TITLE: Justified Means
AUTHOR: Susanne Barringer
EMAIL: sbarringer@usa.net
ARCHIVE: Anywhere okay with these headers intact.
KEYWORDS: Mytharc, Mulder/Scully UST
RATING: PG for some language
SPOILERS: General mytharc spoilers through mid-season 6. Biogenesis hasn't happened.
SUMMARY: A major Scully ditch leaves Mulder reeling and allows the agents a glimpse of the answers they've been seeking.
DISCLAIMER: Most of the characters borrowed from Chris Carter, 1013, and Fox. No infringement intended.


Thanks to Suzanne Schramm for beta reading, constant answers to my endless questions, and the support I needed to get this thing done. Thanks to Alanna for advice on writing "long" fics (outline? What outline?) and listening to me complain about the plot without telling me to just shut up and write it. Finally, thanks also to Mary Mastrangelo for helping me out with lots and lots of details on San Diego.

Barringer wrote a long story? With an actual plot? That sound you hear must be hell freezing over. Yeah, I finally tried it. Don't look for another one any time soon. :)


Justified Means
by Susanne Barringer

Mulder wakened from a shallow sleep, the darkness of the weight pressing down on him no lighter than it had been when he first closed his eyes. A sense of extraordinary pain and despondency seeped through his muddled thoughts, the burden of conscious realization making it difficult to breathe. Each inhalation ached in his chest, pressing against his heart which had withered and died all in the space of a single day.

Scully was gone. She had left him, walked right out of his life without warning, without so much as a word of explanation. Something was wrong. She would never leave him. Not this way. Not for absolutely no reason at all. He had given her plenty of reasons to leave him before. In the end, she hadn't acted on any of them. She had fought him, struggling to stay no matter what, putting aside all the disagreement and challenge and frustration to stick by his side. She couldn't have been more committed. But now she was gone, and he was left behind, struggling to understand what clue he had missed, what he had overlooked. There was no explanation.

He shifted on the sofa to lay on his side, tears burning but refusing to fall, nausea gnawing at his belly. The cool leather of the sofa nestled against his heated skin. The brief sleep had done nothing for him, hadn't relieved the nightmare. It had only driven the emotions deeper--sadness, anxiety, and anger, an anger so powerful that it burrowed into his muscles, his heart, his very soul. It was the type of anger that festers and breeds, not therapeutic, not anything but fatal and final.

Her phone call had come on Sunday afternoon. It was a sunny warm day, and he had just returned from running. Still soaked with perspiration, he had scooped up the phone hoping it was her. She had taken a week off to visit her brother Charles in California. She was supposed to return that day, and he assumed she was calling to let him know she'd gotten home safely. He had missed her to the point of distraction and couldn't wait to hear her voice.

He had known immediately something was wrong.

"Hi Mulder? It's Scully." Her words were not the usual, a strange greeting, the subtle difference in her identification of herself only detectable because he had come to expect the predictable. Her "Scully" instead of "me" shouted out a conscious distancing. The change in that single word, the tight tension in her voice, signaled him that the words that would follow would be ones he did not want to hear. Yes, he had known it as soon as he heard her. Something was about to happen.

He had remained silent after her greeting, afraid to ask what was wrong, afraid to find out. There was something so menacing about the moment, so peculiarly abnormal, that he had literally held his breath and waited, expecting something, although he had no idea what.

"Mulder?" Scully's voice reached across the distance, not quite reassuring. Still he said nothing, so she continued, forcing the moment to its crisis without so much as a hesitation. "I'm still in California. I'm not coming back." The words came out in a fast burst, a single breath.

Mulder stood still, the breath he was holding pounding in his chest, begging for release. When he let it go, it wavered over his lips and shook inside his lungs.

"What?" It was the first thing he'd said since "Hello" and it took every ounce of strength he had to push her to clarify herself, knowing instinctively that the clarification wouldn't ease the panic that had suddenly swelled up inside him.

He heard a heavy sigh equal to his own from the other end of the phone, and, perhaps, a hitch in the breathing, just the slightest signal that all was not well.

"I'm not coming back. To D.C. I'm going to stay here a while." The words confirmed what he had already heard, although they certainly didn't clarify anything, not what was going on, not the haze that hovered about his vision and made him feel sick. He sat down on the sofa, his hard drop onto the leather creating an eerie echo through the room.

"Scully, what are you talking about?" His voice was a mere whisper, a hush that couldn't believe it was even having to be said.

He heard Scully take another deep breath, as if each sentence out of her mouth needed to be steeled with strength and poise. "I'm going to stay in California a little while. I need some time away."

"From me?" The words were out before he'd even thought them. This time, she was quick to respond.

"No, not you. From everything. I just need some time to myself. I wanted to let you know so you wouldn't hear it from Skinner tomorrow."

And that is when he knew for sure. He knew that something was wrong. This wasn't Scully. She would actually walk away from him without even a thought of talking it out with him? She only called so he wouldn't hear it from Skinner? No, that was impossible. Beyond impossible. Something was terribly wrong.

"Why?" That was all he could seem to get out. Asking questions would only bring answers he didn't want to face.

"I think . . ." her voice was unsure, delicate, like thin glass that could shatter beneath his heavy touch. "I think I'm just not really happy anymore, Mulder. I'm not happy with the work, being with the Bureau." Mulder felt a rising wave of nausea, of disbelief.

"I don't understand, Scully. Why don't . . . "

She cut him off. "Look, Mulder, I have to go. Please, just let me do this. I'll be in touch with you soon." And then she was gone, hung up, and Mulder felt his entire world disconnect right along with her.


The day was warm in that way that gets inside one's lungs, sticky and clingy, making each inhalation feel too shallow, not quite full enough. Scully walked quickly to stay caught up with her scampering nieces whom she'd brought to the park to help expend some of the energy that had built up after two rainy days in a row.

They skipped along the path, their voices and laughter chattering high above the sounds of nature around them. Scully had felt out of sorts since they'd arrived at the park about a half hour ago. She had a funny feeling they were being watched, but despite her attempts to find a recurring face passing them on their stroll or walking behind them, she had seen nothing suspicious. If they were being followed, it was by a professional. That thought certainly didn't make her feel any less wary.

"Chrissy, slow down!" she shouted, the eight-year-old having gotten so far ahead of them that Scully was afraid she'd lose sight of her. Chrissy stopped a moment to glance behind her, then took a seat on a nearby bench to wait for her aunt and younger sister, Meg.

As Scully drew closer to the bench, an approaching man bumped into her, his shoulder slamming violently against hers. She hadn't been watching where she was going, her attention focused on making sure Chrissy stayed put.

"Oh, sorry," she said, looking up into the man's face. His eyes were darkly familiar above the reddish mustache and beard. She thought he looked like someone she'd seen on television or in a film, although she couldn't quite make the connection.

"My fault," he said gruffly, grabbing her hand and slipping a small piece of paper into her palm. He was gone before the gesture registered, and Scully turned to see him moving quickly away across the grass. The surprise of the contact distracted her from watching the girls, and when she turned back to face the bench where Chrissy was sitting, she saw that Meg had caught up and was waiting too.

"C'mon Aunt Dana," shouted Meg. "Let's go ride the carousel!" Just as she took a step back toward the waiting children, Scully realized whose dark eyes they were.

A shudder ran through her. So, they were being watched after all. What the hell was Krycek doing here? How had he known to find her in California? She'd only been on vacation for four days for God's sake.

It seemed like the more time that had passed since she started on the X-Files, the more she had come to believe that she was always under surveillance by somebody somewhere, that nothing private was private anymore. This private visit with her brother and his family obviously wasn't, only further justifying the paranoia she had come to embrace as intensely as Mulder did.

The girls reacted with impatience when she finally reached the bench and took a seat to try to get her head straight.

"Aren't we going to keep going?" Chrissy asked, her leg bouncing with anticipation.

"Let's rest for a minute, girls. Your old aunt needs to sit down for a bit." She pulled a roll of Life Savers out of her purse to pacify the children. The paper Krycek had slipped into her hand was still there. She hadn't so much as unclenched her fist to look at it. Something about Krycek hunting her down on her vacation made her feel an impending sense of dread.

Scully opened her hand to look at the paper, white and neatly folded. She took a steadying breath. Anything Krycek wanted couldn't be good. She unfolded the paper slowly to reveal neat handwriting, the letters and numbers blocked in hard straight lines, a sharp contrast to the ragged edges of the torn paper.

"Refreshment stand tonight at 6:00. Your life depends on your cooperation and discretion."


The day after Scully's phone call, Mulder arrived at work two hours late. What was the point? The only reason he went at all was from a total inability to figure out what he should do instead. He hadn't so much as walked into the office, their office, when Skinner called to demand his presence upstairs.

Mulder had some vague knowledge of walking up the stairs, his mind distracted by the thought of sitting in that basement office by himself, without her. How could she have left him like that? A night's lack of sleep hadn't made anything any clearer, and he still hadn't been able to shake the feeling of nausea that had lingered like a constant omen since he had first heard Scully's voice on the phone.

Skinner was waiting for him when he arrived, a look of sympathy on his face, like she had died. Mulder was sure he was the one who was dying, bit by bit, cell by cell, the feeling of loss palpable even though he still didn't understand what had happened to cause it, what could explain the bizarre intensity that consumed him.

"This is bad news, Agent Mulder. I'm sorry." Mulder simply nodded his acknowledgment of the words, too hollow to be any real comfort. Skinner continued, "I'm working on finding you a new partner."

"Sir, that's not necessary!" Mulder's voice was louder than he expected. "She's just gone for a little while. I'm sure it won't be long at all." Skinner's face fell into a grimace. Mulder didn't fail to notice. Skinner knew something he didn't, something worse than he'd already had to face.

"Mulder," Skinner's voice dropped into what Mulder interpreted as a sympathetic softness. "Agent Scully requested a six month leave of absence. Didn't she tell you that?"

"What?" Mulder sat up straight in his chair. Six months? That was impossible. That was too long. She had made it sound like a couple of weeks.

Skinner simply nodded his assent, then added, "With a request for an additional six-month extension if needed." Skinner cleared his throat, then leaned across his desk toward Mulder. "It doesn't sound like she's intending to return any time soon. I assumed you knew."

"What reason did she give for the leave?" Mulder's voice quivered, although no more than the shaking that he felt taking over his body.

"She didn't," Skinner creased his brow, obviously surprised at Mulder's lack of knowledge of the situation. "She just claimed personal leave."

"And you didn't try to find out why?" Mulder realized he was shouting, that he was losing control, but he couldn't help the feeling of betrayal that was festering inside him. She had left him, as surely as if she'd packed her bags right in front of him. Even worse, it made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

"The point of personal is that it's personal," Skinner finally answered. "She asked me not to tell you this, but I think you have the right to know. She wanted to resign from the Bureau. I talked her into taking the leave instead. I didn't want to see her burn her bridges until she was sure."

Waves of dizziness passed Mulder, flashing lights behind his eyes. She really wasn't coming back. She wasn't just taking a break, this was permanent. What the hell was going on? Mulder fled the office in a blur of confusion and anger. He just barely made it to the men's room before his guts and sorrow came vomiting up out of him. His life, his hope for the future, lay like poison in the cold white sink of the men's room on the third floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.


Part 2

After reading Krycek's note, the rest of the afternoon went by in a blur, Scully's analytical mind working over the message. The decision whether or not to meet him wasn't the question; she felt certain that she ought to at least hear what he had to say. But she couldn't stop all the scenarios running through her head, wondering what Krycek was up to, what he was roping her into now.

The temptation to call Mulder was nearly irresistible. He knew Krycek and his ways much better than she did, and she could have used his advice more than she liked to admit. The note had warned discretion, however, and she knew if she told Mulder, he'd be out here on the next flight, and that would likely make whatever the situation was even worse.

So, Scully found herself on a park bench near the refreshment stand at exactly 5:55. She'd had to make excuses to Charlie and Rebecca, who couldn't quite understand what errands she could possibly have that would keep her away from dinner. She hated the way her brothers doted over her, although Charlie wasn't nearly as bad as Bill. Still, she had seen the look of disapproval that crossed his face when she asked to borrow the car, and she knew that he was worried she wasn't putting aside her work for the week as she had promised him she would.

Scully was startled from her thoughts by the approach of Krycek, still wearing his disguise from that afternoon. He moved toward the window, ordered a popcorn and Diet Coke, then came and sat beside her. She didn't look at him but rather waited patiently, not sure how safe they were discussing anything here, and certainly not willing to press him any further than he was comfortable going.

"Popcorn?" he offered, holding the bag out to her.

"Thanks," she replied, grabbing a handful. She assumed they were supposed to look like they were together, or at least acquaintances. The puffed corn was dry in her mouth, grating against her tongue and dry throat. She was more nervous about this than she wanted to let on. While never a fan of Krycek, she didn't have any particular reason to fear he might hurt her, but the whole aura surrounding him was a negative one, and she couldn't help the shiver that rushed over her when he grabbed her arm suddenly.

"Let's walk," he said, his voice now gentle, apparently realizing what his touch had done to her. She stood with him and they walked away from the crowds gathered around the refreshment stand. Krycek tossed the half-eaten popcorn into the trash but held onto his soda. Who would've guessed such a man drank diet, Scully mused, mostly to try and keep her mind off all the possibilities for this meeting that kept swimming through her head. None of them were good. Krycek steered her around the far side of the park where, due to a deeper growth of trees, the remaining light from the sunset was filtered into dusky shadow.

At last, far away from anyone who might hear them, Krycek turned to face her, tossing his now empty soda can on the ground as if preparing for battle.

"They're going to take you again," he said flatly.

Scully tamped down the panic. She didn't have to ask what he meant, but she did anyway. "What?"

"They're going to abduct you again."

The panic broke away from her attempts to keep it down, flooding through her body in a hot wave. Not again. Please God, not again. Although she had no memory of what they had done to her last time, to go through it a second time would be unendurable. To wake again having been gone for weeks or months or years with no idea where she'd been. To know that her body had been used and violated, without her consent, without her knowledge. No, she couldn't go through that again.

"Why?" she finally asked. Her voice was hoarse and shaky, and it wasn't until she heard it that she realized her whole body was trembling.

"Everything has changed, Agent Scully. The men who were involved in the original colonization plan, the men who bargained away humanity to save themselves, have been . . . exterminated. The hierarchy is destroyed, the balance thrown off kilter. The ones who are left are few but powerful, the leaders, the power behind the throne as it were."

"Smoking Man?"

"No, no, he's a bigwig, but he's nothing compared to the men who started this, the real brains behind the operation. There are men far more powerful than he. Cutthroat. Willing to sacrifice everything for their own ends."

"Why do they need me?" It came out as a whisper, the panic having subsided into denial.

Krycek looked sympathetic, as if he sensed the emotions racing through her. When he spoke his voice was calming, almost sincere. "These men that are left, they're ruthless. Too much has been lost already and they have nothing left to lose. Colonization is close, closer than you realize. They are going to take you to get to Mulder. He's a threat to them, and now, it appears he may be the only threat left, the only thing standing between them and a future of human slaves and alien colonists."

"If what you say is true, why don't they just kill him?" Krycek's words were spinning around in her head and bouncing into place with what she already knew about the conspiracy. Something wasn't right. This shouldn't be about her.

"Because that's always been a last resort. They need him. Now more than ever, they need him on their side." He looked away from her, far off as if to the distance. "You, on the other hand, are expendable." The word crashed against Scully's soul in a violent wave, the panic rising again.

"I'm not sure how abducting me accomplishes anything. This has been his baby all along, not mine." This could not be happening. It was much easier to convince herself of that than of Krycek's tale.

"Get real, Scully." His voice was harsh again, tense, and his eyes were dark when they looked at her once more. "What do you think will happen if you're taken? He'll go after them with a vengeance, not caring what they do to him, and he'll play right into their hands. They want him on their side. He's a valuable resource. That's why we need him too."

"We?" Krycek's words were sinking her heart like a stone, too heavy to continue to deny.

"Those of us working against the colonization. There are many of us." Scully looked at him in curiosity. "Surprised we're on the same side after all, aren't you? Yes, we want the same result although we certainly believe in different ways of getting there. Trust me, when the shit hits the fan, the ends will definitely justify the means." His eyes wandered from her face, searching the pathways around them. He was obviously concerned about being watched or overheard. Scully wondered what he was risking by talking to her, by being here.

She forced herself to take deep breaths, concentrating on Krycek's explanations, not the flashes of images that had haunted her since her last abduction. "Okay, so, assuming you're telling the truth and they're coming to abduct me, just exactly what am I supposed to do about it? Why are you even telling me?" She couldn't help but wonder if there was anything at all she *could* do. The power these men had--she and Mulder had seen for themselves how fast they could bury and destroy evidence. It made her want to run and run and run forever so they couldn't catch her, couldn't find her.

"Don't go back to Washington," Krycek stated firmly.

Scully looked at him in confusion. "What difference would that make? They can abduct me here in California as easily as they can in D.C."

"They can, but they won't." Krycek met her eyes again, carefully scrutinizing her. She tried to read his face but it was impassive under the fake beard and mustache. His eyes were the only clue, and they seemed to be trying to reassure her. "They just want you away from Mulder. If you do it yourself, they won't want to take their chances getting their hands bloody. It doesn't matter how it happens, only that it does. Only that he's left vulnerable."

"And won't they be suspicious if I suddenly walk away, just as they're getting ready to do it themselves?"

Krycek nodded his agreement, his eyes becoming challenging. "You've got to be careful, Scully, put on the best show you can. They have to believe you're gone, that you no longer have any involvement with Mulder or the X-Files. Do whatever it takes to make it believable."

The whole thing suddenly seemed absurd. "Forgive me for doubting you of all people, Krycek, but why the hell do you care what happens to me or Mulder? I don't particularly see you as a man who gives a shit."

He stepped closer to her, his voice falling to a whisper again. "Because we need him on our side. We need him to want to take them down, but not out of revenge. The entire future of civilization as we know it rests in his hands, and yours, yet neither one of you seems to realize it yet. Mulder is the key, the key to everything. Whoever has him has the best chance of winning this war. We plan to get to him before they do."

Scully chewed over Krycek's explanation for a moment. It all sounded so ridiculous, so outlandish, yet she knew very well after Cassandra's return that what Krycek was saying had the ring of truth to it. She and Mulder now had the knowledge that something big, involving some kind of virus to wipe out the human race, was brewing. They just hadn't had any idea what to do with the knowledge, where to begin. Was it possible Krycek was going to hand it to them? Was it possible that he was going to turn out to be on their side?

When she said nothing, Krycek continued, "When I get into the inner sanctum as one of them, I'm going to need Mulder's help to take these men down. To stop colonization. If you're safe, as opposed to the alternative of being missing, Mulder's less likely to go off half-cocked and ruin everything. Everybody wins."

"Except Mulder." Scully wasn't sure how he would handle this, if he would even believe her if she suddenly decided to take an extended vacation.

"It's only temporary, a few months tops. You only need to buy yourself some time, enough time for me to infiltrate the higher levels so that those of us who oppose them can make our move. Then you can rush back to your loverboy and everything will be hunky-dory." He laughed, the sound brittle against the soft dread that encircled her.

"You put too much faith in me if you think my being gone will open him up to anything you, or they, have to offer him." It was a bluff and she knew it. If they took her again Mulder would run straight into hell to make a deal with the devil.

Krycek laughed again, this time loudly, a harsh jolt after the whispered explanations. "Please, Dana, don't play games with me. He loves you. He needs you. You make him a whole person, isn't that what he told you?" His eyes glittered tauntingly.

The words slapped Scully across the face, words once beautiful to her, now a sign of the lies and manipulations of those who were their enemies. They had been watching Mulder the whole time. Everywhere, every word, every conversation. No privacy at all. Her stomach heaved with the knowledge, the disgust. When had their lives become everyone else's?

Krycek seemed to sense her thoughts. "He's watched twenty-four hours a day. Everything he says, does, practically thinks is monitored. He can't even go to the john without a half dozen people knowing about it and taking notes. They'll be watching for him to become a miserable broken-hearted loser and then they'll make their move. You have to make it convincing. They get the slightest inkling that you're still working with him and you're toast. Don't even think about trying to fake it."

Scully looked at him and felt an icy flash cross her soul. She knew he was right. If what he was saying was true and Mulder knew about it, he would never rest, he would never just sit back and wait for things to happen. He'd spring to action, rushing full-force into the middle of this thing and likely get himself and the rest of humanity killed. Still, this was Krycek and she was finding all of this incredibly hard to swallow.

"You know what, Krycek? I can take care of myself. I don't think running away from this is the answer. There has to be another way."

"Dana!" He grabbed her arm and dug his fingers into the flesh. His voice was equally violent. "They are going to take you." He enunciated each word carefully, slowly. "And if they take you, you will not come back alive. Do you understand what I am telling you?" He pressed his fingers harder into her arm. "There is nothing you can do to stop it. The plans have already been created and approved. It's a done deal if you go back to Washington. They are going to take you right in front of him, right before his eyes, just like Samantha, and he won't be able to stop them."

She looked at him carefully as the apprehension twisted inside of her again. His eyes did not leave hers, honest and forthright for whatever that was worth from a man like Alex Krycek. "I have to go back there. I can't just leave without any warning," she replied, suddenly not at all sure that was true. Could she just leave?

His face changed once again, a sneer masking whatever sincerity she had seen in his eyes. "If you're going back there to tell him how much you'll always love him no matter what, or some crap like that, please spare us all the soap opera." His face was right up against hers, his breath hot on her brow. "I know he's not giving you what you really need from a man, Dana. It's not like your bed will be any colder than it already is."

Scully swallowed down her disgust, knowing how important it was to maintain her composure. He acted like this was all a game to him, an exercise in intimidation. She would not allow him to intimidate her. Not this way. "You're an asshole, Krycek." She wrenched her arm out of his grasp, but he did not step back from her.

"And in a few months you'll be thanking me for saving yours," he said with a leer that made Scully flinch in loathing. He finally moved away from her, but his dark eyes flashed a warning. "Don't always trust the evidence in front of you, Agent Scully. There's always more to the story than what you're told."

"Tell me why I should trust you," Scully finally said after a long pause. "Why should I believe anything you're telling me? How do I know you don't want to be rid of me as much as the rest of them?"

"Don't flatter yourself. I could care less whether you live or die. This is about way more than you. There are . . . others involved, people who do matter to me." His face softened for a moment, his eyes focused again on some faraway point on the horizon.

"Do you have proof of this so-called plan?" Now that she had regained her wits, and the panic at the thought of being abducted had subsided for the moment, she was able to remind herself of the need for proof. Krycek couldn't be trusted. She had to remember that and not let her fears and emotions get in the way.

"Ah, Dana, always wanting cold hard evidence," answered Krycek, his tone mocking.

"Agent Scully," she corrected.

"Agent Scully," he replied with amusement at her sudden demand for respect. "I'm not sure I can offer you the exact scientific evidence that you might usually require in such situations, but I can offer you a show of good faith. A little something to convince you I'm on the up and up."

"Tell me what you have," she said, feeling like she had just sold her soul to the devil. There was no telling how much it would cost her in the end.

Krycek reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, holding it between his extended index and third finger. In the disappearing light, she could barely make out the same block handwriting that she'd seen on the note he handed her earlier in the day. "A little something for you to take back to Mulder after this whole thing is over."

She reached for the paper, but he jerked it up and away from her grasp.

"Don't go back to Washington and you'll save the world, Scully. Not to mention yourself." He grinned like it was a joke and not a sickening ultimatum. She nodded her acceptance of the terms. He lowered the paper again, and handed it to her. She looked at the San Diego address, nothing there clarifying the significance. Her hands shook with the knowledge of betrayal, that she was taking this, whatever it was, in exchange for her life, at Mulder's expense and who knows what else.

"What is this?" she asked, looking up at Krycek. She couldn't imagine what he could possibly give her that would be a convincing good faith effort, something worth trusting him.

Krycek stepped forward, his face just inches from hers, his lips sneered back into grotesque grin.

"Samantha," he whispered. ________

Part 3

Scully stared at Krycek, a torrent of emotions rising through her. Joy, relief, astonishment. Then they were all replaced by anger, an anger so toxic she felt pure hatred burgeoning, tarnishing her soul.

"You know where Samantha is?" she snarled, realizing just how much this whole scenario had been manipulated. "And you didn't tell him? You son of a bitch!"

"Hey!" Krycek looked offended. "Aren't you jumping to conclusions there a little, Dana? She's been with The Project all this time. It's not like he could have ridden in on his white horse and rescued her. It's only recently that she's been returned."

"Returned? What does that mean?" The Project, returned. These were all terms to which she and Mulder had become accustomed of late, although Scully still hadn't been able to put together all the pieces.

"She's been released from The Project," Krycek explained. "Returned to a normal life. She has no memory of what she's been through, and trust me, that's a blessing. They implanted memories into her of a life she never even had the opportunity to live. She thinks she was married and her husband died in a house fire in which she lost everything. She thinks she has amnesia, but the memories, for the most part, won't come back. They've just given her hazy recollections of a false life."

"She won't remember Mulder, her family?" What a tragedy it would be for Mulder to finally get his sister back, only to have her totally oblivious to who she was, who he was.

"No, those are the things she will remember--in time. The real memories she'll recover eventually. She'll have little knowledge of what happened after she was abducted, however. She's been told she was kidnapped and then raised as a presumed orphan because she'd lost her memory. She'll believe that the trauma of the fire is bringing back her childhood memories."

"That's cruel." Scully couldn't believe she was hearing this at all.

"Believe me, if she remembered what they did to her, it would be much more cruel. The things that were done to her, experiments, hybridization, were . . . horrifying. You can't even begin to imagine." Scully saw a flash of something in Krycek's eyes, anger, concern, and she felt her own panic rising again. Had those been the things that were done to her, too? Would she have to endure that horror again because these men had decided she was dispensable?

"Mulder was told she was taken to protect her." Scully was having trouble wrapping her mind around all of this. Just the idea that Samantha was here, alive, was almost too much to process after all the years of having no reliable leads or evidence.

"She was. Her father chose her to be taken so that she would survive colonization. But then Bill Mulder betrayed The Project and she became just another abductee. The man knew what would be done to his daughter and he took the moral high road anyway. A truly great man, a hero."

If it wasn't for the serious look on Krycek's face, Scully would have been sure he was being sarcastic. "Oh, so that's why you killed him? Because he was a hero?" Krycek flinched and looked away from her.

"Sometimes things happen and we don't have a choice. We have to take the action that's for the greater good. Bad means, good ends." He shrugged.

"There's always a choice," Scully remarked. Krycek studied her carefully.

"Still living in your cotton-candy world, Scully? There *isn't* always a choice. You'll find that out soon enough. Right now, for instance, you don't have a choice. You won't go back to Washington. You won't be able to bring yourself to sacrifice all that's at stake. Samantha is a pawn in this game, too. That's why she's been returned."

"What do you mean?"

"She was returned in case they need her. So Mulder can find her only to have her taken away again. It's an insurance policy--in case your disappearance didn't have the intended effect."

Scully bit back the anger again. At whom it was directed, she wasn't sure, but she felt it spiraling up inside of her, threatening to shatter her into pieces. How was it possible that this nightmare was even worse than they had imagined? How did it come to this point where Mulder's entire life, his sanity, his future, were at the mercy of such inhumane men? And why was she suddenly the one responsible for making sure they didn't get the piece of him that they wanted?

There had to be more to this story, more that Krycek wasn't telling her.

"Why are you suddenly so concerned about what happens to Mulder's sister?" She couldn't help the accusatory tone that slipped from her. She could barely see Krycek's reaction, as they were now ensconced in near-darkness. His brow was knitted in thought, his eyes distant.

"We came to know each other during The Project, but of course she doesn't remember that. Let's just say, after all she's been through, I don't want to see her sacrificed just so they can get to Mulder. It's too high a price to pay."

Scully felt tears welling up, despite her attempts to maintain control in front of Krycek. The thought of her impending abduction was bad enough, and that alone didn't necessarily incline her toward staying away from D.C. With Samantha involved as well, however, the stakes had suddenly become too high for her to handle. Still, there was one issue left to be dealt with, something that Krycek hadn't yet offered.

"I need proof." She spoke loudly, confidently, so as not to let Krycek see her weakness.

"I wouldn't expect anything less from you, Agent Scully. Do whatever tests you have to. I'll tell Samantha to expect you. You'll get your proof and then you can set this thing in motion."

"And it's only temporary?" The doubts surged again, confusion about what to do. Despite what Krycek said, she was sure she did have a choice in this. She didn't have to do what he was asking her. She could go back to D.C., and she and Mulder could fight this thing together.

"Look, Scully," Krycek moved closer to her again so she could see his face more clearly in the darkness. "This thing can only go one of two ways. Either we stop colonization, in which case you're free to go back to Mulder and live happily ever after, or we fail to stop colonization, in which case life as you know it is over. It's temporary either way."

Scully simply nodded her understanding, placing the paper with Samantha's address in her pocket. The deal was sealed, at least until she got her proof. "I'll be in touch," Krycek mumbled, then turned and walked away.

The emotions suddenly caught up with her, the absolute terror of abduction that had haunted her nightmares for years, the confusion, the hope of finally finding Samantha. Scully buried her face in her hands and sobbed alone in the darkness.


The next morning, in an old run-down apartment complex, Scully knocked on the door of unit 4C. The woman who answered took Scully's breath away. Except for her hair, which was cropped short, she looked like the clone Scully had seen years ago, although the features varied slightly so that she looked more like Mulder. The eyes were his and the face similar but more graceful, the angles less harsh. Scully had to check herself to keep from pulling the woman into a frantic embrace. She would need proof, of course, that this was really Samantha, but on sight alone she felt her heart leap in anticipation of what the tests would show. It didn't seem possible.

"Can I help you?" Samantha's voice was small, tiny in fact, almost like a little girl's. Scully wondered how similar it was to the voice Mulder remembered.

"Hi. My name's Dana Scully. I'm a friend of Alex Krycek." She knew from the quick amount of research she had done since her meeting with Krycek that Samantha Dunne, as she was now called, was still recovering from the "fire" and amnesia, so Scully wanted to be careful not to upset her. They had certainly done a good job bringing her back to the real world. She had a whole identity made for her--social security number, marriage license, an 8-year-old passport, even a B.A. degree in history from Oregon State University.

"Oh, right. I've been expecting you." Samantha stepped back and motioned Scully inside. "Please have a seat."

Scully looked around the small apartment, bare with just minimal furniture and none of the personal touches one would expect in a person's home. Samantha noticed her visual tour. "Not very homey is it? I'm sure Alex told you my house burned down. I lost everything." Tears filled the woman's eyes, evidence of her false memories, of her grief at having lost something she never actually had.

"Yes, he told me all about it," Scully answered, instinctively touching the woman's arm in sympathy, then taking a seat on the old sofa.

"Alex has been so kind to me," Sam continued as she sat opposite Scully. "After the fire, he took care of me and set me up in this apartment until I can get my life back together. He has been a true friend. I don't know what I'd do without him. But I guess you're more than familiar with his generosity and caring, since he's your friend too."

"I don't actually know him that well," answered Scully, trying not to show surprise at Samantha's perception of Krycek. She could see the affection in the woman's face, a true caring and love for a man toward whom Scully had felt nothing but hatred. "How are you feeling?" she asked, trying not to appear too inquisitive.

"Okay. I mean, it's difficult, and I miss Jason so much, but I'm coping okay."

"Jason was your husband?"

"Yes. I don't remember much about him, but I remember how much I loved him." The tears sprang up again, and Scully felt the ache in her heart. This could easily have been her. They could have kept her after she was abducted, kept her for years before they finally returned her with no memories of Mulder or her life at the Bureau. Nothing but false memories and no life.

"Are your memories coming back at all?" Scully asked, curious to know how the implanted memories would work, how long it would take for Samantha to remember her family.

"A little. There's a big chunk of my life missing, and the doctors say I might never get that back, but some of my childhood is reappearing. In spurts, you know?"

"I'm glad to hear that. Actually, that's one reason I've come. I know your brother."

"Fox." It came out as a statement, like a verbal reminder to herself of what she remembered.


"I don't remember him very well right now, but glimpses are starting to come back. I think I remember playing astronaut with him." Sam smiled a little, the memory bringing a flush of childlike innocence to her face. A real memory this time. Scully smiled too. Astronaut? How appropriate. "How is he?" Sam continued, "I mean, for the longest time I had no memories of my childhood. It's only since the fire that they've begun to return."

"He's fine," Scully answered. "I know he'd like to see you when you're ready. When you remember him a little better."

Sam nodded. "I'd like that. Alex tells me I should wait until I'm comfortable with the past, with what I remember." Scully knew that was Krycek's way of stalling until he could use Mulder for his purposes.

"Yes, that's probably a good idea." She had understood the deal. She couldn't send Samantha to Mulder until the plan had been carried out. For now, she was the only one who could know the woman was here.

Scully had come for a piece of business, but she was reluctant to bring it up. After all, Sam had been through a horrendous ordeal, even if the ordeal she remembered wasn't the same one she'd experienced. Still, if she was going to make this deal with Krycek, she had to know the truth.

"Samantha, I need to draw some blood from you, for some tests. Did Alex tell you?"

"Yes, he told me you were a doctor and that you were interested in me for your research."

"Good. It'll only take a minute."


Scully left Samantha's apartment with plans to meet for lunch on Saturday and a vial of Sam's blood to test against Mulder's DNA results which she'd have her mother fax to her from her stash of "emergency" papers. The truth would be told with a few simple tests, and Mulder's dream would come true.

Her own life, on the other hand, was becoming a true nightmare. The tests would prove a match, she was sure of it. And then what? She had to decide whether to follow Krycek's plan or not. Was there really a choice?

She thought about Mulder. What would he do if she just walked away from the Bureau? How would he react? She had almost done it once before, when she'd been forced to give up her partnership with him, and his reaction had been so extreme, so emotional, that she couldn't even begin to predict what this would do to him. They had been through too much, loved each other too closely, for him to let her go easily. She had always known how closely he walked that line separating him from insanity. Could this push him over?

And what about Sam? Scully had found her. She had actually seen her and spoken to her--no longer a ghost from the past but a real person. Could she take chances with another person's life? What would it do to Mulder to know his sister was safe only to have her taken again?

When it came right down to it, however, this choice was all about herself. Her life. Her death. The fear was a constant anchor at the back of her mind, a heavy weight that swung like a pendulum, overpowering every thought she had of a way to escape. She had faced so many terrifying things, had to face head-on the worst fears imaginable, and they had all been bearable. Abduction was not. She couldn't even allow herself to think of the possibility, for to do so would eat away at her soul, like acid on flesh, until there was nothing left to keep her human. It was unbearable. She kept it pushed to the back of her mind as much as she could and tried to convince herself that this decision was about saving Sam, saving Mulder. Every time the thought swung back to the surface, however, her body trembled with the force of the threat, of being snatched up and held prisoner to a bunch of men with an agenda that made hell look like a vacation.

Krycek had given her the protection mechanism. Stay in California. It was that simple, in principle anyway. She wanted to call Mulder. She wanted to tell him what was going on, let him help her, allow him to be her partner in this worst of all possibilities. But she knew that she wouldn't, that she couldn't take that risk. Perhaps it was selfish to shut him out of this, but her abduction would be equally unendurable for him. It would kill them both. She knew it as surely as she knew that she would do whatever it took to prevent herself from being taken by them again. There was nothing in the world she feared more, and she would not allow it to happen. She would not allow it to even be a possibility.

To tell Mulder would put the weight on him, would force him to keep up the facade at the risk of her life. That was too much to ask of anyone. She refused to live her life constantly having to look over her shoulder, every moment aware that they might come for her. Mulder couldn't prevent that. He couldn't even know how to prevent that. She was the only one who could stop it, could stop the men who thought she was expendable. It was all on her and she would keep it that way. The sacrifice was only a few months of the life that she loved. She refused to consider what else might be lost. Mulder. His trust, his loyalty. Perhaps his love. How much would she sacrifice to save herself from the unknown fate that those diabolical men had chosen for her?


She hasn't suffered the excruciating pain, both emotional and physical, of fighting off the cancer they had given her, of watching her own daughter die before she had even gotten to know her, just so they could claim her life in some sort of token power play. They would not take her. She would not be taken out of this world by them. Not that way. Any way but that way.

Krycek had been right. There was no choice in the matter. There was only one thing to do, and that was survive. To defeat them once and for all, all she had to do was survive.


Part 4

As expected, Scully's comparison of Samantha's blood against Mulder's records showed that she was his sister. It crossed Scully's mind that the results didn't necessarily exclude her being a clone or some other kind of genetically manipulated offspring, but she had to assume the best for now. As Sam recovered her true memories, the proof would become more conclusive.

In the meantime, she had called Mulder with the news that she was staying in California. The idea to make it look like leaving the Bureau was more permanent than just a few months was Scully's alone. She knew Mulder would never let her be unless he believed that there was a reason for her leaving. She had decided to make it appear more serious, hoping that would keep Mulder at bay for the few months Krycek had asked for. Nothing scared her more than Mulder coming to track her down. She wouldn't be able to do this if she saw him. And she had to convince "them," whoever they were, that she had left for good.

She had called Skinner, tossing out the idea of resigning, and Skinner did exactly as she predicted and hoped--talked her into a leave of absence instead. It worked out perfectly because she knew word would get back to Mulder that she wanted to quit.

Still, she had no intention of leaving Mulder entirely in the lurch, planning to call him occasionally to keep in touch, although the conversations would have to be short and shallow to keep up appearances. In her mind, the reasoning was strictly logical; occasional contact would look much more natural than her simply ditching him all together, and there were people watching this drama. However, she knew deep down that she was justifying it to herself, that she needed to keep in touch with Mulder just to make sure he was okay, that he hadn't taken a swan dive off the deep end.

Having worked it all out in her head, she finally made the second phone call, the one she dreaded even more than the first "I'm not coming back" call. She set a time to do it and then followed through, not wanting to extend the inevitable and, more importantly, not sure she'd be able to go through with it if she didn't do it as soon as possible. She had to do something to convince Mulder that she really was not coming back, and there weren't very many options. In fact, she only had two trump cards and she hoped like hell she wouldn't have to play them both.

Each ring of the phone on the other end of the line sent her pulse racing even faster.

"Mulder." Just hearing his voice raised all the doubts all over again, and she had to beat them back with a stick of self-reassurance. This was the only answer, the only way to keep herself safe Whenever she thought about giving up this foolish flight, whenever she thought about returning to Mulder, the few remnant images from her last abduction came rushing back to her, sending the panic thudding through her blood. The tests, the inability to move, the faces hovered over her, the voices she couldn't understand, the urging call of the chip in the back of her neck. Not again. Never again.

"Hi Mulder, it's me, Scully." This time she made a point of trying to sound like her usual, but she had still added on that last word. She wondered if she was somehow trying to convince herself that she was different, that the person she was at this moment was not his partner, not the woman he had come to know.

"Are you coming home?" he asked immediately, without hesitation. Her heart clattered in pain.

"No, Mulder. I told you, I'm staying out here. I just called to let you know that the plans hadn't changed." She tried to keep her voice steady, to sound confident.

"No need," he said harshly. "Skinner told me you're taking six months. You should have told me that, Scully."

"I'm sorry, Mulder," and she really was. More sorry than she could tell him. So sorry that it burned inside of her destroying everything good that she had ever believed she was. To do this to someone, to someone she loved, was cruel beyond reason. It was impossible to know if the ends really could ever justify the means.

"Scully, I want to come there and see you. I need you to tell me what's going on."

"NO!" She didn't mean to shout at him, but the panic of having to face him, of the danger into which he might be putting them all, destroyed any control of modulation she might have had. She knew they were listening to every word. It was time to play her first trump card. "If you care about me, Mulder, if you love me at all, I need you to let me go. I need you to stay away from me."

There was silence at the other end and she knew she had hit a nerve. A long silence, his breathing falling fast and strong against her ear. There was a slight hitch in it, a hesitation, and she winced in anticipation of what he might say, not sure she wanted to hear the truth, not this truth. Not like this.

"I've always loved you, Scully. More than you know." She felt the tears rise hard in her chest, springing to life in her eyes and falling before she even realized they were there. "And I want to do what you're asking, but I can't . . ." He stopped, the crack of his voice telling her that he was having the same reaction she was, that they were crying together for what was lost, for what she was taking away from them.

He cleared his throat and began again. "I can't just let this go. I need to understand what's going on, why you left without any kind of explanation. It doesn't make sense, Scully." His voice broke again, this time on her name, and she felt like dying couldn't take away the agony of that moment.

Then Scully felt frustration rise amid the longing, the grief. "Mulder, please, can't you just take my word for it? Can't you just do what I ask and not question me?" She didn't want to beg but she heard how pleading the words sounded.

"No. Not for this."

Then she knew she'd have to play the second trump card, the one she'd been hoarding, reluctant to play it unless she absolutely had to. He wasn't going to let her go without some kind of explanation, and she couldn't blame him for that. She would do the same thing. She steeled herself for what she had to do.

"I've met someone." And oh God it hurt so much to say it, hurt like nothing else she had ever experienced. But, no, the silence that followed the words, the silence from his end, hurt even more. Her heart ached with it, with what she was doing to him, and not even the idea that it was ultimately for his own benefit helped relieved the bitter torment.

"What do you mean?" he finally asked, his voice quietly harsh like he was holding back a torrent of rage, a torrent of something that could drown her in an instant if she let go.

She calmed herself, emptied her mind and concentrated only on the words, not what they meant, not what they might be doing to him. "Mulder. You know what I mean. I've met someone. A man."

Another silence, another flood of pain, another pounding beat inside her chest and head.

"You've only been gone a week." His voice was soft again, confused, the edge of the harshness taken off by the shock most likely.

"I know, but I already knew him. I mean, I knew him before. We just bumped into each other and started talking and, well, I . . . I like him, Mulder." She tried to sound sincere, real, although she had no idea what real sounded like anymore.

"You're in a relationship with him?" He no longer tried to cover up the pain. She could hear it in his voice, the betrayal. She felt herself that she had betrayed him, even though it was only a story. A lie.

"I want to try." She hoped that he would take her word for it, that he wouldn't fly out here to California to see for himself. She wanted to hurt him badly enough that he would leave her alone because she didn't trust herself if she saw him. She would never be able to look him in the eye and say these lies to him. Not in a million years. Not even to save her life.

"Okay," he said. "Well, good luck I guess." And she loved him for pretending that he was okay, for pretending to be supportive, when she was well aware that he was probably on the edge of fury and destruction, of permanently unrecoverable trust.

When she hung up the phone she knew without a doubt that he would eventually come after her and that she had to set into motion the plan she had reserved for just such a possibility.


It wasn't at all like Mulder was giving up. Not that easily. He had placed at least a dozen calls to the home of Charles Scully over the week following Scully's first phone call. Charlie, though not nearly as maddening as Bill Scully, had been reticent. He told Mulder that Scully had asked that Mulder not be told her whereabouts, that she wanted to be left alone.

He hadn't quite believed Scully's claim that she had met a man. That was ridiculous. Even if she had known the guy before, it was definitely not like Scully to give up everything for a man she hardly knew. Not to mention that she loved Mulder. He had been so sure of that once, always it seemed, but now the doubts swam in his head like sharks, circling and circling and never letting up until they had devoured every truth he had ever known.

He had solicited the help of the Lone Gunmen on a whim, and when Langly finally called a few days later and told him to come over immediately, Mulder understood that the nightmare was about to become darker. The somber looks on the men's faces when he arrived didn't ease his sense of foreboding.

"We tracked down Agent Scully," Frohike said in his most formal investigative voice. There hadn't been a single joke cracked since Mulder's arrival, not a good sign. "She's applied for a temporary replacement position at the San Diego County Coroner's Office. The address she listed is for an apartment in the Mission Valley area, north of downtown. A large complex, about 300 units, pool, clubhouse, laundry room." Mulder motioned with his finger to hurry it up and skip the meaningless details.

"The lease is in someone else's name," Byers added, cutting off Frohike just as he opened his mouth to continue. "Has been for almost three years."

"Whose?" Mulder asked.

"A man," said Frohike and the three men looked sympathetic in unison.

Langly picked up a notepad from which to read. "His name's Michael Kresge."

It took Mulder a few seconds to place the familiar name, then he felt the nausea rise again, the incessant feeling of the last week returning as bile in the back of this throat. Kresge. The detective on the Sim murder. Tall, good looking, intelligent. He was all wrapped up in the Emily business, when Scully had been more vulnerable and emotionally fragile than he had ever known her, her heart ripped wide open. Kresge was the one who had been there when she found out about Emily, for she had called Mulder only after the fact.

"You know him?" asked Frohike reaching across and touching Mulder's shoulder in concern.

"Yes," Mulder whispered, his voice lost somewhere in the explosion of his heart. And suddenly it all made perfect sense, although not the kind of sense he had wanted it to make. Maybe she hadn't been lying to him after all. If there was anything at all that was logical about Scully suddenly shacking up with some man, it was that it was Kresge. Mulder hadn't been unaware of the attraction the detective felt for Scully, even of the way she talked about him with a trace of affection sketched across her face. He also knew they had kept in touch after Scully left San Diego, although that was something she never talked about with him.

But still, this was ridiculous, wasn't it? That Scully would leave him, leave the Bureau, for a man? Nothing could be less absurd. For her safely, for her sanity, yes. For a man, no. He couldn't believe it, couldn't even begin to wrap his mind around the possibility. But at the moment, neither could he think of any other explanation. Any other possibility and she'd have told him, explained herself.

It didn't really matter anyway. She was gone. That part he'd known was real the minute he heard her say so. He'd felt it in his gut, the rising nausea building and building until that terrible moment in Skinner's office, the confirmation that for whatever reason, she had chosen something else over him and, as it turned out, someone else over him.

The three Gunmen stood looking at him with concern, watching as he processed the information. Byers was the one who finally broke the moment.

"I'm sorry, Mulder," he said, the sympathy weighing down his voice, dragging the moment further down into hell.

"It's no big deal," Mulder replied calmly, not surprised that his body felt nothing, that his very soul seemed missing. He picked up his coat and left the Gunmen's lair, not having any idea where he should go or what he should do. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing worth doing.


Part 5

After telling Mulder she was involved with someone, Scully realized she needed to set up her alibi as quickly as possible. She did have a plan, although she hadn't exactly followed up on it, and now as she made her way through the halls of the San Diego police station toward Michael Kresge's office, she wondered if maybe she had been too quick to assume he'd help her out.

Memories of the last time she had been here fluttered through her mind despite her attempts to avoid them. It had started off a seemingly small, although unusual, involvement in a murder case but ended up changing her entire life in a way that seemed incomprehensible, even after the time that had passed. Now here she was again, on another mission, another potential tragedy, once again manipulated by people whom she had never met and whose intentions she couldn't even presume to understand.

Kresge was in his office and she slipped in unannounced. He looked up from whatever he was reading and met her with a broad smile.

"Scully, FBI!" he exclaimed, standing up and coming around the desk to kiss her on the cheek. "What a surprise. It's great to see you!" Scully was relieved at his warm reception. They had kept in touch since she'd left San Diego, exchanging emails and every now and then a phone call. She hadn't seen him, though, since Emily died, so she wasn't sure how awkward a meeting between them would be.

"How many times have I told you to call me Dana?" she responded. The stress of the past week had taken a toll on her, and it felt good to see someone she considered a friend.

"Not enough, obviously." He beamed at her. "So, Dana, what brings you here to San Diego? Have you come to take over one of my cases again?"

Scully tried to hide the physical recoil she felt at the memory his words brought back. He evidently noticed because he gave her an apologetic look and quickly changed the subject. "How is life in the FBI these days?"

"I don't know. I've left the Bureau." He stared at her, his eyes wide with astonishment.

"What brought that on? I thought you loved the work."

"It's a long story. I'll tell you about it sometime. Actually, I've decided to stay here in San Diego for a while and I need to ask a favor."

"Sure, anything." Kresge motioned to the chair, and Scully took a seat as he returned to sit behind his desk. She leaned forward and propped her clasped hands on his desk, taking a deep steadying breath before plunging ahead.

"This is going to sound totally absurd, and I can't really explain the whole story, but I need people to think that we're involved." She just spit it out figuring there wasn't really any way to lead up to such a proposition.

Kresge took a moment to look at her as if she was nuts. "You need people to think we're involved? In a relationship?" At least he didn't laugh.

"Yes. I mean, we don't have to do anything, but if you could just make it clear that you're seeing me if it comes up in conversation. Or, you know, if anyone asks."

"If anyone asks?" Scully couldn't tell if he was taking her seriously or if he thought she was flirting with him in some weird way. "Is there someone in particular you expect to ask?"

"It's not what you think. This isn't some kind of jealousy game." She didn't want him to think she would use him this way for something trivial, yet there was no way, really, to explain to him how much was at stake.

"That's not what I was thinking. I know you're not the type of woman to play those kinds of games, Dana. I'm not too sure what to think exactly." He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him, his eyes never leaving hers.

"There's a good reason why I need people to think that I've made a life for myself here in San Diego, that I'm through with the X-Files, but I can't really explain it to you right now." Scully closed her eyes momentarily to avoid seeing the confusion she knew would be in his eyes. It was so unfair to drag him into this, but she had no other options. She had to make this look good, for everyone's sake. For her life, for Samantha's life, for Mulder's life.

"Does this have something to do with...?" He stopped short of saying her name, but he didn't need to. Scully mentally filled in the blank without hesitation. Emily. Emily. Emily.

She cleared her throat to give herself a second to push the memories aside once more. "In a way. The same men are involved." Kresge didn't know everything about Emily, and he wouldn't have believed it all anyway, but he did know she was Scully's daughter, and he also knew that she had died due to some kind of medical experimentation done on her. He had been devastated, then incensed, when he had gotten the news of Emily's death and what had caused it. He had been there for Scully when she found out Emily was her daughter, before she'd reached the point where she was able to call Mulder. She had always appreciated what he had done for her, the questions he had asked, the information he had found out for her.

"That's all I need to know," he replied, and she could see the anger he still felt about the incident. "If you need my help, I'm here. I told you I'd help you out any way you needed."

Scully couldn't help but smile at him. "This goes above and beyond the call of duty, Michael. I'm sure it's not what you had in mind when you offered your help."

"Hey," he shrugged, "it's not like it's any great chore to pretend you and I are involved. Besides, my mother will be thrilled. She's been waiting for me to find a nice Catholic girl to date."

Scully laughed and was pleasantly surprised he was going along with this so easily. "I know this all seems so silly, but I can't thank you enough. There are people's lives at stake."

"If it helps take down the bastards who did those things to your daughter, then I'm in. Anything else I can do for you, Dana?" He smiled when he said it, as if she hadn't asked enough of him already.

"Yes, actually. I need a cheap place to live for a few months. Very cheap. Maybe just a room somewhere. Do you happen to have any recommendations?" Scully had no income coming in and was reluctant to stay with Charlie and Rebecca. They hardly had the room for her, especially if it was for a few months, and she wouldn't be able to deal with Charlie's constant grilling for much longer. She'd find temporary work somewhere and use some of her savings to get a small place.

Kresge thought for a moment. "No, I don't know of any offhand. I've got a spare room you're welcome to."

Scully knew he was only half serious, and probably not even half, but suddenly that made too much sense to dismiss out of hand. Living with Kresge would be perfect for her cover, and safer than living alone. The terror that had almost swallowed her when Krycek told her they were coming for her hadn't lessened. If anything, it had only matured into a constant thudding foreboding in her head, a continual sense of uneasiness and apprehension. Although Krycek had assured her she was safe in California, she couldn't bring herself to entirely believe him, not when the threat came from a source that she could neither predict nor understand. It would be a relief to have someone nearby, if only to make her feel less paranoid.

"Actually that would be great, if you mean it." She could tell by the shock on Kresge's face that he either hadn't meant it or he hadn't expected her to even consider it, but he covered it fast with another broad grin.

"Yeah, sure. I'm not there much anyway. I seem to be here even when I'm supposed to be off. You've got your own bedroom and bathroom, so you'll have plenty of privacy, and I'd love the company."

"I'll pay part of the rent."

"That's not necessary, Dana. I pay it anyway, and the place has always been too big for me." He leaned forward over the desk and she could see concern in his eyes. She wondered how long it would take before he started asking her questions that she couldn't answer.

"I insist." She trusted Kresge and knew he wouldn't make any more of this than it was, but still she'd feel better if she at least took on her share of the expenses.

"Okay, we can do that. Just give me a day or two to clean out the room, get it ready?"

And with that, Scully's scheme fell into place in a way she couldn't have improved if she had planned it ahead of time. If Mulder went looking, and she knew he would, he'd find plenty of evidence that the story she'd told him was true. He'd have to believe her.


The day after Mulder got the news from the Gunmen about Scully living with Kresge, things got worse, at least he thought so at first.

He sensed rather than heard someone enter the basement office. He was putting in his eight hours a day, even without Scully, just to keep himself from going insane. His enthusiasm had definitely waned, however, and it was hard to get up the energy to actually go out and investigate anything. Lining up perfectly-sharpened pencils into perfectly even rows seemed to be his primary task of late.

The presence spoke. A woman's voice.

"Agent Mulder?"

"Yeah?" He didn't look up from the file he was pretending to read, but he could see out of the corner of his eye the woman approach and stand in front of his desk. The twenty-four pencils he had sharpened that morning lay next to his nameplate in four orderly columns of six, but he didn't really care enough about what anyone thought to want to hide them.

"I'm Tracy Rourke. Your new partner."

He hoped the grimace he felt didn't show on his face. This moment was familiar, eerily familiar, and he tried not to think back to when he had played this same scene with Scully. There had been a time, the whole last five years actually, when he had fooled himself into thinking he'd never have to do it again. He really had no idea this was going to happen so soon, and he wasn't prepared for it. It had been just over a week since Scully had first called to tell him she wasn't coming back. He didn't want a new partner. He didn't need one.

The obligation to be polite, however, kicked in and Mulder got up and crossed in front to the desk to shake the woman's hand. "Fox Mulder." He sized her up quickly--taller than Scully, bigger overall. Not as pretty, but attractive in her own way. Blonde hair cut short like a man's, broad smile, lots of teeth. She looked perky. Not a good sign.

"Pleasure to meet you, Mulder." The name sounded wrong crossing her lips. They weren't Scully's lips.

"Call me Fox." He smiled so it would sound like a privilege and not a correction, although the tone was harsher than he meant for it to be.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, seemingly not noticing his tone. "Everyone calls you Mulder. I just thought . . ."

"Call me Fox. Please."

"As long as you call me Tracy." She flashed a smile. No hard feelings.

"Of course," he smiled back, but gritted his teeth. She seemed bearable, at least until he started spouting off his crazy theories as Scully called them. Then who knew what the hell she'd do. Hopefully run for the hills. He wondered how long it would take to get rid of her. Skinner had some nerve, sending him another female partner, as if she was supposed to replace Scully. That was laughable. In any case, he realized it certainly wasn't in his best interest to make her defensive right off the bat. He would charm her into thinking he was sane, then dazzle her with an alien abduction or fat-sucking mutant or something otherwise totally crazy.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting you," he said to try to patch up any immediate sense she might have gotten of his hostility or discomfort.

"I know. Assistant Director Skinner is coming down this afternoon to brief you, but I insisted on meeting you immediately. I'm sorry. Perhaps I should have waited?" She raised her eyebrows in question, obviously concerned that she had overstepped appropriate bounds

"No, please, it's fine," Mulder reassured her. "I just didn't know a partner had been assigned. So, go ahead and brief me, Agent Rourke."

She smiled again. "Special Agent Tracy Elizabeth Rourke." She stood at military attention and struck a casual salute. "Four years with the Bureau, just came off a three-year stint over in the White Collar Crime Program. Born and raised in North Carolina, college at NC State."

"You're a scientist?" Mulder interrupted. He didn't know why he assumed that. It seemed logical that they'd choose someone like Scully, someone to keep him in line.

"My degree was in anthropology, actually. My area of interest is folklore research, myth, legends mostly. You know, Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, stuff like that."

"Really?" Well, maybe this would work out better than he thought. It certainly beat having some stuffed-shirt, over-achieving rookie as a partner.

Tracy moved away from Mulder and began looking over the office, working her way behind his desk. She stopped and motioned at the "I Want To Believe" poster, then turned to look at him. "I even worked for two years at the Center for UFO Studies."

Mulder just looked at her. Was this a dream? "No kidding. So you're a believer?"

"Well, yes, sort of. I believe that there is extraterrestrial life, and I believe that they've already been here, but I'm also sure that ninety- nine percent of the sightings and reports by the general public are bogus."

Mulder nodded. "So why did you work at CUFOS? Isn't that what they do? Collect information from abductees and people who've had sightings?"

"I worked there mostly to aid my own research. The idea of extraterrestrial visitation is, of course, part of the folklore of almost every culture in history, so that's how I first got interested." Mulder nodded his understanding. Tracy continued, "They called me 'The Skeptic,' actually, when I worked there." She laughed briefly. "Every report or photo that came in, I was the one who worked to debunk it."

The familiar nickname caught Mulder off guard, but he wasn't sure whether he felt like laughing or crying. The Skeptic. Like he needed another one of those in his life. Look where the last one had left him.

Tracy made her way over to the many clippings and photos posted on the bulletin board. "So what made you decide to join the FBI?" Mulder asked, trying to stop thinking about Scully for more than two seconds.



"Yes." She walked back to stand in front of him. "I read about you and your work on the X-Files. I couldn't believe that there were actually government offices investigating the things that interested me purely as research. It sounded just up my alley. Of course, I knew I wouldn't be able to just join the Bureau and leap right in to X-Files cases, but I didn't mind. I guess I've paid my dues now. Believe me, when I heard there was an opening in this department, I jumped at the chance. I didn't realize when I requested the transfer that I'd be partnering with you. I can't even tell you how much I'm looking forward to it."

Mulder bit his lip to stop from bursting out laughing. This woman had joined the FBI because of his work? Would wonders never cease? Well, it was going to be nice to have a protégé, he thought, even if she was a replacement for Scully. He could take her under his wing, show her the ropes. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

"You a Knicks fan?" she asked, pointing to the framed photo of Mulder and Patrick Ewing that he had put in the place of honor on top of the file cabinet.


"I still can't believe Ewing got suspended in the 97 playoffs for that idiotic scuffle. Lost us the damn series. And to Miami for God's sake. What a heartbreaker."

Mulder was impressed to say the least.

"I suppose you're a Redskins fan too?" she queried.

"I try to get to a game occasionally."

"I've got a couple of season tickets. We'll have to go sometime."

What was that they say about things that seem too good to be true? She certainly was. It was like she had been designed for him; it was almost spooky.

"Is this my desk?" Tracy asked, motioning toward the small table Scully had used as her area.

"Um, yeah, sorry," Mulder walked over to it and picked up a stack of files. "I haven't had the chance to put away Scul ... my former partner's things." Scully's stuff was still on the desk, exactly the way she had left it before she'd gone to California. He hadn't been able to bring himself to clear it off.

"No problem. It's too small, though. I'll need a bigger desk."

Mulder looked up at the woman. She wasn't kidding. "There's not enough room for a bigger desk," he said, motioning to the clutter surrounding the table. Hadn't he and Scully had this same conversation?

"We'll make room," she said flatly, staring him down.

"Yeah, okay," This woman obviously wasn't going to be any kind of pushover, protégé or not.

"Well, Fox, I'm glad we got to meet." Tracy reached out and shook his hand warmly. "I've got to go up to personnel and sign a million forms. I guess I'll be starting work Monday." She flashed a grin at him. "You can fill me in then on what cases you're working on right now, although you don't look too busy at the moment," she teased, indicating his pencils.

"I was just stocking up on supplies. Hey, thanks for coming down to introduce yourself," he moved to escort her out of the office. Mulder wasn't totally sure what to make of her. She seemed so promising in her interests and beliefs, but there was something disconcerting about her, something that seemed too neat, too perfect.

She stopped in the doorway and looked at the door. "Will you do me a favor, Fox? Will you order my nameplate for the door? I'd like to get it as soon as possible." Then, with another one of her smiles that never seemed to stop, she turned and walked away.

Well, he'd been wrong about one thing. She sure as hell wasn't going to be any kind of protégé. He had a feeling if he wasn't careful, she'd be running the place inside a month.


Part 6

Mulder wasn't sure how he managed to make it through each day with such a gaping hole in the life he had come to know. Every night when he left the office and went home, he ached with the loss of the simple things. The way she said, "See you tomorrow, Mulder." The way she juggled her car keys in her hand as they were walking out of the building. The way she honked once if she passed him in the parking garage. Most of all, he missed knowing she was sleeping in the same town as him, a short drive away, a simple phone call away. For some reason, that's what weighed most heavily on his heart. She was sleeping in another bed, another man's bed, in another man's arms. And all the way across the country to boot.

Sometimes he thought this whole thing would be so much easier to survive if she had left him for a transfer or a promotion or for her family or anything else but for a man. He could deal with picturing her working somewhere else, living somewhere else, somewhere away from him but not with somebody else. Those images would have reassured him, perhaps lessened the ache in his belly. Instead, he had to chase away images of her with Kresge. Every night he fought a losing battle against those images, trying to clear his mind, trying to concentrate on the raw sex of his videos, the score of the Knicks game, anything but Scully in Kresge's arms.

To her credit, she did call him sometimes, although every time after she hung up he wondered if that wasn't part of the torture of the hell he was living in. Hearing her voice only dredged up all the emotions he fought all day long, all night long, and they'd come rushing out in a flash of anger and love and frustration that left him reeling. As much as he lived each day in hopes of a call from her, each conversation left him even more resentful of her behavior and of the choices she had made. Every time they talked she asked him to stay away from her, told him that she would eventually see him again, and every time he wanted to jump on the next plane and force her to talk to him. But he feared that if he pushed things, she would distance herself permanently, and he might never get the answers to the questions that haunted him. The most frustrating thing was that she never had any answers for him.

At the beginning, when things were at their worst, Mulder did try to call her a few times, just to hear her voice, but he eventually gave up. No one ever answered the phone and he got damn tired of Kresge's "We can't come to the phone right now." Every time he heard that "we" he felt like smashing somebody's face in. We. Like they came to the phone together. Like they were one entity that was never separated. It made him sick.

In many ways, Tracy turned out to be Mulder's savior. She was a good partner, interested in the work, always willing to listen to his theories, and a hell of a lot of fun to boot. She had a wicked sense of humor that never failed to make him laugh, and she could match him barb for barb in any kind of pun contest. Mulder found his life not quite as dark as it had been in the days since Scully left, although the burn in his heart never went away no matter how hard he was laughing.

He had to admit, it was nice to have a partner he wasn't in love with. It had been so long that he had forgotten how easy that could make things. It was almost a relief to work with someone who he didn't think about kissing all the time, and who didn't have a starring role in his fantasies. In fact, it was Scully who still filled his dreams, although the pleasant dreams had become nightmares more often than not, her absence filling his sleeping hours with tense scenarios and horrible possibilities.

Tracy was easy to be with, he didn't have to put up with constant second-guessing, and he didn't have to curb his libido in front of her. All in all, things were working out as well as could be hoped, considering that the woman he loved most in the world was too far away and shacked up with someone else.

New X-File cases were coming in left and right, at least half of them tracked down by Tracy. She had as much interest as he did in looking into any kind of unusual phenomenon, and she was hauling him across the country to investigate weird cases as often as he had dragged Scully along before. She caught up on the cases quickly, and even though he had certainly not told her all the details surrounding what he and Scully had learned about alien life and the conspiracy, she had picked up a surprising amount of knowledge simply from reading the files and his reconstructed notes of the information destroyed in the office fire. She asked questions constantly, seeming to have an honest interest in his theories and definitely not as quickly dismissive as Scully of the hypotheses he floated. It was a refreshing change. At least that's what he tried to convince himself.


The dreams came with regularity, although she shouldn't have been surprised. The dreams of being taken, of Mulder frantically calling her name but not able to find her. She knew it was just her unconscious dealing with the fear and the guilt she felt about Mulder. Guilt about lying to him, about leaving him, but most of all for not having the courage to just leave him alone.

She phoned him once or twice a week, and each time he had less to say than the time before until, by the time five weeks had passed, he said little more than "yes" or "no" in answer to her questions. He had even stopped asking when she was coming home, and somehow that hurt more than anything that had passed between them. Now, she was no longer sure he even wanted her to. His reticence sent a blatant message, and she began to think it would be better for everyone involved if she just stopped calling all together. She could hear the pain in his silence, although he defiantly tried to disguise it. His words were so carefully chosen, so purposely ambiguous, that she knew every call from her only furthered the resentment and anger he felt toward her. She wondered at what point the damage she had done to their relationship would become irreversible.

Her own sense of loss grew as well. Hearing his voice did little to assuage either her guilt or her concern. Yet, she continued to call with regularity. It was almost as if she needed to punish herself, to remind herself every time she spoke with him of what she had left behind, of the choice she had made without consulting him, without even allowing him the chance to help her.

One afternoon she called him at the office and a woman answered. Scully nearly leapt out of her skin.

"Agent Rourke," said the voice, and it took Scully a moment to realize she'd been replaced. That feeling was one she hadn't expected to hit her with such cavernous force, although she certainly should have realized that Mulder would get a new partner. Still, the fact that it was a woman only made things worse. Even under strictly professional circumstances, she'd always had a deep- seated fear that someday she would be replaced in his life, in his work, and now she had been.

She steeled herself. "May I speak with Agent Mulder please?" She tried to make herself sound as business-like as possible, although she was afraid the quiver of her voice was obvious to this Agent Rourke, whoever the hell she was.

"Who's calling please?" God, what was she, his secretary? Scully was irritated by the idea that this woman was somehow guarding him, protecting him. That used to be her indulgence.

"Dana Scully." She thought about lying, about making up a fake name, but she had already lied to Mulder enough, and she wouldn't trick him into taking her call.

She heard Agent Rourke say to Mulder, "It's Dana Scully?" with a question mark at the end, as if she was saying "Do you want to take this call? Do you want to put yourself through this?"

There was a pause, then Mulder's voice cold against her ear. "Can I help you?" Her heart dove in her chest and if she could have she would have hung up right then. His treating her like she was a stranger ripped at her very being, and she fought back the tears to which she had spent weeks forcing herself not to surrender.

The rest of the conversation had been equally curt and distant. That was the last time she called him.


A little more than six weeks after Tracy had first walked into Mulder's life, she came into the office, dropped a stack of files on her desk, which had turned out to be bigger than Mulder's much to his amusement, then walked over to him and handed him a report.

"Got a case for us, Fox. A couple of people rushed to the hospital with some mysterious illness. A doctor said their eyes had a black film across them."

Mulder sat up straight in his chair and took the file. Were they releasing the virus? Or was this a test? "Where?"

"San Diego," Tracy replied. The first thing he thought was that's where Scully was. For better or worse, his life still revolved around her. If they went to San Diego he would have a reason to see her. He had promised her on the phone he wouldn't come there, but if he was there anyway, she would want to see him. Wouldn't she?

"I booked our tickets," Tracy continued, studying him carefully. He never talked about Scully with Tracy, and she had never even asked him why his former partner had quit. She didn't know Scully was in San Diego, or at least he hadn't told her. She looked at him curiously and he had to check his emotions, reign in the excitement he felt. He would get to see Scully.


Mulder and Tracy arrived at the UCSD Medical Center early the next morning only to find that the patients, who were deathly ill by all reports, had mysteriously vanished. Mulder knew what that meant. They, the people behind this whole alien business, were covering their tracks. Something big was going on.

Tracy's frustration at having lost their lead was unmistakably apparent as the two partners spoke with one of the emergency room physicians who had treated the patients.

"What do you mean they're gone?" she yelled. Mulder was surprised at how angry she was. She certainly didn't have the investment in this thing that he had. On the other hand, he was so used to evidence getting up and walking away that maybe he had simply become immune to the frustration and anxiety of losing an entire investigation in the blink of an eye.

"As I explained to you, Agent Rourke," the doctor's voice was calm, obviously trying to get Mulder's errant partner under control, "a man came in from the CDC asking to see the four patients in question. The next thing we knew, they were gone, as was he. I can only assume that he arranged for their transfer, although certainly no one here was notified of that."

"Did you see his credentials? Are you sure he was from the CDC?" Tracy asked, the volume of her voice having fallen, although the anger was still evident in her quickened breathing.

"Yes, of course. He had identification that seemed perfectly legitimate."

"And you're saying the patients just disappeared? No one saw them being taken out the door or anything?"

"That's what I'm saying," replied the doctor, who seemed remarkably unflustered about the whole thing, as if the Centers for Disease Control came knocking everyday.

"And you just let those kinds of things happen? Where the hell is your security?" Mulder had to touch Tracy on the arm to call her attention to the fact that she was losing control again.

"Agent Rourke," the doctor replied calmly to her accusations, "we don't always have control over what government agents decide to do. You should know that well enough. If I had KNOWN these patients were being transferred, I certainly would have made every effort to find out the information. But as I have told you now more than once, they were here and then they weren't. I have no idea when or why they were taken. Sounds like a perfect case for the FBI."

Tracy let out a groan of disgust. "This is unbelievable," she muttered under her breath.

"Are there surveillance cameras in the halls, at the exits?" Mulder asked. Tracy turned to look at him, relief crossing her face.

"Yes," replied the doctor. "You can talk to security about that."

"And the charts of the patients?"

"They were taken, but we had copies of them at the front desk. I'll have someone make a copy for you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got other patients I must see."

"Goddamnit!" Tracy yelled after he'd gone, then slammed her fist against the stark wall of the hospital corridor. "I can't believe this. I can't believe they got away with this crap."

Mulder stepped forward and grabbed her wrist before she hurt herself. "Tracy, you're taking this a little too personally. You've got to get used to these things. They happen all the time. These men don't leave behind evidence; they're faster than Mr. Clean."

Tracy looked at him and smiled. "Yeah, I know. I just . . . we were just so close."

"We're a long way from being close. Trust me. I've been running into these brick walls a lot longer than you have." Tracy gave a resigned huff.

She was silent as Mulder checked at the desk to get copies of the patients' files. He looked at all the information but had no idea what he was looking for. It wasn't like those magical words were going to be right there in the file: "could be of extraterrestrial origin." Damn it if this wasn't another one of those incredibly annoying moments when he needed Scully. She always knew exactly what details were important, all the signifiers that this was the virus they'd run into before.

"I guess we should at least have a look at the security tapes," Tracy said as Mulder tried to make sense out of the patient charts. "Just in case."

Mulder knew very well there would be nothing on the tapes, if there even were tapes. He had been serious when he said these men never left behind evidence. They wouldn't be that careless. Still, it should be checked and he felt like it would make Tracy feel better to do something productive.

He, on the other hand, had a legitimate reason to go see Scully. He needed her expertise to help with the patient files. Strictly business, nothing more. With the patients gone, it was likely he and Tracy would be leaving San Diego first thing in the morning, and he had to at least try to see her. He'd come this far and psyched himself up too much to just walk away now.

"I'll tell you what," he said as he guided Tracy down the hall back toward the emergency waiting room. "You have a look at the video, maybe talk to a few of the nurses and orderlies and find out if they saw anything. Somebody had to have seen something."

Tracy nodded. "And what are you going to do?" she asked.

"Follow a lead of my own. I've got an old friend here, someone familiar with these cases. I think I'll see if she's got any ideas." Okay, so it was only a partial truth, but it was better than lying all together. He was going to see his old friend who knew a lot about these cases, but it wasn't just ideas he wanted from her. He wanted answers. Answers about her decision, about them. About whatever it was that had pulled them apart in a way that was so irreparable.

"Okay, I'll meet you back here in a few hours?" At least Tracy didn't pitch a fit about him abandoning her. Of course, she had no reason to believe his explanation wasn't totally legit.

"See you then," Mulder replied, squeezing her hand as a barely conscious apology for leaving her with the investigation while he went to try to reclaim at least part of his ravaged life.


Part 7

Mulder pulled the rental car into the apartment complex where the Gunmen had told him Scully was living. He circled around the many buildings once before he found the right one. The door could be easily seen from the parking lot, so he parked his car and waited to see what happened.

It had run through his mind a thousand times on his way to the apartments that he would arrive, walk up to the door, knock, and Scully would answer and greet him with a smile and a hug. When he finally got there, however, it didn't seem so easy. He was terrified. Not that she'd be angry at him for being there, although she certainly might. Not that she wouldn't be home, or, worse, that Kresge would be there. No, he was scared that she straight out wouldn't be glad to see him. No smile. No hug. No happy greeting "It's great to see you." He feared maybe she wanted nothing to do with him, and that sent his heart pounding inside his chest with a force that made his breath shake with every inhalation.

In the end, he chose not to go knock right away, to wait and see what happened. Maybe she wasn't even home. That would be preferable. Then he could wait until she drove up and see her without her knowing he was there. He could decide at that moment if he should get out of the car to talk to her.

But he couldn't shake the feeling that things were not as they appeared. The sense of dread he'd had ever since she first spoke those words on the phone had never quite left him. Now that he was here in San Diego, right in front of her home, the feeling had risen gradually, just barely pulling at the fringes of his consciousness until finally it overtook him and hit him with a force that brought tears to his eyes.

Dread. Yes, that's what he felt, although it was hard to tell if he dreaded that something was wrong or if he simply dreaded seeing her, talking to her face to face. The feeling remained, however, and he realized that perhaps nothing could ever quell it except seeing for himself that Scully was okay.

Mulder wasn't sitting in his car more than ten minutes when a white sedan pulled into the lot and parked a few spaces away. He held his breath, waiting, until he saw Kresge get out. Without thinking, Mulder jumped out of the car and walked toward the man, intersecting him at the beginning of the sidewalk to the complex.

"Detective Kresge."

The man turned around to look at Mulder. He was, unfortunately, as good looking as Mulder remembered. Jealously flared inside Mulder, even though he fought to convince himself that it was unfounded. He felt the nausea building again, that so-familiar feeling from the first few days when this nightmare had been set in motion. It had been a long time since he'd felt it, but now, here, faced with the man with whom Scully was involved, it rose again with a vengeance. Mulder swallowed hard to keep down his lunch.

The man looked at him a moment before recognition set in.

"Oh, Agent Mulder." Kresge stared at Mulder. "What are you doing here?" He looked caught off guard, trapped, defensive. Or, Mulder thought, maybe that was just his imagination, the part of him that wanted Kresge to feel threatened by him. A fine irony considering Kresge was the one who had Scully now, but still, Mulder wanted him to feel uncomfortable, like he might lose her, like Mulder's simple presence could take her away from him forever.

"I'm in town for a case and needed Scully's help." He realized he had left the patients' information in the car, but it didn't really matter because that had been simply his justification for coming. It wasn't the reason. "I wanted to make sure she's okay."

Kresge nodded. "She's fine."

"Is everything okay?" Mulder repeated. He wanted to make sure Kresge understood what he was asking, if she was in some kind of trouble. He could not shake that feeling that something was terribly wrong with this whole predicament, that there was absolutely nothing logical at all to explain why Scully was here and he was still in D.C.

"Like I said, she's fine." Kresge smiled when he said it, and it was all Mulder could do not to wipe that smile right off of him, preferably using the concrete at their feet to do it. He managed to keep his fantasies of violence under control.

"Okay, well, I just thought I'd make sure. I've had this feeling there was something wrong."

"Nope. She's fine," Kresge said again. He'd definitely been spending too much time with Scully; his vocabulary seemed limited to her favorite word, "fine."

"Is she home? I'd like to see her," Mulder finally spit out, against his better judgment. He knew he shouldn't but suddenly the idea that she was that close overcame him and he could hardly stand it. His body was trembling with the idea that she was just behind one of those doors, that he could see her within the next thirty seconds. All of a sudden he needed that more than breathing, more than life. He needed to look at her, look into her eyes, hear her say his name.

Kresge looked behind him at the parking lot. "Um, her parking place is empty, so she must not be home."

Mulder nodded. His body flooded with disappointment, the tension unraveling into acquiescence. He knew that this had been his one moment of weakness and that he'd be giving up his stakeout as soon as Kresge went inside. If she was okay, she was okay, and seeing her would only make things worse.

"Well, will you tell her I was here?" Mulder asked, figuring that was safe. "That I was in town on a case?" he added. She couldn't be too angry about that.

"I'll tell her, Mulder," and somehow Mulder doubted he really would.

"Okay, thanks." Mulder turned his back on Kresge and walked away, that nausea climbing again and filling him with the inexplicable feeling that he would never see her again.


Kresge entered the apartment and dropped his briefcase on the chair in the living room.

"I just ran into your partner outside," he said to the woman sitting on the sofa. She sat up straight, kicking her legs out from where they had been curled under her body.

"Mulder's here?" She felt a surge of joy wash over her, then fear, then panic. She wanted to run away. She wanted to run outside and see him. She wanted to be anywhere but here, at this moment, with Mulder just outside her grasp yet so far away as to be nearly across the universe.

"Yep, he was outside watching the place. Said he was in town on a case. Don't worry, I told him you weren't home."

Scully felt relieved. And disappointed. Part of her wanted Kresge to have told Mulder she was here because then she'd have to see him. The decision would have been made for her, and she wouldn't be sitting here swimming in self-doubt, her heart pounding with the now-flattened anticipation of seeing him, of touching him. Instead, she was left feeling limp and drained, all in the space of those few seconds since Kresge had walked in the door.

He seemed to notice her indecision. "You can still catch him, if you want to. I just wanted to leave it up to you."

She did not want this to be her decision; she couldn't keep denying Mulder. She looked at Kresge a moment, her face a scattering of emotion he hadn't yet learned to read, even after all the time they spent together.

"No," she finally said. "Let him go." And she pretended she didn't feel the splintering pain inside her chest.


Mulder arrived back at the hospital feeling like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Seeing Kresge had thrown him for a loop. His reaction hadn't been what he might have expected. The initial anger and jealousy had quickly faded on the long drive back to meet Tracy, metamorphosing into resentment and disgust. He was sick of this, to be quite honest, and his attitude toward Scully was leaning more toward resignation than anything else. If this is what she wanted, so be it. He'd just move on with his life and she could go screw herself.

Then the traffic had been horrendous and Mulder had felt his frustrations building until finally they exploded, the volume of his yelled swear words echoing through the car and bouncing off the windows. He yelled so loud his ears rang. And then he felt better. A little. He knew he was kidding himself about Scully and his ability to just move on, but for now he needed to believe that he could.

He asked the nurse at the emergency room desk about Tracy's whereabouts; she told him Tracy had gone to talk to one of the technicians who had wheeled the victims out of the examining area and into private quarters. Mulder took a seat and waited for her return, his mind drifting to the day's events. On the drive back to the hospital, in between beating himself up about loving Scully, Mulder had thought more about this case. He wondered if maybe these victims weren't a distraction, a ruse to draw him and Tracy away from something else that was going on, something bigger. He'd seen them do it before. It was just too convenient that he and Tracy had found out about this case at all, and so quickly too. If those behind the conspiracy had wanted this to remain secret, it would have.

Tracy hadn't told him where she had gotten the original lead. That might tell him something to explain why this little rendezvous had been arranged. Mulder noticed her shoulder bag resting against the wall next to the admissions desk. He should look at her notes while he was waiting in case there was something they ought to look into before they left San Diego. He got up and grabbed Tracy's bag, then pulled out the stack of files as he resumed his seat.

He flipped through the folders but couldn't find the right file. Most of them looked like Tracy's personal notes, not official Bureau files. She had been reviewing the case file on the plane, so it had to be in her stuff somewhere. Mulder noticed a zippered pocket on the inside of her bag and checked there. Inside was a single blue file with "Fox Mulder" typed neatly on the labeled tab.

With a sickening feeling, the source of which he couldn't quite place, Mulder pulled out the file and opened it. The contents shocked him and sent his mind rushing over the possibilities for its existence, for it being in his partner's possession.

It was a file on him. Everything about him. His life, his history with the Bureau, what he did in his spare time. There were surveillance photos of him at work, at home, with Scully, everywhere. But what turned his stomach were the notes in Tracy's handwriting. Next to the comment that he was a Knicks fan was her cheat sheet:

"1996 playoffs. Beat Cleveland 3 straight. Lost to Bulls in 5. 1997 playoffs. Beat Charlotte in 3 straight. Lost to Heat (rivals!) after Ewing and others got suspended for fighting. Ahead 3-1 in series against Heat, then lost 3 in a row. 1998. Ewing broke wrist during season. Returned game 2 against Pacers, playoffs. Lost in 5."

There it was in the file, in her own handwriting, all the information she had known about the Knicks, the Redskins, the Center for UFO Studies. Everything she had talked to him about that first day she came down to meet him.

Mulder breathed deeply to calm the rising panic. It was all a set up. She wasn't who she said she was, wasn't who he thought she was. It had all been arranged, planned, so that she would know exactly how to reach him, how to gain his trust. Mulder's hands shook as he closed the file and placed it on the seat next to him. He had been betrayed again, by another partner, by another woman. How many times was he supposed to deal with this? How many times was he going to come to trust someone only to have that trust thrown right back at him?

While he was still deciding what to do about Tracy, she came striding through the swinging doors. When she saw him, she smiled that smile that seemed always present, that had made him feel better in so many dark moments since Scully had left. He felt the fury loosening from his control, slipping through the cracks of the wall behind which he was trying to conceal it.

"Hey, Fox," she said, oblivious to the river of emotions roaring through him. "I didn't get much here, but I did get the scoop on the patients' medical condition. Nothing unusual in the tests at all, which is kind of strange, don't you think?"

Mulder simply stared at her. She was in this. She was one of them. How had he been so stupid? Why had he allowed himself to trust her? He should have known better. She was too perfect. There was no one in this entire world he could trust, not even Scully as it turned out.

"Who do you work for?" he asked, his voice rough as it exited the sandpaper dryness of his throat.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Who do you work for?" his voice was louder, out of control. "What the hell is this?" he asked, picking up the file from the chair and throwing it down on the floor, the papers scattering across the linoleum with a soft swish. "You work for someone, who is it?"

"It's not what you think, Fox." Her voice was small, quiet, and that ever-present smile was nowhere to be found.

"No!" he grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him, his face up against hers. "This was all planned. You don't know shit about the Knicks, do you?" He heard that his voice was too loud. People in the waiting room turned to look at them. He didn't care. "Goddamn it, tell me who you work for! Is it him? Is it Smoking Man? CGB Spender?"

Tracy stared him down, not even flinching under his tight grip and shouted words. She waited a moment until he paused in his accusations, then wrenched her arm out from his grasp.

"Not really," she said softly. Mulder stifled the urge to beat the truth out of her. She stood there and didn't look away, drew in his harsh glare and anger, letting him use her as a target for his rage.

"Not really? What the hell does that mean? Do you or do you not work for him?" What bullshit was she going to feed him now?

"He thinks I work for him, but I don't really."

Mulder looked at her, deeply into her eyes, trying to understand what was going on here. "Then who do you work for, Tracy? Who sent you to me?"

Tracy glanced around the room, cautious like him, paranoid like him. "I work for Alex Krycek."


Part 8

Mulder and Tracy left the hospital silently; not a word passed between them on the way to the parking lot. Mulder hadn't failed to notice Tracy's paranoia, her review of the faces in the waiting room who might have overheard their conversation, her constant checking behind them as they walked to the car, the way she placed her hand lightly over her weapon. She was obviously afraid of something.

The two partners were silent until they were safely on their way back to the motel. Tracy kept her eyes on the road in front of them. She had taken the driver's side and Mulder hadn't been in the mood to object. He figured she wanted the cover of watching the road to keep from having to look him in the eye. That was fine with him. He felt like he had come to know her well enough to read her anyway, although he certainly had been stupid enough to fall for all the bullshit she had served up to him that first day they met. He had known she was too good to be true. He should have listened to his instincts more carefully, and he would have if he hadn't been so distracted by Scully's disappearance.

"What the hell is Krycek up to?" Mulder demanded finally, figuring this was about as safe as they were going to get from prying ears and eyes.

Tracy sighed as if saddened that the conversation had begun. "I don't know all the details," she replied softly. "I just follow orders; I don't ask questions."

"But why are you here? You must know why he sent you." Mulder tried to keep his tone level. His initial anger and feeling of betrayal had transformed into a resigned sense of curiosity. He wanted to get as much information from her as he could, and he knew that being demanding would get him nowhere.

"I'm supposed to get the information from your files on anything to do with colonization and the whole alien cover-up. And I'm supposed to keep you from making a deal with them."

"Them?" He knew who she meant but wanted to hear how she would identify them.

"Them. You know, the men behind the virus, the conspiracy. The men responsible for those victims we didn't get to see today." She hazarded a glance in his direction.

Mulder met her gaze, but she turned away as if not able to face him just yet. He sensed guilt emanating from her, as if she felt remorseful about the lies she had told him. He couldn't be sure if that was real or just his own need to believe that she hadn't totally betrayed him. He needed to trust someone. He needed just once for a person he cared about to be who he really believed her to be. Was that too much to ask?

"Why would I make a deal with them?" he asked, knowing how close he had been to doing it once, although he had had good reasons for that.

Tracy turned from staring out the front windshield to look at him, her eyes shifting back and forth this time from him to the highway. "They want you. And, from what I understand, they need you to complete their plans. I don't know why, but I have been led to believe that you are part of this war. That there will be a battle for your allegiance because of what you know, what you've experienced, and what secrets you have yet to uncover. Both sides need you."

"And which side are you on?" He wasn't sure it mattered. He wasn't sure he even understood what the battle was about.

"The side of the resistance," she replied flatly, looking back at the road once more.

"And you're telling me that Krycek is on that side too?"

"He's the one who sent me." Mulder snorted in disbelief. "I can tell you, Fox, that I'm not here to hurt you." She reached out and took his hand. He struggled not to pull it away. Her touch had become something dark and painful, his trust in her having been turned inside out in the course of just an hour. "Everything I was told, everything that I've been told to do, has been to help you, to protect you from men who would use your knowledge and your experience to destroy humanity. They will do whatever it takes to get you on their side, and I was meant to keep an eye on you, so the resistance can prevent that."

Mulder said nothing for a few minutes, and Tracy finally let go of his hand. The gears were spinning inside his head and he was trying to understand how he had come to this point, with a partner working for Krycek and claiming to be there only to help him. "How did you get wrapped up in all this, Tracy? Why are you involved?"

She hesitated a moment and he watched as something dark crossed her face. "I was destined to be involved. Just like you. My father was somehow associated with these men, from way back. I still haven't found out how exactly. For whatever reason, he sold my future to them in exchange for his safety, and they pulled me into their world. I became one of their many pawns. Then I met Alex and he introduced me to others who didn't like what they were being asked to do. We're all in the same boat. We were all brought into this by our fathers, and now we're the ones paying the price. The sins of the fathers and all that."

"Where's your father now?" His words were soft despite the anger that still bubbled inside of him, for he was certain he knew the answer even before she spoke.

She grimaced and her hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Dead. They killed him, I'm sure of it. But of course I have no proof."

Mulder had no response. That was something he understood. How tragic it was that so many children ended up pawns in the power struggles of their fathers. How many more were there like him and Samantha and Tracy?

"So that's why you were so angry when the patients disappeared today? You thought you were going to get some kind of information to pass back to the resistance?"

Tracy nodded. "They've been running tests on the virus, but we don't know all the test sites. Some of them are top secret, kept even from people at the higher levels. I thought maybe the patients today would be able to give us some leads to a test center. But I'm sure it was intended to be a false trail. The test subjects would never just show up at a medical facility like that. They must have been planted there for some reason. I just haven't figured out what it is yet."

"Do you think they did it to bring us here, to distract us from something?" That was the suspicion that Mulder had felt on his way back from trying to see Scully.

Tracy shrugged. "That's a possibility, but I haven't heard anything from any of my contacts. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens next." She paused then looked at him again. "Did you find out anything from your friend?" Mulder scrutinized her carefully but saw no suspicion in her eyes.

"No. She wasn't home." Tracy nodded and turned her focus back to the traffic.

Mulder wasn't entirely sure he bought her story, but he was willing, for the moment at least, to give her the benefit of the doubt. He definitely would be careful what he told her about anything, but at the same time he'd be damn sure to milk her of any information he could get from her. She obviously knew more about what was going on than she was leading him to believe. At least he might be able to keep tabs on Krycek through her, and, hopefully, on the men who were behind this conspiracy. But he wouldn't trust her again. Not with anything. Tomorrow, when they got back to D.C., he'd see what the Gunmen could turn up on her.


Scully dragged herself from sleep to the realization that the phone was ringing. She lifted her head to see the time. 1:24. In the morning. Somehow it seemed like leaving Mulder should have ended these middle-of-the-night rousings. She had a flash that maybe it was Mulder, that maybe he was trying to contact her after his failed visit that afternoon. Unable to help herself, she reached across and picked up the phone.


There was silence on the other end. Breathing. "It's Krycek," said a harsh whisper. He sounded frantic, yet cautious.

She was suddenly wide awake. "What is it?" She tried to keep her voice steady. Something was wrong. He wouldn't be calling her otherwise. She hadn't heard one word from him since that day at the park.

"They're coming for her. You've got to take her somewhere safe. Somewhere they can't find her." Scully's heart quickened as she began to understand what he was telling her. They were using their insurance. They were coming to take Samantha.

"Why?" she asked, although she knew that Krycek probably didn't have the time to explain. "Why now?"

Silence again. Then a sudden whisper. "Just help her, Dana. Please, I'm begging you. Do whatever you have to." He sounded desperate. She could hear it in his words, his tone.

"Okay, I'll go there right now."

"Sam has the instructions; she knows where to go. I'll be in contact with you as soon as I can."

The line disconnected and it was a few moments before Scully had the presence of mind to hang up the phone. All the apprehension she felt about her own possible abduction was forgotten and replaced by a sudden anxiety about Samantha.


The ringing phone startled Mulder out of his nightmare. He reached for the phone on the nightstand but then realized it was his cell phone across the room. He struggled out of bed, not aware until then that he was in a motel room. He and Tracy were still in San Diego, having missed all the flights out due to their confrontation. Everything was still fuzzy in his head when he picked up the phone.

"Yeah, hello, Mulder."

"Agent Mulder?" A cold sterile voice grabbed his attention and wiped the sleep from his brain.


"We have your sister, Samantha."

Mulder had to think for a minute to make sure this wasn't a dream. It certainly matched many dreams he'd had over the years. "What are you talking about?"

"We have Samantha. She will die unless you agree to meet with us."

Mulder's heart pounded in his ears, a sense of panic slowly snaking up through his body. "We? Who's we? Who is this?"

"At the San Diego Zoo. Just outside the main gate. Nine a.m. sharp," said the voice, not a waver of emotion or feeling.

What the hell was going on? Why, after all this time, were they using Samantha to get to him? Mulder knew it was them, those men, the ones behind every tragic thing that had ever happened to him. He was about to speak when he heard the line go dead.

He immediately called the Bureau to have the call traced, but he knew before he heard the results that there would be nothing to go on.


Scully's back and head ached from the long drive to Las Vegas. She and Sam had driven from San Diego, stopping as little as possible and making good time in the early morning traffic. They had checked into a small motel just off the Strip; Scully would certainly classify it as sleazy. They hadn't had a choice about it, however. Krycek had made the decision for them.

When Scully arrived at Sam's apartment to carry out Krycek's request, the woman was already packed and ready to go. Sam gave Scully an envelope from Krycek which had the address of the motel they were now in and two thousand dollars in cash. Sam explained that Krycek had left the information for just such a need to flee, and Sam understood that her life was in danger although she could not possibly understand all the ramifications. Sam led Scully over to the dresser and pulled open the top drawer to reveal an old .38 revolver nestled inside and ammunition to go with it.

"Alex said you might want this," Sam explained. Scully was relieved. She'd had to hand over her weapon and badge to the San Diego office after she took the leave of absence. She was unarmed and, as loathe as she was to admit it, thankful that Krycek had prepared. As much as she didn't want to trust him, everything he had done in the last few months had been on the up and up. She could tell from his desperate phone call that he cared about Sam and, although he might not hesitate to sacrifice her own life for the cause, she felt instinctively he would never allow Sam to be hurt.

Now, six hours later, Scully plopped her luggage down on the floor of the motel room. She had packed so quickly that she wasn't sure what she had in there and what she might have forgotten. The room itself looked about as bad as she expected judging from the exterior of the building. She finally understood "flea bag."

Sam looked about as thrilled as Scully felt, glancing around the room with a look of disgust on her face. "Alex must have his reasons," she finally said, although she didn't look convinced. "At least he knows where to get in touch with us."

Scully tried to have as much faith. "What exactly has he told you about this, Sam?"

"Well," she answered, sitting experimentally on one of the beds as if it might give out from under her. "I know his work is dangerous, that he's involved in a situation that is very dangerous, and that his enemies might hurt me."

"And that's all he's told you?" Scully asked, taking a seat next to her on the bed.

"Oh, he's filled out the details more. Don't worry, Dana, I'm well aware that he's not telling me everything. To be honest, until I get my memory back, I'm not sure I want to know everything." Scully simply nodded. It certainly wasn't her place to tell the woman that she had been abducted by a group of men who cloned her for the purposes of developing a vaccine against an alien invasion. Not like she'd believe Scully anyway. She'd let Mulder do the explaining, when he finally got to see his sister again.

Scully studied Sam carefully. She had come to care about her so much in the short period they'd known each other. They had spent quite a bit of time together in the last few weeks, both of them desperate for a friend in their loneliness, both of them needing someone to take away the sharp edge of missing the men they loved. As Krycek promised, Sam's memories of her childhood were returning gradually, and on the drive to Vegas she had told Scully even more of what she remembered. Her memories of Mulder seemed particularly strong, and Scully was thankful that when they finally met again, Sam would not only know him but love him.

"Have you ever been in love?" Sam asked suddenly, shifting around so she sat cross-legged on the bed.

That wasn't an easy question for Scully. It certainly would take a lifetime to explain. "Yes," she finally said, figuring that was as true as anything else. Was there any way to describe what she felt for Mulder? It was in love, but in such a different way from anything she had ever known. "Why do you ask?" She pulled up her legs to sit facing Sam.

"Well, I loved my husband, I'm sure. But the thing is, I don't really remember him much. I mean, I know I loved him, I feel the loss, but what I feel for him is like some distant far away thing. Almost like a dream."

"And that makes you feel guilty?" Scully asked.

"Yes, sometimes. Actually, I don't think I feel guilty for not remembering what I felt then. I feel guilty for what I feel now." Sam ducked her head to stare at her hands.

"And what is that?" Scully had a sinking feeling she knew where this was going.

"I have feelings for Alex," Sam said, blushing to the roots of her hair. "I mean, I'm not in love with him or anything, but I ... I don't know how to explain it."

"You're getting there?"

Sam looked up at her again, smiling. "Yeah, I think so." She blushed again, then laughed. "He's so kind to me, and caring, and he'd do anything in the world for me. And he's sexy as hell. How can you not love a man like that?"

Scully could think of a thousand reasons not to love Alex Krycek but it wasn't really her place to say so. All she could think about was Sam finally coming home to Mulder--with Krycek on her arm. If it wasn't so horrifying she'd laugh.

"Sam, how much do you really know about him?" Scully finally asked, figuring that was about as honest as she could be without being outright discouraging.

"Oh, I know him. We've spent a lot of time together since the fire. He comes to see me every day when he's in town and calls me when he isn't."

"Every day?" Scully was honestly shocked. Since when did Krycek have allegiances to anyone? She hoped to God this was honest and not part of some plan of his. Then she remembered his face in the park when he had talked about the way Sam had been treated, and his voice of panic on the phone. He definitely had some kind of interest in Sam beyond business, although she wasn't sure she could stomach the idea of it being love, or anything even close.

"You know what, Sam? You can't help who you have feelings toward, and you definitely can't feel guilty about them." Scully was not unaware of the hypocrisy of her words. When had she *not* felt guilty about loving Mulder? "You've been through a terrible ordeal, and the fact that you have little memory of your husband is stressful enough. Don't burden yourself by feeling like it's too soon for you to love someone else."

Scully couldn't believe she was actually giving such advice about a man like Alex Krycek, but she didn't have much choice in the matter. It was terrible to let the woman feel guilty over a husband who didn't exist. And what was she going to say, "That man killed your father and is the sworn enemy of your brother"? Sam looked at her in gratitude for her reassurances, and that certainly didn't help matters much.

"Thank you, Dana," she said, taking Scully's hand in her own. "You've been good to me as well, and I owe you. When I finally meet my brother again, I'll be sure to tell him what a great catch he has in you." She winked and Scully felt her face burn.

"I'm not his catch. Trust me."

Sam smiled. "There are some things that show no matter how much you try to hide them," she said, nodding her understanding. "I can tell you love him by the way you talk about him."

"We should get some sleep," Scully said to change the subject. "We've both been up all night. I hate to sound paranoid, but I think one of us should stay awake, just in case." She pulled the gun out of her back holster. "Have you ever shot a revolver before, Sam?"

"I wouldn't remember if I had," Sam said with a smile. Scully laughed. At least she had a good sense of humor about all she'd been through.

"Yeah, I guess not." She gave Sam a quick lesson, instructed her not to answer the door under any circumstances, then told her to take the first shift sleeping. Scully had no idea who might come after them or when, but she wasn't taking any chances. Even though she'd distanced herself from Mulder, she was sure they wouldn't hesitate to take both her and Sam if the situation arose. And as much as she had once thought that she'd never allow herself to be taken alive again, she'd also fight to the death to keep them from taking Sam.


Part 9

Mulder paced the room for the next half hour, running a thousand different possibilities through his head. He knew there had to be more going on here than he could comprehend, but he was unable to figure out why they were calling for him now, what they wanted from him. Maybe Tracy had been telling the truth. Maybe they needed him for whatever it was they were planning and this was the means to get him.

A good plan, ultimately, because there was no decision involved at all as far as he was concerned. He would meet them as they asked, just in case what they had told him was true. He couldn't gamble with Samantha's life. Not now when he had lost everything else that mattered to him. Without Scully, there was nothing left for him to lose. So, they met him at the zoo and killed him. What difference would it make at this point anyway?

He was actually rather surprised at his calmness, at the lack of anxiety that he felt considering that he'd just gotten the phone call he had wanted for so long. He suspected the reaction was due to the fact that deep down inside he knew it wasn't real. There had been too many promises, too many manipulations, for anything to work out as he had dreamed.

Just before 7:00, Tracy knocked on his door, and he momentarily wondered if maybe he should tell her what was going on. Maybe she would know something that would help him. He quickly reminded himself that he couldn't trust her, no matter how much he wanted to. She might be a part of this, and he couldn't take that chance.

When he finally opened the door for her, he could tell that she immediately sensed that something was wrong.

"Fox? You okay?" She scrutinized his face carefully despite his attempts at masking the cyclone of emotions running through him.

"I'm fine."

"You ready for breakfast? I thought maybe we could talk some more about what happened yesterday." She was trying to meet his gaze but he avoided her. She had come to know him surprisingly well in the past weeks, and he was afraid she'd try to stop him from what he was about to do. That was, after all, what she claimed to have been sent for, to stop him from making deals with anyone involved in the conspiracy.

"No. I have something I have to do today." His voice shook over the statement and Tracy's eyebrows raised in notice.

"Fox, I think we should go for a walk. You look like you need some fresh air." She stepped forward and placed a hand on his arm.

"No, thanks. I'm fine."

"Fox, please, you look like you're not feeling well. I think getting out of this room would do you some good."

"I don't want to take a goddamned walk!" he shouted, throwing her hand off of his arm. God, what was with her and fresh air all of a sudden?

"Well, I need to take a breather. I'll be outside if you want to join me, Mulder," she said softly.

He looked at her. She had called him Mulder. Not Fox. She was trying to tell him something. Her eyes were steady, unwavering. His brain felt like scrambled eggs--all his thoughts running together, nothing intelligible. Tracy's hand moved back to his arm, steadying him. He didn't know what else to do, so he let her guide him out of the room.

He was just barely aware of them leaving the building, walking across the parking lot and toward the sidewalk running in front of the motel. Somewhere in his hazy brain he began to understand. She had wanted him out of the room. Just as he started to comprehend her actions, she spoke the words he'd been thinking.

"The room is probably bugged. I needed to talk to you outside."

Mulder stared at her, a sinking feeling coming over him. She knew something. She was involved in this somehow.

"What do you know about this, Tracy? Please don't tell me you're part of this."

"Your sister's okay. They don't have her." Mulder stared at her, not quite able to believe that she already knew about the phone call. Her eyes were strong, reassuring, somehow telling him everything was going to be fine. God, how he needed that rationality now, the reason. He had never missed Scully more than at this moment, missed her ability to keep him grounded, to keep him from running off like a madman. He could tell by the look on Tracy's face that she was about to play that role for him.

"You know where my sister is?" he asked, the anger leaking out despite himself. "You should have told me that yesterday."

"No. I don't know where she is, but I know she's okay. Someone I trust told me that she's in safe hands."

"Krycek?" The absurdity of this moment seemed to multiply exponentially with every word out of Tracy's mouth.

She shifted uncomfortably on her feet. "Yes, he's the one who sent the message."

"I don't trust Krycek as far as I can spit."

"But you trust me."

"I did." He saw her flinch at his words. She placed her hand on his arm again, that motion having meant so many different things to him in the last few nightmare moments.

"They're bluffing, Fox. They don't have her. I promise you on my life, and trust me I'm putting it at risk to tell you this, they do not have her. They planned to use her to get to you, but the plan failed. Somebody else got to her first. Somebody on our side."

"What's going on, Tracy? You're telling me she really is alive? Why is this happening now?"

"I'm just figuring it out." She paced a few steps away from him, then turned and walked back. He could see her trying to assemble what she already knew with what had happened since they'd been here in San Diego. "The patients we came here to look for, the ones with the virus. I think they were a sign to those involved in The Project that the beginning has come. Like the flashing of the lobby lights before a play starts. It's the opening act, a sign that the plans are set in motion. And, oh my God, that's why they picked San Diego!"

"Why? I'm not following you Tracy. Make some sense for me."

Her face was suddenly bright with understanding. "Because Samantha was here. The plan is starting sooner than any of us expected. They obviously need you right now and leading you to her was the fastest way to get you to come to them. They led us here. They didn't get her because one of our people got to her first, but they're desperate enough to bluff. Fox, you have no idea what's about to happen!"

"Scully! Oh my God, Scully's here! In San Diego!" He felt a sudden rush of dread come over him like a hard slap, the feeling he'd had since she left finally coming to completion in absolute fear. "They'll go after her if they can't get Samantha!"

His heart pounded so loud in his ears he almost couldn't hear Tracy's voice. "She's safe, Fox. She'll be fine."

"No," he said, pushing himself away from her. "She doesn't know what's going on. She doesn't know what they're up to. She's a sitting duck." Suddenly he thought maybe Tracy was wrong. Maybe he had been drawn here because Scully was here, not because of Sam. It seemed too coincidental that all this was going down in the same city to which Scully had fled.

"She knows more than you think she does." Tracy's voice was firm and strong, telling him Scully was safe the same way she'd reassured him that Sam was safe. What did she mean by that? How did she know what was going on with Scully?

Mulder was too busy looking at Tracy, trying to read her face, to see the black sedan that pulled up across the parking lot. He didn't see the window roll down, the gun raised, the aim taken. The only thing of which he was aware was a gunshot splitting the morning.

The rest of the moment went in slow motion. His arms shot out to catch her as Tracy slumped against his chest. He turned his gaze from the red stain spreading across her white shirt to see the car, glimpsing for a fraction of a moment the red glow of a cigarette before the shooter disappeared behind rising tinted glass and the squeal of tires. The car raced into the dawn, leaving him holding Tracy who slipped to the grass, her blood covering his hands. *****

Mulder missed the meeting. Instead of being at the San Diego Zoo, he was once again in the waiting room of the UCSD hospital, this time waiting to find out if his partner would live or die. Tracy was in surgery but the prognosis looked good. Mulder had tried to staunch the flow of blood while he waited for the ambulance. He had talked her through it, telling her to hang on and that he needed her to help him understand what was going on.

Her last words just before she lost consciousness had sounded a bare whisper against the wailing sirens of the approaching ambulance. "It's a bluff. Don't go. I was sent here to protect you."

He chose to believe her.

And so 9:00 ticked by on the plain white hospital clock as he waited for news from the operating room. The guilt sank into him and he realized that he was to blame for this. She had sacrificed her safety and her cover to tell him that his sister was alive and safe, to keep him from needlessly falling into their clutches. For that he owed her, and he'd sit here until he knew she was okay.

Hours later, the news was good. Tracy's injuries weren't as serious as first believed. Lots of blood but minimal damage, and the removal of the bullet was simplified by its close proximity to the surface. Mulder was allowed to see her briefly, but the doctor explained she wouldn't wake up for several hours.

Temporarily relieved of his worry about Tracy, Mulder found his concern for Scully taking over his thoughts. Tracy had been sent to work with him, but that could only happen because Scully had left. Now he and Tracy had been drawn to where Scully was living. Somehow, Scully was part of this plan they were hatching. He was certain of it. He had to make sure she was safe. She needed to know what was going on so she could protect herself.

With trepidation, Mulder decided to leave Tracy to go to Scully's apartment to talk to her. He placed a security guard outside Tracy's room with strict orders, and rushed to find Scully, his anxiety increasing with each mile that passed.


Mulder knocked on the door, not sure if Scully answered if he'd be relieved or terrified. It didn't matter because Kresge answered within seconds.

The two men looked at each other for a few intense moments. "Agent Mulder?" Kresge finally broke the tension. "What can I do for you?"

Mulder cleared his throat, trying to quash the rising resentment that he had to ask this man permission to enter the sanctum. "Is Scully here?" he finally managed to get out.

"No, she's not." Kresge wasn't going to give an inch, Mulder could tell. He'd have to be honest about what he'd come for.

"Look, Kresge, I wouldn't have come back here if it wasn't important. Something has happened, something that involves a case Scully and I worked on together, and I'm afraid her life is in serious danger. I need to warn her. She needs to know what's going on so she can be prepared in case they come for her."

Mulder noticed a slight quiver of Kresge's lip, a quick moment of fear crossing his eyes. "She's gone," he said softly.

"Please, I'm begging you, tell me where she is."

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I don't know where she is." He paused a moment as if considering his options, then turned and pulled a piece of paper off the table next to the door. "She left this." He handed the paper to Mulder.

Mulder looked curiously at the man, then read the note in Scully's familiar handwriting.

"Dear Michael. Forgive me for leaving without letting you know, but something's come up that I had to deal with immediately. I can't give you the details right now, but I know you will understand, as you always have. I'll be in touch with you as soon as I possibly can, although that might not be for some time, but trust that I'm okay. I have people looking out for me. Dana."

Mulder felt that familiar bile rising, that feeling he'd gotten when Scully had left him. Now, here, she had left another man, another man who presumably loved her. What the hell was she running from? And suddenly he was certain that she was running from something. And it wasn't him after all.


By the time Mulder got back to the hospital, he was beginning to wonder if everything going on wasn't somehow connected, maybe even Scully's leaving him, although he couldn't figure out how. It all fit together a bit too neatly to be coincidence, and he needed answers fast.

Mulder entered Tracy's room, hoping to find her conscious. Instead he was met by an empty bed, stripped of the sheets that had covered it. He barely had time to panic before a young candy striper walked into the room.

"Where is the patient who was here? What happened to her?" The girl stepped back timidly at the force of his shouted words.

"Sir, she's not here. She was taken away. Some men from the FBI took her."

Oh God, they had gotten to her. He hadn't been here to protect her and they had come to kill her for betraying them. "The men from the FBI? What did they look like? Was one of them smoking?"

"You can't smoke in the hospital, sir." The girl stepped to the other side of the bed as if to put a solid object between herself and the ranting man in front of her. "I didn't see them. You need to ask Nurse Stein. She's the one who spoke to them."

Mulder left the girl behind, rushing to the front desk and demanding to speak to Nurse Stein.

"What happened to the patient in 504? Tracy Rourke?" He flashed his badge at her just to add the extra incentive to answer his questions more quickly.

Nurse Stein glared at him in warning to lower his voice. "A man from the FBI came in with a physician and insisted on having her transferred to that doctor's care. Against medical advice, I might add. You people really have some nerve."

"Can you describe them?" He didn't know why he asked; it's not like it would matter. Just another of their henchmen.

"Suits, middle-aged, good-looking. Extremely undistinctive. You're Agent Mulder?"


"Ms. Rourke left a message for you." Mulder felt a shiver of relief.

Nurse Stein pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket. "I wrote it down so I'd get it all. It didn't make much sense to me." She handed the paper to Mulder.

He snatched it out of her hand, thankful that the nurse's handwriting was neat. "Don't worry, it's the good guys. Get out of San Diego. Don't fall into their trap. You still owe me a Redskins game."

"She said you'd know what it meant," commented Nurse Stein with a shrug before walking away.

The relief was bittersweet. Tracy was taken by some of her own to protect her, but he knew that she'd have to go deep underground, and that meant he'd likely never see her again.

He would miss her. There was no doubt about that. Despite everything, she had helped him through what had been one of the most difficult times of his life. For that he would always be grateful. She had kept him company when his loneliness had threatened to enshroud him in dark desperation. She had smiled that smile at him, the one that had been a constant annoyance to him when they first met but which he had come to expect and appreciate.

As Mulder pocketed the note, the loss began to sink in. With Tracy went all the information she knew about the conspiracy and the resistance. He was back at square one, knowing little more than he did before she had walked into his life.

On top of that, he was alone once again. Partnerless, friendless, and without any hope of getting back anything he had lost. Except Samantha. If what Tracy had told him was true, Samantha was out there. Alive. He would find her this time. He would turn over every rock and threaten every conspirator until he found her. That was where he has started this quest and it was where he would finish it. It was the only thing he knew for sure he had left.


Part 10

After three days spent in the seedy Las Vegas motel, Scully was about to go stir crazy. She and Sam tried to go out as little as possible, but Scully didn't know how careful they needed to be until she heard from Krycek who was, inconveniently, noticeably quiet. They hadn't heard one word from him since they had arrived here, and Scully was fast becoming impatient. They could only hide out for so long, and she wasn't used to just sitting around waiting for something to happen.

The phone rang while Scully was studying yet another take-out menu to choose yet another meal. Sam scooped it up before Scully could stop her.

"Hello?" Pause, then an enthusiastic "Hi!" She listened carefully for a few moments, answering occasionally in short-syllabled agreement.

It's Alex," Sam said then, holding out the phone to Scully. Like she couldn't have guessed from the sparkle in the woman's eye.

Scully took the phone. Krycek said two words. "Go home."

"What?" she asked, needing the clarification. Did he mean her real home or did he mean San Diego?

"You heard me, Scully. Go home. Go see Mulder." The breath rushed out of her, the tight tension of two months of waiting expelled with it.

"What's happened? Did you get what you needed?" This seemed too easy, too sudden.

"Not yet. There's a lot of work to be done, and this is far from over. I'll still need your help, and Mulder's, but I can guarantee you that you're safe from them. And Sam too. They won't come for you. You have my word."

Two months ago, Scully would have laughed in Krycek's face if he had said that to her, but now, now was different. It wasn't so much that she trusted him as that she needed to believe him. She needed to go home. And she knew that he wouldn't let Sam be hurt. If there was anything she could know for certain about the man, it was that Sam meant something to him.

"Thank you," she whispered, although she wasn't sure exactly what she was thanking him for. He was the one who had sent her away in the first place, and she couldn't ever know for sure if it was justified, if his ends had been as honorable as he had led her to believe.

She heard a click at the other end; her thanks rested unacknowledged.

"What is it?" Sam asked, stepping forward to touch Scully's arm. "Alex said it was good news."

"It is. Very good. Oh, God." That was all Scully could say before Sam took her into her arms and held her as she shed the tears of months of pain. She honestly wasn't sure if she was crying from relief at her own safety, joy that she could go back to Mulder, or fear of what was inevitably coming in their future as Krycek worked to take down the colonization plan. All the emotions were scattered inside her brain, melted together so that she couldn't pick out one from the other.

Thoughts of seeing Mulder quickly soothed her emotional turmoil. Sam released her and stood before her, beaming. "You get to go home," she said softly.

"Yes," said Scully. "I'll be leaving on the first flight I can get. Come with me. Come see your brother." Scully smiled and grasped Sam's hand.

Sam hesitated a moment, then nodded her agreement. "I'd like that."


Scully was going to see Mulder. Soon. Her hands shook every time she thought about it. She couldn't believe it was happening so fast. By tonight, she'd be back in his life, with Samantha in tow.

She called Mulder from her cell phone on the way to the airport, hoping that he'd finished his case in San Diego and was back in D.C. When he answered, just hearing his voice set her heart pounding. She would have given anything to push the hands of time forward just a few hours so she'd be back home.

"Mulder, it's me."

Silence on the other end, as she'd become accustomed to recently. He obviously had come to expect bad news from her, not speaking to allow her to just say her piece and be gone. She wondered if he'd be able to forgive her, if they'd be able to get past what had happened and go back to what they were, or maybe even grow from it.

"I'm coming home. My flight gets in at 10:15, Delta 847. Could you be there to meet me?"

The silence sliced across the distance and into her heart. Please, Mulder, please come. She wanted to beg him but realized she needed to let him decide on his own, needed to give him the space and time to come to her so she could explain everything. Sam's presence would help that, she was sure of it.

"I'll be there," he said softly and, she could tell, with held-back emotion, reserving it to protect himself from any more pain.

"Thank you, Mulder. I can't wait to see you." He hung up without response and she hoped he didn't change his mind before he got there.


When she called him to ask if he would meet her at the airport, he felt very little. A bit of relief that she was safe, perhaps, but in all, the moment was as unreal as when she had told him she was staying in California. Unbelievable, nearly unendurable. Despite his hesitation in responding to her question, however, he was aware that the answer was inevitable. The need was strong, so powerful that to deny it would be more destructive than to give into it. By accepting the need, his soul let go of months of suffocating restraint. Scully was coming home.

Now, Mulder's heart vaulted as Scully stepped through the airport gate and he could see her clearly across the crowds of people waiting for loved ones. It had been so long that just one glimpse of her soothed his parched soul in a way he hadn't felt since she'd left. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten how beautiful she was.

She looked up and saw him and beamed a drop-dead gorgeous smile, and his heart picked up a hard fast rhythm and he thought he'd die before she managed to work her way through the throngs of people over to where he was standing. He didn't care what she had done or who she had done it with. All he cared about was that at this moment she was walking straight toward him with a smile filling up her face and her eyes glistening so brightly he was amazed that the whole airport didn't notice her.

As she maneuvered through the crowd, Mulder's gaze was drawn to the woman walking beside her. The other woman was beautiful too, strikingly so. For some reason Mulder couldn't take his eyes off of her, although her familiarity wasn't making sense to him. As they grew closer, however, he saw her eyes. Her eyes. So familiar. He knew them from years past. The eyes were ageless.

They were the eyes of an eight-year-old girl who had looked up to him with admiration and love, and on one horrible night, in absolute terror.

She walked right up to him while the realization was rising to the surface. He continued to stare at her, unable to comprehend the puzzle pieces falling into place in his brain. She had a face that matched the women he had met before, though the hair was different, and her features seemed thinner and older than the clones he had seen, a certain weariness there that he hadn't seen on the others. But the eyes had a life behind them that could only come from the real thing.

"Hey, Dog Face," she said.

The nickname was as familiar as her eyes and face, grabbing hold of his heart and squeezing so tightly he wanted to scream with the joyous pain of it. He looked from the woman to Scully who was grinning like an idiot, her eyes shining with the emotion of the scene playing out in front of her. Then he looked back at the woman to make sure she was real. Yes, the eyes were right, the smile even.


It was only a whisper, just a quiet declaration, his fear that he would be denied again keeping him from shouting it out at the top of his lungs. Without warning, the woman dropped her carry-on bag and launched herself into his arms. Mulder wrapped himself around her and buried his face in her hair. She even smelled right, smelled like so many memories ago, from a time before a thousand shattered dreams. And he knew in a way he hadn't know before, with the other Samantha, that this one was real, and he wept.

When finally they pulled apart, Sam looked at him carefully, examining him, running her hand across his face, along his jaw, as if memorizing him in this new grown-up incarnation.

"So, how've you been?" she asked, her eyes light with happiness.

"I missed you," he answered, finding even that admission difficult after so many years of trying so hard not to feel anything at all.

"Me too," she said and smiled brightly, her beauty more mature than as he remembered her, but still uniquely hers, a beauty seen through the eyes of an older brother.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mulder saw Scully step back away from the reunion and begin walking down the corridor toward the exit. He tore his gaze from Sam for moment, as hard as that was.

"Wait, Scully." His voice sounded pathetic to his ears, close to begging, and he took a few steps toward her. He *was* begging. Was she leaving him again? After she had done this for him?

Scully turned to look at him. "Don't worry, Mulder. I'm not going anywhere." She walked toward him again, then reached out to take his hand. She squeezed tightly and he resisted the urge to pull her into his arms and welcome her back, as he had just done with Sam. "You need some time with Samantha," she said softly, and he saw the tears still in her eyes. "I'll be here for you when you're ready."

Mulder simply nodded in response, words failing him in the onslaught of long-buried emotion. Love for Sam. Love for Scully. All mixed up into one huge wall of gratefulness and joy.

"Thank you," he finally sputtered. Scully smiled a shy smile, squeezed his hand once more, and walked away.


As excited as she was to see Mulder again, Scully left the airport on her own, leaving Sam and Mulder to drive home alone together. It was a reunion that was not meant for her presence. In some ways, just seeing him again, seeing that there was love in his eyes and not hatred, had soothed the initial trepidation she felt. They certainly had a lot of things to talk about. Sam would fill him in on some of the details--how Scully had come to her, Krycek's involvement, their run to Las Vegas--but she didn't know nearly enough to give Mulder the answers Scully knew he would need before the two of them could begin to mend their partnership. If it could be mended. And even if it could, would their relationship be repairable as well? So much trust had been lost, she wasn't sure they could ever get back enough to continue on the path they had started.

She tried not to worry about it right now. She and Sam had just gotten back last night, and Mulder and Sam needed time together. Scully was perfectly happy to step back and give it to them. In a few days, probably, Mulder would be ready to talk, and maybe by then she'd have found the courage to face him. It still terrified her. Perhaps his initial happiness in seeing her had been a product of his reunion with Sam, and when he sat down and thought again about what she had done, the anger and bitterness would return. She had heard those feelings in his voice whenever she had talked to him on the phone. They couldn't just disappear simply because she had come home.

Scully was surprised when there was a knock at the door. She'd just finished dinner and was preparing for a hot bath and an early night to bed. The last few days had been exhausting.

She didn't expect it to be Mulder, it seemed like it was too soon, but it was.

She opened the door only to feel a rush of heat passing through her the moment she looked at him. She hadn't realized how much she missed even little things like him standing at her door, his lanky body leaning against the door frame, his smile slightly teasing.

"Mulder, what are you doing here?" She didn't mean to sound accusatory, but he shouldn't have left Sam so soon.

He looked bewildered at her question. "I came to see you. Can I come in?"

She took a moment to study his face, its familiarity something she never could forget, but it felt good to reassure herself that it was as she remembered. "You should be with Sam," she pointed out, but stepped away from the doorway so he could enter. The mixture of feelings flowing through her made her feel jumpy and awkward-- excitement at being near him again, fear of the confrontation that must be coming, and a love so deep that she wondered how she had gone so long trying not to feel it.

"I've had time with her. Now I need some time with you," he said as she closed the door behind him. "Besides she was busy gabbing on the phone with Mom when I left." He smiled at her and she wondered if this was going to be as painful as she feared. Maybe they could get through this calmly and rationally. Maybe, just maybe, he loved her enough to listen to her explanations and take them into account before he passed judgment.

"Your mother must be beside herself."

Mulder shook off his jacket and tossed it over a chair. He obviously wasn't planning on making just a brief appearance. "She's so excited. I've never heard her sound so ... young." He chuckled at his choice of words. "Sam's going up there to see her tomorrow, I guess."

"So you two got all caught up?"

"Not exactly. It's just me who had to do all the catching up. It's not like she has much to tell." He managed a half smile with that statement, and Scully could see the pain etched across his face like the residue of past anguish, permanently part of him now, no matter how happy the ending.

"Mulder, those memories she has are implanted."

"Yeah, I kind of figured that out. I was pretty sure she wasn't living happily all this time with her husband and white picket fence." He winced again and Scully tried not to imagine how difficult it must be for him to not know exactly what she had been through, to know the years that had been lost to her, and to him. "Do you know how long ago she was returned?" he asked.

"Just a month or so before I found her, I guess." It was amazing how many questions still remained unanswered. "She was with The Project all this time. You never would have found her if they hadn't let her go." Mulder nodded, a sigh escaping him. She'd eventually have to tell him everything Krycek had told her about The Project and Sam's role in it, but she wasn't sure where to begin.

"So, are you the one who's responsible for making sure she got back to me safely?"

The gratitude on his face tore at her conscience. She didn't deserve any thanks for the choices she had made, and she felt uncomfortable that Mulder would feel any kind of gratefulness after the way she had left him and the lies she had told him. "I'm afraid you owe that thanks to Krycek. He's the one who told me where she was."

Mulder nodded reluctantly.

"Did Sam talk about Krycek?" Scully asked, wondering how Mulder was going to deal with their closeness. She hoped Sam had broached the subject slowly and didn't dive in by just announcing she had feelings for him.

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Yes, endlessly," he said with annoyance. "PLEASE tell me they're not lovers, Scully. I might have to kill him after all."

Scully couldn't help but laugh at the look of disgust on his face. It relieved her in a way; at least some of the old Mulder was still there. "What's that they say, Mulder? You don't lose a sister, you gain a brother?" she teased. Mulder groaned. "Maybe he'll ask you to be his best man," she continued, somehow feeling that joking could put off the inevitable conversation they had to have.

Mulder clutched his chest in mock pain. "Stop, Scully. You're going to kill me."

He looked at her, his eyes light with a happiness that was so alien to the Mulder she had known that it seemed out of place, like some kind of phantom remnant from earlier days, before his life had become so tragic.

Then his smile suddenly faded, his gaze growing intense and serious. There was a long moment of silence as they stood there, the tension crackling, suddenly neither of them having anything to say. Mulder looked at his shoes; Scully looked at the wall beside them. She waited for his questions. How had she found Sam? Why had she left? Why didn't she tell him what was going on? How could she have done that to him?

The questions didn't come. He asked nothing of her. He simply stood there, his eyes darting from his shoes to her face, each time looking her over as if he couldn't believe she was standing there.

"We have a lot to talk about," she finally said, just to fill the ominous silence with something. She wanted to get this thing going before the wondering killed her. He continued to stare at her in that way she couldn't interpret, fiercely and deeply. It made her shiver.

"We do," he answered, reaching out and lightly brushing her elbow. "But later." He stepped toward her, raising his arms awkwardly as if he wanted to embrace her, and then it dawned on her that that's exactly what he was doing. His hands fell across her hips and he moved forward again until there was nothing between them. Then he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him.

She was stunned into compliance, relaxing in his arms as the comfort she had craved for long months was suddenly surrounding her, warmly and strongly. She had not expected this, not at all. There were questions he must have, answers he should be demanding. But, no, he held on to her, his hands stroking her back, his breath mingling with light kisses on the top of her head.

She couldn't get past the amazement, the absolute astonishment at the way he was holding her, and loving her. He forgave her before the explanations, before the answers. He trusted that she was who he had always known her to be, that she felt what he must have always known she felt, despite the evidence to the contrary that had been thrown at him in the past few months.

Maybe it had all been worth it for this, this single moment. All Krycek's talk about the ends justifying the means, making the choice for the greater good. These ends? These were good ends. This moment, when the explanations and apologies were secondary to the silent affection that had marked their many years together. When that was all Mulder expected from her. When she had proof that they would always end up right back here, no matter what, no matter who tried to pull them apart. Maybe this end was what they had been waiting for all along.



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