Chapter 2

I can't look her in the eyes for fear that she will see the sudden shift of perception in my gaze. My pulse quickens as she leans towards me to pull her arms clear, her nearness intruding on my senses, the top of her head just brushing my chin, the faded scent of her fragrance mixed with sweat still clinging to her. An unexpected eddy of desire swirls between us, as it so often does, awaiting direction.

"Thank you," she says after I lay the coat over the back of the desk chair, the moment of truth having come and gone, again as it so often does, without mention. Turning back towards the tank, she says, "Do you think they know?" I'm thinking cops, I'm thinking Bureau, I'm thinking Consortium. Then I realize she's talking about the fish, but even I can't make a connection.

"Know what? That they're hungry? I'm sure of that. Fish aren't very good at dieting." Her mouth twitches ever so slightly, her barest concession to my feeble attempt at levity. She reaches for the fish food and sprinkles some on the surface of the water. The Acaras rise rapidly to gobble the rainbow-colored flakes, while the Red Hooks pretend not to care.

"I mean, do you think they know they're in prison?" she asks with some seriousness.

"Are they?"

"What else would you call it? The fact that they don't know it doesn't mean it's not true, even if it looks okay to them." I follow her train of thought with some difficulty, but I think I understand.

"You think they're spinning their wheels."

"Maybe."

"You think we're spinning our wheels."

She turns to me then. "Mulder, I committed a crime tonight. I ignored my training and did the very opposite of what I'm sworn to do. I should turn myself in. Now."

"He was hardly an innocent man."

"Don't patronize me," she snaps, her voice brittle.

"Patronize?"

"I saw your face, Mulder, when I fired. I heard what you said to the cops. I know what you must think of me."

"I told you what I believe to be true. You had no choice." My words hold conviction, but inside I have to admit I'm disconcerted by her observation.

"He was apprehendable."

"Was he?"

Her chin rises as she lifts her face to mine, a bare flicker of hope in her eyes. "You have a theory?" Her question is more statement than query, her willingness to explore extreme possibilities heightened by her role in it. And in fact, I do have a theory. All the way over here, I've been mulling over the evening's events, the entire case, in fact.

Taking her by the hand, I lead her to the sofa. She sits down and I sit opposite her, on the coffee table. Her body is compacted into tiny space: legs and feet evenly aligned, back erect, hands lying quietly in her lap, eyes steady on mine. I lean forward, forearms pressed to my thighs, hands clasped before me. "I think he wanted to die," I start, my eyes watching hers. I read the bewilderment there as she realizes who I'm talking about.

"Pfaster?" she asks in a whisper.

I nod. "Stay with me here," I begin, preparing to fill her in on some of the ideas that have been banging around my head for the last few hours and hoping she's open to hearing them. The barest arch of her brow assures me her attention. "I think the Reverend Orison really believed he was bringing the faithful back to God. He may have been deluding himself, Scully, but he believed it. And he wanted to bring Donnie Pfaster back to God. Badly. That's why he helped him escape, so he could prove to God he'd succeeded in rehabilitating Donnie before killing him and sending him to Heaven. We know Orison was capable of clouding the mind. I think he may even have been using it on me, preventing me from seeing what was happening or acting on it until it was almost too late."

Scully's rigid posture reflects her mindset, but her eyes are full of questions. "And you think he was using some sort of mind control on me?" she asks from under raised brows.

"Scully, that song you kept hearing..."Don't Look Any Further," right?" She nods. "You said you hadn't heard it since your high school days and then you started hearing it everywhere."

"So?"

"So, maybe that's how Orison worked on you."

"By playing oldies-but-goodies from my childhood?"

"You said the song had special meaning. You said he called you Scout, that you associated that name and that song with recognizing evil."

"And?"

"Don't you see it? Your mind held memories that Orison could tap into. He picked your brain, Scully. He knew Pfaster would seek you out."

"Why not just warn me? Why the mind-game?"

I shake my head. "I think he did warn you, in his own way. He used the song."

"Mulder, even if I believe Orison was capable of "picking my brain", as you put it, he was dead before Pfaster came to my apartment." She pauses and I know she's reliving the evening's horrific events and her voice drops in volume. "I heard the song playing while I was in the closet."

My heart aches for the memories that haunt her. I wish I had more definitive answers for her, but I don't. X-Files don't lend themselves to neat, tidy endings. "I don't know, Scully. Coincidence? A restless spirit's last attempt to make good? A post-death suggestion?"

Her brows knit together as she looks at me, her mind scanning the places and conversations of the last few days, trying to draw self-generated conclusions from my words. She has never taken the easy path, my Scully, nor has she allowed me to, either. If we come through this, it will be because of her search for the truth, a search she now pursues with even more single-mindedness than myself, even at risk to her career and her self-worth.

She sits back into the sofa, her body only slightly less rigid, but it's a start. "So, you're saying that Orison 'felt' my memories of Pfaster and tried to warn me against him?"

"Yes."

"You're also suggesting it was Orison who made me fire?" she asks, her eyes full of distress.

"I think we were all Orison's pawns-caught in his game, the rules of which we may never know."

"Even if that's true, Mulder, that doesn't explain your original statement about Pfaster wanting to die."

"When I finally reached you, Donnie knew it was over. He knew it, Scully, and he wasn't about to go back to prison. I raised my gun and he just stood there. He knew I wouldn't fire without cause."

"But, if he wanted to die-"

"Not by my hand." I reach out and clasp Scully's hands between mine, their smallness belying their strength. "You had to be the one. I know that all he did was turn to look at you, but in your state of mind, Scully, it was threat enough. Pfaster wanted to hurt you...to claim you...to exact your-" I look down at her fingers in mine "-flesh," I finish with barely a sound, before returning my gaze to hers.

"Pfaster was unarmed when I fired, Mulder, and I made a choice."

"Robert Modell didn't hold a weapon to us either, Scully, but he held our lives in his hands just the same."

She drops her head and pulls her hands from mine. I know she's recalling a small hospital room where we faced another master of mind control. We came out of that case seeing one another with new eyes, our partnership forever changed. When she looks back up at me, her eyes are bright, tears withheld.

"You're suggesting that neither of us was fully in control of what happened tonight?"

"I'm suggesting you had no choice, one way or the other," I reply softly, my eyes squinting as I watch her reaction. Semantics, again.

"I don't know if I can accept that."

I chew on my lower lip, mentally preparing my next question. "Answer me a question, Scully, would you?" She waits. "You believe in a God that's omnipotent, right?"

"Yes. God knows all."

"Past, present, future?"

"What are you getting at?"

"If that's so, then God knew right from the moment of creation that man would fall from grace." She is staring at me, carefully listening to the agnostic recall his catechism. "And if that's true, why bother to give man, or woman, free choice at all? It's all a done deal, anyway."

"No-"

"No?"

"No, Mulder. We make choices. Reality is made up of all the infinite choices made from all the infinite possibilities presented. Once a path is chosen, it must run to its inevitable conclusion, excluding all other possibilities."

"Part of your thesis, wasn't it?" That garners me the first true glimpse of a smile I've seen all day. "So, God knows all the variations, even though only one gets played out?"

"Something like that."

"Then he's just a lottery vendor, pulling the winning numbers without controlling them." I see her annoyance growing as she leans forward. I know she's angry with my metaphor and my impertinence, but it's better than self-recrimination.

"We make choices," she states in her best "this conversation is over" tone of voice, rising from the sofa and moving towards the doorway.

I stand and look after her. "How?" I call to her back. She sighs and turns towards me. I see the fatigue in her eyes, but I can't let this go. I'm looking for any angle that will help her begin to vindicate her actions.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean what's the process?" She considers me for a moment, then the question. This is basic FBI canon: Investigative Methods 101. She'll either dismiss me or answer me. I close my eyes with an exhale of breath when she begins to respond.

"Well...first you identify the problem," she says in recitation mode.

"Then you gather data, assess your options, make a plan and carry it out. Of course, that all happens relatively quickly, in most cases."

I nod as she ticks off the checklist. "What you're saying is you do the best you can given the information you've got."

"Always," she replies without missing a beat and a small piece of me begins to rest easier, knowing that my shrewd partner will eventually fit the pieces of this demonic jigsaw together, in due time.

"Always," I repeat for her benefit and look into her eyes, willing her to make the connection to her own choices. "Physician, heal thyself," I gently tell her, a sudden weariness overcoming me with a deep sigh.

"You're tired," she says and I chuff softly at her consideration of me, even now. It doesn't matter whether my theories are accurate or not. I will defend her actions completely.

"I think we both need some sleep," I respond. "You take the bedroom. I'll sleep here." She says nothing, but nods; and I can see our conversation has given her pause. Walking to where her suitcase sits beside the entry, she picks it up and heads into the bedroom. I'm suddenly glad I replaced the leaky waterbed with a normal mattress and box spring. Somewhere along the way, I acquired bed linens, so the room is actually livable.

She returns to the doorway of the living room for a moment, looking as if she wants to say something, then reconsiders before disappearing from view. I take off my shoes and unbutton the top of my jeans. Sitting back, I allow my head to drop backwards against the wall while I listen to the sounds of Scully preparing for bed. They are small sounds, comforting sounds-sounds of normalcy. They are sounds of Scully going through the motions of a normal life. It's the best I can do for her, right now. Stretching out on the sofa, I turn on the television and channel surf until Gary Cooper wearing a cowboy hat stops my wanderings. I turn down the volume and drop the remote to the floor, slumber overtaking me.

I awake with a start to the sound of steady rain, a sixth sense telling me I'm not alone. Dawn's pale light and the muted flickering of the television reveal someone standing over me. I half rise, then relax when I see it's Scully, wrapped in a quilt. How long she's been standing there, watching me, I have no idea. "You okay?" I rasp, my voice hoarse with sleep. The fatigue in her posture tells me she hasn't slept. I'm still groggy and not thinking very clearly. I fumble for the remote on the floor and turn off the television, laying the unit on the table. "C'mere," I tell her, patting the space beside me. She hesitates. "It's okay," I tell her, extending my arm towards her, "we can share a blanket."

Under other circumstances, I wouldn't stand a shot at having her take me up on my offer; but the night's events have left her shaken. A shuddering sigh rattles her and she stands for a few, indecisive moments. Finally, she opens her arm to drape the quilt around us as she descends, her body settling beside me, back to front, her legs swinging upward to stretch out alongside mine. My breath quickens at her proximity and I remind myself to stay calm as I recline once more. Her slender frame takes up virtually no space, her tousled head resting on my folded arm just beneath my chin, the quilt trailing to the floor. I allow my free arm to drop around her, chalking up her actions to a lack of sleep and fear of being alone.

She's showered and the scent of my soap and plain shampoo assail my nose. It's familiar and clean, although I don't suppose Scully will be rid of Donnie Pfaster so easily.

I lean my head a bit closer to hers. "Comfy?" I ask. She murmurs assent and I gaze down at her profile. Her face is scrubbed; the freckles she tries so hard to cover with makeup dot her nose and cheeks, making her look younger. Her body is supple and warm, and the fabric of her pajamas, thin. As she relaxes, she nestles further into me, shifting against my groin. Warm excitement pools and I'm aware of every inch of her pressed to me: the sheen of her auburn hair, the luscious curve of her ass, the feel of her waist beneath my arm and her legs alongside mine. I have to admit that my body's visceral reaction to a real woman beats fantasy any day, "out finished." I hate that my masculine brain is so damned insensitive to the situation, but can't help but appreciate the fact that she's seeking comfort from me and that this feels very, very nice.

Don't think the irony of the situation doesn't strike me. I've envisioned Scully on this sofa many a night. With me. In my mind, we enact my version of the naked pretzel in damn near every position my fevered brain can concoct. My mouth is dry and I'm definitely a little stiff below the waist. Scully must realize it. She is nothing, if not a sharp investigator, skilled at picking up subtle body language cues. Yeah, right. Me, subtle? Hardly. I'm chagrined by my body's visceral response, but it's difficult not to react to her proffered closeness.

If she notices, she doesn't say anything. She slips into sleep and I feel the steady rise and fall of her breathing reaffirming her presence in my life over and over again. At one point, she turns until she is on her back, more or less, her legs tangling with mine.

Her hand reaches out to find me, settling against me when it does. I make no move to stop her and she sighs with a soft hum in her sleep. We lie like that a long while, drifting in and out of dreams. Mine are all brief and disturbing. The worst is a horrifying scenario of me making love to Scully while Pfaster watches, laughing. DreamScully suddenly fires a gun, the bullet passing through me to Pfaster who disintegrates into maggots and dust.

My eyes flutter open and I feel chilled. The quilt has slipped from Scully's shoulders and I reach down to draw it back around us. She awakens with a soft gasp, her dreams clearly as afflicted as my own. Her small frame is burrowed into mine and I realize just how much I want this, though I wish we could get here without facing a life-threatening crisis in the process.

She lifts her face to me, lips parted, awareness coming upon her with measured blinks. The naked emotion I detect in her drowsy countenance is startling: sadness, yes; but tenderness, too, and something else-want. A red-hot ribbon of desire spirals through me as I lick my lips, pushing the dream specters from mind. When Scully reaches up, oh so slowly, to press her lips against mine, I'm torn between what I want to do, which is succumb to the soft velvet of her lips and what I should do, which is wake her more thoroughly before we both do something we'll regret. As it is, I simply allow her to kiss me.

"Love me," she murmurs against my mouth, her voice both plea and invitation. The ache in my chest is real, as love Scully is what I can't help but do, have always done and will do for as long as I live. Her entreaty is born of crisis, of the sudden disintegration of every tenet she has held sacred, of the need to be whole again and her need to be forgiven-by me. My partner has read me like a book, after all. I've hidden nothing from her. In offering herself, she reveals her innermost self, her deepest need to know that she is still, after all, a good person worthy of love.

I could stop her, but I can't deny her. She moves her mouth against mine again and I allow myself the bliss of responding to her request. Our kiss is soft and slow and gentle. A soft moan tremors from her lips onto mine, her mouth pliant as I take possession of her, my arms enfolding her tightly, reassuring myself of her reality. Fatigue and desire mingle as our embrace deepens in our half-asleep state, her lips parting as my tongue seeks hers. I taste a bruise at the corner of her mouth and I'm worried I'll hurt her. I pull back at the thought, but she follows with me with some aggressiveness, sustaining contact, her tongue sliding between my lips to find mine, eliciting from me a soft growl of pleasure.

We separate, at last, my breathing uneven. I feel her mouth at my neck, tasting my skin as her hands slowly push up my tee shirt. Sensations are being triggered with lightning speed. Moving my hand to caress Scully's fevered cheek, she takes it within one of her own, drawing it down to cover her breast. I savor its curve and substance under my hand, the tender tip pushing into my palm.

Suddenly, like a bizarre form of posthumous torture, the images of DreamScully and Donnie Pfaster rise before my eyes and I'm taken aback with horror and pushed fully awake. Scully's hands are still exploring my chest with feather-light touches and I'd love nothing better than to return the favor. I've wanted Scully for a long time, but not like this. Not with that bastard laughing his triumph over us, Scully's emotions laid bare in anguish and self-doubt. If I am her touchstone as she told me, then my role is clear. What Scully needs now is protection and acceptance, not seduction. This is not the time and I bemoan the realization that she will not understand this until later. I barely understand it myself, but I gently pull her away from me. "Scully, we can't..."

"Please, Mulder-" she entreats, her voice betraying her need.

"Listen to me."

"I need to feel close to you-" she whispers.

"I'm here."

"I need you to hold me-"

"I will."

"I need you to love me-"

"I do." At that, she stops, her breath coming quickly against my face. I hold her gaze in mine until her eyes register what I've just told her. "I do," I repeat with all the tenderness I can convey. I watch the emotions rise in her aspect, everything I feel for her reflected back in equal measure. And then, then she crumples into my chest, her tears spilling with great wracking sobs that shake her frame from head to toe, and me along with her.

As I hold Scully and rock her to me, I wonder how many times she can be consumed by the fires of evil, yet rid herself of its stain. How many times can she venture from the dogma she considers fundamental just to consider my skewed vision of the world without losing her personal truth? I nearly lost her tonight and the thought shakes me to my unadmitted soul. I can't imagine it. I've tried to send her away from me, but we both know how futile that would be. Her tears soak my chest. They are tears of healing. This much I do know.

"I'm so sorry," I murmur into her hair, my hand stroking her hair, a few stray tears of my own dropping into auburn gold. She lifts her face and I spy the unspoken question in her eyes. I realize she's wondering if my words reflect compassion for her distress or disinterest in pursuing this latest aspect of our relationship. A gentle kiss on her mouth and a smile that twitches at the corner of mine convey that I do, indeed, want her-all of her. "Soon," I say softly and kiss her brow. She settles into me more closely, comfortable with my promise, and I wrap my arms securely around her, giving shelter.

I continue to hold her, my hand idly stroking her back, until her sobs quiet and she gentles completely beneath my touch. She stills, at last, yawning with exhaustion. It doesn't matter that Donnie Pfaster's body lies in the morgue at the Coroner's Office. It doesn't matter that a bullet through his heart has stopped his rampage of violence and death. Donnie remains alive and well in the mind of a beautiful woman who pulled from her depths a part of herself no human being should ever have to face.

That she re-entered this case of her own volition stands as testimony to her dedication as an agent and her professional code of ethics. That she managed to free herself from Pfaster's clutches, stunning witness to her prowess and courage. And whether her error of judgment was the result of internal or external factors, I will never fault her for it, knowing how close I came to doing the deed myself, simply because he threatened her. Earthly morality be damned. She has served her penance and is restored to grace, with me. One day my smart, beautiful, sexy, ethical partner will reconcile with her creator, as she sees fit. Whatever I can do to help her get there, I will. That's right. Take it up with me, God.

She falls back to sleep in my arms, restless in dreams. She will find no comfort there; but, if she needs me, I'll be here. There's nothing to be done while the phoenix prepares to rise, but wait.

End - Chapter 2 - Restored to Grace