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Complicity (19/29)
By: promise64 (promised64@yahoo.com)

This fic can also be found at my journal:
http://memento64.livejournal.com

See disclaimers, etc. in part 1
[There's some POV changing in this part. Nothing confusing, though. You'll see why...]
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Part III -- Sanctity

Sounds die away in the ether,
And darkness overtakes the dusk.
In a world become mute for all time,
There are only two voices: yours and mine.
....
What was in our stars
That destined us for sorrow?
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Chapter 18
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He had killed for the first time when he was only fifteen years old.

Memory was a cruel, bewildering thing, he mused.  The things you forgot, things you would have sold your soul to remember -- like the sound of his mother's laughter.  She'd had a beautiful voice, but try as he might, he could not remember the sound.  That recollection escaped him, yet somehow he retained every flickering minute of the night he had killed Jacob Childress.  It had become like an elementary school filmstrip, bright and noisy behind his eyes, darkness all around.

The van drove over a deep pothole, icy slush splattering the windshield, and he heard a dull thunk from the back compartment.  Listening attentively for a moment, he assured himself that nothing was wrong.  He let the windshield wipers remove the dirty snow.

That night had been the beginning, he thought, really the beginning.  He had hated his father before that night.  He had missed his mother terribly, despaired over the tragedy that had stolen her life, but the rage, the sense of purpose had not developed until that night in the woods.

He had always been a meticulous child, planning everything to the last detail, missing nothing, preparing for every eventuality.  When he was very young, his teachers had called him serious, studious.  Later they called him obsessive.  No matter.  That obssessiveness had kept him and Aaron alive during the two weeks they'd spent alone after their father left, after their mother locked herself in her bedroom and never came out again.  Wasn't he the one who had thought to search their mother's purse for money?  Wasn't he the one who had been brave enough to walk the three miles into town to purchase food?  Wasn't he the one who remembered to walk the dog, take out the trash, turn on the outside lights at night so that the neighbors wouldn't worry?

Aaron had never been good at planning.

Aaron had spent those two weeks crying, not because he was worried about their mother, but because he missed their father.  That was when his hatred for his brother had blossomed.  Only nine years old, and he had been able to see that his twin brother was a selfish, cowardly child.  Adam and Aaron Hathaway, he mused, identical in every respect except their conception of right and wrong.  Aaron was weak.  Aaron was stupid.  Aaron had betrayed their mother's memory.  Adam Edward Hathaway Jr., bearer of his father's name and legacy, had been the stronger brother, had been the one able to discern the reason that their family was falling apart.  Only he had been able to see the seed of evil that had festered in their family, eventually growing strong enough to strangle them all.

Adam may have been his father's namesake, but he was nothing like his father.

That night in the woods had been the culmination of years of smoldering hatred, months of planning and cold, calculated forethought.  Justice was not something that could be obtained in a murderous rage.  It was simple, precise, necessary.  You had to be careful.  You couldn't let your emotions control your actions.  It wasn't a matter of being emotionless, not at all.  Of course he had strong emotions related to his mother and Jacob Childress.  How could he not?  But he had learned to master those emotions, learned how to turn the rage into something productive, something that he could control, harnessing its energy and directing it towards a larger purpose -- revenge.

He slowed for a stop sign, snow-capped trees all around.  The back of the van was still quiet.  They would not wake up for some time yet.

It had been the beginning of summer.  School had let out only a week before.  On the last day of classes students had chattered noisily about their summer plans, about who was throwing end of school parties.  Adam, as usual, had not participated in their mindless prattle.  He had been reading in the back of the classroom.  Salinger, if he remembered correctly.  Last period, fifteen minutes till the bell rang for the last time that year.

Jacob had set the events in motion, and Adam, decades later, was strangely thankful for that.  Adam had been reading quietly, able to tune out the voices of the other children and retreat to a quiet, meditative place within his own mind.  Suddenly, Jacob had been standing in front of his desk, had placed his hand over Adam's book, breaking his silent sanctuary.

<"Hey, Hathaway, I asked you a question.">

Jacob's pale, scrawny fingers were splayed over the crisp white pages of the book.  Adam knew who Jacob Childress was.  More importantly, he knew who Jacob's mother was.  Six years after his mother had died, and Adam could still hear her screaming, demanding to know who "she" was, demanding an explanation from their father -- and their father's harsh, pitiless reply -- "Martha Childress, as if it makes a damn bit of difference!"  Theirs was a small town.  Both Adam and his mother knew exactly who Martha Childress was.

<"Hathaway, earth to Hathaway!  Are you retarded or something?">

He’d had to live in the same town as Jacob Childress for six long years.  He’d been forced to see his smug, smiling face at school every single day, reminding Adam of what he'd lost, what Jacob still had; his perfect life, his living, breathing slut of a mother.  It was wrong.  Adam knew, instinctively, that it was not the way things were supposed to be.

What had he said to Jacob in reply?  Memory was a fickle thing.  He couldn't recall.  All he could remember was staring into Jacob's eyes, dirt brown eyes, eyes the color of dog shit, watery coward's eyes.  He could remember that Jacob had muttered "freak," walked away laughing, joining his friends.  And Adam had been paralyzed, trapped by a perfect vision of Jacob's bloody face on the ground, his brown eyes glazed in death.  It wasn't a hallucination, he had realized, sitting in the classroom long after everyone else had left.  It was a precognition, God showing him the way.  Adultery was a sin, fornication was the devil's handiwork, and the sins of the father (or mother) were visited upon the son.

Killing was wrong, but the bible demanded an eye for an eye, and Adam's mother was dead.  Her blood had swirled in the bath water like food coloring when dyeing Easter eggs, red tendrils wavering in the murky water, snaking out across the polished tiles of the bathroom floor where the bathtub had overflowed.  Her gray, puckered flesh and dull, dead eyes.  Her wrists like disgusting, gaping smiles where she had sliced her own flesh with a straight razor.  He had never seen his mother naked before.  Nine years old when his father had finally returned home, kicked in the bedroom door, found his wife already stiff and stinking in the master bathroom.  Adam had followed his father and stood in the open doorway screaming and screaming and screaming.

Adam was an innocent, or he had been.  His father and Martha Childress had condemned his mother to death.  Rose Hathaway was simply too fragile, too pure of heart to endure the reality of what her husband had done.  Adam was an innocent, but he alone seemed willing to bear the burden and responsibility of vengeance.  Jacob had to die.  It was the only way.

Adam glanced at his watch.  It would be dark soon.  He would stop in another ten miles and re-administer the sedative to them both.  The last thing he needed was either one of them waking up before they reached the lodge.

It had been cold in the woods that night, he remembered, despite the advance of summer.  Adam had shivered, watching from the sheltering trees, as Jacob and his friends drank warm beer and talked about girls.  He'd been patient.  The song of the wind in the trees had calmed him, and he had found that the longer he waited, the more his nervousness had waned.  By the time the moment had arrived, Jacob wandering drunkenly into the trees to relieve himself, Adam had been relaxed, almost serene.

The thud of the sledgehammer as it impacted with the side of Jacob's face was a sound he could remember clearly -- a wet, soft sound, not at all as dramatic as he had expected it would be.  Jacob didn't even make a noise, simply crumbled to the forest floor in a small, limp heap.  It was so easy, and the thrill... He knew it was partially adrenaline, a rush of endorphins flooding his brain, fueled by the fear of getting caught.  But the peace he felt afterwards, the happiness, as if he could feel his mother's approval shining down from heaven above.  That had not been merely brain chemistry.

The first impact hadn't killed Jacob, but it was easy enough to drag his slight body to the church.  Careful to leave no evidence behind, Adam had rolled Jacob onto a plastic tarp before delivering the final blow, and even that precaution was barely necessary.  There was very little blood.  The floor boards had been pried up days before, the hole dug deeply enough that animals wouldn't disturb it.  Meticulous.  Prepared. 

For the first time since his mother's death, Adam had felt the weight of grief lessen in his young heart.  This was why he had left the trail for them to follow to the church.  Mulder was intelligent.  Adam knew he would find it.  Jacob was important because Jacob was the beginning.  It was God's will -- "in His will is our peace," Dante had written, centuries before, and he had been right.  There was peace to be found in the exercise of God's justice.
 
Adam had hoped Mulder would be able to understand this.  After all, Mulder had suffered a similar tragedy as a child.  He, too, had been tainted by an adulterous parent.  When Adam discovered that Mulder's sister had disappeared shortly before their parent's divorce, and that he had spent the rest of his life desperately searching for her, he had felt a bone deep sympathy for Mulder, for the suffering he had endured.  Perhaps the girl had been taken to punish the parents?  Adam wasn't certain, but Mulder had obviously been seeking justice ever since.  Why else would he have joined the FBI?  Why else dedicate his life to the pursuit of evil?  Sadly, Adam now realized that Mulder had been too severely corrupted, his innocence spoiled too thoroughly.  Mulder had wasted too many years searching in vain for the revenge that God demanded.

Adam looked at his watch again.  Almost time.  They would be there soon.

God had given Mulder a beautiful gift, a companion with whom to share his life, a relationship untainted by the corruption of the physical world, a pure, simple human connection that he could cherish and draw strength from.  Adam had spent his life alone.  After his mother had passed, he had found himself abandoned, and he had never sought to remedy that loss.  Believing that no one would be able to understand his thirst for reprisal, he had preferred solitude.  Seeing Mulder and Scully together on the steps of the federal building, the sanctity he had felt emanating from them, Adam had experienced loneliness for the first time.

Now, after realizing what Mulder had done, what he had destroyed, Adam was confused.  The kinship he felt with Mulder was still strong, but the trespass Mulder had committed was real.  Lust was one of the seven deadly sins, and Mulder had succumbed to lust, had taken something inviolate, inviolable, and he had polluted it.

Adam's life was over.  He had known this when he made the decision to leave the photograph and the story at the Leeds' house.  Eventually, they would trace the picture; they would discover his identity.  It was only a matter of time.  He'd had maybe two more weeks of freedom, two more weeks in which to complete his quest.  His confusion over how to react to Mulder's profanity had motivated his early retirement.  He hadn't wanted to desert the children, but he couldn't go back to them now.  The lesson they had been instrumental in communicating was over.

Adam would spend the rest of his life trying to decide how to deal with Mulder's transgression, trying to understand why Mulder had done what he'd done.  And then they could all find peace together -- Mulder, his beautiful partner, and Adam.  Life was long and full of pain.  Death was the silence you earned at the end of a difficult journey.  Adam was tired.  He missed his mother still.  He was looking forward to joining her soon.

The road had grown rugged.  It was wilderness from here to the lodge.  Trees closed in around the van like talons.  The sky was gray, darkening by the minute, the first glimmer of stars now becoming discernible.  Adam slowed the van, not wanting to jostle his passengers too violently.

How many times had he driven up this road?  With his father and brother, hunting gear in the trunk, prepared for a weekend of father-son bonding.  The concept had disgusted him.  Animals were the supremely innocent, and the sight of their blood had horrified him.  His father had called him a wuss, teasing him incessantly.  He was glad for the existence of the lodge now.  It had become his sanctuary.

There was a slight rustle of movement from the back of the van, and Adam paused.  They were almost there.  He would park the van and immediately administer another dose.  He wasn't worried.  He had tied their bonds carefully.

The stars in the heavens grew brighter above, and Adam said a silent prayer, asking God for the wisdom to end things properly.

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Her brain felt heavy, her tongue thick.  Why couldn't she open her eyes?  Even her muscles betrayed her.  Scully tried to move her hand, her foot, and found herself paralyzed.  There was a humming in her head.  She followed it down a long, dark hole.  There was black, not a star in the sky, and thunder in her head.  She struggled in the depths, knowing it wasn't right, she wasn't awake, and that she had to fight.  <"I've already lost you, haven't I?">  Where was Mulder?  There was the cold of the window behind her, and she was being kissed.

The tunnel released her to pain and cold and a hard metal surface under her limbs.  Her head was cushioned -- the thunder in her head -- Mulder's heartbeat beneath her cheek.  She could smell him, too, could feel the slow, rhythmic rise and fall of his breathing.  He was not awake.  Truthfully, neither was she.  She still could not open her eyes.  Her hands and feet still refused to move.

The black hovered at the edge of her mind, beckoning, and she concentrated on the sound of Mulder's heat beating.  She tried to focus her thoughts.  Systole. The heart chambers contract.  Diastole.  The heart chambers relax.  Blood enters the right atrium through the superior and inferior vena cava, passing through the atrioventricular valve and into the right ventricle.  The right ventricle pushes the blood through the pulmonary semilunar valve, into the pulmonary trunk, through the two pulmonary arteries, and into the lungs...

They were moving.  Scully could feel the motion beneath her body, could hear the crunch of gravel beneath tires.  The motion jostled her lifeless body, almost dislodging her comfortable position atop Mulder's chest.

<A figure hovering over the bed. Cold, numbing pain as a needle pierced her arm.  That voice.  She knew that voice.  The knife carving a bloody line across her throat and his breathing in her ear.>

She had to stay conscious, had to stay awake in the hope that she could regain motor function before they stopped moving.
 
...Four pulmonary veins carry oxygenated blood into the left atrium, which sends the blood through another atrioventricular valve -- the bicuspid valve -- and into the left ventricle.  The left ventricle sends blood through the aortic semilunar valve...

They had stopped.  Mulder's heart continued to beat slowly.  Everything was silent.  Scully held her breath and tried to concentrate.  She heard a rusty squeal as the doors were opened.

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Somehow, they'd managed to stay in the position he'd placed them in after removing them from the motel.  Of course, there wasn't much room to maneuver in the back of the van.  They looked so tranquil; Dana's head was pillowed on Mulder's chest, her bound hands curled beneath her chin.  They looked innocent, like slumbering children.  It was a far better image than the one he had been confronted with when he'd entered their motel room.  Disgusting, the room had practically reeked of sex -- clothing strewn about, snarl of sweaty sheets, sordid and filthy, tangled together like rutting dogs.  He'd had to restrain his anger, not wanting to hurt them, despite everything.

He watched them.  Dana's fingers tensed minutely; she made a slight sound in her throat.  They would wake up soon.  Adam pulled a syringe from his coat pocket.

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End Chapter 18 (Part 19/29)

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Chapter 19
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"Sir?"

The sun was bright, piercing through the white sky and blinding Moore where he stood.  He blinked, sighed, and regarded his agent.

"Take it down," he instructed Sandborne.

SAC Moore stepped back from the motel room door, as Sandborne and Marcus pulled the small battering ram back, and then thrust it forward.  It cracked the wood as it impacted with the door, and the mangled portal swung open, revealing a dark room beyond.

Moore swallowed his sense of dread.  He wasn't wrong.  He'd wanted to be wrong.

Mulder and Scully hadn't shown up at the federal building that morning.  Excusing their tardiness as fatigue and the after effects of the night at Niagara Falls, Moore hadn't been worried, at first.  By the time it had reached 2 PM, and they hadn't called the field office to check in, he had become concerned.  He'd called the motel.  He'd called both their cell phones.  He'd received no answer.  Their cell phones were turned on, their voice mail picking up after a series of rings.  He'd left messages, several.

It was already obvious that the kidnapper knew where Mulder and Scully were staying.  He'd revealed as much during the first phone contact.  No one had believed that this knowledge presented a threat.  The kidnapper did not seem focused on the investigators as targets.  The children were the ones in danger.  Mulder's profile had made this clear.  Their suspect had a precise goal, and random acts of violence were not a facet of this purpose.

Or so they'd thought.  It was almost four o'clock.  Mulder and Scully could not be found, their car was in the parking lot, and their motel rooms were empty. 

"We're treating this as a crime scene, people," Moore cautioned.

Downstairs, another small group of agents was already gathering forensic evidence from Scully's motel room.  Moore had been with them when they'd taken the door down.  He'd been fervently hoping to find her sick in bed, the phone not working, both her legs broken -- anything.  But there had been nothing.  The bed hadn't even been slept in.  Neat as a pin, two pairs of Scully's impossibly high shoes aligned precisely by the bed.  In the closet, a row of gray and black suits sat safely in their dry cleaning bags, a small handful of cosmetics by the bathroom sink.  There had been no indication of where she might be or what might have happened to her.

Mulder's room was a different story.

"Management's gonna throw a shit fit," Marcus muttered, walking carefully around the splintered door and into the room.  The manager had been out of his office when they'd arrived.  That's why the battering ram had been necessary.

"We'll pay him back," Moore said crisply.

Ahead of Moore, Sandborne had stopped in the middle of the room, looking at the floor.  Raising his eyes, the comment was obvious in his expression.

If Scully's room had been neat and empty, Mulder's was the diametric opposite.  Littering the floor were various pieces of clothing, his and hers, dropped haphazardly, leading from the door to the bed.  Three feet from the bed, a black cotton bra lay in a small puddle.  At the bed's edge, a pair of gray boxer shorts was crumbled.  The sheets were a twisted mess, the matching pair of black panties just visible under one of the folds of blanket.

Moore sighed, closed his eyes.  He'd suspected, had even hoped that they'd managed to find some comfort together this way.  The Bureau was a difficult place, lonely and consuming.  His own failed marriage was evidence of this.  Despite his early resistance, Moore liked Mulder.  Mulder was brilliant, driven.  He liked Scully even more.  Moore respected them, and he had hoped, after the night at the church and his conversation with Scully, that these two people would not succumb to the loneliness and despair that had claimed so many good agents.  He had hoped they at least had each other.  Six years was a very long time.

"This gets kept very quiet," Moore answered Sandborne's hesitant look.  "Very quiet."  His tone was hard, commanding.  "No one, and I mean *no one* outside of the immediate investigation hears a hint of this."

Sandborne nodded.  From behind him, Moore heard Marcus' "Yes, sir."

Moore may have suspected that Mulder and Scully were involved, but the fact of it was not something to be handled lightly.  The Bureau had no specific policy against fraternization, but it was frowned upon, deeply.  Moore did not want to see this investigation twisted into an OPC scandal.

"Agent Marcus, go downstairs and grab someone from Mobile Crime."  They needed forensics on this room as soon as possible.  "One person,” he added, “and make sure you stress the sensitivity of this situation before he gets up here."

Marcus left the room.

Sandborne had a camera and was taking pictures.  "God, I feel like I'm invading their privacy," he said softly.  "I'm not used to feeling like this."  He wasn't used to knowing the victims of the crimes they investigated, either.

Moving cautiously around the bed, Moore noted the sag of Sandborne's shoulders, the deep shadows etching his eyes.  Sandborne's partner was in the hospital; he'd spent the previous night comforting Williams' fiancé.  This case had suddenly become personal for them all.

On the floor by the bedside table, barely visible in the low light, something caught Moore's attention.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a latex glove.  Stooping on the carpet, he leaned over to examine the object more closely. 

It was a syringe.

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Scully jerked awake, a metallic sound rattling close to her ear.  There was intense pain, throbbing behind each of her eyes, pulsing in the back of her skull.  How long, she wondered, had she been unconscious?  She tried to open her eyes, crying out when light amplified the pain.  She squeezed them shut once more.  A gentle hand pushed the hair back from her face and smoothed across her cheek.

"Scully?" His voice was worried.

"Mmmm..." Her throat was painfully dry.  "Mulder... my head hurts."

Something cool and wet touched her lips and she opened her mouth, a welcome gulp of water flooding in.  She reminded herself to drink slowly.

"Scully," Mulder said, when she had finished drinking.  "You're wearing my clothes."  Forced humor in his tone, obviously trying to cover his fear.

Finally, she risked opening her eyes again, steeling herself against the onslaught of light.  She peered at him through slit lids.  His look was one of concern rather than humor.  Scully glanced down at her body, which, she now noticed, was cradled in Mulder's lap.  He was right about the clothes.  She was wearing his gray oxford under his Georgetown sweatshirt, and, worst of all, a pair of his jeans, rolled up about a thousand times.  It was worse than wearing her big brother's clothes. 

She looked like a midget.

Mulder had resumed the slow passing of his hand over her hair.  Suddenly, strangely, she was okay with him touching her.  It wasn't the sex.  That hadn't fixed anything the first time.  Instead, it was as if a dam had burst inside her mind, and any definition they might have possessed had been washed away in the deluge.  The look in his eyes still terrified her.  This was not the Mulder she knew -- and yet, somehow, it was.  She, too, felt foreign.  So much of who she had become had been dependent on her relationship to him, and now that relationship was irrevocably different.

She blinked, trying to come back into herself, glancing away from Mulder's troubled eyes and scanning her surroundings.  The metallic sound originated from a pair of handcuffs attached to her left wrist.  Her right hand was free, the empty cuff attached to a thick chain that snaked across the room and was anchored in the floor.  A plastic pitcher and cup on the floor had been the source of the water Mulder had given her.  The room was bare, little more than a shed -- rough concrete floor, no windows, two doors, raw wood walls, and a single light bulb dangling from a chain in the ceiling.

Not certain if she could manage it yet, Scully pushed herself up from Mulder's lap.  His worried hands guided her from the floor, and he hovered over her as she rose to her feet.  The room swayed when she stood.  She closed her eyes again.

"Scully?"

"It's okay, Mulder.  Just dizzy."

His hands retreated, and Scully opened her eyes.  They had been lying on an old mattress on the floor, covered in seemingly clean sheets and a ratty, gray blanket.  Other than that, there was no furniture in the room.  It was bone cold, and even swaddled in Mulder's clothes, Scully was freezing.  There was no discernible source of heat.

The length of chain was substantial, and Scully walked towards one of the doors, surprised when she found that she could reach it.  There was no doorknob, and she pushed the door open.  Inside, a tug on a string dangling from the ceiling illuminated a tiny bathroom, or rather, a tiny outhouse.  Childhood memories of summer camp and the smell of wooden latrines were enough to alert Scully to the lack of modern plumbing.  Lifting the lid on the toilet, her suspicions were confirmed.  A dark, depthless, putrid hole gaped beneath the toilet seat.

The rattling chain alerted her to Mulder's presence before he actually entered the room.  He stood over her shoulder and regarded the amenities.

"This is far worse than any motel I've ever chosen."

She snorted.  There wasn't even a sink.  And like the outer room, there were no windows.  "Not by much, Mulder," she muttered, pushing past him and out of the disgusting room.

It was obvious that the chain wouldn't reach the second door, which Scully suspected was bolted from the outside.  She turned around once slowly, surveying their bleak prison.  Patting herself down, she was not surprised to find her pockets empty, nothing to be found which might be used to pick the lock on her handcuffs.  The floor, though dirt-blackened, was swept clean.  Outside, wind clamored against the cabin walls and Scully shivered.

Her head throbbed in tempo with her heartbeat, and she closed her eyes against a wave of dizziness.  She felt herself sway on her feet. 

"Scully..." Mulder called from behind her, the tone of his voice somewhere between concern and fear.
 
She had begun to turn to face him when a sound from beyond the other door halted her action.  There was the dragging sound of a heavy wooden bolt being drawn from across the outside of the door, then the additional clatter of keys and a padlock clicking open.  After a moment of silence, the heavy portal swung outward and Scully held her breath.

The night at Niagara Falls had been terribly dark.  Scully had spent the majority of that struggle held immobile by their kidnapper.  She'd never really seen his face.  The figure that stood in the open doorway, sleet-laden wind whipping at his back, was nothing like what she had expected, and yet, somehow, she had known he would look like this.

Clad in a thick goose-down parka, the man responsible for the death of four little boys was large and ungainly, almost as tall as Mulder.  There was no menacing sneer on his lips; his eyes were neither empty nor evil.  Rather, he was oafish, lumbering, his cheeks and lips red and cold-chapped.  He had curly light brown hair that had begun to thin into a high forehead.  His eyes were pale blue, tired looking, haggard.  There was a quality to his expression that was weary and vulnerable.

They regarded one another for an odd moment -- Mulder and Scully chained and defenseless, their captor with his hair damp from freezing rain.  Finally, he stepped into the room.  For the first time, Scully noticed that he held a large thermos in his left hand.  He closed the door and walked forward to stand inches from Scully, and she held her ground.  Without speaking, the murderer lifted a large, cold hand and grazed the vicious bruising around the gash on Scully's throat.  Behind her, Mulder's chains rattled as he began to move towards them.

"Don't touch her," Mulder spat furiously.

Faster than she would have thought him capable, the man whose frigid, dry fingers had just gently grazed her cheek turned from her, reached behind him, and withdrew a gun from the waistband of his pants.  He pointed it squarely at Mulder's forehead and clicked off the safety.

"I will kill you both," he stated, and the weariness was in his voice, too. 

Mulder quieted instantly, and Scully exhaled, relief and adrenaline flooding her brain as the kidnapper replaced the gun at his waist.

Again he regarded her. "I'm sorry for that," he said, gesturing to the sutures on Scully's face and neck, the statement at odds with his previous threat of violence.

She didn't reply, feeling small and weak in her too big clothes, their suspect looming over her.  No one spoke.  The only sound was the angry wind howling through the cracks in the walls.

"I brought you something to eat," the kidnapper finally continued, extending the thermos to Scully.

She took the proffered cylinder.  It was warm.  She tilted it and something sloshed inside.

"Vegetable soup," he explained, as if to comfort her unease.

She tucked the object against her chest, feeling the warmth seep into her chilled flesh, and stepped back from their captor.  He watched her, staring, seeming to contemplate something.

"Which one of you is responsible?" he asked Scully, sadness in his tone.

"Responsible?" Scully returned, the question seeming cryptic and strange.

"Which one of you is responsible?" he repeated, as if he had not heard her confusion, and he turned his head to look at Mulder.  His voice was becoming angry now.  The hand not holding the gun was clenched into a fist, shaking slightly.

Perhaps he was unstable. Mulder's profile had dismissed insanity, claiming that a truly unstable individual would not be capable of the careful planning these crimes had necessitated.  Scully was not certain which frightened her more -- an unpredictable and motiveless killer, or one who was sane, who had a definitive purpose in mind.

Before she could consider it more carefully, Mulder answered the kidnapper's bizarre query. "It was my fault."

The kidnapper closed his eyes briefly, sorrow softening his features, wrinkling his brow.  "Why?"

"I was weak," Mulder replied, and Scully heard regret in his words, a note of truth in his statement.  She was still confused as to what they were discussing.

"You succumbed to lust," the killer accused.

Dread like a rough heavy stone lodged in Scully's throat, and she shuddered with dawning comprehension.

"I regret it," Mulder continued, and the pitch of his voice was addressed both to the killer and to Scully.  She had heard that quiet confessional tone, the one he reserved for her alone, too many times not to recognize it instantly.

"Regret cannot undo what's already been done," their suspect chastened.

Mulder's reply was hollow.  "I know."

"Regret is easy in the face of consequences.  There is still penance to be done."

Mulder had been right about the families of the boys.  The motive for the kidnappings had been tied to the parent's adultery, to their sin -- they had succumbed to lust.  Product of a catholic school upbringing, Scully was all too familiar with the severity of the biblical prohibition against lust and the necessity of penance.  Mulder was attempting to shield her from blame.  This hulking, dangerous man had pulled them from the motel bed where they had come together for the second time.  After the first time, Scully had known that they had sinned.  She'd felt dirty, like they'd destroyed something precious.  Now, she realized with horror, they might be held responsible for that crime.

Scully wanted to say something, to turn to Mulder and yell at him, to shoulder her share of the blame.  She wanted to defend their actions, to attempt to explain to this tired, gun-wielding child killer that there was more to it than lust, that they had done penance enough already, that despite everything she did not regret her newly acquired knowledge of the taste of Mulder's kiss.  She did not regret hearing him whisper her name in passion, feeling the life that still existed in them both.  For so long she had felt cold and dead.

"I haven't yet decided what that penance should be," the kidnapper intoned, assigning himself the role of judge, jury and potential executioner.

Before either of them could respond, the murderer turned, opened the heavy door, and left the room, bolting the entry behind him.  Alone again in the hovel, Scully could not bring herself to turn around and face her partner.

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End Chapter 19 (part 20/29)

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Chapter 20
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Assistant Director Walter Skinner stepped on to the jet-way and was greeted by a gust of cold, wet wind.  Buffalo during the winter was hell frozen over.  He turned the collar of his jacket up against the cold and hoisted his carry-on higher over his shoulder.  Airsick and sleep deprived, Skinner trailed after a pair of beleaguered parents wrestling with a stroller and two toddlers.  Emerging into the terminal, there was blessedly stable earth beneath his feet once more.  He had a headache.

"Assistant Director Skinner?"

Skinner sighed, took a deep, steadying breath and turned around.  Walking towards him, weaving uncertainly through the crowd of de-planing passengers, was a middle-aged man wearing a dark suit and trench coat, deep circles shadowing his somber eyes -- all requisite G-man attire.

Skinner extended his hand.  "Special Agent Moore."

Moore's hand was warm and dry.  Skinner studied the wrinkled dress shirt, the loosened tie, and the stubble darkening Moore's jaw.  Without the parody of banal greetings, the pair began to walk towards the baggage claim.

"Thank you for coming, Sir," Moore finally said, as the baggage carousel screeched to life.

Skinner wanted to tell Moore to save his thanks.  The decision to fly to Buffalo might likely cost him his job.  Skinner was not supposed to have any contact with agents Mulder or Scully.  He was not allowed to interfere in their affairs in any manner.  This was not a case under his jurisdiction.  A stack of unattended paperwork sat ignored on his desk in DC.  The annual budget review was due in three weeks.  Another pair of his agents was embroiled in a nasty counterfeiting case that had ended up conflicting with a DEA investigation, and suddenly there was an interdepartmental turf war going on.  They were looking for any reason to get rid of him these days.

But despite it all, Skinner could not abandon them.  Because of everything, because of the preposterous fact that he might actually be fired for trying to assist in the recovery of two fellow federal agents, because it was wrong, and because he owed them more than that, Skinner had come to Buffalo.  He'd answered the phone, listened calmly to Agent Moore's recitation of events, and he'd called his travel agent.  Technically, he was on vacation.  He'd had to take personal time in order to evade suspicion.

Moore coughed raggedly, cleared his throat.  There was obviously something he wanted to say.  Skinner waited patiently.  Both men quietly watched the parade of identical looking bags that rotated past on the conveyor belt.

"You knew agents Mulder and Scully personally?"  Moore finally asked, still watching the luggage.

Skinner considered the question.  Did he really know them personally?  He had known them through events the likes of which he could scarcely comprehend.  He was trapped with them in a conspiracy that might eventually claim their lives.  But did he know them?  He knew their anger, their determination, their suffering, their brilliance, and their devotion to one another.  He knew them only in the context of tragedy.  He considered them to be his friends, and hoped that the consideration was mutual, but it was a friendship forged by pain and never expanded farther than needs be.  He had never aspired to invade the confine of their world together.  He couldn't even pretend to understand it.  He admired them.  On more than one occasion he had protected them.  He knew them, perhaps, as well as anyone, which was barely at all.

"I was their direct superior for five years," Skinner responded, purposefully vague.  He did not know this man and, out of ignorance, could not trust him.

It was obviously not the answer Moore had sought.  He was silent for another minute.  "There's something that's been revealed by recent events," Moore blurted, "something about which I don't know if you're aware."

Skinner faced Moore, regarding him sternly.  There were multitudes of secrets that Mulder and Scully carried with them, around them, like an aura.  Skinner prayed that this man had not been ensnared by the lies that had trapped him years ago.

"They were involved... intimately," Moore finally managed.  Clearly uncomfortable, he hurried to continue.  "It's something I've tried to keep out of the main investigation, but the circumstances surrounding the events at their motel have made things difficult.  I don't want to see this investigation turned into an OPC circus, and I don't want to see Mulder and Scully's names dragged through the mud."  His voice was determined, solid, willing to defend a pair of agents he had known for scarcely a month.

Skinner was floored.  It took him a moment to find the right words.  "How does their... involvement... pertain in any way to this investigation?"  Of course he had suspected this, but it was not a suspicion he had ever desired to confirm.  It was none of his business.

"The motel," Moore said, not looking at Skinner.  "They were taken from Mulder's room.  There was evidence of recent sexual activity; a semen sample was taken.  We'd have suspected sexual assault, but there was no sign of struggle, and without DNA for comparison, determining the source of the sample is impossible."  Moore paused, took a deep breath.  "It's been difficult keeping this information from the rest of my team.  We need to eliminate the possibility that we have genetic evidence from our suspect."

Skinner closed his eyes. Moore didn't know how precarious Mulder and Scully's positions within the FBI already were.  These were not things that Skinner wanted to hear.  He felt as if he were committing a transgression, invading their privacy.

From the bowels of the airport, Skinner's suitcase finally emerged.  He dragged it from the carousel and felt a stab of weariness.  "I can get you a sample of Mulder's DNA," he finally replied.

~~~~

"When I was sixteen, my father remarried."

Shivering, Mulder and Scully were huddled together on the thin mattress.  Across the room, their captor sat on a folding lawn chair, relating the bloody events of his life as if reading from a storybook.

"I couldn't understand it, how he could live with himself.  How could he kill my mother, destroy her hope and her life, and then blithely remarry, as if he bore no guilt, as if he did not repent?  I didn't blame his new wife.  She was innocent enough."

They had already heard the story of Jacob Childress' death, and the fervor, the elation with which the kidnapper had spoken of that night in the woods had sickened Scully.  He had been only fifteen years old.

"But my brother,” his tone turned scornful, “there was no excuse for what he did.  He betrayed my mother's memory.  He embraced my father's new wife as if our mother had never existed, had never breathed and loved and died.  It was as if I had only imagined the years when my mother was alive.  I had pictures of her, pictures of the four of us together, but I seemed to be the only one who remembered her, who missed her at all."

Adam Hathaway -- their captor had a name now, a name and a face to accompany the voice from the telephone and the list of heinous acts he had committed.  He'd revealed as much when he'd entered their room this morning, bringing them a Tupperware container of instant mashed potatoes and canned carrots.  Whatever his intentions, it was clear that he didn't intend to starve them in the same manner as the children.

"I could feel it happening again, the buildup of rage and sense of purpose that I had thought satisfied after Jacob.  I was confused at first.  I stopped sleeping, couldn't eat.  I stayed in bed for days at a time, skipping school, feigning illness.  I would stare at the ceiling in my dark room and feel the bed spinning beneath me, dragging me down this long spiral and swallowing me whole.  Until finally I realized that I was being punished.  I had been entrusted with the responsibility of vengeance, and I had done only half my job.  There were still people alive who had wronged my mother, who defiled her memory every day with their fresh betrayals." 

At first, Scully had been wary of eating the food Adam brought them.  She'd argued with Mulder.  Afraid and cold and hungry, they'd had a brief, loud argument.  Eventually, Mulder convinced her that poison was not a method their killer would use.  It was too indirect.  They would realize what had happened only after the fact.  Their captor would want them to know when he meted out their punishment.

"So I convinced my brother to come up here with me, to our father's hunting cabin, a place we hadn't been to since we were children.  My relationship with Aaron was strained by that point.  He was popular, a football player, and obnoxious.  I had hated him for years.  It was frighteningly easy to lure him up here, easier still to stand over him while he was sleeping and pull the trigger on my father's shotgun.”  He stopped and took a slow, deep breath.  When he spoke again the words were quiet and serene.  “He never even made a sound."

Adam rose from the chair, folded it up, and bent over to retrieve the Tupperware container.  "I never went home after that night.  I ran away and never looked back."  He paused, looked directly at Mulder.  "Until many years later, that feeling, that desire, that hunger for revenge returned again, and I realized that it would never be satisfied until I had made it possible for others to recognize the decay hiding in our society, the festering rot beneath the surface of our perfect families."

Beside Scully, Mulder straightened, pulling the warmth of his shoulder away from hers.  "Why are you telling us all of this?" he asked.

Adam seemed perplexed by the question.  "Because I thought you would be able to understand,” he said, as if this should be obvious.  “I wanted you to know that I understand -- the thirst for justice."

"Why would I be able to understand that?"

Adam looked shocked, confused.  "Because of what happened to your sister," he explained.

"How..." Mulder stammered.  "How do you know about my sister?"

"You graduated from the only public high school on Martha's Vineyard.  Searching the newspaper archives for such a small area was easy, and articles concerning your sister's disappearance dominated the headlines for weeks after she went missing."

The extent to which this man had fixated on Mulder frightened Scully.  It bordered on obsession.  More frightening still, his intentions towards them remained a mystery. Somehow, a direct threat of violence would have been easier to handle; Scully knew how to react to violence.  This quiet consideration and telling of tales -- she had no basis upon which to deal with these tactics, no notion of where this might be headed.  Adam was a murderer, capable of terrible brutality, but he'd yet to harm them in any way.  He'd abducted them from their motel room in the middle of the night, but he'd taken the care to dress them both warmly before removing them.  It didn't make any sense.

Beside her Mulder had grown quiet, but she could feel the tension suffusing his posture.  Scully wanted to reach out and lay a hand on his arm, to comfort him, to steady him, and to steady herself.  She was wary of making any move in front of Adam.

"I had seen the stain on you already,” Adam continued, “the same as the boys, but after I learned about your sister, it made more sense.  Joining the FBI, devoting your life to the search for justice, living alone, isolating yourself from your peers, the tragedy that seems to follow your life... You've wasted years looking for revenge in the wrong places."

A painful breath shuddered out of Scully’s lungs.  Had they been wasted years?  Had he wasted years of his life, had she?  However twisted his logic, Adam's words mirrored her own recent thoughts, her fear that they had been searching for justice that might never be found, isolating themselves in the process.  

"I don't feel," Mulder said softly, "that they've been wasted years."

An expression of pity crossed Adam's face.  "Have you found your sister?" he asked.  "Have you found the justice you were seeking?"

Adam's questions pierced deeply, and she suspected that he knew this, that this was his intention.  She could only guess his purpose.

Mulder avoided the questions.  "We've found justice.  We've helped people; we've helped people who otherwise would have had no one to turn to, no one who would listen to their stories."

"But what about you?" Adam insisted.  "What about Dana? Where is your justice?"

Mulder didn't answer.

Adam sighed, shook his head, and, as if tired of the discussion, he turned away from Mulder and Scully.  Reaching behind the lawn chair, he retrieved a duffel bag that he had brought into the room.  Unzipping it, he removed a plastic dispenser of Dial soap, a jug of water, and a towel.

"These are to clean the wound on your leg," Adam said, placing the objects on the ground in front of the mattress.

Scully was confused.  Her leg was not injured.  Other than his damaged ribs, she was unaware of any other injuries on Mulder.  Of course, she had not been paying the most careful attention on the night they had made love.  Mulder was silent, staring down at his hands folded in his lap.

Adam zipped up his parka, cast one last sorrowful look in their direction, and left Mulder and Scully alone in the cabin.  Scully stood, the chain rattling behind her, and retrieved the items.  Holding the bottle of orange antibacterial soap in her hands, she forced her voice to function.  "Your leg is injured?"  She turned and looked at Mulder.

He replied without raising his head, "The night at Niagara Falls.  I have a cut on my shin."

"Is it infected?"

"I think so," he said quietly.  "I was given antibiotics, but, obviously, they're back at the motel."

Scully nodded, stepping toward the mattress.  "I need to see it, Mulder."

Without making eye contact, he leaned over and rolled the leg of his jeans up to his knee, revealing his shin, swathed in gauze.  “Adam must have wrapped it for me,” he muttered.  Blood and pus had begun to seep through the bandage.

"Shit," Scully swore softly under her breath.  "Mulder, that has to hurt like hell."

He only grunted.

Kneeling beside him on the mattress, Scully began to peel the old bandage away.  Despite the obvious pain it must have caused him, Mulder didn't make a sound.

"Mulder," she began softly, concentrating on unraveling the length of soiled gauze.  "I don't think that they've been wasted years," she tried to reassure him.  Despite her bitterness, despite what they'd lost and her doubts, as she said the words, Scully realized that she meant them.

Finally looking up, Mulder regarded her with a skeptical expression.  "How can you say that, Scully, after everything that's happened?"  He sounded defeated.

The last of the bandages peeled away, and a long, deep gash reveled itself, fastened with several sutures.  "You were right," she said, her voice solemn.  "We've helped people; we've found justice for people who otherwise would have had none."

"And what about us?" Mulder asked, echoing Adam.  He reached down and touched Scully's hand, the one gently holding his leg.  "What about you?"

Suddenly, looking into his eyes, at the regret shading them, Scully felt her throat constrict, felt tears threatening to fall.  "Just because we haven't found all of the answers yet," she whispered roughly, "doesn't mean that I'm ready to give up.  It doesn't mean that I regret everything we've done."

Mulder looked at her, saying nothing, and she ducked her head, unable to maintain eye contact. 

"Mulder," she interrupted, "move you leg off of the mattress."

Without questioning her, he did.

Laying the towel beneath his leg, Scully studied the wound.  Mulder's flesh was pale, sparse dark hair striking a dramatic contrast.  She could see blue veins running beneath the surface of the skin.  If she pressed her fingers to his flesh she knew it would be soft; she would be able to feel the blood flowing through those veins.  This awareness made him seem vulnerable, luridly mortal.  She had taken his life for granted, had taken her own life for granted.  Too caught up in the pain of their shared experiences, she had ceased to appreciate the simple fact of his breathing, the simple miracle that they both still lived.  She would be lost without him, desolate, but she had become jaded by death, by its omnipresence in their life.  She had martyred herself to pain and solitude and she had lost touch with the simple reality of flesh. 

The skin around the wound was swollen, red and angry.  "This is going to hurt," she warned him, her voice coarse with realizations she wasn't yet ready to vocalize.  Unscrewing the cap from the jug of water, Scully poured some over his injury.  Carefully, she lathered up her hands and applied them to the wound.

His breath dragged in on a gasp, and he flinched as Scully worked the soap into the cut.  It was hardly the best method of disinfection, but it was all they had.  Partially to distract him, and partially because their captor's magnanimity confused her, Scully spoke as she worked.  "Mulder, why is he helping us like this, why this concern for your injury, why the food, why is he treating us like guests instead of prisoners?"

He paused before answering her, as if he had heard the emotions she was attempting to conceal.  "Don't mistake his concern for good intentions, Scully," he finally warned.  "We have chains on our wrists for a reason."

"But it doesn't make any sense, Mulder,” she protested, “Stephen Gains and Tristan Oliver were starved to the point of torture.  The doctor's aren't sure Stephen will live.  At the very least he's likely to be severely brain damaged.  Yet we get Tupperware and canned goods.  Why?"

"I don't know.”  Mulder shook his head.  “The children served a purpose; they were being used to communicate a message.  We aren't here as a part of that.  I think he's abandoned his crusade.  I think…" His voice went quiet, and Scully had to lean towards him in order to hear.  "I think he sees his life's work as being completed, and he's brought us here to end things."

"End things?"

"His life," Mulder answered.  "And ours."

~~~~
End Chapter 20 (Part 21/29)

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Chapter 21
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"I don't understand what you're looking for?" Moore asked, standing above Skinner, as the senior agent flipped through the pages of the same high school yearbook that had contained Jacob Childress' picture.

"You have the body of a fifteen year old boy in the woods," Skinner began to explain, "murdered over twenty years ago, with an obvious connection to this case.  Your suspect directed the investigators to the church."  He continued to turn pages, scanning each row of images carefully before moving on.  "He knew that body was there, and the only way he could have known that was if he was involved in the murder.  I've read Mulder's profile.  Twenty years ago, the man we're looking for would have been only a boy himself."

"You think he was one of Jacob's classmates." Moore stated.

Skinner simply nodded.  Suddenly, his ceaseless scanning stopped.  His finger froze over the page, and he looked up at Moore.  "What was the name of the man Martha Childress was having an affair with?"

Moore flipped through the pages of typed reports on the table, just to be sure.  "Adam Hathaway," he finally answered, finding the name amidst Scully's carefully documented recitation of the interview.

"We've got him," Skinner declared, and Moore looked down at the melee of teenage faces, at the column of names listed in alphabetical order.  Aaron Hathaway and Adam Hathaway Jr. were neatly listed, one after the other.  Their young, identical pale faces stared up blankly from the yellowed page.

~~~~

It was night.  They could tell by the lack of light coming from under the door.  But they had kept the light on, as if its glow could keep them safe.  Scully lay curled on her side, eyes open, unable to sleep despite her exhaustion.  Mulder was seated behind her, leaning against the wall, his injured leg swaddled in torn strips from the bed sheet.

"When I said I didn't regret everything we'd done," she said softly, breaking the silence, knowing that he was awake, "I didn't mean only in the context of work.  I meant that I didn't regret any of it, Mulder.  I don't regret you.  I don't regret us."  These words had been milling inside her, needing release.  The time for silence between them had passed, and they could no longer afford the luxury of avoidance.  They might die in this place.

Behind her, Mulder was quiet. 

The words stumbled from her lips.  "You said you regretted it, what happened between us…" She could hear the accusation, the pain in her voice.  "I need to know if that's true, if you truly wish we could go back to where we were before."  She paused, wishing he would speak, "Because we can't go back, Mulder.  It's done.  We can't undo it."  Her voice became almost inaudible.  "I don't know if I want to go back.  I don't even know if I can."  She was baring her soul to him, laying the ravaged fragments of her heart on the dirty floor like bloody gifts, nothing left to lose and risking everything.

She could hear when he moved, shuffling on the dirty mattress, and then the warmth of his hand was resting gently on her shoulder.  "I don't regret what happened, Scully," he said, the words rough.

"But you said…" she protested, shifting and rising from her prone position.  His hand slipped down her arm as she turned to face him.

"I meant," he clarified, silencing her protests, "that I regretted the way that it happened, what it did to our relationship, and the circumstances surrounding the act."  Even with the light on his eyes were dark.  He was kneeling only a few inches from where she sat, staring at her intently.  "I regret the way it hurt you and that I was the cause of your pain, but I will never regret making love to you, Scully. It was…" his voice tapered off.  "It was something I had never dreamed I would be able to experience with you, and I don't regret it."

If there were bloody fragments of her heart scattered across the floor, Mulder had offered nothing short of his own heart in return.  They stared at one another, speech abandoned, and he reached out, breaching the distance, his hand resting over hers.  She rose, kneeling like him, and they were level, equal.

"I do love you, Mulder," she said, because she had never said it before, and because it needed saying.

He smiled sadly, as if to assure her that he already knew.  His hand squeezed hers and she returned the subtle pressure.

"You know that this could be the end?" she whispered, needing to share the fear of it with him.

"I know," he paused and swallowed hard, shaking his head, "I know that you wanted so much more from life, that you wanted a family, children…" There was so much sadness in his voice.  These were not things that he had ever wanted, she knew, but he mourned them for her sake.  "I know that you wanted more than this."

"Mulder," she said, squeezing his hand again, "If this is the end, it's been enough.  It's been more than enough."

He stared at her, holding his breath, and there was something like hope in his gaze.  It was enough, she told herself.  She wasn't alone.  She had loved and been loved.  However briefly, with him she had known the color and sting of happiness.

Without speaking, they both moved forward, only their hands touching, and her eyes slowly closed.  His lips were warm and dry, drawing over hers like a whisper.  Chaste. 

Dirty, terrified, kneeling like a penitent, Scully sank into Mulder's warmth, and the sweetness of it made her ache.

~~~~ 

"The state brought him in.  Apparently, a concerned neighbor called the police.  Medicare is paying the bills."  The doctor was flipping through the pages of a thick medical record, his black shoes striking a staccato pulse against the tiled floor of the hallway.

Skinner and Moore walked beside the doctor down the long corridor, passing door after door, the name of each occupant labeled neatly beside their room.  The government facility was stark and depressing, dingy white and gray, peeling paint and old linoleum.  The doctor had a long white coat and a metal clipboard.  He read the medical record in the rote manner of someone who had dealt with the detritus of society for too long, someone who had become inured to the reality he inhabited.
 
The trio stopped outside of a door.  The name, inscribed in pencil on a small placard, was Adam Hathaway.

"The police found him in his bed.  He was malnourished and dehydrated.  His clothes were soiled.  The bed was soaked in urine.  God only knows how long he had been in that condition.  Once he was admitted, we were able to determine that he had suffered from a series of minor strokes.  No one could guess how he had been caring for himself up until to that point."

Through the small window in the door, Moore could see very little.  The edge of a hospital bed, a small table with a tray on it, more gray walls.

The doctor closed the record, tucking the clipboard under his arm.  "He's suffering from dementia, most likely Alzheimer's, although that can only be verified post-mortem, and the strokes have left him with drastically retarded motor function."

"Is he coherent at all?" Skinner asked.

"He's practically vegetative," the doctor replied, voice dull.  "He requires twenty-four hour care, and he can't even urinate or defecate without assistance."

Moore let out a frustrated sigh, his hopes for answers from this man evaporating like ice crystals on warm glass.

"Can we see him?" Skinner continued.

The doctor shrugged, pulling a thick ring of keys from his coat pocket and unlatching the heavy door.  Stepping inside, the room was claustrophobic, smelling strongly of disinfectant and subtly of urine.

"How are we doing today, Mister Hathaway?"  The doctor's voice was unnaturally loud, laced with false cheerfulness, as he addressed the bundled man lying in the bed.  No recognition of the greeting could be registered.

Moore walked over to the edge of the bed and looked down at Adam Hathaway.  His body, once obviously belonging to a large man, was wasted, loose, dry skin hanging over frail bones.  His skin had a sickly, yellow tint, indicating the possible onset of liver failure.  His face was clean-shaven; his sparse gray hair was brushed neatly back from his forehead.  His arms had been placed outside the blankets, and his hands trembled atop the blue wool covering.

"Adam Hathaway?" Moore attempted.

"He can't answer you," the doctor interrupted, standing beside Moore and regarding his patient.  "Can you, Mister Hathaway?"  He pulled a tissue out of his pocket and dabbed at a bit of drool that had escaped from Adam's mouth.  "I'm not sure he can even hear us."

Moore turned away and glanced at Skinner.  The senior agent's expression was a combination of pity and disgust.  When he noticed the scrutiny, Skinner shook his head, dejected, obviously recognizing the dead end they had reached.

"And he doesn't have any family?" Moore asked, knowing the answer was obvious.

"None that have bothered to claim him, and we've looked.  He wouldn't be here if we could find anyone willing to care for him.  This hospital is a last resort."

Moore glanced over at the tiny window, at the sliver of gray sky beyond.  Just beneath its sill someone had hung a crucifix.  Walking to the window, Moore gingerly touched the religious icon.  It was cool and smooth.  "Who put this here?" he asked.  The hospital wasn't a religious institution.

"It was found in his personal effects -- the stuff the cops removed from the house.  One of the nurses hung it there," the doctor replied, sounding disinterested.

Moore studied the suffering figure of Christ, the agony of his features.  "You have his personal effects here at the hospital?"  He could hear the note of hope in his own voice.

The doctor shifted his attention from his patient to the pair of agents.  "We have them in storage," he confirmed.

"We'd like to see them," Skinner said.

The doctor nodded, patted Adam Hathaway on the hand, and turned towards the door.  Skinner and Moore followed him back into the hallway.

The government database search that had yielded Adam Hathaway's location at the hospital had revealed little else.  No information related to the present whereabouts of Aaron or Adam Hathaway Jr. could be found.  Moore and his team had, however, found something from the distant past.  A missing person's report for Aaron Peter Hathaway and Adam Edward Hathaway Jr. had been filed with the Barcelona, New York Police Department on February 19, 1977.  The case had been cold for more than twenty years.  Noted in the police report was the assumption that the brothers had run away together.  Their father had reported them missing.

Descending into the bowels of the hospital, Moore hoped that the stored personal effects of Adam Hathaway Sr. could relate some of the story that the man himself was no longer capable of telling.

Through a large black door that read ‘Authorized Personnel Only,’ the doctor flipped a light switch, and the agents were in a large windowless room piled high with cardboard boxes.  The doctor pushed ahead of them, walking down the center row, examining the names written with a sharpie on the side of each box.  The deeper into the room they moved, the more faded the names became.  Halfway down the left-hand side, the doctor stopped.  He placed his clipboard on the floor.

"Adam Hathaway," he said.  "Admitted October 12, 1994."  He reached up and pulled the boxes stacked above Adam's down.  Lifting the lid, the meager remains of an old man's life revealed themselves.

Moore stepped forward, Skinner at his side.  Looking into the box, it was filled mostly with papers, a scattering of photographs.  There was a string of rosary beads and a high school diploma.  Moore reached in, rifling through, not sure what he was looking for.  The photos drew his attention, their faded, yellowed faces pulling him in.  Most were of people and places he did not recognize.  Near the bottom of the box, one particular image caused Moore to pause.  He picked it up, holding it out for Skinner to examine.
 
Preserved in their seventies glory, two teenagers and their father stood arm in arm in the forest.  They wore garish, padded hunting vests and plaid, flannel shirts.  A rifle was slung over the father's shoulder.  One of the boys wore a dour, petulant expression.  The other smiled smugly.  Other than that, the brothers were identical.

"Adam and Aaron," Skinner muttered, taking the picture from Moore's hands.

Moore nodded, returning his attention to the box.  Most of the paper was useless -- report cards, old letters, and bank statements.  Eventually, it would all have to be carefully gone through, but none of it was of immediate interest.  Finally reaching the bottom of the box, Moore encountered a final item, lying flat at the bottom.  He picked it up and folded it open.  It was a mortgage, the deed returned to the owner after the final payment had been made.  The loan had been taken out in Adam Edward Hathaway Sr.'s name.  The address was in a residential neighborhood in east Buffalo.  Moore stared at the tattered page.  He handed it to Skinner.

"Sir, I think we might have something here."

~~~
End Chapter 21 (part 22/29)

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Chapter 22
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From the street 177 Landry Drive was barely visible.  In the summer, Moore imagined, with leaves on all of the trees and bushes, with weeds and other vegetation choking the lawn, the house would be indiscernible.  As it was, the skeletons of bare trees and overgrown shrubbery obscured the structure, its gray siding sulking behind years of neglect, blending into the winter sky.

The eight agents that comprised their team were pendulous black masses atop the thick blanket of snow.  They crashed through, past their calves, the ice sheath shattering atop winter's accumulated snowfall.  If Adam was watching from the house, they were moving targets.  White gear would have been more appropriate, Moore thought, or they should have stormed the house at night.  But they couldn't have waited.  Mulder and Scully didn't have the time, and there were three children who might yet be found alive.

They gave no warning before their entry, and breaking down the door was unnecessary; it was unlocked.  The team rushed noisily into the house, scattering snow and mud.  All of the windows had long ago been shattered, and dead, decaying leaves rattled across the floors.

The home appeared deserted.  Still, they were cautious, spreading out to clear each room in pairs.  Moore and Skinner hung back from the rest of the group, methodically studying their surroundings.  From the back of the house, they could hear each team's loud "clear" echoing off the walls of the desolate structure.

Sandborne walked back to the front of the house, pulling off his SWAT helmet, and meeting Skinner and Moore in the living room.  "No one's home," he said.

"Send two teams outside to search the yard," Moore ordered, unwilling to concede that this might be a dead end.

Sandborne nodded and, striding back to the other men, set about his task.

Skinner turned and walked into the small kitchen.

The fronts of the cabinets had been removed, their shelves empty.  There were no appliances remaining.  In the sink, water dripped steadily from a rusted faucet.

"The water's still on?" Skinner puzzled.

"Well water," Moore clarified.  "This neighborhood was only hooked up to city sewerage five years ago, and each homeowner had to pay a hefty hook-up fee.  You'd never be able to sell one of these houses now without the connection, but if you didn't have any intention of selling your home, there would be no reason to switch over from well water."

Skinner nodded, apparently considering something, a strange look on his face.  "So this house still has at least one of the amenities necessary for habitation?"

"I guess," Moore replied, "But without windows or electricity, the cold would make it impossible."

Skinner only grunted, moving out of the tiny kitchen and back into the living room.  It, too, was empty.  There was graffiti spray-painted over the walls.  Only a single, ugly oil painting remained, positioned over a long absent couch.  Around the edges of the room, the carpet was black and rotted by rain and snow, curling away from the floor like dead skin.  Moore followed, his heavy boots crunching over shards of broken glass.  In what was once the master bedroom, a huge armoire still stood, probably too heavy to be moved.  Its doors were missing.  Flowered wallpaper peeled from the walls in long, moldy strips.

"Agent Moore," Skinner called, now out of sight in the master bathroom.

Moore entered the room, finding Skinner next to the tub, peering around the dirty shower curtain.

"Look," Skinner requested, indicating with a nod of his chin the interior of the bathtub.

Moore did and was, at first, confused.  Water dripped from the faucet in here, too, splashing against the tub's surface, crusted by years of soap scum and mold.  Then, as he was about to question what Skinner wanted him to look at, Moore spotted it.  In the end of the tub, resting in a small alcove was a bar of new, white soap and beside it sat a damp, apparently new washcloth.  The soap was not cracked and dried from disuse.  It was still smooth and moist.

"Someone still lives here," Moore realized, as he turned back to look at Skinner.  His voice echoed off the tiled walls.

Skinner nodded, and just as he seemed about to speak, they both heard the clamor of voices outside, shouting.  Moments later, Sandborne appeared in the bathroom doorway, his face flushed from running.

"Sir, we found something that I think you need to see," he said.

The three of them walked outside, and after trudging around the house through deep snow, they discovered the rest of the team assembled around a pair of metal cellar doors.  They had been opened, and Moore could tell from the number of men outside that two of the agents had already descended into the basement.

Cautiously, they climbed down the cement steps.  Two more agents were standing at the bottom.

"No one's home, Sir," one of the men said.

Someone had been, though, Moore realized, and very recently.  Shafts of daylight filtered through small windows near the ceiling, and combined with the arc of Moore's flashlight, they illuminated a simple living space.  In the far corner there was a cot, covered by an old quilt.  A cardboard chest of drawers was positioned at the end of the bed.  Along one wall was a generator, its electrical output fueling a small refrigerator and hotplate.  A nearby workbench served as a pantry, stocked with canned goods and boxes of cereal, sugar and other necessities.  On the ground, juxtaposed against the rough cement floor, was a beautiful oriental carpet.

Skinner pushed ahead of Moore, moving over to the small cot. On a folding table beside it was a kerosene lamp.

"Anyone have a lighter?" Skinner asked.

One of the agents walked over and handed him a matchbook.

"That'll work," Skinner said, and removing the hurricane globe, he struck a match and lit the wick.  The room was instantly filled with soft, molten light.

"Holy shit," one of the men muttered, as Moore and Skinner glanced around the room, and silently, Moore echoed the sentiment.  Around the perimeter of the room, on rusted metal shelves, on the floor, on top of the water heater, on an old washing machine -- on every available surface -- were shattered picture frames.  Enough images to fill several family albums; the light from the lamp glinted off the fractured glass.

On a number of shelves nearest the bed, Moore walked over to examine the images.  They were similar to the ones they had found at the state hospital, happy family memories, smiling children, holidays and birthdays.  One discrepancy from the photos that they had found in storage at the hospital was the presence of a woman in many of these pictures.  She had long, brown curly hair and a pale, thin face.  On closer inspection, Moore realized that she resembled the boys closely.

"Do you see something odd about the shape of this room?"  Skinner asked from behind Moore.

Moore turned around, and carefully studying his surroundings, he paused.  They had walked the length of the house above, front to back and side to side.  It was not a large house, but the space below it was too small by half.

"It's too small," Moore observed, meeting Skinner's eyes.
 
Simultaneously, the two senior agents moved to walk around the edges of the room.  At the far end of the room, concealed by shadows, Moore brought his hand up to touch the surface of the wall.  It was the same color as the other walls, but the texture was wrong.  It felt flimsy by comparison, papery and new; wallboard had been erected down the center of the basement.

Walking with his hand pressed to the smooth surface, Moore advanced slowly along the new wall, finally reaching the corner where the oil furnace was located.  Shining his flashlight into the dark corner behind the furnace, he found what their team had been searching for all of these long weeks.  There was a door.

"Assistant Director Skinner!" he shouted, the blood thrumming in his head, knowing, instinctively, that this was it.

Skinner was at his side instantly, and without saying a word, Moore insinuated himself between the furnace and the wall.  The door was barely four feet tall, and in order to swing it open, Moore had to crush himself against the wall.  With his hand poised over the doorknob, Moore took a deep breath, glanced at Skinner, and thrust the door open.  It smacked against the furnace, leaving a narrow opening.  Beyond it was darkness.

"FBI!" Moore shouted into the void.  "If anyone is inside, you need to come out slowly and with your hands up!"  Moore couldn't hold his gun and a flashlight at the same time, and he waited, gun aimed, for even the slightest sound to emerge from the black.

"Is anyone inside?!"  Moore shouted again, and this time, faintly, he heard a small whimper.  It sounded like a child.

Lowering his gun, Moore brought the flashlight up and directed its beam into the dark space.  At fist he couldn't see anything.  Then, as he angled the beam around the inside of the room, he could see a flicker of movement near one of the walls.

Ducking his head under the door's frame, Moore entered the room.  Behind him, he could hear Skinner moving to do the same.  A foul smell saturated the chamber.  Moore sucked in a breath, forcing down his urge to gag.  The room stank of human waste.  The white arc of light exploded the darkness, and in its beam the small, huddled forms of children became visible.  Casting the light quickly around the rest of the space, Moore ascertained that there was no one else in the room, and rushed over to where the children were lying.  He dropped to his knees.

The three shapes were tiny, caked in dirt and excrement.  They were huddled together in a heap, trying to conserve warmth.  Agent Moore had seen many terrible things over the course of his work with the bureau, too many appalling things, but the horror of this place, the smell, the lifeless children before him -- it was almost too ghastly to be real.

Tentatively, Moore reached down and touched one of the boys.  His skin was ice cold.  He rolled the child onto his back, and the wide, lifeless eyes of Matthew Deary stared up at him.  He was stiff, and the blood had pooled in his face, leaving the skin dark and mottled, rotting.

Moore rocked back abruptly on his heels, swallowing hard, trying to breathe through his mouth and maintain his composure.  He paused for only a moment and reached out again, this time recognizing the red hair of Seth Leeds before he even touched the child.  His skin was cold, but as Moore pressed his fingers into the flesh of Seth's neck, he could feel, faintly, the fluttering of a pulse.

"Assistant Director Skinner!" he shouted, "I need help over here!"

Skinner was at his side almost instantly.  "The paramedics are on their way," Skinner said, and he gasped, looking down at the children.  "Oh God…" he murmured.

"We need to get him out of here," Moore said.

Skinner nodded, leaning down to scoop the boy into his arms.

Suddenly, a whimper drew Moore's attention back to the floor and the figure of the third child.  He looked down, and the child shifted, whimpering more loudly.  The boy's face, familiar from family pictures, was stained by dirt.  Drew Hausner's hair was greasy and matted to his head.  He was wearing the same cloths he had disappeared in – footed pajamas.  He had been walking home from a sleep over.

"Drew," Moore began, softly, "My name is Douglas, and I'm from the FBI.  We're hear to help you."

The child only whimpered again, drawing into a tighter ball.

Lifting the shivering body into his arms, Moore rose, turned and could see one of the other agents watching him from the doorway.  He held the child close to his chest, and walked towards the light that streamed through the open door.

~~~~

"I need you to remove it," Adam said.

"I can't… how…" Scully stammered.

Only moments before, she had been dozing on the floor, huddled against Mulder for warmth.  He had been awake, and the knowledge that he was there, that he was watching over her, was a comfort.  Even in these circumstances, his presence was a comfort.  Then Adam had arrived, bearing his usual gift of food.  He had also come with a request, a request that Scully could never have anticipated.

It was related to the night at Niagara Falls.  Scully had stood in the snow that night, the life bleeding out of her onto the frozen ground.  Her vision had blurred.  She had been shivering so violently; she had barely been able to hold the gun in her hands.  But Mulder had been in danger.  She could feel the warmth of her own blood spreading out over her chest, and she had needed to concentrate.  The two figures had been a blur at the edge of the falls.  They were both going to die, and she had prayed.  She had sent up a quick, desperate prayer and squeezed the trigger.

No one had been able to determine where that bullet had gone.  Her initial terror that she had hit Mulder had been false.  She assumed that she had missed, that the bullet had embedded itself into a distant tree, or glanced off a rock and into the river.

She had been wrong.

"This is all I have," Adam explained, revealing a small hunting knife.  "I've sterilized it already."

God had heard her prayer after all.  She had hit her target, if not as accurately as she had intended.  The bullet from Scully's weapon had lodged itself into the thick flesh of Adam's shoulder, and now the wound was festering.  He had sought no medical intervention.  Days later, the dead flesh and spreading infection had to be immensely painful.  There was the risk of gangrene.

Scully was speechless.  A hunting knife?  He expected her to perform minor surgery with a hunting knife, a bottle of dial soap as disinfectant, and no local anesthetic.  A medical procedure under those circumstances had no hope of eradicating the infection.  It was insane.  The man needed a hospital and antibiotics.  He needed surgical instruments that weren't intended for gutting fish.

But, she reminded herself, Adam didn't care what the long-term outcome was.  If gangrene crept slowly and lethally towards his heart, it would make no difference.  All he sought was a temporary respite from pain.  Mulder had explained it to her already.  Adam was not long for this mortal coil.  The long-term prognosis for this procedure was not something he would care to consider.

Scully took a deep breath, held it for a moment.  She could feel Mulder's eyes on her.  She spoke finally, the words escaping in a rush of exhaled breath.  "It will be very painful."

"I know that," Adam replied.  "Pain is not something I have any fear of.  I have known pain enough already."  Se had to be in immense pain already, Scully realized, to be willing to expose a vulnerability in this way.

"I don't know," she continued, "if I'll even be able to extract the bullet with a knife like that."

"I have faith in your abilities," Adam responded, his words measured, monotone.

Scully could feel the steady burn of Mulder's gaze.  She didn't dare turn to meet it, not with Adam standing only a few steps away, his concentration focused squarely on her.  But she could feel him watching, in the same way she had felt him countless times, from across their office, across a crime scene, drawing her attention with a glance, trying to tell her something without words.  And she knew what he was trying to communicate.  This was probably the only opportunity they would have.  Their one shot at escape -- the only time when their adversary might display enough vulnerability for them to exploit.

Scully nodded, slowly.  "How do you want me to do this?"

Adam turned, dragged an old wooden chair towards the center of the room.  Beside it, he laid a towel on the floor.  On top of the towel, he placed a large metal pot, filled with steaming water.  The bottle of orange soap reappeared, accompanied by a pair of pliers and several more folded towels.  Standing next to the chair, Adam shrugged out of his parka, letting it land on the floor, and swiftly pulled his sweater over his head.  Bare-chested, he sat in the chair and removed a gun from the waistband of his jeans.  He pointed it at Scully's head.

"I'm going to sit here, and you're going to remove the bullet from my shoulder.  I'm going to keep this weapon pointed at the head of your partner the entire time," Adam said, as he turned the muzzle of the gun in Mulder's direction.  "If you make a single move that I interpret as being suspicious, I will kill him."  The tone was plain, straightforward.  Scully knew he would not hesitate to shoot.

Adam extended the knife to Scully.  She could feel it shaking in her hand as she stepped forward.  The injury before her was revolting; the flesh around the entry wound swollen and purple.  Foul smelling pus seeped from the hole and was crusted on Adam's skin.

Confident that she would do as she had been told, Adam faced Mulder; he braced the gun steadily against his knee and took a deep breath.  Tentatively, Scully assessed the damage.  She pressed her fingers to the decaying flesh, trying to ascertain the trajectory of the bullet as it had entered the shoulder.  From what she could surmise, the impact had been from behind, the bullet entering on an angle.  It was most likely embedded in the collarbone.

She could do this quickly, she told herself.  She could plunge the knife into this man's body and excavate this bullet.  Despite her fear of him, despite the horrific things he had done and his intentions toward her and Mulder, the thought of this made Scully pause.  The bodies she cut into were usually already dead.  The live ones were always anesthetized.  She took a deep breath and began to cut.

Beneath her knife, Adam stiffened.  The veins in his neck bulged.  He held his muscles rigidly still.  But the aim of his gun did not waver.

Scully carefully began to cut into the dead skin.  She could feel Mulder's eyes on her, and she knew what she needed to do.

~~~~
End Chapter 22 (Part 23/29)
 

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Chapter 23
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"Why starve them?"  Mulder asked, from his position on the floor.

The hunched shoulders of their adversary did not move.  He held perfectly still as Scully began the process of cutting away dead flesh.  Finally, after a pause, he answered.  "They needed to be purified."

"Purified?"  Mulder continued.

Scully clenched her teeth, knowing what Mulder was trying to do.  He was attempting to distract Adam, to draw his attention away from her ministrations, not out of any altruistic intent to take away his pain, but to secure for her the chance to make a move. 

"They had been spoiled," Adam responded.  "The world and its sins had left a taint on their souls, and they needed to be cleansed.   Fasting is a means of spiritual purification that is recognized by all of the world’s major religions.  Not long ago, women who would now be considered anorexic were regarded as pious by the Catholic Church for their refusal of food.  Muslims ingest nothing more than water during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan.  Buddhist monks utilize fasting as a method to illuminate the path to enlightenment.  Sometimes,” he stopped, gritted his teeth, and took in a sharp breath, “sometimes, it becomes necessary to mortify the flesh in order to purify the soul."  His voice was strained, trying to suppress the intense pain.

Scully pictured the ashen, emaciated face of Stephen Gains, with tubes and wires spiraling around his small body, a respirator forcing air in and out of his fragile lungs.  She pictured Tristan Oliver disemboweled on an autopsy table.

"You tortured them," she spat.

"Torture," Adam replied, "is suffering without hope of reward."  He gasped slightly as Scully began to dig deeper with the knife, searching for the bullet.  His voice was strained.  "I offered them the chance at purification.  Their suffering was not in vain."

"You killed them," Mulder said, incredulous.

"They had to die," Adam replied, "so that others could see, so that others would understand that sin has consequences.  Our society makes it seem as if there are no consequences for our misdeeds.  But God is not fooled by this deception.  We may escape retribution in this life, but God will not be so merciful in the next.  They had to die." Adam gasped suddenly as Scully dug deeper in search of the bullet.  After a moment, he continued, "but I offered them the chance to meet our Father without the defilement of this world.  I offered them a chance at heaven."

Scully couldn't speak, couldn't find words to express her outrage.  She believed in God.  Her faith had survived challenges that had seemed insurmountable and it had emerged stronger despite them, but her God was loving, merciful.  Adam had taken some of the tenants of her faith -- the concepts of sin and repentance -- and had twisted them into an evil mockery of the religion she cherished.

As Adam spoke, Scully glanced sidelong at Mulder.  She didn't dare risk turning her head to look at him.  Despite his obvious pain, Adam's weapon was still held firmly, its muzzle in clear alignment with Mulder's face.  As Scully caught Mulder's eye, she saw his posture tense, his muscles poised for motion.  He nodded, almost imperceptibly, and she drew in a deep, centering breath.

The veins beneath Adam's skin were blue, pulsing with life.  His skin was pale and freckled like her own.  Scully had killed before, but never like this.  She had killed from a distance, mostly, wielding her gun like a scalpel, her aim precise and sharp.  Now, she stood mere inches from Adam; she could feel the warmth of his skin.
 
She would not let them die like this, she reminded herself.  Not Mulder, who had suffered so much already.  It was wrong, and the injustice of it fueled her resolve.  She pictured Mulder's hair tousled in sleep, his face relaxed beside her, and she had something to fight for.  For the first time in too long, she felt the pull of a life she was unwilling to surrender.  Scully clenched and unclenched her free hand, knowing Mulder would not miss the signal.  She felt the muscles in her hand and wrist flex as she drove the blade of the knife into the killer's neck.

Adam screamed, outrage and pain roiling from his throat.  His weapon fired, and Scully could see Mulder roll swiftly to the side, dodging the bullet.  She held onto the knife, still embedded in Adam's neck, as he rose from the chair.  She could feel the blade slicing downward through tendon and muscle.  Blood gushed from the wound, splattering her clothes.  She had probably severed an artery.
 
Adam's hands flew to his throat, crimson pouring from between his fingers.  Scully knew she had only a moment to spare, and she twisted her body, kicking the hand that held Adam's gun, watching as it clattered to the ground.

The expression on Adam's face was feral, rabid.  "That was a mistake," he snarled, as he lunged for Scully, mindless of the fatal injury she had inflicted.  Savagely, he punched her, knocking her to the ground.  She screamed as she felt the sutures on her face tear, overwhelmed by a wave of agony.

Above her, Adam towered, now holding the wooden chair aloft.  The gleam in his eyes was not human, his chest and arms were slick with blood.  He raised the chair over his head, and Scully blinked, could feel her consciousness waning, as Adam prepared to bring the chair down upon her, smashing it into her face.

She had tried.  She would die fighting, on her own terms.  She felt a fleeting gasp of intense, suffocating sorrow for the future she would never know with Mulder.

The crack of gunfire shattered the air, and Adam's massive shape staggered, the chair tumbling from his grasp, crashing to the ground behind him.  He swayed on his feet and coughed once, blood flecking across his lips.  "This is not how it was supposed to end," he murmured, the words slurred, a gurgling sound in his throat. 

Scully looked to her side and saw Mulder holding the gun that she had kicked from Adam's hands.

Adam took another step towards her before two more rounds were fired.  Scully watched, horrified, as the side of Adam's face was torn away by the impact.  Like a felled redwood, he toppled, his gory ponderous body landing atop hers.  She could smell the fetor of his blood, could feel the wet stickiness of his ruined face where it had landed beside hers, and she felt as if she were suffocating.

A sob choked from Scully's throat.  She couldn't move.  Adam's massive weight pinned her to the floor.  She could feel tears on her cheeks, her entire body shaking.  Suddenly, the heft of Adam's body was being lifted from on top of her, rolled to the side in a lifeless heap.

Mulder was next to her, lifting her from the floor, holding her in his arms.  She continued to cry; her control lost completely, grasping Mulder's body close to her like a lifeline.  Her fingers dug into the solid mass of his shoulders, and he held her with the same intensity, saying nothing, his face buried in her neck, as she continued to sob against him.

Finally, reluctantly, he released her.  Holding her at arms length, he smoothed the hair from her face, wiped the tears from her skin.  His eyes were damp, glowing, green, the expression on his face tender and relieved.  The breath shuddered from her lips, as his hands trailed down her arms, grasping her fingers briefly and tightly before letting go.  He kneeled next to Adam, searching the pockets of the dead man for the keys to their handcuffs, Scully realized.

"Check his parka," Scully suggested, her arms wrapped around her waist, still shaking.

Mulder moved over to Adam's discarded clothing, shook the heavy overcoat, and Scully could hear the jingle of keys from one of the pockets.  He reached inside and, triumphant, withdrew a small key ring.  Carefully, Mulder peeled Scully's arm away from her body, held her thin wrist in his hands.  The chains fell to the floor with a clatter and she was free.

~~~~

"I know it's the right decision," Mrs. Gaines said, her voice choked by tears.  Her large pregnant belly made her seem frail, vulnerable.  Robert Gaines held his wife against him, supporting her weight, their clasped hands resting unconsciously against their unborn child.  A voyeur, Moore could feel the cold metal of his wedding band digging into his skin.

They would now be able to attribute five deaths to their suspect.  And that tally was made with the hopeful assumption that Mulder and Scully would yet be found alive.  Still, Moore knew, it was the right decision.

Stephen Gaines was brain dead.  He had never woken after Scully removed him from the forest.  His pallid skin was stretched tight across tiny, fragile bones, as white as hospital sheets.  The respirator rose and fell with an even, measured cadence, and the small boy's chest echoed its steady rhythm.  Tubes pumped nutrition into his body and different tubes removed waste.  It was never dark in the children's ICU, and there was no privacy.  Round the clock there were the lights and beeping machines, the constant bustling of nurses and doctors.  Stephen lay in the middle of that motion, a small, still presence, dwarfed and exposed.

It wasn't life, and Stephen would never wake up.  In truth, he was already gone.  All that remained now was one last act of will on his parent's part, the flipping of a single switch, then the persistent rise and fall would stop, and Stephen would have peace.

Skinner cleared his throat, and Agent Moore's attention was broken from the silent body in the bed.  Skinner was turning away from the grieving family, allowing them what privacy he could.  Moore followed him out of the ICU.

The hospital was swarming with agents and Buffalo PD.  Outside, representatives from all of the major news networks and print media were clustered around the hospital entrances.  The recovery of the children had garnered national coverage.  Police officers had been dispensed to keep the emergency entrances clear.  Hospital administrators had been explicit in their insistence that the chaos be kept under control.

Earlier that evening, Moore and Skinner had been witness to a scene that had made their hard work and suffering seem more worthwhile.  Drew Hausner's mother and stepfather had arrived at the hospital not long after the investigators.  They had been rushed into the emergency ward, pushed past doctors and nurses and police officers.  Drew had been the center of a swarm of activity, propped upright in a hospital bed, freshly bathed.  He was sleeping when his parents arrived, beginning the long healing process.  His mother had collapsed across the bed, burying her face in her child's hair, kissing his forehead.

Drew had roused briefly, blinked sleepily up at his mother.  Watching through the glass partition, Moore had felt his eyes well with tears and had blinked them stubbornly away.

Peggy and Eric Leeds were in a room farther down the hall, keeping vigil over the unconscious body of their son.  Seth was breathing without the assistance of a respirator, and the doctors were hopeful that he would make a full recovery.  Seth had spent the least amount of time in captivity, and the ravages on his body had been less severe.

Skinner's cell phone rang, and he excused himself, walking towards the relative quiet of a nurse's station.  Moore stood alone in the middle of the large hall, doctors and nurses bustling around him.  Six months of hell to find these children... six months, and by the end of it, he hadn't really expected to succeed.  It had seemed a nightmare, like forever falling, the ground endlessly rushing up to meet him.  No chance of escape.  No hope of salvation.

Then it had ended, abruptly, with the opening of a small door.  No weapons had been fired, no obstacles met.  He had walked into that dark space and simply carried the children to freedom.  The nightmare was over for these families, for these children, even for the families whose sons were dead, who at least now knew.  They would not wait a quarter of a century, as the Childress' had, for the permission to mourn.

Not by choice, Mulder and Scully had ended six moths of hell for these children and their families.  They endured it now in the children's stead.  Moore questioned if they would have chosen to make this sacrifice.  Mulder, probably, would have done so gladly.  Moore hoped, blindly, that they were not suffering.  He wondered -- as Roberta Hausner clutched her sleeping child to her breast and Stephen Gaines drew his last breath -- if they were still alive.

~~~~
End Chapter 23 (Part 24/29)

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Chapter 24
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It was the first sunlight Scully had seen in days, and it was bright against the carpet of snow, blinding.  She felt like a creature emerging from hibernation, blinking dazedly at the afternoon sun.  Mulder placed a large hand over her shoulder, squeezing gently.  It was over, his touch told her.  They were safe.

Without shoes, the snow soaked instantly through Scully's socks.  All around them were trees, their naked limbs leaden with ice.  Wherever they were, it was far from Buffalo.  The forest surrounding them was dense and forbidding.  At the same time, the sense of freedom, the relief, was overwhelming.  She didn't mind the sharp sting of the snow against her feet or the bite of cold wind on her cheeks.  For the moment it was simply enough to be alive.

Mulder crunched through the snow ahead of her, his feet as unprotected as hers.  Watching him, she saw what had caught his attention.  A snowmobile was parked about a hundred feet from the tiny cabin.  Behind it trailed a large litter, which, Scully suspected, had been the means of their transport to this desolate location.  Straps dangled from the sides, and it was more than large enough to accommodate two lifeless bodies.  As she walked to stand beside Mulder, she could see a faint trail where the snowmobile had wended its way through the trees.

Mulder was examining the machine.  Strangely, the keys remained in the ignition.  They had tiny accumulations of snow perched atop them.  Brushing the snow from the seat, Mulder straddled the snowmobile.  He twisted the keys, attempting to bring the motor to life.  There was only silence in response.  Disembarking, Mulder moved to the side of the machine.  He kneeled in the snow, finding and disengaging the panel that covered the engine.

"Shit," he swore, the sound loud in the silent wilderness.

"What is it?" she asked, moving around the snowmobile to stand behind Mulder.

"He severed all the belts and hoses," Mulder said, his hands clenched in frustration in his lap.  "This thing isn't going anywhere ever again."

Mulder hung his head in defeat, and Scully glanced at the interior of the snowmobile.  Little pools of antifreeze and other fluids had collected within the machine.  Loose, impotent mechanical parts dangled inside the cavity.

"Mulder," Scully said, softly, "We're going to get frostbite out here."  Already, her feet were beginning to go numb.

Mulder nodded, and as he started to rise, Scully extended her hand to help him up.  Shivering, they turned back towards the cabin, and for the first time, Scully noticed a second structure, deeper within the trees.

"Mulder…" she said, indicating the second cabin's direction with the tilt of her head.  In unison, they turned for the building.

For the most part, the second cabin closely resembled the one they had been held captive in.  It was constructed of the same wood and had the same basic dimensions.  It was larger, though, and had two small windows on either side of the front door.  A stovepipe protruded from the slanted roof, trailing smoke up to the heavens.  With a gentle push, the solid oak door slapped against the wall behind it, and Mulder and Scully stepped over the threshold, becoming immediately engulfed by a wave of warmth.

"Oh thank God," Scully heard herself mutter, as the heat spread over her chilled skin.  She could feel the tingling shock of it against her cold chapped lips, against her red, irritated nose.

Mulder quickly shut the door behind them.

It was surreal.  Only moments ago she had been pinned beneath the gory body of a dead man, a killer who had died while trying to end her life.  She was cold, blood spattered, and beaten.  There was stickiness in her hair that she was certain was brain matter.  Moments ago… but now she was uncurling her arms from around her waist.  The shivering had stopped.  She could feel her skin prickle in response to the warmth.  The cabin was tiny, neat, and comfortable.  An old wood stove sat in the center, red embers behind the grate.  Afternoon sunlight glowed against the rough-hewn walls, pouring through a pair of small windows, and Scully felt overwhelmed.

Mulder must have sensed this, had probably seen the shock setting in from the expression on her face.  He guided her to a chair near the stove.  She sat, and could feel, distantly, as Mulder began to peel the drenched socks from her feet.

Shaking herself, Scully reached down and pushed his hands away. "I can do that," she said.

Mulder dropped his hands. He was kneeling in front of her, a look of concern on his face.  "I think you might be going into shock."

She knew the symptoms of shock and didn't need to be told this.  "I'll be all right, Mulder."

He sighed, turning his head away.

Scully dropped the second wet sock to the floor with a splat and grasped the sole of her cold foot in the palms of her hands, rubbing gently, trying to stimulate circulation.  Mulder rose from in front of her and moved away.

Another chair was positioned near the stove.  They were both folding lawn chairs.  The one she sat in had a rough wool blanket draped over it, covering the plastic seat.  A huge stack of wood was piled against wall farthest from the door, taller than she was.  The floor was crafted from the same wood as the walls, worn to a shine by the passage of feet over its surface.  Beside the stove, an old bookcase served as a kitchen counter, shelves stocked with cans and dry goods.  Several pots and pans were arranged neatly on the top shelf.

As she was surveying her surroundings, a large blanket was draped quickly over her shoulders.  She turned around, but Mulder was already walking away again, his back towards her.  He had stolen the blanket off of a bed in the corner behind her.  It was an old mattress propped up on cinder blocks, but it was covered in a heap of quilts and pillows, and Scully could feel her bones screaming with weariness.

Mulder had peeled off his own socks, and he was now padding barefoot around the cabin.  He carried an armful of logs over to stove, opened the grate, and added them to the dwindling fire.  For the first time in a very long time, Scully was no longer cold.

Scully watched as Mulder seemed to survey the cans and boxes of food.  After rummaging through the contents of the makeshift pantry for a moment, he withdrew a pair of cans and a soup pot.  The cans opened, he dumped their contents into the pot and placed it on top of the stove to heat.  They had left the food Adam had brought them in the other cabin, untouched.  Bemused, and a little dazed, Scully only watched as Mulder moved about, neither of them saying a word.

She closed her eyes, letting the warmth seep into her bones, the sense of relief at their escape acted like a narcotic in her blood, making her sluggish, drowsy. 

"I'll be right back," Mulder said, rousing her from her trance.  When she opened her eyes, he was near the door, a pair of battered boots on his feet and a large metal bucket in his hands.

She nodded, drawing the blanket tighter around her body.  He was gone for a few minutes, and when he returned, water was sloshing from the sides of the bucket.

"There's a water pump just outside the door," he explained.  Grunting, he hoisted the bucket onto the stove, almost knocking the soup pot off in the process.  He had spilled water down the side of his pants, and little puddles trailed back to the door.  "It'll take a while, but we should have hot water eventually."

The pot on the stove was starting to bubble, and the smell forced a rumble from Scully's stomach.  Mulder began pouring soup straight from the pot into two plastic bowls.  Fishing a spoon from a wooden bucket of utensils, he walked over to her chair and handed her a bowl.

"There's not a single meat product on those shelves," he said, as she took the bowl from his hands.  It was hot to the touch, and she wrapped her hands gratefully around its base.

Scully sipped carefully at the soup.  Broccoli and cheese.  It burned her throat, so hot she could barely taste it.  Several moments passed.  Mulder was seated in a chair across from her, shoveling soup into his mouth like a little boy.  She almost expected him to forget the spoon and start slurping directly from the bowl.

"Thank you," she said, softly.

He looked up, stared across at her.  "I owe you much more," he murmured.  He paused, ducking his eyes from hers.  "It would make sense, in a strange way," he stated, changing the subject, "if Adam were a vegetarian -- his obsession with innocence, with the destruction of innocence."

It felt strange discussing a man who lay in a bloody heap only a handful of meters away.  Mulder must have felt it, too.  He dropped the subject abruptly.

Their meal finished, he took the bowl from her, stacking the dirty plates on the bookcase. 

"You should go lie down," Mulder said, and she could feel his concern for her, a tangible substance in his words.  "I'll wake you when the water's heated."

Ordinarily, she would have protested, would have reinforced the artifice of her indomitable strength with feigned fortitude.  Not today.  She felt little desire for such assertions right now.

"Okay," she uttered, surprising Mulder, who had obviously expected her standard denial of weakness.

He watched, seemingly perplexed, as she rose from the chair, and, blanket trailing behind like the train of a wedding gown, walked over to the bed.  She settled atop the mountain of blankets, and the ancient bed springs squealed faintly.  Just as she was about to tuck her legs under the heavy quilts, she noticed something on the floor next to the bed.  It looked like a loop of old grosgrain ribbon, sticking up from under the floorboards.

"Mulder…"

He had been sitting, staring at the fire that now glared brightly behind the stove plate.  He looked over at her, concern again in his features.

"Come look at this," she asked, as she got up from the bed and knelt on the floor.

It was a piece of ribbon, very old, and badly frayed at the edges.  Mulder was standing above her, as she hooked her fingers into the loop and pulled.  A sharp tug and a three-foot square section of floorboards lifted upwards, like a trap door.

Mulder was suddenly seated beside her, helping her to lift the segment of flooring, and peering underneath.  It was little more than a hole in the ground, dug into the packed dirt beneath the cabin.  More interesting than the space itself was what it contained.  Neatly arranged, the space was divided into two parts.  On the left side books were stacked, arranged by size.  On the right, a pile of children's clothing was folded.

Mulder lifted one of the articles of clothing from the pile.  It was a pair of pajama bottoms, cartoon characters Scully didn't recognize dancing across the fabric. 

"These are the pajamas Tristan Oliver disappeared in," Mulder whispered, appalled.

One by one he lifted the clothing from the dark space, and one by one, a child's face came to mind.  Several of these children were known to be dead.  Other fates remained unsure.

Scully lifted one of the books from the stack.  It was an antique edition of the Brothers Grimm, its pages yellowed and torn.  Beneath it, an illustrated collection of Blake's poetry sat side by side with Gerald Manley Hopkins' collected works.  On top of a second stack, The Divine Comedy was perched -- a critical edition, with the original Italian on the left and an English translation alongside.  Flipping through the pages, Scully noted scores of pencil marks, underlines, and little asterisks in the margins.
 
The last book in the stack, resting against the dirt at the bottom of the space, was a child's bible, King James version.  The initials "A.E.H." were embossed on the front in peeling gold flake.  Scully flipped open the front cover, the filmy pages rustling like leaves.  "To Jacob on the celebration of his first communion.  Always remember that with Jesus all things are possible. Sincerely, Father Joyce."

"Scully," Mulder interrupted her perusal of the books.

Still holding the bible in her lap, Scully looked at Mulder.  In his hands was a length of black crepe, and resting in the center was a human skull.

"Oh my God.  Mulder?"

"It was underneath the children's clothes," he explained, his voice flat, "Wrapped in this fabric."

Scully reached out, gently touching the bone.  There was a large hole in the right side, above the temple.  The surface had shattered as a shotgun shell ripped through and ended a life.  Scully trailed her fingers over the suture marks on the surface of the bone, tracing the plates of the skull.

"This isn't an adult skull, Mulder," she said. "It's an adolescent's."

Mulder stared down at the pale gray bone.  "Aaron Hathaway," Mulder stated.

Scully drew in a breath, held it.  The manner of death fit, and the age, and they were sitting on the floor of the cabin where Adam had confessed to killing his only brother.  Scully stared into the dirty recess beneath the floorboards -- not just a repository for books and clothing -- it was an ossuary.

~~~~

Thankfully, B&M Realty still had the original paperwork for the property at 177 Landry Drive, though it took more than an hour for the manager to locate the records amidst the firm's antiquated filing system.

"Pages of this are missing, I think," the woman said, crisp and professional, as she handed Moore the papers.  "Considering how old this file is, that's not a surprise," she explained.

Moore took the file, loose pages almost spilling across the floor.  He walked over to a nearby desk.  Placing the folder on the desk, he flipped through the pages.  He felt Skinner's presence, hovering over his shoulder.  Most of the contents of the file were legal documents, things only a lawyer would be able to decipher.  Moore glanced only briefly at these, still flipping pages.

"Where would collateral that was held against the property be listed?"  Moore asked, unable to make much sense of the contracts and loan arrangements.

"If there was collateral of any type," the manager said, nudging Moore aside gently and flipping quickly to the back of the file, "It would be listed here…" she trailed off, reading.  "Here you go," she finally declared, pointing at a section of document.  "There was collateral listed for this property at the time the mortgage was drawn up."

Moore looked at the place she had indicated.  It was barely a notation in the file.  Had the office manager not pointed it out, Moore would not have seen it right away.  As collateral against the mortgage, Adam Hathaway Sr. owned 250 acres of land in Quebec, Canada.

"Quebec," Skinner said, behind him, "that doesn't narrow it down too much."

He was right.  Without an exact location, searching an area that broad was a monumental task.  It would involve the cooperation of the Canadian authorities.  Locating a deed for a single parcel of land in an area the size of Quebec could easily take weeks, possibly months.  Mulder and Scully didn't have that long.

"This is all you have?" Skinner asked.

The manager nodded.  "It's amazing we have any records on this property to begin with.  Usually, after the note on the house is paid in full, the records are destroyed.  If it weren't for our disastrous filing system -- barely half of the files are on computer, and we have stacks of paper files going back fifty years -- this paperwork would no longer exist.  I've been trying to sort it all out since I took over the business from my father."

Moore barely heard any of this.  They were running out of time.  He could feel it.  This morning, he had overheard Skinner in the conference room on the telephone.  From what he had been able to glean, Skinner had been talking to Agent Scully's mother, informing her of the situation.  It had taken Moore aback, the emotion in the senior agent's voice, the softness.  Moore had been able to see Skinner through the cracked conference room door, shoulders hunched, head down, defeated.  He had closed the door quietly and walked away.  He hadn't meant to intrude.

Moore wondered if Skinner would make a similar call to Agent Mulder's family, or if he already had.  It seemed almost strange, to think that Mulder and Scully might each have a family at home, waiting for news.  They seemed so isolated from the rest of the world, an entity unto themselves.  Of course they would have families, Moore knew.  Everyone had a family.  Moore simply hadn't imagined one for Mulder or Scully.  Their isolation, the way they interacted, it almost seemed to preclude the existence of others, as if there could not room for anyone else in their insular world.

Moore shook his head. He barely knew them.  In a way, he was glad to know that there were people out there who cared for the two agents, someone without a connection to their job.

After leaving Skinner in privacy, Moore had retreated to his office in order to submit an official request for the assistance of Assistant Director Skinner on this case.  Skinner's vacation time was about to run out, and Moore did not want to see Skinner reprimanded for trying to retrieve his agents.  Truthfully, Moore needed Skinner's help, and The Powers That Be had to recognize that.

"Thank you for all of your help," Skinner was saying, shaking the office manager's hand.

Moore closed the file on the desk in front of him.  "Can we take this with us?"  He asked.

"Of course," the woman replied.

Tucking the sheaf of papers under his arm, Moore wondered if it would do any good.

~~~~
End Chapter 24 (part 25/29)
IMPORTANT NOTE -- I mean no disrespect to the vegetarians in the audience. I *am* a vegetarian, myself! (come to think of it, I think I own almost all of the books I listed, too, and we had a skull in my last apartment that my roommate had picked up at an ossuary in the Czech Republic… none of this bodes well for my sanity, I think…) <bg>

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Chapter 25
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It had become dark outside.  The only light now filling the cabin came from two oil lamps, burning brightly in the small space.  The electric generator had sputtered and died early in the evening, out of gas.  Adam had not brought more. He obviously hadn't intended to stay too long.

Scully dipped the washcloth into the basin again, lathering the thin terrycloth with a bar of castile soap.  It smelled like the soap at her grandmother's house.  As a child, returning from a day rolling in the cold ocean surf, covered with salt and sand, she and Melissa had used castile soap in her grandmother's claw foot tub, sun-browned and bleached blonde.  She shivered, far from any beaches, drawing the warm water over her skin.

It felt delicious to be clean again.  Scully worshiped good hygiene.  The feel of her dirty, matted hair had pained her.  The first thing she had done, as soon as Mulder had finished heating the water, was to dunk her head gratefully into a chipped washbasin located atop an old dry sink.  Adam apparently used Pert Plus.  Not that Scully cared what brand of shampoo she used.  She scrubbed her hair with fierceness designed to eradicate days of grime.

Now, as she wrung out the washcloth and lathered again, her clean, wet hair sent tiny rivulets of water trailing down her back to dampen the waistband of her pants.  As soon as she was clean, she would change those, too, having raided a dead man's wardrobe for fresh attire.  The chill air raised goose bumps on her flesh as she rubbed the dirt away.  She was facing a wall, her back to Mulder, naked from the waist up.  Still, occasionally, she felt he might be watching.

It was so strange, the tension that thought inspired.  It frightened her.  She ran the washcloth over the curve of her stomach, and she was startled to realize that part of her hoped that he was watching.

Needing to focus, to regain control of her thoughts, Scully spoke.  "You know, Mulder, we're not going to have enough food to last us very long."  They had maybe a week's worth of food, at best.  Adam had definitely not stocked the pantry for a long stay.

Mulder was quiet for a moment.  When he responded, there was a roughness to his voice that she might only have imagined.  "I know that."

"I don't think it's likely we'll be found before then," she added.

"I know that, too," he responded.

They were both silent for a few seconds.  They had no idea where they were, and the prospect of leaving the cabin, where it was warm and relatively safe, was daunting.  They could easily be hundreds of miles from civilization.  That fact, however, made it likely that they might not be found at all.  If they were far enough away from Buffalo, if Adam had kept them unconscious for a number of days while he drove, they could be anywhere.  They would not have the luxury of waiting for the bureau to come save them.

"There *is* the trail from the snowmobile," Scully suggested. 

"Which is faint, at best," Mulder cautioned.

"I know that," Scully replied, as she picked up a giant flannel shirt from beside the wash basin.  It was warm and clean and came down almost to her knees.  She buttoned the gray material over her damp skin.  "But if we can follow the path Adam took to get us here, we can find our way out."

"Those tracks have got to be partially covered with snow by now," Mulder said.

Scully unfastened the button fly on the jeans she was wearing.  They were bloodstained and filthy.  They were so large that they practically fell to the floor as soon as she unrolled the waistband.  She gratefully stepped out of the soiled garment, kicking them aside with satisfaction.

"I don't know what choice we have, Mulder," she continued, as she placed one foot on the chair next to her and began to wash her legs.

"Neither do I."  This time she was certain that she did not imagine the roughness in his voice.

Feeling immensely self-conscious, Scully made quick work of the rest of her bathing, wringing out the washcloth a final time and turning around.  If Mulder had been watching her, he wasn't when she finally faced him.  He was seated in one of the lawn chairs, facing the fire.

"Your turn," she said, walking towards him.  There was no way she was putting those jeans back on, and Adam's clothing was even larger than Mulder's.  The flannel shirt she had donned was longer than some of the skirts she wore to work.  Anyway, it wasn't as if Mulder hadn't already seen her in far less.  She tried to ignore the fact that she wasn't wearing any underwear.  Mulder had no way of knowing this.

She swore he wasn't breathing as she sat in the chair next to him, he was holding so still.  After a small eternity, and without looking directly at her once, he rose from the chair, grabbed the remaining hot water off of the stove, and went over to dump and refill the wash basin.

Scully stared contentedly into the fire.  The occasional popping and crackling of the embers was soothing.  She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of water sloshing in the basin as Mulder washed.  She didn't attempt to continue their conversation.  There was time for that yet.  She was too tired, too worn and raw from the day's events for verbal sparring, especially since there was no simple solution at hand.

A thought occurred to her, and she had to take a breath before voicing it.  She couldn't believe what she was about to say.  "Don't put those pants back on when you're done," she said, proud that her voice remained so level.  "I need to look at that laceration again."  Mulder had wandered around cavalierly in boxer shorts countless times while she was present.  It wasn't so odd a request.  God knew she was constantly attending to his myriad injuries.

Mulder didn't say a word.

It was another ten minutes before she opened her eyes again.  Mulder had finished washing and had opened the front door to dump the dirty water.  Scully pulled herself up reluctantly from the chair and went over to the stove.  On tiptoe, she peered into the water bucket.  There was just enough hot water left to clean Mulder's wound.  Wrapping a potholder over the handle, she lifted the bucket and turned around.

Mulder was standing just behind the chairs that faced the fire, shadowed beyond the full scope of the lamplight.  He had obeyed her instructions and was wearing a faded pair of boxer shorts and a plain white T-shirt.  Both items were too large on his slender frame. 

"Sit down," she said, when he seemed not to know what to do with himself.

Mulder sat, slowly, as if confused by her request.  Amused at his reaction, Scully found a clean wash cloth and what was left of the antibacterial soap.  She settled on the floor in front of Mulder, kneeling.  When she pulled his leg towards her to examine the wound, she was taken aback.

"Mulder, this looks awful." She couldn't keep the shock from her voice.  The laceration was badly infected now, red and swollen, hot to the touch.  The pus that oozed from beneath the skin had the foul smell of disease.  He was at severe risk of developing septicemia.

"Mulder, you need antibiotics, and this wound needs to be debrided." 

"I don't think there's a Walgreen's in this neighborhood," he deadpanned.

"This is serious, Mulder," she chastened, frustrated by his glibness.  He could die.

"I'm aware of that, Scully."  His tone made it clear that he was.

Gingerly, Scully began to wash the injury, and if her ministrations were painful, which she was certain that they were, Mulder did not flinch.  He stoically endured the entire process, and when she was finished, after wrapping his leg the cleanest material she had been able to find, she looked up at him.  "Mulder," she began, "this can't wait.  I need to try and hike out of here before this laceration becomes septic."

Mulder only looked at her, his hair damp, dripping to form wet splotches on the T-shirt he wore.  "*You* need to hike out of here?" he finally said.  "You mean 'we.'" He stressed the final word.  "We need to hike out of here."

"No, Mulder,” she corrected.  “I mean 'I.'  You won't be able to hike anywhere on that leg.  You'll only weaken yourself further, putting yourself in greater danger and hastening the spread of the infection."

He didn't even seem to consider her words.  "No," he stated, deadly serious, glaring down at her.  "There's no way in hell I'm letting you hike out of here alone."  He didn't speak with an argumentative tone.  He spoke simply, flat, no reply needed.

"Mulder, be reasonable for a minute…"

"Be reasonable?"  His temper flared, and he stood up, towering over her.  "Do you think it's reasonable for me to let you walk out into the wilderness, in the middle of winter, not knowing where we are or how far from civilization we might be?  Do you honestly think I can do that?"

Scully struggled to her feet, unwilling to argue from such an extreme height disadvantage.  "Yes!" she almost shouted.  "That's exactly what I expect you to do.  It may be the only way to save your life."

"At the potential cost of yours?" he asked.

She didn't reply.

"No, Scully."  He spoke when she did not.  "I won't let you.  If we hike out of here, we do it together."

Scully closed her eyes, intensely frustrated, knowing she would not be able to reason with him.  When it came to her safety, Mulder was stubborn to the point of stupidity.

Mulder reached down, grasping both of her hands in his own.  He squeezed, and she opened her eyes.  "We go together, Scully," he said, no longer arguing, fierce tenderness in his voice, "or not at all."

Scully opened her mouth, about to reply, and then closed it, at a loss for words.  Mulder was standing barely three inches in front of her, holding her hands, smelling faintly of castile soap, but mostly like himself.  It was distracting, in the extreme.  She felt heat flush over her entire body.  The T-shirt clung to his chest in the places where it was damp.  She was now incredibly mindful of the fact that Adam had not thought to supply her with underwear.  It was the only thing she could concentrate on.

She exhaled sharply and looked Mulder square in the eye.  What she saw there pinned her to the floor.  Scully couldn't move.  Why wasn't he shielding these emotions?  In the past, she had seen glimpses of the look that was in his eyes at this moment.  In the past, he always had looked quickly away, shuttered this look behind some wall in his mind where she could pretend it had never happened, that she had never seen it.

They stared at one another, both acutely aware that the conversation had shifted.

"Are you scared?" he asked, almost a whisper.

"Terrified," she replied.

He chuffed a laugh, not sounding very amused.  "Me, too." 

She smiled.  "Why are we so scared of this?"

Mulder shrugged, still holding her hands, "because it changes everything."

"Does it?" she asked.

He seemed to consider her question for a second.  "It changes some things," he amended his reply.  "It makes it more difficult for us to hide from each other."

"That's true."

"It forces us to deal with issues that we've been avoiding for years," he continued.

"Years?" she queried.

He only smiled at her.  She knew the answer to that question.

She searched his expression, knowing that no matter what happened, he would always tell her the truth.  She trusted him.  "I don't know if they're issues we're capable of dealing with, Mulder," her voice trembled.  "Look what happened after the first time," she paused, took a deep breath.  "We couldn't even stand to be in the same room together.  We could barely speak to one another.  It almost destroyed us."

"No, Scully," he corrected her, "I think what almost destroyed us was the fact that we *wouldn't* deal with what's happened between us.  I think that we had stopped talking to one another long before we ever had sex.  I think that our relationship has been crumbling for a long time now, and I think the sex was just a catalyst, forcing us to confront the fact that something was terribly wrong between us."

She considered this and wasn't convinced.  "Was wrong?" she asked.  "What's changed?  How are we any different now than before this began?"

"We're talking now, aren't we?"

Was talking enough?  Would it keep them from falling apart?  More importantly, was she willing to risk the most fundamentally necessary relationship of her life in order to find out?

Mulder pulled her closer, closing the gap between them.  He snaked one arm around her back, pulling her against his chest.  Bringing her other hand up to his mouth, he kissed her fingers where they entwined with his own.  "Don't you feel different, Scully?" He asked her.  "Doesn't this feel different?”  He concluded softly, “I feel different."

He continued, still holding her close.  "I've been thinking hard about this since Saks Mill, Scully, and I've realized some things.  I don't think our relationship would have lasted much longer on the path we were headed down.  I was emotionally exhausted, and I know that you were, too.  The things we do, the life we lead, none of it is going to get any easier, and we need each other if we're going to survive it.  I was wasting so much energy pushing you away.  You're guilty of the same mistake.

"I blamed myself after Saks Mill, even if you didn't blame me.  I thought I had lost my best friend."

Her eyes welled with tears.

"I thought you would never forgive me.  I believed that I had taken the only pure thing in my life and defiled it.  I hurt you, Scully, and I couldn't live with that."  Tears choked his voice now, too.

His hand was in the center of her back, where it had been on countless occasions.  She wanted to say that she hadn't blamed him, but, of course, she had.  She had blamed him for taking what should have been a moment of joy between them and twisting it into something ugly and sad.  But she had forgiven him.  Somewhere along the line, she realized, she had forgiven him.  Now there was only the question of how to move forward and of which direction to take.  He was right.  She did feel different.

Still, the specter of Adam's accusations hung over them both.  Did Mulder honestly believe that they had sinned?  How was she supposed to put this into words?  "Mulder," she began, "I hope you don't think I agree with any of what Adam said -- all of that crap about succumbing to lust.  You didn't 'defile' anything, Mulder, and we've done nothing wrong."

"I know now, Scully," was all he said, and it was all that mattered.

They held each other for a long moment, not saying anything.  The fire crackled quietly in the background.  Lamplight flickered off the cabin walls, dancing shadows across the floor.  If you ignored the fact that they might not make it back to D.C. alive, it was actually romantic.

Mulder must have entertained a similar thought.  He leaned in and whispered next to her ear, his breath hot against her face.  "So, Scully, there wasn't any lust on your part?"

She laughed out loud, eliciting a genuine grin from Mulder.  "Maybe there was a little bit of lust," she replied.

He raised his eyebrows.  "A little bit?"

She nodded.

Very slowly, he moved his hand from behind her back, around the curve of her waist, and over her hip.  Stooping slightly to accomplish his goal, Mulder moved his hand down until he reached the hem of the shirt she was wearing and then pushed underneath.  So slowly she thought she might die, he drew his hand lightly back over her bare thigh and hip, coming to rest again in the small of her back.

"How about now?" he asked.

Scully had to remind herself to take a breath.  Every time they had kissed so far, Mulder had initiated things.  He had advanced and she had submitted.  Ordinarily, she was not the submissive type.  To hell with it, she thought, as she pressed herself upward and captured his mouth with her own.

Mulder seemed shocked at first, not sure what to do next, but he recovered quickly. Pulling a gasp from her throat, and breaking their kiss, he thrust his other hand under her shirt, placed both hands over her backside, and lifted.  Suddenly off the ground, Scully instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist.  Mulder steadied her with one arm around her waist and began to walk towards the bed.

As they reached the edge of the bed, he looked at her, a ridiculously self-satisfied smile on his face.  "Scully, where are your panties?" he asked.

She kept a carefully straight face.  "I must have forgotten them when I packed."

"Ha ha," he said, plopping her unceremoniously onto the mattress.

Suddenly, his mood seemed to sober, standing above her.  The smile disappeared.  Instead, his expression became very serious, intent.  "You know," he said, "at first, I thought I would get over this, as if I could get it out of my system, put it past me, take a cold shower, and get on with it."  He shook his head.  "It didn't happen, and I became so frustrated with myself, that I couldn't find the strength to stop thinking about you this way, that when it comes to this, I'm weak.  I can't stop wanting this, and I'm past the point of caring what the consequences might be, or if it's 'proper,' or who may find out.  I just don't care.  I want it too much."

Reclining on the bed, cushioned by a sea of old quilts, with Mulder looming above her, Scully realized that this was probably the first sexually mature moment of her life.  This was kind of sad, especially when you considered that she was a woman well into her thirties.  But the only real relationship she had experienced before Mulder had been with Jack, and that had been more like hero worship than love.  The others had all been in college -- silly, fumbling affairs, fueled frequently by alcohol, with not much in the way of finesse.  She had always felt so awkward, so out of her element in the bedroom.  She had attributed this to the notion that she was simply not a particularly sexual being, that she was more cerebral than sensual.  Now, she realized, she had been wrong.  She felt powerful, ripe, and radiant.  It was only appropriate that Mulder was the person to bring this out in her.

One by one, she reached down and unfastened the buttons on her flannel shirt.  With this last barrier released, Scully pushed the sides of the shirt apart, leaving only her arms covered.  She leaned back on her elbows and looked up at Mulder. 

"If you only knew, Scully…" he murmured, voice trailing off.  He reached down and pulled the T-shirt over his head.  One quick motion and the boxers were gone, too.

She smiled and reached out her hand. "I do," she said.

It was so simple, when it came down to it.  It was the simplest thing you could imagine.  Man and woman.  It was biology, as old as time itself.  She gave into the pull, letting it carry her like the lunar pull on the sea.  She felt blessed, to have this, with this man.  He loved her.  It was one of the few things in this world of which she felt certain.  He kissed her, and she was dizzy with that certainty.  He touched her, and the real world that awaited them beyond this moment melted under his hands.  How could this be wrong?  It felt sacred and elemental.  She felt the sanctity of it in her bones.

When he entered her, she let herself feel it for the first time -- no headlong rush into oblivion.  She let herself remember.  She opened her eyes and he opened his and they slowed.  She recorded every second, wanted to know the expression on his face, the feeling of giving way, the way the sweat dampened his back, the feel of his breath as it washed over her face.  He watched her, watching him, and they gradually dissolved together. 

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End Chapter 25 (Part 26/29)

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Chapter 26
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The fire in the stove had died down to embers, and the two oil lamps had long since been blown out.  Scully had no idea what time it was, and she didn't mind.  It was nice to be beyond the reach of time, if only for a little while.  It was nice to not have the blinking specter of a clock looming at her bedside, reminding her that time was short.  Without it, she could pretend that morning might never come.

Behind her, Mulder stirred in his sleep, murmuring something unintelligible.  He was wrapped around her like a second skin, so tight she could barely move.  Though she should have felt suffocated, or trapped, she didn't mind.  She felt safe and warm.  This moment made it all worthwhile, she thought.  All of the pain, all of the anger, it was so trivial in the face of this moment.

"You're not asleep," Mulder whispered, his face buried in her neck.

"No," she whispered back.

"Why not," he asked, tightening his arms around her waist, sounding concerned.

"Just enjoying the moment," she replied, reaching a hand down and finding his where it rested against her belly.

"Mmm..." he mumbled, squeezing her hand.  He paused.  "You want to enjoy it a little more?" he asked, sounding slightly wicked.

Smiling, she twisted in his arms, and as she came to face him, he shifted, so that he was above her, looking down at her in the shadows.  This was what it was like to be in love, she thought, this drunken, primal need.  She had loved him forever, but this was different.  This was physical and messy.  It was wonderful.

She sighed, as his hands gripped her hips, positioning her carefully.  She helped guide him in, and they began to rock, shifting slowly, the ancient mattress squeaking in accompaniment.  She let herself be kissed, pushing against his back with her hands, encouraging him to go deeper.  She adored the weight of Mulder above her, the way he pressed her into the mattress, the way her body grappled with his for purchase.

She opened her mouth to cry out, but no sound emerged.  He grasped both of her hands and pinned them above her head, touching the wall.  Gradually increasing in tempo, she arched up against him, the whole of their bodies touching, felt him sliding in and out, felt as if every inch of her skin were burning.  He covered her mouth with his own, swallowing her cries, as he shattered within her, and her body convulsed, every molecule pulsing with light.

It was enough, she thought, panting, as he kissed her face and whispered her name.  Time could wait.

~~~~

It was painful to watch, Moore thought.  Williams was one of his best agents.  He was so young, as young as Moore had been when he first came to Buffalo, fresh out of Quantico, green and naive and foolish.

It would be months before Williams could return to active duty, but from the look on his young agent's face, Moore was starting to wonder if that would ever happen.  Moore had arrived at the hospital this morning to check on Williams' condition, and he had interrupted the first of what would be a long series of physical therapy sessions.  Angie, Agent Williams' fiancé, was here, as well as Agent Sandborne, and Moore felt like an outsider.  He had stumbled through a brief summation of recent events, from the triumph of finding the children to the desperate search for Mulder and Scully.  Angie had scowled through the entire recitation, not once looking Moore in the eye.

SAC Moore liked Angie, from what little he knew of her.  He didn't fault her for her seeming disdain.  Moore had received similar looks from his ex wife before their marriage had disintegrated.  What troubled Moore was the guilt on Williams' face, the way he seemed to avoid Moore's questions, how distant he seemed.

"Angie, sweetie, could you leave us alone for a few minutes?" Williams asked, touching his fiance's hand gently.  He had seated himself on the edge of the hospital bed, exhausted from the effort it took him to try and walk.

She nodded, and without even glancing in Moore's direction, left the room.

Agent Sandborne stayed, back against the wall, an inscrutable expression on his face.  Whatever was coming, Sandborne already knew.

So did Moore, even if he was reluctant to admit it.  Might as well get it out in the open, he thought, it wouldn't get any easier.  "You're not coming back to the bureau, are you?" he asked.

"No," Williams stated, plainly.  "I'm not."

Moore was disappointed but not surprised.  "Is this because of Angie?"

"Partly," Williams said.  "I've been lying in this hospital bed, staring at the ceiling, with nothing to do but think.  It hurts to breathe.  The nursing staff practically cheers when I take a piss.  I can't walk across the room without assistance…"  He trailed off.  "I guess this whole situation has forced me to reevaluate what's important in my life, and I realized I don't want to end up alone.  I don't want this job to hurt the people that I love, to end up pushing them away.  I don't want to end up with nothing but regrets."  He said this last part with guilt in his voice, knowing that Moore would take this personally.

Moore didn't know what to say.  He had so many regrets, and his marriage was only one of them.  Were they all a result of this job?  Hardly, he thought.  He had made his decisions knowing their potential consequences.  No one had forced his hand.  If he had it to do all over again, he wasn't sure he would change anything.  Maybe things had worked out the way that they were supposed to.  Moore didn't really believe in fate, but he had a hard time imagining a reality beyond the one they now inhabited.

"When you find Mulder and Scully," Williams said, as Moore rose from his chair and headed for the door, "Will you give Agent Scully a message for me?" Williams asked.

Moore turned around, his hand over the doorknob.  "Of course."

"Tell her that I hope she remembers what I said, that it's not worth it if you end up alone.  Tell her that I will be thinking of her, and of her partner."

"I will," Moore assured, wishing fervently that God would grant him the chance to deliver that message.

~~~~

"Mulder, I don't know how I'm supposed to be able to walk in these things," Scully said, as she laced up a pair of Adam's boots.  There had been only one pair in the cabin, and Mulder had to return to the smaller cabin, to retrieve another pair from off a dead man.  On Mulder, Adam's boots were large.  On Scully, the same size was ridiculous.

"It's better than frostbite," Mulder replied, from across the room.  He was packing food items into a canvas duffel bag, mindful that most of the canned food would freeze outside in the cold.  He had also packed a tarp that they had found under the bed, along with several blankets and a box of matches.

Even with three pairs of socks, and the laces drawn as tight as they could go, Scully felt as if the boots might slip off at any moment.  Mulder had insisted that she take the goose-down parka Adam had been wearing, despite her protests.  Clad in the oversized parka, a pair of Adam's pants, and the too big boots, Scully felt like a marshmallow.  To his credit, Mulder had refrained from laughing when he saw the ensemble for the first time.

"I guess that's it," Mulder said, as he zipped the duffel bag.  "I guess we're ready."

As ready as they'd ever be, Scully thought.

Together, they opened the door and stepped outside.  Scully spared one last look for the inside of the cabin, for the wood stove, now dark and cold, for the bed with its mountain of quilts.  Taking a deep breath for fortitude, she closed the door behind them.

They started walking, and, at first, Scully was surprised by how beautiful it was, wherever they were.  It was just after dawn.  Snow dusted every available surface, clinging to the most fragile of branches, frosting the tips of pine needles and shrubbery.  The air was clear and crisp, and trudging through the almost knee deep snow, bundled up in a murder's clothes, Scully was actually quite warm.  The trail left by the snowmobile *was* faint, but it was discernable, especially under the canopy of trees, which had acted like an umbrella, shielding the ground.

It was slow going.  Mulder, of course, had an easier time, with his longer legs.  They spoke very little, concentrating instead on not slipping in the deep snow.  It actually felt good, to be moving, to feel her blood pumping in her veins.  Scully worried that Mulder must be experiencing pain from his leg.  But if he was, he didn't mention it.  Occasionally, they would stop, take a drink of water from what Mulder had stashed inside his jacket, where it wouldn't freeze.  They walked for hours, watching as the sun arched across the sky and water dripped from melting ice on the trees.

It was late afternoon, almost evening, when the sky began to grow dark.  Clouds the color of dark coffee accumulated over their heads with improbable velocity.  Wind whipped across Scully's cheeks, making her lips numb.  Snow began to fall, lightly at first, and then in thick, wet clumps.  Visibility disappeared.

"We need to find shelter," Mulder shouted, over the increasing roar of the wind.

Scully didn't answer, knowing he was right.  She struggled to keep her footing in the storm.

They were at the crest of a deep ravine.  Before the snowfall had begun, the tracks from the snowmobile had been clearly visible, skirting the edge of the embankment, headed in the direction of several hills.  If they could make it to those hills, where a rocky outcrop had been perceptible, they could wait out the storm under the tarp Mulder had folded in his bag.

It wasn't that far, Scully reasoned, even as she felt her thigh muscles burn under the strain of heaving her legs through the heavy snow.  She pushed wet tendrils of hair from in front of her eyes.  Her teeth chattered.  Mulder was only a few paces in front of her, but in the dense snowfall, he was barely discernable.

It wasn't that far, she chanted in her head.  Until, suddenly, it was.  Suddenly, her right foot twisted, slipping on a rotted branch concealed under the snow.  Her too large boots shifted on her feet, the right one coming off completely, and she tripped.  Unable to regain her footing, Scully felt her equilibrium shift, and she tumbled down the embankment.  Distantly, she heard herself cry out.  The hill was steep, covered in loose rocks and dead leaves under the snow.  She slid quickly down into the ravine, stopping only when a tree intersected her path.

She hit the tree, hard.  Blinking tears from her eyes, Scully struggled for breath.

"Scully!" Mulder shouted from above.

Sharp pain raced up her leg.  "Down here!" she yelled.

She could hear him crunching through the trees, but the only thought she could muster was that the pain in her leg was too intense to be anything less than a fracture.  Experimentally, she tried to wiggle her toes.  She couldn't.

"Scully!" He shouted again, almost manic, closer this time.

"Over here," she gasped, as she shifted, and the pain lanced through her body.

He stumbled to her side, the weight of the duffel making him cumbersome, struggling through the snow.  "Are you okay?"  He huffed, his hands fumbling above her, pushing the hair from her face, touching her to assure himself of her safety.

She wished she could lie to him.  She wished she could pretend that this wasn't happening.  "I think my ankle is broken," she said, no avoiding it.

The angry wind howled around them.  "Oh, Scully…" he looked crestfallen, panicked.

"We still need to find shelter," she continued.  There was no time now to bemoan what couldn't be helped.

He nodded. "Can you walk?"

"If you help me," she replied.

Mulder laced one arm around her waist, and bracing himself against the tree at their back, he heaved them both to their feet.  He staggered under the effort of supporting their combined weight.

"It's not much farther," he reassured, and lurching, they began the painful task of continuing for the rocky outcrop.

Half way up, they found Scully's missing boot, sitting strangely upright atop the dense pack of snow.

Trudging up the embankment would have been difficult with both of them in top form.  With the two of them injured as they were, it was an excruciating, time consuming process.  By the time they made it to the top, Scully could barely breathe.  Mindful of the fact that Mulder was badly injured himself, she tried to assist him in the struggle.  She could hear how heavily he was breathing.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, they reached the pile of boulders.  Glacial deposits, Scully absently thought.  Her leg was starting to go numb.  She could no longer move her toes.  It was probably for the best, she realized.  She was unlikely to have access to painkillers any time in the near future.

Mulder gently lowered her to the snow-covered ground.  Pulling the tarp from within the duffle bag, he climbed up and over several of the large rocks.  Near the top of the outcrop he stopped.

“There’s a crevasse up here, between two of the rocks, that I should be able to stretch this over,” he shouted down to her.  In the wailing wind of the storm, she could hardly hear him.

She watched as he trudged back down and began digging away snow near the base of the outcrop.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Looking for smaller rocks to hold the tarp down with,” he replied.

The snow was deep, and it took him ten minutes or so to find an acceptable number of rocks to weigh down the tarp.  He struggled back up the heap of boulders, making several trips, first digging as much snow out of the crevasse as possible, then pulling all of their stuff up and depositing it in the space.  Lastly, he stretched out the tarp and secured it with the rocks he had dug up.

Back on the ground, he helped Scully again to her feet, and together they ascended to the make-shift shelter.

“It’s not the Hilton,” he tried to quip, but she could hear the fear in his voice.

“It’ll be fine, Mulder,” she attempted to reassure.

He helped her down into the small space, barely large enough for the two of them.  He had spread one of the blankets on the ground.  The others he folded over her once she was settled.  After he had crawled down after her, he did his best to close the tarp over them.  It was dark inside the shelter.  Daylight outside was almost gone, and stashed between the hulking stones, with the green plastic tarp over their heads, Scully could barely make out Mulder’s face.

“Scully...” Mulder began, but then he stopped, seeming unsure of what to say.  She could still hear the fear in his voice, naked now, knowing that they were in very real danger, out here alone in the wilderness, her ankle broken, him sick with fever.

She was pressed against him, and she felt his arms come around her, his head resting atop hers.  She found his hand in the darkness, twining her clumsy, gloved fingers with his.  “I know, Mulder,” was all she said.

~~~~
End Chapter 26 (Part 27/29)
 
 
 
 
 

Complicity (28/29)
By: promise64 (promised64@yahoo.com)

This fic can also be found at: 
http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/Complicity.htm
Or at my journal:
http://memento64.livejournal.com

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Chapter 27
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“There has to be something here,” Skinner muttered, frustration evident in his tone.

Back at Bureau headquarters, with the personal effects of Adam Hathaway Sr. strewn across the conference table, Moore felt that all of their potential avenues of investigation had become nothing more substantial than dead ends.  Too many of the events pertinent to this case had occurred decades ago, and the wash of time had slowly, steadily worn the evidence away.  Witnesses who might have contributed something to the search for Mulder and Scully were either dead or incoherent.  Crime scenes which would ordinarily have yielded forensic evidence were stripped bare, exposed to the elements, victims of vandalism and time.

“We’ve been over the contents of that box already,” Moore finally said.  “I don’t know what more you expect to find.”  He could hear the defeat in his own voice and he loathed it.  

“Something,” Skinner spat, “Anything.  There has to be some way of finding where he’s taken them.”

Skinner, too, sounded defeated, exhausted, sickened.  Moore did not know too many details about the nature of the senior agent's relationship with Mulder and Scully, but from Skinner's reaction to their disappearance, and based on the fact that Moore knew Skinner had taken personal time in order to come up to Buffalo, Moore surmised that the relationship was more complex than your average superior-inferior dichotomy.  There was something else, too, something more complicated that Moore could not comprehend.  The almost clandestine nature of Skinner's arrival in Buffalo, the tone of his voice when he'd called Agent Scully's mother, the way his eyes seemed to reflect a tragedy larger than their present circumstances.  Moore was a private man, and he respected the privacy of others.  He would never ask, but he wondered. 

A desiccated corsage, rusted keys, and newspaper clippings were a few of the items that the box disgorged, upended and dumped atop the table.  A marriage certificate, report cards, numerous photographs -- a man’s life distilled to what could conveniently fit into the space of a cardboard box.

Moore slumped gracelessly into a hard, plastic chair.  Truthfully, although he wanted to keep fighting, although he was ordinarily never a man that admitted defeat easily, he was exhausted.  This investigation, though ongoing for only six months, felt as if it had consumed a larger portion of his life.  Years seemed to have passed since the first child had been found murdered.  His once fervent zeal for disassembling the details of a crime had melted under the pressure of recent events and congealed into a feeling that was more akin to obligation.

“God Damn!” Skinner thundered, heaving, in his ire, the dark blue leather folder that concealed a high school diploma.  It impacted with the wall closest to Skinner with an unremarkable thud.

Moore closed his eyes briefly.  He needed a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  However, even if he were granted the opportunity to rest, he doubted he would be able to sleep.  He imagined his nerves frayed like the ends of short-circuited wires, burned and jangling in his head.  His mind could not be switched off, and sleep, he feared, would bring dreams filled with death and suffering, the specters of emaciated children lying on a dirt floor, caked in their own excrement.  There was no where, not even in his unconscious, where he felt that he might be able to find solace.

When Moore opened his eyes again, Skinner was bending over to pick up the diploma.  It had opened upon impact with the floor, and the certificate of graduation had escaped the small metal clasps holding it in place.  Slowly, Skinner stood, and the certificate drifted to the floor.  Skinner gasped, and the sound contained enough shock to rouse Agent Moore from his seat, to cause him to lean across the conference table in an attempt to discover what had elicited the response from Skinner.

In Skinner’s hands, previously concealed behind the protection of the diploma, was a tattered map.  Wordlessly, Skinner unfurled the yellowed pages, creased from being folded and unfolded countless times.  There were tears at the edges of the paper and ringed coffee stains marring the surface.  Faint pencil marks clustered around a particular section of the map, as if highlighting a route.  In the upper right hand corner, the map’s legend bore a clear title.

“Quebec, Canada,” Moore whispered.

~~~~

The wind still howled, and wisps of snow drifted in under the protection of the tarp.  They had spent the entire night and the following day sequestered in their shelter, but the storm outside evinced no signs of letting up.  Despite her best efforts, Scully had fallen asleep.  She wasn’t sure how much time had passed.  Night had descended.  Beside her, Mulder lay staring up at the underside of the tarp.  It was dreadfully cold in the cramped space, yet sweat beaded across Mulder’s forehead, his cheeks seemed flushed, and Scully did not even need to touch him to recognize that he had a fever.

The infection in his leg had, most likely, migrated into his bloodstream.  His lips trembled, his body suffused by tremors, and Scully knew it would not be long before he lost consciousness.

Her own body felt numbed by cold, and she had lost feeling in both of her feet.  Snow had intruded over the edges of her boots, wetting her socks, and freezing again.  It was a gift, in a sense.  She could no longer feel the pain from her shattered ankle.  Scully understood that her own easy drift into sleep was a sign of hypothermia, that if she allowed it to happen again, she would, like Mulder, lose consciousness for probably the last time.  Their gamble had ended in failure.  They had abandoned the safety of the cabin in the hope that they could facilitate their own rescue.  They had weighed the odds and had made a decision together, hoping that by trying to find their way out of the forest immediately, they would avoid the weakness that would eventually result from lack of food and Mulder’s injured state.  Depleted like that, the physical strength needed to hike out would have abandoned them.

They couldn’t have known that the weather would turn so violent so quickly, and Scully wondered which fate was worse, slowly wasting away in the deceptive protection of the cabin or succumbing quickly here in the wilderness.  They had known that this attempt at escape could end in tragedy, but with the knowledge that they might likely never be found, it had seemed the best option.

Distantly, as if assessing the facts in one of Mulder’s jumbled case reports, Scully wondered if their bodies would even be recovered.  If they were far enough away from Buffalo, the chances were slim.  Perhaps in the spring, after the thaw, a forest ranger or camper would find their remains.  Her mother would need that closure.

“Mulder,” she finally murmured, pulling her hand from beneath the blankets and removing her glove.  She touched his bare skin.  He burned like hot coals, damp beneath her fingers.

“Put your glove back on, Scully,” he rasped, his voice weak, not the voice she knew so well.  “You’ll get frostbite.”

That was the least of their problems, but Scully obliged him, not wanting him to worry himself over her condition.

“How’s your ankle?” he asked, turning his head to face her, and his eyes were glassy in the dim moonlight that filtered through the cracks in the tarp.

“Numb,” she replied.

Mulder didn’t respond.  Instead, he studied her face, only inches from his own, silent.  He knew, she realized.  He knew that they had reached the end.  He held her gaze for several moments before closing his eyes.

Mulder didn’t believe in an afterlife in any definitive sense.  He had trifled with ideas about reincarnation and ghosts, but his only true faith had been in the truth, in its eventual power to reveal itself.  Scully’s own beliefs, centered around the teaching of the Catholic Church, were supposed to assure her of an eternal paradise awaiting her on the other side.  But Catholic doctrine excluded Mulder, with his lack of tradition belief, from that paradise, and Scully could not truly believe that God intended to separate them in that manner.  Scully didn’t know what was on the other side, but they were headed there together. Her long dreaded fear that she would be left alone after his death had been avoided; neither would he descend into depression should she precede him into death, a potentiality that had terrified her more than any other. 
      
"I would have liked to be able to spend weekends with you," he murmured, after a few moments of silence, opening his eyes, "just laying in bed all day Sunday, reading the paper, doing the crossword puzzle."  His voice was raspy with emotion, his face only inches from hers.  "I would have liked to find pieces of your clothing mixed in with my laundry, to have girly smelling shampoo in my shower, to get irritated when you'd use my razor.  I would have liked to be able to go to the grocery store and purchase more than just orange juice and canned soup, to have soy milk and bee pollen and yogurt cluttering up my usually empty fridge."

She felt tears as they welled in her eyes.

He continued.  "I would have liked to be able to take you somewhere, anywhere, maybe someplace warm, away from work, to watch your face freckle in the sunshine and to see you walk barefoot on a beach, somewhere we could just be, if only for a few days."

He watched her with solemn, wide eyes as he spoke.  "I would have liked to be able to wake up every morning and finally feel at peace with this thing between us, this thing I've struggled for so long to comprehend.  I would have liked to be able to roll over and pull you into my arms and kiss your sleep messed hair and hit the snooze button one too many times just so we could spend a few more minutes together like that."

His voice seemed to catch, and he stopped, closed his eyes again, taking a deep shuddering breath.  "We never got to do any of those things, Scully, and now we never will."

She watched him, with his stubbled, angular jaw, his long nose, his dark eyelashes and deeply shadowed eyes -- the familiar shapes and facets of his face.   "I've fallen asleep next to you more times than I can count, Mulder," she whispered.  "You've held me when I was suffering and in pain.  You've laughed with me at things that no one else would understand; you've held my hand when I needed strength; you've traveled the country and the world at my side."

He hadn't opened his eyes again, but Scully could see his own tears as they escaped from beneath his lowered lids.  She pulled off one of her gloves, despite his earlier protests, and pressed her bare fingers to his face, smoothing the tears away.  

"We may not have had time to be lovers in the traditional sense of the word, Mulder, but you have been the someone that I missed like oxygen when you were away, the presence that comforted me with only your proximity, and the person who I have heard speak my name with love in your voice, even when neither one of us was willing to openly recognize its existence.

"You have loved me, Mulder, and I have felt it.  I have been able to feel myself give back love in return.  Some people live their entire lives without being able to truly feel those things"

Her fingers lingered against his skin, and when he opened his eyes, he reached up a hand, grasped her hand with his own and pressed it against his cheek.  "I told you that I had no regrets, Mulder, and I meant it.  I'm grateful that at the end of my life I am able to look back at our time together and appreciate the singularity of what we have shared and that I no longer feel conflicted and angry because of feelings that I was too scared to admit."

"It's always been your last name, Scully," he finally said, pulling her hand over to his lips and kissing the palm.

"I wouldn't want it any other way now," she responded.  She had felt once that Scully had been his creation, this other woman who was obligated to be strong and silent and dependable, who was obligated to suffer, to endure.  She realized now that Scully was a name that marked her relationship with him as something poignantly unique.  No other person in her life had ever imbued her surname with the caring and respect that Mulder had.  To everyone else, all of the people outside of the sphere of existence that she inhabited with Mulder, she was Dana.  To the man she had grown to love, she was Scully.

That perceived responsibility to endure had been something that she had manufactured.  It had been a defense mechanism, created to give herself the ability to withstand the fear and uncertainty engendered by the things that they had seen.  With the foundation of her belief system under threat -- the bedrock stability of science that had once seemed invulnerable becoming suddenly a fragile thing -- she would have crumbled completely without something solid to put her back up against.

Mulder had needed her, with his injured eyes, his nightmares, his palpable aura of tragedy.  She could be strong for him, she had told herself; she could put aside her own uncertainties and be stoic, unbending, stalwart.  She would be these things because he could not.  That he occasionally seemed to ask more from her, prying beneath her studied resolve and eliciting emotional responses that she was unprepared to experience, she had carefully ignored those moments of vulnerability.  He had to understand, she had reasoned, that it was too much to ask of her, that she could only afford to let herself become so exposed, so defenseless.  He had to understand that she could not be everything for him and still hope to have anything left for herself.

Only, of course, he hadn't understood.  He had been like a neglected child, starved of affection and desperate for it in a way more earnestly than he desired oxygen or food.  He was also terrified of love, having had no secure experience of it, and he often demanded emotions from her that he was too frightened to give back in return.  At times, he cringed away from her hesitant attempts to reach out to him, to share affection, like a frightened dog.  He recoiled and she, having exhausted her courage in making that small effort, did not pursue it.  They remained isolated, as ever.

It did not escape Scully's now sluggish mind that they had finally overcome these obstacles only at the bitter end.  The irony of it was heart-rending.  But she refused to cry for what might have been.  She meant what she had said to Mulder; she felt fortunate to have been loved by him, to have been able to express her love for him in return, even if the experience of it had been all too brief.

Mulder interrupted her reverie, his voice stuttering, speech slurred.  He was desperately grasping onto the last fragile threads of consciousness.  "Don't be afraid, Scully," he whispered.

She reached her hand down to where his arm lay against his side, insinuating her bare fingers under the end of his coat sleeve and finding his wrist, still warm beneath the material.  She wrapped her fingers around his wrist, could feel his pulse, slower now, when she pressed lightly.

"I'm not afraid, Mulder," she responded.  And she wasn't.

Yet her life refused to flash before her eyes.  There was no final glimpse of her father or mother, Bill, Melissa, or Charlie.  She did not see her old college dorm room or the beach house where her family had vacationed when she was a child.  As much as she may have desired to see those things again, for the last time, they remained elusive.  She was calm, unafraid, as she had said.  Death was not the enemy.  It never had been.  She had waited for it once before, just as calmly, when the cancer had ravaged her body, and her only regrets then had been because of Mulder.  Now, she regretted nothing.  He was beside her.  They were together.  She would not die alone.  She did not wonder, did not doubt for even the most fleeting of instances, that whatever awaited them on the other side, they would discover it together, as always.

Mulder's breathing was very shallow now, his pulse faint where she gripped his wrist.  She tried to keep her eyes open, for just a few minutes longer.  Through the gap at the end of the tarp, she could see the first faint light of dawn sifting its way through the continually falling snow.  She could feel the sunlight on her face and the ocean wind as it tousseled her hair, her bare feet sinking into wet sand.  Mulder came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.  He kissed the top of her head.  "It's going to be a beautiful day, Scully," he said, and the waves lapped at her toes, she smelled the salt of the sea, felt the warmth of his embrace.  Dana Scully stared into the rising sun and the growing light was all that she could see.

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End Chapter 27 (Part 28/29)

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Epilogue

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Spring had finally arrived, washing over the city with warm tendrils of yellow light, melting the snow, and leaving tiny green buds on the tips of the cherry trees.  Tufts of new grass peppered the lawn of the Mall and daffodils had begun to open, almost reluctantly, tiny blazing suns.  The Mall was thronged with people, seized by the grip of spring fever and desperate for sunlight.  No one seemed to mind that there was still a slight chill in the air, a bite to the wind that would not completely disappear for several weeks.  Children screeched past, trailed by indulgent parents.  It seemed that everywhere there were dogs and baby strollers and Frisbees being tossed.  Young couples turned their pale faces up toward the sunlight and basked.  People laughed.  It was the kind of laughter that you only heard during the first days of spring that come after a long, hard winter -- ebullient and emancipated.

She, too, turned her face up toward the sun.  She closed her eyes, relishing the warmth of those rays as they seeped into her skin and bones.  She had feared, just a short time ago, that she might never be warm again.

The tenacity of life still held the capacity to astound her.  That such a beautiful, vibrant day could occur so shortly after such bitter cold.  It seemed a miracle.  She had thought herself unflappable, incapable of astonishment after the incredible things that she had seen and experienced, and yet here she was, flabbergasted by the simple beauty of a spring day.

Of course, the fact that she could not quite believe that she was alive to experience this moment added something to her astonishment.

Dana Scully had been ready to die.  For the second time in her life, she had assessed her circumstances, accepted the inevitable, and said her goodbyes.  She had stood calm and assured in the path of death and had been ready to discover exactly what it was that awaited her on the other side.  

God, it seemed, had not been ready to welcome her home just yet.

She did not understand what this latest reprieve meant, in the larger scheme of things.  Just months before, she had possessed a sickening certainty about the grim path her life was headed down.  She had felt victimized, trapped in a cycle of loss and pain that could end only in heartache, both for herself and for Mulder.  The enormity of that reality had been so oppressive that, uncharacteristically, she had been completely unable to muster the strength required to fight back.  She had accepted it like a woman condemned.  It was far too late, she had thought, to try and extricate herself from the fate to which she had already succumbed.  She had no friends left, other than Mulder.  She was largely estranged from her family.  Her career was, effectively, over.  The one person with whom she still felt a genuine connection she often hated with an equal and frightening ferocity, because she knew that he could not save her; he could not even save himself.

Then there had been Buffalo, and Mulder, as he so often did, shattered her world with the most unintentional of actions.  He had turned to her in his moment of despair, as a starving man reaches desperately, unconsciously, for food, and he had grasped onto the one aspect of their connection as yet untainted by the corruption in their lives.  Physical intimacy was the potentiality between them that she had ignored for so long that she thought it expired and forgotten.  In the end, as it turned out, it was the only uncorrupted thing that remained after everything else had been eroded away.

The experience of that much raw emotion... food, for days afterwards, had tasted too strong.  She had been nauseated by a sip of coffee.  Lights and colors were too bright.  Odors overpowered her.  Mulder had jarred awake the things in her that had slumbered for too long, and she eventually realized, despairingly, that she could not go back after what they had done.  What was worse, she could not be certain that she even wanted to go back.

But how, she had desperately wondered, could they possibly move forward after everything that had happened?  In the end, she had not needed to save herself, nor had she needed Mulder to rescue her.  In the end, they had saved each other.

Then they had been trapped in the woods, miles from civilization, hypothermic and injured, and Scully had realized that it was all right.  The end had finally come, and it was not the slowly withering downward spiral that she had once foreseen.  It was okay, because she understood finally what it was that for six years had tied her inextricably to Mulder.  It had not been desperation or obligation, though she had certainly felt the pull of those bindings at times.  It had not even been simple trust or shared purpose, though those things, too, had played their parts in her shared life with Mulder.  In the end, trite as it sounded, uncharacteristically, sappy, Hallmark-card, sentimental as it may be, the emotion that connected her most strongly to Mulder, at this point in their lives together, was love.   

Scully was not sure how to react to “being in love” again; she wasn’t even sure if she had ever truly been “in love” in her life before now.  Again, quite uncharacteristically, she was willing now to let life lead her wherever it was wont to go.  She trusted Mulder; she trusted the two of them together.  She trusted that together they would discover this path and that it would not be frightening; it would be brilliant.

With a softly jarring *thud*, something knocked against one of the crutches that was supporting her weight as she stood staring out across the lawn.  She looked down, finding a soccer ball resting innocently near her plaster swaddled foot.  With a gentle smile, and the assistance of her crutch, she propelled it back toward the group of children playing in a field nearby. 

Her casted foot and ankle had kept her in the hospital for the better part of three weeks.  She’d had to undergo reconstructive surgery to repair some of the damage to her neck and cheek.  The scars, the doctors assured her, would fade with time.  Now, with her other injuries healing rapidly, she had been released.  Upon hearing this news, Mulder had looked at her with mournful eyes.  Then, mercurial as ever, his mood had shifted, he’d brandished a Sharpie marker, and he’d insisted on being the first one to sign her cast; this, despite her insistence that she didn’t intend anyone to sign her cast.  Of course, eventually, she had acquiesced.  Now, strident black against the perfect white, Mulder’s cryptic message read: “Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?”  Always intrigued by the inner working of Mulder’s mind, Scully had sat down at her computer almost immediately after arriving home.  

The line was from a poem by the English poet, Macaulay, and it was about the ancient Roman hero Horatius, who, with only the help of two men, had defended the gates of his city against the inevitable onslaught of the Etruscans. The poem itself was plain, almost factual.  There were, however, moments of beauty.  She read, “plainly and more plainly now through the gloom appears, Far to left and far to right, in broken gleams of dark-blue light," followed shortly by, "Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate: ‘To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late; And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods…. Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may! I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play. In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three: Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?’ Who will stand, on either hand, and keep the bridge with me?’”

Of course, Mulder knew the answer to his question.  He was no Horatius (who, incidentally, Scully discovered, had only one eye), and she was hardly the ideal representation of the two Roman warriors who took their places at Horatius’ side.  But together they would remain, steadfast, stalwart in the face of the trials they knew were coming.

But not yet, she reminded herself.  It was spring, they were both alive, and the sun was stunning against the blue of the sky.  Not just yet.

Fragments regarding the details of their rescue had fallen into place only gradually.  She tried to imagine Moore and Skinner, hovering above the vast Canadian wilderness in a rescue helicopter, their eyes scanning the trees below.  She tried to imagine the phalanx of search teams, dogs bounding ahead of them into the brush, wading through drifts of waist-deep snow.  That is how they were finally located, she now knows.  The cabin was spotted first from the air, the snow storm having impossibly occluded the trail which Adam had initially brought them in on.  Then, improbably, seemingly miraculously, the dogs had picked up their scent, had tracked them through a morass of trees so dense that Moore and Skinner, high above, had lost the searchers beneath thick green boughs of pine.  Their temporary shelter, buried by snow, had eluded the watchful eyes of the search team until they had been almost on top of it.  Tucked away inside, unconscious, barely clinging to life, she and Mulder had been discovered.

They had wandered perilously far from the trail they had intended to follow and had been nearly twenty miles from the nearest road still open to travel in winter.  Even if they had been able to continue walking, inadequately prepared and injured as they were, they would never have made it out alive.

Scully, of course, had been completely unaware of these events until weeks later when, with a faint, bemused smile shadowing his traditionally gruff visage, Skinner had arrived in her hospital room bearing flowers and an explanation.  He had not spoken at length, had seemed, in fact, to be there purely to reassure himself of her continuing improvement.  Affection, usually superseded by professionalism, had been in his eyes, and in his touch, too, when he reached out and briefly grasped her hand.  He, like Scully herself, seemed amazed by the sheer fact of her continuing existence. 

She had woken up, several days prior, to find her mother seated in a chair beside the bed, with her head pillowed atop the blankets near Scully’s arm, soundly asleep.  Scully had not attempted to wake her.

Unwilling to defy tradition, the next day she had hoisted herself from the bed, settled herself into a wheelchair, and defiantly steered herself into Mulder’s room.  She would be there when he woke, she told her mother and the nurses when they protested.  A week later, infection having ultimately yielded to the influence of intravenous antibiotics, when Mulder’s eyes finally opened, the glance that passed between them felt something like grace.

She returned to her room shortly after, to the attentions of her family and the ministrations of the nursing staff.  Her mother had spoken very little during her entire hospital stay, preferring, instead, to simply hold Scully’s hand and to read to her from books that she hadn’t experienced since childhood.  It was soothing, in its non-confrontational way, and a simple beginning to the reestablishment of a bond that she had allowed to wither for far too long.  

Mulder, when he was able to get out of bed, did not visit her while her family was there. 

It was only after visiting hours had long since ended, often after she had begun to drift hazily beneath a cloud of pain killers and sedatives, that Mulder would sneak, covertly, into the confines of her room.  Occasionally, she would wake from a state of near slumber to find him serenely watching, stationed next to the bed.  After a time, she began to wait for him at night, at least until the nursing staff and his Doctor became suspicious and put an end to his night time wandering.  She had missed him at that point, missed his silent presence at her side.  They had spoken very little during those quiet evening hours.  Like Skinner and her mother, both she and Mulder seemed simply to need to know that the other was still present in this world, alive and whole and safe.

Skinner had returned to Washington the day after his visit, entreating her to extend well wishes to Mulder on his behalf.  He had, she had found out, been absent from his post in D.C. for far too long, and she was not sure what repercussions had awaited him upon his return.  Agent Moore had shown up only two days after Skinner’s departure, bearing with him detailed news about the rescued children and their continuing recovery.  Although Stephen Gaines had been far too ill to survive, both Eric Leeds and Drew Hausner were now safely reunited with their families.  Both boys, Moore had reported, were doing well.  Scully remembered the stricken Roberta Hausner, her desperate eyes and dwindling hope, and it gave her the sense of closure and peace that she desperately needed.  

The secrets that the other families had potentially harbored, the infidelity that Adam had, assumedly, been targeting, remained a mystery.  If they had so desired, questioning the families again would probably have revealed these truths.  Mulder and Scully, however, had agreed that enough ugliness had already been uncovered by this investigation.  In the end, it did not matter.  Two children had been saved; who knows how many others had been spared.  It was enough.

Agent Williams, she was informed, had retired from the F.B.I and had received a special commendation for valor in the line of duty.  He was recuperating at home with his fiancé.  Their wedding was scheduled for the end of June.

Standing alone on the soft spring earth, Scully felt his presence long before she could hear him, long before his shadow encroached upon her own and announced his proximity behind her.  

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” Mulder quipped, gently.

Scully smiled, her back still turned to Mulder, and replied, “It does seem to be developing into a pattern.”

He was directly behind her now, looking over her head and out across the lawn, undoubtedly drinking in the melee of life that paraded itself before them.  He reached up and touched her shoulder, ran his hands lightly down the outside of her arm until his fingers found hers where they rested atop the cushioned wooden grip of a crutch.  He folded his hand over her own.

“How long have you been out of the hospital?” She asked, sinking back slightly into his loose embrace.

“Not long,” he whispered, words delivered into the hair at the crown of her head.

She would have asked how he knew that she would be here, but she knew the answer already.

Neither of them knew what was going to happen next.  Technically, they were still outcasts, relegated to the Siberia of counter-terrorism background checks.  The X-Files remained in enemy hands.  She thought of Agent Moore, twisting his wedding ring unconsciously around his weathered finger.  It fit into its own grove, that ring, and although she knew he had long since separated from his wife, he refused to remove the symbol of their union.  She thought of the lonely, incongruously garish, orange flare of his lighter in the dim gray expanse of his office and of a cold night sitting in a car outside of an abandoned church in the middle of the woods.

Scully did not want to waste another day regretting the past or the futures that could never be.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” she remarked, tilting her head to the side, where she could feel his breath washing across her cheek.

Mulder paused, tangling his long fingers with hers where they rested on the crutch.  She could feel the exhalation of his breath against her skin when he replied.

“It’s extraordinary.” 

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End Epilogue (part 29/29)
End Part III
(The reference to Horatius is a homage (within a homage) – specifically to an episode of Doctor Who.  It fit that episode perfectly, and I think it suits this fic equally well.)
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(the story behind the story...)

At some point in the last several years, I had made the decision to leave this story unfinished.  I had left fandom behind.  “Real Life” had usurped my creative energy, directing it toward career and personal obligations.

Strangely, and perhaps appropriately, other fandoms ultimately drew me back into the realm of on-line writing.  Farscape and Doctor Who both conspired to lure back into the realm of on-line fannishness.  At the same time, this story haunted my hard drive, making the leap from old desktop to newly purchased laptop.  Despite my intention to abandon it, I still could not delete it.  Something about it demanded completion.  I still can’t quite explain why.   

I began "Complicity" in 1998.  I was 19 years old at the time.  Needless to say, my writing, both from a stylistic and technical perspective, changed greatly during the years that have elapsed since then.  However, I have not greatly altered the portions of this story that were written during those early years.  A comma or two has been added here, a phrase deleted occasionally, but this story is as much a testament to my growth as a writer as it is a paean to the community of XF fanfiction.  I have decided, after some deliberation, to leave whatever grave errors may exist in early chapters of this story unmolested.

This story began from a very simple concept -- the idea that sex can be a destructive force perhaps more easily than a constructive one, that the transition to a physical relationship (especially considering the circumstances CC and Co. had already set in motion) could easily destroy the relationship between Mulder and Scully.  Of course, all of those musings took place before the birth of baby William, long before that kiss in the series finale.  If you have any trouble remembering what it was like before Mulder and Scully were a happy couple on the show (and I’m still not clear on when, exactly, that transformation took place), go back and rewatch your DVDs from seasons 4 through 6.  Ignoring the wonderful Redux II and the pleasantly diverting Detour, there is a lot of emotional badness for our darling duo in those seasons.  After the whole “Two Fathers One Son” fiasco, I was convinced that this story was one that I wanted to tell.   However, this thing was never supposed to reach 900K. Never.  Yet here we are.

In the process of creating this opus, I became indebted to several wonderful people.  I am not sure how many of them are still involved in the on-line community in any form, but I have left my “thanks” portion of these endnotes as unmolested as the early chapters of the story.  These are the people who still deserve my gratitude:

Robin -- without whom this story would simply not exist. She read the first abandoned chapter, made some wonderful suggestions, and begged me to keep going. I had given up on the whole thing before she came along. Her suggestions and editing pushed me through the whole of part I, giving me the momentum to keep writing, and writing, and writing.

Jess -- who not only has great taste in books, but who is also a kind and interesting individual. She supplied me with much needed encouragement throughout.

cofax -- a fellow writer and reader who continued to ask for more even when I wasn't sure I wanted to finish the darn thing.

The Duckies -- besides running a great archive, these girls excelled at nagging.  Although the archive is long gone, my gratitude remains.

My best friend -- because even though she doesn't understand my X-Files obsession, she still read my stories. A true friend is the one who supports you even when they think you're crazy.

One last note concerning the quotes at the beginning of each part:

Part I -- a brief excerpt from the Tool song "H," which Maynard actually wrote as a lullaby for his son. The song is about addiction, rebirth, and sacrifice.

Part II -- a passage from A.S. Byatt's "Possession."

Part III -- two fragments from Anna Akhmatova's beautiful poem "Cinque."

The feedback plea: I'd be beyond thrilled to hear from everyone!  Getting to hear from other fans is part of what makes this process rewarding.

Sincerely,
promise64
promised64@yahoo.com
http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/index.htm
 

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