Useless Disclaimer: The X-Files and its characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions.

Author's Note: This was originally going to be the start of a complete X-File, but it never got further than this sequence. I think I had recently watched "Gethsemane,"but had not seen "Paper Hearts." I find that interesting, given what happens in this fic.


by izhilzha

He didn't want to make this choice. Time slowed to an icy crawl as he glanced from the woman behind and to his right, to the girl standing on the edge of the hill at his left, and then again to the hissing shimmer running along the ridge towards them. The only indication that something was coming at them, fast.

The decision was almost unconscious, like an act of fate. Every voluntary choice in his life, in his long and dogged pursuit of the truth, had led him up to this. Before he could even think, he had thrown himself to one side, bringing the small body down beneath him, out of danger, under his protection. They slid and rolled down the hill, his fingers tangling in her long curly hair as he tried to shield her from the stones that bruised his shoulders and thighs. Something slammed into the small of his back, knocking the wind from him and sending a stab of pain up his spine.

For a long moment, he lay gasping. The body in his arms didn't move, but her breath was warm on his face, and no blood soiled his fingers as he disentangled them. She was alive; he had other things to worry about.

As he pushed himself to his feet, the long hiss at the hilltop doubled in volume. He looked up, and each moment was etched into his mind in crystalline, unbreakable clarity.

Flames, leaping through the trees in tiny waves. The alert silhouette of a woman on the crest of the hill. The gleam of the flames mirrored in the red of her hair. Why didn't you run? Damn you, run! The hiss as the fire surrounded her, knocking her backwards with the force of a blow. He began to claw his way up the slope–and then he heard her scream.

She had risen to her knees, but now arched backwards, hands thrown wide in useless defense and mouth open in a cry of pain. He knew the voice, knew it well, but had never heard it like this before. Like her soul was being ripped out. And it was somehow directed at him, not a cry of reproach but a call for help. She knew he was there, even as she screamed again, and the arch in her back increased beyond the humanly possible.

Earth and roots crumbled under his hands as he launched himself up the slope. He wanted to call to her, but his own lungs burned for air. Again he slipped, and looked up to see her neck snap suddenly to one side, choking off her cry.

Hhe watched in disbelief as her body crumpled. The fire leaped brighter. He couldn't be seeing what they showed him. Her body had fallen away from him, but he could clearly see her face... Something snapped inside him, and all he could do was stare, until the flames touched the soil and the still form.

"Scully." Fox Mulder was on his knees, face bent to the ground and clasped between his hands. The name was a groan, muffled in something soft that didn't exactly feel like earth and leaves. Slowly Mulder sat up; the room was dark except for the glow from the aquarium. His own room, in his own apartment. Not a wooded hillside. No fire, no screams, no death. The relief of realizing that it had been a dream did little to lift the horror of it from the pit of his stomach. He passed one hand over his face and found it sticky with sweat.

After a moment of hesitation, Mulder reached for his phone and dialed. The line was busy. He disconnected, then methodically dialed again.

She barely had time to wonder what the hell he was doing, before the hissing became a roar. She turned to run but was knocked flat by the force of the blow and lay hugging the ground while it wailed and howled above her. The earth was damp and cold, the rush of air like ice; both hearing and sight had dimmed, and her breath came in hard-won gasps. Just when she felt she must suffocate or go mad, the pressure abruptly died.

Cautiously she rose to her knees, pushing tangled hair out of her eyes. Moonlight poured down through the branches, and she hunted through its shadows for her partner.

There, at the bottom of the hill, near the foot of that pine tree. That must be him. Then her eyes widened. The pale light glinted from something metallic in his right hand, and again as it moved to press against his temple. Old images unrolled in the stark fear filling her...but Pusher wasn't here, so what...?

"Mulder!" She started for the edge of the hill, but he didn't seem to hear her. Her vision remained riveted to the gun in his hand, each glimpse freezing in her mind like a closeup still shot. His finger began to tighten, and now she could see that his eyes were closed, his lips forming one silent sentence over and over: "Scully, I'm sorry..."

She broke into as quick a run as the slope would allow. "Mulder! Mulder, no!" The tip of her shoe caught on a root, slamming her to the ground with a jolt of pain in her right shoulder. An explosive sound rang out–a gunshot.

Dana Scully's eyes flew open. "Mulder!" She tried to sit up, but her right arm tingled from shoulder to fingertips. Where had the moon gone, and the smell of earth, and where was Mulder?

Her moving hand encountered shards of glass spilled across the floor, and her panic deflated instantly in a sob of relief. That was the sound she had heard, not a gunshot. And this bulk behind her was her own bed. She had rolled out and knocked the glass from the bedside table. It had been a dream, and only a dream–but the disquieting image of her partner holding a gun to his own head refused to go away. " 'I'm sorry, Scully'," she quoted sarcastically to herself, and wiped a single unbidden tear from her cheek.

The telephone gleamed temptingly in the glow from her bedside alarm clock. Mulder is not going to commit suicide over a long weekend, she chided herself. All I'll get by calling him is a "Why Scully, I didn't know you cared," and the opportunity to explain that I'm slightly unbalanced and calling him at 3:43 am for no reason at all.

She reached for the phone and dialed.

The line was busy.

Scully kicked down a small surge of jealousy (who would he be talking to at this time of night?), and then a larger surge of anxiety (what if something really was wrong?). Fine. She put the receiver firmly down and sat on the edge of her bed, trying to relax so she could go back to sleep.

The phone rang.

She snatched it up. "Hello?"

"Scully, it's me. I'm sorry, did I wake you?" He sounded like a guilty child.

She smiled a little in spite of herself and leaned back against the headboard. "No, for a change. Is anything wrong?"

" I just..."

"Wanted to hear the sound of my voice?" Scully allowed the teasing comment out to release her own relief at hearing his. She had not realized the depth of her worry–over a dream, how ridiculous–or the frailty of her control over it, till this moment.

"Well, that too..." Mulder made a bad job of trying to sound light, "...but I just, uh, wanted to make sure you're all right."

Scully choked back a small half-hysterical laugh. Even to her own ears her tone sounded strange. "I'm fine, Mulder. What made you think I might not be?"

Her partner sounded uncertain. "Nothing, really, I just had a..." He sighed into the following silence. "Never mind. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Mulder, wait." Just because she was no indiscriminate believer didn't mean she never followed up a hunch, especially when it concerned Mulder's state of mind. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"You're a good guesser," he said slowly.

"I should be." Scully rubbed at her sandpaper-dry eyes. "I've had my share. And now that we know we're both fine, can we get back to sleep?"

Mulder's voice took on a suspicious cast. "Did you have a nightmare, too? Just now? Is that why you answered so quickly?"

Damn. Too good a guesser by half. She should have known that what she could do, he could do better. Now what? "Mulder, what does that have to do with anything?"

Her partner was suddenly intent, his tone the sharply focused one usually reserved for crucial questions in a case. "Tell me if you died in it."

She hadn't expected that. Was he trying to compare their dreams? What use would that be? "No. Not that I noticed." It was an effort to keep the shielding sarcasm low-key.

"Did I die?" If anything, the intensity had increased.

For a moment Scully kept silent, seeing the glint of metal in moonlight, and hearing... "I wasn't actually watching when the gun went off," she finally said. Then into his silence she added, "I'll see you tomorrow, Mulder. Goodnight."

"Scully, I want you to tell me about that dream tomorrow, okay? Write it down if you have to. Please?"

He refused to say goodnight until she had reluctantly promised. Scully hung up with a sense of having been tricked; the last thing she wanted to discuss with her partner was his suicide attempt in her dreams.

It's not like there was anything unusual in partners having mutual anxiety dreams.

Certainly nothing warranting investigation.

But it took her well over an hour to fall asleep again.