Mulder didn’t have anywhere else to be. Scully tagged along out of the well-justified conviction that if she wasn’t physically present for the preparations they’d do it without her.

Now all there was to do was wait for darkness.

Skinner was outside, leaning on the railing that overlooked the parking lot. It wasn’t really a hotel, since it only had two stories, but Mulder wasn’t sure if it counted as a motel either. Some weird half-breed, a misfit, an appropriate site to prepare for this project. Skinner shouldn’t be standing out in the open, but he didn’t expect that his AD would listen to a warning like that. He wouldn’t have listened to himself either.

So, instead, he joined the other man and adopted an identical pose, leaning his forearms on the sun-warmed metal railing. Half of the sky was already dark blue with the night, but the sunset was still brilliant in the west. Washington’s chronic air pollution made the sky gorgeous–shocking orange and pink through the yellow clouds.

“Falling in love with Agent Scully is a losing proposition of epic proportions,” he said.

“What would you know about it?”

“You’re not stupid enough to ask me that question, sir.”

Silence. Each man stared out into the moist Washington twilight.

“Does she know?”

He snorted. “Scully knows everything she wants to.”

“And nothing she doesn’t?”

“She just doesn’t have it in her. Not now, maybe not ever. She–she can only let you far enough in that you know what you’re missing.”

“I think,” Skinner said carefully, “I’ve just found that out.”*

*

*

Dana sat in the hotel room, waiting for the next event.

She’d been given another chance with Mulder. She’d thought that she would have to die without him. Having lived with that for three days, she had to admit that it would be much better to die with him.

She was not the kind of person who could change just because she was dying. The cancer hadn’t returned her faith, and it couldn’t alter what was fundamental about her. She was rigid, she knew. Uncompromising, judgmental, and often hostile. The only way she knew how to show strength was to fortify her walls against the world, against Mulder.

None of that could change in the days remaining, and she wouldn’t try. But there was still room for compassion and understanding. For belief in Mulder, if not in all of his obsessions. Those things were a part of her, too, but she’d been ignoring them, wrapped up in her own despair. It was self-indulgent, and that was unlike her. If she wouldn’t allow dying to change her for the better, it was simply ridiculous to allow it to change her for the worse.

She’d suffered five nosebleeds in the past three days, not counting whatever had happened during her alcoholic doze after the funeral. They had lasted longer than the ones only a few weeks ago. Either her blood pressure was rising dangerously, despite the drugs she was on to control it, or, she thought half-seriously, her own blood recognized the danger it posed to her and was trying to escape and take her out of harm’s way.

It was time to make whatever peace she could, with God and Mulder and anyone who’d listen.

There was a knock at the door. “Scully?”*

*

*

She opened the door and stepped aside so that he could come in, then put the security chain on behind him, for all the good that it would do.

“Were you asleep?” Stupid question, she’d reached the door far too quickly for him to have woken her, but he needed something to keep the air from going still around them.

She shook her head. “Actually, I had a nightmare that woke me.”

“A nightmare?” he prompted.

She turned toward the bed so that he couldn’t see her face. “It’s not–do you ever have nightmares? Without mind-altering chemicals involved, that is?”

He was glad she couldn’t see the pain cross his face at her jab. Scully never missed an opening. “I don’t know. I rarely remember my dreams.” Roche’s world was, in fact, the only one he’d ever remembered entering at night. He woke from nightmares occasionally, his heart pounding and his mouth dry, but he never knew what they were telling him. His inability to access other states of being while asleep was part of what had made Dr. Werber’s treatment such a relief, those many years ago. Finally, he’d experienced what it was like to dream, to know things in a way inconsistent with all waking experience and perspective. It had been like freedom, for all that the actual recovered memories had chained him to a futile quest.

Scully, unaware of his reminiscences, had moved to a chair by the cheap motel television. “So, what is this about?” She was using her doctor voice. She wanted to give comfort and find her strength by excavating his weaknesses. He was willing to give that to her now.

“I just wanted–I never meant–I know this is dangerous, but–”

Standing and taking his hands in hers, she smiled, and he was forgiven. He distrusted her forgiveness. It had come too easily, and she really should be berating him.

“I don’t think we have the time for that, Mulder,” she said, reading his mind.

He stared at her. Had he ever met her, this Dana Scully? She was luminous; her recent weight loss no longer looked unhealthy, but ethereal. Her eyes swirled like tornado-filled skies. She was terrifying.

She shook her head and smiled anew. This smile was different; he’d never seen it before. It was broken on one side.

He did not see her move toward him, but he felt her arms around his waist. He felt her stretch on tiptoes so that she could reach his mouth with hers, her soft flower mouth and all its treasures.

He did not know what was happening. He thought that he might be dying.

She led him to the bed. She spoke to him with her hands, and he did everything she told him to.

Afterwards, he did not know what to say. He wanted to stay with her, but it would be almost unbearably cruel to Skinner, and so he went back to his room. First, though, he tucked her in, pulling the sheets up to her chin to give her a few hours of sleep, a few hours of protection and certainty.

She smiled at him still as he left.*

*

*

Mulder used his key to let himself in. He knew that he had to wake Scully. He was amazed that she’d been able to sleep, as if the world hadn’t suddenly reformed around them. But then he remembered how sick she was and her nap seemed much less charming.

He bent to frame her face with his thumb and index finger, gently touching her to bring her out of her light sleep. She opened her eyes when his fingers reached her.

“Hey,” he said softly. “We’ve got some ass to kick.”

The corners of her mouth twitched. “I think my ass-kicking abilities are a little under par today.”

“Scully the Great and Terrible? I don’t believe it.”

Now she was really fighting the smile. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

He looked down at her blanket-covered form. “That’s no man.”

She blushed, and he felt an answering heat run through him.

“Get out of here,” she said affectionately. “I’ve got to get dressed.”

He gave her his best long-suffering sigh and went to make sure that the van was ready.*

*

*

Mulder spoke into his throat mike. “The liberation of 1013 Chestnut Street has begun!” Skinner gave him a dirty look, but he ignored it.

They started in the rear, a service entrance hidden from passing cars and away from the guard sitting stolidly behind the front desk. The Gunmen took care of the standard alarms through their computer link to the code-cracking device Mulder attached to the key-card lock. Their software, improved by incorporating the lessons of the last year’s break-ins, cut through the system like a hot knife through butter.

When they were in, they fanned out to look around. They had no idea what they were looking for. Proof, of whatever. The money flowing into the place from all the various black budgets in town was enough to raise their eyebrows, but it didn’t tell them what to look for. The very inability of the Gunmen, with all their various connections, to figure out what went on in the building was persuasive evidence that it was important. At least, the absence of evidence was important evidence to paranoids and conspiracy theorists, and Scully was fairly sure that she’d now joined their ranks.

Fortunately, at the service exit was a map of the building showing all the fire escapes, alarms, and so on. In compliance with federal law, they’d provided firefighters with a detailed map in case the building caught fire and had to be evacuated. Bless the bureaucrats, Scully thought, for theirs is the power and the glory. The wiring map made it clear that there was a central file room, and it also revealed the location of the largest offices, where the powerful people would work.

They consulted briefly and split up.

Mulder went to the file room. His job was to search the written records and snap pictures of anything worth saving. Scully and Skinner, armed with the Gunmen’s special code-cracking software, were left to the computers. They headed to the administrative offices.

As it happened, there was no need to test the “Nutcracker” disk, as Langly called it; the head of the facility had taped her list of daily passwords to the side of the top drawer on her desk.

Skinner rolled his eyes when Dana pulled the list out. “Everyone thinks they’re the only ones exempt from the rules,” he said.

“You mean you don’t do this?” she asked jokingly, and he looked at her as if he could not understand her levity. She quailed and focused on the computer.

Scully didn’t go for specificity; she attached the zip drive and began to copy every file in the system. The file names were suggestive–experiments and drugs and projects; she thought she saw a directory labeled “Merchandise” go by.

There was nothing much to do while they waited for the computer. She looked around the office, feeling the lingering effects of the chemo very strongly. She wished that there was time for a nap. The office was decorated with the standard pictures of husband and two adorable kids, with dog; tennis awards; a signed picture of the administrator with the President and Janet Reno. There were also a few Pinky and the Brain dolls. But there was no sign of a comprehensible title; the woman was a ‘Section Head,’ but the nature of her section remained unclear.

“Doctor Scully! Mr. Skinner!” Frohike’s voice came from her earphone with a terrified urgency. “Someone’s triggered an alarm. There are lights going on all over the building, and a van just pulled up out front. They’ve got really big guns.” She couldn’t help but smile; he sounded so shocked. “You need to leave!” Skinner nodded grimly and motioned to her to hurry up.

Scully ejected the last of the zip disks and handed it to Skinner, who stuffed it in the pouch with the rest. He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her bodily from the chair when she stayed a moment, trying to get ready to move.

Out in the hallway, they could hear voices shouting orders. Red lights were flashing up and down the hallway, stuttering out a message of danger.

He tried to cover her, but she growled at him and pushed ahead. There were footsteps in the hall ahead of them, and they ducked into a doorway to hide. She felt him against her, solid and protective and noble, and she realized that she’d done him a great wrong. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, but he was listening for the guards and she hadn’t said it loud enough for him to hear.

The footfalls faded and he ducked out into the hallway, motioning her to follow.

They passed a security door. Skinner took the time to close it and turn the manual lock.

From behind them, she heard gunshots. She spun to cover their rear while Skinner continued to scan forward, firing in controlled bursts when he saw movement.

Scully considered the limited options. There were people behind them, coming up on the security door, and they’d have to get through anyone in front of them in order to get out. She spotted a gunman, with unidentifiable patches on his black clothing, and fired. He ducked back. Another popped up from a room at the other side of the hall and got off a burst before she dropped him.

She hadn’t felt the bullets go by, but she’d seen the barrel of the gun. She put her hand to her stomach and was not surprised that it went in further than was healthy. The first gunman returned, and she shot him in the throat, almost casually.

Skinner was moving down the hall, but he turned back to her when he realized that she wasn’t beside him. “Come on!”

She shook her head. “I’ll cover you. You go.” The wound was affecting her balance, and she let herself slide down the wall to the floor.

He snarled a negative and then took a step back, finally seeing her. “Jesus!” He moved towards her–he was going to try to carry her out. She had never quite realized how heroic he was, and it made her sad.

“You couldn’t take enough of me with you,” she said. “Give me your extra ammo.”

She heard the men at the security door. They were shooting at the lock. They’d be through soon. Skinner looked at the dimples appearing in the door, and came to the same conclusion.

He squared his shoulders and pulled an extra gun from his belt, adding several clips of ammunition for good measure. He didn’t say anything; he was a soldier and there was nothing to say.

Then he was gone, and she waited for the security door to spring open. She could feel the warm purple haze around her, ready to engulf her. She couldn’t honestly say that this was a better way to die than wasting to nothing in a hospital bed–she didn’t believe there was any good way to die–but it looked as if that was how it was going to happen. At least the shock was protecting her from the bulk of the pain.

There was a muffled ‘pong,’ and the door fell down–they’d blown off the hinges. For a moment, nothing, and then the first one came through.

She had a gun in each hand, and she fired until the darkness took her.*

*

*

Mulder jumped into the van and turned to help Skinner in. He reached behind the older man and looked confused. “There’s blood on your jacket,” he commented, as if it were a matter of little note.

“Go!” Skinner yelled at Frohike, who hit the gas. The van sped forward, but Frohike was looking back into the interior of the vehicle.

Mulder struggled when he realized that the van was moving; Skinner hit him, and the agent collapsed. Skinner hauled the van door closed so that they wouldn’t fall out. Byers looked a question at him; the Gunman’s eyes were obscured by his glasses, reflecting the lights from the compound, but Skinner understood. He shook his head.

“Oh, man,” Frohike said. “She–you–”

“Drive, or it doesn’t mean a thing,” Skinner growled, and Frohike forced his eyes back to the road.End 3/6Blood and Breath RivkaT@aol.com 4/6 The mass and majesty of this world, all That carries weight and always weighs the same Lay in the hands of others; they were small And could not hope for help and no help came: What their foes liked to do was done, their shame Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride And died as men before their bodies died.

W.H. Auden, The Shield of Achilles April 1998

Skinner took him aside during that first endless week and told him.

“You have to make it through this intact,” he said. “Your long quest gives you the credibility that these revelations badly need. I…I can be compromised. Things I’ve done…I am not immune to the accusations that must be made. Only you can see this through until the men who have abused their power have been brought to justice.”

He’d been awake for days–not exaggeration for effect, literal truth– and he simply stared at Skinner for a minute. Then he understood. His superior, with uncharacteristic tact, was telling him not to blow his face away for real. Skinner thought that there was nothing for him without Scully, or at least that revenge was a dish too cold to eat alone.

He looked up at Skinner from the chair he’d collapsed into and shook his head. “You don’t need to worry about that, sir. I’m in this for the long haul.”

Skinner looked only marginally relieved. “Agent Scully would have wanted–”

And he was up and out of the chair, with energy he hadn’t realized he possessed. “I was never very good at doing what Scully wanted. Don’t try to change that now. I told you that I’m fine and if you’re not prepared to believe that I can leave. I’ll leave my gun and my badge at the front desk.”

“Agent Mulder, don’t.” Skinner’s voice was placating. “I…I needed to know.”

“Well, you know now. I’ve got work to do.” He brushed past his superior and went back to the new office they’d given him–aboveground and everything–to coordinate the still-widening investigation.

How could he even consider suicide? It was ridiculous, and if Skinner had taken a moment to think about it he’d know it too. Suicides were cowards. Suicides were uncomfortable with suffering. They collapsed under the weight of living; they didn’t get up every morning and experience the fresh horror of existence all over again for the first time.

He was many things, he knew. Arrogant, credulous (yes, Scully, he’d finally admitted it–he’d believe anyone who’d breathe the word “Samantha” in his ear), abrasive, impetuous, sometimes foolish, often hostile. But he was no coward. It was not even cowardice that had lost him Samantha; he’d felt no fear when the light took her, only an abiding sense of wonder. He should have been afraid, though his fear would most likely have been no protection.

He’d dragged Samantha’s ghost with him for twenty-five years. The fresh new wound of Scully was pretty much the same thing. Just because it was twice as bad now was no reason to think of it any differently. *

*

* Sometime

Dana blinked in the darkness. It was warm and she was lying down.

Was this the afterlife? she wondered uneasily. She had some things to say to God if it was.

She tried to flex her arms experimentally, and felt the tug of an IV, and restraints. She doubted that even hell or purgatory needed to give their residents intravenous fluids. A hospital, then. But how had she survived? She remembered a grievous wound. And beneath that, the deadly poison that was her blood. Heroic measures taken to save her seemed somehow inappropriate.

There were no windows in her room. There was the tiniest crack of light, thin as a paper cut, off to her left side. So she wasn’t blind, only entirely in darkness. She turned her head as far as she could and saw the muted reds and greens of standard hospital monitors.

The restraints were going to be a problem. Had she suffered seizures? It wasn’t unlikely if the tumor had breached her brain. She tugged at the ones on her legs; they held firm. When she twisted her hands at her sides to try to get some purchase and perhaps release the velcro-and-metal contraption on her arms, she realized that the buckles had been placed too far away from her questing fingers for her to free herself. Not just designed to restrain someone in the throes of a seizure, then. She was someone’s captive.

She stared at the darkness for a long time. Had the others escaped? Even now, were they looking for her, bargaining with their stolen information for her safety? Her hands clenched and unclenched underneath the thin cotton sheets.

It was a long time before someone came in to check on her. She didn’t speak, only glared. He looked her over perfunctorily–he seemed to be an orderly, not someone who knew how to read the information on the monitors beside her head–and left. Soon after, he brought back a companion. They released her from her restraints and each took an arm.

She was as weak as a new-born kitten. When they determined that she couldn’t or wouldn’t walk, one of them got a wheelchair and they put her in. She asked questions in a thready voice whose sickly petulance she immediately despised. They said nothing as they wheeled down one hallway and then another, turning and turning in a convoluted path that she would never be able to retrace. They didn’t even look at her face.

They came to a room. It was unmarked, like all the others, but they stopped and wheeled her in, leaving her at a cheap metal table, which with a folding chair was the only furniture in the room. The door closed and she was alone again. Though from their behavior, the orderlies hardly counted as company.

<This is where we start to bargain,> Dana realized. She was sitting up, not restrained in a bed, and although weak she had demonstrated that she was at least capable of speech and thought. She took a moment to look down the neck of the hospital gown that was her only attire. She couldn’t see all that well, but it didn’t look as if there was any scarring at all.

That was impossible. Even the best plastic surgery, with months to heal, would have left *something*. And by all rights there should be an ostomy bag there, or at least some sign that part of her gut was now plastic.

<Jeremiah Smith,> her mind reminded her, and she reminded herself that she hadn’t believed in that. She recalled the old joke about infant baptism–”Do you believe in infant baptism?” a man was asked, and he replied, “Believe in it? Hell, I’ve seen it!” Dana had the strong feeling that many of her disbeliefs were about to be challenged in exactly that way.

The door opened. She could see an orderly’s bulk at one side of the door.

A curly-haired brunette came in, sat down across from Dana, and folded her hands together neatly. A Harvard Medical School ring gleamed discreetly on one finger. Without speaking, she handed Dana a folder full of medical reports and pictures.

Dana opened it and fell down the rabbit hole.

“What did you do to me?” she asked, flipping through the black-and- white images that showed the contours of her skull. She’d become too familiar with its intricacies these last months. The pictures looked real. Of course, they could have been taken before the cancer developed and the time-stamp altered; they could have been doctored by a computer before being developed. But even the most elaborate conspiracy theory could not explain to her why they would want her to think that she was no longer dying of cancer.

The doctor smiled. Her curly hair bounced around her head, emphasizing her points as she began to speak. “Some bees produce a substance known as ‘royal jelly.’ That substance originates in the pharyngeal cavity–the same place your tumor was. The bees produced by hybridizing earth bees with alien DNA produce a royal jelly that is able to counteract the effects of the testing you were subjected to.”

“The testing…”

“The branched DNA in your blood came from the same hybridization project. We’ve had the greatest success in lower animals with bees; we think it has something to do with the glands that produce royal jelly, which may be related to the fact that the cancers developed by experimental subjects are concentrated in the naso-pharyngeal area.”

Scully absorbed this information for a moment. She concentrated, and her voice was steady as she asked, “So the royal jelly cured me?”

“The royal jelly destroyed the cancerous cells, and as long as you keep taking it there should be no relapse.”

“And if I don’t keep taking it?”

“I’m afraid that’s not an option, Dr. Scully. The royal jelly has one unfortunate side effect–it’s highly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms have proven one hundred percent fatal so far. Though I must admit, we haven’t tried terribly hard to ease the transition.”

Dana looked down at the table and tried to imagine herself alone. This could be more psychological warfare–God only knew she’d been through enough recently. If she believed herself an addict, she’d be more easily controlled.

“I know what you’re thinking,” the other woman said, not unsympathetically. “But I promise you, we do own you now.”

“I’d rather die,” she said quietly. “I’m ready.”

The doctor shrugged and rose. “We can’t allow that. We need your assistance on the project. And we need you as a bargaining chip, if it comes to that. Your former partner is making waves, and it would be useful to have a reason for him to leave our work untouched.”

“Skinner saw me die,” Dana pointed out. “Mulder would never believe that…”

“Fox Mulder last saw his sister over twenty-five years ago. You think the fact that you took a bullet in the gut is going to convince him you’re gone from the game entirely? Hell, *I* know him better than that, and I never even met him. I’m going to leave you alone for a while. You’ve got enough royal jelly in your system that you’ll be feeling fine for another three or four hours. Tomorrow, you may see things differently.”

The door swung shut and she heard the thunk of a deadbolt, locking her in.

For the first few minutes, she couldn’t form a coherent thought. There was too much information to process, at the same time as her reclaimed life suddenly offered vistas she’d never imagined. She was painfully aware of the irony that she’d come to terms with dying just before death was snatched from her. It was time to imagine a new life.

She thought that boredom might be enough to break her. She’d kill for a New England Journal of Medicine or even a Virology. Give her a few days of white walls and white floor, and she’d be begging to do anything that could stimulate her.

Though she didn’t remember eating, they must have been giving her decent nutrition, because after a few tries she managed to leave the wheelchair and pace around the room. After two laps, she’d used up the surge of energy her anger gave her, and she sat down again.

She thought about masturbating, one of life’s little pleasures she’d been neglecting as her blood dripped away. But she was being watched, certainly, though the cameras in the walls were invisible to her eyes, and she didn’t feel like giving anyone a peep show.

And, too soon, the first withdrawal pangs hit.

They had to be worse because of the suggestion she’d been given, she told herself. That didn’t make it better. She felt ants crawling all over her skin, and had to resist the impulse to scratch until she was raw and bleeding. Mostly, she didn’t want them to videotape her picking at phantom insects. So she kept her hands at her sides, except when she couldn’t control the twitching.

After the itching, the burning began. She could feel every capillary, vein and artery on fire, as if the motion of the blood through her body was enough to sear her. It was as if she were being microwaved, cooked from the inside out–though she got the image from an old X File, once she had it in her mind she couldn’t ignore it, and she could almost smell herself roasting. Her heart was a furnace; she thought that she could feel her rib bones blackening and shrinking in the heat.

Her hair hurt. Each follicle was like a little drill into her skull, twisting and twining.

She didn’t realize that she’d begun to moan until she discovered that she’d curled up into a fetal ball, pushed into a corner of the room. She tried to untangle herself, but it hurt too much and her legs wouldn’t do what she told them to.

An eternity passed before they came for her. Two bulky orderlies had taken her from the white room to another white room, this one with a hospital bed. It might have been the same one she’d woken in, or it might have been a different one. For all she knew, they had floors and floors of rooms for experimental subjects. It was possible that she’d been here before, during the blank time. That would explain some of the mortal terror she was repressing as hard as she could.

The orderlies put her in restraints again and left her. She’d be impressed with their evaluation of her dangerousness, if she only had the energy. When the doctor came in, Dana seized on the visit as a distraction from the pain.

“The first time’s the hardest, Dana,” the woman said, smiling beatifically. “It gets easier and easier after that.”

“This is supposed to convince me?” she asked, panting with the effort of speaking coherently.

“No one here wants you to be in pain. Nothing we’ll ask you to do will require you to violate your oath.”

“As I can be sure by the way you’ve faithfully upheld yours.”

“There’s a greater good at work here. Dana, you’ve got to believe me, I want to help you. But I can’t help you until you agree to some ground rules.”

She was grateful for the presence of the woman, the conspiracy’s lackey. It helped concentrate her attentions on resisting. If they’d left her alone, she thought, she might already be screaming to do anything they asked.

“What makes you think you could trust my work?” she asked. The tremor in her voice made it sound less casual than she would have liked, but it would do.

“You’re too good a scientist to do other than your best. It’s fascinating work, you know. The hybrids produce some amazing results. You’d be working on the prevention of birth defects, analyzing what went wrong to assist us in predicting combinations that would be lethal in the womb or in childhood. Right now there are a lot of those, and it’s a terrible thing to be in the nursery. All we can do, often, is make them comfortable. You’d be doing a great thing if you helped avoid those mistakes.”

“You shouldn’t do the tampering that causes the problem in the first place.”

“But we need to be prepared, when the real Outsiders come– otherwise we’ll all be destroyed, full humans and hybrids alike. You can’t stop the Project, Dana, but you can make it safer. You can stop the pain–not just yours, but others’.”

“Why did this happen? Mulder’s death, the raid–what is this place?”

“This isn’t the movies. I’m not going to answer your questions on the misguided assumption that it doesn’t matter what you know.”

“Are you the ones who took me before?”

The woman sighed. “Look, I’ll tell you what I think happened, but I’m not sure and there’s no way my superiors would let me know for real. I think your friend was kidnapped by a group of our enemies in order to force the hand of a man you know–the smoker. He was getting older; he wanted a legacy; and Fox Mulder was a big part of that legacy, which is why he hadn’t been killed outright a long time ago. Faking Mulder’s death spooked the smoker, he made some wrong moves, and in the confusion you and your FBI friends were able to penetrate one of our closed facilities. So we moved here and now you’re a lot more important than you were before, because the balance of power has changed and the infighting among various factions has come out into the open. But don’t think your importance means you have power. Anything short of a persistent vegetative state on your part will suffice for our purposes.”

She had nothing to say to that. *

*

*

By now she was able to recognize the signs that she was dying. The pain had diminished; her body was no longer trying to signal her of the danger. Her thoughts kept cycling back, to Mulder and his quest and whether he’d successfully exposed the Project. She’d imagined it all before, but it was the only scenario she could hold on to. Everything else was too complicated to keep in her head.

She wondered if he’d thank her when he testified, finally, before a rapt and trusting Congress. He would, certainly: Mulder was a prince of remembrance.

If he’d found truth, he had certainly not found it all. Her very continued existence in this facility was proof of that. Dana hoped that he would continue to seek, and eventually know all the answers. She thought it likely that he would; he wasn’t easily satisfied, and he had an excellent intuition for gaps in the story that other people wouldn’t notice.

She thought that it would not be much longer, and she was grateful.

Then the door opened, and her devil’s advocate walked in. She was carrying a tiny blue bundle.

“I brought someone to see you,” the woman said. “This is Julie.”

She bent down to Scully’s level and unwrapped the bundle a little. It was a baby, her face mottled red and purple. Julie had the glassy eyes of a premature baby whose experience of the world contained nothing but pain. The baby wasn’t crying, though; she seemed too exhausted.

“Julie is one of our successes,” the woman said. “We managed to save her life with several organ transplants. If she survives for another few weeks, she’ll probably make it. I don’t know if she’ll ever live without pain, though.”

Scully stared dully at the child and the woman’s hands around it. Those hands were pink, with blue veins visible just underneath the surface. Human hands, full of blood and life. How could they do this?

“You could help her, Dana.”

She licked her lips; the effort was exhausting. She didn’t know what to say, in any event.

“A decision has been made. Your continued existence is valuable to us even if you choose not to assist us. If I were you, I might even hate Mr. Mulder for the trouble he’s causing you with his effectiveness. You’ll be maintained at a subsistence level–force-fed the royal jelly and food if necessary. You won’t die, but you’ll never be without the pain either. You’ll be tied down with nothing to do, nothing to read, ever again. You’ll get bedsores, Dana. I don’t want to see that. We can’t let you go, don’t you understand? Why are you making this so hard?” *

*

*

It took them five more visits to break her.

She couldn’t say how many days that was. The lights were never off in her room and there were no windows. With the feeding tube up her nose, she was always at the edge of hunger. She should have been able to tell time by the number of packs they used to feed her, but she couldn’t concentrate and when the attendants came into the room watching them move around just hurt so much. The color and motion against the white walls bounced around in her head as if she were seeing it through strobe lights. It reminded her a little of how Mulder had described his seizures–only brighter.

She wanted to believe that five visits took a long time–maybe even weeks.

They made it easy to say yes. Just a question, every time the doctor came in. All she had to do was nod. No one ever mentioned it to her again.

Dana was given a room of her own. They didn’t bother to conceal the camera lenses in the corners of the bedroom and bathroom, and she assumed they could hear any noise she made as well. She had a lovely wardrobe of lab coats, khaki pants, T-shirts, and sensible white cotton underwear. No jewelry and no makeup, but it wasn’t as if she had anyone to impress with her appearance.

They didn’t let her have a razor, so she couldn’t shave her legs. That was a silly rule, because she had access to scalpels in the lab all the time and she could have slashed her throat more easily with an instrument designed to cut flesh.

But bureaucracies of all kinds had silly rules. She’d learned to live with worse. And she had to admit, there was a certain logic to it. In the lab, there were a million interesting projects. There were deadlines and colleagues and puzzles. In her room, there was nothing but time.

The autopsies were even more interesting than the ones from her old job, because her masters excelled at finding new and improved ways to distort the human body.

Now that she was one of them, they didn’t inject the royal jelly. She was grateful for that; it meant that she wouldn’t be such an obvious junkie, chasing veins between her toes and so on. They let her drink it in a little paper cup, the kind methadone came in. It was clear, but it tasted chalky, with a faint hint of licorice.

<I tried so hard to die,> she thought each day as she woke, as if perhaps Mulder would hear and understand. <I couldn’t, I couldn’t.> End 4/6Blood and Breath RivkaT@aol.com 5/6 July 1998

There were women alive who had a spark like hers in their eyes. He found himself watching some of them. The ones who caught his eye were not redheads, as if her undeniable beauty had ever been more than a minimal part of why he adored her. They were drawn to him and his office these days, ambitious young women (and men) who burned with a passion for the truth.

The ones he worked with were sometimes attracted to him, he could tell. He was fortunate that those most like Scully would never risk humiliating themselves by making an advance that might be rejected, precisely because they were as proud as she had been; it saved him the trouble of figuring out what he’d do if it ever happened. The ones who were more overt about it were easy to discourage.

His life had not changed that much, considering. There was still the constant travel, the meetings, the veiled awe in the eyes of those who could not do what he did. It was better that no one wanted to use his talents hunting untraceable serial killers any more; his job was uncovering corruption. And he thought that he was probably saving more lives this way, keeping women from the operating tables and the radiation that could kill them–so it didn’t even count as shirking.

Thanks to him, abductees who had not yet recovered their memories were getting regular checkups and early treatment. The funds appropriated for the study and treatment of nasopharyngeal tumors rivaled the sums dedicated to breast cancer research. That was only proper, because the government had to make reparations. The secret wealth stolen from a nation over the course of decades helped, but the scales of justice would remain unbalanced longer than the budget deficit would be around.

It was a perfect existence, in a way. He had the Truth, more every day. He had the power to bring justice, at least so far as the District Attorneys and the Dream Teams on the other side would let him. He had respect, and closure, and flowers for Samantha’s grave. Sometimes he felt guilty that it didn’t seem entirely hollow, but the quest had constituted him for years before he’d met Scully and the drive for truth was so much a part of his structure that he could not but enjoy his vindication.

Most days, after he’d come fully awake and worked through the standard rush of self-loathing, he felt fine. The end of his searching had perhaps removed the void that had lived within him for so long. In a strange way he was diminished by its absence, as if the rest of his soul, rushing in to fill the gap, had thereby contracted to take up less space. He was nearly whole, but only because he’d shrunk.

But Skinner told him that he’d always been to ready to romanticize suffering, and that feeling bad because he didn’t feel bad was the height of idiocy, and he believed the other man. Skinner had been a good friend, particularly in the first days after Scully died. Skinner had put aside his own pain and taken care of Mulder. There was no way that he could ever repay his superior for that compassion. *

*

* Sometime

Dana came into the lab one morning and saw that she was about to lose a lab mate.

Jackson, the Indonesian doctor whose real name she’d never learned, was convulsing. A flailing arm slammed into the glass cabinet in front of him, and the cabinet door shattered into a thousand greenish pebbles. He kicked, and the cabinet shimmied on its casters, tilted, and fell as he did. It landed half on top of him; like the Wicked Witch of the West, all that was visible was his feet, twitching.

She smelled the fumes from the contents of the cabinet, and realized what had been stored in there: the royal jelly. A few vials tumbled out, cascading off of Jackson’s not-yet-still body and reaching the floor.

One broke; the water of life leaked out and slicked the linoleum. The others, cushioned from a long drop by the half-human’s body, survived.

She looked at the vials on the floor and chewed on her bottom lip. They must be watching; this must be some sort of a test. They’d torture her and break her entirely if she did anything funny.

<Either they have you now if you don’t take your chance or they have you later when they torture you,> she reasoned, and bent, quickly sweeping the vials into her hand and then the pockets of her lab coat. The video cameras couldn’t see between the lab tables, on the floor, so she might escape detection. She ignored the dying man. He was better off dead, even if she’d had any idea how to revive him. If the royal jelly didn’t keep him stable, then her comparatively primitive medical training couldn’t work either.

It was a moment’s work to relabel the vials as standard reagents, which would normally be stored in her fridge–she pulled replacements from a cabinet as she grabbed a syringe from the same shelf. The needle had been pre-filled with Valium for this contingency; it had happened before, though never during her tenure. She fell to her knees to inject Jackson. With her left hand, she let the useless vials fall to the ground, while her right hand pushed Jackson’s pant leg up so that she could get at his skin.

She injected him; the tremors in his body were subsiding. Death couldn’t be far off. She stood and pushed at the cabinet. It had to weigh at least three times what she did, but she was able to get it mostly off of him. It wasn’t as if he would be needing his left hand in any event.

His face revealed that he had, mercifully, slipped into unconsciousness, perhaps even before the cabinet fell on him. The blood leaking through the front of his shirt and dribbling from his mouth suggested that the cabinet had crushed his chest or at least broken a few ribs.

Dana ran to the speaker by the entrance to the lab. “I have an emergency in the lab,” she said calmly. “Jackson is down and he’s hurt badly.”

She returned to the fallen man. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. She took his free hand. “It’s going to be all right, Jackson,” she whispered. “This will all be over soon.”

It was triage, she told herself as she waited for the orderlies. There was nothing she could have done for him, and she was still among the living. She was not yet entirely a monster; if she could have saved him, she would have ignored the royal jelly.

The thought did not reassure her. *

*

* August 1998

He never brought flowers to Scully’s grave. It seemed inconsistent with their relationship. He only visited when he was feeling good, so that he could avoid entering a downward spiral.

Today, he felt like talking.

“I almost brought you a card this time,” he told the gravestone. Though the body they’d eventually recovered had been little more than a handful of bone ash and a blob of gold from what had once been her necklace, she’d still received a full formal burial. Bill and Charlie hadn’t even disputed his right, along with Skinner, to be a pallbearer. If he thought about it, he could still remember the weight on his shoulder, the ribbed texture of the gold-toned handles. Sometimes when he stood up it was on him like a phantom burden.

“A particular card, I mean. I think you might have liked it. It said ‘I miss you so much it’s almost like having you here.’” In his mind he saw the raised eyebrow, the delicate flaring of a nostril that was as close as Scully got to a derisory snort.

He knelt, clasping his hands loosely together, to speak to the grave more directly. “We’re doing well these days. Did you know both the donkeys and the elephants have approached me, discreetly, asking about my political ambitions? They both think Massachusetts is acceptable, but they’d prefer it if I were a California resident.” He smiled. “I told them they should look at my hospital records a bit more carefully. If shock treatment disqualifies a candidate, surely hypnoregression, ketamine and the odd psychotic break are impediments to higher office as well. But I think they’re also asking Skinner. Sleep disorders might be less of a problem. It’s funny, I don’t have any idea what Skinner’s politics are, after all this time. It’s almost as if politics is irrelevant; the parties aren’t any different from one another, compared to what we’ve been fighting to expose–they’ve just been rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

“I think you’d make a great President, Scully. Honor and integrity and military bearing. It’s true that you’re about a foot shorter than the post-TV age presidents so far, but I bet that could be disguised. We could just carry around a box for you at all your campaign appearances.

“Anyway, what do I care about inflation indexing Social Security? I don’t really expect to ever collect my government pension…It would be nice if you were waiting for me, you know. One more lecture, just for old times’ sake? I can do it in my head but it’s not the same. I never really understood you all the way, and that’s my greatest regret.”

The sense of loss settled over him like a warm coat. He nestled into its familiar weight. Time to leave, before he got really maudlin. He trailed his fingers over the cold granite of the headstone before he turned back to his car.

He never said goodbye. It was one of his rules: between him and Scully, there’d never be closure. *

*

* Later

She was allowed to walk out in the open once a week, as long as two guards went with her. They were true hybrids, born that way, and thus possessed of the ability to shape-shift. She could bike or rollerblade or just walk, bracketed between them. By the time they let her outside, it was summer. She did not know which one. There were flower gardens just outside the labs, and sometimes she would pick a bunch of flowers.

The guards’ standard appearance was that of the Germanic hulk she’d confronted several times before, brutes with blocky bulging faces and icy blue eyes. They were intimidating.

But they were not identical, as she’d assumed. One of them showed no interest in conversation, but the other tried to talk to her. It would ask her about the names of the flowers she chose, and why she chose some to go together but not others. At first, she did not answer at all. It paid no attention to her silence and kept talking.

One day, she answered a question, only in a monosyllable, but that was enough for it. It redoubled its efforts, and fairly soon she slipped into conversation with it–only about the weather, nothing sensitive, but it seemed happy. It was just the same as her initial decision to regain her physical freedom by selling her soul–such a small thing to do, such a small compromise. It was hardly noticeable how one act made the next ones easier still.

She called the silent one ‘Igor’ and her chatty friend ‘Olaf.’

She would go back to her quarters after talking to Olaf and have to struggle not to pound her head into the wall or do something else to hurt herself. How could she befriend monsters? The monsters who’d (held a gun to her head/held a pick to her throat/tried to burn Mulder alive/taken her away/given her cancer). She reminded herself a thousand times about Stockholm syndrome. Sympathy for her captors was natural, it was a psychological reality that she depended on them and would naturally begin to believe they wanted the best for her.

This recitation did not make her feel any better, but for every polite exchange she had with Olaf she made herself run another mile. It and Igor could keep up with her easily. She wouldn’t be surprised if they could run forty miles an hour, but she hadn’t yet seen it. When she was running, she was too busy breathing to talk to it, even if she’d wanted to. And the running helped her prepare, though for what she was not certain.

Olaf was a hybrid Pinnochio, a toy who wanted to be a real boy. Its persistence in the face of her coldness surpassed even Mulder’s. Once she began talking to it, it courted her in earnest. It brought her women’s magazines–she had to assume they were out of date, but she studied them for any reference to current events. Cosmopolitan had gone untouched by revelations of conspiracy, but in Woman’s Day from June 1998 she found a reference to congressional hearings in the spring, hearings that had caused a huge governmental shakeup. They had a “hot careers” column that mentioned the critical role of Web designers in untangling the hidden web of grey-suited men who’d been manipulating the country.

The news, however incomplete, was reassuring. There had been some justice done, though obviously not enough as long as the facility in which she was imprisoned remained inviolate. She was not entirely certain that she was still in America. Though the climate seemed temperate, she never saw any roads leading out of the compound, and she thought that supplies might be flown in. She could be in an English-speaking enclave of Russia, for all she knew.

The magazines convinced her that she needed to work Olaf a little harder. It was not human, and with any luck it would not, therefore, understand betrayal.

She asked it about its life. It was, in a word, boring. There were tests and assignments, languages to learn and faces to emulate. Target practice and computer programming. Someday it hoped to be assigned outside of the compound (though, it assured her, it really enjoyed working with her–that was the word it used, “working,” and it did not understand when she could not help but draw away from it).

From its description of its past, she gathered that it was only a few years old. The major scientific breakthrough of the shadow government might be its innovation in womb-to-tomb times rather than the brute hybridization and cloning projects, which almost any major university could have done with the appropriate raw materials. Certainly her job was one step above a technician’s: She told them what went wrong with new hybrids and how not to do it again. *

*

*

One night they sent her Mulder.

It wasn’t Mulder, that much was obvious as soon as she looked at him. The posture was all wrong. The hair was too neat. He didn’t smell like anything. And, most of all, there were the eyes. Mulder’s eyes had been a thousand colors; they’d been credulous and lustful and teasing and horrified, shocked and outraged and suffering. But they’d never been shallow. She could see her reflection in the thing’s eyes, and it terrified her.

He asked if she wanted anything. The haze of rage that enveloped her prevented her from answering. She wondered if Olaf was taking its chance, and wished very much that she had one of the special spikes they kept in the lab, to kill the experimental hybridized animals when necessary.

She pushed him out the door and used her phone–it only reached internal numbers; the system was completely self-contained–to call the project head and demand to speak to her, even though it was past midnight.

The woman’s self-satisfied voice turned her stomach. “Can I help you, Dr. Scully?”

“If you do that again, I swear I’ll screw up your Project so bad it will never recover. Do you understand me?”

“There’s no need to be violent about it, Dr. Scully. I assume our present did not live up to its promise? I thought it might be good tension release, but if I was mistaken I apologize, sincerely.”

She gritted her teeth and hung up. *

*

*

Sometimes they didn’t trust her. She told them that one particular technique had no chance of succeeding, and they brought a handler in to see her. He was from the outside world; he wore a rep tie and a thousand-dollar suit, and it did not seem as if any of Mulder’s revelations had decreased his comfort in his life at all.

“It worked on the rabbits,” he complained, shoving the file that included her memo towards her, as if she needed to see it to understand.

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’?” she asked. He shrugged. “In relevant part, it means that a rabbit fetus and a human fetus resemble each other, but only for a very short time. And that time is past at the point at which the hybridization occurs.” He stared at her, uncomprehending. She sighed. “Look, people are not rabbits. We’re not covered in fur, we don’t generally hop, we have different blood factors, our brains are very different–I could go on. It’s not surprising that animal tests produce results that differ from the same manipulations worked on what was once human.”

“It’s throwaway phrases like that, Dr. Scully, that make me question your commitment to the Project.” He had the same supercilious tone as the Cigarette Smoking Man of her previous life, but he pulled it off much less effectively. She could tell he must have practiced.

“Don’t be a fool,” she said, and stood, looking up at the ubiquitous camera. “The strength of my commitment to your Project is obvious. That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do my job. I’m sorry that you can’t make a man into Superman the same way you’ve made a rabbit into Superrabbit, but it’s just not going to happen. Evolution can be nudged–it can even be slapped around some–but there are some things it cannot do.”

“After all we’ve seen come from the Project, I find that hard to believe.”

She wanted to strangle him. All this, to do a slave’s job that wasn’t even believed? “Of course if you start with 90% alien DNA, or 50%, you’ll get results distinct from human-normal, if the merger works correctly. But when you start trying to decrease the percentage and create a viable hybrid that’s not sterile–Imagine this: if kangaroos didn’t have tails, would they fall over?”

“What?”

She repeated herself.

“I imagine so, but what–”

“Why would they fall over?”

He grimaced. “I suppose they use the tail for balance.”

“That’s the thing. If kangaroos didn’t have tails, as a species, then they probably *wouldn’t* fall over because they’d have some other way of staying upright. When you make a normal individual of any species, even a created one, it has to form a coherent whole. Otherwise you’re just making cripples–taking kangaroos as they are now and cutting off their tails. Of course they fall over, when you do it like that. It’s the gestalt that has to work, not any individual element, and your rabbit experiments, whatever you may think, do not prove that it’s possible to make a near-standard human jump tall buildings in a single bound. And that’s simply the biogenetic perspective, ignoring entirely the structural problems with a fortyfold increase in bodily mass. I could explain those to you, too, but I did so in my report and no new laws of physics, so far as I am aware, have been propounded in the interim.”

The suited man just stared at her. It had been a long time since she’d been able to rant like that. It felt good. She almost–almost–wished that Mulder had been around to hear it. *

*

*

She had to call it “it” every time she looked at it. She refused to think of it as a man, even though her treacherous mind slipped and insisted on calling it “he.”

“You call the other guard Igor,” it said. “I understand that. But why do you call me Olaf?”

“You remind me of a character in an e.e. cummings poem,” she said. “‘I sing of Olaf glad and big,’ it’s called.”

He watched her more closely after that. *

*

*

After months of hard work on her part, Olaf took her shopping. It got special permission to take her on its own, without Igor. Less conspicuous, it reassured her. She eyed it speculatively when it revealed that aspect of the plan; she hadn’t ever suggested a trip as a couple. Her silence probably helped. If she’d suggested it, the people monitoring her conversations would have flagged a threat immediately.

They went to a mall, in the middle of the day so that there wasn’t as much of a chance that she could get lost in a crowd. She was a little surprised–still in America, after all. She was simply someplace that wasn’t on the map. The mall could have been anywhere in America, but she discreetly scanned the pay phones and discovered that, ironically, they were still in Maryland, in the 301 area code.

She bought some blouses, a skirt, a few pairs of socks. There wasn’t much she needed. Olaf watched with interest as she sniffed at bath gels and chose some.

They walked outside and into the parking structure.

“I read the poem you spoke of,” it said. “I do not think I understand.”

She shrugged. “It’s hard to explain. Your size is reassuring. You seem…I don’t know. I suppose I’m just lonely.”

“You should not be lonely,” it said.

She stopped walking. There was no one else visible; they were surrounded by empty cars. She was standing by a concrete pillar. She bent a little at the knees and put her shopping bags on the ground.

Olaf looked at her and moved closer. She had to crane her head up; it was at least six inches taller than Mulder.

Tentatively, it reached its hands out. One brushed a strand of hair from her cheek, behind her ear. The other rested heavily on her shoulder.

Dana closed her eyes and waited.

Its kiss was tentative, unsure. She welcomed it, let it get used to how kissing felt. Gradually, she let her lips part, and it slipped its tongue between them. Both of its hands were on her shoulders now, and its weight was driving her back into the pillar. She noted that it seemed to have the same mass as a man of that size would have, and wondered if it was denser when it shifted to mimic a smaller person.

She raised her hands to encircle its neck and bring it closer.

She closed her eyes as tightly as she could and drove the spike into the back of its neck.

It didn’t make any noise as she ducked out from under it, still blind, and staggered away, knocking over her abandoned shopping bag in the process. When she’d gone about six feet away, she dared a look.

It was already dissolving, a puddle of sickly, alien green. What was left of its face was expressionless; it hadn’t even had time to be surprised. She was grateful for that.

The fumes hadn’t affected her, whether because she’d pulled away fast enough or because she was no longer human enough for it to matter–she wasn’t sure which, though she had a nasty suspicion.

She shoved the shopping bags under a nearby car and headed for the phones she’d seen near the elevators.

Her memory was still mostly intact, and she dialed the number without hesitation.

The phone rang four times, long enough for her to imagine ten ways in which everything could go wrong, before someone picked up.

“Hello?” The particular variety of suspicion in the man’s tone could only have come from Byers.

“I need your help,” she said, wondering how many times they’d heard that.

“Who are you?” Curious, not surprised.

“I’m an old friend of–of an associate of yours. Please, come get me. I need transportation out of here, quickly.”

“Where’s here?”

“The Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center,” she said impatiently. “Don’t play games. Analyze my voice later, but come get me now. I have vital information. But I won’t be safe here much longer.”

There was a pause; she thought she might have been put on hold.

Finally, he returned: “There’s an ATM outside of the Hecht’s, at the exit that faces the Metro station. Wait there and someone will come for you.”

She nodded to herself and hung up. There was one thing she had to do before she could go out in public, though. She still had the spike in her hand, and she wiped it carefully against her skirt, trying to get off any remaining traces of blood. Experience suggested that the blood evaporated quickly, but she didn’t know what traces were left behind, nor how toxic any residue might be.

From her jacket pocket, she pulled a pair of gloves and a tube of antibiotic cream. According to the nameless doctor from Harvard who ran her section of the Project, the royal jelly conferred enhanced resistance to infection, but enhanced resistance didn’t mean immunity and she wasn’t in a trusting frame of mind anyway. The conditions were hardly sterile, but she’d have to live with it.

She turned her back to the phone and hiked up her skirt. She’d skipped hose today, in case the plan worked. With her left hand, she felt for the telltale lump in the back of her thigh.

They really shouldn’t have let her examine Jackson’s body, she thought, not for the first time. As a multiple abductee, he’d had too much keloid scarring at the neck for another implant there, and implants in the head tended to interfere with the CAT and PET scans necessary to see how well the royal jelly was working. The fleshy part of the upper arm was a favorite choice, but she’d discovered one under Jackson’s left buttock during the autopsy. Her repeated self-examinations–it might be obsessive, but on the other hand she could never be sure when they’d taken her for experimentation without letting her know about it–never showed anything in her arms, but for several months there’d been an implant in the same place on her body.

Her hands were steady as she uncapped the tube and put some antibiotic cream on her fingertips. She wished for a knife and brought the spike carefully down right next to the scar.

It hurt unduly going in, and the pain worsened when she felt the point of the spike scrape against the metal of the implant. Using the spike as a crude retractor, she pulled the skin up and away from the underlying flesh and reached back with her left hand. Now, she wished she’d worked harder on her surgery rotation and done more of the exercises about tying knots in the dark. She worked her gloved index finger into the bloody hole–she had to work fast, or blood loss would make the task nearly impossible–and found the chip. It felt as if her thumb was going to rip her body apart, but she forced it in and got a grip on the implant.

One sharp tug and it was out. Covered with blood and fragments of tissue, it looked more like a tumor than a piece of machinery. She dropped it to the ground and resisted the temptation to grind it under her heel; that might send a signal to someone.

Dana remembered that she’d bought some knee-highs at the start of the shopping trip, and she hobbled back to where she’d dropped the bags. The hybrid was not even visible as a stain on the concrete.

Cursing, she bent under the car and pulled the first shopping bag out. Thankfully, the socks were in that one, and she quickly improvised a pressure bandage, with more ointment for good luck. Using a sweater, she sopped up as much of the blood running down the back of her leg as she could. She wouldn’t win any fashion awards, but she thought that she wouldn’t look too strange. Her skirt was black, and the bloodstains wouldn’t be too obvious until the blood dried. End 5/6Blood and Breath RivkaT@aol.com 6/6 January 1999

Byers didn’t even blink when he pulled up and opened the door so that she could get in. He scanned her with a hand-held device, looking for bugs she presumed, and then did something to the windows to make them opaque. She sat in the back seat as if in a small limousine. Instead of drinks, there were dust bunnies–in a car, no less–trash, and a yellowing Lone Gunman. It was an issue she’d read, back when she belonged to the real world.

Byers hadn’t said a word on the journey back to their hideout, waiting for his friends to begin questioning her. The reunion with the Gunmen was swift and bittersweet. She hadn’t thought it would be so important to her, or that they would look so much older.

They assembled around her like three male Fates, all asking questions at once. She babbled, too, after going so long without talking to anyone worth liking or trusting.

And then Frohike said something about Mulder, and she shut up. Her silence exerted an influence on the men, and they trailed off as well.

“I did things to survive,” she said at last. “I can live with those things, I think. But I can’t live with them and see M–see him again. He–I would rather him think me dead than capable of such things.”

“I don’t think that’s a fair decision for you to make,” Langly said. He sounded, inexplicably, angry. “You don’t know what he’s gone through. You don’t know what a difference it would make–”

“What, until they find me and take me again?” she asked bitterly. “If I go to him, it’s only a matter of time. It would be better if they’d killed me all at once. Seesawing between the land of the living and the land of the dead is much worse; at least death *ends*.”

“At least admit that it’s about you,” Langly said. “Don’t make it about protecting him. He says that’s what you hated most about him, that he could never tell you the truth about why he left you behind.”

She shook her head. “Maybe it is about me, about not being able to see him again. But he–he has a chance now. Not for happiness, I don’t think that, but I couldn’t make him happy either. You’d need a time machine. He has a chance to keep going, to find his answers.”

“Dana,” Frohike put his hand on her wrist, “don’t you know by now that you’re his answer?”

She shook him off, filled with a sudden rage. “You all want this to be a happy ending! Don’t you understand, I’m not even human any more? I’m a junkie and a whore, I sold myself to keep living. I don’t even want *you* knowing I’m alive, and you all don’t have any idea who I used to be.”

And Byers spoke. “If you’re a junkie than so are all of us–oxygen junkies. Just because you need something to live doesn’t make you an addict. We know how brave you are, Dana. We know how hard it was to get out and come to us. Don’t make it all worthless.” *

*

*

They gave her a cot in what looked like a mostly unused chemistry lab. The Gunmen only got stranger the more time she spent with them. They had a playroom with a thousand kid’s toys, Legos and Barbies and Concentration, and a pool table in a room otherwise filled with exotic virtual reality accessories. She supposed that the chemistry lab was simply par for the course and wondered if they were hiding a James Bond-type operative somewhere who they regularly equipped with wild, compact espionage tools.

They also had antibiotics for her leg and painkillers, though from long habit she refused anything more than Tylenol-3 with codeine.

She turned five of her ten vials of royal jelly over to Byers’ contact Dr. Engler, the biochemist the Gunmen promised could reverse synthesize any compound in a few days’ time. They hacked his university’s computers to make the computers think that Engler had priority over everything else and left him to it. Engler asserted that the stuff he was given had to be toxic, based on its composition, but the Gunmen insisted and he agreed to continue working.

On day three, he came back with a compound he claimed was chemically identical to the stuff she’d given him. She took one of the little pointed paper cups from the water cooler and poured herself a shot.

Five minutes later, she was standing at the lab sink, retching out the contents of her stomach. Beyond Engler’s witches’ brew, there was only the remains of Doritos and Coke, courtesy of the Gunmen’s refrigerator. They’d refused to order in anything healthy, seeing that as a change in pattern that might set off alarms somewhere.

Her hands were braced on either side of the sink as she waited for the urge to subside.

“I don’t understand,” Engler was saying. “All the results were a perfect match. The spectrometer, the chromatography…”

She stared at her hands, each thumb pointing inward.

And she found herself straightening up, beginning to speak. “Right- handed,” she said. “The molecules must be right-handed.”

Frohike and Langly stared at her; Byers and Engler were both nodding.

“I worked with–with extraterrestrial proteins,” she said. “Just as on earth, most of the ones that arrive here naturally are left-handed, but I was working with some…that were right-handed. And the projects I was working on were related, I think, to this compound.”

“I wasn’t trying to sort when I synthesized,” Engler concurred.

Byers tried to explain to his fellow Gunmen. “A lot of carbon compounds, including amino acids, come in mirror images. They’re called right-handed and left-handed. Sometimes one will have profound effects and the other won’t do anything. With thalidomide, one version was an effective drug and the other kind produced horrible birth defects. And if you make them in the lab, they turn up in about equal numbers, even though the naturally occuring kinds are mostly left-handed.”

“So it could be the left-handed ones that are making me sick, and that’s why you’d expect the drugs to be harmful.”

Engler nodded. “We’ll need to test that with polarized light, but it could be.” He paused. “I’ll need another sample. I don’t have any more left.”

She glanced at the refrigerator where the vials were stored. Only two left. One more meant only one day to get it right.

The first step was slow, but she managed to make the rest of the journey with her usual speed.

If her fingers trembled as she gave the next-to-last vial to Dr. Engler, he didn’t remark on it. *

*

*

She held off as long as she could before drinking the last of the royal jelly. She was already well into withdrawal when Frohike insisted. He said that Dr. Engler was making good progress and that she shouldn’t worry. She knew he wasn’t telling her the whole truth, but at that moment she desperately wanted to believe.

No one got any work done. All the Gunmen’s hacking had been put on hold, since the time Langly almost got caught going into DoD because he got up to check on Dana at a critical point in the code-cracking.

She tried to lie down and sleep after twenty-four hours, but it didn’t work. The itching was back, and it was worse than she remembered. Byers produced Xanax–she was beginning to think he had to have an M.D., though perhaps as a clinical researcher. Two, then four, did little for her. She was dazed, so she couldn’t control her reactions, but still hurting. Eventually, he fed her some Rohypnol and put her arms in soft restraints– another item he’d produced from nowhere, and she really would have been curious about his sources if she’d had the energy. She couldn’t scratch her skin off when she was bound that way, though she still tossed and turned.

There were voices around her. Dana couldn’t quite understand them. She heard fragments only: “…without seeing…never forgive…Mulder…” She knew the words were important, but she couldn’t quite make it all connect. *

*

*

She awoke again, cotton-mouthed and headachy, but alive and not feeling the whirlpool desire for the royal jelly in her chest any more. Byers was waiting by her bedside, much as he’d waited for her to awake in that Allentown hospital forever ago. He offered her water, and held the glass up to her mouth so that she could suck on it through a straw.

“I suppose it’s redundant to tell you that it worked,” he said. “Hour thirty. We…were pretty worried. But John’s an excellent researcher. I told him to leave a big canister and his recipe and go get some sleep.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Byers shrugged. His eyes skittered away from her prone form, looking off into the distance.

“We really think we should call Mulder now, and let him know.”

“You don’t think they’ll trace the call and come after me?”

“Mulder’s a powerful man these days. Never would have thought it, myself, but the times are changing. We have three times as many subscribers as last year, and that’s not even counting the hits we get on our website each day. Mulder has real protection, now.”

Dana wanted to ask about the website, but she figured that it would only be a distraction. “I suppose it has to happen sometime.”

He nodded and rose from his chair. “Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll tell you when we’ve made arrangements.”

She lay quietly, trying to remember what it had been like to be human. *

*

*

Byers woke her from a light sleep when he returned. “He’s on his way,” he told her.

“What did you tell him?”

“That we had someone who needed to see him. He said you should make an appointment, and I said this person would have some trouble doing that–similar to the trouble he had a year and a half ago.”

Was it only eighteen months ago that Mulder had died again? Dana realized that she’d shown too little curiousity about the truths revealed by their quest. For so long all she’d wanted was answers, and now they seemed almost peripheral.

Byers was opening his mouth to say something else when a distinct expression of surprise crossed his face and he fell. She saw the blood begin to spread on the floor before her brain processed the puff of a silencer out in the hallway beyond.

“You’re as bad as Mulder is,” the assassin said, stepping into the room. “Him too, which is even stranger, it’s only a vicarious quest for him,” he continued, waving lazily at the crumpled form on the ground. Byers’ lips were flecked with blood, his punctured lung trying desperately to do its job. “Truthseekers, you call yourselves. Danger addicts, really. You had to do it, you had to open that one door you were never supposed to touch, you had to press the red button just to see what it would do.”

He raised the weapon to point it at her heart. “You know, we would have let you both live if you’d just stayed away from Mulder. It’s a revenge kind of thing, really.”

At this point, she expected nothing and felt nothing. Either she would die, or not. It would be surprising, either way. She wondered if her blood was toxic now.

The assassin’s face disappeared. She felt his blood, still hot from the internal fires of his body, spray her face and neck.

Dana stepped forward, not knowing quite what to expect. Another adventure, she thought.

It was Mulder.

“Call an ambulance,” she said. “Byers is down.” She dropped to her knees and did her best to control the bleeding. He’d probably survive, if the EMTs were swift. *

*

*

Paranoia was excellent preparation. The Gunmen had plenty of whole blood in Byers’ type stashed away; they had some sort of vampiric connection to the Red Cross, and more than that she did not want to know. They also had oxygen and a reasonable slew of drugs, and she was able to stabilize the slight-framed man for the ambulance’s arrival.

When the paramedics were gone, and Frohike and Langly with them, she was left alone to face Mulder. She hadn’t said a word to him after the first moment, when she needed him to use his cellphone.

“I should tell you,” she said, and stopped. He waited, watching her with those perfect hurt brown eyes that she’d never entirely forgotten.

“I’ve…done things since I…left. I’m not the same person who…When we were first together, I used my objectivity, my dispassionate commitment to the truth, as a shield. As if it made me more pure and truthful than you. When I lied for you, I treated it as if it were the greatest sacrifice I could make. I judged you.”

He shook his head, but not to deny the truth of the statement–he wanted to disregard its import.

“I can’t do that anymore. I…now I’m in the files you’re looking for on both sides. I experimented, Mulder. I dissected and recorded.”

He looked down. The words were forced out of him: “People?”

“No,” she said softly. “Never people. Sometimes, when something went wrong…I would autopsy fetuses. They told me I’d never have to do things to living humans, and they hadn’t broken that promise yet. I think, in a few years, when they were more sure of me…It eats you up inside, when everyone around you thinks they’re on a divine mission to save humanity by transforming it. At times I was…uncertain.”

“But you never gave up, did you?”

“I’m here now,” she pointed out. He nodded, watching her as he’d watched her in the very beginning. She’d lost his trust, she knew it, but how could she have lied about what she’d done?

“Whatever you did,” he said, “I’m glad. What matters is that you came back, you didn’t ever agree that their plans were right.”

“Can you really accept that?”

He laughed, and there was a sourness about it somewhere in the bright orange sound. “I’ve been in politics for over a year now. I can accept just about anything.”

She turned away. “That’s not what I want.”

She felt him come up behind her, not touching. “You’ve changed and I’ve changed. Maybe…I don’t know if we’ll ever get back what we had. But still…I feel that I know you. You’re…you’re the only one that I trust. I didn’t think I’d ever know what that felt like again.”

She braced herself and faced him. “I’m afraid.”

“Just…try, that’s all. Can you just try?”

She nodded. *

*

*

Washington was wrapped in darkness. Just as she’d lost all sense of season, she hadn’t been aware that it was the middle of the night until they’d left the building.

They were driving home, he said. She assumed he meant his apartment. She wondered what had been done with her possessions, whether there was anything left from her previous life. Perhaps it was better if there was nothing.

When she pointed out that there were two cars tailing them, he just smiled. “My bodyguards,” he said. “I don’t leave home without them. There haven’t been too many attempts on my life, not after the first few weeks when it became obvious that the damage couldn’t be contained, but Skinner insists that I keep them around.”

“Get rid of them,” she said.

He looked at her, and she stared back. She didn’t know exactly what she was doing, but she knew they had to go.

He nodded, and picked up his cellphone. It took a few minutes for him to get the point across, and he had to agree to meet them at his home in two hours, but she watched in the rear-view mirror as first one dark car and then another peeled away.

“Now pull over,” she said, indicating a nearly deserted parking lot in front of a Giant supermarket.

She threw herself into his arms, barely managing not to honk the horn.

“Get in the back seat,” she commanded, breathing it into his open mouth.

He blinked.

“Anything could happen tomorrow, Mulder. I have to have you now.” She put her right hand between his legs. As she’d expected, he was half-hard already, just through proximity. And, maybe, through the thought that she might be about to betray him now that she’d convinced him to get rid of his protection. She felt his cock twitch under her hand.

He blinked again. She refused to let him think about this. She lowered her mouth to his, and it was as if the months in between now and their last kiss disappeared instantly. She had no fears about what had just happened to her, no hesitations. Only Mulder.

His hand clawed at her back, found her hip through the skirt. He slid his fingers down the outside of her thigh and then reversed course, moving up and under the fabric. He made a noise when he found the bandage, then pulled away in shock and outrage.

Scully shook her head and grabbed his shoulder, hard, forcing him back towards her.

His hand moved up her thigh again. She could feel the small muscles in her leg twitching as his fingers flitted over them. He pulled her closer, and she was poked roughly in the back by the steering wheel.

She extricated her mouth from his, and took a few breaths to reclaim the power of speech. “Back seat,” she panted.

He looked at her for a moment. There was humor in his expression, and disbelief, and love.

“Right,” he said, and opened the front door.

She laid down on the car seat, feeling the plastic press into her back. She was still wearing the skirt, though it was raised above her hips, and she looked at the back of the passenger’s seat as she waited for Mulder. She couldn’t look at him until he was with her.

“Is this okay?” he asked when she wouldn’t raise her eyes to him. His voice was hushed. In the blood-warm summer air around them she could hear cicadas calling.

“Please,” she said, and thought that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d asked him for anything.

Fabric rustled, and then he was on top of her, weighing her down into the plastic of the car seat. The cramped space made it better, even when he cursed as he nearly closed the door on his legs. Scully just smiled in the darkness.

His touch was surer now that he knew what he’d find. She was ready for him; she felt as if she’d been ready for him for a thousand years.

Now, random thoughts flooded her, none lasting long enough to be completed, each skittering away with every brush of his skin against hers. How he’d looked when she woke up from her long sleep in the hospital; how he’d looked when she’d shot him; how it had been to hear that top-heavy entomologist call him ‘Fox’; how carefree they’d been together at first, laughing in the rain. She wanted to laugh with him again.

He was so much taller. Her face was squashed into his chest as he lifted her hips so that he could slide into her. She gained additional respect for his workouts when he managed to raise her body so that they could join together in the cramped back seat.

He was moving now, thrusting, his hands on her back to keep her from moving away. She couldn’t feel him and she could feel him everywhere. He was consuming her. She was going up in a blaze of white light like one of his abductees. Her left hand struck the back of the driver’s seat, flailing.

She felt him coming, pounding into her. “Not dead yet,” she whispered as he cried out her name.

End

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