By: Morgan (email@example.com)
See disclaimers, etc. in part 1
Wet snow rained down from the branches of trees overhead, shaken by the night wind. Scully struggled to breathe, the arm of their murderer clasped tight across her throat, making her flail about, desperate for air.
"That was too easy," he whispered into her ear, his breath hot and damp. "I expected more of a fight. But I suppose you were preoccupied by the whereabouts of your partner."
Scully kicked feebly, her heels thudding against the legs of the kidnapper.
"Agent Mulder promised to come alone," he hissed. "He lied to me." His hold on her throat tightened. "I would stop struggling if I were you." For the first time, Scully felt the press of a blade against her throat, held in the hand of the killer. He was strong, almost as tall as Mulder. He held her off the ground with one arm, the other was pressed across her abdomen, holding her gun.
"Be very careful about the movements you make." His voice never rose above a whisper. To reinforce his warning, the killer increased the pressure of the blade against Scully's throat. There was sharp, sudden pain as the metal sliced into her flesh. A trickle of blood traced a warm path down her neck and under the collar of her jacket. "I could kill you at any time," he told her, voice as deadly as his words.
She stopped fighting. His hold on her throat loosened.
"That's much better," he soothed, almost obscured by the roar of the falls nearby.
Scully tried to focus, dizzy from lack of air, breathing deeply. She was still bleeding. She did not know how badly she had been cut. A faint light moved amidst the shapes of the trees ahead. None of the other team members would have had time to come this far. It could only be Mulder.
"What," the murderer asked, a vicious taint to his voice, "do you suppose your partner would sacrifice in order to keep you safe?" He pressed his face close along side hers, his lips grazing her temple, almost a kiss. "A great deal, I imagine," he answered in her stead.
Scully shuddered in revulsion.
"We're going to move very slowly," he continued, strengthening his grasp around her abdomen, beginning to walk forward. "Remember that I have your gun."
As if she could have forgotten.
Ice and branches cracked beneath their feet. Mulder would be able to hear them coming. But Scully was an effective shield, blocking the body of their enemy. She knew Mulder would never attempt a shot with her in the way. Their murderer knew it, too.
The trees thinned, moonlight breaking into the darkness. Mulder could be seen making his way along the edge of the river, his flashlight scanning the tree line to his right, a steep plunge down to the swirling waters off to his left. A branch cracked loudly beneath the kidnapper's feet. Mulder whirled, his gun extended.
The horror that crossed his face was palpable. Scully's heart ached. She knew, too well, the lengths he would go to in order to secure her safety. She wanted to scream. <Mulder, he has my gun!> But she couldn't speak, the weight of the arm across her throat severing speech and breath.
"I hope your aim is exceptionally good," the killer cautioned, no longer a whisper, drawing Scully once again up from the ground, the knife digging into already wounded flesh.
She whimpered, could feel the slick of blood below her jaw. A few inches to the side, and she would bleed to death on the pure white snow. She tried not to struggle, but it was difficult ot breathe. Helpless, she watched as Mulder's eyes swept her body, widening in anguish, in outrage when his flashlight revealed the knife at her throat.
"Let her go!" Mulder ordered, death in his tone.
"Now why would I do that?" The kidnapper asked.
Scully could feel her grasp on consciousness slipping, deprived of oxygen.
"If you hurt her, I'll kill you," Mulder warned, flat and serious, his gun unwavering.
"I've no doubt you would," their suspect concurred.
There was silence for several heartbeats. Mulder's eyes sought hers, begging her to be okay. She wanted to respond, to reassure him with the silent communion they had always shared, but the edges of her perceptions continued to dim. Eyelids heavy, Scully fought the wave of lassitude that threatened to drag her under.
"What do you want?" Mulder asked, panic lacing his words as he noted the droop of Scully's head, the spreading stain of blood.
The killer paused, contemplating. His strangle hold slackened temporarily, and Scully choked, coughing, gasping in gulps of icy air.
"I want..." the killer began, as if unaware of Scully's discomfort, ignoring Mulder's exclamation. "What I truly want is impossible. What I'll settle for is recognition."
"Recognition?" Mulder asked, eyes locked with Scully's, miserable. "Of what, your skill, the righteousness of your purpose?"
The murderer huffed a soft laugh. "Righteousness? You make it sound so... fantastic. It's really very simple, what I'll settle for. It's so very little."
"What then?" Mulder demanded, desperate.
Not answering, the kidnapper rested his face against the top of Scully's head, smoothing his cheek against her hair. He seemed to breathe deeply, slowly. He sighed, seeming almost content. Ten feet away, Mulder shifted, restless and terrified, on his feet. Nauseous, Scully tried to focus on the pain of the laceration on her neck.
"Is honesty so much to ask for?" the killer asked, his face still pressed to Scully's hair. She could smell his stale breath washing her face. Her toes barely grazed the ground, and she tottered slightly, each movement affecting her ability to breathe.
"Honesty?" Mulder asked.
"It's as if the whole world's forgotten the meaning of that word, its importance. Honesty, purity, innocence -- values we once held in high esteem, and now they're nothing, meaningless, relegated to the status of idealistic fantasy, trodden on like dirt beneath our feet." He was not insane, but his cryptic words belied mania beneath the thin veneer of sanity. "You think you've figured me out. You think you can understand me, but you understand nothing. You know nothing."
Even if she were able to breathe clearly, Scully knew she would pass out from blood loss eventually. Mulder knew this, as well.
"I know your father's name was Adam Hathaway," Mulder spat, "And that he cheated on your mother, and that you killed the son of the woman he cheated with in some sort of revenge."
If the kidnapper was at all surprised by Mulder's revelation, he did not show it. "Adam was the first man, Agent Mulder," he explained, as if to a child, "And he lived without sin until the weakness of another tarnished his world and his innocence was lost forever. Mankind had suffered for millennia because of that weakness."
Mulder was taken aback. "Is that what your doing, punishing the parents for their weakness by murdering their children?"
"Almost, Agent Mulder. But almost isn't good enough."
Scully could actually feel the collar of her jacket becoming damp with blood.
"What about the Dearys? What about Ken Hardy? How do they deserve to be punished?" Trying to draw the murderer out, to take his focus away from Scully. She only needed a moment, the slightest chance for movement, and she could attempt to break free. The killer had yet to relinquish his hold in the least.
"That's what I meant," the killer said, sighing. "You see only the obvious, the surface truths. You don't look deeply enough. That's why you're still unable to understand. I had hoped your personal experiences would lend you a deeper insight into all of this. I'm sorry to see that I was mistaken."
Before Mulder could respond, the killer brushed the thumb of his knife hand over Scully's jaw, a blood smeared caress. "My vision's become clouded lately," he admitted. "I'm not sure why. At first I thought it was fatigue, that I needed a rest..." he paused, becoming wistful. "You're so lucky, to have something this real, this honest." He continued to draw his thumb in a reverent manner over Scully's frigid skin.
Mulder had still not relaxed the aim of his weapon, and Scully could see his arm begin to tremble from the strain of keeping it raised.
"But I've sensed something lately, something I still don't understand..." His tone had become angrier, frustrated. The murderer's thumb dug into the flesh of Scully's throat. Her racing pulse throbbed against the pressure.
Suddenly, there was the sound of motion in the trees behind them. Scully felt the kidnapper's posture stiffen. He did not turn around, keeping his concentration on Mulder and his gun.
"FBI, freeze!" Williams emerged from the forest at their back, but Scully could not see him.
"Agent Mulder," the killer cautioned, "I suggest you tell your friend to back off." To reinforce his suggestion, Scully's feet were drawn further from the ground, her air supply diminishing once again.
"Federal Agent! Let the woman go!" Williams shouted, moving closer.
"Williams!" Mulder yelled, "Stay back!"
How many of the team members had made it this far into the forest, Scully wondered. Cornering this suspect would not force him to surrender. She felt certain it would only spur him on towards violence. Williams was behind them. He could not see the knife or Scully's gun. For the first time since this had begun, Scully began to sincerely fear for her own life.
Mulder edged forward.
"Agent Mulder," the killer warned.
Mulder took another step.
"I will kill her," the murderer continued. Scully felt her heartbeat pushing a slow, steady stream of blood from the wound on her neck. "I suggest you put the gun down."
Mulder stopped, considering, and Scully could see the decision in his eyes. It was the decision she always knew he would make. His life for hers. He was the focus of the killer's interest, not Scully. Before he lost control of the situation, before any more of the team arrived, he could attempt to secure her safety. The kidnapper might release her. Mulder would be defenseless.
"Mulder, no," Scully managed, the words strangled. The killer jerked her body roughly in retaliation.
Sickened, Scully watched as Mulder lowered his weapon to the ground.
"That's good. That's very good," their suspect congratulated. "Now give it a good kick."
"Mulder..." But her protest was cut off by the arm against her neck.
Mulder complied, watching her all the while, expression begging her forgiveness.
In the sky overhead, dark storm clouds drifted over the moon, plunging the edge of the river into momentary darkness. She did not want to die, not like this, cold and terrified, while Mulder was forced to watch. She did not want Mulder to die like this. It was too soon. They hadn't had the chance to repair their relationship. There were too many things she hadn't said, too many words still lost beneath the confusion of her emotions. She wasn't ready. She wasn't ready to say goodbye.
Williams was still behind them, but he had not spoken or moved again. Scully could barely see the outline of Mulder's figure.
The killer shifted uneasily, unnerved in the darkness, and the knife relaxed against her throat. Scully took the meager opportunity. Everything happened at once. Dizzy from blood loss and oxygen deprivation, she was conscious of very little as the events unfolded. Only later would she be able to sort out the melee of sensations and sounds.
With all the strength she possessed, she shifted, turning sharply in an attempt to knee the murderer in the groin. She never reached her target. At the same moment she began to move, Williams, who obviously had no idea of the knife at Scully's throat, attacked from behind. The knife slipped, carving a jagged gash up and over Scully's jaw, missing her jugular by inches. She was thrown to the frozen ground. Scully's hand came up to her jaw, blood filling her hands and staining the snow where she had landed. She tried to push wet hair from her eyes, snow covering the side of her body.
There was the sound of a single gunshot. In the darkness, Scully lifted herself from the ground, staggering, in time to see Williams stumble backwards.
As the clouds removed themselves from the surface of the moon, Mulder rushed at the kidnapper. Scully saw the gun knocked from the killer's hands, sinking into the wet snow. The pair struggled, grappling. Mulder was punched savagely in the gut. They were a blur of bodies moving towards the edge of the river.
Scully scrambled in the snow, trying to find one of the guns. Near the base of a tree, only a handful of feet from where Williams lay bleeding, she located Mulder's weapon. She grabbed it, hands shaking, wet with her own blood.
Taking aim was hopeless. The tangle of of arms were impossible to differentiate in the darkness. The killer lurched, and Mulder's elbow impacted with the side of the suspect's head. Then Mulder was knocked violently backwards, their opponent using the entire weight of his body in the assault. Their feet faltered in the loose rocks and snow near the cliff's edge.
Scully had no choice. She took aim. She said a silent, desperate prayer. She fired.
She was not sure who she had hit. The murderer released his hold on Mulder, stepping back from the edge, blocking Scully's view of her partner. At the same moment, she heard a brief shout from Mulder, the sound of scattering rocks. The killer darted into the forest. Behind him, Scully watched, horrified, as Mulder tumbled over the river's edge. Her scream echoed in the silent wilderness.
Cold, so cold. She was swaddled in something silver, could feel an alien current of warmth moving up her arm. She fought the darkness that clung to her vision, rising, the cold, numb feeling being replaced by pain and light. She opened her eyes.
She was in an ambulance, wrapped in a silver space blanket. Paramedics hovered over her, adjusting the catheter that delivered warmed plasma into a vein in her arm. Moore stood nearby, in the open doors, concern softening his stern features.
"Mulder?" She managed, struggling to sit upright. The well intentioned paramedics tried to push her back down.
"It's all right," Moore interrupted them. "Let her up."
They looked displeased and backed away from her reluctantly. She sat up, dizzy, almost passing out again as soon as she was up. She lifted a hand to her throat, feeling the sutures that traced a grisly path over her jaw and onto her cheek. She flinched in pain and drew her hand away
"You'll probably need plastic surgery," one of the paramedics offered, trying to sound compassionate.
She knew that. She didn't care. "Where's Mulder?" she demanded.
Moore looked uncertain, like he didn't want to tell her the truth, whatever that truth was.
"Where is he!?"
"They're trying to retrieve him now," Moore began.
Scully didn't wait for him to finish. She lifted her legs over the edge of the gurney, placing her feet on the ground.
"Oh no you don't!" Moore opposed, jumping up into the ambulance to block her escape. "You've lost a lot of blood and you're practically hypothermic. There's no way in hell you're going back into those woods."
"I need to know!" she shouted.
Probably in an attempt to calm her, Moore explained. "He went over the edge. We're not sure how yet. He's about forty feet down, on a ledge overlooking the river."
Scully wanted to throw up. She closed her eyes. "He's alive?"
"We think so, yes." After a pause, "how did this happen?"
Scully kept her eyes closed, trying to calm her breathing. "The kidnapper captured me. I was stupid. I wasn't paying enough attention. He forced Mulder to drop his gun. Williams attacked him from behind..." Suddenly, she remembered Williams being shot. "Agent Williams?" she asked, opening her eyes, "Is he all right?"
Moore's expression was grim. "He's been taken to a nearby hospital. His condition is critical. The bullet punctured one of his kidneys."
Scully dropped her head into her hands. "And the kidnapper?"
"Still missing," Moore answered, disgusted.
Scully looked up. Beyond Moore, in the sky outside, she could see a spotlight from a helicopter hovering over the river, no doubt attempting to rescue Mulder. Red and blue lights from assorted crime enforcement vehicles decorated the parking lot. A manhunt was underway.
"I fired my weapon. I had no choice," she blurted, watching the light move across the sky. "I think I may have shot Mulder." The words sounded wrong, unreal, falling from her lips like shards of glass, the world shattering around her.
Moore didn't respond, obviously knowing no reassurance could be adequate. He turned to face the sky as well.
Mulder wasn't dead. He couldn't be. She had always told herself she would be able to feel the moment he left her. The nausea was thick, suffocating. She swallowed in an attempt to keep it down. She leaned back against the pillows, a litany playing in her head... she would know, she would be able to tell if he was gone. She closed her eyes. The darkness swallowed her once more.
When Scully woke again it was to the rhythmic beeping of a heart monitor. Her eyes fluttered, barely opening. A headache burned behind her eyes; the laceration on her face throbbed.
"Does it hurt too much, dear?" The voice beside her was kind, elderly.
She opened her eyes fully, looked up. A nurse stood next to the bed, reaching down to take Scully's pulse.
"We can get you some medicine, if the pain's too bad," she offered.
The nurse patted her on the hand. "I'll be right back."
After the nurse left the room, Scully took a quick mental inventory of her condition. She was no longer hooked up to an IV. A web of electrodes connected her to the heart monitor. Other than that, she was unencumbered by medical paraphernalia. Her head hurt, but the pain was bearable. One by one she peeled the sticky electrodes from her skin. The heart monitor began to wail. She reached over and turned it off. Swinging her legs out of the hospital bed, she attempted to stand.
The room swayed momentarily, steadying as she gripped the handrail on the bed. A tentative step forward, another. Across the room, a pile of clean clothes -- not the ones she had worn to the falls -- were folded neatly on a chair. She wondered who she had to thank for that.
Dressing was a slow process. The pile of clothes even contained clean underwear. She wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed of grateful. As she was fastening the last button on her blouse, the nurse returned.
"What are you doing out of bed?" she asked, shocked.
"I'm checking myself out," Scully declared evenly.
The nurse tried to reason with her. "That's not a good idea."
Scully forestalled any further protests. "I'm a doctor, and I'm more than capable of determining what's in my own best interest," she said, trying not to sound rude.
The nurse handed Scully the little plastic cup with two Tylenol3 inside "Doctors always make the worst patients," she muttered.
Scully dry swallowed the pills in one gulp. After putting on her shoes, she followed the nurse out of the room. Looking in both directions, she was surprised to see SAC Moore seated in one of several hard, plastic chairs farther down the long hall. He looked up as she walked towards him, standing and meeting her half way.
"Where's Mulder?" Immediate and impatient.
"What are you doing out of bed so soon?" he asked, rigid and worried at the same time.
She persisted. "Where is he?"
"He's fine. The paramedics lifted him off the ledge right after I spoke to you in the ambulance. If you fired your weapon, it didn't hit Mulder. Other than a cracked rib, several lacerations, and a possible concussion, he was uninjured."
Scully was speechless for a moment, her anxiety and fear blossoming into an overwhelming sense of relief.
Moore watched her closely, concerned. "You should be resting."
"Well," she responded, "I figured since someone laid my clothes out so nicely..."
"I had a feeling you wouldn't obey doctor's orders," Moore admitted, ducking his head.
Scully hadn't expected that. She smiled, genuinely grateful. "Thank you, Sir."
Moore nodded, seemed embarrassed, and continued hastily. "There was a good amount of blood in the snow, and while we know most of it's yours, there was some near the edge of the river that we're not sure about."
Scully's eyes widened. "I never went near the river's edge."
He didn't seem surprised. "We found you in the snow near Agent Williams, unconscious in a pool of your own blood. We suspect you managed to injure the kidnapper, but we'll have to wait for the blood analysis to come back before we can be certain." Moore paused, shook his head slightly in frustration. "If he was injured, it wasn't badly enough to impede his escape. We've set up road blocks and have a full scale search underway, and still we've found no sign of him."
It wasn't over. The nightmare wasn't over. Overwhelmed by weariness, Scully felt frail and scraped raw, exhausted enough to cry.
"And Agent Williams?" she asked, eyes dry, strong despite herself.
Moore's entire expression fell. He looked down the hall, away from Scully, mustering strength. "He lost his left kidney," Moore said, still turned away from Scully. "He's been out of surgery for several hours, and the doctors have moved him out of the ICU, but he hasn't regained consciousness yet."
Scully didn't want to ask. She had no choice. "And Stephen Gains?"
"Is in a coma. Because of the degree of malnutrition, there's the possibility of brain damage."
At the end of the hall, late afternoon sunlight spilled across the polished floors. She had been asleep the entire day.
"What room is Mulder in?" she asked, needing to see him.
Moore finally looked her in the eye again. "He's not in the hospital anymore."
"He's even more obstinate that you. As soon as he was conscious, he checked himself out."
Scully felt abandoned. How many times had she woken in a hospital bed with Mulder at her side?
"He did stop by your room before he left," Moore added, as if sensing her distress. "He almost got himself thrown out by an orderly for badgering the doctor into a full report on your condition."
She felt only marginally better. "What about Agent Williams?"
"Down the hall and around the corner. Room 208."
Scully turned away from Moore, started to walk down the hall.
"Agent Scully," he called after her.
She turned around.
"You saved that child's life. I hope you know that."
One life. One out of so many. She didn't respond. She continued to walk down the hall. Down the hall and around the corner. The regularly spaced reflection of overhead lights on the floor, the steady rhythm of her heels, the sound of her own heartbeat. She counted her breaths, trying to focus, trying to hold the exhaustion at bay for just a few moments longer.
She looked up. Agent Sandborne, Agent Williams' partner, stood a few feet away, his arm around a crying woman. Scully stopped, didn't want to intrude. They didn't seem to notice her. Sandborne spoke soothingly to the woman, too quiet for Scully to hear. The woman swiped at her tears with the back of her hand, as Sandborne patted her on the shoulder, steering her down the hall and away from Scully.
Scully looked at the room they had been standing in front of. Room 208.
Inside, Agent Williams had not been nearly as fortunate as Scully. He was besieged by a riot of wires and tubes; blinking, beeping machines monitored his every breath, every beat of his heart. His skin was pale, white as the snow he had lain in. Scully was relieved to notice that he was no longer on a respirator. His chest rose and fell in an even, slow cadence, assisted only by an oxygen mask.
She stood at the foot of the bed, knowing she should leave. She turned to go.
"Agent Scully..." Williams' voice rasped behind her.
Turning to face him, she smiled widely. "Agent Williams, welcome back."
His eyes were open, regarding her. His lips moved soundlessly for a moment. He coughed, the sound dry and painful. Scully moved to the side of the bed, poured a glass of water from the pitcher and held it to his lips.
After he had taken a sip. "Thank You." Voice still ragged.
Placing her hand over his, she responded. "Thank *you* You saved my life."
Williams shook his head. "I almost got you killed."
"No. You risked your life to save mine. You almost died."
He looked pointedly at the obscene line of sutures marring her face. "So did you."
"I'm alive," she assured, though she could still feel the knife as it had torn into her flesh, could still feel her hands filling with blood.
"How's Agent Mulder?"
"He's fine," Scully said, a slight quaver in her voice. "He already checked himself out of the hospital."
Williams looked at her intently, some unvoiced comment heavy in his eyes. He looked down at his hands, folded neatly atop the blankets. "My fiancee was here," he said. "I woke up for a moment earlier and she was crying. I tried to speak to her, but I couldn't."
The woman from the hall, Scully assumed.
Williams started coughing, turning his head to the side and flinching in pain. Scully reached for the glass of water again. He noticed and shook his head. She put the glass back down.
He took a deep breath and continued speaking. "When I asked her to marry me, she was concerned about my job, concerned that I would die in the line of duty and leave her alone." He sighed deeply. "I guess now I'm starting to question what's important to me, and if it's worth it, this job, what we risk, what we sacrifice."
Scully couldn't look him in the eye, uncomfortable with such personal admissions. Was it worth it? Lately, she had to struggle to convince herself that it was. The job she had once loved was no longer the job she had. Lately, when she tried to convince herself that she would miss the FBI, she realized that the only thing she would truly miss was Mulder. The rest had become steeped in frustration, lies, and suffering. She had sacrificed so much. They had both sacrificed so much. Did she even know what was important to her anymore?
"Agent Scully," Williams interrupted her musing, his tone hesitant. "I don't know you, and I don't know your partner, but I do know what it's like to try and endure this job alone, what it's like to make this job the only thing that matters. You won't survive it. Neither of you will."
Scully felt the tears she had defeated before threatening again. Was she that transparent? Was her loneliness apparent to everyone but herself?
Williams started coughing again.
"You should get some rest," Scully said, still shaken.
He nodded, closed his eyes.
Scully left the room, feeling exposed. The sense of overwhelming fatigue had not left her. The nightmare she felt trapped in chased her from the hospital. She fled, seeking rest.
In the parking lot back at the motel. Rough winds buffeting the taxi as she stared up at the tall building. She had paid the driver. She had unbuckled her seat belt. The key to her room was held in her hand. She stared up at the building, at the ugly metal staircase that ascended its side, the scattering of lights that glowed from various rooms. Mulder's light was on. There was only one more flight of stairs to climb from her room to his. She needed to see him.
She got out of the car, started to climb the stairs. Cold wind slapped against the side of the building. Night had fallen, draping the city in darkness. She had no idea what she was going to say to him. Outside of his door, Scully hesitated. She needed sleep desperately, but she knew she would never be able to rest until she had seen that he was okay. She knocked.
Inside, there was the sound of movement, shuffling. The shades by the window were drawn back; the locks were quickly disengaged. Mulder threw the door open, staring at her in dismay.
"What are you doing out of the hospital?" he asked, standing in the open door, wind rushing into the room.
"I could ask the same of you," she challenged.
He backed up, allowing her in.
The lights were out, the television on, sound muted. Light poured into the dark room from the open bathroom door. Turning around, she faced Mulder as he closed the door. His hair was damp, shirt unbuttoned. Under the flickering light cast by the television, he was an unfamiliar presence, shadowed, strange. Tears stung her eyes, and she hoped he could not see them in the darkness. It seemed he was always unfamiliar to her now. Was the man she had known lost to her forever?
"Scully," he began, not moving from in front of the door. "Are you sure you're well enough to be out of the hospital?"
Was she sure? No. She wasn't sure of anything anymore.
"I'm fine, Mulder."
He sighed, didn't say anything.
"What about you," she asked, lamely, "are you all right?"
"Never been better," he quipped, bitterness in his tone, walking past her and into the bathroom.
She watched him from the darkened bedroom. Reaching down to pick a wet towel off the floor, he winced, gasping in pain. He dropped the towel again, straightening stiffly.
"It's nothing," he tried to reassure. "I took a shower, and the tape on my ribs got wet and peeled off."
"You know you're not supposed to get it wet," she cautioned, fumbling for words.
He shrugged out of his shirt, the simple action seeming to pain him. There was a thick spool of medical tape on the counter, and he picked it up, tore off a long strip.
"Mulder, do you know how to tape up a cracked rib?" She doubted he had even the slightest clue.
His arms dropped to his sides, limp. "No."
She felt herself walking into the bathroom, standing beside him, taking the dangling piece of tape from his hand.
"Let me do that." She couldn't look him in the eye.
He acquiesced, turning to her in profile, lifting his arm. The smooth skin of his chest was still damp from the shower. It was too pale. He had lost weight. The outline of his fragile ribs could be seen beneath the soft skin. Still, even if his face was no longer familiar to her, he smelled the same. That was a memory from before. His arms around her. His scent. Musk, gunpowder, old books, faint trace of after shave -- that remained. She reached out, wanted to trace her fingertips along those delicate bones, reassure herself that he was here, whole, and not a stranger.
She could feel him flinch as she secured the tape in place. He didn't make a sound. Instead, he turned back to face her, looked down at her. She refused to look up and meet his gaze. Staring at the center of his chest, the fine hairs sprinkled there, the way the muscle stretched out over the bone. If she were to press her face to his sternum, she would be able to feel his heart beating. In the past, when he had held her, that sound had been a comfort.
His gaze was like a demand. <Look at me, Scully.> But she couldn't. Everything about him now made her feel as if her heart were breaking anew -- the feel of his skin, the sound of his voice, the distant memory of his heartbeat beneath her cheek.
Strong, gentle fingers reached
down, tilting her chin up.
"You're so beautiful," he said, awed and heavy with sorrow. His large hand cupped the side of her face.
She opened her eyes, looked up at him, at the reverence and sadness he regarded her with. The warmth of his hand touching her was electricity scalding her skin. Hypersensitive. That's how it had been, being with him, everything amplified. Touch, taste, sound, sight, smell. She had barely survived it, like being electrocuted. He demanded so much from her without ever saying a word.
Her lower lip trembled, on the verge of tears. The strength she was clinging to, the strength she needed in order to survive the rest of this ordeal; the strength that had allowed her to come this far, threatened to crumble in the wake of his touch. He demanded too much. She simply couldn't be that vulnerable. It would destroy her. The tragedy of their lives together had required that she sacrifice her emotions, bottle them up, stow them away. This beautiful thing she shared with Mulder, this rare, elemental, ephemeral thing, was a gift she had hidden carefully like a smooth stone kept deep in her pocket. Taken out on only rare occasions, turned over in the palm of her hand, centering, calming, comforted by its beauty, and then put away until she needed it next. It was all she had. She didn't know any other way to survive.
She stepped back, his hand falling away.
"I've already lost you, haven't I?" he asked. Hollow.
The tears broke free of their own accord, and Scully felt her strength torn asunder, the years welling up inside her, redolent with grief unvoiced and unheard. The weight of it all pressed down upon her. Stinging, the tears rolled over her broken skin and she made no move to wipe them away.
"I didn't realize I was yours to lose," she said, stepping back again, distancing herself. His nearness was too much. She couldn't think, couldn't breathe with him so close. The habit they'd always had of sharing one another's space, almost breathing the same air, had vanished. His touch no longer embodied only comfort and familiarity. Now it was tainted by guilt; it was unfamiliar, uncomfortable.
He shook his head, looked crestfallen, dumbfounded. "How can you even say that?" he asked.
"Mulder, what are we? What is this?" She gestured to the space between them. "This relationship -- I'm your partner, you care for me, and I care for you, but we're not lovers." Even now, even after, that title could not be applied to their relationship. "I don't know what we are."
"I thought we were friends." Ineffably sad.
Friends, Scully thought. Friendship didn't involve teeth marks on pale flesh or the memory of his hands on her hips, lifting. Friendship implied communication, something they'd scarcely managed during the best of times. With the title of friendship there was the assumption of emotional support and sharing, but even in their togetherness they remained isolated, lonely.
She smiled sadly. "Yes, Mulder. I want to believe that, too. And once, I think I did believe it. But we barely talk anymore, Mulder. We haven't for some time now." Since before Emily, she thought. Since before the cancer. "There are times," she admitted, "That I think you can barely stand to be in the same room with me. I know that I make you feel the same way, sometimes."
He was staring at the floor, a look of anguish on his face, not denying it, not even trying to.
Her voice had gone very quiet. "I don't know how it happened, and I don't know why, but somewhere along the line we stopped trusting one another -- not with our lives or in the context of work -- but with everything else that matters. Maybe we never had that trust to begin with."
All of the issues they had avoided, all of the things they had ignored, had been dredged to the surface by their actions after Saks Mill. It had forced her to examine the meaning of their relationship, and the bulk of her sadness came from the fact that she had discovered that she could not define what they were to one another. She had realized that as desperately as she felt that she needed him in her life, as desperately as she knew he felt that he needed her, she couldn't understand *why* she needed him. It wasn't healthy, to feel as if you would die without the presence of someone in your life, and to be unable to even talk to them when you needed support, to be completely unable to reach out.
His voice was soft. "I trust you, Scully."
She shook her head, couldn't look at him.
"I do," he insisted, stepping closer to her once more, invading her space. "I trust you with *everything* that matters." Vehemence battled with sorrow in his words.
She closed her eyes. "You don't, Mulder. Not with so many things." Measuring her words carefully. "And I'm not just talking about Diana or the times you've ditched me, or even what you kept from me about the Lombard Research Facility. Some of that I can attribute to your misguided need to protect me." She opened her eyes, stared into him unblinking. "It's everything else, it's all the times you've shut me out, all the times I've shut you out. We're both so lonely, so damaged and hurting, and we can't seem to trust one another enough to communicate when it truly matters."
His hand, shaking, came back to cradle her damaged cheek. "You're the only thing that matters to me, and now I've lost you. I don't blame you for not trusting me."
But she was not the only thing that mattered to him, and they both knew it. Time and again, she had been forced to the recognition that he was captive of a larger goal, prisoner of the quest he had pledged himself to when only a child. He wanted to love her completely; he did, but he couldn't. Part of him would always be lost to her, lost even to himself. She, too, had begun to lose pieces of herself to this quest.
Her voice faltered. "But it's not just a matter of trust. Even that isn't enough anymore." She stared up at him, wide-eyed and open. "I wish that it was as simple as that."
His hand dropped away, frustration hardening his features. "I don't know what to say to you anymore, Scully. I don't know what you want."
Scully paced towards the window, staring out through the gap in the curtains at the dark winter night beyond. She tried to articulate the swirling mass of dread that had lodged itself in her heart these last few days. "Mulder, do you see a future for us?"
There was no reply from behind her, and she did not turn around to seek one out.
"Because I don't. All is see ahead of us is a never ending downward spiral." Flat, desolate, her tone. "I see us moving farther and farther away from the rest of the world, so isolated we forget what it means to be happy, what it means to be alive. Where does it end? With one of us dead and the other wasting slowly away?"
She didn't need his confirmation to know what he would do in the event of her death. She knew already how she would react to his.
"I used to think it was you always dragging me along, dragging me around in a terrible cycle of death and revenge and tragedy. But lately I've come to realize it isn't just you anymore. I drag you along just as often, with my own motivations, my own personal tragedy to fuel my self-destruction." She paused, unsure of where she was going with all of this. "I just... I want to know where it all ends. I need to know that somewhere, somehow there is an end."
And not an end that meant her, grieving and alone, forsaken.
"I can't promise you that, Scully. You know I can't"
Of course he couldn't. She knew.
Why were they here? Where were they going? What did it all mean? They were no closer to finding Samantha or the men responsible for her cancer, the men responsible for Emily. They were no closer to any type of justice. All that they had gained was sorrow. And they had lost so much. Mulder knew all of this. The knowledge was present in his listlessness, his defeated posture, the way he seemed to have aged a decade in only the past few years. He had seemed so young when they had first met.
Scully watched the wind as it whipped loose snow though the cold air outside. Flakes were blown against the window, melting when they reached the warm glass.
She had aged, too. She felt old, time-battered, scarred.
"I don't recognize myself anymore, Mulder." The admission surprised her. "I used to smile. I used to laugh." Her eyes were too dry for tears. "So did you."
The air shifted, carpet rustling, as he moved towards her. He stood behind her, laid a hand on her shoulder, squeezed gently. "I recognize you, Scully." So quiet. So sure.
Looking at the reflection in the window's glass, she wanted to believe him. He stood behind her, also watching their reflection against the night sky. She spoke to the ghost of his reflected eyes. "I feel so lost."
Their relationship had always escaped definition, but with the freshly added sexual element she had become keenly aware of all the real world trivialities that they had cut themselves off from -- the future they would never be able to have together. Still watching the reflection of his dark eyes, she wanted to shock him, to jolt him into some understanding of the grief she felt.
The words scraped their way savagely from her throat. "Are we going to move in together, Mulder, get married, have babies?"
In the glass, his eyes darted away from hers.
"Of course not," she answered for him, bitter. "We both know that." She had never been sure that marriage and family was the future she even wanted, but the option had been taken from her. For better or worse, till death do us part, she was joined with Mulder. Apart from him she had no definition anymore. Her family barely recognized her. Friendships had all drifted slowly away. With him, she did not know what she had. She felt powerless to divorce herself from him. She felt trapped and alone.
A single, crystal tear streaked over the contours of his face, reflected by the window.
"Mulder, what happened between us after Saks Mill wasn't about planning a future together. It wasn't even about love." The realization of exactly what they'd lost settled within her; her heart mourned. "It was about two lonely people seeking comfort in the midst of tragedy. I never wanted our relationship to turn into that."
He had not wiped the tear away. Another followed in its path. "Scully, I know what happened wasn't about love, and I'm sorry for that..." his voice broke on a sudden sob, and he gasped, tears choking the sound. "...I'm so sorry about that."
Crumbling, Scully felt her own tears as they splashed against her hands. She turned to him, automatic, powerless, and he fell into her, crushing, begging with the pressure of his body folding against hers, begging her not to leave him.
"...but I do love you.." he gasped into her hair. "I do."
She knew. She always had. But she could not help but wonder, even as his frantic kisses dotted her hairline, even as his tears baptized her, even as he stole her breath with the force of his embrace, she could not help but wonder if in a perfect world he would feel the same. If they had met outside of their present circumstances, at a bar, at the laundromat. If she had chosen a career in medicine. If he had become a professor at some small university. If they had run into one another on the street one day -- maybe he jostled her at the newsstand, pushed by the press of rush hour sidewalk crowding, and she spilled her coffee on his new suit. Maybe she apologized, he swore it was no big deal, she offered to pay for his dry cleaning. Maybe it passed them both by in the blink of an eye, just another chance encounter between strangers. Would she have chosen him? Would he have chosen her?
She felt foisted upon him, a burden he had not wanted, even though he might swear otherwise. Sometimes she felt he had been foisted upon her. The choice had been stolen from them. Fate had thrown them together and then one by one had ripped everything else away, until only they remained, cloistered, wretched and lacking.
He was kissing his way down the bridge of her nose, his breath finally washing heavily across her lips.
Her eyes were closed, waiting for his kiss, waiting for the inevitable. "Would you have chosen me, Mulder?" She whispered the question against his lips.
His breathing was rapid. She doubted he had any idea what she was asking. "I love you, Scully. I can't lose you," was all he said before he crushed his mouth to hers.
It wasn't an answer, and her heart mourned for that, too.
Only one thing was certain to her anymore, and it was a fact she had only recently been forced to acknowledge. The touch of Mulder's lips against her own, the taste of his skin, the frantic pulse of his fingers against her flesh; the electricity between them was real. If she'd ever had any doubt about the chemistry that throbbed between them, there was no question now. The reality was obvious when he kissed her, when she opened to him without thought, sharing his breath, needing the rasp of his tongue and teeth, craving it.
It probably wasn't healthy. It didn't solve anything. It only made their desperate circumstances more complicated.
But there was no avoiding it. They had tried to for far too long. The denial had been like fuel for a fire, accumulating across their years together, becoming volatile, incendiary. An explosion of hands and lips and sighs, rendering logic useless, defying explanation, and capable of pushing tragedy aside for a handful of brief, exquisite moments.
Her back was pressed to the cold window, as his mouth worked frantically against hers. The force of their kiss made the wound on her throat ache. His hands were smoothing over her hair, down her neck, her back, curling around her waist and plastering their bodies together. There were no solutions to the bevy of problems she felt besieged by. Nothing would erase the years and suffering they had endured. But they could forget, for a little while. She could lose herself in the brutal mystery of his kiss, the sting and fission of their bodies moving in tandem.
Every millimeter of her skin felt electrified, anxious. She dragged her teeth across his lower lip, biting softly, and he gasped into her mouth.
Breaking away, he moved down her throat, kissing along her pulse, avoiding the grisly line of sutures. She allowed her head to fall back against the window, limp and panting. Breathing was impossible. She felt dizzy. He trailed his wet mouth over her blouse, dragged his hands around to capture her ribs, steadying her, grazing the sides of her breasts.
The bruises she had obtained from her fall at Saks Mill were still tender. The gash on her arm was still healing. She felt like a prisoner of war, bloodied, captive. Mulder rose over her, towering, sliding his hands roughly over her breasts and back around her waist, pulling their lower bodies firmly together.
She cried out, shocked by the sound of her own voice, and he stopped, broke his mouth away from hers and regarded her with fierce eyes.
"I'm sorry, Scully." Hands still anchoring her hips to his. "I'm sorry..." His frantic gaze skittered over her eyes, her lips.
She shook her head, one hand moving up to his face. "Don't be," she whispered raggedly, tracing the soft contours of his bottom lip.
He captured one of her fingers between his lips, sucking gently. "I can't help it," he murmured, releasing her finger, lips trailing over her palm. "I can't help it."
It was surreal, the two of them like this, surreal, frightening, and elemental. She shook her head again. "It's okay," she assured, terrified he would stop, knowing she should stop him. "I know."
Eyes locked, they began to move, walking backwards, not even stumbling, towards the bed. He released his hold on her hips, stepping back so he could begin to loosen the buttons on his shirt. Watching him all the while, she followed his lead, working the fastenings on her blouse, releasing the zipper on the side of her pants, allowing them to puddle on the floor. He was working on his belt, Scully still only a step away, when they reached the bed.
They stopped. Exposed, vulnerable, she stood before him. Scully folded her hands behind her back to release the clasp of her bra, and Mulder froze, mesmerized. The scrap of cotton fell away without a sound, and she moved when he seemed incapable, placing her hands over his belt, working it free, releasing button and zipper, drawing them unavoidably forward.
"Scully." Her name like a benediction from his lips, like a prayer.
"Shhh..." she urged, sliding her hands under the elastic of his boxers, removing that barrier, too.
Bared, Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, parting his knees so she could stand between them. Taking a measure of control was calming, assuaging her terror, making her bold. She pushed lightly against his shoulders, and he fell backwards, naked below her. Unknowing of how the transformation had taken place, or when, Scully crawled over her partner and friend, her almost-lover, her erstwhile protector and savior, her burden, her ache, her salvation and damnation.
Straddling his waist, Scully watched as his hands traced the slope of her hips, the curve of her breasts, whispering over her sternum, skimming each nipple, lingering in the notch of her throat, breezing over the feminine roundness of her shoulders, trailing down her arms, fingers linking and clasping with her own. Pain in his eyes as they held hands, almost chastely, examining one by one the physical damage done to her body over the course of this investigation. Blaming himself, as always.
Enough of blame, she vowed, enough of guilt and resentment. She'd had more than enough. Sex might not be capable of fixing any of their problems, but it would at least allow them a short reprieve. All of the pain would be waiting for them as their bodies cooled, their breathing slowed, and dawn broke in the aftermath. Now, in the moment, she wanted that respite. After would come soon enough.
Reaching behind her, she grasped him, tightly. His eyes slammed shut.
She squeezed, fingers sliding upward, and then down, fascinated by the sweat that beaded on his forehead, the way his jaw was clenched. She swiped her thumb briskly over the tip and his eyes popped back open.
"Scully," he warned, looking shocked and amazed.
She wanted it, wanted him to lose control, wanted him to make her forget, to make them both forget.
"Ahhh..." he gasped, as she continued the motion of her hand. "Scully," he growled, practically feral. Good. That was how she felt -- wild, unfamiliar, outside of herself. It was a comforting place to be. She wanted him to join her there.
Suddenly, his eyes seemed to glow, and he moved his previously stalled hands, brought one to hold her waist, the other to graze the front of her last remaining piece of clothing. Tensing, his fingers pressed against the thin, damp cloth, moving lower.
Heat burst across her entire body; her hand began to shake where she held him.
"I know it's not right," he whispered, his fingers working her through the wispy fabric. "I know that I shouldn't want you like this." Sadness even as he dipped his hand behind the waistband of her panties, even as his fingers slid against her, rough and hot. "But I do."
He sat up abruptly, yanking his hand from where he touched her. "God help me, but I do."
She came up on her knees, wriggling to shed her last remnant of protection, and positioned herself unsteadily over his lap.
"God help us both," she begged, the eye contact between them unbroken, hypnotizing, as she lowered herself, expanding, burning inch by inch.
<cascade of images... their years together... the day they had met, his handshake, the mirth in his beautiful eyes... the wastes of the Arctic, of Antarctica, cold and his arms around her, fear... a hallway where she was dying, a hallway where she was leaving... his gun pointed at her, confusion, trust shaken... holding him, being held by him in the wake of tragedy, his mother, her father, Melissa, Emily, death, loss, and mourning... all of it... his smile, his laugh, teasing, on stakeouts, in motel rooms, at crime scenes, in morbid autopsy bays, in the rain, in the snow, during heat, lightning flashing... overwhelming... he was dead, she was dying, and she was ready, bleeding her life out, desperate to save him... all of it crashing around her... years, tears, and remembrance... too much to be withstood...>
He had flipped them, was above her, moving within her, whispering her name. She drilled her fingers into the muscles of his back, pushing and pulling. She couldn't close her eyes, was powerless to break contact with his gaze. They watched each other, climbing higher and higher, faster and faster, deeper, harder, greedy and desperate.
It couldn't last, was too consuming to endure. Seeing herself reflected in his eyes, feeling the way she was invaded and devoured. Only Mulder, she thought. Only Mulder had power enough over her to make her *feel* this much. Only he would ever be able to rend her defenses so completely. With one arm to support himself above her, he snaked the other between them, his eyes as dark as flint, and pushed her over the edge with a subtle flick of his fingers.
Perhaps she screamed or wailed. Perhaps she made no sound at all. It was all a black, blurring emptiness. Helpless, her body convulsed, betraying her years of studied reserve, stripping her raw. Panicked by the ferocity, she wanted it to stop, couldn't control her voice or her movements, flailing, wave after wave breaking across her muscles, forcing tears from her eyes. He kissed them away, lips stuttering across her temples, still moving inside her. She was crushed into the mattress; he was crushed into her body, so deep she could not bear it.
"...love you... love you so much... too much..."
Just as she thought she would start to scream, nerves over-sensitized, tremors still racing through her body, he shattered above her, flooding her with warmth, choking on her name. His head collapsed beside hers, their tears mingling. Still joined, she swept her trembling hands over his sweaty back, trying to remember how to breathe.
Finally, he lifted his head from her shoulder; she could see the tears that glistened trapped by his long eyelashes.
"Scully," he said, fingertips smoothing her tears over her skin, eyes wide and solemn, scared. "What's happening to us?"
There were no answers she could offer. She turned her head to the side, looked over at the dark window, felt the cold that seeped around its edges, seeped across her skin. Mulder buried his head in her neck once more, and she held him, shaking, while everything that they had known and been disintegrated around them in ashes.
Darkness. Sometime during the night Mulder had risen and turned out the bathroom light. Blankets were pulled over them both; Mulder curled naked around her.
They were not alone.
As the needle slipped into her arm, Scully could hear the rasp of unfamiliar breath above her face, could see the dim outline of a dark figure that hovered over the bed. It was the last conscious recognition she was able to make. Darkness descended, as she vaguely felt Mulder's limp body being lifted from her, distantly heard a familiar, hated voice.
"How could you! How could you do this? Why?!"
She surrendered to the void.