Title: THE DAY I TRIED TO LIVE Author: X-Phylia Disclaimer: press play: "The X-Files are property of Ten Thirteen and FOX" press stop. Rate: R for vocabulary and graphic imaginary. Category: MA/MT, SC Spoilers: everything until "The End", then it goes AU. Archive: Yes, just ask first. Author notes: at the end. Summary: After the fire destroyed the basement office, Mulder and Scully split up and go separate ways. A year and a half later they meet again and Scully discovers a terrible secret about Mulder. Determined to rebuilt their relationship, she must first face her main adversary: her ex-partner himself. Feedback: Yes! I am very interested in knowing your thoughts on this story. Please write me at [email protected] Thanks! Acknowledgements: thanks to San for editing this story. You rock, truffle!

Dedicated to Jenna, for being a wonderful person and for all the great job she does at Mulder in Jep and After the Fact. Thank you for keeping the flame alive!

"The day I tried to live" by X-Phylia

Albany, NY FBI Building Tuesday 8:45 pm

The air was thick and dense, as if contaminated by the horror of the pictures spread on the desk in the cluttered office. Even the light coming from the window was dull, the cloudy day outside wasn't helping much to cheer up the atmosphere inside.

Fox Mulder couldn't care less about the oppressive surrounding: he wasn't even seeing it. His forehead leaned on the table, his head tightly surrounded by thin, bruised arms, in typical impact position. It wasn't such a bad analogy, for Mulder felt he was spiraling down to the ground at warp speed unprotected, and a big part of him hoped the final crash would happen soon. He couldn't stand living like this much longer, anyway.

This was one of those moments when the pain got so bad he couldn't even determine *where* exactly he was hurting. His whole body throbbed, from the skin to the bones... He hardly ever got past this point without seeking the sweet relief of his secret friend. This was the alarm zone before the symptoms grew worse.

Mulder got up from his chair stifling a groan and headed to the office's private restroom. His right hand groped the left pocket of his jacket and he sighed. In a few minutes everything would be okay again, or at least as close to okay as it could get these days.

***

Derek Montagne frowned when he entered Mulder's office and saw the state the agent was in.

"Hey, Mulder, are you okay?" he asked unnecessarily. It was plain evident that Mulder wasn't okay - in fact, he hadn't been for a while now.

He didn't receive an answer and he wondered whether his colleague had even heard him coming in. Montagne bit his lips and shook his head, asking himself for the umpteenth time what he could have possibly done in a previous life to get stuck with Spooky Mulder as his partner in this one.

Montagne was a family man, devoted husband and father of five. He was also very good at his job. His patience to follow suspects and close in on them with rock-solid evidence had gained him the respect of both his peers and superiors.

Being partnered with Spooky Mulder was seen by many as unfair to say the least, but like a young Agent Scully before him, Montagne soon discovered that Mulder wasn't just a crackpot. Behind his bizarre beliefs there was a brilliant brain. And now that he was back in the mainstream at Violent Crimes, that brain was producing results.

Having to be around him when Mulder was producing those results however, was an entirely different matter. At first Montagne was scared enough to consider either a transfer or a very serious meeting with his superiors to recommend a psych evaluation for his partner.

After a year of working together, Montagne knew a lot of things about Mulder he never wanted to: his obsessions, his nightmares, his foolhardy iron will to work when normal people would break at the strain. Montagne also knew the secret Mulder held close to his chest: the pain that his ex- partner had caused him when she chose to leave the Bureau after their office burned down, some eighteen months ago.

He had heard Mulder screaming her name in the night countless times while they were in the field. It was gut wrenching, but Montagne never summoned the courage to slip into Mulder's room to wake him up from his nightmares. Geez, the guy had become so paranoid that he kept a loaded gun within reach on the night table bed, and Derek didn't want to end up with a hole in his chest for his good intentions.

Mulder never, ever, talked about Dana Scully with him - or, for that matter, mentioned any other aspect about his private life. Montagne thought that his partner spent a lot of energy keeping his walls up and being defensive, and while he was convinced that Fox Mulder respected his professional ability and discretion, he also knew that his partner didn't really trust him.

Montagne glanced at his watch. "It's almost 9 pm, Mulder. Have you eaten? I'm going to order some Chinese."

"I'm fine, thanks," Mulder mumbled. "Just... make sure you don't eat it here. I don't think I can handle the smell."

As soon as the words came out of his mouth Mulder kicked himself. It wasn't like him to admit freely that he wasn't anything but 100%. "Well, I'd say these pictures are bound to kill a guy's appetite, right?" he added with a fake smile.

Montagne shrouded. "I'd say that when said guy hasn't eaten in two days he ought to be hungry, pics or no pics."

He turned around and left, knowing better than to argue with Mulder about mundane things like food or sleep. As long as he kept up with his personal hygiene, Montagne kept his opinions to himself. But he wasn't blind nor stupid. Fox Mulder was a mess, physically and emotionally. He was burnt out, one step short of complete breakdown, after over a year of working non- stop, chasing criminals of the worst kind.

In the year span that he had known him, Mulder had already been hospitalized twice due to sheer exhaustion. The last time they had been working on a difficult case and he collapsed right after they interviewed the ten-year-old girl that had eye-witnessed her mother being killed while the child was hiding.

Since this last incident Mulder was never the same. It hadn't been such a big deal considering his past injuries, but Montagne detected that something wasn't quite right afterwards. How come nobody else noticed it? He was much thinner and pale. Even his slightly unsteady gait was a telltale sign. Mulder saw dozens of people every day. Whenever there was an investigation, he was at the very center of it. And yet, Montagne still had to hear anyone comment on it; either they didn't realize or just didn't care.

***

Thursday 2:04 pm

"Son of a bitch," Agent Vargas exclaimed. His voiced denoted admiration. "How in the world did he ever come up with such a connection? It was a blind guess!"

"Welcome to Spookyland, Vargas," his fellow agents smirked. Two of them, Lovett and Blaine were old-timers who were acquitted with Mulder's uncanny talent to find lose ends where others only saw knots.

Derek Montagne observed them. He felt vaguely proud of Mulder, and yet uncomfortable with the name-calling his partner was often target of. *He* called Mulder 'Spooky' sometimes, but it was meant with affection, not derision. Not as an attempt to minimize his work as the result of some sort of magic.

Lovett's next comment just proved his point. "Hey, Derek, enlighten us. Where does Mulder keep the lamp with the genie?" he laughed while he poured himself some coffee.

"Up his ass, Lovett. But the genie only comes around after he works it off really hard." Seeing how his reply had effectively killed the atmosphere and was gaining him hostile looks, Montagne added. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? All I'm saying is that it's not easy for him to be that good. That kind of talent comes with a price, you know?"

"Yes, becoming an AD before you turn forty," Blaine sneered.

Montagne ignored him. "I assume you guys heard of Bill Patterson?"

"Of course. He used to run the VCS back in the 80's. He retired a few years ago," Agent Vargas answered immediately. Lovett and Blaine exchanged glances.

"Do you know why?"

Vargas turned to Lovett. "He cracked up," the older man said, not willing to go into details. "Derek, what are you trying to say? That Mulder is on his way of becoming a serial killer too?"

"No, not necessarily. I'm saying that profiling takes a lot out of him, and that he might not have much left. If I were him, I'd run away from this job as fast as I could before it's too late," if it isn't already, Montagne finished for himself.

"If it's that bad, why don't you just tell him so?"

Montagne chuckled sadly. "I tried, if only for my own peace of mind's sake, but he won't listen. Mulder is one stubborn sonofabitch. I think that the only person who was ever able to get Mulder to do anything was my predecessor. *She* must have been the one able to do some magic!"

***

To Mulder's utter relief, the Albany case had been mercifully short. Even more, the locals were unusually nice to him - a fact that had unsettled rather than pleased him. He shook his head, thinking sadly that if he got any more paranoid, he'd lapse into schizophrenia.

His secret was safe, not even Montagne had a clue. He didn't know him well enough, he couldn't read him like a book like Scully did... Shit, even *thinking* about her hurt. He had tried everything he could think of to get her out of his mind - hate, loath, bitterness, indifference - it was useless. She would forever be another painful memory he would have to live with.

At least he could pride himself of not having committed the same error twice. His relationship with Montagne was satisfactory. He was honest, capable and above all, discreet. Not that Scully was ever less than that, but he had made the mistake of letting her get close to him. Of surrendering to her affection, her concern.

They had gone through so much together, survived against the odds, relied on each other for everything. They had lost loved ones and almost themselves too many times to count. And Mulder had naively assumed that their bond was unbreakable, but it succumbed, ironically, under his old childhood nemesis: fire.

He didn't remember much of that night. His oh-so-perfect memory could be cunningly selective sometimes: it knew how to conveniently set aside traumatic events. Mulder thought that it was a shame that he couldn't control that ability. But there was a distinct memory, not an image, just the feeling of being in Scully's arms back at her house, his head buried in her stomach and her hand caressing his hair. He remembered the silence. In his state of shock he hadn't spoken a word, and neither had she. When he woke up he was alone, and somehow that had hurt him more than he was ready to admit at that time.

A week later Mulder found himself dazed by the events that hit him with the force of a tropical storm. The X-Files no longer existed, so the division was closed down permanently. Since the very first day after the fire it became obvious that the higher-ups didn't think that arson inside the Hoover Building itself merited a deep investigation, which frustrated the hell out of him. Scully's reaction, however, was much different: she was unabatedly, frighteningly furious.

"First Melissa dies of a gunshot wound under unclear circumstances in my own house and the FBI drops the case, just like that. Now my work of the last five years is gone due to a deliberate fire and no one is interested in asking questions. I've had enough. I gave too much of my life to this job and what for? Nothing. I'm done here. I quit."

Mulder had stared at her open-mouthed, taken off guard by her rant. For the first time in their partnership they were completely off-sync: while Mulder wanted to go through the meager stack of burned papers he had managed to collect from the scorched office, Scully was ready to put as much distance between herself and the Hoover Building as possible.

Then Skinner had approached Mulder to tell him that they had been reassigned to Violent Crimes with the veil promise that the X-Files would be eventually reopened. He wasn't happy, but he thought it would be a chance for them to remain partners. Once again, he miscalculated the extent of Scully's wrath.

"I am *not* going to Violent Crimes, Mulder, and frankly, neither should you. I've seen what profiling does to you. I can't believe how you of all people can be so gullible! Do you really think they'll give you the X-Files back? Please! Give me a break!"

At that point, Mulder was angry too. "Maybe not, Scully, but I'm surely not going to take the easy way and give up. I'm not going to give them the satisfaction."

"Do what you have to do, Mulder. This is not the end I was hoping for, but I can't do this anymore. Please don't think that I don't care for everything we've done all these years, it's just... we're fighting a losing battle."

"That's a cheap excuse. We've been closed down before, I still have contacts in Congress..."

"Yes, contacts that will avoid you like the plague after what happened to Gibson Praise and Agent Fowley."

Mulder suddenly felt cold, as if hit by a huge ball of snow. His anger was quickly escalating to meet Scully's. "Oh, so that's were you come from. This is about Diana, isn't it?"

Scully went pale with indignation. "How dare you! For your information, I *am* mad at you for the way you handled Agent Fowley, but that has nothing to do with my reasons for quitting. You bastard! Why does everything have to be about you?"

"It has *nothing* to do with me this time. You are the one quitting!" he fumed. "Besides, X-Files or not, I still need FBI resources if I'm going to find my sister. You may have forgotten about her, but I haven't. I won't."

"At least you have a sister to look for. I pretty much know where to find mine."

It was a low blow, a *very* low blow and Scully knew she would regret it. Before she turned around to leave, she caught a glimpse of Mulder's eyes filling up with tears. It was an image that would haunt her to the end.

She never got a chance to apologize or to say goodbye to him properly. A few days after their bitter argument Mulder had moved out of his apartment, changed both of his phone numbers and set up a new email address. She tried approaching the Gunmen, but even Frohike, who used to be so fond of her, sounded cold and distant.

"Mulder anticipated you'd come to us. He left this for you," the little man handed her an envelope. Scully opened it and found a paper with only three words written on it: 'Leave me alone'.

Fine, Mulder, message received. Have a good life.

***

Boston, MA FBI Building Two weeks later

Derek Montagne looked at his watch and cursed. Mulder was running late *again*, and he would have to cover for him *again*.

"This is getting old, Spooky," he muttered angrily under his breath.

Montagne wasn't even sure why he kept protecting Mulder from both his superior and his peers at the expense of his own reputation. He liked the guy and he respected his talent, but lately his behavior was barely acceptable. Mulder had become a moody, unpredictable character who would disappear in the middle of a case and turn up later, never willing to provide an explanation.

His erratic conduct had caused no small amount of friction among the people he worked with, and yet Montagne kept risking a reprimand himself to save his ass. Why would he, when Mulder clearly didn't give a damn about keeping his service record intact?

He worked like a maniac, putting hour after hour like a possessed man. He seemed to have no other interests other than figuring out the ways of the criminally insane, an ability that was becoming sharper with time.

Montagne had seen folks like that, people who couldn't stop working if their lives depended on it. And their reasons were often very similar: Working served as an effective anesthetic to lessen the pain of an otherwise empty, desolated life.

For Mulder, however, working was no longer enough. It hadn't been for a long time.

Sitting on the toilet bowl of the men's room, he pulled his kit, both of his hands shaking almost uncontrollably. His breathing was ragged and agitated, he was sweating profusely. He was late for the meeting and in the corner of his mind a voice was nagging him, but the better part of his concentration was focused on preparing the fix.

Out of long practice he managed to have the hypodermic needle ready and he pulled up the sleeve of his shirt. He winced at the sight of his bruised left arm, from elbow to wrist there were dozens of puncture marks, some of them infected. He considered using his right arm, but his left hand was so clumsy that every shot hurt like a bitch. He bit his lips as he fastened the rubber string on his upper left arm and tapped the hollow of his elbow in search of a good vein.

"Please... please..." he moaned. The irony of his hatred of needles was not lost on him. Even to get relief he needed to suffer the pain. Not for the first time he asked himself why he didn't shoot up a heavier dose and end his miserable life once and for all.

Because you're a coward, the angry voice inside mocked him. If you were half a man you would use your gun instead and leave this shit for the weaklings.

Mulder stifled a yelp as the needle pierced his fragile skin and forced himself to look in order to guide his unsteady hand into the elusive vein. He had been doing this twice a day for a long time now, but he still hated the sight of his own blood. His arm felt like it was on fire until he finally hit his target and plunged in the drug.

Almost immediately, the welcome rush invaded his body, calming the pain and easing his frazzled nerves like a smooth, oily balm on badly chapped skin. God, he loved this. Fuck everything else.

So what if it kills me. I'm not going to last much longer anyway.

***

Five men were impatiently pacing in the spacious, comfortable office of SAC Ryan Russell. Not even the nice view, enhanced by a rare shiny day in Boston at this time of the year, was enough to help their irritation.

"So, Agent Montagne, you assured us that Agent Mulder would be here any minute. That was twenty minutes ago," Russell barged in.

Montagne kept his expression blank. "Something must have held him up, sir. Probably traffic."

"However, the rest of us got here on time, despite the traffic. Listen to me, Montagne. I am in charge of this event, and I want everything, and I do mean *everything* to be perfect. Mulder has been assigned to organize and run the Behavioral Sciences Workshop in this year's Congress, which is what most of the attendants will be interested in participating. Agents from all over the country are coming to *my* city, so I won't tolerate irresponsibility."

Montagne was puzzled. "Uh, sir, can I speak to you in private for a minute?"

Russell made a quick gesture and the rest of the agents walked out of the office. "What is it, Montagne?"

"Sir, does Mulder know about this detail? Has he agreed to take any part on this?"

"That was the point of this meeting, Agent Montagne. I believe both you and Mulder have been informed about the Congress before you left DC."

"Yes, we have, but I thought..." he vacillated, and Russell looked at him questioningly. "I thought we were called only as consultants."

Russell crossed his arms. "You will act as consultant, yes. But Mulder will be in charge of the workshop. He's the best man the FBI has in Behavioral Sciences. I think it's appropriate, and it will look good in his records."

Montagne didn't buy it. "Since when Mulder's record is anybody's concern? For every commendation he also gets a reprimand."

Russell smirked. "Let's say is a move in which we all win. You get a break from him, Mulder gets a chance to clear his act, and lots of agents will learn something from his expertise. Besides, the people in Washington want Mulder out of the field for a while. The word around is that he's getting a little out of control. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you Agent Montagne?"

Montagne almost took the bait, but remained silent. Mulder was *not* going to like this. He agreed that the man could use a break, but the last thing he needed right now was being in such a demanding, spotlight position. His forte was profiling, not exactly public relationships.

A soft knock on the door interrupted the conversation and a petite, redhead woman walked in. Russell smiled. "Like I said, I intend that the only the best in each field participate in the organization of this Congress. This is our expert in Forensic Pathology. Agent Montagne, meet Agent Dana Scully."

***

At least on the surface, Mulder appeared composed. After washing his face and combing his hair he didn't look like something the cat had dragged in. His strides were long and confident, and on the way to the meeting he prepared himself both for the rebuke for his lateness and for the bore it would surely prove to be. He didn't want anything to do with any congress or workshop, it was a waste of time that should be spent looking out for criminals.

He smiled to himself, thinking he could easily get rid of Russell by being his usual annoying, smartass self; a pain in the ass no one wanted to work with. He was in for a surprise.

"Why, nice of you to join us, Agent Mulder! I assume you knew the time for this meeting was 5 pm, not 5:32 pm?"

"I got stuck in traffic," he responded automatically, not even trying to make his lame excuse sound believable. At least Montagne seemed oddly relieved.

Only when he turned to find a seat, he found himself face to face with his ex-partner. For the longest second they simply stared at each other, frozen like deer caught up in the light. At least Scully had been informed of Mulder's involvement in this event ten minutes earlier, but still she couldn't help the shock of seeing him after so long.

My God, Mulder, what have you done to yourself?

He recovered first. "Agent Scully," he said curtly. It sounded as if she were someone he had never been in a close partnership with.

"Agent Mulder," she countered. "Long time no see."

The tension was evident and everybody in the room was aware of it. Montagne noticed how the other men observed the awkward scene like gossipy spinsters. This would surely become the water-cooler chat of the week - or the month.

***

After the uncomfortable meeting, where he had to put every ounce of his energy in listening to Russell and control the raising anger inside him, Mulder stormed out of the room. Russell was enthusiastic about the preparations for the FBI Congress to be held in six months, but Mulder already knew one thing: he was *not* going to do it.

He had been less than thrilled to get stuck with this stupid detail in the first place, but there was no way hell he'd work around Dana Scully again. He locked himself up in the restroom again, angry at his own weakness, when he felt a sob rise in his chest.

Dammit! Why did it have to hurt so bad? Why did her presence still affected him so much? It had been a year and a half since the last time he had seen her, since he had heard her accusing words, sharp as daggers.

She looked exactly the same, even more beautiful. She now had an extra air of confidence, but wait... had she been working for the FBI all this time? What happened to "I'm done, I quit"? The late realization hurt him even more. So it had never been a matter of getting tired of the FBI, she had gotten tired of *him*.

Mulder's knees buckled and he sat on the toilet, feeling light-headed. He cursed his ex-partner for having this power over him even when he had tried his best to hate her, to forget her. He was simply unable to do that, and he hated *himself* for that inability. Much to his regret, deep inside Mulder still loved her. He missed her soothing presence, her outward calm, the easiness with which she understood him. It wasn't easy to figure him out and he wanted, needed that understanding.

So his heart would always be hers, but his mind wouldn't. He was determined not to let her hurt him again. All he had to do was tell Russell where he could stick this shitty assignment and fly back to DC as soon as he could.

Instinctively he checked his left pocket. He was running out of goodies, too.

A strong knock on the door startled him. "Mulder? What is it with you man and bathrooms? Do you have diarrhea or something??"

He recognized Montagne's voice and sighed. Actually, Derek, I'm constipated, he thought wryly. But I bet you don't want to hear about my bathroom issues.

It was amazing how the man hadn't noticed what kind of problem Mulder had - either that or he was well aware and had chosen to keep his mouth shut and play ignorant. If the latter was true, he was one hell of an actor.

"You look like shit, Spooky," Montagne said once he was out of the restroom. "Why don't you go back to the hotel and get some rest? We have lots to do tomorrow. Russell wants us to meet..."

"I don't care what that pompous asshole wants. I'm going home," Mulder interrupted him harshly. Then he softened. "I'm sorry, Derek, I'm just tired. I..." he took a deep breath, his bloodshot eyes blinking furiously. "I never thanked you for all the times you covered my ass, or apologized for all the bullshit you have to endure just for being my partner. I appreciate it, really. You're a fine agent, and a decent guy."

To say that Montagne was surprised by Mulder's slightly disarticulate speech was a huge understatement, but he was clever enough to add two and two. "She still gets to you, doesn't she."

Mulder looked up at him. Dana Scully was a taboo subject, an unspoken understanding between them. "What does she have to do with anything?" he protested weakly. "Look, forget it, okay. Just... forget it."

He started to walk away, but Montagne - a tall and well-built man - caught his left arm. The assault on the tender inflamed tissue caused a shot of pain and he couldn't repress a loud yelp. Montagne released him immediately.

"What's wrong with your arm? I barely touched you."

"It's nothing," Mulder seethed, gritting his teeth. He tried to leave, but this time his partner blocked his exit. "Get out of my way, Montagne. I'm not in the mood for any more jokes."

"I'm hardly joking. I want to talk to you."

"About what?"

"I think you know."

Mulder's heart hammered against his ribcage, and fear crept under his skin before he could do anything to prevent it. So Montagne *did* know. Dammit! He needed to get out of there, fast.

"Not now. I'm going home."

For the second time in a row, Dana Scully made a very timely entrance. Mulder didn't know whether to hug her for being the proverbial saving bell or to push her back and run away while he still could. He stood there for a moment, feeling light-headed again.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she smiled.

"Oh no," Mulder said quickly. "Come in. Have you two met already?"

"Yes," they both answered.

"Fine. Before you say anything, Scully, I have good news for you: I'm out of the party, so don't worry. You won't have to work around me."

"Mulder..."

"No, really. I wouldn't want you to quit the FBI. *Again*," he added venomously.

"I was hoping we could grab a cup of coffee and talk like two professionals - or at least two adults."

"We don't have anything to talk about, professionally or otherwise."

Scully snapped. "Jesus, Mulder, can't you let it go? Why can't you just be reasonable for once?"

"Reasonable? Fuck you, Scully! What gives you the right to come here and talk to me like that? I want nothing to do with you! You hear me? Nothing!"

Mulder was ready to give her a piece of his mind, forgetting that Montagne was still in the room, discreetly standing by the window. But he never got the chance. Suddenly everything started to spin around him and blackness enveloped him like a blanket. By the time he hit the floor he was already unconscious.

***

Taken by surprise, neither Scully nor Montagne could prevent Mulder's body from slumping like a boneless puppet. Scully was at his side the next second, her hand on her ex-partner neck.

"He's pulse is fast and thready, and he's got a fever," she assessed. Then she pried Mulder's eyes open and found his pupils were slightly dilated. "Agent Montagne, is he taking some kind of medication?"

Montagne was pale and deadly serious. "I don't think you should be here, Agent Scully. Maybe you should go back with the rest, I'll take care of him."

Scully shot him a furious look. "I am a medical doctor, Agent Montagne," she replied coldly, "I think I have not only the right but the duty of tending to him. Now, if you really want to help, why don't you start by telling me what's going on here?"

"He's exhausted, that's all. He hasn't been feeling well lately." Montagne said, not sure if he should trust Scully with the truth. Chances were she would find out for herself if she examined Mulder, but he didn't want to be the one breaking the news. In any case, the best course of action was getting Mulder back to the hotel before more people got involved.

As if to prove his point, Mulder started to throw up.

***

Boston, MA Excelsior Hotel 8:36 pm

Mulder had regained consciousness, but then he had quickly fallen back to sleep, his drained body unable to sustain him awake. Helped by Montagne, Scully stripped him to his boxers and t-shirt. Now she was staring at his prone body with a mix a shock, sorrow and anger. His inner thighs displayed scars of small parallel cuts, too neat to have been caused by some kind of accident, and his arms - especially the left - was a blur of bruises and angry red tissue due to his continuous 'skin popping'. To her dismay, she discovered more cutaneous ulcers in his legs and lower abdomen.

"Oh, Mulder, what did you do to yourself?" She looked at Montagne, who looked a little shaken as well. Her indignation at his previous behavior had vanished, understanding now that he was only trying to protect Mulder. If this was known, both his career and his life would be destroyed. But as she watched her ex-partner she wondered if it wasn't too late already. "How long has this been going on?"

"I'm guessing four, five months, tops. He's been hospitalized then, and the doctors would have noticed."

"Hospitalized? What happened to him?"

"They said he was stressed out. They admitted him, gave him IV fluids and sedated him so he could sleep. Two days later he was ready to rock 'n' roll."

"And you never confronted him about his drug problem?" There was no accusation on her voice, only a desire to know.

Montagne could see in her demeanor that no matter what Mulder thought of her, Scully cared about her ex-partner. He decided to tell her the truth. "I suspected, but I couldn't go to him without concrete evidence. Believe it or not, I was about to do it right before you interrupted us. I grabbed his arm and he practically screamed in pain. Now I can see why."

***

Scully had a big problem on her hands, a decision she didn't want to make. As an agent, she knew she should turn Mulder in and make sure he received the kind of help he needed. He was very sick, borderline dehydrated, and needed medical attention she couldn't provide with the limited resources at hand. If she did that he would hate her, but what difference would it make? He hated her already.

On the other hand, Scully felt overwhelmingly guilty. Between Montagne's recollection of the events of the past year and Mulder's current state, it wasn't hard to figure out what had lead Mulder to seek the relief of painkillers. He was hurting, spiraling down into the sorry state he was in because *she* had hurt him.

Or better said, he had been hurt by her actions, by her decision to leave. She never imagine it would affect him this much. Mulder was strong, he had survived worse. It had been *his* decision to disappear from her life; he had shut her out without ever giving her the chance to make things up. Why had he let himself become so depressed to the point of self destruction, then?

The answer, though painfully clear, was way out of Scully's comfort zone.

Mulder became agitated in his sleep and started babbling incoherent words. His face contorted with pain and his arms flailed. Scully caught his hand and gently pressed it against hers.

"...ulee?" he mumbled, his eyes still closed.

"Yes, it's me. Hush now, it's okay, go back to sleep."

He turned to his side and settled, but didn't let go of her hand. Montagne smiled and Scully gave him a brief nod.

The next nightmare was a lot more violent and frightening, Mulder was screaming as if someone were torturing him. His eyes were open this time, dazed and unfocused, maybe seeing some horrific thing playing in his back of his eyelids. In such a raw, vulnerable state, Mulder didn't have the protection of his ever paranoid mind.

This was instinct in control, and it was instinct that drove him into Scully's arms. He buried his head on her neck and passed both arms around her. To Derek Montagne's utter surprise, he calmed down almost immediately.

The male agent felt awkward watching such an intimate, private scene and turned to leave. Not that it made him feel better, he kept wondering about the true nature of the relationship between the ex-partners. Scully was holding and comforting Mulder more like a mother than a lover, and the ease with which she caressed him suggested that it wasn't the first time she had done this for him. That, of course, had implications of its own. Apparently she *had* had the guts to go to him when he screamed in the night.

***

Excelsior Hotel 8:23 am

After over twelve hours of barely interrupted sleep, Mulder felt a lot better physically, but he was disoriented as to where he was and why. To add to his confusion, the first person he saw was Scully. She brought him a glass of water, some aspirins and a set of clean clothes. He blinked furiously to bat away the strong sense of déjà-vû.

"What...? How did I get here?"

"You passed out at the FBI Building last night. Montagne and I brought you here rather discreetly, if I say so myself."

Mulder groaned. "You can't get a break with me, huh Scully? Eighteen months without seeing each other and the first time we meet I cause you trouble."

The caustic tone of his voice clued Scully in the knowledge that Mulder didn't remember having spent the better part of an hour shaking like a leaf in her arms the night before. She didn't have the heart to rub it in his face, but her reasons were not entirely altruistic. Scully wasn't sure about how she felt herself about that.

"Are you calm enough so we can talk now?"

"Look, Scully, I appreciate your help but I don't really need you in the picture right now. I have enough problems as it is."

"I know," she said softly, pointing with her gaze at his ruined arms.

Only then Mulder realized that the evidence was out there. There was no way he would ever fool Scully with something like this, no excuse she would remotely believe. He looked up at the ceiling and swallowed a curse.

"You have two choices, Scully: either you go and turn me in or you leave me alone with my own shit. It's your decision."

"I'm not going to turn you in, Mulder, you know me better than that. Besides, if I had wanted to do that, I would have done it last night. The real question is, what are *you* going to do about it?"

"It's none of your business," he seethed as he got dressed. "You can't show up like this and push me around. You chose to go away a year and a half ago, you no longer have a say in my life. Leave me alone."

She smiled forlornly. "Don't even try and pretend you don't care, you've always been an awful liar. You can't even look at me in the eyes. After all the things we've been through in the X-Files, after all the things that happened to me, I never, *ever* blamed you. You didn't kidnap me. You didn't shoot Melissa. You didn't make me sick. You didn't torch our office. But those things happened, Mulder. And call me a coward, a weakling, a quitter, but don't you dare say I did what I did only to hurt you. It's *my* life, Mulder. *My* goddamned life. I needed a break, and you never gave me the chance to explain."

"You don't need to explain anything to me."

"Maybe not now, but I did then. We both said hurtful things we didn't really mean. A few days to cool off and a nice, civilized talk over a cup of coffee would have been enough but nooo, you had to play the martyr."

Mulder stood before her, his pain-filled hazel orbs piercing Scully right to the core. "Do you remember what it was like back then? In the span of two weeks I was tortured and almost murdered while working undercover, admitted to a mental hospital where they tied me up and shot me full of anti-psychotics and robbed of the work of my life by an intentional fire. Did you *ever* hear me complain? I *needed* you. Over the years I had come to trust you, I let myself believe you'd always be there. Well, I learned my lesson. I don't want to need you or anybody else ever again. I have my own way of dealing with my life."

"Yes, through self-pity and killing yourself bit by bit."

"It doesn't matter, Scully," Mulder's voice was now tired and strained. "I keep working because it's the only thing that gives my life a meaning. Catching criminals, giving innocent people another chance. I know one day it'll become too much, but until then, I'd rather not think about it."

"What about you? Don't you deserve a second chance?"

"You were my second chance, Scully," he said. "You were my second chance."

***

FBI Building 11:40 am

Both agents arrived at SAC Russell's office with five minutes to spare to the meeting. Their masks up and in place, they stoically endured the suspicious looks they received from the other agents, including Russell. However, at that moment no one could take them for anything less than consummate professionals. Whatever distress from a quarrel or euphoria from a happy, salacious reunion was completely absent from their faces.

"Agent Mulder, I hear you had some health problems last night. Are you okay?" Russell asked.

"I'm fine, sir."

"Good. Let's get started, then."

"Before you start, sir, please read this," Mulder stepped forward and handed Russell an envelope.

"What is it, Agent Mulder?" he frowned.

"My official declination to be part of the organizing staff of this event, sir."

The room erupted with exclamations of surprise. Only Scully and Montagne remained quiet.

"May I ask what brought this up? I hope it is not a reaction to the presence of other members of our distinguished staff," Russell pointed out with sarcasm.

Mulder was equally blunt. "If you're referring to Agent Scully, then no, sir. I had made this decision before I was informed of her involvement in the committee."

"Agent Mulder, you have been formally 'invited' to be part of the staff, but I assume you're smart enough to realize it was actually an order. You're the best in your field, and you're required to do this."

"I understand, sir, but my decision remains the same."

Russell saw the determination in Mulder's expression and was beginning to fear that he was actually going to lose his best asset. A veiled threat was the best he could come up with. "There will be consequences," he assured.

"I'm willing to face them."

"All right, Agent Mulder, you are dismissed. Leave you badge and your gun on the way out, you're suspended for a month without pay. And you can expect other disciplinary measures from Washington."

"Fine." Mulder turned and left the room under the disconcerted looks of his colleagues.

Clearly pissed off at the unexpected occurrence, Russell went on. "Well, anyone else has something to say before we start?"

Scully knew then that unless she did something about it, that could very well become the last time she would see Mulder, alive at least.

"Hm, sir, I need to be excused from today's meeting."

"I should have known," Russell said bitterly. "Should I presume that this sudden departure has nothing to do with Agent Mulder either?"

"I'm still willing to be part of this staff and help you with the Forensic Pathology workshop. I'll catch up with my load in due time, I promise. But right now I need to go."

***

Excelsior Hotel 1:03 pm

After bullying a poor maid, Scully had gotten her to open Mulder's door for her. At first she was dismayed to see that the room was empty, but then she realized what was going on. Without bothering to knock first, she barged into the bathroom to see a barely dressed Mulder sitting on the bathtub with an hypodermic needle in his hand.

"Scully! What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he shouted at her. "Get out of here! Now!"

"No, Mulder. Not this time," she replied calmly.

"Why can't you just leave me alone? You have your life back, your career, and everything you wanted. I'm not your goddamned charity project, so fuck off!"

Tears of pain and frustration were rolling down his cheeks. He was so pale and sickly looking, she thought, filled with regret. His sweaty body was trembling and his hand moved as if he had Parkinson's disease. Scully winced when she saw the mess he was about to cause to his already over- abused left arm.

"Give me the syringe, Mulder."

"Like hell."

"Hand it to me, please. I'll give you the shot myself."

He turned to her. "What?"

"I'll use your right arm, so your poor veins there get a break."

With only a hint of hesitation Mulder untied the rubber string from his left arm and then handed both items to Scully. It wasn't necessarily an indication of newfound trust, she thought. Just of how desperate he was.

"Why aren't you at the meeting?" he asked quietly as she rubbed his skin with alcohol.

"I had more important things to do," she countered. Then she administered the drug expertly.

"Like giving your ex-partner a shot of heroin? It's *illegal*, Scully. It's against everything you believe in."

Scully laid a hand on his hollow cheek. "Geez Mulder... Don't you know by now how much I hate to see you suffer? If this takes away your pain at least for a few hours, I'll do it."

New tears flooded Mulder's sore eyes, realizing the sacrifice she was making for him. Not only with her career, but with her own soul.

"Thank you," was all he could say, the pull of the drug already numbing his senses.

He allowed her to walk him to the bed and lay down, but before she could leave he grabbed her wrist and pulled her down with him. Once she was comfortable, Mulder burrowed against her warm body and let the drug work its magic. His last conscious thought was that this new fix was particularly good... or maybe it had something to do with Scully holding him?

Knowing he wouldn't wake up, Scully released her own pent up emotions and broke down as she held Mulder's fragile body against her. He was so wrong. She didn't have the life she always wanted, her career wasn't as fulfilling as she once thought it would be. Every date she had in the last year had been a failure, because she was always comparing other men with Mulder. After so much time spent looking for the courage to finally face him, tell him how she really felt, she discovered a man who had lost himself to misery and heroin, who was simply waiting for the day his body gave up.

******** Part 2 ********

Two days later I-95 Highway 10:07 am

"How is he doing, Dana?"

"He's still asleep," Scully replied with a smile. Mulder's head felt heavy on her lap, his frame crammed on the backseat of a car. "The Valium hit him hard."

Derek Montagne had volunteered to drive her and Mulder to Mr. Mulder's house at West Tisbury, in the Vineyard. Mulder hadn't told them why he wanted to go there and not back home to DC, and Scully hadn't questioned him.

She was putting her ass on the line, but she wouldn't leave him alone in the state he was in. Mulder's new partner was equally concerned, and Scully was relieved to find a reliable person, almost a friend in the affable man. It had taken them no time to upgrade their relationship to one of first- name basis.

Scully distracted herself admiring the view. She preferred this area during the fall, when the trees and the vegetation populated the landscape with the most beautiful colors, but it was nice in the winter too, in spite of the cloudy sky. The fresh snow dampened the sounds and provided an aura of peace. Derek had also regaled her with funny anecdotes of his kids. There was no mistake where this man's heart was.

"Derek, can I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure."

"What keeps you in this job? I mean, you obviously love your family, it must be hard to be apart from them for so long, and it must be hard on them too. You could have a good job in some other area that isn't so demanding and dangerous."

"Tough one," he chuckled. "I've been in law enforcement since I was a skinny kid and never really asked myself why I was doing it. It was my job. I got married, had kids and went to work every day. You can't allow yourself to think too much in this business, it can drive you crazy. And then fate sent me Spooky Mulder. At first I thought I was paying for all the misdoings of a lifetime."

Scully smiled. "I can believe that," she said.

"When I got to know him better, I was impressed by how deeply he believed in the cause he was fighting for. Unlike many of our colleagues, he didn't just focus on the evidence and forget this is about people suffering. Everything was important to him: the killer, the victims, their families. Be it with mothers who have just lost their children or frightened kids that have been traumatized, he always finds a way to communicate with them and get results. He doesn't care what it costs to him personally, for him the victims come first. And I knew then that if something ever happened to my kids - God forbid - I'd want Mulder in charge of the investigation. So I tried to be a good partner for him."

"Thank you, Derek. Thanks for telling me this, and taking care of Mulder."

Montagne shook his head. "For all the good it brought. I should have realized sooner what was going on. I should have hauled his stubborn ass into rehab."

"It wouldn't have worked out. He'll beat this when only he's ready. Right now he needs to rest. Russell did him a favor when he suspended him."

Montagne dropped Scully and a sleepy Mulder on the dock so they could take the ferry to the Vineyard.

"Are you sure you can take it from here, Dana? He doesn't look too good."

"Believe me, I have plenty of experience in this. We'll be fine, Derek. You've been a great help. Thank you."

"You're welcome, dear. If there's anything you need, please call me. And Dana... when Mulder gets better, I'd like to invite the two of you over for dinner some time. I often tell my wife and kids about him and they're dying to meet 'Uncle Spooky'."

"We'll be honored to meet your family, Derek."

***

West Tisbury, MA 2:22 pm

Mulder hadn't been in this house since his father's death, over four years earlier. After the police went there to clarify Mr. Mulder's murder everything had been cleaned up, but the house remain intact. The furniture, the pictures, the library, all was exactly as his father had left them - except for the thick layer of dust.

Of all the places he could have gone in search for a quiet time this seemed the best choice. His home in Chilmark was out of the question, the house was too big and he wasn't sure his mother hadn't rented it. Quonochontaug was his mother's den - and there was no way Fox would allow his mother to see what he had become.

A junkie.

A miserable, no good, filthy junkie. He, who had grown with all the privileges, who had enjoyed the best education money could buy, was reduced to a pathetic creature who needed a daily fix to kill the pain. He, who had despised his own mother for that same weakness, for popping pills when she couldn't face the light of day after her sister's disappearance. Talk about ironies.

The house wasn't big, but it was comfortable. It had a main room and two smaller ones, and Mulder headed directly to his favorite, the one he used to occupy on the rare occasions he was allowed to visit his father after the divorce.

Scully followed him and saw him slump on the bed by the window. She opened it and with the light she noticed with surprise that what she thought to be a fancy, metallic bed was actually a hospital-issue one. Just the fact that Mulder had chosen it over all the others in the house suggested a lot about his state of mind, but Scully felt bound to ask anyway.

"Why would your father keep a bed like this here?"

"This used to be my room, but when my grandmother got sick she moved in with my dad and he got her this bed. Since he didn't spend much time at home, he hired a nursemaid to help with her care. Grandma died a few years later. I don't know why my father never got rid of the bed."

Mulder burrowed his head in the pillow and curled up.

"Are you going to take this room? I thought you'd prefer the bigger one."

"Nah, you take that one. You're used to sleeping in queen-sized beds. Make yourself at home, Scully. Whatever you need, take it. I think I'm going to take a little nap."

***

The house proved to be big enough for each of them to have their own space and not keep bumping into each other. Added to the fact that their time apart had eroded their once easy friendship, neither of them was exactly an easy person to be around.

Within a few days, however, they felt into a comfortable routine. Scully had gotten both her mother and Derek Montagne to mail them some of their personal belongings, so now Scully was catching up with her medical journals and mystery novels, going for long walks on the Vineyard bundled up in a heavy coat. She liked the cold wind in her face: it made her feel alive. Sometimes, when she was in the mood, she prepared elaborated meals with the hope that Mulder would eat a little more than half a plate.

One thing she was determined not to do was hovering over her ex-partner. She had caused enough commotion by almost forcing herself back into his life, so she was giving him some space to adjust. It didn't cease to amaze her just how much Mulder had changed. She remembered him as a bundle of nervous energy - pacing up and down in the office, rocking his chair back and forth, throwing pencils at the ceiling. Always in pursuit of something, his intensity had been overwhelming on more than one occasion.

Now he was a shadow of his former self, physically and spiritually. He spent his hours reading or watching videos, but most of the time he slept, as if he hadn't slept in months - which was probably the case. Occasionally he'd help her in the kitchen, or accompany her in her walks. He was a wonderful guide, having grown in this area he knew virtually everything. Some nights, if he was feeling particularly sad or lonely, he'd curl up on the sofa with her and let her hold him for a while.

His heroin habit was something they never discussed either. Scully kept injecting him the drug in a feeble attempt to make sure he wouldn't overdose. In some twisted way, that act had brought them close. Once again they were partners - partners in crime. During those times, Scully put antibiotic ointment on his arms to soothe the infection and rubbed them gently, never once preaching or judging him.

It was that acceptance and silent understanding that was beginning to permeate Mulder's hard armor. That and the fact that she was helping him get away with something she didn't approve just because she didn't want him to suffer. Mulder wasn't sure she was at this point strong enough to actually *see* him in agony.

If he decided to kick the habit, would she take his hand and go through hell with him? He was sure that as a doctor Scully knew what the symptoms of opiate withdrawal were like, but most probably she had never watched someone go through them. It would be really ugly. Was she prepared to face something like that?

"Scully, can I ask you something?"

"Shoot," she smiled, putting down her journal and taking off her glasses. She patted the couch and Mulder sat up beside her.

"Why are you doing this?"

She knew what he meant and collected her thoughts before answering. This would be a tough one. "Let's say I'm trying to correct a mistake."

"A mistake?"

"I was angry, Mulder. Furious. When the office went up in smoke and nobody gave a damn, I felt a rage I didn't know I was capable of. It was the proverbial stick that broke the camel's back - I was out of control and I scared myself. I made the mistake of taking it out on you."

Mulder lowered his chin to his chest. This wasn't easy for him either.

"We were both high on emotions and reacted badly. We hurt each other - and we both know were to cut when we want to see the other bleeding, don't we."

Mulder nodded, still silent.

"By the time I calmed down and realized just how stupid we've been, you had virtually disappeared. Yes, I could have tracked you down if I had wanted to, it's not like I've never done it before. But I was pissed off with that attitude. Losing your grip once in a while is okay, but you were acting like an offended damsel... It took me a long time to figure out just how much I had hurt you. It took me even longer to admit to myself that the kind of life I was leading was not what I expected it to be. I had it all - a good position, professional respect, a bright future, and it wasn't enough, because part of me was missing."

Scully put her hand on Mulder's shoulder. "I'm doing this because I know I would have sprouted wings waiting for you to take the first step. You're important to me, Mulder, I couldn't live with the idea of hating you, or you hating me. When I heard you had been invited to be part of the Congress committee in Boston, I pulled some strings and got myself invited as well. I even expected you wouldn't be happy to see me, but I was hoping we could... talk. Move forward. Seeing you like this breaks my heart, because I can't shake the feeling that I caused it somehow, or at least I made a serious contribution. I want to help you, Mulder. And I don't know if anyone else can."

"Don't blame yourself, Dana. Yes, you hurt me. Yes, I hated you. But I did this to myself." He wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. This fragility was also new, Scully thought. It was so tempting to just hold him until it all passed - only it wouldn't. Not so easily.

"I know I hurt you too by running away like that," he added. "I never learned how to deal with people hurting me, I just run. From Phoebe, from Diana, even from my mother before them."

"Your mother? What did she do to you?"

"She wasn't aware of it on a conscious level, I guess, but every time she looked at me she wasn't seeing her son, she was seeing the last person who had seen her daughter alive. Even years after Samantha disappeared, once in a while she would ask me, 'Fox, you still don't remember what happened, do you?' As if I wouldn't tell her if I did."

"Why didn't you stay with your father, then? Did you get along with him?"

"Not really. He never paid me too much attention, but at least he seemed to understand how bad I felt about my sister and what it had done to my mother. But all he really cared about was work. He and mom argued that night and he left with just his briefcase. He didn't take his clothes, or his beloved books, he didn't take *me*. Only his briefcase."

Mulder swallowed another sob. "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to justify myself. I'm just a morose loser who couldn't get over a relationship. And with all those cases piling up on me... I hurt my shoulder once playing basketball and got a prescription for Vicodin. Then it was Demerol, then morphine... and the next thing I knew, I was dancing with Mr. Brownstone."

"What? Who's Mr. Brownstone?"

"It's from a song by some rock band, they referred to drugs as 'Mr. Brownstone'. One of my dealers was a fan and he sang it all the time: 'I used to do a little but a little wouldn't do, so the little got more and more. I just keep trying to get a little better, said a little better than before'. Very appropriate." Mulder shook his head. "Geez, you don't need to hear all this."

"It's okay. You can talk to me if you need to."

"I don't want you to know, Scully. I don't want you to hear the details of how I became an addict. Some of the things I've done... I'm not sure I'll be able to live with that."

Scully was alarmed. "Oh God, Mulder, please tell me you didn't do anything illegal - other than buying illegal drugs, that is."

He snorted. "No, not illegal. Only degrading and humiliating. I can't talk about it, not if I want to preserve what little respect for me you have left. When you need a fix you forget all about common sense and human dignity, you end up hating yourself so much that you'd rather slip into the mind of a serial killer. You cut your own skin to feel a kind of pain that will distract you, that gives you some semblance of control. That's how bad it becomes," his voice broke.

"Oh Mulder..." Scully tended her arms to him and Mulder lowered to her chest to cry for all that had happened to him, for what he had been through, for a certain innocence he would never recover. Scully allowed him the release while rubbing his back gently, her heart aching inside her.

After a long time Mulder sit back up and dried his remaining tears. He looked like hell; slumped shoulders and trembling lips. Even painfully thin and weak, he was still beautiful. It was a miracle he hadn't sustained potentially dangerous complications of heroin use. Scully caressed his hair.

"I'm so sorry, Mulder," she said sincerely.

"I know," he whispered. "It's good to have you here, you have no idea how much I missed you. I'm glad we talked, Scully, but if you only came here just to set things right between us and then go back to DC, you have to tell me. I won't resent you, I promise, but I need to know."

Scully didn't have to be a genius to figure out how important this was to him, his hands were shaking and he was literally holding his breath. She took his arm. "I'm not going anywhere. I mean yes, I'll have to go back to DC eventually, but right now, I want to be with you."

His relief was palpable. "If I told you that I want to stop, would you help me?"

"Of course, Mulder. We'll find you a good clinic so you can detox."

"No! No clinics. You know what'll happen if I go on record with this. I'm a federal agent, one a lot of people would love to hang to dry. In fact, it can affect you as well. I want to do it here. Cold turkey."

"Mulder, do you have any idea of what you'll be going through? Believe me, you don't want this. I'm sure we can manage to keep this under wraps. Are you still in touch with your paranoid friends at the Lone Gunmen? Maybe they can help."

"Yes, I talk to them once in a while, but it's not the same. I don't think Frohike ever forgave me for letting you go," he smiled, then grew serious again. "Besides, they don't know about this, and I don't want them to."

"It's dangerous, you could get very sick. I'm not a practicing doctor, Mulder. Lots of things may go wrong."

"I'll take the risk, and I'll leave a letter exonerating you, just in case." When she doubted, Mulder went on. "Please, Scully. You said earlier that you wanted to help me and that no one else could. It's completely true. A few days ago I was ready to eat my gun and now... now I feel better. I'm not saying I'm okay, even if I can get the monkey off my back, but it's a start."

Scully exhaled with resignation. "All right, Mulder, I'll do it with one condition. Two, actually."

"What?"

"The first is that once you go into withdrawal, *I* am in charge. You'll do exactly as I tell you."

Mulder wiggled his eyebrows. "Ohh! Scully, are you coming on to me?"

They stared at each other and then both laughed together for the first time in years. "Speaking of old habits dying hard, Mulder. Your dirty mind and sense of humor seem to be intact."

"I think they tend to flourish in your presence," he smirked. "Anyway, I'm fine with that condition. I won't be much coherent anyway. In fact, whatever I say to you during that period, disregard it. What's number two?"

"Number two is that once you're sober, you go to someone who can help you deal with your underlying problems. A therapist, a support group, the Stupendous Yappi, whatever you choose. Hm no, forget about Yappi."

Mulder frowned, he didn't take this one too well. "Scully..." he started, but she interrupted him.

"This is not negotiable. I'm not going to risk your life and both of our careers to get you clean only to see you lapse back into the abyss next month. You know that's a very real possibility, Mulder. So either you give me your word or the deal is off."

"Okay, you have my word. I do as you say and I go to therapy afterwards. Happy now?"

"I'll be happy when you are," Scully said, turning to pass her arms around his neck.

Mulder leaned into her embrace and sighed contentedly. This was becoming an addiction more powerful than heroin.

***

Scully explained the options available. "Basically, you have three choices: the less aggressive method involves the use of methadone, a long-acting, cross-tolerant opiate that does not normally produce a high."

"I'm familiar with it," Mulder nodded. "I tried it once. The detox period is at least three weeks. We don't have that long."

"Wait. Are you telling me that you *have* actually tried to quit before?"

"Several times," he said miserably. "And every time I failed, the craving was worse."

Scully sighed. "The second choice is ultra-rapid detox. This is the fastest and less uncomfortable method. An opiate antagonist is given to trigger withdrawal and medication is administered to ease the symptoms. It is done under general anesthesia, so you won't feel much. You'll probably be on a ventilator and carefully monitored. This is the choice I'd recommend."

"And the one I would choose if I could, but I can't. We talked about this, Scully. No hospitals."

"Fine. What was the longest time you've been without the drug?"

"Hm... Maybe thirty-six, forty hours. That was the limit of my will power," he admitted dejectedly.

"Mulder, it's very hard to do this on your own," Scully consoled him. "I will try to make this as comfortable for you as possible, but I'm afraid it will still be difficult. I'm not willing to give you medication without the support of monitors to watch your vitals, especially anti-anxiety ones. If there are side-effects, I won't be able to handle them."

"I understand."

Mulder was scared, Scully could see it in his eyes. "Scully, if uh, something happens to me, will you tell my mother that I'm sorry?"

"You'll be alright, Mulder. Opiate withdrawal is terribly uncomfortable, but not life-threatening," she soothed him with a gentle stroke on his shoulder.

"We don't know that. I could die of heart failure, or a complication. If that happens... Geez, Scully, I'm putting you in a lot of trouble."

"That's why you are *not* going to die on me. Or I'll kick you ass, in this world or the next."

Mulder smiled. "Whatever happens... Thank you, Dana."

***

Scully gave Mulder his last shot and started the countdown. In about six hours Mulder would be into his personal pit in hell - and that meant she was going to go through hell as well.

With nothing better to do to kill time, Scully went through the provisions again - a great variety of medical supplies, food, clothes, blankets, pillows, towels, boxes of tissue paper, crossword puzzles, and a couple of items she could hardly place her eyes on and even less think there were chances she might have to resort to them. Alone on the verge of an oncoming crisis, she couldn't help being nervous.

It started rather quietly, with Mulder being invaded by a feeling of anxiety. He rolled from side to side on the mattress of his hospital issue bed, courtesy of his grandmother. The room was now barren, Scully had taken away most of the furniture, leaving only a box with supplies and a cot for her.

Mulder sat down against the wall and started to tremble with increasing violence. Soon after that his eyes and his nose were producing a watery discharge that consumed box after box of tissue paper, patiently handed by a silent Scully. The flux was virtually unstoppable. His t-shirt and sweatpants were soaked, his whole body shuddered with spasms, and yet so far Mulder hadn't uttered one word of complaint. Scully couldn't help a sad smile at his courage, knowing that it wouldn't last. Sooner than later Mulder would be screaming in pain and desperation, saying things she'd rather not hear him say.

He started to moan softly, his defenses debilitating by the minute. It was the sound of a wounded animal, the lament of a soul that had just been condemned to eternal torment. Scully got up from her chair and sat next to him. She placed a pillow on her lap and carefully pulled Mulder down to it. Almost abruptly he fell into a deep slumber and Scully sighed with momentary relief. This had been the easy part, Mulder would sleep for several hours, giving her time to gather her energy for what was going to be the most challenging time of her life.

Her cell phone rang and Scully exited the room after locking it carefully. "Scully," she answered curtly.

"Hi, Dana, it's Derek. How's it going?"

Thank God for this man, Scully prayed. It had been a good idea to have a connection with the outside just in case things got really nasty.

"It's starting. He's been agitated and sweating a lot, but now he's asleep."

"It's going to get a lot worse, you know."

"Yes, Derek, I know."

"Are you sure you don't want any help? I, hum, well, I'm a little worried about your being alone with Mulder right now. I've seen people going through detox, he won't be himself. I hate to say this, but there's a chance you might not be able to control him."

Scully sighed. Montagne was right. As a doctor she was aware of how dangerous it would be, not to mention how hard on her mentally and physically. She could use some help, but she didn't want to risk Mulder's fragile trust in her. He didn't want *anyone* to see him like that. It was understandable.

"I'll call you if I think I need you, Derek. Thanks for all you did for us."

Mulder woke up a few hours later. Twenty-four hours after the last injection of methadone, his body began to display acute symptoms of withdrawal. Scully sat on the cot and watched as Mulder fought futilely against runny eyes and nose. His pupils were dilated, goose bumps covered his skin and his teeth chattered.

The torture had just began, soon Mulder's intestines went into action and he soiled himself several times, a terrible stench invading the room. Barely conscious, he managed to get rid of his filthy clothes until he was stark naked, all modesty forgotten in the throes of his suffering. His fevered eyes sought Scully's, who was watching him helplessly, and he pleaded for another shot.

"Scully, please... please... just a little, please..." his voice broke into sobs. "It hurts, Scully, don't do this to me..." He cried, begged and cried some more until he slumped against the mattress, visible exhausted. His breathing was so rapid and shallow that it scared her.

Scully gritted and forced herself to be as strong as she could. She wanted nothing more than to grab a syringe with methadone and put Mulder out of his misery. However, she simply got up, picked up a cloth and a bucket with water and tried to clean up her agitated friend a bit.

It was a losing battle. Mulder started to vomit without warning; he was just lying there, losing fluids from both ends of his digestive system. Scully's anguish and concern almost turned into despair when she noticed that the emesis was tinged with blood. She prayed it was only minor vessels rupturing due to the retching and not the sign of a more serious internal hemorrhage.

The macabre scene turned even worse when Mulder balled up in the middle of his mess and started to yell in pain. The muscles of his belly and stomach were contracting violently, giving the impression of a bundle of angry snakes under his skin. His piercing screams ringed in Scully's ears like sirens before an imminent bombing, and she felt just as impotent.

This time she couldn't do anything for him, Mulder had annulled all her chances to help him when he chose to do this his way. Why in the world had she even listened to him? It was evident that Mulder wasn't in any condition to decide what was best for him. Scully had trusted him out of habit - she had wanted to give him a last chance, a fresh start, without him having to carry the stigma of being an 'official' ex-junkie.

Forty hours after the onset of withdrawal, Scully was battling not only Mulder's symptoms, but also her own exhaustion. She had barely been able to sleep, afraid to leave Mulder unguarded, but if she didn't recoup for at least four, five hours, she'd be unable to keep on caring for him efficiently when his symptoms peaked. It wouldn't do any of them a favor if she passed out, Mulder was a danger in the state he was - to her and to himself.

He was lying spent on the filthy sheets, and Scully took advantage of the moment of respite to do what needed to be done. Putting all her will power and physical strength into use, she managed to get rid of the sheets, congratulating herself for having had the good sense of putting a plastic wrap between them and the mattress. Mulder was still agitated, and not even her gentle ministrations while she bathed his naked, weakened body calmed him down. Once he was clean Scully debated with herself what to do next, but she didn't have much of a choice. She needed to rest, and before she could do that, she needed to ensure Mulder's safety first.

She took a pained look at the box with the items she had dreaded needing at some point. She picked up the soft restraints and placed them on Mulder's wrists and ankles, securing them firmly to the metal frame of the bed. Then she fastened 3-inch thick leather strap across his bare chest and legs. Mulder's agitation grew worse when he found himself restrained. He started to moan loudly, which caused Scully no little distress. Unfortunately, her next task required him to be as still as possible.

Scully didn't trust her voice to talk to him during this procedure, her own emotions were way too close to the surface, so she worked in silence. After washing her hands carefully, she proceeded to insert a catheter. Her heart was breaking when he whimpered incoherent phrases. He realized he was being touched in places he didn't want to be touched, that it hurt, but he couldn't stop it. He became more and more restless and by the time she finished taping the catheter to his belly, he was almost thrashing. But she wasn't done yet, she sighed with resignation and unfolded an adult diaper.

Please, God, don't let him remember this, she prayed fervently while she worked. It's bad enough that *I* will never forget it.

Once she finished, Scully removed the restraints and turned his supine body belly down, carefully turning his head to the side. Then she reattached the restrains in his wrists and ankles loosely. This way, he could move a little but not turn. It would be uncomfortable, but it was the only way to ensure that he wouldn't choke in his own vomit should he puke again.

Before she left him alone, Scully took his temperature and blood pressure. She wasn't surprised to find he was running a fever, a common symptom during heroin withdrawal. She considered administering some Ativan so he would settle down and rest, but she didn't want to risk a possible side effect. She had explained this to Mulder before they started this, and he had understood. The poor guy only *thought* he knew what there was in tow for him.

His skin was red and dry and he was becoming quickly dehydrated, so she decided to hook him up to an IV, then at least she could feed him dextrose. The sight of the inside of Mulder's arms wasn't pretty. She had to fight to find a good vein, and hated to cause him even more pain.

Scared, exhausted and uncomfortable, Mulder couldn't take it anymore. Scully kissed his forehead tenderly, but then she left, leaving him alone with his demons in an utterly vulnerable state. In his confusion he couldn't comprehend she was acting in his best interest, to protect him from himself. Mulder screamed, the horror of his normally dreadful nightmares amplified by the hallucinations provoked by the withdrawal. He kicked, thrashed, and then tried to break free from his bonds with no success.

Huddled up in a clean, comfortable bed, Scully cried herself to sleep. But Mulder, whose insomnia was worse due to the withdrawal, was wide awake and suffering the effects of severe cramping in his legs and stomach. The mere act of closing his eyes would bring a flood of horrific images and hallucinations, most of them coming from real memories stored in his mind.

Samantha, Roche, the Pusher, the Smoking Man... their faces danced in a swirl of madness, he could feel the pull of insanity dragging him under, and under, and under. After the first sob he started to cry and he couldn't stop. He called Scully at the top of his lungs, then insulted her, then asked for her forgiveness, then begged her to just shoot him.

His bones and muscles felt as if someone were trying to smash them with a hammer. A faceless torturer was looming over him, he had eyes of steel, cold and ruthless. The torturer slid his slippery hand under his belly, and somehow it trespassed his skin to grab his guts and squeeze them viciously. Hadn't there been a case like that recently, where victims were disemboweled? Had he caught the perp? Had the perp caught him?

"Noooo... please, stop, stop, no more, please Scully help me, help me..."

The nausea struck again and Mulder vomited, this time hitting the bucket that Scully had placed beside the bed before leaving. Almost at the same time he felt his rear went wet as well, worsening his helplessness and humiliation. He wanted Scully, he wanted her badly - but she had abandoned him, just like she had before. He couldn't trust anyone. There was only one truth in the world: everybody hurts.

Everybody.

***

The alarm clock went off four hours after Scully went to sleep and her first reaction was to knock the offending gadget off. She was still exhausted, but Mulder's continuous screaming was enough to jump start her into an alert state.

She found him lying pretty much the way she had left him, guilt and relief invading her at the same time. Relief that he was alive, guilt for leaving him alone in such condition. Without allowing herself the luxury of a hot cup of coffee, she got to work.

An hour later Mulder was once again reasonably clean, but still agitated and depressed. Scully sat with him on the bed, her back against the wall, cradling her ex-partner's emaciated body on her lap. After two days of restlessness he was barely awake, his glassy eyes open and unfocused. Scully talked to him, sang to him, held him tight when convulsions shook his thin figure. He trembled violently in her arms and she helped him ride out the pain caused by muscle spasm. Her right hand rubbed his belly in soothing circles.

Despite all her tenderness, Mulder was ready to give up. This had been a mistake, a bad idea. He didn't want to suffer any more, he was ready to let go. He tried to speak, but he didn't have the energy. He wanted to get mad, but he didn't have the energy for that either. He couldn't even cry, his eyes were dry and out of tears. Even blinking was painful: his eyelids seemed to be full of sand.

Scully, bless her intuitive heart, was gently rubbing his eyes with a cotton imbedded in some cool liquid, immediately soothing the pain. She also tried to feed him a few spoonfuls of Gatorade, which he swallowed greedily.

"Hang on, Mulder. I'm here. I won't let you go."

***

The third day was the worst, and Scully began to wonder if Mulder's already debilitated body could actually take this much abuse. Disregarding her previous caution, she treated his symptoms pharmacologically, starting with Compazine for the persistent nausea and Clonidine to ease the muscular pain. He was running a low-grade fever, so Scully also gave him medication for it too. What worried her most was his extreme restlessness and anxiety and finally she dared to inject him some Valium through the IV line, but the dose she used didn't touch his symptoms. Worse yet, she had to keep him restrained during those attacks so he wouldn't dislodge the IV or the catheter.

Where he drained the energy from was a mystery, but he kept on writhing and twisting on the bed, victim of violent seizures. Scully had long lost her battle for composure. This was, without a doubt, the cruelest torture she had ever seen anybody go through, and it could have been avoided if Mulder hadn't been so adamant. He could have been in a hospital resting a lot more comfortably, with reliable equipment monitoring his vitals.

If he didn't pull through she would never forgive herself. Mulder's letter wouldn't do much if someone started an investigation: she was the health professional, there was a reason why junkies were often not allowed to make decisions regarding their own condition.

"Biiiiiitch!!!! You fucking bitch! Lemme go! You cock-sucking cheap slut, lemme go! Nooooooo!!!!!! Cancerman sent you to torture me, didn't he! I knew I couldn't trust you! You took advantage of me and then you betrayed me! At least Cancerman never pretended to be my friend!"

Rationally, Scully knew he was not being himself, but it hurt nonetheless. Whether he would express them or not when he was in his right mind, those thoughts came from 'inside' him. And yet, his raw insults here somehow easier to take than his heartbreaking pleads.

"Help me, please... Oh God, please help me. I can't take this anymore. I'll give you whatever you want, just say it, whatever you want. I love you, Scully. I've always loved you. You believe me, don't you? It wouldn't hurt so much if I didn't love you. You're my one in five billions... you *have* to help me!"

If she assumed those babblings were veiled truths as well, it was terribly unfair to him. He was totally naked before her, not only in body, but also in mind. His life and his soul lay in her hands. Scully prayed for him silently, not knowing what else to do.

The following morning Mulder stayed mercifully quiet, but Scully's worries were escalating. He wasn't getting better, his fever kept rising despite the medication. Both of his inner arms were now angry red, and she noted with concern that his urine wasn't as clear and yellow as it should. He was sustaining an infection, and that meant he needed antibiotics.

She didn't have antibiotics.

She had to make a decision, time had become of essence. "All right, Mulder, this is as far as I fly solo."

She went to get her phone and dialed a number she had memorized.

"Derek? It's me, Dana. I'm sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, but I really need your help."

*** Boston, MA Mercy Hospital 7 hours later

"Dr. Scully, we finished settling down your friend in the ICU. You can see him now."

"Thank you," Scully offered a feeble smile to the nurse.

The cubicle was expectedly full of equipment hooked to Mulder's frail body. He was receiving oxygen through a cannula, his nose also sported an NG tube to remove fluids and gas from his stomach and thus prevent more vomiting. The heart monitor leads snaked under his gown. His bandaged arms were free, except for the clip on his finger. The standard BP cuff was attached to his right ankle and the IV line to his left. He had also been re-catheterized, though his output continued to be clouded.

His temperature had spiked to 104.2ºF during the transfer from the Vineyard to Boston, and whatever doubts Scully had about making the decision to move him was cleared. Mulder wouldn't have survived untreated, he was too weak. If it hadn't been for Derek Montagne and his fast reaction, he wouldn't be now sleeping so peacefully after four nightmarish days.

"If you think you look better than he does, you are wrong," Montagne's voice said behind her. She smiled when she saw him, and oddly enough, she felt like hugging him. The man proved to be very good at reading people - or at least women - because he stepped forward and gently wrapped his arms around her. Scully didn't care who gave it, she needed to be in the receiving end of the comfort this time.

"Go get some sleep, Dana," he said a few minutes later. "Owen says he'll keep Mulder under for the rest of the day, so you don't need to worry. He'll be taken care of."

"I will. I don't know how to thank you, Derek. Are you sure there won't be repercussions about Mulder's condition?" They had been through this already, but she was still uncomfortable.

Montagne was patient. "Owen - Dr. Phillips - and I go way back. He owes me a couple of favors. Besides, you did the hard work already. Mulder was nearly detoxified when he was admitted. As far as records are concerned, all he has is a nasty infection. Right now, I'm more concerned about you. I checked you in at a hotel three blocks away from here. Here are the keys with the address. Go and don't show up here until tomorrow."

***

Mercy Hospital Three days later 9:37 am

Fox Mulder woke up slowly, fighting his way through a thick haze of confusion. As he managed to keep his eyes opened, he gathered information. One, he was in a hospital, and if all the tubes were any indication, not doing very well. Two, he was uncomfortable, his back, neck and legs were hurting. Three, he was restrained. Dammit! Four, he was alone. Well, that shouldn't surprise him. But no, wait. Scully. Scully had returned to him. Scully took care of him - or was that a dream? Had she got tired of him again and just dumped him into a hospital?

A nurse rushed in. "Whoa, what was that?" She checked the monitors. "Your blood pressure and pulse are sky-rocketing."

Mulder's mouth tasted like something had died in it - several days ago. The nurse realized and offered some water so he could rinse it; then he swallowed a sip to clear his throat. "Wh-Where's Sc-Scully?"

"She's downstairs, Mr. Mulder, having breakfast with your friend."

"Huh? Friend?"

"Mr. Montagne. They've been here most of the time. I'll page them for you, okay? Now try to relax, you've been through a lot."

Both Scully and Montagne entered the room not five minutes later. Derek shook his partner's hand and joked a little, then he left, leaving Mulder and Scully alone.

"What happened, Scully? How did I end up here?"

"You developed an infection. I freaked out and called Derek. Your doctor is a close friend of his, and he assured me that nothing related with illegal drugs of any kind will appear in your records."

"Does it means that we made it?"

"Technically, yes, you're detoxified. But you're still a long way from healthy, Mulder. You'll have to stay in this joint a couple of days more while you receive courses of antibiotics."

"As long as they let me sleep. I'm so tired," he sighed.

"I don't blame you. You've been through the wringer."

"So have you. I thought... when I woke up... I thought you had left."

Scully tried to conceal the pain his words caused her. Before the fire Mulder would have never pronounced words like that. Back then he trusted her implicitly, knew she'd always be there for him.

"Mulder, I know I can't ask you to trust me again like you once did, but please give me the chance to earn it back. Give yourself that chance. I'm not going to leave until you tell me so."

With slow, sluggish movements Mulder tried to sit up on the bed. He winced in pain and Scully helped him up. They were now at the same eye level.

"What if I tell you stay? Would you stay, Scully?"

"Of course. If you want me to."

Mulder chuckled, a smile brightening his gaunt face. He leaned forward to rest his head on her shoulder. "Geez, Scully... What would I want more than that?"

************* Epilogue *************

Bethesda, ML Two months later

Oblivious to the noise of the traffic, Mulder was sleeping undisturbed in the passenger seat while Scully drove. He had gotten plenty of rest in the last few weeks, but he still tired out easily.

He had kept his word to Scully. After a thorough and diligent search - aided by the Gunmen, who were more than happy to see both of them together again - they had found a therapist they could trust called Stephanie Hawke.

Mulder was seeing her twice a week, and sometimes the sessions were excruciating. After the second time she was called in to take Mulder home, they had rescheduled the appointments so Scully could accompany him. Watching him relive all the painful moments of his life and then holding him as he cried was not much better than witnessing the physical torture of the withdrawal. At least back then she knew it would end at some point. She wasn't sure how much time Mulder would need to heal of the emotional pain; and Steph had warned her they were only scratching the surface. She had also tried to convince Mulder to start taking anti-depressants, but they were still battling on that issue.

Despite his ups and downs, Mulder was doing much better than some months ago. Having Scully back at his side again had given him direction, purpose. He worked hard to put back together the pieces of his life, to resist the often powerful need to hit the streets and get some shit to shoot up his veins. He had agreed to call someone when he got those cravings - Scully, Stephanie or Montagne.

Mulder smiled when he thought of Derek. He was still his partner, since Scully had gone back to her previous job as a pathologist. After having a woman best-friend for so long, Mulder had forgotten how good it felt to hang out with another man, to talk *macho* stuff and watch games together. Montagne had turned out to be one hell of a b-ball player as well.

"Face it, Spooky, you're no match for me," he'd tease him after winning his third pick-up game in a row. He was also the only person who could get away with calling him 'Spooky'.

"I'm just warming up, Montagne. Wait until I'm back to my old self, I'll kick your ass!"

***

"Mulder, wake up. We're here."

"Hm? Already?"

"Yup. Look! That's Derek and his wife on the yard, they're waiting for us. I can't wait to meet the whole family!"

"They're great, you'll see."

As soon as Mulder got out of the car, five little fellows appeared from their hiding places and assaulted him.

"Uncle Spooky!!!!"

Scully laughed out loud as Mulder landed on the grass, the five children giving him a dose of their tough love. With tousled hair and big, bright grin, he looked up at her.

"Hey, Scully, is this what happy feels like?"

Fin

Author notes:

I tried to write this story accurately in regard of the physical and emotional effects of drug abuse, but since I'm not an expert or have personal experience on the subject, probably there are some mistakes.

Here are some of my research notes, taken from different medical and drug- abuse sites.

Opiate dependency:

Opiates are powerfully addictive analgesic drugs that deaden the nerve pathways related to pain. Abusers of propoxyphene (Darvon), meperidine (Demerol), percocet (Oxycodone), heroin, morphine, and other powerfully addictive opiates quickly build up a tolerance to the drugs and need progressively larger doses to achieve the desired effect.

Persons who have developed tolerance may show few signs of drug use and may function normally in their usual activities, but obtaining the drug is an ever-present problem. Tolerance to the various effects of these drugs frequently develops unevenly. Heroin users may become largely tolerant to the drug's euphoric and lethal effects but continue to have constricted pupils and constipation.

Many heroin addicts begin with subcutaneous injections (skin popping) and may return to this mode when extensive scarring makes their veins inaccessible. As addicts become more desperate, cutaneous ulcers in unlikely sites may be found.

Opiate Withdrawal:

Stopping or reducing the intake of the drug can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, which begin six to eight hours after the last dosage. Symptoms are flu-like, and include gastrointestinal distress, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, muscle pain, fevers, sweating, and runny nose and eyes.

Symptoms appear as early as 4 to 6 h after withdrawal and, for heroin, peak within 36 to 72 h. Anxiety and a craving for the drug are followed by increased resting respiratory rate ( 16 breaths/min), usually with yawning, perspiration, lacrimation, and rhinorrhea. Other symptoms include mydriasis, piloerection ("gooseflesh"), tremors, muscle twitching, hot and cold flashes, aching muscles, and anorexia.

Acute manifestations of withdrawal usually subside within 7 to 10 days, but patients often complain of weakness, insomnia, and severe pervasive anxiety for several months.

Opiate withdrawal treatment:

Two basic treatment approaches are used for managing opiate withdrawal. The first involves treating the symptoms of the withdrawal with appropriate medication. Clonidine, an antihypertensive drug, is commonly prescribed to reduce muscle pain and cramping. Other symptom-specific drugs are administered on an as-needed basis.

The second treatment option is to replace the patient's drug of choice with methadone, a long-acting, cross-tolerant opiate that does not normally produce a "high." Doses of methadone are administered every four to six hours. The patient's reaction is closely observed, and dosages are slowly decreased until withdrawal symptoms have disappeared, and dosages are then discontinued. Methadone withdrawal can be completed within three weeks. It is important to note that methadone withdrawal treatment differs from a methadone maintenance program, in which patients who are unwilling to give up opiates are prescribed methadone as a legal, long-term substitute for their drug of choice.

Rapid opiate detoxification (ROD) is an emerging treatment option for opiate withdrawal. The ROD method is reported to be faster and to cause less physical discomfort than traditional forms of opiate detoxification. The treatment is typically performed in a hospital or private clinic setting. Naltrexone, an opiate antagonistic that blocks opiate receptors and reverses the effects of opiates, is administered to trigger the withdrawal response. Clonidine is given simultaneously to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. The patient is anesthetized throughout the three to four hour procedure, and withdrawal occurs while the patient sleeps. Vital signs are monitored closely and a ventilator may be employed.

Finally, the lyrics of the song Mulder refers to are from "Mr. Brownstone", by Guns N'Roses.