BEREFT
Katriena Knights

They stood in a loose circle around where he lay in the middle of the field. She walked toward them and something floated up out of her body, watching while she knelt next to him. It was the same part of her soul that left her when she sliced open a corpse, the part that went away so she could do it without emotion.

But it didn't take a forensic pathologist to see he was dead. Had been dead for at least a few days.

Emotion slammed back into her. It wasn't too late. It couldn't be. Jeremiah Smith . . .

She wheeled and ran for the buildings. Jeremiah Smith could still save him.

Then, with no sense of the passage of time, she was standing in the middle of the shabby bedroom, screaming as the bright light receded above her.

"This is not happening! This is not happening!"

#

Too late to stop Scully's headlong rush, Skinner ran after her. He saw the lights, too, flaring and then receding above the shack, so much like the lights he'd seen when Mulder had been taken.

His fault.

She was standing in the middle of the room, screaming incoherently, by the time he got there. He went to her, hardening himself against the emotion that rose like a rock in his throat. She struck at him as he reached for her, beating his hands away. The empty, staring eyes told him she didn't know what she was doing. He persisted, for the first time in his life using his strength against a woman, to pin her arms and hold her, protecting her and himself from her blind assault.

Then, just as suddenly as she'd turned and run, she collapsed against him. For the first time he realized how truly small she was, her bones as fragile as a bird's as he closed his arms around her. He'd never seen her cry before, and now she was sobbing, huge, wrenching sobs ripped from the deepest parts of her soul.

He held her and she fell apart in his arms, her broken voice forming words he was certain she wasn't aware she spoke: "I loved him. I loved him . . ."

#

They sat across from each other at Scully's kitchen table, Skinner and John Doggett, bleary-eyed and fighting to stay awake. Skinner had told Doggett to go home but he'd refused. Scully had still been hysterical when Doggett had met them at the shed. A doctor on the scene had given her a tranquilizer, then Skinner and Doggett had brought her home. She was sleeping now, secure in her own room. Skinner had just checked on her, seen her lying pale and small in the cocoon of a down comforter.

Doggett got up and paced the kitchen, stretching, as he'd done every fifteen minutes since they'd gotten there, like clockwork. Skinner was too tired to find it annoying anymore.

"You gonna stay here all night?" Doggett asked.

Skinner took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I just want to be sure she's okay. I don't think she should be left alone right now."

Doggett nodded. "I agree with you there." He nodded toward the kitchen cabinets. "D'you think she'd mind if we made some coffee?"

"See if there's any instant. I don't want the smell waking her up."

A few minutes later they were drinking instant coffee. Skinner, for one, didn't feel much more alert than he had before the caffeine. But he'd be damned if he was going to drift off now.

"You're, um, fond of her, aren't you?" Doggett said suddenly, as if he'd been ruminating over the question and wasn't sure he'd made the right decision in asking it.

Skinner didn't deny it. "She's the strongest woman I know."

Doggett shook his head. "I don't know how she's held up, all this time."

"What happened tonight would be enough to break anybody."

"Even though he was just her partner."

The statement hung in the air for several seconds, daring Skinner to contradict it. He drank coffee and said nothing. It wasn't his place to tell Doggett anything Scully hadn't told him already.

"C'mon, sir." Fatigue made Doggett ballsy, Skinner decided. He gave Doggett a hard look, a don't-go-there look. Doggett wasn't swayed. "They didn't make me her partner because I'm a lousy investigator. I can put two and two together."

Skinner, about as punchy as Doggett by now, allowed himself a smile. "I'm in no position to either confirm or deny any rumors regarding those allegations."

"I don't see how it even matters now Mulder's dead."

Dead. It was the first time that night Skinner had actually heard anyone string those word's together. Mulder's dead. He couldn't help thinking it would turn out not to be true. After all, he'd come back from the tanker truck explosion, and the suicide had been part of an elaborate hoax engineered by Mulder himself. But he'd seen the evidence this time. He wished Scully hadn't.

"Maybe it doesn't. But I stayed out of their personal business."

"Why? If they were having an affair, isn't that against regulations?"

"Are you questioning my judgment, Agent Doggett?"

Doggett shook his head. "No. Not that. There's just a lot about Agent Scully I don't understand. This thing with Mulder, hiding her pregnancy. She's been less than forthcoming about a lot of things."

Skinner stared at his coffee cup. He didn't think he could stomach any more of the watery stuff. "I watched those two for seven years. I saw Mulder lose his father, Scully lose her sister, then Mulder's mother died. There was always something between them. Telepathy, almost. And in the end, all they really had was each other."

"But they crossed the line."

Skinner shrugged. He didn't need to justify himself to Doggett, wasn't even sure why he was continuing this conversation. But maybe Doggett did deserve to know at least something about his new partner, and about the man whose shoes he was trying to fill. "They were discreet enough I can't even tell you when it started. What can I say? I let it go. We broke so many regulations in that office I figured one more wouldn't make a difference."

To his surprise, Doggett smiled. "You've got a point there." He looked over his shoulder, toward Scully's bedroom. "I just wish she'd open up a little more. Let me help her."

"Don't blame yourself, Doggett. She's a tough nut to crack."

#

Scully woke to a strange, tickling sensation in her abdomen. At first she thought something was crawling across her stomach and she brushed at it, then sat up straight, finally awake enough to realize she didn't want a bug on her stomach.

But there was no bug. She sat staring herself for several seconds before she finally realized what had happened.

The baby. She was feeling the baby move for the first time.

Tears welled in her eyes and she let herself hold tight to the moment of joy. She needed it more right now than she'd ever needed it before in her life.

She was still sitting there, both hands clasped over the tickling sensations, when her door eased open a crack. She looked up to see Skinner's familiar face between the door and the jamb.

"Sir?" she said. "What are you doing here?"

"I've been here all night, with Agent Doggett. How are you doing?"

She nodded. The grief was there, a huge hole in her heart, but she didn't feel like she was about to lose herself in it. She had the baby now, moving under her hands, to keep her rooted to life. "I'm okay."

"If you feel up to it, go ahead and get dressed and we'll get you some breakfast."

Skinner and Doggett, in her apartment all night, just to be sure she was okay. The thought staggered her. "Thanks."

#

Her mother arrived later in the morning, and only then did her boss and her partner leave. Margaret thanked them, and Scully was surprised to see her deposit a small kiss on Skinner's cheek.

When they were gone, Scully let herself indulge in a long, motherly hug. No tears, though. She'd had enough of them for a while.

"How's the baby?" Margaret asked after a time.

"Fine. I felt it move this morning for the first time."

Her mother smiled warmly. "It won't be long before you'll start to really show."

"I know."

"It'll be harder to keep all your secrets, then."

Scully didn't answer. She knew her mother wanted very much to know who the baby's father was, but Scully couldn't give answers she didn't have, and the hopes she'd held against her heart for the last few months seemed even more futile now.

"I'm sorry about Fox," said Margaret then, and Scully nodded.

"Thanks, Mom."

#

The funeral was hard, but she made it through, taking every scrap of support available to her. Her mother, Skinner, Doggett, even Frohike, Langly and Byers, whose sadness seemed nearly as deep as her own. For once Frohike wasn't leering at her, and even Langly offered a comforting embrace.

"You need anything, you let us know," he said. "Anything at all."

She had a sudden vision of Frohike bringing her a jar of pickles at two in the morning. It was almost enough to make her smile.

Her mother had to go home later that day, having used up all her available vacation time from work. She left Scully with a kiss and a reminder to call or drop by any time. Scully understood, but it was hard for her to remember that other people had lives, that those lives went bustling on outside these walls, where everything had, for her, ground to a crushing halt.

She wandered her apartment aimlessly, feeling the tickly shifting of the baby and wondering if she would ever feel like herself again. Over the past few months she'd found comfort in Mulder's apartment, but she couldn't face that now. It was bad enough here, where reminders of his presence were more subtle.

Finally she stretched out in bed, so tired she could barely keep her eyes open. She'd gotten sleeping pills from the doctor, who'd assured her they wouldn't hurt the baby, but she didn't want to take any more risks. Sleep would have to come on its own.

#

He lay on an autopsy table in front of her, stretched out and still, his skin gray in the harsh light. She adjusted the overhead mike, snapped on her mask, and picked up a scalpel.

"Male, thirty-five to forty years old, approximately six feet tall and one hundred seventy pounds," she began, her voice calm as she spoke into the microphone.
"Victim was deceased upon recovery, death having occurred approximately forty-eight to seventy-two hours previously. Cause of death undetermined, but external scars indicate torture and possible vivisection. Wounds do not appear to have been made post-mortem." Her small hands explored the wide, ugly scar down his chest. "Preparing to make the Y incision."

She drew the scalpel down the scar, angled two more incisions from the middle of his chest to his shoulders. Then, matter-of-factly, as she'd done a thousand times before, she peeled back the skin.

He sat up.

Startled, she looked up into his eyes. His face, ravaged by the scars of torture and decay, regarded hers with infinite sadness.

"Please don't do that, Scully," he said. "I'm not dead yet."

She sat bolt upright in bed, breathing in ragged gasps that came far too close to sobs. She put her hands over her face to hold them back.

There hadn't even been an autopsy. When she'd helped Mulder write up his living will, he'd put that in. No autopsy. He'd cited religious reasons, which made her wonder, but when he pressed him he gave her another explanation, which sounded more genuine.

"Because I don't want you to do it."

"You could just put in the will that you don't want me to do it."

He'd shaken his head. "If I put that in there, and I died under suspicious circumstances, would there be anything in the world that could stop you from doing the autopsy?"

She'd had him there. "Probably not."

"If I write it this way, nobody will let you do it. Or anybody else, for that matter."

"But what if we miss something important by not doing it?"

"Doesn't matter. Missing a couple of facts is worth it, to spare you that."

She realized, sitting there staring at the night, that he'd been right. Doing the post mortem on his mother had been hard enough. She couldn't imagine cutting him open, extracting organs . . .

"Oh, God." This was too much. The darkness pressed in on her. She turned on the bedside light, but the shadows it cast made her breathe harder, made her look for him in their depths.

She fumbled with the phone, dialing Skinner's number. It would take her mother too long to get here. She needed somebody here now, and for once in her life she wasn't too proud to ask for help. But Skinner's number rang and rang, and finally an answering machine picked up. She hung up without leaving a message. Who else was there? The Gunmen? She had no doubt they'd rush right over, chivalrous to a fault and ever loyal to Mulder's memory. But she couldn't remember their number, or where she'd written it down when Langly had given it to her at the funeral. Plus it was a little too close. They were Mulder's friends, brought too much of him with them.

She chewed her lip for a few seconds. Then she picked up the phone again.

Doggett's bleary voice answered after four rings. Hearing it wanted her to hang up in embarrassment, but she didn't. He had caller ID, so he'd just call her back, anyway.

"Agent Doggett?" she said, mortified at the way her voice cracked.

"Agent Scully?" He sounded more alert now.

"I'm really sorry to bother you . . ."

"Hang tight," he said. "I'll be right there."

#

He got there so fast she wondered if he'd been sleeping in his clothes. She'd wrapped herself up tight in a robe and thus was presentable when she answered the door.

"Are you okay, Agent Scully?" His cragged face creased with concern, he touched her shoulder as he stepped past her into the living room.

She nodded. "I just--" She broke off. "This is stupid. I'm really sorry. I had a bad dream."

"It's okay." He was so dead serious, she thought. At least with him she knew he wasn't mouthing platitudes.

"My mom couldn't stay. I'm just having a hard time being alone." More justifications, more explanations, lurked behind that one.

"It's okay," Doggett said again, even more sincerely than the first time. "I know what this is like."

She nodded. Again, he meant what he said. "Thank you."

He sat on the couch and she sat at the opposite end, afraid to look at him.

"The doctor gave you something to take, didn't he?"

"Yes, but I don't want to risk hurting the baby."

"Didn't he say it was okay?"

"I gave myself a second opinion."

A smile lurked at the corner of his mouth, but faded quickly. "You go on back to bed. I'll be right here if you need me."

There was something to say, some argument to make, but she didn't make it. She only nodded, and went back to bed.

#

When she woke to the sound of the radio alarm, which she'd forgotten to turn off, he was sprawled on her couch, asleep, the TV running with the volume turned down so low as to be almost inaudible. She stood looking down at him, his lined face carrying a slight frown even in sleep.

She smiled and touched his shoulder, not bothering to wake him. The smell of the coffee would do that in a few minutes. He stirred not at all under her touch. Just knowing he'd been out here had made it so much easier.

"Thank you, Agent Doggett," she whispered, and went to start the coffee.

If they'd had to send her somebody, she supposed, it was a good thing it had been him.

END.