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PARABIOSIS
by Penumbra (penumbra23@hotmail.com)
S/MSR/315K
Timeline: Sixth Extinction through Requiem
Summary: Science and Mysticism conjoin
Tagline: Exceptions Prove The Rule
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"You want to hear my mummy theory?" he asks in the bath.

"Hit me." The wet kelp of her hair sticks to his chin as she reclines
against him. Earlier, she yelped and gasped, and knocked a candle,
hissing, into the water. He smells hot freesia wax, wet woman's hair,
female smells in his dingy bathroom.

"Our mummy has gone to Albuquerque."

"Mulder..." she growls and sighs. His arms around her slippery body
ride out the upheaval. She speaks with exasperated precision. "A
cadaver stuffed with natron reanimates and locomotes its way to New
Mexico. How's it going to get there, Mulder, thumb down a dromedary?"

The mirror he wedged over the faucets is fogged, but in a water
streak
he can partially see her face, her eyes heavy-lidded, color in her
cheeks. His dark head is above hers, his arms are crossed beneath her
chin. She turns her head and idly licks a drop of bath water from his
shoulder.

This isn't real, he thinks.

This cannot possibly be happening.
__________________

Brain Salad Surgery...Manta Rays...Mulder's Cosmos
...Altitudinal...The
Elusive Idaho Skunkape...Helter-Skelter...Endtime Prophecies...Into
Sammyville...Zero At The Bone...Gorman Fossick's Rolling Meth
Lab...The Thanksgiving Fiasco...One Equal Temper of Heroic
Hearts...Perigee-Syzygy
__________________

"It's me," she called as she let herself in.

"It's you," he answered from the bedroom. They had quarreled at their
last encounter - she was jet-lagged and he'd had brain surgery - but
they both forgot it now in the little moment of seeing each other
again.

She stopped in the bedroom doorway and summed him up as she slipped
off her shoes. He looked terrible, bandaged and tragic. She tried to
remember at what he point he had begun to make her feel everything so
acutely.

Lobotomies went out of fashion in the '30s, when electroshock therapy
became the rage. If anyone ever touched him again they were going to
learn the true meaning of pain.

"This is hard-core sloth, Scully - you may want to avert your eyes."
His bed was a rock slide of books and folders, with Mulder tangled in
the middle, sitting up in one of his gray T-shirts. He brightened at
the sight of her, or perhaps at the pizza box that she tossed on the
bed like appeasement proffered an active volcano.

"Rough day, Mulder?" Fox Mulder had quixotic theories, dark eyes, and
he was six feet of long warm bones in the bed. She had been making a
fool of herself over him for years, staying in a ridiculous job
because Mulder was tall and mumbly and had once tried to make her
drink sardine juice.

She held out a plastic shopping bag. "Here. Happy late birthday." She
felt awkward about giving him a gift, even just a Yankees baseball
cap, so she sat down and opened her Anasazi book.

Mulder lifted his face with a misty expression. "...Sports
memorabilia, pizza and G-women...what more could a guy wish for in
life?" he asked her.

She felt her equilibrium yaw. She supposed it was a figurative
question. Somewhere between a beach of slaughtered mantas and the
moment in Georgetown when she found him too catatonic to meet her
eyes, he had fostered an ability to make her ultra-aware of herself
in
relation to him.

She was conscious that this was the highlight of her day - Mulder's
quiet apartment with its good antiques and its bad feng shui, the
tilt
of his Frankenstein head as he fished a piece of green pepper out of
the neck of his T-shirt. Scully ate a slice of pizza with a plate and
fork, and they watched the news. He did not mention the stars, and
she
did not expect him to.
__________________

Distressed, she ran south once, away from the ship. Over reflective
sand she ran barefoot, mindful of skates, of jellyfish. She was
pushed
through with fear. Sun-glare off the slopping water and the slash of
air in her lungs tore and scattered the things about him she usually
kept level, kept undeclared and salted away.

In a cove around the second point, she encountered a killing field of
butchered manta rays, the remains of a netful of devilfish that had
been dressed out for the market in Abidjan. Their little black faces
with the spiky ears reminded her of Batman's cowl. They were
filleted,
and scattered, stiffening. A skin of flies lay over all.

Scully walked among them. The presence of death calmed her down and
directed her thoughts. She had come to the source of the matter, and
she would untangle his riddled fate here in the cradle of life. She
brushed at tears with the same saline content as the water athunder
beside her. She remembered Mulder calling her dog 'Quahog'. He had
held her child in his arms. He pointed out an airplane window at
Venus. He tore a page from a book and walked away.
__________________

He read through the translations she'd made that day, enjoying the
way
her notebook was battered and foreign. It said 'Cahier' on the cover;
it was stained with sand and locust spit. There was an amateurish
sketch of a pelican at the bottom of one page and a grocery list in
the back cover. (Oranges, eggs, lantern mantles.)

She had walked into the hospital, the flash of her cerebral cortex
like aurora in the night of his mind. It was the most revelatory
moment of his life. She was more tender and profound than she ever
let
on, worn raw with feeling. He would never again doubt that she loved
him.

When he got home from the hospital he discovered that his bedroom
ceiling had Big Banged into some kind of astronomical smatter - it
was
stippled with glow-in-the-dark stars. There were even stars on the
walls, giving a dome effect, and a few had fallen to the floor where
they lay in inventive constellations, simmering in the dark. When he
arose in the night he felt that he was moving out into the universe,
that Scully had described a limitless domain into which he might
tread.

He stole a look at her as she pressed open her book and touched a
passage with her finger. Lately there was a little curl at the tips
of
her hair that was driving him quietly mad. After their time apart her
Hibernian features pierced him anew. And among her many glints of
sagacity, she could now read Ancient Navajo.
__________________

That first night in the hospital his mother entered late at night and
caught them in bed together.

Teena Mulder ignored her and touched her son, her eyes narrowing with
love the way Mulder's own sometimes did. Mulder lay oblivious,
bushwhacked by pain killers. His mother's presence was so unobtrusive
that Scully closed her eyes after awhile, too exhausted to maintain
embarrassment. Under the blanket she clasped his homey fingers.

Before his mother left, she laid her hand on Scully's head. They
looked at each other levelly. This small, fierce woman, thought Teena
Mulder. This miraculous woman who would save her son.

Scully lay dreamily after she left. She turned her head and let the
vital scrape of him sift beneath her lips. This, then, was pure
happiness, a tranquilized visionary, trepanned and inert. She drowsed
against him, the ocean that was between them folded up and put away.
__________________

It is inconceivable, what begins to dawn on her. It is too
whole-souled, too astonishing. It is like one of Mulder's
far-fetched,
preposterous theories, the kind that almost always come true.
__________________

"Medical science does not seal the earth, whose nether creatures seep
out, hair by hair, disguised like the smoke that dispels them."
- Maxine Hong Kingston
'The Woman Warrior'
__________________

The Bengal tigress pressed the limits of her cell in an endless
figure
eight, her huge paws soundless on the cement floor. She had the loose
underskin of an aging feline. She paused from time to time and looked
straight into Scully's eyes, looked through her with the madness of a
thwarted hunter. Scully considered the juxtaposition of her own soft,
defenseless body powered by a superior brain. She felt a clutch of
weariness as her blood sugar dropped.

Scully's informant leaned on the rail to her left, a small man in a
gray windbreaker, his crew cut darkening in the falling mist. As a
small woman Scully was leery of short men; they often singled her out
because of their insecurities about their size. Scully was aware of
her prejudice against their prejudice.

She knew that Mulder hadn't considered her size in years. Somehow she
had slipped under the yellow 'do not cross' tape and preempted his
fixation with coltish brunettes, in-through-the-out-door sort of
chicks. On some days, in certain filters of mood, she knew that
Mulder
was the love of her life. What concerned her most was the
unlikelihood
that she could herself be the love of someone's life. Dana Scully,
cloistered, infecund, cantankerous; you had to wonder.

Although there were times when the look in his eyes convinced her
momentarily otherwise.

The man beside her shook his head, watching the tiger. "Payette
County, Idaho," he said. "Two years ago, with the snow melt, a road
washed out in the Payette National Forest. The Forest Service has
sought to rebuild, since there are still a few thousand acres in the
back country that they've neglected to log. During this interval,
however, the river has leaned into its new course. Rebuilding the
road
would cause damage and erosion to the river bank, and that stretch of
the river harbors spawning beds for the endangered bull trout."

He turned and considered Scully, and his face was so plainly
unremarkable that her memory could not find a purchase on his
features. "Several ecology groups have gotten into the act," he said.
"Among them, radical environmentalists Earth First! They have
employed
their usual tactics - tree sitting and barricading the roads. There
have been the usual arrests and people chaining themselves to back
hoes. What may interest you is a death that occurred in the area. At
first glance it would appear to be a hate crime, but nothing, as we
know, Agent Scully, is ever as it appears."

She wondered why all informants had to talk like they were on some
gritty cop drama. He drew out a manila envelope and handed it to her;
Scully did not open it. It was warm from being under his jacket.

He pointed to the tiger. "Now this, this is closer to the truth," he
said cryptically. He drew out a dollar bill, held it taut, and rolled
it over the rail. "Your partner will take the wrong lead," he said.
He
handed her the bill. "You take the right one."

He was gone then, and Scully looked down at the money in her hand.
George Washington with his wooden teeth regarded her mildly.
Rubber-stamped beside his head was a speech balloon that said, 'I
grew
hemp'. The tiger huffed, flaring her whiskers.

Scully clipped out of the zoo, and paused to let George spring for a
latte. She flicked open her cell phone and hit the speed dial, her
eyes brightening as she searched for her car, as she spoke to the
love
of her life.
____________________

Mulder zipped their sleeping bags together on a night when the big
pale moon soaked an open mountainside and raked shadows through
spinneys of skeletal pine. The trail was white granite sand checked
with fool's gold. Something came over Scully in the final mile and
she
remembered the quivering nausea of chemotherapy. She had an intense
desire to lay down and never get up.

Mulder stopped on a switchback and canted her face to the moon,
examining her pupils. She pulled away, not really in the mood to be
doctored by someone who could barely keep 'starve a fever/feed a
cold'
straight. They argued fitfully while Scully swallowed and stared at
his hiking boots, unamused by the sense of cosmic irony at play. So,
Mulder got seasick and she got altitude-sick. Rough justice, perhaps.

Who had the energy to commit a crime at eight thousand feet? A
murder,
no less. Scully barely had the strength to pry off her boots as she
lay on a boulder watching upside down as Mulder put up his tent. She
was cold and sick, not about to eat whatever freeze dried delectables
he had seen fit to procure. There was clear water cupped in a
depression in the boulder, she dipped her finger and traced it over
her dry lips.

"Parmesan stroganoff with broccoli, mmm," said Mulder convincingly.

"I didn't realize haute cuisine was one of the perks of mountain
climbing with you." Scully was already in bed, watching him through
the open tent flaps.

"Ye of little faith," said Mulder reprovingly, boiling water in a
tiny
pan over a tiny stove.

"What's this deal with the sleeping bags, Mulder?" she asked,
lowering
her tone.

Mulder carefully poured hot water into a foil pouch. "Well, I for one
don't want to freeze," he drawled, not looking up. "But if you'd
rather have it the other way, that's fine with me." He held up a
plastic spork and examined it incuriously.

There was no way she was moving again. Her dizziness subsided as she
began to acclimatize, and she felt oddly content lying in the
subalpine wilderness listening to Mulder brush his teeth. She
realized
that they were the only two people within the frame of the horizon,
cut off, as ever, by their strange and unfathomable pursuits.

He filled the tent suddenly. "Taste," he said, holding out a crimp of
snow, his support hand wedging the sleeping bag against her thigh,
and
she looked up at him, sleepy and confused in the eerie white twilight.
__________________

"No. What?" she asks.

"It'll make you feel better."

"No...Mulder - jet fuel, acid rain, fallout - " Obviously she is not
at the top of her game, listing only three things. He shakes his head
overridingly.

"Taste."

Scully opens her mouth and he drops in the melty slip of snow. The
tip
of his finger accidentally brushes her tongue; she thinks she sees
something sharpen in his eyes before he turns away.

His finger was salty, unclean. It leaves a stroke of taste on the
edge
of her tongue.

She is still savoring it long after the snow is gone.
__________________

Mulder hummed a snatch of ZZ Top as he climbed in beside her. The
tent
was wall-to-wall bedding and Mulder's swear-by-it silver space
blanket. Even with all the clothes she was wearing she knew she would
be grateful for his heat. They kept their distance, like octopi in a
jar. Mulder folded his hands behind his head despite the chill; she
pulled the sleeping bag over her nose and they looked up through the
no-see-um netting at the moon. Two nights together in a bed in Kansas
had been awkward, but this was a different tension, borne of an
astounding promise she had made a few weeks before with the touch of
her thumbs.

Mulder remembered that promise and something else she had once said
associating sleeping bags with gettin' lucky. He hoped she wasn't
worried he was remembering any of that now.

Scully remembered and felt a flare of apprehension. She rationalized
that Mulder wouldn't have to go to such elaborate lengths just to get
her into bed. He knew that, didn't he? Mulder shifted, and the
sleeping bag slid against her body.

"A bipedal primate," she said, to break the silence.

Mulder recognized her opening gambit, stomping on their common
ground.
"A strain of wild hominid," he said, taking up the thread.
"Documented
throughout time and in most parts of the world. There's the Chinese
Yeren, which is quite small; the Florida Skunkape; the South African
Waterbobbejan; the Vietnamese Wild Man; the Sumatran Orang Pendek;
Bigfoot; the Australian Yowie; the Nepalese Yeti; and the Mongolian
Alma, which allegedly uses primitive tools."

"A 'Skunkape', Mulder?" Scully asked. She would never quite admit to
herself how much she enjoyed listening to Mulder explain the
inexplicable.

"They stink, Scully," said Mulder patiently.

"I think 'alleged' is the operative word here, Mulder..." She felt
herself relax fractionally, as they slipped into their habit of
quibble. Folklore and fables, myths and fish stories, Mulder believed
them all. And she, who was sent to confound his work, only found
herself gathered into the bafflement, tilting at unnatural worlds
with
her own innate curiosity.

In the night she snapped awake, surprised that she had fallen asleep
and that she was now much closer to Mulder than she'd started out.
Perhaps they were on an incline. The moon had drifted over several
hours worth of sky.

There was something outside. She heard it then, a deep blow of breath
that made the back of her neck tingle. They had come to investigate
the scene of an unexplained and brutal attack, and she felt
vulnerable
and blind inside the tent. There was the movement of weight shifting
over crushed stone, then the carnassial grind of tricuspids in
polymer.

Beside her, Mulder gave a sharp sniff of awareness. In her midnight
daze it seemed right to have him there, like another part of her
consciousness. They got up without saying anything and knelt together
on the space blanket. Scully felt along the wall of the tent for her
gun.

"My clip is out there in my pack," Mulder whispered sheepishly. He
seemed to be more awake than her, and she passed her weapon to him,
leaning past him to open the tent. His head was beside hers, and she
had only to turn her face to whisper in his ear. "With bears, your
best chance at piercing the skull is to go in through the sinus
cavity."

Mulder sat back on his knees, his grin faint in the moonlight. They
listened to the crumping of fangs. "What if it's something else?
Skunkapes can go to three hundred pounds." He rubbed his face
thoughtfully. "Scully, I'm not going to shoot some poor old bear," he
said seriously.

"You may not feel so magnanimous if he's gotten to your turkey
jerky,"
she said, feeling exhilarated to be up in the middle of the night,
about to go into battle. Mulder seemed to feel the same way. She saw
his head raised, and heard his soft chuckle. It must be the thin air
that was making her feel so giddy.

Mulder handed her back her weapon. "I defer to your marksmanship," he
whispered. "Safety's off."

She crawled in front of him, and rolled her shoulders once as he
unzipped the tent.

On the white slope of sand the black bear clawed at Mulder's
possessions, bulky as a panzer, the tintype moonlight rolling along
his autumn hide. Scully was outside, feeling the cold planet through
the knees of her sweats. The bear turned, pricking small round ears.
He waved his muzzle at them, observing them by scent. He ambled a
step
forward.

"FBI, freeze!" Scully yelled, preparing to discharge a round above
her
head, her shoulder tilted to plug her ear.

The bear turned and rambled off flat-footed, smacking his cloyed
tongue unhappily.

"I guess he didn't want no trouble with the law," Mulder said over
her
shoulder. "I didn't think there would be bears up here above the tree
line."

The bear had eaten everything but Scully's six-grain cereal,
confirming Mulder's suspicions of its palatability. "Even a bear
wouldn't eat that stuff, Scully," he would say the rest of his life.
__________________

"If there's one thing I know about women, it's that their feet are
always cold. Especially in the mountains in November," Mulder said.

Scully wondered what else Mulder knew about women. She decided not to
argue, turning away and getting her cheek comfortable on her folded
jeans, her feet casually coming to rest against him. He was solid and
warm, and she was reminded how long and heavy his body was in
comparison to hers.

"Ice," said Mulder, disapprovingly. "You know that I hate thinking
I've caused you to suffer."

"Don't be melodramatic," she said sleepily. "It's nothing like the
South Pole."

"Still, I'd hate to lose you to hypothermia this late in the game."
She heard him exhale. "I can't imagine going Skunkape hunting with
anyone but you."

Scully cast about unproductively for a flip reply. She closed her
eyes
and held the sense of the moment within her. It had long ceased to
seem strange that her affiliation with Mulder was the most
connective,
significant relationship of her life, despite a lack of physicality.

"You know, I thought you were about to Mirandize that bear," he said
quickly, to cover his confession. "How did you know where to shoot a
bear, Scully?"

"You know, if there's one thing I know about men, Mulder, it's that
they never know when to quiet down and go to sleep," she said easily.

"Ah, so you have experience in these matters," said Mulder. She
sensed
his interest in the topic.

"Maybe..." She stretched her back a little and yawned. "But you seem
to have some experience with women's feet."

"Maybe," said Mulder. "But you seem to have experience bedding down
with talkative men."

"Perhaps," said Scully, "but it's been awhile and I'm a little rusty
at the getting-them-to-shut-up part."

"Well," said Mulder lamely, "you can't win 'em all." They were two
soldiers, bonded through adversity, and they were well aware of each
other's tactics. She smiled to herself in the dark, and Mulder
guessed that she smiled, and they lay silent together before they
went their separate ways to sleep.

________________________________________________

Chapter 2

 

When he awoke in the grey light Scully was snugged tight against his
side, completely submerged, and his arm was crooked above her head to
trap her heat. It had been years since he'd awoken to the symbiosis of
a warm body aligned with his, and he blinked in adjustment. Mulder
loved to be touched, and he loved to be loved, and he denied himself
these things out of a sense that he must sacrifice himself to nobler
ends.

He was careful not to let out any heat as he slipped from the bed.
Outside he boiled water over the minute canister stove, and made
instant coffee from a foil packet dented by bear's teeth.

He carried his cup around the gully in the fog, gleaning dead wood. He
imagined that he was some kind of desperado and Scully was his feisty
little gun moll. They hid out in the high places and life was pure and
as simple as keeping the campfire small and not silhouetting oneself
on the ridge line.

He had to admit to himself that he would manage to complicate any life
he inhabited. Scully would be the first to point out that he was not a
peaceable being.

He built a campfire purely for the pleasure of watching her stand over
it, warming her hands in the smoke. She gripped a cup of coffee and
wore the shell-shocked stare of the newly-awoken. She had a pillow
crease in her cheek and long underwear on under her jeans. She was
damp, diaphanous, bed-haired early-morning gorgeous, and Mulder felt a
kind of religious awe that his life contained this moment.
__________________

The Branch Davidians and Rajneesh Puram, Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, the
Manson Family in California, the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge - people
would always hole themselves off from society and there was little
that could usually be done about it, if anything should be done.
Mulder knew that as well as anyone and still he let it get away from
him, going zero-base in Sammyville, in a room bullet-proofed with
phone books.

On the bed in her motel room Scully flipped the evidence bag up at the
light, squinting at the brownish wad. She saw the tilt of the world,
an abrupt candescence in which she and Mulder lay in separate rooms
listening to separate TVs, divided by his bad behavior and her
obligatory vexation.

She almost left him once, like giving him up for Lent, but there were
so many things that bound them she knew the rest of the world would
lay crossed with traps, little pitfalls of reminder. The terrible
absence of him would tear at her. No one had ever been as quick to
trust her, to accept her, as he had. Scully had a withdrawn, defensive
manner that most people couldn't work with, but Mulder played off of
it with his own blase mien - walking them staid and tongue-in-cheek
through their days.

Mulder's tapered eyes lustred with fresh-brewed mirth. He had a way of
looking into her eyes as if it was the only way he could gauge the
meter of his own interest. His brain was a frightening wilderness of
information. He was genuinely interested in what she had to say, a
powerful thing for her. She read up on things he might ask her about.

He was perennially tragic with his lost baby sister, his father
issues, his failed love affairs. He sloped through the bullpen with
his treacle head ducked, and she wanted to leave him, to distance
herself from the enormity of what he could make her feel. That summer,
she had thought that love could be closely tied to pity.
__________________

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

Thirty-eight days until the end of the world, not that he was
counting. And not that he thought the world was going to end. He
thought the world was always ending, a constant trample of doom. That
earthquake in Troy, 1275 AD. Bosnia. The comet that hit the Yucatan 65
million years ago and took out the dinosaurs. Anne and Margot Frank in
Bergen-Belsen. AIDS and Ebola exploding from the slashed-and-burned
tropical biosphere. Viking sails in the sunset. Red handprints on a
suttee gate. Typhoid Mary. Tiananmen Square. Eclipses, asteroids,
Hale-Bopp, Pol Pot, Y2K, supergerms, filoviruses, Hiroshima, Shiloh,
Zyklon B. The future's uncertain and the end is always near.

In 1456 Pope Calixtus III prayed for deliverance from "the devil, the
Turk, and the comet." Not exactly PC, but he was certainly covering
the bases.

Scully did not concern herself with Y2K. She stood firm in the face of
doomsaying media, fallout shelters, and a three year supply of pork
'n' beans. She had no plans for New Year's Eve. Mulder was not worried
about Y2K, but he was not immune to the uneasiness that hung over the
world. He re-examined Kurtzweil's warnings. He felt the dead air jolt
of living in a world that wasn't safe for sisters, for fathers, a
place that could be colonized, razed, exploded, exploited, or clotted
in nuclear winter, the ozone in tatters, the ice caps rinsing away.

Everything was significant to him these days, in the context of its
effect upon her. He would not have her insulted. Not Scully, who
quietly moved with measure through her troubled life, with her
grown-up yearnings and her sober gaze. He would not have her touched,
he would not have her harmed.
__________________

"Here are our options," said Mulder.

Scully opened the victim's mouth. She photographed the slashes in his
neck and down his arms. She scraped under his fingernails and vacuumed
his shredded clothing with her little forensic dustbuster. His family
would not authorize a post-mortem, but the cause of death was clearly
blood loss due to the graphic mauling he'd received. Poor skinny
senior, thought Scully. Cannon fodder, thought Mulder. The most
dispensable segment of society.

"We interview the friends of Mr. Keep, who last saw him a mile below
the pass when they split up as part of some elk-hunting strategy. We
interview the two hunters who found him lying on the pass the next
afternoon. Or, we interview the retrieval team who carried him out."

Scully measured the slashes with a tape measure and recorded her
findings. "Who were the two who found him?"

Mulder shuffled his papers. "Pershins, father and son. They both have
criminal records. Odd, they haven't been interviewed yet. Says they
reported the body's location at the local post office and returned to
their place of residence without being called in for a statement."

"What were they convicted for?"

"Mmm...says - Erwin Pershin, the father - conspiracy to murder, thirty
years ago. Minimum sentence. The son, O.C., juvenile record,
marijuana, rape. Out on parole."

"Possession? Distribution?" she asked.

Mulder rattled his papers. "Growing."

'I grew hemp', thought Scully, snapping off the latex.
__________________

There is a girl who has spent two years tree-sitting in a redwood in
California. The logging company has tried to starve her out. She was
terrified during the El Nino storms. There is a quality about her that
reminds him of himself, a stubborn sense of right. He will not feel
quite level until she comes down.

He keeps his hand pressed in the middle of Scully's back as they climb
stairs amid the roars of savage dogs. She is the one he can protect.
__________________

The Pershins lived in an apolitical hamlet on private land, a sort of
refuge for those seeking to remove themselves from society and the
amenities thereof. When Scully pressed the issue Mulder felt inclined
to go with her intuition, and they convinced the local sheriff, Ian
Baxter, to escort them. They rode in the back of the cruiser the
thirty miles up the long valley and into the woods, while the sheriff
and his deputy regaled them with the full litany of local legend.

Nobody knew old Sammy's full name, or how he could afford his property
taxes. Sammyville had unfurled in the '60s in a flourish of corrugated
tin and squatterdom, two-by-fours, camp trailers, and backwoods
idealism. Rumors ran the gamut of poaching, child abuse, escaped
criminals, rape, hard drugs and murder. With cud-chewing
straightforwardness the sheriff related a death ritual possibly
enacted on large slain ungulates. Necrophiliac bestiality, was there
even a term for that? Mulder made a face at Scully, who observed him
cooly.

The snow was deep, and they ground among pines along a road that would
be gravel in summer. It was beautiful now, but Mulder looked at the
foot of new snow and was grateful that he and Scully had made it
safely out of the mountains before it really started to come down.
They had reached the trail head that morning in a thick cloud of
snowflakes that settled in Scully's hair and turned her seraphic.

The vehicle crawled and churned and his shoulder swayed companionably
against hers. He read O.C. Pershin's file and wondered just what they
were getting themselves into.

He saw wood smoke rising among the trees. The wire gate was open, hung
with 'no trespassing' signs. There was a clearing, the snow churned by
snow mobile tracks. Looking around, Mulder began to see the cabins.
They were all around them, scrappy, unlimned buildings surrounded by
chicken wire pens and the carapaces of cars. Dogs started up all over
the place in a great round of baying. It occurred to Mulder that this
was what the end of the world would look like.

Sheriff Baxter left his deputy with the vehicle and led Mulder and
Scully down an incline among the ponderosas. He was a tall and
narrowly muscled, taunt and tight and humorless with his aviator
glasses and impassive face.

They crossed a back yard filled with dogs chained to washing machines
and snowmobiles, leaping and choking and hurling spumes of snow. The
deep snow was laced with piss around the back porch; it was unclear
whether the Pershins had indoor plumbing or if they were just lazy
about using it.

The Pershins, father and son, met them on the back porch.

They had been the first to the crime scene, and judging by their
tracks had spent some time examining the area. Mulder wanted to ask
them about the positioning of the victim, since the retrieval team had
not taken photographs. When he and Scully went over the site they had
found little more than dried blood.

The Pershins had eyes only for Scully. Erwin Pershin was an
ectomorphic old yard bird, and he stiffened up at the sight of the
sheriff. His eyes had an inward glaze, contrasting with his
teeth-clamped smile. He held a pair of iron slip-joint pliers in his
long fingers. Mulder was reminded that only predators have eyes on the
front of their faces.

His son was bigger than him, with a squirrelly smile and a sparse red
beard. He wore a brown rancher's coverall, the front of which he
absently rubbed when Scully felt inside the breast pocket of her
jacket for her notepad.

Mulder felt the cold edge of control as he introduced himself and
explained their mission.

In through the kitchen where there was thawing meat bleeding out on
the counter, a gold pan of dog food, the smell of garbage and pack
rats. A chainsaw lay in pieces on the gritty kitchen table along with
an open bag of marshmallows. Two dogs whimpered angrily beneath. The
sherriff left the back door open, the narrow room hollow with the
underwater sound of dogs.

Mulder and Scully followed the Pershins, ducking under a wire-laced
electric blanket nailed over a doorway. In the front room larch
sizzled behind the cracked smoked glass in the stove door. Regardless,
the house was bone cold.

Mulder looked around as the snow glare faded from his retinas. Floor
to ceiling, the walls were stacked with telephone books, leaving only
the window and the front door clear. The broad window sill of phone
books was washed in a jetsam of spiders and cigarette butts and
crumpled cans. The corners of the room were a dreck of clothing, skin
magazines, wood shavings and gnawed bones. Three rifles angled across
a rack of mule deer antlers. The room was redolent of snoose juice
fermenting in beer cans, the dry sourness of mice.

The older Mr. Pershin stopped and faced them with his legs braced,
tearing his flat eyes away from Scully long enough to light up a
cigarette. Mulder looked back at her and saw her sophisticated face
juxtaposed against a picture of a naked woman sprawling obscenely.
Judging by their fixed gazes, the Pershins also observed the
contrariety. Mulder suppressed a squeeze of anger, and moved further
into the room, hoping Scully would follow.

He moved to block the grinning O.C. Pershin's view of Scully. Mulder
felt bigger than usual, wide-shouldered, bullet-whittled. He was the
tallest person in the room and he wanted these two to feel it.

O.C. had captured a college girl on a gravel road. She had been
running and had sprained her ankle, had asked for a ride. He raped her
six times before throwing her out of a moving vehicle, and she still
managed to get his plate number. And who was the tough one that day,
boy?

He heard Scully's step on the wooden floor, and checked the sheriff's
position. Baxter stood tall and expressionless in front of the yellow
blanket, hands on his gristly hips, creaking with leather as he rocked
in his boots. The radio on his belt crackled with the ensuring promise
of dispatch prattle.

Mulder questioned the father quickly, and established that the body
had been found face down and fully clothed. Erwin Pershin belched
reflectively as he recalled the scene. Mulder decided not to move any
closer to him. "You're both hunters - trackers," he said. "You must
have tried to 'read' the scene. In your opinion, what killed him?"

The Pershins shrugged and shuffled and suggested cougars, bears. It
became evident that they wouldn't add much to the investigation. He
felt for the solidarity of Scully behind him, her back to the wood
stove. "We didn't hang around to find out what," grimaced Erwin. "O.C.
picked up something, though."

O.C. produced a wad of cloth from his pocket. Mulder felt Scully move
up on his left, shaking out a zip lock bag. O.C. looked at her and
smiled coldly, his teeth flecked with chewing tobacco.

Scully held out her hand, looking at him straightforwardly. He held
out the evidence and Scully cupped her hand beneath his. He jerked it
away suddenly, grinning at her annoyance. Then O.C.'s head whiplashed
back as Mulder's fist came over her shoulder and cudgelled into his
jaw. O.C. made a huge clatter as he hit the particle board floor. It
was the best sound Mulder had heard all day.

"Jesus, Mulder!" Scully hissed as the sheriff knocked her aside to
cover Erwin Pershin, who was edging for the gun rack. Mulder pressed
his boot into O.C.'s throat and removed the evidence from his dirty
fingers, reaching up to drop it into the bag Scully held out. They
didn't meet each other's eyes. The sheriff chewed his gum rapidly as
both Pershins yelled obscenities involving Mulder's parentage and
Scully's more obvious physical qualities. The dogs cringed in under
the blanket, one losing its nerve and peeing intermittently on the
floor.

Mulder jerked at the bolts on the front door. It opened outwards, and
he had a hard time wedging it into the unshoveled snow. Scully came
past him with her face hard and angry.

They left the dim and rancid shack and walked through Sammyville in
close formation. Mulder remembered running towards Krycek in the back
of a truck with a honed shiv in his hand. Adrenalin twanged in his
nerves. He got behind Scully and watched their back. There were
people, dark bundled figures up among the trees.

The cruiser seemed tilted unnaturally, bellied down in the snow, and
the deputy was sunken in the front seat with his pistol drawn. "They
crawled to do it," he said pitifully. The tires had been slashed.

Mulder and Scully stared at each other for a moment before Mulder
broke into a lope and shook the handle of a locked pickup truck parked
at the edge of the clearing. He clambered up the side of a Southwind
RV and looked inside. "The keys are in this one," he called over his
shoulder. It seemed promising that the back wheels were chained up.
Someone shouted, out of sight among the trees. He jimmied his way
inside and fired it up. The motor home shook and juddered and coughed.
Mulder gave it lots of gas. The frozen steering wheel burned his
hands.

Scully trooped up the steps, pallid against the backdrop of drifting
blue exhaust. Mulder rubbed at the dust on the instrument panel. He
thought he heard the pop of gunfire. The sheriff escorted his deputy
inside, and Mulder stomped in the clutch and put it in low gear. The
side mirror was broken off.

They slid through the gate in a fishtail, metal pans spilling off the
stove in the kitchenette. Mulder was slipping all over on the vinyl
seat. The camper was rife with the smell of methamphetamine; he
recognized it the way he had been taught to recognize the smell of
schizophrenia. The chemical smell of meth was so strong that its
manufacturers often used RVs, parking somewhere out of the way while
they cooked the substance down.

"How's she handle?" asked the deputy, suddenly coming back to himself.
He sat in the passenger seat, still holding his weapon. Scully was
somewhere in the back, probably watching to see if they were tailed.

"She handles like a hovercraft," said Mulder. He felt a flash of
resentment towards Scully, and wondered why. She had done nothing
wrong. He was the one who had lost it, lost his temper, lost the
situation and put her in danger. The light lay long through the pines,
and he kept his eyes grimly on the road ahead. Lot's wife was never in
Sammyville.
__________________

It was late when Scully breached his dark motel room and sat on the
edge of the bed. Mulder was naked under the blankets, but she couldn't
tell that, of course.

"Whatcha watching?" she asked.

"Something about military hardware." Usually when this happened
Mulder acted like a moody jerk until Scully confronted him and yelled
at him and got that yelling dimple in her cheek. Ultimately they'd
both feel better.

It didn't seem to be happening this time, though. Scully reached over
him for his right hand and examined it delicately. It was stiff,
swollen, gashed by O.C.'s eye tooth. Scully arose for the ice bucket.
Under her coat she was wearing her pajamas, as if she had fully
intended to go to bed without reconciling with him. He wondered what
had changed her mind.

When she came back she had a tube of Neosporin and the ice bucket
packed with snow from the parking lot. "You have a fever," she stated,
sitting on her folded leg and lowering her face gravely over his split
knuckles.

"No, I don't." He watched her treat his hand, forgetting everything
but her steady hands, her slow intelligent blink. His apology was the
next concatenation in their cycle of dysfunction. "Scully," he began,
"I know I'm a real piece of work - "

She cut him off with a sharp look into his eyes. The fever was hot in
the back of his throat. The TV flicked blue and her eyes were large
and umbrageous, unreadable. Her grasp slid up his wrist, she held his
forearm in two briefly possessive hands. "You're also too good to be
true," she said.
____________________

Mulder went home with her for Thanksgiving. "Are you out of your
mind?" Scully asked in the car.

"The potential is there," he said. She regretted her words in light of
the excision of his God Module. He looked nice in his onyx suit, his
hair pretty much grown out. He sat in the passenger seat, holding a
peasant loaf of rosemary bread in a bakery sack, on his best behavior.
She was filled with intense apprehension.

Her mother loved him, but he was a joke to her family - that crazy
partner of hers, her overgrown familiar hulking along behind her with
his trench coat flapping. The things that burned brightly in him were
hologramic; not visible from obtuse angles. The worst of it was, her
brother knew she liked bad, exciting men, men with leather couches and
guns and sticky caseless porn tapes, men who showed up drunk and
dragged her to morgues in the middle of the night. Men like Mulder.
Specifically Mulder. And he was definitely not what her mother had in
mind.

Baltimore awaited them with a 29-pound turkey. Mulder ducked his head
and made for the living room after the ominous handshake with Bill.
Scully could practically hear the antlers clashing. She felt a rush of
protectiveness for Mulder, watching him settle awkwardly into a
recliner and click his fingers fruitlessly at a passing cat. It was
irritating that he had brought this on himself. On both of them. She
had not wanted him to come.

Through some gross technical error, Mulder was seated beside the baby
at dinner. His proximity to the spotlight made Scully all the more
anxious. Matthew was the evening's main attraction, but she sensed
that Mulder ran a close second. Mulder made the most of the venue,
charming the women with his baby skills while Scully scowled in the
candle light. Her mother caught her eye and gave her a questioning
look.

Mulder was adorable with the baby. Scully couldn't have a baby, not in
a million years, not even if she actually had sex with someone. Mulder
talked to the kid about sports and showed him how to put olives on his
fingers. Even Bill seemed to be warming to Mulder. Scully's mom and
Tara fussed over him, even if he wasn't a man in uniform. Mulder
worked his Foxy charm, grinned at Scully and actually flirted with
her, right there in front of her family. Scully felt herself getting
hot with anger, or something. Hot.

______________________________________________

Chapter 3

Upstairs in the sewing room her mother turned to her and said, without
preamble, "Why are you acting like this?"

Scully was aware that no matter how convoluted she made the maze, her
mother would soon gain the center.

"I didn't want him to come, Mom, because he and I are just friends,
and I knew what you would think."

"I don't think anything!" Margaret snapped. She searched the angles of
fortitude in her daughter's lovely face, a Catholic stoicism she
believed was inherited rather than learned. Her third child staggered
her, and broke her heart. "He and I have been through a lot together,
you know," she reproved. "I'd hate to think he was made to feel
unwelcome in my house. I won't tolerate that from Bill - and I won't
from you. Why do you think he wanted to come, Dana? Why is being with
your family important to him?"

Scully closed her mouth. This was the question she'd been avoiding
since Mulder called her that morning, and asked her what he should
bring.

She had a delicate look, as though she hadn't been sleeping. Margaret
ran her hand down her daughter's arm and remembered when she'd first
started pulling up on the furniture - a tiny squealing child with
dandelion hair.

She tilted her head. "I think his instincts are good, Dana. And I
think many people go their lives without ever finding a friendship as
unconditional as his." She smiled affectionately, with her worried
look. Her wedding ring had become embedded in her finger over the
years, until it lived in its own groove like a part of her body.
Scully noticed this for the first time, looking at her mother's hand,
and she could not smile back.

"Mom told me I had better play nice," Scully said in the kitchen.

"That'll make for a pleasant change," said Mulder, dripping water
everywhere from a cup. He avoided Scully's eye. He and Tara were
loading the dishwasher. Scully saw that he had fallen easily in with
her bantering amity.

"Fox tells me you once ate a cockroach," Tara said brightly, with an
eye to mediation.

"A cricket. And I did not." Scully said firmly. "Don't believe a word
he says." She was aware of herself in Tara's eyes, her fastidious
spinsterish quality. She eyed Mulder, who was beginning to wind up a
dish towel without much hope of flicking it. Matthew charged in then
and hacked them all about the knees with a plastic sword. They stood,
slow dull surprised grown ups, and amid the pandemonium his eye caught
hers, and then he looked away.
__________________

With Mulder there she was self-conscious of the way she acted with her
family. Families have a way of immediately stripping one's dignity.
She knew he was watching her, and that he'd never seen Special Agent
Dana Scully (MD) going limp and petulant as a teenager when she
cuddled on the couch with her mom, or her face lighting up as she
received a toddler covered in pumpkin pie. They stood in the hall
putting on their coats and Bill threw his arms around her and squeezed
her back to all the comfortable memories of the years they had once
spent together, and she looked up and saw Mulder's frank curiosity,
his concentrated eyes with their inner light, there all out of context
in her mother's house.
__________________

In the hallway her brother grabs her around the waist and Scully
chortles, her face losing its watchfulness. Mulder forgets what he is
saying to Mrs. Scully and stares, captivated, one arm caught in the
sleeve of his coat. "Now, kids," says Mrs. Scully. Scully struggles
playfully, shrieks once, and tangles her leg around Bill's before she
notices Mulder watching. She sobers, resuming her supercilious pout.
Her little scream plays lascivious in his head; the hall seems crammed
with people. His mouth is dry with lust. He remembers Scully crowded
up against him in a sleeping bag and something to do with baseball and
he jerks the front door open quickly to get some cold air on his face.
__________________

The pulsar bursts of color, electroencephalytic trauma, as Scully
termed it, were gone, and he was back in the comfort of chromatic
blindness, night on the freeway, halogen and steel. Scully leaned her
temple into her hand, looked out her window at nothing.

It had been years since he had felt so uncertain with a woman. He knew
Scully and yet he didn't know her at all. For two people who were best
friends, they could be formal and terse. She didn't want to share her
family with him. There were days he wasn't sure she even liked him.
Yet should anyone dare challenge her position as alpha-female of the X
Files, she was lean, mean and ready to rumble.

He looked at her sideways, through the dark car interior. She was
supposed to be this good little Catholic girl, but at times she had
given him cause to believe otherwise. Still, he didn't know what she
expected of a relationship, or if they would even be sexually
compatible, if he dared presume she would want such a relationship
with him.

Scully glanced at him, her thoughts obviously distant.

Mulder shuffled his throat. "Scully, I apologize," he said hoarsely.
"I didn't know how awkward it would be. But I wish you'd told me you
didn't want me to go."

Scully looked back at her window. "It's not that I didn't want you to
go - "

"Right," Mulder said, combating flying snow with the windshield
wipers.

He passed an eighteen-wheeler that had slowed to caterpillar pace. A
backwash of dirty slush rocked the car and he reached to steady a
bottle of wine that was rolling around in the back seat. The semi
honked suddenly and Scully looked back into its headlights just as
Mulder jerked his arm forward to grab the wheel, and his fingers hit
her right in the eye.

Mulder gave a yelp of remorse, as though he was the one who had been
hit. Scully clamped her hand over her eye. He swerved into the
breakdown lane and pulled up short, hitting the hazard lights. She
braced her hand on the dash and the truck honked liberally as it
steamed past. Mulder ignored it, even as the car shuddered, and he
reached for the hand Scully had welded over her eye.

"Honestly, Mulder," she said.

"Let me see."

"Truly, it's nothing. We don't need to stop." Scully's eye felt like a
hot weepy explosion, a memory from childhood. She couldn't open it or
remove her hand.

"Let me see," he coaxed, flicking on the overhead light. There they
were suddenly, and he pulled her towards him, his face so devastated
that she wanted to smile. "It's not a big deal," she whispered,
watching Mulder lean closer. Tenderly he lifted her fingers away and
thumbed open her streaming eye.

He sighed, and let her go. "If only you knew that I have never meant
to cause you any grievance or pain," he said sorrowfully.

She opened the glove compartment for a Dairy Queen napkin. He kept his
hand on her shoulder, thumb reaching tentatively to brush her jaw. "Of
course I know that, Mulder," she said soothingly, blowing her nose.

"Sometimes it seems to me that all I ever do is hurt you." Mulder
picked moodily at the steering wheel.

"Mulder, it's a poke in the eye, not a heart attack. An accident.
Frankly, I'm amazed we've gone seven years without a previous
occurrence."

"I'm not good for you, am I Scully," he said tiredly. She was hard
pressed to hear him over the traffic spraying past. Mulder turned off
the dome light and sat holding the wheel, wincing to himself. Scully
unfastened her seat belt suddenly.

"Do you know what it was?" she asked, looking down at her open hands.
She drew a deep breath. "Mulder, it's just that it's gotten to the
point that if I walk through that door with someone of the male
persuasion in tow, my family is immediately going to be picturing Matt
in a size 3T ringbearer's suit."

Mulder raised his eyebrows, staring out the windshield.

"They probably think we're engaged or something, now. They know how
close we are..." She untangled herself from her seat belt and knelt on
her seat, leaned to him and kissed his cheek. "But nobody knows how we
are," she murmured, her voice slipping lower when she caught his
shaving cream smell.

She returned to her seat with a sigh. She probably shouldn't have done
that, but she could always blame the wine she'd nervously consumed,
which was the reason Mulder was driving in the first place.

Mulder watched her buckle her seatbelt. What was all that about? They
seemed to have shaken off disaster by another narrow margin. They had
survived Thanksgiving, but the New Year was a strange and looming
presence, and he felt subdued by the enormity of events yet unlived.
Snowflakes blasted into the windshield, each individually delicate
until it melded with the others and became something vastly nobler and
stronger than itself.
__________________

'I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'

Tennyson -
'Ulysses'
__________________

They breezed into his apartment in the afternoon, Mulder shedding his
trench coat like a wad of caul. He ripped at his tie and went into the
bedroom to change while Scully warmed up his computer.

Alone in the living room, she looked around, indulging in her secret
predilection for his apartment, for the things that were so
exclusively his - his Eurotrash couch, the picture of the Andromeda
galaxy over his TV, his glass and soldered rebar shelves. The room
itself was narrow, cramped and moody, exactly like Mulder.

"There's something here from you," she said, checking her e-mail.
Mulder changed with the door open, trusting her not to look.

"Ignore it. What says the lab?" She heard the thump of the laundry
hamper, the opening and shutting of drawers. She printed out the
report.

"Resin," she said, as he reappeared wearing sweats and carrying his
basketball shoes.

"What?"

"Seriously, Mulder, what is it?" She turned off the printer and went
back to her e-mail.

"One of those things that seems like a good idea in the middle of the
night, a passage from something. Delete it," he said, circling around
the coffee table. He reached for the mouse but Scully put her hand
over it and quickly exited her account. If Mulder had sent her
something she knew she would end up printing it out and folding it
into whatever book was beside her bed; she would lay back in the
bathtub and read it by candle light, know it by heart. He had read
Browning to her once. He had recited T.S. Eliot in conjunction with
pornography. He had even read 'Moby Dick'. Mulder was a man of
letters, (however he might skew them) and she loved to know what
interested him.

They sat down and scanned the results. Cotton surgical dressing. Lint
from O.C.'s pocket. Carboxylic acid.

"Hmm."

"What?" Mulder was tying his shoes.

"We were right - it's pitch. Aromatic mastic, a Mediterranean resin."

"Gauze soaked in pitch. It wasn't an indigenous resin, say pine
pitch?"

"Doesn't look like it. What about the fingernail scrapings?" She
flipped through the papers. "Don't have them done yet."

He slapped his knee. "Well, I hate to throw you out, Scully, but I'm
meeting some guys for a game."

They looked at each other. She reflected upon his galumphing grace on
the court.

"Too bad you don't play basketball," he said.

"Yeah, since I've got the height for it."

He shrugged, smiling sideways. He seemed to be putting his arm around
her for a moment, but he was only reaching for his basketball on the
back of the couch.

He ran circles around her in the hall, bouncing the ball and making a
ruckus. Scully played defense, trying to slap it out of his hands.
Mulder hooted and traveled and cheated. Scully felt jostled and a
little het up by the time they gained the elevator. "Oooh, you fouled
me!" he crowed, grinning and poking at the buttons. Don't tempt me,
she thought, looking at his damp collar bones, at the firmness of his
bare arms, and trying not to look. She'd like to be the one to rip the
sleeves off this T-shirt.
___________________

Mulder invited her to a party.

"Am I to actually believe - Mulder - that you still know how to
party?" She tried for sardonicism, to cover her surprise.

"You never forget how to party. Come on, Scully, it'll be fun." He
wound the clicky teeth and sent them chattering across the desk
towards her.

"Witnessing the regression of grown men into troglodytes isn't exactly
my definition of 'fun', Mulder."

Mulder's eyes narrowed challengingly. His office weapon of choice was
the staple gun - Scully turned her head away and waited patiently as
he fired off a few rounds in her general direction. She preferred
staples to rubber bands. He pushed back with his foot against the edge
of the desk, tilting his head in appraisal. Scully began to feel
uncomfortable. She dropped her eyes and checked her watch.

"Don't be a square, Scully-O."

She felt piqued. "Oh, you're really one to talk, Mulder!"

He tilted his head the other way, switching tactics. "How often do we
get invited to parties? And how often does the world feel like this?"

"How does the world feel?"

He flicked a damp sunflower hull from his fingers, seeking out the
Ticonderogas in the ceiling tiles. "It feels...verging. Penultimate."

Scully exhaled in irritation. "Mulder, nothing is going to happen.
Even the Russian nuclear power plants are prepared. It's just
premillennial tension."

"Please," he said, looking at her directly. "The end of the world
wouldn't be the same without you."

She lifted her chin. It was hard to argue with that. "All right, I'll
go," she lied.
__________________

There are rental cars, hallways, rafts of paper. There are hollow
cement parkades and still-life motel rooms. There are gritty winds,
plane tickets, piles of bulldozed snow. Their apartments are
contrasting and separate. They don't even live in the same state. It
gets dark by four. The terricolous office, where they discuss and
ponder, is garbed in a bewildering pastiche of carcasses, space ships
and basketball trophies.

Beyond the city the ground is slimy, and wicked things crawl.

She sleeps curled on her side, exhausted, holding the blankets close.
She remembers to switch sides so that the shape of her skull will be
even. Before the alarm goes off she thinks that he is a completion
that bides in reserve.
__________________

The Lone Gunmen threw a party. It was the night of the winter
solstice, and the moon was full, at perigee-syzygy maxima. It was
unsettling, the moon so close at hand, like a face in the window.

A party could entail any scenario from baked brie and Riesling to pork
rinds and a garbage can of jungle juice. Not that the distinction
mattered, since she wasn't going.

_______________________________________________

Chapter 4

Pod Monster Suite...Venus Adrift...Drop Dead Red...Geek Goddess
Blues...Egyptian Princess...Vanishing Man...Moonshot...Kludges, Worms
And Active X Modules...The Pomptitous of Love...Dead Man's
Party...Heavy Magick...New Year's Day...Red Right Hand...Goats Go To
Hell
__________________

Mulder thought of creatures that slash with incisors and claws. The
British Columbian Reptile Man, Windigos, El Chupacabra, the Boqs of
Bella Coola legend. Lycanthropes, Matlose, the Flintville Monster; the
pupating aliens, all slime and teeth.

He felt contented, waiting for his sandwich and Scully, not
necessarily in that order. The pub was cozy with the rain outside and
the murmuring lunch crowd. He sprawled his leg out of the booth like
their private signal, a blazed tree on their road to damnation.

He thought of this creature that existed, that even now lurked
somewhere with bad intent, a rotten smell under its nails. You killed
it with a wooden stake, a silver bullet, garlic, an odious chant. You
didn't look it in the eye or hark to its singing.

He listened for the bell over the door amid the plate-clashing of the
kitchens. She took him by surprise, scattering beads of water across
the table as she tossed her wet umbrella into the booth.

When did Scully get so hip to the babeness factor? All tailored and
slouchy, black bras, polished hair, insane shoes, a clattery,
unbuttoned, hot-breathed little bundle of ticking clock and rampant
hormones. He remembered how he felt in his own sexual prime and
calculated that her comportment was nothing short of miraculous.

"Hey," she said seriously, facing him across the table.

"What ho, apothecary?

The holidays weighed on both of them like clever mediums of torture.
After Thanksgiving they were avoiding any mention of Christmas. He
knew Christmas was especially hard on her because of her dad and
Emily. Atmospherics were sobersided and laden with long-term entendre;
he seriously doubted she would be opening sleepy presents on his couch
at five a.m. this year.

"I just got a call," she said.

He nodded once. Her silky shirt was pretty tight, so in keeping with
their custom she would leave her coat on, probably all day, as though
that somehow cancelled out the fact that she wore a tight shirt, and
that she was self-conscious enough to only reveal glimpses of it to
Mulder.

"Hydrous sodium carbonate," she enunciated. "It's natron, a
preservative." She shook out her paper napkin as their hot sandwiches
arrived, and they considered the fingernail scrapings of a corpse.

"This mountaintop attacker was covered in natron?"

"It's curious," said Scully, over her sandwich. Mulder ate her Greek
olives. He liked the oscular challenge of unpitted olives. He tried to
calculate the benefits of having a shark-toothed skullpunch tongue. He
had a vague idea it could be used in the drywall trade.

He didn't like to think about the creature's last moments alive.

"Gauze and natron," he said.

"Go ahead and say it, Mulder," she said, swallowing her club soda.

"Say what?" he asked, surprised. She got feta on her lip and he gave
an exaggerated lick of his own lip to demonstrate where. They resisted
smiling at each other.

"The Egyptians used natron as a preservative in the embalming process.
Along with resin-soaked gauze."

"A mummy?" he asked, incredulous, delighted.
____________________

There was a luna moth on the Coleman lamp.

The ring of light intersected the table but did not clasp her in its
circle. Scully was motionless in her chair, her eyes hard and bright
as she watched the moth. There was a strange sensation in her palms,
perhaps emptiness.

She tried to be rational about it, tried to picture how he would look
closed off and still. Perhaps they would have had to shave him. Humans
are simply energy converters; they are merely vehicles for gene
reproduction; they are just molecules jumping. The cycle dips like a
water wheel, plumbs the medium of death.

(Mulder - )

She had stared blankly at the boy who came from the University to tell
her, a tall, tall boy in a faded shirt. He reached towards her in a
half-finished conciliatory gesture, and the palm of his hand was much
lighter than the back, like the belly of a springbok.

Scully had stepped back, even as she recalled that Americans are
considered one of the coldest societies on earth. Mulder, on the other
hand, had the sense of personal space of a Bedouin, a Brazilian, a
Greek. She looked at Dr. Ngebe as if for translation, although the boy
had spoken in English.

Venus was originally a part of Jupiter, snapped off like Eve from
Adam's rib, careening for a time adrift about the solar system. Mulder
would have said that this planetary havoc caused such phenomena as the
parting of the Red Sea.

"Mulder and Scully, FBI", he always said, getting out his badge, as if
they were a singular force. When he encircled her with his arms she'd
had the infinite sense of a mobius strip, as if they were palindromic
in their connection.

When she could breathe it was through clenched teeth, her fingers
trembling on the table. She went outside and threw up whiskey in the
cold sand, suddenly too weak to stay on her feet. The gibbous moon
came up large as she sat shivering.

Down in the wet sand she wrote his name by moonlight, his strange
Dutch name. The racket of the surf seemed to match that which was so
enormous inside her. This was the water of home, the Potomac, the
Chesapeake. The cold Atlantic rushed to meet her with its amniotic
slap, the water full of stinging sand.

Out past the first breakers, head tipped back to the sky, she made
winglike motions with her arms in the water. The sky was beautiful and
cold: perhaps he was there now.

She tried not to think of her mother.

The moon twisted at the ocean and the ocean tugged at her and there
was no longer anything under her feet, just void, thoughtless
suspension; she was flying in the moon-charged water, looking up
towards the surface, all alone.
__________________

Mulder leaned against the refrigerator beside Byers and fathomed the
moiling foam depths of his cup. He was surprisingly hurt that Scully
didn't show, although he should have expected it. This was hardly her
scene, a cellarful of plastered subversives.

Still, he had asked her nicely.

He had miscalculated their bond, supposing that, like him, she could
no longer enjoy the moments of her life without him to share them. She
remained independent while he foolishly and rather romantically
imagined that they were like whooping cranes or albatrosses, paired
for life. Two morose and skulking loners thrown together in a basement
- of course you would read things into it.

I washed this shirt special, he thought. He had wanted to see her face
here in these catacombs of tangled Christmas lights, among the slam
poets and the moshers, the students of Bauhaus and techgnosis and
Sufi. He wanted to hear her talk, the inner things that rise to the
surface under the muzzy addle of blackberry microbrew. And he wanted
her to listen to him in kind.
__________________

She reached for the six-fingered girl.

Byers tore up her twenty. She was shipwrecked in Georgia with Mulder.
They faced each other with wavering pistols. "Gatorade," said Scully.
"You need the electrolytes."

She wanted to absorb him like radiation, like poison, like light. He
cast his thoughts out at frequencies only she could intercept. Mulder
was an outrider, and she his gallowglass.

So much for turning off the phone and going to bed early, then waking
in the panic of Mulder lost, her hands in the bathroom trembling as
she rinsed the sleep from her face and underlined her eyes.

Even with a piece of celery clamped in her teeth, the black scooped
sweater was just too froufrou for a cyberpunk encounter. She liked the
white blouse for its adjustability. What worlds could be said with
buttons. Black bra under it, throw something over it, find her car
keys, one last grinch in the mirror - just let her lay eyes on Mulder,
assure herself the world still contained him, and then come home.

As Scully descended to the Gunmen's bunker, she was distressed to
identify the unmistakable cadence of AC/DC singing 'Back in Black'.
She trod in deliberate counterpoint. She wasn't sure what appalled her
more - the fact that the nature of the party was as she had feared, or
that she could actually name the song.

She stood ankle-deep in mountain bikes and rang the buzzer until she
realized that no one could hear it. She considered turning and leaving
but recalled that her cowardice would be captured on videotape. The
reinforced door moved when she pressed it, the noise behind it like a
force of nature pushing back.

Scully stood in the doorway and peered into the mill and sway of the
crowd, the luminosity of faces and teeth and hands. A blazonry of
Christmas lights garbled across the low ceiling like the work of some
demented psychedelic spider. A passing dog spared her a disinterested
glance. Scully stood on the cuspal edge of the rabbit hole, and
scanned for Mulder.

Frohike materialized as if from a TARDIS, wearing motorcycle pants and
his sheepskin vest, his glasses reflecting a strobing amber
construction light. "The sublime Spookette!" he profused. With
ceremony, he stamped her hand with the likeness of Daffy Duck.

Scully smiled uncertainly. "Looks like a great party," she yelled
politely. Mulder loved it that she actually looked down on Frohike.

Frohike scowled affectionately. He held up a stern finger. "The rules
are, beer-bonging only over the sink."

"I'll try to adhere to that," she said faintly, her eyes sweeping
desperately. Frohike pressed the door to and regarded her shrewdly. He
held out his hand. Take me to your Mulder, she thought, feeling small,
feeling nebbish.

It was strange to hold Frohike's hand, his small mitted paw. He led
her into the crush and it was very much like being led into Faerieland
by a benevolent troll. Frohike was surly to anyone who impeded their
progress. A good-looking slacker guy touched Scully's shoulder and
smiled at her and when she checked her stride Frohike whirled like a
pit bull. "Back off, jive turkey!" Scully could only smile
apologetically as she was pulled away.

As they were siphoned centripitally into the room she knew uneasily
that she would never find her way out. Time ground down to a
peripheral smear, whole minutes to take a step, to draw a breath, as
she overextended between two planes. Mulder was crowned with stitches
and ichor and she had failed him at the most desperate moment of his
life. Mulder looked over his shoulder with his puckish grin and it
took her a moment to realize that here he was, alive and whole,
regarding her with surprise and expectancy, with the anticipation of
one who was just now unfolding the map of his life.
_________________

By the end of the evening they will both be crumpled, sopped and
ash-flecked, smelling of sweat and incense and cigarettes, and Scully
will have laughed that surprisingly goofy laugh that she trots out
only rarely. Mulder will have knocked his head on a low beam and felt
the cold moon lay its hand over him on a rooftop and he will have
watched Scully laugh and wondered why sometimes happiness hurts.

For now they are hesitant and spotless, and sobered at the sight of
each other. Scully winches up a smile as fakey as the Piltdown Man.
Mulder realizes that even if he likes sports and has a cool haircut,
he's still just a geek like all these other geeks, just as preoccupied
and undatable, and what's more, this is undoubtedly obvious to Scully.
__________________

What comely wench is this with hair as bright as Prometheus' stolen
flame?

"Look who crashed the gate," said Frohike.

Scully's lips were aggravating and her hair was orange. Even garbed in
her quotidian Morticia black she struck him all over again with her
pleasing aesthetics. And it wasn't like he was expecting little Miss
S. in a minidress. She seemed more sharply in focus than anyone else,
like a building surrounded by streaking taillights in a time-lapse
photograph.

They eased closer, like water seeking its own level.

He grabbed her and pulled her into the bathroom. There, the music
muffled, they jostled each other getting the door locked. The bathroom
was tiny and wreathed with smoke that smelled like skunky hay. Scully
took the shallow breaths befitting a federal employee.

"So," he asked, "gonna party like it's nineteen ninety-nine?"

"I can't stay, Mulder. It's a week night," she said, backing into the
sink. Mulder handed her his Knicks cup and she took a sip, just to
cool off.

He batted at the smoke above his head, hitting the string hanging from
the lightbulb. Loops of shadow shot over the walls. "What you don't
realize is you're their resident goddess, Scully. You don't know what
your endorsement means to these guys."

Marvelous. She's a goddess for geeks.

The Gunmen's bathroom was papered with clippings, photographs,
cartoons and scribbled quotes. There was Sinead O'Connor ripping up
the Pope; Page with his twelve-string; Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Buddha, Bob Marley, Muhammad Ali. Frohike and Janis Joplin on
Haight-Ashbury in the '60s. Frohike's celebrated photograph of Monica
getting out of a cab. Nuke the gay whales for Jesus. Edward Abbey,
Marshall McLuhan, Timothy Leary. A recipe for a fertilizer bomb from
the Anarchist's Cookbook. (Nitrate and fuel oil.)

Mulder looked around himself happily, swinging his arms. "T. Rex,
Scully, wanna dance?" His concession to the evening was a black
T-shirt, reinforcing his image of a rebel with many a cause.

"To 'Get It On'?" she asked. "I think not."

He brightened further. "Scully, you know rock and roll?"

"Mulder," she reproved. The bathroom wasn't getting any roomier, and
it didn't help that he was standing so close, as if they were
conferring on a case. She took a tiny draft of beer, just to settle
her nerves. As usual, she was at eye level with his xiphisternum, or
his rather fine pectorals, if she cared to peruse.

Mulder borrowed his cup for a moment, then handed it back. He drew his
teeth over his succulent lip. "There's something I want to talk to you
about," he said, leaning forward, the bathroom crowding in around
them.

Clearly there was no room for argument.

In line at the keg Mulder shuffled closer behind her so he could speak
in her ear. The kitchen floor was muddy and wet, and a rubber chicken
hung by its feet from the ceiling.

"Did I tell you my mummy theory?" he asked.

The low timbre of his voice grated pleasantly through her. His chin
touched her shoulder. "You have a mummy theory? Why does this not come
as a surprise?" she asked him.

"Some say that a mummy sank the Titanic."

Scully turned around, folding her arms. "So much for the iceberg
theory?" she asked dryly. The floor thumped with bass and they were
forced apart by two people on a skateboard. How telling that she and
Mulder could lose themselves in contemplative discussion in the midst
of a primal gathering.

"No, no, the mummy's curse brought the iceberg," he said, as they
reconvened. "There was a mummy being transported aboard the Titanic,
and it was saved when the ship sank."

"That's just it, though, isn't it, Mulder? That's how mummies are
purported to kill - through a curse, not some gnashing and clawing
homicide. And they cursed tomb-raiders, not elk-hunting highschool
boys." Someone handed her a dripping cup.

"There's the rub," he admitted.
__________________

They were years-deep in the process of pair bonding. When the
conversations of others sidetracked them they stood back to back and
she felt him shifting slowly on his feet, as was his habit. As always,
they were subconciously aware of each other's proximity, or distance,
at every moment of the evening.

Mulder became entangled in a conversation about sports with a guy who
had acid lime hair and his shirt tied around his waist. They both
gestured big slam-dunking maneuvers with their arms. Mulder seemed to
be enjoying himself. He was hardly drunk, but he was loose and blithe,
big-footed. She had always admired the way he could connect with
people. She could only imagine what it would be like to dance with
him.
__________________

Mulder was sitting in an alcove on a swaybacked wine velour sofa,
listening dreamily as his friend Chuck Burke picked out 'Sugar
Magnolia' on a zithery-sounding sitar.

His face warmed to a smile when he looked up and saw her. "Doctor
Scully, I presume."

"Isn't that a line from 'The Planet of the Apes'?" she asked glibly.
Ancient history, that.

"Are you having a good time?" he asked softly, as she claimed the
other end of the sofa. Chuck sat hunched on a plastic milk crate,
stroking the sitar pleadingly.

"Bearing in mind that I didn't intend to come, yes, surprisingly."

"You wouldn't come to the last party in the world?"

"Mulder, the world is hardly ending, and if it were, do you think I
would be sitting in some hackers' basement swilling beer from a
plastic cup?" She felt a little buzzed, and pleasantly argumentative.

"I believe they prefer the term 'remote systems operator'. So...what
changed your mind?" he asked.

"Nothing - just a dream." She spoke stiffly, feeling invaded. Mulder
and his continuous little invasions slowly altering her, whittling
away at her resolve. Her past, which she could not acknowledge. All
the mistakes that she had once made with men but had avoided making
with Mulder, turning him into something untouchable.

"A dream?" asked Mulder.

"'The oxen is slow but the earth is patient'," remarked Chuck.

"You sucked a goof butt," said Mulder amiably. "'The road lengthens as
we continue to travel it'."

"'The questions are more important than the answers'," said Chuck.

"'The wise man listens to fools and says nothing'." Scully was
familiar with this game.

"'I'm just mad about Saffron'," said Mulder. She thought he was
looking at her when he said it.

Scully debated the validity of classic rock lyrics, but felt oddly
complacent for a moment, blinking against the floaters in her vision.

The room was separated from the main part of the basement by a tunnel
of wiring and vapor barrier plastic and half-framed walls. The
timeless party scene at the end was done in hopped-up mirrorball
fresco. Scully saw Langly go by on Rollerblades. She saw someone in a
gorilla mask. She saw three girls pause, and look in at her. They
stood and seemed to wait for her, giggling and smoking and dancing in
place.

There was something endearing about this thrift store chic nowadays,
girls dressed like old ladies in their cat's eye glasses and print
dresses and junk jewelry, like children playing dress up. Their shoes
were clunky and they laughed shyly and held each other's arms and they
yielded a manila envelope replete with a violent homicide.

Scully did not relate well to women. She was too close to the rawness
of their experience and she couldn't face it in herself half the time,
let alone in other people. But she was trying. She knew it was an
unnatural way to feel. She looked into each of their faces and tried
to feel their energy, their courage and force, not see their
vulnerabilities, the ways they could be hurt.

Mulder was drawn into it by this point, with his morbid taste for
bones. Scully's informant had approached the girls and described her
to them, and they had delivered the envelope, as instructed. As she
had suspected at the zoo, her source was indescribably plain. The
girls could not agree on the color of his clothes, let alone his
features.

Mulder and Byers checked the VCR for the security camera, but to their
surprise, it was empty.
__________________

"Oh man, it's wideband spectrum surveillance," said Frohike. The
experts had been called in.

Mulder looked around at them with the bemused, slightly reserved
expression he retained solely for them. "Shake it down, fellas," he
said.

"Scully's got a bumper beeper," Langly said nasally.

"I'm being tracked?" Scully squeaked.

"It's top-flight remote detection - an SwRI tracking beacon providing
signal analysis using developed algorithms and portable DF systems,"
said Byers hoarsely. He was the one who had thought to check Scully's
car. "Employing correlation processing triangulation from several low
earth orbit satellites, it can determine your position within thirty
meters."

"Who's this punkass shagging Scully?" Frohike asked, as if it was
Mulder's fault.

Langly pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "You want us to
find him and pound him for ya?"

"I think Scully's sufficiently capable of kicking ass in her own
right," Mulder said reassuringly, but he was obviously distracted by
the discovery.
__________________

In the bathroom Mulder tapped out the police report and they looked at
the interior of an SUV roped and lashed with blood. The photograph was
taken from the back seat at night, the flash rebounding off the
windshield. Blood gummed the open CD tray. Scully wondered why the
body had been removed before the scene was photographed until she saw
the victim wedged down under the steering wheel in an attempt to hide,
the top of his head just visible to the left of the steering column,
ruined forearms congealed to the driver's seat. What was left of Kit
Remmerde, southern Idaho freeway, 11:14 pm.

"So, we go to Idaho tomorrow."

"Mulder, look at this." Scully had found a picture of them on the
bathroom wall. He moved up and looked over her shoulder, snorting in
amusement. It was taken years ago, the first time he introduced Scully
to the guys. He had thought that Frohike was taking pictures of her,
but the two of them were centered together in the frame, sitting on a
desk, Mulder on the right with his arms crossed, Scully in a black
trench coat, looking skeptical.

"Look how young we were."

"You look like a co-ed," he said. She had traipsed into his life and
blinded him with science.

"I thought the world was so much simpler then," she sighed. "I had
quite a crush on you at the time, if I recall."

Mulder smiled, surprised, turning his face to study her profile.

"Good thing I snapped out of it," she said, smiling at him.

"I'll say." His throat was dry. "Good thing."

_______________________________________

Chapter 5

"Mulder and Scully at a party. Look at them!" said Langly.

"They look the same as ever," noted Byers.

"My point exactly. Look at Mulder's hair! Looks like it was cut with a
tiny lawnmower," said Langly.

"This is your brain on drugs," said Frohike. "Any questions?"

They drew in around the table, eating hummus and corn chips.

Scully looked at them circled there and thought that she'd be lucky to
make it through the evening without hearing a recitation of the Dead
Parrot Sketch.
__________________

They went up to the roof of the building to look at the moon, thirty
people struck drunkenly awed by this reminder of their position in
nature, faces tilted to the clear citrus satellite. Scully felt lucky
to be here with these other considerate human beings, witnessing this
great rumbling miracle of a moon.

"Dude," someone said reverently.

"Dude." Heartfelt agreement.

People tried to light cigarettes in the wind.

"Did you know that's like called 'refraction'? That when you feel the
moonlight you're actually feeling sunlight?"

A Goth guy put his arms about his girlfriend.

The moon appeared to be leaning, peering. They looked up at it, and
the moon looked down. Refraction to the contrary, it seemed to be
glowing from within. It was cold up on the roof, and Scully found that
she was leaning back against warm unyielding Mulder. He didn't exactly
put his arms around her, but he did take her elbow surreptitiously in
his fingers. He squeezed her funny bone.

"It only lines up like this once every hundred and thirty-three
years," said Langly. The guys had an elaborate telescope that took
some time to set up. Scully tipped her head back until she was looking
at the bottom of Mulder's chin.

Their crowd waved at the people on another roof, feet coaxing creaking
sounds from the frozen tar. Dogs jingled past. Scully imagined a city
of people on rooftops, their faces turned spaceward, forgetting for a
moment their trammeled, earthbound lives. Mulder dipped his face and
looked down at her. They exchanged self-conscious smiles.

People began to let out fogged breath and turn around, looking at each
other with new appreciation.

"Man, it's cold!"

Scully shifted away from him and disappeared towards the telescope.

Mare Imbrium, Mare Frigoris, Tycho, Copernicus, the Sea of Serenity.

Langly scuffled joyously with some other hacker dude.

The roof emptied out suddenly, the door propped against a brick,
leaking honey light. Scully was abruptly apparent, like a rock at ebb
tide.

Her arms were folded and she held a lit cigarette half-hidden under
her elbow. She looked at Mulder defiantly and took a snappy drag.

They blinked and looked away from each other.

Scully sighed out the smoke. She shivered. He sidled a few steps
closer, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket, edging in
sideways. They looked out over the city. He sculpted the loose angle
of her arm, and the cigarette changed hands without a glance between
them.
_________________

"Mulder, is this typical, or what? The rest of the world is having fun
and here we sit, losing ourselves in discussions of lake monsters." It
struck her that they were saving a world they didn't know how to
inhabit.

"Just for the record, Cadborosaurus is a sea-going monster," he said.
They had reached that sentimental point in the evening when everyone
was slow dancing in the dark. Mulder and Scully, immune to such
things, sat on the crushy velvet sofa in the back room, preoccupied by
the otherworldly, by the twisted and rank.

Mulder sighed sharply. "Joseph Campbell said that all we seek in life
is the experience of being alive. I for one don't necessarily need to
slam dance to feel alive. Don't you think quantifying the
unquantifiable is a noble pursuit? Besides, how many things are there
that the whole world believes in but we can't prove exist? So many
things are taken on faith. Wind. Quarks. God, of course. And what
about love?"

"Love is phenylethylamine," said Scully, sucking the side of her
thumb. She had her shoes off and her feet on a plastic crate; she was
eating teriyaki popcorn with plum sauce. "PEA. It's merely a brain
chemical producing an amphetamine-like rush."

Mulder was startled. He thought that love was both more elemental and
more complex than the process she described. Brown eyed boy meets a
blue eyed girl. He saw that where Scully marked out her world in
equations, he described the same things in abstract terms. They were
speaking different languages, but ultimately, he hoped, saying the
same things.

"My point is, Scully, that there's more to the world than meets the
eye. We don't give our senses the credit they deserve. Most places of
ancient worship such as Stonehenge and many spots in North America
were built over pockets of uranium. Somehow humans were drawn to them,
even without Geiger counters. It's one of those unconscious
awarenesses, like the way iambic pentametre is based on the human
heartbeat."

Scully sighed surreptitiously.

"Kludges, worms and Active X modules," said Mulder.

She looked at him questioningly.

"That's what makes these guys feel most alive." He gestured at the
Gunmen's den. "And, obviously, kitschy decor. But hardware is their
raison d'etre. So, maybe I have the Ogopogo. Campbell had mythology.
What do you have, Scully?"

She looked at him almost fearfully, because what she had was Mulder.
She became distracted by a backscatter of light across his elfin
cheekbone. "I must say, that's a nice shirt on you, Mulder," she said
tangentially.

"Oh, this old thing."

She looked down, raising her eyebrows sharply, speaking carefully. "I
have so many things, a very full life. You must bloom where you're
planted. But I confess I still struggle with my decision to not be a
doctor. I mean, how could I not pursue the course that saves people's
lives?"

"You ARE a doctor, Scully. I don't know how many times you've pulled
my bacon out of the fire, medically speaking. You've given me CPR,
you've splinted my finger, you've clamped off my femoral artery,
you've watched me throw up. How much more doctory do you want to get?"
He nudged her, making her smile. Frohike had labelled it 'hot-doggin'
hell-bitch CPR' - he almost wished he'd been conscious to experience
it.

"You know how I know you're a doctor?" he asked, growing serious. "No
matter what you do or where you go in this world, you will wear a
watch with a second hand, in case you have to take someone's pulse."

This was true. She had never owned a digital watch.

Scully wiggled into a more comfortable slouch, her thigh warm against
his; they were in their usual little seclusive microcosm of
discussion. It was evident how clannish they had become. He couldn't
remember when he had switched over from thinking of her as someone he
worked with, to thinking of her as someone he couldn't wait to get to
work to see.

"I hear our movie's coming out this spring," he remarked.

"It's not 'our' movie, Mulder. From what Tea Leoni told me, I'm not
sure we'll want to claim any connection to it. It sounds like the plot
is wildly improbable, the characterizations utter confabulation, and
the pyrotechnics budget alone capable of pulling a third world country
out of poverty. My brother thinks I should sue Twentieth Century Fox
for defamation of the Scully name."

"He's probably right. At any rate, Tea Leoni could hardly hope to
capture the Scully mystique, no matter how diligently she peels the
onion."

"The 'Scully mystique'?"

"The reality of you. All the little things - the way you slur your
S's; the way you lie so badly; the way you don't always register on
automatic doors."

Frequently Scully had to stop and wave her hand to trip the electronic
eye. It was a refreshing change from setting off the metal detectors
in airports with her B-movie subcutaneous dogtag.

"I bet automatic doors see Tea Leoni coming a mile away," he said,
mock-derisively.

"Mulder, my friend, you live in a world of illusion," Scully said
fondly.

"Where everything's peaches and cream." He squeezed her shoulder,
since his arm was already kind of behind her on the back of the couch.

A riprapped pile of TVs against one wall played silent music videos.
Mulder shrugged off his jacket and stood up, his wildebeest hair
bristling in the spasmodic mercury light. As he left the room she
listed over with a groan of despair and pressed her face into the
lining of his leather jacket. The smell of him produced a cortical
rush.

"Damn it!" from Mulder, and she jerked up guiltily, afraid she'd been
caught huffing his outerwear. But Mulder had banged his head on a
truss garlanded with chili pepper lights, and he stood dizzily
clasping his frontal lobe.

"Oh, Sweetie," she said, "Muller..." She wanted to laugh, and
simultaneously felt immensely protective. Mulder swayed like a
lightning-flayed tree. She grabbed his shoulders to steady him. "Is
there a doctor in the house?" he whispered, his bad boy sideburn
rasping her cheek as he dropped his heavy head to her shoulder.

Scully kissed it better, nuzzling his minky hair. She wondered how
much longer it would be humanly possible to refrain from jumping his
bones.
__________________

Scully revived her primer coat of lipstick in the bathroom, leaning
close to the murky glass. With her eye-hand coordination at low ebb,
all her concentration was needed to perfectly navigate the sharp
corners of her mouth. A certain psychological school of thought
posited that women wore lipstick to emphasize their lips' resemblance
to their vaginas; Scully always frowned at her reflection when she
thought of it. Mulder was the psychologist - undoubtedly he had
encountered this theory at some point. She became gradually aware that
Mulder was standing behind her, watching her raptly in the mirror as
he held a washcloth of ice on his head.

Their eyes met in the mirror, no mean feat with tunnel vision.

Scully turned around slowly, rubbing her lips together. "I think I'm
going to take off," she said. It was definitely a good idea, the more
she thought of it. He was a little sweaty and she was a little
smashed, and she was beginning to feel that she only existed because
he existed, like propagating amoebas.

He seemed unprepared for such an eventuality, two worried chevrons
sliding up his forehead. "You know...veni, vidi, vici," she clarified.

"Eat, drink and be fat and drunk?" he offered unhappily.

"It suffers a bit in translation." She put a hand on his chest to move
him out of the way. She was surprised at how fast his heart was
thumping, and at the way her starfish fingers seemed to adhere to his
shirt.

Mulder stepped back; he always had excessive manners. Then his head
rolled back and he groaned sharply. Scully stiffened up. She'd seen
him poison-darted once.

"It's 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'," he explained. "I've been waiting all
night for this song." He looked bashfully at all the ice cubes he had
spilled on the floor. It took her a moment to realize that he was
holding out his hand.

Somehow she had always thought it would be 'Space Oddity'.
__________________

Scully was dancing with Langly, like little kids at a wedding, Langly
talking nonstop and Scully laughing her chuckly laugh.

Mulder should have known once he dragged her out on the dance floor
that she'd be in demand. He didn't like the looks of all these other
guys, men who put their arms around her as if they had the faintest
hope of understanding what she was all about. This one here, this guy
kept making Scully smile with whatever he was saying and he had his
arms around her and the back of his shirt said 'Give Me Rossignol or
Give Me Head'.

Mulder turned his back, his jaw tense with contempt. He set his
basketball cup down on some gunmetal shelves and picked up a computer
manual, flipping through it blindly. He felt both ridiculous and
vindicated in his jealousy, but he was too old to be going through
this. This was like something Phoebe used to pull just to vindicate
wild make-up sex. Without the prospect of that the whole situation was
absurd, and he knew Scully wouldn't want him to feel this way. He
should dance with someone else, but he didn't have the heart for it.
He should go home, but he could hardly abandon Scully to this pack of
cretins. He should go start drinking hard liquor with Frohike. He
should go track down whoever was tailing Scully and stick a fucking
gun down his throat. That at least would make him feel better.

He could still taste that cigarette, which had tasted faintly of
Scully's lipstick; he wanted another one. He was probably going to die
alone in that same old crappy apartment that smelled like cobwebs and
fishtank, and he might as well start smoking again, it would hardly
matter in the grander scheme.

Out of the blue Scully was sliding her arm around his neck, leaning in
to read his expression. She rubbed his back in quick solace as if
sensing his mood.

"Hey, pardner."

"Hey." He managed to make his voice sound normal.

She put her arms around his neck, like slow dancing in high school. "I
was kind of hoping you'd cut in on that guy," she confided. "It turns
out that I have a low tolerance for homilies on skiing."

How amazing, that a moment so horrible could segue into another so
completely wonderful. She felt so comfortable against him, just this
one person out of everyone in the world. It was one in six billion
now, what odds...

"I must admit, Mulder, that even if your conversation runs to
spoonbenders and Godzilla's chromosome damage and the canals on Mars,
at least you're unfailing interesting to talk to."

Scully's fingers riffled the hair at the back of his neck, she was
looking seriously into his eyes, she barely seemed to be breathing. It
was hard to stay objective about her when he could see so far down her
shirt and her velveteen skin was damp and the sway in her back seemed
specifically, scientifically, gravitationally engineered to progress
his hands to her ass.

Fortunately, Mulder had long resisted the conventions of science.
__________________

"This woman," said Mulder, his arm around her, "this woman would make
a Gorgon yipe and turn tail." The sidewalk was scurfed black ice.
Scully reeled in her smile with difficulty, applying herself. "Can ya
dig it?" Mulder asked.

"I can dig it," said Frohike philosophically. "I had a rat terrier
once, was the same way."

"She can take out a giant bug at ten yards and not even break a
sweat," said Mulder cryptically. He beamed down at her in open
admiration.

"A giant bug?" asked Frohike doubtfully.

"You're the one who cut the fluke worm in half," said Scully, because
Mulder deserved a little credit himself.

"Get a load of this: she was my sergeant during the Civil War," said
Mulder, frosty-breathed.

Frohike watched them, two inebriated Feds who obviously didn't get out
much. If they didn't want people thinking them an item, they were
doing a pretty half-assed job of hiding it tonight. She was leaning
into his side with her hands in her pockets, sharp little shoulders
raised, her carelessly-buttoned blouse untucked. She flashed her
bedazzling slapdash smile at his abstruse Civil War comment;
undoubtedly it made perfect sense to her.

Her skin was glowing and her rufescent hair melted like copper slurry
in the icy blue light. Mulder mooned down at her like the lucky son of
a bitch that he was.
__________________

Langly slewed in against the curb in the chuntering VW bus. Mulder
whipped open the sliding door and disappeared into the gloom of the
back seat. Scully balked on the sidewalk, peering dubiously in at the
clutter.

"Do you think this is a good idea?" she asked.

"Langly's not drunk!" said Byers, Frohike and Mulder, all together.
They were tired of answering the question.

"I had two beers, maybe five hours ago," said Langly, fiddling with
the radio.

"Into the garbage pit, flygirl," Frohike prompted, waiting behind her.
At least it wasn't the Lincoln Continental in which she'd been cuffed
to the wheel.

At any rate, the streets were empty. The motor rattled like chains
behind them. A cardboard alien with a submachine gun hung from the
rear view mirror. Scully held a film canister on her knees, wondering
what it contained, coiled and whispering. Frohike got the Zapruder
footage when it was bootlegged in 1974. The three of them had such an
odd fixation with Oswald, the lone gunman. Langly told her that the
FBI had failed to recover Kennedy's brain, missing these 30 years from
the National Archives. To her a brain in a jar didn't seem a matter of
national importance, more like something Igor would be sent to fetch.

The radio kept blinking out, and Langly was trying to wire something
together under the dash as he drove. They took a corner wrong and
bounded over a curb. Centrifugal force and a little good old fashioned
luck threw Scully against Mulder. Byers was forced to grab the wheel
and right their course. But now the radio picked up 'Jingle Bells'
loud and clear.

"I'm DRIVING," Langly whined, indignant. "Despite navigational
capabilities greatly impeded by co-pilot interference." He and Byers
punched at each other. The bus wandered from lane to lane.

"But for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost,"
Frohike remarked. Under the passing streetlights he looked like a
rumpled old hawk. Scully recognized the unconventional forms that
families can take.

Horseshorseshorseshorses sang Langly. Byers kept time on the dash.
Mulder had said that helping save the child in Chicago was all that he
needed for Christmas. It was all she needed, too. She considered the
chain of events that had tumbled her into this moment, riding at three
in the morning through the D.C. streets, Mulder's leg warm against
hers, his knuckles casually rubbing her knee as he looked out the
window.

She felt like one of the guys and she wanted to stay here forever with
them; they could road trip out into the great wide open, singing
Christmas carols.

At Hegal Place she leaned over the front seat and squeezed Langly's
shoulder. "Drive careful, now," she said affectionately. She leaned
further and kissed Byers' cheek. "Goodnight, Scully," he said soberly.

She hugged Frohike on the sidewalk. "Night night." Mulder came back
down the sidewalk and hugged him in Scully-parody. "Night night,
Melvy," he cooed.

"Night night. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," said Frohike, climbing
back in the van.

"Wow, that really opens up our options," said Mulder, walking
backwards.

The Gunmen pulled away, rubbernecking like meerkats.
__________________

As Mulder unlocks his door her breath takes shape in the spinning halo
of light above her. Squinting upwards, she can't remember where the
floor is, proprioceptors dulled, and has to reach for the wall. She is
hammered, she is plowed. At parties she and Melissa used to feel their
noses, gauging the degree of numbness. She can't feel her nose. It is
several years since that millisecond killer bee kiss with Mulder in
this very corridor, with little interim progression. As the Eagles
would say, they spend all their love making time.

He goes straight to the fish tank, as though his goldfish are yelling
for food. His fish see him coming and mill beneath the surface in
anticipation. She imagines how he looks to them, great blurry
biomorph, obscenely alien, inhabiting a medium of corrosive oxygen. He
puts them in a mayonnaise jar when he cleans their tank. It's possible
that they love him in the unquestioning, forever way that she does.

She clamps her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering, nervousness and
cold and alcohol rife in her bloodstream. She presses her knee against
the coffee table to center herself in the room, a quirk in her vision
popping like fragmentation grenades up by the ceiling. She wonders
what the stars are like in his bedroom when he opens his eyes in the
dark - luminaries awhirl like van Gogh's starry night above him. Does
he think of her? Or is it crop circle ozone and oat chaff, secrets to
be wrenched from interplanetary sperm-thieves, their caustic landing
lights scorching his retinas?

Mulder winds the antique mantel clock that keeps ill time. He has said
before that its ticking grounds him. He has said that a ticking clock
sounds civilized.

This room has too many books and files, too much secrecy, history,
pornography, espionage, bad blood and bad water, too much arguing and
sublimating, sitting together in the dark. Suffocating summer nights
in Alexandria, Mulder relenting to sleep on the cowhide sofa, roscoe
on the coffee table, a gangster come to rest. Mulder dragging in a man
he'd just shot in the face, real death faked on the Navajo rug. Hot,
hot summer nights. She appears, and they wait together, for cancer,
for fire, for the end of the world.

He looks forever past her, over her head, at the marginal worlds that
she cannot see and he cannot attain.

"I realize that everything comes second to your work," someone says.
It is Scully, but she's not sure she wants to take credit for the
words, especially after she sees his face. But it's true - everything
and everyone come second to the first woman in his life, Samantha.

Later she will remember it in clips of sidewalk, shoes, an angle of
lamp or wainscoting, his shoulder and arm, and the front of his shirt,
into which she weeps. The crying feels too good to stop, even as she
distantly registers that she is sobbing drunkenly and self-piteously
all over her best friend. At some future point she will know utter
humiliation. She had more control when she was dying. When he was
dying. This is complete surrender to the deepest fears - that she will
lose him, that she loves him more than is right or healthy. That this
thing between them will never be allowed to culminate.

They wait for her cab on the sidewalk and he pulls her inside his
jacket and holds her tightly. He seems unable to speak.

_________________________________________

Chapter 6

Scully was tricked out in the most amazing silver body armor, with hip
boots and a torpedo bra, and slick purple hair. "Fox, Fox, I love you!
But we only have fourteen hours to save the world!" she squealed.

The alarm went off and he whacked it until he realized it was the
phone ringing. His hangover suckerpunched him between the eyes. Rain
scraped the black windows.

"Are you remembering our flight?" Scully snapped in his ear. She was
most certainly not wearing a space princess bra. Mulder groaned in his
bed.
__________________

Scully was not averse to horror flicks, or even schlock sci-fi, and
Mulder called it research.

The bitterness of the snowbound Twin Falls evening reminded her that
Earth was still coming out of an ice age. Her feet were iced bone from
the cold morgue floor. She had tried to banish her numbness in the
bathtub, the faucets flashing forth a planet's core of steaming froth.

A transfusion of sangria straight into her bloodstream would have been
the most expedient method, but she made do with several ounces sloshed
unceremoniously into her empty stomach from a motel water glass,
standing naked under the timer heat light with her hand clasping her
opposite shoulder.

She was homesick for the happiness of the evening before, wistfully
nostalgic over the madeleines of her mnemonic - the shoes she had
worn, the earrings, the green ink stamp now fading from her hand. It
came back to her now as a kind of nitrogen narcosis - a diver's
euphoria of underwater worlds strung with lights and strands of music,
Mulder pulling her into a waltz in a dim corner aslant with chips of
light, as if this was what it had been about all these years,
discovering this deeply perfect closed circuit they made.

Mulder began to lean on the cell phone. She ignored him, sliding
torpidly down into the ticking water, depressed beyond measure.

She had embarrassed herself inordinately, even grading on the high
curve of the Dana Scully relationship-blunder scale.

It felt prudent to maintain her distance, after what she had said to
him last night. They had spent the day apart, Mulder examining the
vehicle in which the crime had taken place and interviewing the
motorist who had discovered the body. Scully had gone straight from
the airport to the necropsy room.

Mulder tried the room phone. Then he was at the door, calling her
name. Scully, who didn't plan to exit the tub until her core
temperature exceeded 101 degrees, yelled "Later, Mulder!" She reached
for her glass. She might have known the man would drive her to drink.

She let Mulder in while she was brushing her teeth, so that she had to
rush back to the bathroom to spit. "Natron," she called, tapping her
toothbrush on the sink.

"Yes!" said Mulder triumphantly, with the Black Power salute. She kept
an eye on him through the crack in the bathroom door. He slouched on
the foot of her bed still dressed for work, his jaw etched with
stubble.

Odd to think that he was nearly a middle-aged man. The term didn't
seem to apply to Mulder, impetuous Mulder, to the brazen complication
of him. He was thirty when she met him, entirely too rash and
enchanting for his own good. There were miles and miles of silence
inside him. For the first time since high school, she had started to
focus on someone her own age.

He was thirty years old when she met him, all scapegrace and mettle,
and built like a poem.
__________________

Dead Pharaohs gone bad rampaged and women screamed and Mulder lay on
the bed cracking his way through a bag of sunflower seeds. Scully
slept peacefully in a nearby armchair. He had caught her grabbing a
buzz in her room, her eyes hooded and smoky, the bottle, three
quarters full, forgotten in plain sight. She acted carefully normal.
Brownian motion seemed the architect of her procedure: first thing
upon entering his room she knocked a glass of ice water onto her
shoes, which she'd luckily just vacated in that blowsy way she had of
shedding bits of clothing. Mulder tossed her a towel from the bed
without bothering to tear his eyes away from Boris Karloff in 'The
Mummy' (1932). He could act carefully normal, too.
__________________

She had jabbed them both with B12 that morning to cure their
hangovers, Mulder sitting on her kitchen table rolling up his sleeve
in the early stained-glass light. He was sullen and he looked away
when she stuck him, closing his eyes.

"Wow, Scully, you weren't kidding!" he said a moment later, perking up
to an alarming degree. "Here I thought it was just some hippie placebo
like kava or carob."

She said nothing, swabbing his arm a few more times than strictly
necessary. The skin inside his upper arm was that rare exquisite
softness of a lab rat's belly.
__________________

Mulder came up close and bent over her. "Don't put these on," he said,
holding out her shoes. His arm slipped under her knees and he scooped
her up in one smooth motion, like a carnival ride. She was not really
awake and she threw her arm around his neck before she could think.

"Mulder, this really isn't necessary." She tried to look neutral.

"Sshh," he breathed in her ear, his tone implying that certain laws of
the universe could be trusted to fly out of whack, were she to speak.
He crunched down the steps into the snow and she clutched him for
balance, trying not to poke him in the back with her shoes.

A sorbet tulle fog glowed in the sky.

She couldn't let it go.

"This is bad for your back, Mulder." It felt ridiculously good to be
carried by him, but she couldn't appear to enjoy it.

"But good for my macho image," he pointed out. She was gathered up in
his flexed muscles and gunslinger walk, pressed against his
Mulder-scented warmth.

"Hey...last night - I didn't mean what I said." She looked over his
shoulder at the cherry flash of a radio tower.

"In vino veritas, Scully," he said stiffly.

Three doors down he dipped his knees so she could lean out of his arms
and unlock her door. "I believe you're capable of a real life," she
said, while her eyes were on the lock.

He was silent while he swung her bare feet to the carpet. "I guess I'm
a little hurt at your perception of my priorities. And I know you did
mean it at the time." He fiddled with the outer door knob, narrowing
the gap in the door.

"Then prove me wrong," she said quickly.

His eyes were like nightshade as he stepped backwards, away from her.
"Don't let the Fiji mermaids bite," was all he said.

She shut the door and threw herself against it, watching him through
the peephole. He was a warped cameo, encircled, slipping from her line
of vision. The nap of the carpet was chilled along the bottom of the
door and she scrunched her toes, remembering the sex-crime motel room
carpet at Quantico.
__________________

He didn't see her for a week. Despite the fact that he wasn't feeling
very Christmas-y, he took his mom to Handel's Messiah. When they arose
for the Hallelujah Chorus, he cellphoned Scully so she could hear it
too. He didn't identify himself when she answered. There was the
possibility that she would think it was some phone pervert with a
classical bent, but he knew she didn't because she stayed on the line.
He pictured her curled in a chair in her mother's living room near the
big Christmas tree, her beautiful eyes distant, attached to him by
this rapture of sound, and he hankered for her with a headlong slide
of longing.
__________________

Fourteen years before, Scully mentioned the Majestic Twelve in her
thesis on time travel, and perhaps that was the initial moment it all
started to roll down to this, God and Einstein and the Smoking Man all
unwittingly conspiring to create a moment a thousand years and seven
in the making.

She donned lipstick for courage and chanced a glimpse in the watery
mirror at her pale battle-worn body; a blue-eyed woman who lived by
the sword, small naked Amazon frowning critically in wintry morning
light. Full metal jacket through the lower abdomen, zombie bites in
her neck. She smoothed her hard stomach, felt the sinewy tension in
her lower back, weighed the purposeless handfuls of her breasts,
wondering what he would make of it all. He had branded and sealed her
with his kiss, marked her like a secret knock upon a door.

As soon as her lips met his, she knew he was running a fever. She
kissed him anyway, having wanted to badly for far, far too long; by
this point their first kiss would have had priority over nuclear war
or invasion by galactic slavers. Einstein would have called it a
cosmological constant. Mulder would have called it fate.

Scully knew that, among other things, she was wildly happy, but she
didn't let herself think about it too much. Mulder would have been
surprised to know that there were times she wanted to believe in
magic, to believe there could be things so unaccountably miraculous
that the real world couldn't honestly explain them. Nor would he
believe that she was so superstitious about jinxing it that she hardly
dared think of the future, curbing her movements to the proper gravity
required.
__________________

Why hadn't he realized that the end of one world was the beginning of
another?

The January street below is stroked and notched with the energy of
transit. There is a great abundance of life in his neighborhood -
sparrows toughing out the D.C. winter in fast food parking lots;
tagging crews bombing the gasping busses. A kid from his building
flies a plastic bag on a string, his small square face upturned in
amazement. Mulder feels a similar awe, despite his light-years removal
from the spacey drift of childhood.

He could have laid out his soul when he met Scully's eyes by the light
of the flares, gunshots suspended in the ringing air, the things
people become to each other in war. She dropped to her knees beside a
dead undead and touched Frank Black, her hot pistol gripped in her
hand, glancing alertly about the room. Then she came to Mulder and he
felt her piercing, anodyne touch, and the deep, locking stillness of
her gaze.

The street jerks forward with life; a sandwich flipped from the window
of a car; a slush ball war between paperboys. Power lines writhe among
the trees. A woman flings out a hand as she negotiates the street,
lifting her face to the tumbling kite: Scully.

"I see we can still count you among the living," she says. "The dead
wouldn't leave a mess like this."

She pares a Fuji apple with his serrated pocket knife, catching the
helix of peel on a back issue of The Lone Gunman, scanning an article
about the Lindbergh baby. He wonders if she feels as changed as he
does. Her crenellated gold watch band flashes, and in his subfusc
apartment she is crisp and fresh as a crocus piercing the dirty snow.

Three men push a red Chevette out of a parking space and away up the
street, a child steering. The plastic bag glides and rolls up out of
the darkness of the buildings and fetches into the sky with a burst of
levity.

Mulder, his cheek to the window, feels his heart open.

"You try doing everything left-handed," he says detached, his breath
flocking the cold glass.

The Boston Strangler and Jack the Ripper were both left-handed.

She sticks a slice of apple in his teeth, turns back on her way to the
kitchen. "And you're hardly ambidextrous," she notes, something very
wicked at the back of her eyes.

He bites down, his mouth filled with the tart first taste of love.
__________________

She called the next night and rousted him out of a comfy moment of
bachelor domesticity - he was cleaning his service weapon and
watching porn. He had soup on the stove and his gun was in pieces all
over the coffee table and the stitches in his arm were itching and she
wanted him to drop everything at ten thirty at night and come over
because she'd received an unsettling e-mail. The odd thing was, he
didn't mind.

She had been sent a photograph. It was taken at night with a flash
camera designed by the US Fish & Wildlife to be tripped by deer at a
mineral lick. Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Mulder stood over the
computer to the left of Scully's pine armoire and tried to puzzle out
the image. The flash glare picked out brush and trampled snow and a
ragged business bounding out of the upper left corner, a hind leg that
may or may not have been humanoid. It was a long extended leg,
encrusted or thatched with fur or perhaps cloth, the foot obscured in
a shadow.

"Wow, Scully," he said thoughtfully.

"Pretty inconclusive," she said, standing there with her arms folded.

"But what a piece of Forteana." Scully's white bathrobe made her look
like a tiny bird fluffed out against the cold. He edged towards the
door. Occasions like this made him feel immense and ungainly in his
boots and denim and leather, tracking snow like a caribou. He had felt
the contrast most acutely when she was terminally ill and he was
loping about bursting with health and adrenergic panic; and not a cell
of him any use to her as a cure. He had been ready to rip out his
heart for her if it meant she might live. As it was, he would have no
heart without her.

"Are you going already?" she asked.

"It's late. I don't want to keep you up."

"I just made a pot of tea."

"I'm snowy," he said, looking down at his feet.

"Sit down, Mulder. Like I give a damn," she said mildly, padding
towards the kitchen.

Mulder sank onto the end of the couch. A fire lay low in the grate,
hooks of flame oscillating across the ceiling. The heavily overcast
night was so warm that the window was open. The lamps were turned low.
Scully leaned over the back of the couch with a hand-thrown Chinese
cup, molten, ambrosial. He clasped it in his palms.

"You don't come over much," she commented, curling up at the far end
of the sofa.

"You need time to yourself," he explained. "Get away from me and the X
Files."

"You need time alone, too."

"I have more than enough time alone." He bared his teeth. "I sound
like a real loser, don't I?"

"Mulder, you've never struck me as a loser. And you aren't an
intrusion here, you know." Unlike the rest of the human race, she
might have said. Scully didn't have any friends, and maybe now and
then she did need someone to come over and shake things up, put CDs in
the wrong cases and rifle the fridge. Her fridge was clean, with
nothing dripped down into the bottom. Mulder would be happy to spill
and clutter a little in the name of friendship.

"You don't feel like anything out of the ordinary," she said. "I miss
having a dog," she said unexpectedly. He didn't quite follow her train
of thought. "You and he were the only ones I could wear my bathrobe
around, and not worry about fixing my hair."

He looked at her finally, and she ignored him, sipping her tea. He was
pleased that she didn't fix her hair for him. Of course it was hard to
tell; she looked as soigne as ever.

She narrowed her eyes, feeling his scrutiny. "Besides, Mulder, the X
Files aren't something I can just leave at the end of the day. They've
become a part of who I am, much as I sense they have for you."

He felt himself beginning to relax. It seemed that, all smooching
aside, Scully simply sought to reaffirm their friendship. "Funny you
should say that," he said. "When they took us off the X Files last
year I read this article about New Guinea tribesmen being assimilated
into modern culture, and it said: 'you can take the people out of the
forest, but can you take the forest out of the people?' and that's
exactly how I felt, you know...that they couldn't take the X Files out
of us."

Scully's cheek curved as she smiled. He began to feel good about
staying. "Are those the same people who can fell a tree by yelling at
it ceaselessly for three or four days?"

"South Pacific islanders. Remember that documentary I showed you?"

She was still smiling. "Yes, I remember," she said, amused that he
thought she might not remember every second of their time together.

His tea was cool enough to sip. Scully drank green tea to combat free
radicals. She was big on fighting things - traffic, and shower mold,
and malevolence in its many forms. She fought the aging process and
usage of the word 'irregardless'. Most of all she fought Mulder on
every issue known to man, and a few that weren't. Odd, at the end of
the day, how in accordance they still were.

"I don't usually enjoy winter, but this one feels so peaceful," she
said.

"How can you say that, after the zombies?" He instantly regretted any
allusion to New Year's Eve.

"I wasn't thinking of it in a work capacity."

Mulder grunted affirmatively into his cup. She was right, the evening
was still and breathless.

"Mulder, what is that thing?" She tilted her head back towards the
computer, where the dark image still hung on the screen. Mulder shook
his head.

"I e-mailed the Fish & Game and they didn't send it to me. Someone got
into their files and sent it. The tracking device - none of it makes
sense."

"It's that informant of yours." And Mulder brooded a little. "He's so
on top of this case that we should be following it backwards from him.
Get a composite of him drawn up tomorrow, and we'll try to figure out
who he is."

"Mulder, there's no way he's the killer - "

"No, but he seems to know who is. And next time he contacts you, we'll
bring him in."

Talk of the case broke their mood of contentment. Mulder got up and
set his cup in the kitchen sink. From the dark kitchen the living room
looked cave-like, and Scully yawned suddenly and let her head fall
back on the sofa. "You going?" she asked softly.

"I'll see you tomorrow."

"Wait. How's your arm?" she asked.

"It's fine. It itches."

"Good. Drive safe."

She didn't expect him to kiss her, he saw with some relief, and some
regret.
__________________

"So, have you had your prostate checked yet?" she asked casually. She
was removing the stitches from his arm, pre-lunch.

"Scully - !" he said, horrified. She jerked suturing material from his
skin, unmoved. Nothing was sacred with her. She had okayed the removal
of every conceivable organ of his, in the event of his untimely
demise. She was always after him to give blood at the blood drives.
She didn't weigh enough, so apparently it was up to him to contribute
for both of them, as a sort of sanguinary emissary of the the
Mulder-Scullys. She'd say 'Look at you Mulder, you big lug, sitting
there just full of that nice O-neg; you're healthy as an ox and you
won't even feel it.' She'd thwack his arm and Mulder would sigh and
trudge upstairs where they'd give him a cookie and bleed him
light-headed like a bunch of government-funded vampires.

"I had an AIDS test in '94," he offered. It had seemed like a good
idea, post-Kristen. He eyed Scully sideways to see if he had managed
to put her off the scent. She frowned, obviously doing the math, and
set down her scissors. "It was negative," he added helpfully. Her eyes
flicked to his, and he saw her curiosity, but he wasn't about to
elaborate.

She rolled his sleeve down slowly, buttoning his cuff for him.
Apparently that was enough playing doctor for one day. "Let's get some
lunch," she said.
___________________

She slept badly, falling ten feet at a time, landing sprawled in an X
to clasp the earth.

Fear has a long memory.

She had never effaced the memory of plying Donnie Pfaster with a can
of Tub & Tile; nor, apparently, had he. For a moment though, it was
the sticky, bilious fingers of Eugene Tooms, his copious, raw-liver
breath; it was the trunk of Duane Barry's car; it was Leonard Betts
trying to carve a tumor from her face. It was the steel, smashing
hands of a man who looked like Mulder.

When the dark side came for her she threw herself into it alone, for
what are we, ultimately, but alone? Scully raged with abyssal reserves
of anger, feeling trapped in a swarm of locusts, a small part of her
impressed by her noise and destruction. All that mattered was getting
to her gun, shedding this anathema, putting a bullet in its squirming
brain.

For days she would feel her battered skeleton illumined like an X-ray
through her flesh, lay her cut hands upon her bones with a mixture of
wonder and fear. Pain was a sure sign she still walked the planet.

She went to confession and obliquely admitted her sin. She craved the
runoff of penance, to make her way through the rosary over and over,
her bruised knees aching, the lift of a burden shared. Blessed art
thou amongst women. She wanted to understand what she had confronted,
both in Pfaster and in herself. "Go back to hell!" she had screamed.
Mulder sterilized her bathtub for her, reclaiming it. The devil had
touched her and she washed and washed, a cruciform burn at her throat.

Mulder spoke to her gently of the toughness of warrior angels -
Gabriel, Raphael, Michael. He probably had an X file on it, biblical
vengeance. She wanted to be annoyed at his conciliatory tone, at his
willingness to lie for her, but she wasn't. Ultimately, he was what
she had fought for, for the broader scope of human goodness, for
things wider and worthier than her own narrow life.

She followed him to the city of angels.

______________________________________

Chapter 7

__________________

The Museum Of Jurassic Technology...Mare's Nest...Righteous
Babe...Slaughterhouse...Disturbing Evidence...Suicide Is
Painless...Being And Time...Old Souls And Psychic Words...Albatross
Way...Beast Woman's Daughter...Hot Water...Drink Me
__________________

These are salad days, he suspects, days to luxuriate in their
counterpoised minds, days when they are always together, making haste
slowly. Scully surfaces like a kelpie in the motel pool, verdigris
eyes, black maillot. He feigns scowling absorption in the evening
paper.

"Mulder, I've just been thinking..."

Shouldn't have kissed her in that museum of oddities, bestirred by
dusty metaphysics and mad taxonomy. Not while on a case, at any rate.
Her breath, drawn quickly in.

"Pinchbeck," says Scully, her chin on the edge of the pool, leaf
shadows stroking her arms. "It means something counterfeit, a sham."

At home it's January, but here the illusory California heat wreaks
havoc with his sensibilities, instinct writ large. His heart would
have him believe it is spring.
__________________

The ant clung by its jaws to a leaf, fierce even in death, its skull
pierced by a virulent life form. The storefront museum was dark and
ticking, its front door open to the evening. Venice Boulevard smelled
like hot photocopier toner and onion rings. Somewhere, distant and
airy as panpipes, an accordionist played Bach.

Sequential dioramas illustrated the lecture. Mulder listened on a
receiver to the Sonnabend Model of Obliscence, which dealt with
memory, foreboding and deja vu, and explained, among other things,
'Spelean Ring Disparity' and 'The Cone of Confabulation'. He absorbed
it like warm water, his mind circling in astronomy, premonition, and
the way she looked at the Pacific, that Irish squint, her nose
abruptly freckled.

Scully drifted past a scold's bridle, past haunted bell jars and
antique surgical instruments, eyeing the horn of Mary Davis of
Saughall, Cheshire, mounted on the wall beneath a rack of moose
antlers. Mulder peered into a display cabinet that contained only a
placard - 'Specimen Temporarily Removed for Study'.

It was an eerie description of the way he felt when something
frightening happened to her. He was outside of himself, an ant driven
to the sky. The world stopped, and his heart was removed for perusal.

Scully didn't talk about Pfaster. She dealt with him and moved on.
There was this thing she was building with Mulder, which he sensed she
found as entrancing as he did. Their world continued, and Mulder
drummed up an intriguing decapitation case with which to woo her. In
West Los Angeles he dragged her on what could arguably be called a
date - bought her frozen yogurt, and lured her, against her better
judgment, into the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

"Mulder, what exactly is this place?" she muttered, as they examined a
mole skeleton displayed on velvet.

"It's 'the premodern wellsprings of the postmodern temper,'" he quoted
from the pamphlet. She smiled, as he had hoped, although she also
looked faintly exasperated. "It's 'unencumbered by scientific
purpose,'" he added.

"Well, that ought to appeal to you." She leaned over a case to examine
a tiny scale model of Noah's Ark, no longer than an inch.

"Hush, Scully," he whispered to her. "There's enchantment afoot in the
ether."

Smiling to themselves, they drifted among alcoves and baffles. There
were fruit stone carvings and improbable coincidences, stuffed birds
and the ringnot sloth. There were microminiature sculptures, each
carved into a single hair, the artisan working between heartbeats.

There was a Camaroonian stink ant which lived out its life in antish
fashion on the jungle floor, unless it had the ill luck to inhale the
floating spore of the Tomentella fungus dwelling high in the
rainforest above. With the spore lodged in its brainbox the ant went
mad, abandoning its terrestrial life for the canopy high above,
climbing endlessly upwards until, achieving the necessary altitude, it
clamped its mandibles upon a twig, folded up its legs, and died. The
fungus consumed its brain and liquidated its carapace. Thus nourished,
it then forced a mushroom spike through the ant's skull, which sent a
shower of spore down to the jungle floor, starting the cycle all over
again.
__________________

They feel the latent dread of possessive spores.

She knows each separate swish of her heart, like the Armenian sculptor
working through the microscope on a single hair. Mulder is right,
this place evokes a wary sense of wonder. He was right to bring her
here. They are the only people in the museum, and she can feel the
settling shadows, Mulder breathing, the immediacy of the solar system,
the flaunting roar of the sea.

Beside her, he sighs.

"Mulder, it says that this ant is so large that its cry is audible to
the human ear. Do you think that's possible?"

He turns, amused, and examines her unhurriedly. They have taken to
openly perusing each other. "I don't know, but you're pretty small,
and I never have any trouble hearing you."

She lets her head fall limply back. She favors him with a slitted eye.
"Mulder, you're just not willing to admit that that ant is you."

To her amusement, he grows testy, hands on his hips. "Just what
exactly are you saying? That my mind is not my own?"

"Of course not." She fixes on his blue shirt, watching him breathe.
Mulder is her own private miracle, and she is not proficient at taking
things on faith. It is hard to believe that he will always be there.
Often it seems that he has heard the call of something she's missed.
"...I just mean that you're off on your own course. It's like you've
inhaled a spore that most of us miss, and someday you'll climb away to
the top of the forest."

Mulder shakes his head, his gaze locked on hers. The look on his face
chokes her up. He reaches for her, rubbing her shoulders and down her
arms, uncertain and soft, shaking his head. "But you're down here," he
says.

She nods mutely. They stare at each other for a long, hesitant moment,
his hands tightening unconsciously. He stuns her with one quick kiss,
a burn of pressure across her lips. She has to remember how to
breathe.

She watches Mulder push the buttons on a display entitled 'Protective
Auditory Mimicry'. Still light-headed, it takes her a minute to
realize that no sound is coming out. The display is out of order. But
no it's not - it simply contrasts the warning cries of tiny,
iridescent beetles with similarly-sized pebbles 'while at rest'.

Mulder smiles, slowly, long. She touches his arm, indicating a sign on
the wall. 'We see the subtlest forces, obeying the most capricious
behests of the human mind.'

Her fingers stay on his arm. Only Mulder has ever shown her her place
in the scheme of things, and the scheme's place in her.
__________________

Fresh from his evening shower, Mulder stood on the cement steps in
front of his motel room in his untied running shoes. Beyond the
office, the isolated highway lay empty. The place was laid out with
the floor plan and rural charm of the Bates Motel, and, but for him
and Scully, was completely empty. Their rooms were down at the far end
under the trees, away from the proprietor and his cockatoo that walked
up and down the counter and kept biting at Scully's pen as she tried
to register. In his junketings Mulder had encountered his share of
eccentric motel owners; they all seemed to have corpulent pets and an
afflicted relative coughing to death before a TV somewhere in the
back.

Motels depressed him, but spring was afoot in Tennessee, and the
groaning black earth smelled rapturous. Down the hill a peacock meowed
raucously. A layer of liquid dusk hung in the poplars. Somewhere a
pond seethed, carved out by cows and roaring with frog music.

Mulder scratched his belly and prodded Scully telepathically, but her
door remained closed. So much for their close psychic bond. He walked
alone through the trees, down among a scattering of outbuildings, past
rolls of wire, a burn barrel, a board for cleaning fish. A susurrus
rumpled the leaves. Dim and reeking with wet, it felt like traveling
underwater, and he wasn't initially surprised to see jeweled bubbles
volplaning in the algae dusk.

She was here. He halted, making the quick adjustment from Scully in
her room to Scully here in this clearing, curled in an aluminum chair,
dunking a wand in a plastic bottle of soap bubbles. An emu glared at
her from a chicken wire run.

She tipped her head back, the ends of her fox-colored hair brushing
her shoulders. Soap dripped onto the front of her cropped white
T-shirt, bubbles spinning about her in opalized strings. It was
mesmerizing, completely unlike anything he had ever seen her do. He
blinked, drawing closer. "Snakey snakey snoo," he said, squeezing her
bare toes as he passed. He found another folding chair and pried it
open.

She twitched her shoulders at the mention of rattlesnakes, glancing at
him askant. He shrugged apologetically, feeling he'd interrupted her.
He tried to sit quietly, but his chair creaked, and his breathing
seemed annoying even to himself. A cool wet bubble exploded against
his arm and he thought about it containing her breath.

A half-dozen hummingbirds made last minute rushes at two feeders
hanging in the trees, like great bumblebees coming in at mach 4,
stalling, dropping, banking away. When they came too close he wanted
to brush at them like insects.

Scully stared into the sky. She had been formulating a prayer trance,
watching the prismic bubbles rising up through the leaves. She always
had so much to ask of God. Part of her lifted up through the trees,
buoyant, impermanent. She asked for peace.

Mulder shattered the moment. Her left foot burned and tingled from his
grip. It momentarily annoyed her that her skin opened to him as it did
to water. Metal screeched as he unfolded his chair. Her eyes were
still middle-distant when she sought him out; he was a blurry sprawl,
creaking, breathing. In an as yet half-formed concept, he sometimes
touched her thoroughly in the abstract half-sleep of dawn, sun like
hot bricks on her eyelids, her head roaring with sleep.

She looked away quickly, screwing the lid on her pink plastic bottle.

Mulder looked humbly down through the trees as though he realized he
had invaded her privacy. He was still treating her with extra
sensitivity, as though she were a wall the lightning man had walked
through, as though a touch would crumble her into a brittle
woman-shaped aperture. Somehow she didn't want him to know that
Pfaster had only made her harder.

A hummingbird landed on his head.

Mulder stopped breathing, eyes closed. The hummingbird appeared to be
collecting its thoughts. For several seconds she watched, entranced by
both of them, before the jeweled scrap flicked away into the night.
Mulder opened his eyes and looked directly at her. They let it wash
between them.

Looking at him, she realized that she'd almost failed to recognize a
direct communication from God. True faith was accepting benedictions
in all their dubious forms. For her this meant atheistic Mulder in his
sweatpants with a bird on his head, because of the utter truth of him,
and the undeniable peace he brought her.

"I'm still seeing snakes," she said, for something to say.

"Me too."

"Just a retinal afterimage," she said.

"You have nothing to fear if you're a righteous babe," he teased.

"Mulder, how do we know if something is truly evil?"

"We trust our instincts."

"Yes, but how can we be certain our instincts are right? There are
often such disparate viewpoints - look at these hugely conflicting
interpretations of the Bible."

"A merciful God or Hieronymus Bosch?"

She nodded, frowning.

"Scully, on the day I first met you I was struck by your abiding sense
of right. You have wonderful instincts, and I think you can trust
yourself to know good from evil."

"Then why did I do it, Mulder."

"You did what you knew had to be done. Don't go looking for evil in
yourself, because you're not going to find it."

"And you know this - what - instinctively?"

"Hey, you catch on fast."

She sighed sharply. "I want to believe you."

"All I know," he said, and all the frogs stopped suddenly to listen,
and Mulder listened too, wondering what he was about to say. He looked
at his hands, trying to piece together the myriad emotions she wrought
in him. "All I know is that I've come to recognize lately what a
fortunate life I lead. And that is entirely due to the fact that you
are in it."

"Mulder - " she said.

"It's true." He cut her off. "It's the one truth I am sure of."

"It's...mutual."

He smiled at her, heartened.

"Well," she said, flicking her hand at a hummingbird, "there was
eventually bound to be something we'd agree on."
__________________

Later, he lay under the AC's subarctic purl, an arm behind his head,
the door of his room open so he could hear the night. When he looked
at the floor every shadow and discarded garment became a timber
rattler, so he kept his eyes on the TV. He was watching Aeon Flux.
Scully went by with her ice bucket, a clomping shadow on the shadowy
sidewalk. On her return she put her head in the door to say goodnight.
It took him a second to tear his eyes away from the screen. "Good
night!" he said. Aeon was kicking some major ass. By the time he
glanced at the door Scully was back down the steps.

Mulder sat up guiltily, certain something was wrong. He loped to the
door and jumped off the steps. She startled as he landed behind her,
and she turned around, her face troubled.

"You all right?" he asked gently.

She set her ice bucket on the steps. She held up her manicured hands
as if she'd just scrubbed in for surgery, her polished nails flashing
under the porch light. He reached tentatively for her hands but she
pulled them back. "He was going to make me watch while he cut off my
fingers," she said in a tight little voice. She shook her hands as if
they were wet, her face drawn in disgust.

He nodded. She was probably right.

"He hated us both," she said tonelessly. "He wanted you to find me,
and know that I'd been alive through it."

He dragged her against him. He wanted to cut her and suck out the
poison that devilled them both. His hand slid down her straight little
back as she pressed up against him securely. He had never allowed
himself to picture her whacked like Marat in his bath, because that
would have been the end of him too, and it was not to be contemplated,
not while she was gripping his shirt and rubbing her cheek against his
chest. He was holding her so tight it was a wonder she could breathe.

A moth briskly barnstormed the porch light. In both their rooms the
TVs spewed the faint, frivolous emissions of another plane, a life
that never had much to do with him and Scully. They were of the world
but not in it, and only ghosts can live between two fires.

He kissed the top of her head. She kissed the side of his neck and ran
her hands up under his shirt, and his entire back went to goose flesh.
The top of his skull seemed to float away.

She pulled backwards, gripping his hands, and climbed up two steps.
Her pitchblende eyes locked into his as she drew him close, nails
grazing his prickling nape. "This is so strange," she said,
short-breathed, her voice awed.

"Unbelievable," he whispered, Scully in his arms.

She nipped at him nervously, without making contact. "How could anyone
be like you?" she asked.

With the humming pond and the winglike bones in her shoulders, it was
like kissing a water sprite. They broke out in fever-sweats, lost
their balance, and clung, inhaling each other, parched and trembling.
He experienced rushes of incredulity, her thumb stroking the curve of
his mouth even as she kissed him.

She laughed in a soundless gasp. "What are you thinking?" she breathed
against his lips.

"Banzai," he whispered, absorbing her touch. She drew back, and he
watched her ponder this. "Ten thousand years of happiness," he said
hazily, looking into her eyes at this unfamiliar close range.

"That's what this feels like."

"Yes." He stroked her soft cheek. "Good night, Scully."

"Good night."

Mulder walked backwards to his room, unwilling to let her out of his
sight. Standing on her steps, she smiled at how silly he looked.
"How's this going to look on your field report?" he inquired of her.

"Poor old Walter," she said. "He never stood a chance."
__________________

The slaughterhouse burned.

Although they'd walked miles together, slept on the ground, slept
entwined on the seat of a snow tractor, just being in Salt Lake City
turned them into edgy strangers.

"Well, let's hear your 'theory'," Mulder said testily.

Scully's nose pinched as if she already smelled smoke. She jerked open
a city map and shook it into submission. The city he almost lost her
to. Life would have been one long miserable death without her, the sun
gone from the sky. He couldn't even think about it.

He looked over at her for reassurance and the delicacy of her wrists
made his heart contract, even with the annoying crackle of the map in
his ear. Her lips were set grimly for argument. She wore no rings,
nothing to tie her to anyone, and he felt an odd little flinch of
guilt. He knew she wished for kids and dogs and a house of her own,
and a husband. What the Greeks called 'the whole catastrophe'. Instead
she had branched DNA and the promise of extreme longevity, and a
monster hunter from Massachusetts.

"It could be anything, Mulder - a dog, a bear, a human. What makes you
think it's our suspect? All we know is that an unidentified assailant
mauled an itinerant and the Salt Lake police have said assailant
cornered in a slaughterhouse, and that one of those fine officers of
the law, having heard about you on the internet - " (she raked her
gaze pointedly over him) "contacted you and requested your esteemed
opinion on the case."

"I'm not on the internet, Scully." Mulder removed a folded paper from
the inner pocket of his suit.

"You're not?"

"You make it sound like I have web shrines to my glory." He tapped her
with the paper until she took it.

Across a photocopied map of the western United States he had
pinpointed the sites of the two slayings - Payette, Idaho, and the
southern Idaho highway; and the spot in the Great Salt Lake Desert
where the wildlife camera had been tripped. They lined up perfectly.
He had connected them with a rulered slash; the red stroke went on to
directly intersect Salt Lake City.

She felt a click of surprise, and wondered if he could be right.

Her eyes wandered to her window. Shunted snow stood in piles along the
streets. If she had moved here, would he have missed her? She would
have missed him horribly. In fact, life would have been so colorless
and bleak without him she couldn't even contemplate it, it washed away
from her, leached of meaning.

She would have been here in these miserable wastes, so far away, and
he probably would have shrugged and gotten on with his life in that
heartless way of men. As it was, she continually slowed him down and
held him back. Probably he wouldn't have missed her a bit.

She eyed him surreptitiously. He looked as arrogant and impossible as
ever. "Well?" he asked. He always had to be right.

"I don't know," she said sharply. "Just don't tell me it's something
reanimated." She was sick of him renting movies about killer mummies.
Every weekend, the same thing. He had such atrocious taste in movies.

He fluttered his fingers on the steering wheel. "Scully, in 1977, a
Belgian chemist got the Nobel for the theory that life originated from
organic substances that were irradiated with energy. It's the basic
principle behind the defibrillator. Restarting a body is common
procedure."

"So what are you saying, a bolt of lightning at the stroke of midnight
in the mad scientist's lab?"

"If you like," he said defensively.

"Mulder, I don't have to tell you how preposterous that sounds!
Besides, mummies have all their soft organs removed. The brain is
extracted through the nasal passages. The heart is gone. There's
nothing there to recharge."

In the warehouse district, they swung in and parked behind a line of
police cars. Scully reached into the back seat for her Kevlar -
statistically speaking, whatever they had cornered was probably armed.
His eyes caught hers as she turned back in her seat.

"You think our mummy's packing heat?" he asked.

She stared him down. "Put yours on too."

Mulder took a slug of cold coffee and grimaced. Down the street, the
dark hulk of the slaughterhouse loomed in wait.

_____________________________________________

Chapter 8

They stormed the slaughterhouse on an adrenal surge, the local cops
playing SWAT team, Mulder shining in the role of
monster-hunter-in-chief, Scully lagging as backup and general wet
blanket.

As they cleared each floor and it became evident that the place was
empty, they spread out, poking into the gutted rooms, the hobo nests,
the chutes and lofts.

Mulder left the building, brushing cobwebs from his shoulders, and
climbed onto a low roof that abutted the main building, looking for
tracks in the crusted snow. He revolved in a circle, taking in the
empty lots in back, the scattered sheds, dirty factories in the
distance, and beyond that the Wasatch Range. The wind slapped at him,
smelling strongly of ashes. Clouds hung low overhead; it would be dark
in an hour, although it was only early afternoon.

He felt deeply regretful, sensing that he had finally come close to
the creature. He knew it was dangerous, but he thought only of how
distinctly unparalleled it was, probably the only one of its kind.
That made it wonderful, in his eyes.

Fire sirens were whooping as he returned to the front of the building.
The row of police cars had been backed into the street in a jumbled
herringbone. The city police force stood around on the sidewalk in
jovial high spirits. The slaughterhouse was on fire.

The prospect of watching it burn cheered everyone, the anticipation of
fire trucks, and the elements pitted against each other. Fire and
water. Valiant men, and lots of shiny equipment. Mulder tucked his
frozen hands into his armpits.

"Al dropped his cigarette."

Al defended himself unconvincingly. He was elbowed and patted and
teased. Smoke poured from the third floor.

"Nice work, Al." Mulder felt as happy as anyone until he started
looking around for Scully. Even then, he assumed she had gone back to
the car to pledge her fealty to the heater. She hated to be cold, and
she hadn't been particularly enthusiastic about this whole trip.

Mulder edged out of the way as the pumper truck wailed up to the curb
and now he was wondering why Scully wasn't here watching. Didn't all
women love firemen?

She wasn't in the car.

Mulder, galvanized, galloped back up the icy sidewalk into the crowd.
"Where's my partner?" he yelled. He shouted into their slow, useless
faces. Someone admitted that she had been looking for him. "Is she in
there? Did she go back inside?" he cried.

They didn't know, and they became more confused under his assault.

The firemen were unfolding flat canvas hoses across the sidewalk and
Mulder edged around them, knowing he wouldn't be allowed back inside.

Around the side of the building was the shed roof he had been on
earlier. He climbed back up, dragging his heavy body over the sharp
edge of the gutter,
his red hands grabbling in the snow. The wind wheeled him against the
wall as he stood up. He pulled his coat sleeve over his hand and
smashed in a window. Smoke gushed over him, and the fomenting presence
of fire made him check with one knee on the window sill. He yelled her
name into the darkness, smoke-tears on his face. She couldn't be in
here, she would have left the building at the first sign of fire. All
his instincts told him not to go in. His fear made him angry, and he
loathed himself intensely.

Back down on the ground he loped along the wall until he found a door
to the basement. He battered himself against it. Finally it gave six
inches and he scraped his body through somehow. Down here the smell of
smoke was still faint. He jogged into the dark, flicking on his
flashlight.

This lowest floor was pens and chutes, piled metal and wood, a few
yards of sawdust in a corner. The uneasy memories of offal and blood
underlaid the heaviness of smoke.

"Scul-lay!" he shouted frantically. It occurred to him that they might
have missed the creature, that it was still here, that Scully had
encountered it. His voice resounded through the cavernous room. He ran
through the dark, swinging his flashlight beam, panicked at the
thought that she needed him. He knocked his legs on pipes, and he
remembered his neighbors gawking at her while she lay on the scummy
tiles of his hallway floor, trying to breathe.

Overhead, he could hear the firemen running on the wooden floors. If
she was up there they would find her. His heart cantering with fear,
he sprinted into a dark back hallway and up a short flight of metal
stairs, bursting out of an unlocked door into the crisp air and light.

There she stood against a brick wall, lifting her shrewd eyes to his,
and he caught his collarbone on the door as he stumbled forward.

"Oh, God," he muttered, like a foxhole conversion.

Their guns clinked together as he pulled her against him, one-armed,
her face tipping up to meet his. She said "Mul-" with her eyes
half-closed, and he smothered the word in situ. The ceramic in their
bulletproof vests wedged awkwardly between them, but her body was
pliant, and he slid his mouth against hers, seeking the deepest
possible connection. He felt the trembling of her knee, and the
pressure of her fist caught against his sternum. She pushed at him
while she kissed him back, her nose was cold and damp. Rather
recklessly, he decided that the sharp pleasure of touching her was
worth whatever impartial kismet cared to hurl at them.

Fate wasted no time in retaliation.

"Damn! I KNEW I should have gone into the Bureau!" said a cop's voice
behind him. Mulder tore himself away from her. Her eyes were slow to
open. He threw her an apologetic look as he turned away. Sure enough,
there were three of the boys in brown, happily following the
proceedings. The sheriff's department, no less.

Wearily, Mulder closed his eyes. Oh, Scully would blacklist his ass
for this. She probably wouldn't let him kiss her for another seven
years. He sighed, holstering his weapon.

Scully flicked her hair back into place with a toss of her head. She
drew herself up to a full five feet two of pissy hauteur. She still
held her gun, and she was locked and loaded and breathing pretty fast.

She pointed at the snow. "Mulder, you are disturbing evidence."

Mulder looked down, carefully lifting his feet. Circling, he picked up
some odd tracks, broad muffled prints. He dodged past Scully and
around a chain link fence, following the vague trail. "Scully, get
moulage castings, get photographs!" he called back to her.

He licked at the taste of her on his lips. The icy wind walloped him
and he flung out his arms, feeling oddly victorious.
__________________

For an hour she tails Mulder in the car while he scours the industrial
district on foot, smoke from the burning slaughterhouse oppressing the
watery winter sunset. He is a loping, dogged figure in black, at times
winged as the light catches him. He should have something on his head,
she thinks. He ought not to spend his life like this, seeking
impossible things, running before her, ever afield.

The descent of evening imbues the dirty snow with a sculptural
bluntness. There on the sidewalk is a coffee vendor, incongruous in a
district of carpet stores and loading docks. She leaves the engine
idling and climbs a rough-hewn berm of snow to sniff the heavenly
steam from his cappuccino maker. The vendor is great and solid in his
overcoat and mink hat, and doesn't appear to even feel the cold,
whereas Scully is chilled within seconds, holding her cup to her chest
with both hands.

Mulder comes back down the sidewalk, defeat evident in his flagging
pace, and she has another cup ready to press into his cold-burned
hands. They stand curbside, close to the red cart, which ekes a subtle
propane heat. He slides his wind-stung eyes to her. "They wouldn't put
out an APB on a mummy."

She shrugs. What did he expect?

He hesitates, studying her face. "I guess we gave them something to
talk about."

She tries to sigh, exasperated, takes a bite of cold wind, shudders,
and instead a smile is called forth. She tries to tuck it away. "The
world just isn't ready for you, Fox Mulder."

Heartened, his eyes crinkle and he reaches for a napkin to blow his
nose. He sniffs and takes a chug of coffee. "Good stuff," he says to
the barista, who grunts, polishing spotless stainless steel.
"Scully..." Mulder says confidingly, looking past her down the street.
"I know I should apologize, but to tell the truth," - he leans over
and mutters against her temple - "that was the best kiss of my life."
He straightens up, eyes on the raveling skyline. "And I don't regret
it for a second. So you see my dilemma." He buries his nose in his
cup.

Cold and lust are a painful combination, and she has to close her
eyes. "You're kidding," she says weakly, regrouping.

His wonderful curvilinear lips look cold and chapped, but he grins
softly at her. "Have you ever known me to kid?"

"Well, if that's the case, Mulder, we can probably do better than
that."

"You think?" There is great interest behind his squint.

"Well, it remains to be seen," she says, shivering hard.

"Luff," rumbles the coffee vendor dismissively, rattling oily black
beans into a hopper.

"It is indeed," Mulder says tenderly, leaning his shoulder against
hers for a moment.
__________________

'...and truth for him is what lives in the stars.'
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
'Wind, Sand and Stars'
__________________

She turned on the TV and there he was, her restless unhappy son. He
was as driven as his father, ever starting hares. He was haunted by
little girls. His girlfriend showed no inclination towards the
production of grandchildren - a last, faint clutch at hope in the days
before she discovered her time was up.

He told her to take care, but he didn't call when he got back to the
east coast. She had read somewhere that to have a child is to take
your heart from your body, and watch it walk away.
__________________

>From the leather armchair she tried to grok his meaning. He turned
archetypal from the commonality of grief, but was no less individual
for this. "Give out love and see who gives it back," her mother once
said. Scully was hungry but the stiffening remains in the AB pizza box
no longer registered as food. She shut her eyes against the chaos of
the coffee table, a bowl of apples, water glasses pincushioned with
bubbles. Mulder was flat on the couch with his arm flung over his
eyes. The aquarium smelled like a wharf.

In the rush of her life he was always there beside her - perhaps that
was part of his meaning. Without him, she had been completely wretched
in Africa, and maybe that was part of a person's significance - the
feelings they evoked in other people. Mulder gave her more feelings
than she knew what to do with, and he gave her a place to be.

She concentrated on not falling asleep. She'd been on the road for
days. She'd just spent several hours working over his mother in a
chilly autopsy bay. She was hurrying through her life, checking her
watch in hopes of pinning down time. She threw on coats as she passed
through doors, descended into the earth to work, turned right against
red lights. She plugged in rotary saws and cracked open rib cages,
shook soap into the dish washer, defended Mulder to review boards and
superiors and brothers.

Mulder shook peanuts into her palm on an airplane, uncurling her
fingers with his. He broke into research facilities, the Pentagon, the
Department of Defense for her. He told her she had saved the world.
She gave out love, and Mulder gave it back.
__________________

She is sitting on his coffee table in the middle of the night, leaning
towards him with her chin in her hand, eyes heavy with sleep. She
waits gravely for his words as lamp light glows through her earnest
swatch of hair. He can't imagine how he has ever come to deserve her.
__________________

For all his truck with gods and hellbroth, he seemed unprepared for
this. Mulder always made her face the painful truths of her own life,
and somehow she thought he would have girded himself for tragedy, the
way Rasputin built up his immunity to arsenic for the inevitable day
when he would be poisoned.

Their hands were together, brushing and turning like skirmishing
birds. They pretended they weren't holding hands, just as they had
always pretended they didn't love each other to pieces.

In her endless ruth for Mulder she refused to leave him on his first
night motherless, and she stayed near him and heard his muttered pain,
and like that through the horse latitudes of the night.
__________________

Mulder and Scully, as usual, were joined at the hip, as thick as
thieves, exchanging their exclusive looks. Something invisible coursed
between them. Skinner felt like a third wheel just being in the same
car with them, but somebody needed to come along and hold Mulder's
leash.

As usual, Mulder's behavior had been less than exemplary. A calibrated
light of imbalance gleamed in his eye, and Agent Scully looked like
she'd been pushed pretty far herself. The woman ought to get hazard
pay just for being his partner, as the Smoking Man had once observed,
back in the days when he sat around in Skinner's office, smoking and
observing.

But as usual Mulder seemed to have more insight into the case than
anyone else, and although the last place Skinner wanted to be was in
California looking for what was in all probability a dead little girl,
he had felt it prudent to oversee the mission. If something happened
to either of his agents, he would have to deal with the other one
going berserk.

They were rabidly devoted. They were obviously sleeping together, not
that he could fault Mulder for that particular development; anyone
would have snapped after so many years in confined spaces with Scully
and those bored, unkissed lips. She looked and smelled like a wedding
cake, was fiery, brainy and imperious. She had an ass that wouldn't
quit. Mulder was plainly one lucky bastard.

Aside from professionalism, there was no reason they shouldn't be
involved. What was amusing was the way they hid it and denied it, as
if the heavens would fall if they displayed a moment of human
weakness. They apparently thought they were destined to save the
world, just the invincible two of them, like a turn-of-the-millennium
Steed and Peel.

Did they call each other 'Mulder' and 'Scully' in the sack? They were
an odd pair; he wouldn't put it past them.
__________________

It was Sunday, her one day to sleep in, but it was still early when
Scully snapped to the awareness of a presence darkening her bedroom
door. Alarmed, she was on her feet in one fast writhe, huffing as she
slapped at the bedside table. Her head jerked up as a mammoth
Mulder-shaped hulk lifted a calming hand.

"Damn it, Mulder, I might have blown your head off!" She was clammy,
trembling, humiliated to be caught acting so shell-shocked.

"Put the damn chain on your door," he growled. She could not read his
face in the dimness.

"You picked the lock!"

"Eddie Van Blundht stole my keys," he said tersely. He crossed the
room and loomed at the window, opening the curtains. The scattered
pixels of her vision began to collect. Veiled crystal light washed the
room, and she became aware of her white silk pajamas, her heaving
chest. "We're going to Atlantic City. I'll wait while you shower," he
said quietly. He looked rankled and insular, his eyes black in the
gloom of dawn. He whacked her morning paper against his thigh, circled
back through the room and flung himself on her unmade bed.

"Make yourself right at home, Mulder," she said coldly. He might at
least have taken off his shoes.

He touched the crown of his head to the bars in the headboard, his
trench coat unfurled around him like wings, his hand tangling in the
sheets where she'd slept. She tasted metal in her mouth.

"In ancient starlight we lay," he said to the ceiling.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" She began to unbutton her
pajama top, trying to rattle him. Mulder's eyes followed her fingers,
but he managed to seem preoccupied.

"Did you watch the news last night?" he asked, his eyes jumping to
hers.

She backed through the bathroom door, frowning at him as she slammed
it.
__________________

Waiting for the coffee, Mulder paced her kempt apartment, eyeing
Scully's sleigh bed, which remained untried, as far as he knew. You
could while away a whole Sunday in that bed, brunching and pillow
fighting, reading the funny papers.

He could hear the shower running, knew the bathroom door was unlocked.
He was forever dealing with Scully naked in other rooms, Scully
shopping for clothes, Scully communing with herself in bathrooms,
Scully kicking off the covers just a wall away. She unbuttoned this or
that, discarded her shoes, reached in her bra for one reason or
another. She fixed his tie and messed up his desk, breathed in his
ear, stuck her fork in his dessert. She called him with her dreams but
never her nightmares. She licked the corner of her mouth, a gesture of
thought. She bought herself flowers. She ate brewer's yeast and royal
jelly and all sorts of weird crap, but coffee was bad for you and she
was a caffeine freak, eternally poisoned and running on nerves. She
was a fast draw, a dead shot, a basilisk eye through the sights. The
wisdom in her eyes was a thousand years old, and she didn't even
believe in reincarnation.
__________________

She pondered his words in the shower. Late last night, surfing the
hardsell of TV for more iniquitous entertainment, she'd woven past the
news: the usual wrecks, fires, and human tragedies. There were
terrible floods in Mozambique.

She remembered as she was combing out her hair. It was hair, long
brown hair, naturally dreadlocked, as she had seen flashed on the
news, a small bony shoulder, a glimpse of eye. The sense of something
unfolded from under a stone, damp and perfect as nature.

She trimmed her sails, put on her robe and opened the door. Mulder was
still on her bed, ensconced in the pillows, drinking coffee and
reading her paper. His shoes were off. It might have been a cozy
little tableau, if he wasn't such a pain in the neck. His socks were
black, and she had the urge to clench the length of his long foot in
her hand.

"They found a girl," she said.

"They captured a wild girl," he amended. "They tranked her, Scully, in
the New Jersey woods."

His eyes sharpened with this new preoccupation. He was so encircled by
women - his mother, his sister, herself, and so many missing little
girls. She understood that, pointless as it seemed to go see this
child, he needed to, and he needed her with him the way he needed her
for everything.

Still, she stood looking at him helplessly, as if she yet cherished
the hope that he might someday settle down and take things calmly,
sensibly, and see that life wasn't always what you managed to tear
from it, but often what settled graciously, fortuitously, into your
waiting hands.
__________________

They were shown to an observation room in a psych facility in Atlantic
City, but they found it overflowing with a television news crew, their
extension cables trailing out into the hall. Like intestines, Scully
thought, as though they were in there gutting something out.

Mulder tensely chewed his lip, folding his arms and leaning against
the wall. The crew chattered, squeaked their shoes, and began tapping
on the glass, trying to get a reaction out of the girl. A soft drink
opened with a carbonated snap. Somebody cracked a joke and the whole
room laughed. It was dark in there, but Scully knew that the girl was
naked, and she felt a protective indignation.

Mulder's nostrils widened and his eyes rolled sideways. His hands
flattened against the wall at his sides. Knowing the warning signs,
Scully looked around quickly and grabbed a passing nurse. She had to
flash her badge to curtail filming, and the crew withdrew slowly,
sticking a microphone in her face, jostling Mulder, winding up cords.

Mulder came in behind Scully and shut the door. The room they stood in
was unlit, and contained only a table. He walked slowly up to the
glass and looked in at the wild girl, who lay on the floor of an empty
interrogation room beneath aching flickering lights.

She was taller than he'd expected - she looked closer to 13 than 11.
Her dark brown hair, which had been very long, was hacked off in short
starburst spikes by the people who had attempted to clean her up. The
administrator he'd talked to on the phone had said that they'd had to
tie her up to wash her - they'd trimmed back her nails but could do
nothing about her teeth. They couldn't keep clothes on her. She lay on
the floor naked, patting it idly and licking her fingers. Mulder
realized she was miming eating ants.

She was thin, but long-boned, narrowly muscular. The media was calling
her Rima.

Mulder's forehead fell against the glass. "This is no kind of life for
her," he said brokenly.

Beside him, Scully folded her arms. "Would you have her live out her
life in the wilds, without human interaction, without medical
attention, without speech or education, eating out of garbage cans?"

Mulder's hand came up and slammed the glass. Scully started. He looked
furious.

The girl looked up alertly at the one-way glass, her narrow brown
cat-face as beautiful as anything in the forest.

Mulder caught his breath, astounded. "She looks like her mother," he
whispered.
_______________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________

Chapter 9

"Mulder, wait."

He ignored her, crossing the parking lot. He dashed the coffee
viciously from his cup. Above him, power lines clutched at nothing.

She drove through a district of industrial estates and ship yards on
the way to the freeway, trying to imagine living rough, venturing into
an area like this for food. How hostile and devoid of meaning the
world would seem. It made her hungry just to think of it, although
usually she could go for hours with her stomach folded up inside her,
forgotten, but now she wanted to take him somewhere for lunch, make
sure he actually ate today, although he probably just wanted to get
home.

His hand dropped down beside the emergency brake. He was restless when
she drove. She remembered his hand closing the Jersey Devil's eyes,
and the girl's hand, patting the floor, Mulder's hand slamming the
glass.

"Mulder, you tried to save her mother, and now this little girl has a
chance to be safe. She still has her life ahead of her, and she can
live it like a human."

"But she's a wild creature, completely without speech. The
anthropologists will be all over her, she'll be institutionalized her
whole life. Look at what the linguists did to Genie. Look at how Lucy
Householder's life turned out."

Scully knew he was seeing the track marks in Lucy's arms; Samantha,
trapped and abused, slashing herself with her fingernails. She saw
again that brown urchin face, lovely and rough and wild as a little
wolverine.

Mulder's head fell back against the seat, signalling that he didn't
want to talk. The sky was a negative space, absent of heat or light.
Driving inland always gave Scully a dragging feeling, as though the
ocean were pulling at her.

For years Samantha had been a small child to her, a picture on
Mulder's desk, conjuring up those little faces on milk cartons. But
these past few days, Samantha had become very real in her mind. Scully
could vividly remember being 14, those huge feelings, the confusions,
the constant shocks of the adult world. She had been in a steady
environment with people who cared about her. It was hard to grasp what
it must have been like for Samantha, whom Scully pictured as having
Mulder's sensitivity, his rapacious intelligence. And the way Mulder
felt about her, she couldn't have been someone you would soon forget.
__________________

Mulder began to cry silently, his face turned to the window. His
misery was like black water filling up the car, and she could barely
see where she was going. Tears stung her nose and she shook her head
sharply. She wanted to hold him and kiss him and tuck him in bed,
bring him soup. She thought of the Smoking Man and elaborate
vengeance, but none of it would give Samantha back her life, none of
it would give Mulder back his life. He had been right all along to
look to the skies, but for reasons he could not imagine.

She turned on the headlights as they encountered sheets of mist.
Outside Washington, twilight came sudden and hard. A string of red
tail lights ran down the hill before them and the windshield wipers
scraped hectically. He shuddered, and she reached over, rubbing his
arm, easing the car forward one-handed. He put his hand over his eyes
and gasped.

The mist wafted open and a transient appeared on the median, holding a
seagull by the feet. Its great wings lapped slowly at the air,
arrow-shaped and blinding white, quilted with feathers. They seemed to
touch the car as they floated past, motion slowed, the man and the
gull caught now in spangled grey-gold sunlight through mist, and
Scully was positive she felt the wings touch the car, felt it inside
her like a sound, a rasp of feather over steel, a brush of flight
feathers over her life, over Mulder's.

Then they were past and the car was travelling normally, the evening
locking down, and Mulder's lashes were prickled together. He looked
back between the seats but said nothing, cracking his window as the
car fogged up.

It took forever to find a parking place in Alexandria, and they had to
run two blocks under a cloudburst, water running in sheets down the
sidewalk. It went down the back of her neck and it flooded her shoes,
icy February rain.

Inside his apartment, all she could feel was relief that the roar was
dulled. Hanging up his sodden trench coat, Mulder missed and had to
pick it up off the dusty hardwood floor. He stood there drawn,
chilled, staring at his feet. "I need to get warm," he muttered,
sliding away into the shadows.

Scully sank down and stuck to the black couch as the pipes squealed in
his bathroom. The thought of warmth rattled a shiver through her.
Exhausted, she hugged her knees, road bumps making the floor rise
under her feet. She decided to close her eyes and just hang onto her
breathing until he was finished with his bath, then make sure he got
to bed before she went home and climbed into hers. She felt as
sluggish as if her metabolism had slowed for the winter.

The floor creaked before she felt him lift a wet rat of hair from her
neck. It seemed several minutes before he said anything. Her chin down
on her knees, she pushed her eyebrows up enough to look at the little
round table across from her.

"You're cold."

If she stared at the table hard enough it divided in two. The white
lines of the freeway came up and slapped her in the face. She flinched
and looked up at Mulder.

An understatement, she telegraphed.

He stared at her. Rain was never attractive on him. He looked like a
drowned kitten. She studied the way his grooved lips fit together, a
small miracle of construction. The tub thundered, one spot of womb-hot
heat in the void around them.

"Come on," he said, so quietly it was only his lips moving, it might
just have been imagining. Based on this imagining, she shut herself in
the bathroom with the running tub. One light bulb sapped the light
from the air. In the mirror above the sink was a wraith, white,
shadowy, shocked. She felt old, very ancient and weary of pretense,
pared down to the core like a guru.

She brushed her teeth with the toothbrush she kept at his place, and
removed her watch, her earrings, feeling petrified, trying to recall
what underwear she was wearing. She hoped to God it was black.

She let the bathroom door fall open, and took off her shoes, waiting
for him. She tested the water in the tub and turned up the hot a
little further.

When she looked around Mulder was there, his tie hanging loose. He
looked at her questioningly before he swiped at the wall, putting them
in the dark.

Scully went still, uncertain what to expect.

He turned off the water, and in the sudden silence began to lay his
clothes across the sink. Scully found that she was braced defensively,
convinced that any other man in the world would be all over her at
this point, but Mulder was decidedly unusual, which was why she liked
him so well. His belt clinked against the porcelain, and she began to
unbutton her shirt.

It was thick felty dark. The seepage of sodium vapor light filtering
from the bedroom windows didn't penetrate the cramped bathroom. She
folded her shirt across his clothes on the sink. Although she couldn't
see him, he seemed to get larger the more clothing he shed, until she
was amazed they weren't brushing each other like clouds. She was
holding her breath for long stretches of time. She told herself that
it was like getting down to the basics of who they were, taking off
their clothes together. She heard him step into the water, sucking
through his teeth at the heat.

She was taking off her bra, feeling vulnerable, when he muttered and
climbed back out, dripping water, and went into the bedroom. He opened
a cabinet or a box with a cascade of noise, a sense of rubble. Scully
stepped quickly into the tub and sat down.

She heard the clacking of batteries inside a flashlight. He was back
in the room, turning on a flashlight and setting it down on the floor.
An opaque, blanched pillar of light shot up, spotlighting a watermark
on the ceiling. As he turned to climb in the tub, his hand cut through
the beam, gyrating the dust and steam that swam in the tube of light.

The flashlight lent a dim blue glow to the room. They hugged their
knees, trying to keep their feet from touching. Being smaller, she had
not meant to take the comfortable end of the tub, had only moved there
to get out of the way, but now there was no way to switch. Mulder
picked up his lone bath toy, a cracked, soap scummed frog that had
been in residence for years. He wound it jerkily and sent it kicking
towards her. The Chinese used to call frogs 'Messengers of Jupiter',
back when they believed they fell from the heavens like dew. She
remembered toads inexplicably dropping from the sky, little voyagers
returning to earth. She caught the slippery, kicking body, wound it,
and sent it swimming back.

Like mist burning off a tree at sunrise, Mulder steamed. He put his
face down on his knees. She could feel a clanking perpetual motion of
the things inside him. He lifted his head blindly when she whispered
his name, and she motioned him to turn around, her finger stirring the
steam. He eased his back to her, sloshing a riptide around the
perimeter of the tub. Scully picked up a bath sponge and sniffed it
for freshness. His chin had a sandy friction, rough, masculine, as she
held it up, sluicing water over his head.

How it felt, to be on her knees in hot water, her fingers pressing his
skull to learn the ridges of suture, the cracks and holes of drills
and bullets. His brain contained a trillion neurons, and his brainpan
was delicate, violated, a seashell in her hands. Shampoo a cold slime
she rubbed in with her fingertips, batik water patterns rocking on the
wall beside her, webby and elusive as the words in the small leather
journal, words now inside this head that she held, that she carefully
washed.

The frog, floating belly up, kicked spasmodically.

He wept with his shoulders jerking as she rinsed him, falling water a
safe place to confront the contractions of sorrow. She wiped a line of
foam from his eyebrow with her finger. Even when they poisoned him,
broke up his family, knouted him from horseback or dabbled in his
brains, he was always completely the other half of her.

Rinsed, his hair was crisp and slippery. He put his head down and
sighed, his head as spiky as the Little Prince. Brazenly she pulled
him back against her and held him, eyes on the odd white tractor beam
bisecting the darkness, pinning floor to ceiling, binding heaven to
earth.
__________________

He thought with dislocation that the whole flashlight thing was a
little weird. It was spectral in the steaming room, pushing the
ceiling higher, a fractal nimbus of light encircling a solid glaring
eyeball of light. There was a burn like napalm in his eyes. They held
his sister down, shone lights in her eyes, and she forgot her life
before. If you forgot who you were, were you still yourself? She was
so much a part of him that it was like he had been through it too. He
wished and ached for it to have happened to him.

(Do you realize what losing her again is going to do to your mother?)

He started to rise, floating toward the forked universes in the
wobbling cracks of light, wanting the painlessness of nonexistence.
But Scully's arms were refusing to relinquish him. He was lying back
in the warm veldt of her embrace, crushing her breasts, her wet flame
hand pressing his heart into his chest. Her patience with him was a
mystery. Whatever did she see in him? She had taken off her clothes
based on the premise of a few awkward kisses, nothing more, unless you
considered nearly eight years of trust.

Her breath was against his cheek as she held him, her damaged,
roughshod, demented partner, her arms circling around him like the
dragon of creation and destruction stained into her back.
__________________

She is walking her Slinky down the stairs. He jumps right over her
head, almost killing himself. His tennis shoes are green from mowing
the lawn. She wants to be an astronaut, a zookeeper, maybe the first
woman president.

She reads 'Misty of Chincoteague' over and over, lying in the living
room. He picks up her feet and drops them until she slams her hand
down on the floor and yells, "Mom!"

"Fox!" yells his mother.

He hangs on his mom while she is trying to cook. He wheedles and
cajoles. Someday, when he is rich and famous, he will buy her a car.
He will take good care of her. She tells him to find something to do
before he drives her crazy.

They climb out onto the garage roof at night. Smell of warm tar. He
carries binoculars, his sister drags a useless telescope. "How many
are there?" "I don't know." "Millions?" "Billions."

In the morning, before the bus, Samantha sags dully over her oatmeal
while their mom braids her hair. Her fireflies are dead in their jar.

He steals her diary and reads it, but it's boring as hell, and
something about her careful cursive makes him ashamed of himself. He
puts it back so she never knows.
__________________

His sister is gone.

Just gone. The three of them are too stunned to speak. He finds his
mom with her face in Samantha's bed.

Nobody sleeps. His dad hugs him in the kitchen in the middle of the
night. His parents are no longer speaking, and he is caught in the
crossfire of silence.

It is silent for 27 years.

He becomes someone else.
__________________

Scully laid low for a long weekend.

She put her house plants in the shower, she day-tripped to Baltimore,
she shopped, she drank a rare latte with nothing to do but zone out a
cafe window, pseudo-meditating. No cases, no Mulder, nothing but her
own life. It was intimidating to examine the dearth of substance in
her own life, once work and Mulder were removed. But there was a quiet
in the eye of the storm that she recognized as her own quintessence.

She spent an afternoon in the Smithsonian's Freer Museum looking at
Far Eastern art, trying to ignore the buzz in her ear of an imaginary
Mulder-commentary. Mulder, it appeared, knew as much about art as he
did about everything else, at least in Scully's own mind. She shrugged
irritably, shrugged him away. She didn't want to miss him, she needed
time to think. Life was odd without Samantha between them. Without
Samantha, Mulder was simply a man chasing genetic-remnant monsters and
meteoric worms, and what did that make his partner?

Without Samantha, Mulder's focus would shift. His powers of
concentration were extensive, and she had a disquieting feeling that
they could be leveled at her.

Leaving him was no longer an option. She didn't need a man to make her
whole, the whole fish-without-a-bicycle thing, but she did need
Mulder. The prospect of entangling herself with him was so unnerving
precisely because of how much it meant.

But she needed to be acknowledged for more than just her achievements
at work. She was losing resonance like an unplayed violin, she was
sleeping badly, she was dreaming and craving and generally
dissastified with her life. Even greater was the terror of changing
the well-honed balance of their relationship. Climbing into the bath
with him had made her see how vulnerable involvement made them.

How awkward it was to fall in love with one's partner. And how risky,
how deviant, to act upon it.
__________________

She took her vitamins with orange juice, standing at the black kitchen
window.

There had been string across her doorsill. There were alternate lives
that she could be living, that perhaps she was living, string-theory
lives doubling back on themselves, or strung out, long and awkward as
her present life. She was not herself tonight, or maybe so much
herself that she was unrecognizable to the worn down purblind version
of herself usually aiming the sextant.

Out in the hallway came the elvish tinkle of a cat's bell, and she
crossed herself. She swallowed her dusty pills. She had forgotten to
take her vitamins that morning, something she never forgot. She had
been temporarily possessed by a remissful workaholic, but that wasn't
who she truly was, although sometimes she only remembered on evenings
like this.

She was a woman who always knew where the moon was, whose signature
scent was eau de corpse, who kept a carnation in the freezer like some
mummified prom remnant because he had given it to her with his
heartbreaking eyes when she had cancer eating between her eyes and he
still bravely cracked bad jokes and couldn't hold still and his eyes
told her everything she had once hoped for but too late now, too late.

In the inky glass her eyes were sunken, cadaveric, her aquiline nose
like a blade. She felt lunar as hell, psycho-bitch lunar, a
psychological pressure inside her like premonition. Her inner voice
was like Eve 6 or someone ranting on a subway platform. Mulder had
once noted as tactfully as possible that he thought the tribal
menstrual hut was actually a very civilized concept. She choked down
her vitamins, her hair reflective metal in the glass. One pill makes
you larger and one pill makes you small. The juice sank into her
stomach like a cold cup of poison.

She washed, the way witches wash before rites. She felt best, purest
in black, and so that was what she wore.

In the car she spilled the powdery grit from an empty packet of
Mulder's sunflower seeds. She couldn't remember when he'd been in her
car, but evidently he had. At a red light she dusted her fingers out
the window like an offering to the tribes whose land she crossed. She
sucked her fingers and navigated celestially, squinting upwards from
her rocketing car. Stars, like salt on the tongue, like reaching
flashpoint in sex. Hydrogen into helium, matter into pure energy, a
pressure in the ears, a sucking pull in the forebrain. She went as the
crow flies, as the lights in the sky upwarp and sheer. UFOs, according
to Mulder, generate gravity fields that distort space and time, making
non-linear travel possible. The image of his face as he spoke, his
gaze homed in on hers, his earnest gestures as he tried to press home
his point. The world according to Mulder, in countless
semi-alphabetized Skinner-confounding dossiers, with footnotes. She
tried to imagine how Mulder's face would look if she leaned over on
the couch and opened his button-fly with her teeth.

She had been avoiding him for days, like a bite from the wrong side of
the apple, so his apartment appearing before her was a simple accident
of reality. She might have been walking up the hallway on the ceiling,
Escher-like, to a door that was either large and distant or close at
hand and tiny. The door was wide open, vortical, and the place was
dark. She had read enough fairy tales to know that you always went in.
__________________

Mulder was sitting on his couch in the dark, the fish tank glowing
jade behind his apathetic head. His rusty voice came out of the
shadows, and hearing his voice after days without him made her feel
like sandstone under a chisel. "Hey...and here I thought you were
avoiding me."

She stopped in the middle of the room and eyed him sharply from an
angle. She continued on with her measured gate. She breathed out,
flicked her hair back, and dropped onto the couch. They exchanged a
look.

"You think I'm afraid," she said.

Mulder gave an unhappy chuff, as though she'd responded to an
internalized conversation he was having with himself. His voice was
deprecating, and he picked at the knee of his jeans. "You've never
been afraid of anything in your life. I, on the other hand..."

It occurred to Scully that she should have closed the door. The
hallway light fell through the open doorway in a pale blade. If she
leaned forward she could see the spot where X had scrawled on the
floor in his own blood. The rest of the building hadn't been as upset
by that as they had been by the CDC evacuation last year. Mulder was
not generally a popular tenant.

"Now you see why I've always been afraid to have a family." Mulder
gestured at an invisible lineup of tragedy and disaster. "It isn't a
recipe for happiness, in my admittedly singular experience."

Scully pictured, in rapid succession, a baby girl with Mulder's lips;
Samantha's handprint in cement; Mulder picking up his dead father; his
mother sealing the cracks in a doorframe with tape. His mother's hand
reached towards Scully and smoothed her hair from her forehead.
Samantha shook wordlessly as she was tied to a table, unable to see
the faces beyond the lights.

Scully drew herself together, her throat aching. "Well, they say you
never make your parents' mistakes."

"Yeah, you just come up with a new set of your own."

"I think it would be something you'd have to take one day at a time,"
she said quietly. She was trying not to imagine Mulder with another
woman, some lushly fertile woman, one that she already hated
intensely.

"Kind of like our lives right now, huh?" he said.

She looked at him, wide-eyed. "Mulder." She looked down at her hands.
She couldn't be having this conversation. Just on the way over she'd
been fantasizing about stealing a baby, like Baba Yaga in the night.
She'd found herself lusting for the feel and smell of a newborn's head
under her lips, and she was positive she would start to lactate, if
she could just get a baby. It was all too psychotic and insane to even
contemplate, but Mulder, of all people, brought it out in her, with
his big gentle hands, his babytalk to animals, his subliminal aura of
teeming testosterone.

"What, Scully?"

Her hands were shaking and she slid her hand into his. She closed her
eyes against a burning dryness. When she arose, their hands became a
weight pendulous between them. He looked up at her questioningly. She
pulled lightly, experimentally, and he came up at her and stood,
looming large in her vicinity. She guided him backwards out from
between the couch and the coffee table, his eyes never leaving hers.
Holding her hand tightly, he followed her into the bedroom.

 

Chapter 10

______________________________

 

The Lotus-Eaters...Honey For The Prince...Two Virgins...Dr X Will
Build A Creature...Dos Equis...Strange Bedfellows...Rumors Of
Fate...Where There's Foo There's Fire...Dragons Were Smoked...The
Lonely Buddha...Magic Carpet Ride...Flower Man...Have His
Carcass...My Life As The World's Leading Paranatural
Cryptozoologist-Pathologist...Swamp Thing...Thus Spake
Zarathustra...Love Of Fate
__________________

For years bedtime had been the loneliest time of Mulder's day, but
tonight he had Scully brushing her teeth alongside of him. She
straightened up from spitting in the sink and caught his eye in the
mirror, her Halloween hair sliding over one eye, a hooded gaze that
sent a chill of anticipation through him.

He stood with his arms around her for a long time, there in his
bathroom, wondering how he could have ever thought himself lonely in a
world she simultaneously inhabited. He put his chin on her head.
Generally a whiff of her reminisced of the gut bucket, disinfectant
and the balloon smell of latex gloves; she smelled sometimes of
gunpowder, and always, faintly, of bubble baths. He found the combined
result unfailingly provocative.

She lifted her face and sighed, and held the belt loops of his jeans
and sipped delicately at his mouth until the skin drums were pounding
and he broke out in a sweat, there under the light bulb in his lonely
bathroom.
__________________

Mulder went to lock the door, silent on his bare feet. Scully cast
herself onto his bed and lay waiting for him to return. He came in
with his shirt off. It felt good to be lying on a bed watching this
half-dressed man approach, with the shimmer of danger that always
edged his form and the seriousness of his gaze. She checked him out,
her eyes half closed. Mulder stopped uncertainly. He definitely walked
like a duck, but only in the most attractive sense.

He held out his wadded T-shirt, and she noticed that he was holding
something with it - a padded yellow shipping envelope, using the shirt
to keep from fingerprinting it. "Somebody left this in the doorway."

"What is it?" she asked, sitting up.

"It's a videotape." He sat down on the foot of the bed and slid the
tape halfway out without touching it. Scully crawled up behind him and
put her chin on his shoulder. According to the tape's label, it was
several years old and had been taped over endlessly.
__________________

Rosenbergs Doc
RL: Graduation '97
Space Seed/Tomorrow Is Yesterday/ST:5476.3-For The World is
Hollow & I Have Touched The Sky
Fro - Caprial SAVE (cacciatore)
Project Ozma
Leonard Peltier
Cannibal Women of the Avocado Jungle of Death
Simpsons/Hydrotubes/Lisa's Sub/Reaching Broom/Whacking Day
RL - S&G Central Park '81
Legendary Pink Dots
Who-Tommy
SURV
__________________

Everything was crossed out except the last entry. Mulder held his nose
and said, "Stardate 5476.3."

"This belongs to the Gunmen," said Scully. "Do you think they were
just here?" While I was kissing you in the bathroom, she thought.

"What did Langly graduate from?" Mulder wondered. "You know what this
is, Scully, it's the surveillance tape your informant took during the
party." He slid it back into the envelope.

The real world encroaches, she thought. Of course. She closed her eyes
and smelled his neck.

"This guy is really starting to piss me off," Mulder muttered.

Scully concurred, her eyes still closed. Nothing smelled as good as a
male, particularly the one you were crazy about. She traced the
carotid in his neck with the tip of her nose. "Mind running me to the
latent prints lab? We should really get this checked out," she said,
while she still had the will power.

Mulder turned his head as far as he could and showed his suave
underbite. "Scully, I'd drive you to the Outer Pleiades if you asked
me. Just say the word."

She brushed the top of his head to make his hair stand up. "Maybe
sometime soon," she said.
__________________

They left Bureau headquarters in silence, promised prioritizing of
their fingerprints by a lab tech sporting a standard-issue
Scully-crush. Mulder felt a certain sympathy for the guy, borne of
having been there, but it was a rather smug sympathy when he recalled
his recent experiences with her wet and tender mouth. The laboratory
had the multi-colored glow of a psilocybin flashback. He looked across
at Scully, who stood with her arms folded beside a micro centrifuge. A
flunky held up a severed finger in a zip-lock bag.

They were quiet in the car. She drove.

"You wanna come back to my place?" Mulder asked finally. He hooked his
little finger through hers and sawed her arm in the air. He was
beginning to think she was about to bail on the evening. Her brow was
pursed with thought and she pulled her hand politely away from him.
The streets were icy, and she drove with care.

"You don't think we'll be giving them more leverage?" she asked.

"You mean by getting involved?" he asked shyly.

"Yeah." She breathed out tensely, looking across at him.

He shook his head uncertainly. "We've already proved how important we
are to each other; they have to realize that by now."

Scully pulled into a darkened back street and parallel-parked where he
indicated. She wrenched up the emergency brake.

"The way you came after me to Alaska, to the Bermuda Triangle, the
time I went to Antarctica," he continued. "Nothing says 'I love you'
like a trip to Antarctica," he tried to joke.

She nodded, looking straight ahead.

Mulder held the bridge of his nose. "Of course it's risky," he
admitted. "Everything we've ever done is. The question is, how much
are we going to let this job of ours govern our private lives?"

"What private lives?" Scully asked.

"Exactly."

Scully tried to force her shoulders down. It was not her place to be
the paranoid one, but her years with the X Files had brought a wary
alertness she couldn't shake. Ultimately she now trusted in no-one but
Mulder, and he had fallen hard on his sword of truth.

But where he would once have been disillusioned, he was now quietly
recouping. He was more flexible than he used to be, stronger. She
liked to think that he had confidence in her commitment to him. For
once in his life he deserved to know stability in love.

Moisture ran down the inside of the window. Mulder pried a seed husk
from his teeth. She reached over and thumbed the bristly edge of his
haircut, rubbed his temple. He bared his eye tooth in a remorseful
grin. "Receding, eh?"

"Oh, Mulder," she said, from somewhere deep and aching, drawing her
fingers back through the air, his face a shadowy backdrop. Eyes fixed
on each other, they both reached for their door handles, and scrambled
from the car with sudden impatience.
__________________

They approached his building via the murky back alley, "where you
winged me," he whispered. Mulder let them in through the laundry room
with a key he had, and they stood together in the door to the fire
stairs, listening. After the icy back street the laundry room was warm
and close, but a cold current came down the stairwell. Mulder looked
down at her. They had a look - it wasn't even a nod, that meant 'let's
go'. In mute accordance they ran up the first flight of stairs
together, the door sucking hollowly shut behind them.

Periodically when she examined their lives for some sort of through
line she noticed that continuity was most clearly manifested in an
ordered chaos. She and Mulder held their positions, point-conscious
observers in a muckle of disaster. Tonight she didn't want to look
outward; they were ever looking outward. As they ran upwards together,
arms brushing, she wanted to shut out the bedlam and concentrate on
him, make him feel everything there was to feel, make him forget
everything terrible he had ever known.

Later, when he touched the buttons down the front of her shirt as if
counting coins, she felt the keratin of his fingernail tap each
button, the button press into the fabric, the fabric's weave in turn
impressing her skin in tiny circles plotted down her front. The arches
and whorls and papillary ridges of his hands seemed engraved to map
her out in increments. And Mulder, with his usual savoir faire, turned
the whole thing around until it was Scully who forgot her name, her
way home, and everything bad that had ever come to pass.

The cement stairwell thrummed with their rising. Out of the blue she
remembered that she had configured Cassiopeia on his bedroom ceiling,
and couldn't think why that left her cold. On the third floor landing
they paused to catch their breath. The stairwell ceiling was a
dizzying distance above them. She felt the plunge of Hitchcock's
forward zoom/reverse tracking shot down the stairwell in 'Vertigo'.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and panted up at him. "If we eat
the lotus we'll forget our way home," he said. "I want to forget," she
said.

They met no-one in the hall. Inside his dark apartment he put his
hands against the door and listened. "I don't mean for this to seem
clandestine," he murmured. "I just don't think it's anyone's business
but ours." When he looked upwards the cascade from the transom fell in
a mask of light across his eyes. He turned towards her, his face going
dark.

Her hands found the dampness in his hair and rubbed it, her fingers
seeking the warmth of his skull. "This is lunacy, you realize," she
said.

His hands planed her shoulder blades. "Did you expect anything less?"
__________________

She kissed with the concentration she usually applied to their work,
as if there just had to be a scientific explanation for this X file
that was him. They both had a lot of control. Her tongue slipped
momentarily against his, as if by accident. Mulder waited a long
interval before reciprocating.

He was lying on his bed holding the willow basket of her ribs,
tonguing the sharp edges of her incisors, an ambulance siren going by,
and she pulled up her knee and kicked off her shoe, her teeth
delicately crimping his tongue. He found that her eyelashes were wet,
that somehow she knew how to kiss like a real grown-up woman. He could
hear the dripping of the bathroom tap, and he remembered pouring
gasoline over his head like an self-immolating Buddhist monk, the riff
of burn and chill along his skin, re-evoked by her understated
touches.

She sat up and took out her earrings while he rubbed her compactly
curvy hip. She did not seem quite human to him, and he knew that
taking off her clothes would only strengthen that point. She was a
messenger, a seer; panhuman or more than human, something falling
under generic terms: conduit. Angel. She summoned divinities with her
breath, and monsters with her beauty. She had clambered on the craft
that brought dead fish to life; exchanged her death for Fellig's; she
healed with remarkable speed, was immune to the alien virus, and bore
a techno acid test of a microchip. These were just a few of the
reasons he thought they had just cause to use a condom, and most of
the reasons he knew that they wouldn't.

The building was unusually silent, as if listening, the way menhirs
standing in a field seem to listen. They kissed quietly, trying not to
groan with the pleasure of it. He sought the two lines parallel across
her throat that he had admired for years, and read them by taste, and
they were everything he'd imagined.
__________________

Once, she opened her eyes and looked up at him, blissed out, and he
was augured deep in the trap of her bundled pelvic bones, a pillow
behind the head board, the bed a turmoil of coats and pillows, both
their watches, one of her shoes, and two books on globsters. She was
still wearing her bra. He knew she would refuse to stay the night with
him, and it made him fiercer, more desperate to stay entangled in the
nervanic machinery of her. He rubbed the flat of his thumb against her
front teeth. She fretted in her throat and left a thread of saliva
from his shoulder to his jaw. He watched his shadow flying over the
ground, like the shadow of an aircraft. He pulled her fingers up from
between them and sucked them, all four at once.
__________________

He petted her hair, seeped a kiss into her temple. "I love your hair,"
he whispered.

"And I love yours," she said, looking up. "It's so 'Eraserhead'."

"Gee, thanks!"

"Mulder," she said, "I can't help but feel that this marks the end of
everything that's ever mattered to you."

"The end and the beginning," he said.

She nodded, her head in the crook of his arm. After the second time
they had been nearly comatose, trembling with exhaustion. They lay
still stitched together, her leg thrown over his hip, and she lifted a
shaking hand to look at her watch, but her wrist was bare, and her
fingers were stiff and glued together. Beyond her hand the ceiling was
dim and wavering; she thought that perhaps the stars were hateful. She
checked the pulse under his jaw to make sure she hadn't killed him,
and he breathed a laugh into the pillow without opening his eyes.

Scully dared herself to give in to this life, to call this enough -
dire middle-of-the-nights with this unbelievable parabiosis arcing
between them, and the daytime eternities of pretending there was
nothing new.

And now when he wanted to lie with her, kissing and talking, she
thought of how they would act tomorrow, of the subsequent days until
they could be like this again, and she felt a certain level of
bitterness at the sham of her life, bitterness he dispelled with his
hands and mouth, and with his unspoken assurance that the only certain
thing we have is now.

She had disentangled herself and limped stiffly to the bathroom, where
she cleaned herself up and examined her face in the mirror.
Considering what she had just been through, she didn't look much
different. She dared herself to smile, and didn't.

Mulder stumbled in behind her, looking rumpled and wild. He paused as
though he'd never expected to see her standing naked in his bathroom.
"I think maybe you're bleeding a little," he said, indicating the
faint ring she'd left on him, like a high-water mark.

"I don't think it's anything," she said. "I think I just lost my
virginity again."

"Oh, me too," he said warmly, and they looked at each other in the
mirror. He came up behind her and squeezed her tight. Later, when she
left him, there was water in her eyes, but not to the extent that he
was supposed to comment. It was hard to leave him there with his
lovesick eyes and his hair a mess, the sheets and his skin painted
gold. She didn't dare kiss him. He held her hand in both of his and
she stroked his hair and tried to work up a smile. "Good night, sweet
prince," she said gruffly, drawing her finger down his nose, trying to
make him smile. He only blinked and opened her palm and pressed his
face into it, hoping to leave an imprint.
__________________

Mulder hove dramatically on the scene the next morning, pausing in the
doorway of the sanctum sanctorum to sink a crumpled coffee cup
overhand into the trash.

"My, aren't we chipper," said Scully, swiveling lazily in the desk
chair. He affected a world-weary slouch, but couldn't quite pull it
off. A trace of a smile flickered in Scully's eyes, and she busied
herself with the remote.

"What've we got?" he asked, divesting himself of his trench coat. The
silver light came down from the skylight against his face and her
heart crashed rhythmically against a stony shore.

"What do you know about making mummies, Mulder?" Another part of
Scully could carry on as ever, working. Work. Arbeit macht frei.

"Well," he said with condescending patience, "on certain nights when
the moon is full and romance is in the air..."

"I mean, what is the basic ingredient?" she coached, rewinding the
tape.

"For a mummy? Um." Mulder rolled up his sleeves, circled the room
thoughtfully. He looked pretty cheerful for someone who had gone with
so little sleep. "A dead guy." He sat down on the front of his desk,
qualmishly lifting his brows at her over his shoulder. "What's on this
tape, Scully?"

Scully crossed her ankles and hit 'play', enjoying the look on his
face. On the monitor two guys were kissing in the hallway outside the
Gunmen's, captured in flickering black and white, 'The Lovecats'
barely audible on the soundtrack.

"You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs," she said.

"It's so bourgeois to make free with cliches, Scully."

"I thought you said it was bourgeois to be straight."

"Oh, that too. Even Ernie and Bert were gay."

Scully leaned on the armrest and folded her hand over her eyes.

"Sometimes they'd push those little beds together."

"Mulder - !" she groaned.

"You didn't think they were brothers, did you, Scully? Ernie's
obviously Hispanic!"

"Can't you be serious for once?" she asked. "Do you have any idea
what's on this tape?"

"I'm getting a terrible feeling," he admitted. "Why do you think I'm
cracking wise?"

"Because you're hopelessly impossible?" she offered.

"Come on, prepare me a little," he coaxed. "Is it awful?"

"Mulder, ever heard of a little thing called snuff porn?" she asked.

"Oh, shit. No way."

"Way."

Mulder rubbed his eyes. "It's too early in the morning. It's my first
day back at work. I don't want to watch this with you. I don't want
you to have to watch it."

"I've already seen it."

Mulder rubbed his face. "Maybe it's a simulation?" he asked hopefully.

"Nope, the real McCoy."

"Is it a guy?"

"Yes."

Mulder looked thoughtful. "Does he look Egyptian?"

"How did you know that?" she asked, surprised. Mulder was always a
step ahead.

He looked up at the skylight. "Wow, Scully..." he murmured. "And he
bites it?"

"He bites it."

"A dead Egyptian guy. Wonder what they did with the body..." Mulder
started going through his umbrella stand of rolled maps.

"Mulder, you're trying to get out of watching this." She sat on the
front of the desk and put her hand on the spot beside her.

On the television monitor Scully's informant approached, captured from
overhead on the grainy security video. His face was difficult to make
out, but Scully recognized his posture and build. He was abruptly
preempted by the lurid gloss of color film, a fleshy miasma of
cavorting priestesses. Mulder hit the lights and came and sat beside
her. The priestesses in their faux late-dynasty attire were attendant
upon the pressing needs of the leading man.

"Please, Scully," Mulder muttered, mortified.

"This is all evidence," she argued, but she cut to the chase.

There followed a vivisection so detailed that Mulder turned away a few
times, closed his eyes, looked at the wall, hummed 'Lovecats' to get
himself through it. Scully gave him sympathetic glances. Usually she
enjoyed trying to gross him out, especially around autopsies in
progress, but this morning she let her elbow touch his companionably.

She herself had found the evisceration fascinating, from a
pathologist's point of view. The victim screamed as the dagger was
inserted into the lower left side of his abdomen. The incision was
precisely six inches long; it took seven women to hold him down. An
anachronistic plastic five-gallon bucket came into play. They had
removed several feet of intestine and a kidney before he passed out,
lying moribund but undoubtedly alive for several subsequent minutes.
The Egyptian embalming process took forty days of draining and salting
and drying before a corpse was wrapped, and this was like a high speed
version of the practice. Once all the organs were removed, the body
cavity was rinsed with wine, packed with spices and cedar shavings,
and the autopsy slit was sewn shut. The brain was hooked out through
the sinus, via a puncture in the ethmoid bone. The corpse was packed
in natron, wrapped in gauze, and sealed in melted resin. Then,
abruptly, The Who were singing 'Pinball Wizard', and Mulder sighed in
relief.

He shook his head in amazement as Scully turned off the TV. "Well, I'm
ready for lunch."

"It's pretty amazing, the lengths humanity will go to for
entertainment. In this case, entertainment outweighs human life."

"It makes you think, doesn't it? The Roman Empire reached similar
levels of depravity right before its downfall. All I can hope is that
the segment of our society who classify this as 'entertainment' is
very small," he said.

"Why did he give us the tape? Why the games?"

Mulder picked up the phone. "I don't know, but I know a few gamers who
can probably find out." He looked at her over the receiver, a look in
his sepia eyes that potential spy cameras could interpret however they
liked.

______________________________________________

Chapter 11

Driving in from Quantico one snowy evening in late February she hit
ice rounding a corner and her car began to slide sideways down the
street. She tried to correct it without braking, feeling the momentum
spreading out before her, her hold on the earth skating away. A horn
blared past. Someone in oncoming traffic had their brights on and for
a moment she was looking deep within the light, gone neon blind,
flashing on a whirl of indistinct and unrelated memories. Then the
tires gripped gravel and she was miraculously back in her own lane,
straightening out, the street dark ahead of her. Despite heavy traffic
she had not so much as scratched another car.

She came down into her thumping heart and steady hands. She was
annoyed at herself but unafraid. She felt the strong lure of Mulder,
how it felt to hear his voice with her head against his chest. She
imagined the centralizing comfort of his couch, the tempo of his heart
beneath her cheek. His apartment would be warm and well-lit. She had
thought of him in those few racing moments, and she realized now that
she was vectoring towards Alexandria, though she had originally been
heading home.

She had never needed anyone like this. She liked being self-contained,
touching no-one and no-one touching her. This weakened her, meddled
with her concentration and her independence.

It was her birthday. The anniversary of the day she was born. It had
always seemed to her that the day of one's conception should be
celebrated instead, the moment of that first cell division, when one
first came into being. Of course as a date it could be a little harder
to pin down.

"I think of this as our day," she had confessed to her mother that
morning on the phone.

"Oh, so do I."

"You're the one who did all the work. Why should I get all the
credit?"

"Do you have any big plans tonight?" her mother asked.

"Oh, no, I hope not," Scully said. "I haven't gotten wind of anything.
If Mulder even remembers he'll probably just give me a key chain or
something." She flashed on biting Mulder's bare shoulder, and
straightened up, clearing her throat. She opened the fridge and tried
to get her mind out of the gutter. She had slept with Mulder once, a
week ago, and it had hardly been a casual encounter. It had been deep
and frightening and phenomenal. She couldn't presume it would become a
common occurrence.

She wrinkled her nose as though against an internal pain, and moved
the milk to one side, looking for the baby carrots. "I have to get to
work, Mom. Was it a hard labor?"

"You looked like a little fairy from under a rock," said her mother.
"Have you read 'Angela's Ashes' yet?"
__________________

When Scully came to herself that evening, she was cross-legged on a
cushion on the floor of Mulder's living room, breathing the steam from
a bowl of hot and sour soup. A troika of Gunmen monopolized the room,
and she looked around at them in some surprise. Paul Simon's
'Graceland' album was on the stereo. Mulder was on her left, at the
end of the coffee table, scraping pork-fried rice from a takeout box.
On her right, Langly dipped a piece of sesame chicken in the hot
mustard and opened a Dos Equis. Frohike was tickling his laptop
one-handed as he ate, lounging on the couch like a tiny pongid Mae
West. Byers went to the kitchen for forks. Only Mulder and Langly used
chopsticks, Langly drumming his on the coffee table at intervals.

"He operates out of Albuquerque," said Frohike. He held out his plate
for prawns.

"But he does a lot of work in New York, and overseas," said Byers. "We
suspect he bugged Scully's car so he could find her quickly if he
needed to."

"But that doesn't make sense. I never take my car anywhere," Scully
objected.

"I don't expect the field of directing porno flicks attracts many
geniuses," Langly said. "Although apparently it can be lucrative. He
tends to get commissioned a lot."

"But I've spoken to this man, and he didn't strike me as particularly
foolish," said Scully.

"What's his name?" Mulder asked, tearing paper towels off a roll.

"Armyan Lillegard," said Frohike. "And his passport photo matches
Scully's positive ID on the video grab." He handed his laptop across
the table and Scully nodded at the photograph on the screen.

"Well, the field of cryptozoology-pathology tends to attract geniuses,
and only the rarest of geniuses. In fact, there may be only one such
in the world," Mulder said. The Gunmen stared at him, spellbound,
waiting. Mulder pretended to drop his napkin, and under the table his
hand touched her knee. It went against every unspoken rule they had,
and she raised her eyebrows, even as she went warm in the stomach. He
took his hand away.

"Scully pulled a partial logo off the bucket, the logo of a paint
company based in Seattle." Mulder reached up behind him to his
computer desk and grabbed a ratty piece of paper Scully privately
thought of as his Mummy Map. He smoothed it open on the corner of the
coffee table and tapped his finger on Seattle. The perpetrator's route
backtracked exactly through Seattle.

Mulder produced a photograph he'd printed out. "Look at this! Five
months ago, Seattle PD discovered the remains of human viscera in the
woods out of town. No body. Look at the ground, Scully. What are
those?"

Scully studied the grayish photo. Langly leaned over her shoulder.
"They're worms," she said slowly. "Night crawlers." The lumpy ground
was littered with them.

"Worms!" said Mulder happily. He played a little bongo riff on the
table, and ate a snow pea.

"And what does this mean to you?" she asked.

"Notice that the worms are dead," he said.

"I notice."

"What makes worms come up out of the ground?" he asked.

"If you pour soapy water on the ground, they come up," said Byers.

"Close," said Mulder.

"One of those worm-shocker things," said Langly.

"Warmer," said Mulder.

"Lightning," said Scully.

"The Birthday Girl takes round one!" said Mulder. "Open your
presents."

There were two presents in the middle of the coffee table, surrounded
by takeout boxes. Scully eyed them reluctantly. She was notoriously
hard to shop for.

"Wait. What exactly are you implying took place there, Mulder? And the
bucket doesn't even prove inconclusively that the film was made in
Seattle."

"Close enough for government work," said Frohike.

"Mulder, this man is dead. We saw him get killed. And VICAP finds no
connection between the deaths of James Keep and Kit Remmerde." Scully
stabbed violently at a water chestnut.

Mulder pointed a chopstick at her. "However, we do, Scully. The
question here is: why were we given the tape? Obviously your informant
wants us on this case, because whatever he inadvertently created has
become a threat to him."

"It's alive," muttered Scully facetiously, taking a slug of beer.

"Why can't you admit it?" he asked, annoyed. "Scully, you've seen the
lab results, you've seen the bodies, you've seen the video. How much
more proof do you need?"

"Brainsuckers, Moon Monsters, where will it end?" she asked of no-one
in particular.

"It was a Fear Monster," he snapped.

"Lucy and Ricky," muttered Langly from the corner of his mouth.

"Basil Fawlty and his little piranha-fish," whispered Frohike.

Mulder and Scully's heads turned as though they'd forgotten they
weren't alone. "What?" Mulder asked.

"Don't fight in front of the kids," Frohike said. "You want to warp us
for life?" He passed Scully the first present. It was a book, from
Mulder, gift-wrapped at the store. "So what does this make you,
Scully, twenty-five?" Frohike asked. Scully favored him with a look.
She didn't want to hear any comments about 36-year-old women. "Hey,
when you get to be my age, everyone looks like a spring chicken," he
said contentedly, cracking open a fortune cookie.

How did it get to this point? she wondered. When she'd first met this
klatch of oddly-spoken misfits she'd dismissed them on principle. When
she'd first met Mulder she'd found him conceited and difficult. Now
the five of them together constituted a working fellowship of sorts.
In high school they probably wouldn't have spoken to each other. She
was surprised to look up now and find that she'd accepted them, and
been accepted in return. Mr. Basketball Star would have been too cool
for her, she thought.

Mulder had given her 'The Tao of Pooh'. She wondered if he was trying
to convert her to Eastern religions. Or children's literature. Inside
he had written:

Feb 23 2000
Thanks for making the journey with me.
XX Mulder

"Thank you," she told him, touched despite herself. He smiled softly
at her. She was trying not to smile back, at least not in front of the
guys.

She opened the Gunmen's present with greater trepidation. The box was
wrapped in the Sunday comics and tied with raffia. You never quite
knew what to expect from them - it could be the director's cut of
'Barbarella' or hemp-butter zucchini muffins.

Inside was a plastic bag containing a goldfish, which she would have
to keep at Mulder's. "Your own fish," said Langly. "No reason for
Mulder to get to have all the fun of pet ownership."

"And this way you won't have to clean the tank," said Frohike. The
Gunmen were suddenly mobilized, shutting down the computer and
carrying their plates to the kitchen. Langly's grandma was coming in
on the bus. They had to pick up their laundry from the laundromat.
"Byers may go and get married on us," said Frohike, disgusted. Byers
stood silently proud. They all looked at him with the mistrust and
envy of single people.

"You've talked to Susanne?" Scully asked him.

"We've been in touch," Byers said quietly. Mulder was cleaning up the
coffee table, and Langly in his Deep Purple T-shirt stood rolling the
basketball down his arm.

"Killer groats, man," Frohike told Mulder. Scully kissed Byers in
congratulation as the Gunmen left. She followed Mulder to the kitchen
with her hands full of bottles and glasses.

"Don't you dare put your hands in that dishwater," Mulder said,
putting cartons of leftover Chinese food in the fridge. It looked like
he would be eating it for a week.

"Thank you for dinner. And for remembering," she said. "Not that I
want to remember."

Mulder stopped and put his arms around her waist. The water in the
sink was running. He looked into her face. "I want to remember," he
said. "I want to remember every minute."

Langly, slouching back in in his high tops to retrieve Frohike's hat,
happened to glance toward the kitchen, and that was how the Lone
Gunmen accrued irrefutable eye-witness substantiation of the
long-debated, non-definitive Mulder-Scully Relationship.
__________________

Mulder put up no opposition when Scully said that she wanted to go
home. He zipped a suit into his garment bag and packed up a few extra
things as she stood watching in his bedroom doorway, feeling a little
dazed. Heat rushed up her body when he looked at her. "Is it all right
if I stay the night?" he asked. She could not find an answer, and she
stared at him, managing to nod. Mulder held a pair of forgotten shoes,
stood staring at her in amazement.
__________________

"In Africa I saw a man," she said. "A tribesman." There was a
didgeridoo of wind under the eaves. Mulder lay across the foot of her
bed, holding her feet, his hip washed bronze. She felt so heavy and
lazy she couldn't even lift her head from the pillows. She was chafed
and cherished, scent-marked. She wanted to tell him everything of
importance inside her, how she felt as if she were finally coming of
age. How it had felt when he was ill and she could find no cure, how
it felt when he was missing. He pressed the sole of her foot to his
hard raspy cheek and she remembered when he was above her, her foot
curved to follow his jaw, her knee beside her own cheek.

"He spoke to me," she said, experiencing his whetstone skin with her
toes. "He said, 'Some truths are not for you'."

"You get more visitations than Bernadette of Lourdes," he said.

"He was real, Mulder, I saw him."

"And you believed he was trying to tell you to go home."

"He was right, though. I was not able to divine the truths of the
ship. They were not for me. A complete human genome on a buried space
craft?"

He gripped her foot and thoughtfully smelled her toes. "And the fish
came back to life," he said.

She pushed off his chest with her foot and sat up against the pillows.
"Scully, you really don't think you need any birth control?" he asked
quickly, his nerve gathered. He saw the swift closing of her face, and
she looked away, trying to hide it.

He got up and moved up the bed to lie gingerly beside her. "You don't
know for sure," he murmured. "You still menstruate."

"But YOU said!" She turned towards him, the grief in her face almost
more than he could take. "Besides everything that's happened to me, we
both know that I've been exposed to high levels of radiation. And not
just during my cancer treatments. You told me, Mulder, because you
knew it to be true." She looked away. "I don't see any reason to
discuss it."

He dropped his chin to his chest, arms folded. This was as far as he
intended to take it, anyway. Sex had never been so raw and elemental,
so unhindered by prophylactics, and he didn't want to change a thing.
Sex with Scully was having the breath sucked from his mouth, having
her stare into his soul and drown him in her depths.

"Mulder, a few years ago I came up against this wall with you," she
said. She folded her arms beneath her breasts, her head tipping on the
pillow. He had tilted the mirror over the bureau earlier, and now he
could read her expression in it, her eyebrows rising and falling as
she spoke. "At that point you were just another man in a series of
domineering men whom I wanted to please. Eventually with these men
there always came a point at which I rebelled, I was punished, and I
escaped. But with you, something changed. We worked through it
together. We became friends, equals."

He reached over and she interspliced their fingers. "I grew up,
Mulder. I didn't walk away from you. I didn't make it be your fault.
That never happened to me before."

"I grew up, too," he said. "I could have just let you be a sister to
me. All I've ever wanted is my sister."

After she'd locked the door to her apartment, he had brushed the snow
from her collar, and she'd backed up against the wall. There was a
sharp aggressive light in her eyes and their gazes locked as his
shadow slid over her. He had not meant to dominate her but it made her
breathe so fast that he loomed over her, hands on the wall,
discovering that his partner had a dark side she had hid well for
years. There was something rough in her rapt gaze, in the sound that
tore loose in her throat when he pulled her hands up against the wall
and kissed her.

Now, she slid his hand over the satiny surface of her belly, her eyes
closing. He half-rolled against her and nuzzled the rough ends of her
hair. "I guess what it all comes down to is that we're all,
individually or collectively, shuffling towards the divine, towards
our rumors of fate. And in the end the only question is, will we do it
alone, or together?"

She didn't answer, but their hands together circled and circled over
her skin.
__________________

Spring this early smelled of thawing leaf mould, chill dawns, and a
sepulchral killer beside her, dredged in his bitter ash.

The eye in the gargoyle face had a lizard's glassine stare. He hunched
in the window of her car one windy spring morning, walking death, a
dying man with the gift of life. He was minatory,
conspiracy-mongering, and when she was with him she felt the noosphere
crawling with smoking rolling metal, buildings expanding and
contracting like lungs, emitting xenon, contaminated rivers running to
the seas.

He breathed abhorrent smoke, exhaling it as if from his cancerous
soul, a toxic smudge in the air.

She would never believe that this man could be Mulder's father.
Mulder's eyes were the softest she'd ever looked into, and the icy
refraction of this man's stare could be counted out in blood-slicked
corpses, unmade kings, could be uncrumpled and measured, page by page,
in the diary of a young girl.

He had a longing for a legacy of more than fatal mischief, as if he
hoped to stop contaminating everything he touched, herself included.

She had always known it would come to this. Scully kept her hands
tight on the wheel, and drove through a night waiting for the heavy
earth to roll its belly to the sun.
__________________

In stiff limbic flashes he dreamed of greenbloods and the galvanic
texture of chicken wire, of men who put dogs and monkeys into space,
killed his parents, took Samantha. There were clashes of aural
dissonance as he smashed light bulbs with a book; he was rolling a
tire through the woods, he was shouting uselessly at the roaring sky,
black oil in his eyes. He wanted Scully to come home. Kazakhstan,
Antarctica, Bellefleur, Skyland Mountain, Arecibo, Ruskin Dam: they
would take her. Lights flipping overhead, nothing on earth is this
bright, nothing pierces your corneas like this, little fuzzy foo
fighters, enormous humming craft.

Then he rolled over in the sheets and he was down in the Jungle Room,
someone touched him, someone ambushed him, he was dead or dead alive.
Krycek death-kissed him with a gun in his face. Krycek smelled of
leather, vodka, maybe sex, he was unshowered and he liked to fight.
Mulder liked to fight too. Krycek smelled of oil and rust. Scully
smelled of fire.

The Nazca lines spread out below him, alien runways unrolling to the
distances in ephemeris time. He flew above them, he rose,
stratospheric, he called out to her. At the times when he was slung
about with her knees and arms, the wildness of her hair in his mouth,
he was happiest and unhappiest, and most alive.
__________________

"Did he touch you?" Mulder asked.

"No."

There had been no question about exchanging her freedom, her life, for
a world free from human disease. Nor would she hesitate to sacrifice
Mulder's happiness along with her own.

She had closed her mind to Mulder, that long night before the
exchange. There would be plenty of time for remorse during the walking
death her life would become, chained to a monster who stroked her
hair. Her distaste for the Smoking Man was only a slight measure of
her sacrifice; living without Mulder would have dealt her true
destruction. His arguments boiled up inside her head and she pressed
her face into her palms, remembering his stupid jokes, his warm
kisses. She wondered if he would understand why, what it meant to her
to hold a medical license, her pledge to humanity. It did not make it
easier to know that he would.

She did not sleep that night. The sound of the river was constant, its
cycling waters endlessly changing, her own life standing still.

"You would have done the same thing, Mulder, given the choice," she
said, late afternoon in her living room, still shaking off the echoing
accusation of the empty office building. "You said it yourself once.
You have to stand up to make a shadow."

In the silence his jacket creaked. Mulder was half in shadow, his
inclement eyes upon her. At least now he was looking at her. His head
moved fractionally.

Her hand gestured between them. "Look at us - our lives are worth
nothing! What do we matter compared to the millions of people who are
right this minute dying without this cure!" Her voice rose; she was
struck by the reality of what had nearly come to pass, and began to
shake.

"Your own mother, Mulder. She could have been saved by this. Don't
tell me you wouldn't have done anything in your power to save her,
that you wouldn't have expected the same of me."

His dark eyes burned at her, and his voice was hoarse with emotion or
repressed tears. "One thing I do know is that I'd never come to a
decision like that without discussing it with you."

"Mulder, the deal would have been off if I'd even spoken to you."

Mulder paced closer. "Why did he deal with you anyway? Was it because
he realized he couldn't string me along with Samantha anymore? Or was
it something else?"

Scully shook her head, her eyes refusing to focus. She felt the hard
geometry of the freeway rippling under her feet.

"Did he tell you he saved your life? Did he appeal to your sanctity,
Scully?" Mulder was nearly shouting, and she felt a lunge of anger.
She was too exhausted for this. She was the one who had had to face
giving up everything that made life worth living.

"Did he touch you?" Mulder shouted.

"Yes!" she hissed. He was impossible to argue with. She wanted to
scrape some of her pain off onto him. She wanted him to leave her the
fuck alone so she could sleep, covers pulled over her head to make it
all go away.

"Oh, baby, where?" he asked, aghast.

She shrugged, twitching against a sense of violation. "I was asleep,"
she said. "He put me to bed."

Mulder croaked her name in his jagged voice, pushing her coat off her
shoulders. She struggled with him, walking backwards into the wall,
fighting felt good and she plied the pressure of her forearms over
his, slowly forcing him away. He let her win, and his hands were
gentler as they came back to her clothes, pulling her against him. She
drifted in the grip of weariness, Mulder walking her backwards. They
were in her bathroom now, he was pulling up her shirt, gripping her
arm as he reached in to turn on the shower. She leaned against his
shoulder, smelling leather and his angry fear-sweat.

In the shower he scrubbed her like dirty marble. She washed him
ineffectively, eyes closed, mouth sucking on his collarbone, beginning
to feel secure for the first time in days. She was so glad to be out
of those clothes stained with boats and snipers and into his arms, his
fingers combing back her wet hair. "Your altruism would kill me," he
said into her skin.

"It would kill us both," she admitted. She couldn't help but feel that
he was washing her with the energetic distaste with which one washed
the doorknobs in a new apartment. She stepped onto his feet and
plastered their bodies together, opening her mouth over his.

Scully was potter's clay in his soapy hands, alive and safe against
him in the beating shower, her arms around his neck. She gave a little
cry as her mouth careened into his, wet and hot as weapons grade
plutonium, and his fingertip tested her buttery depths.

They made common cause in her insulate bed, struggling to get a
purchase on each other's wet skin, gathered up in the brunt of
repossession. And in the afterlude they slept, hours and hours
together in the warm undersea currents of the bed. They had not saved
the world, but they were together, safe and tangled, and he felt her
ribcage rising with a tentative sense of peace.

___________________________________________________

Chapter 12

The tightly origamied leaves uncrumpled in green flourishes along the
streets. Out in the countryside floppy Pierrot magpies flashed on the
fenceposts and the fields exploded with yellow mustard. There was a
can of shaving cream on Scully's bathroom sink and three of Mulder's
socks in with her laundry. They seemed to be moving to each other's
apartments.

There was a pair of her pajamas in Mulder's sweats drawer, but she
never seemed to end up wearing them. When she slept over she had
Mulder wrapped around her, radiating warmth like a St. Bernard. Mulder
had to buy a fan for his bedroom window, complaining about the way she
got him overheated.

They weren't having lots of sex. Work came first, the responsibilities
of real life. It wasn't as if they were kids who went into pheromonal
overdrive at the sight of each other. They were professionals, and
there was no consorting on assignment, no motel room sex. It was rare
when they found a moment to kiss each other. They seemed to be on
constant trips to California. On the long transcontinental flights
they talked about politics and cases, articles they had read, the
coming election year.

They got by on anticipation and the promise of next time. Work always
came first, and if it wasn't her idea of a normal relationship, it was
her idea of a relationship with Mulder, and their transition from
platonic to romantic was nearly flawless. As ever, Mulder could leave
the toilet seat up at his own apartment to his heart's content,
whereas at Scully's retaliation for the same act would be swift and
fatal. For her part Scully had not suddenly earned the God-given right
to criticize his friends or his expidentures. She kept her peace. She
liked Mulder pretty well the way he was.

She liked his bed and his unwavering focus, and the fact that he liked
it all as much as she did. She liked that he still gave no ground in
their arguments, that he read himself to sleep with poetry, that he
seemed to find her body the pinnacle of the female form, even if
Scully herself did not. She was nearer forty than thirty,
short-bodied, a retainer of water. Mulder thought her breasts were
exactly the perfect size, but he was biased and capable of endless
post-coital praise, most of which she tuned out while reveling in his
perfect form.

But it was remarkable that when she was with him she became something
finer than she had ever expected to be. And it was a mark of Mulder
that he could surprise her even about herself.
__________________

In a larger mood she might not have left Mulder to his mad devices,
might have accompanied him overseas in search of unearthly crop
circles, but she felt tenuously balanced, watchful, inward. Your
pupils will contract when, eyes closed, you imagine looking up at the
sun, and she felt this retroaction, something opening and closing
inside her, experimental, an embryonic flexing of half-formed wings.
She must look up through the flinders in the lambent light, look into
the sapient face, be worthy of histories kept by holy men.

In the temple she sank to her knees. The Buddha had been waiting for
her, and she filled a space, a moment, like a puzzle piece only she
could fill for him, this lonely Buddha. The incense in the air was
thick as chloroform. The entire universe was a part of herself, and
she knew that her material surroundings were an illusion, that only
her internal world was real. She saw everyone she had ever known, she
saw the relativity of love, she saw the paper thickness of life, and
the fourth dimension of chi. She saw how much of it she ignored as she
raced through her days, stumbling the moments into meaningless heaps
with her passing. Here was the world, a world where one flew, one
tasted. Thick smoky flight off of Chinese peaks into morning fog, the
haloed golden chill of the sun above, the endlessness of time and
spirit, spice and pleasure, the sharpness of tears. The binding web of
family. Pain and learning. The smash of love.

She found that this knowledge had always been there, like an aquifer
below the bedrock, inimitable.

And she rose and woke.
__________________

Scully conks out on him in her charming little narcoleptic way,
leaving him in a philosophical holding pattern, opening his
accumulated mail and brushing his teeth, rolling chance and fate
around in his mind. He sets the alarm and pulls off his shirt, moves
through his apartment turning off the lights.

"Hey," he says, beside the couch. Scully opens and closes her eyes.

"Are you coming to bed or do I have to carry you?"

"Was I asleep?" she asks, snapping awake.

He lies quietly in the dark while she undresses beside the bed,
stripping down to her panties. She curls up like a hedgehog against
his ribs and sighs deeply. England where the lanes are crammed with
tractors and sheep and even Stonehenge is fenced off now, and he rubs
a strand of her hair in his fingers until he is able to sleep.

In the deep night she rolls over and slides her leg across his hip.
She toes down the covers and he feels the chill spring night on his
skin, crisp leaves flickering in the open window, her sumptuous mouth
over his.

Tuesday morning she is gone, only her cup on the table, only her space
in the bed.
__________________

He could set the jinniyah free, although he couldn't do the same for
Scully.

Scully spent twenty-four hours in love with another man, an invisible
man from Missouri. She was happy and perky and she couldn't wipe the
smile off her face. She was never so vivacious when she was in love
with Mulder. Mulder should have been jealous, but he knew that this
little yellow dead guy could never make the world a happier place the
way he did for Scully. Oh, Scully might be a fickle, fickle woman, but
she'd soon see the error of her ways.
__________________

Here in the Nevada high desert, night settles with cold assurance,
shadows anti-matter black and moon-edged.

Flares fall past the window, lanced from some invisible source. Their
landings are silent in the desert night. He watches over her shoulder,
watches the dark explode in time with Scully's harsh breaths. She
closes her eyes, clamps her teeth, above him beautiful with her hair
in her eyes, and the sulphurous pink and green flares plummet past the
silhouette of her naked shoulder. It will never be remotely like this
again, he thinks.

Scully came awake slowly, the car humming over the arrhythmic cracks
in the highway, and something nocturnal - a kangaroo rat, a jerboa -
crossed in the high beams. Across the valley a last cerise glister
burned out behind the rumpled ridges.

The road extended before them in a swoop of miles before rising into
the far hills. The valley below looked like a dry lake bed, perhaps it
was part of the mythical Groom Dry Lake. She summoned the place names
on which Mulder was inclined to harp - Freedom Ridge, White Sides,
Tikaboo Peak. The Extraterrestrial Highway.

Mulder was attempting to open a bag of sunflower seeds with his teeth
and one hand. She reached over and took it from him, and saw from his
glance that he hadn't realized she was awake. The top of the bag was
wet from his teeth. She handed him the opened bag and wiped her hand
on her leg, wishing for a cup of tea. It felt pleasant to wake up in
the car with Mulder, to hear his teeth cracking a seed and think about
the way he had been comforted by the sound of his father eating
sunflower seeds. To become part of the chain, the three of them linked
by this sound.

Mulder's grandfather, of whom he sometimes complained, may have had
the same propensity. On Mulder's maternal side, his Grandma Kuipers
used to call him Willy - she found Fox a ridiculous name. Scully was
charmed by Willy, almost as much as she was by Fox, but she called him
neither.

"Mulder, keep eating those, and someday you'll wake up and find you've
turned into a giant sunflower," she had said to him once. "Well, just
plant me in front of a TV," he'd answered.

She yawned, which made Mulder yawn. She wondered what his thoughts
were. Here they were again on Nevada Highway 375, hoping to meet with
some mysterious informant. She considered the conversation they'd had
on the last trip here, weighing the changes in their lives since then.
More marked than the fact that they were sleeping together was the
fact that they had made the decision to change - to stop alienating
themselves from their true natures. When she thought back to that
Mulder and Scully, she saw their clumsy self-conscious manner, the way
they held great pieces of themselves back lest the other refuse it.
They had managed to be incredibly apart together. They saw the glass
half full, but couldn't envision it fuller. According to the Air
Force, Area 51 didn't exist, but now Mulder and Scully had begun to
visibly exist, to let the secrets slip from their silent evening
deserts. It was an impractical move, but it had its benefits.

Mulder pulled into a dirt turnout and rolled up to a lone mailbox. He
fiddled with the power buttons, lowering the window on her side. Crisp
night air entered the rental car. She looked at him warily and he
twitched his shoulders, smiled like he had a secret, pointed past her
with his chin. He was enjoying this a little too much.

Scully suspected that this was THE black mailbox, although it was
painted white. It said STEVE MEDLIN on the side, and bore a skunk
sticker. The flag was up. The dust hanging in the air about the car
was tinted by the ruby brake lights.

Feeling distinctly criminal, Scully pulled it open. She got the taste
of french fries in the back of her throat when her sternum pressed the
door frame. Inside on the corrugated zinc-coated floor lay a pair of
wire cutters. She picked them up, the curved metal jaws cold, a piece
of tape gummed to the handle. A mile post number was inked on it.
Mulder looked as if he was about to be knighted as she laid them in
his hand.

It was the tried and true Area 51 welcome. They cut the fence at the
designated mile marker on the graveled Groom Lake Road, the clear yipe
of a coyote in the distance, nighthawks hunting overhead with their
little ghosty dopplered trills. They made it several miles
cross-country among the little prickly Joshua trees, warning signs and
spy cameras. Then they were descended upon, halogen lights circling
around them like predatory pairs of eyes, spurting up dust squalls:
Dream Police, Men in Black, CammoDudes, black-ops itching to burn off
a magazine. Scully, resigned, was frisked and handcuffed before she
could even reach for her badge; on the other side of the car she heard
Mulder put up a bit more of a fight. A black helicopter hovered,
spotlighting them, then landed, making communication impossible. Part
of her welcomed the noise; she'd had the discomfiting feeling that
Mulder was about to start yelling "Roswell! Roswell!" - which would
both embarrass her and detract from their legitimacy.

He turned towards her as she was led away to the helicopter, but they
were pulling at her and there was only a second of vital eye contact.
Someone pushed her head down as she passed beneath the drumming
rotors. Black gloves buckled her into a seat, headphones were jammed
over her ears. They swung up into the air, rocking like a toy, and she
looked out of the open door at the whirlpool of dust and flattened
vegetation, searching for one figure among all the others backing away
with their hands thrown to shield their eyes, his dark form
distinguishable only to the eye of love. It made her uneasy to be
separated, but mostly she was irked at herself for ever agreeing to
tag along.

She set herself to counting off the minutes in seconds, trying to
gauge the distance they were traveling, trying to guess the direction.
She couldn't get a clear look at the stars, and her vision was wobbly
in the thundering craft. They were only in the air three minutes
before they leaned into a curving descent and a gloved hand smelling
of WD-40 came over her eyes, turning her face from the door until the
skids settled to the ground. Christ, thought Scully, like I even care
about their hallowed 'secret' base.

The elevator inside the low building seemed to descend deep
underground, but the ride was fast. They passed through ever deeper
levels of security, past guarded gates entered by swipe card and pass
code. Scully was held on each side by an armed soldier in black, and
escorted by seven or eight men in suits.

In a small locker room they removed her handcuffs and she rubbed her
wrists with her fingers. "Where the hell's my partner?" she asked. She
was not sure who to address. A man in a white lab coat entered and one
of the suits handed him Scully's badge. All he seemed to establish was
that she looked like her ID photo before he closed the badge and
tossed it onto a bench that ran down the middle of the room.

Two more men entered the room in positive-pressure radiation suits.
Scully looked at them assessingly. She remembered Mulder saying that
among other things this was the nation's principle nuclear explosives
testing laboratory. Most of the testing was conducted underground, or
at least it was supposed to be. These men drew her away and down a
hallway to a small private room where she was given a suit of her own
and told to change.

Scully stood looking at the yellow suit after she was left alone.
Then she hurried out of her clothes and into a scrub suit, then into
the radiation suit, hopelessly large and baggy. Scully looked back
wistfully at her folded clothes as she left the room, wondering if
she'd ever see them again. She had left her cross inside the pocket of
her jacket, along with her watch and earrings. Inside the suit,
circulating air roared in her ears.

She was completely unprepared for what she would see cooling on the
slab as they entered a large, brightly lit autopsy bay, and she
stopped dead and said "Oh my God," into her headset. Someone pushed
her forward.

It was the mummy. My God, Mulder was right - it was an honest to God
mummy, shriveled and dark, tufted with cottony bits of gauze still
glued into its skin, skinny arms splayed stiffly out like fire-snuffed
trees. Two men in radiation suits were clipping away the wrappings,
chipping off the hardened mastic. Scully approached, tilting her head
to read the face that had emerged, blackened and wilted. The mummy was
smiling like the Lizard King in his Paris bath. "Oh my god," she
whispered again, wishing Mulder was there. She touched the tufted
black scalp lock sticking up from the wrinkled skull, her thick glove
working stiffly. This is what Armyan Lillegard had done. He had
created this somehow, through his immorality.

Her eyes moved over the body, and suddenly she saw that one of the
hips had frayed through, the white femur protruding from a worn scrap
of pelvis, black leathery skin cracked open around it. She moved to
the foot of the table, weaving among milling faceless doctors. The
soles of the victim's feet were worn free of the wrappings, worn
through to the bones in places, but the leather looked stretched and
pliant as if from constant contact with moisture. It was as if the
creature had actually walked all the way Mulder said it had, all the
way from Seattle.

Scully seemed to be expected to perform the autopsy. 'Autopsy' means
'to see with one's own eyes'. She soon got over her initial surprise,
losing herself in the fascinating activity, silently accepting tools
and saws. She'd always loved the process of dissection coupled with
the detective work of forensics, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime
autopsy. All the occasion lacked was Mulder pacing around with his
hand over his coffee cup, getting in the way and talking too much. She
forgot the strange hampering of the radiation suit and the
uncomfortable sensation of sweating inside it, forgot that she was
underground in Dreamland, nearly forgot that she was apart from Mulder
and being detained against her will.

No one spoke to her and any questions she attempted were ignored.
Obviously the presence of radiation was suspected. Had the victim been
exposed during one of their nuclear tests? What was its dosimetry? How
had it got here? This wasn't on the route that Mulder had predicted on
his Mummy Map.

The abdomen contained, as she had seen on the video, cedar shavings
and natron. There were no organs, no brain. She did not know what
these men expected her to look for. She didn't take notes, as she
usually did during an autopsy. There was nothing to weigh or measure
except for the corpse itself. The eyeballs were gone, possibly removed
by birds or insects. She imagined the creature walking, pecked by
hovering crows, and wanted to shudder.

Two hours later she was back in her clothes and walking the endless
tunnels with her escort, smaller now, and no more communicative. She
was unhandcuffed this time, but held by the arms. They passed through
a door that looked no different than the rest, but led to a cellblock
of clear Plexiglas cells, and there was Mulder, rising from a bench.
His mouth opened as she went past, and she said, "I'm fine, Mulder," a
statement multi-interpretational in their lingua franca, but delivered
in a tone to put his concerns to rest.

Scully was deposited in the cell next to his, and the block emptied
out. They were the only ones in the cells and she stood in the middle
of hers, breathing out slowly. She looked at Mulder, who was standing
with his hand starburst against the glass and she knew he was thinking
of Kirk and Spock in that one where Spock dies. Under the caustic
lights his big ridiculous features remained mild, but he couldn't
disguise the uneasiness in his eyes. He loathed imprisonment. Nomads
will die, she recalled, if you lock them up.

Just to humor him she stepped over and matched her hand to his. They
looked at their hands for awhile, Scully's smaller but the one that
handled more knives.

"Well, this is another fine mess you've got us into," she said, and
they smiled faintly. Their hands left sweaty ghost-prints on the
Plexiglas.

"What's it all about?" he asked her.

"I take it you haven't seen any sign of your source."

He shook his head irritably. "I've been here the whole time."

"Well, Mulder, you aren't going to believe this, but the 'mummy' as
you call it, seems to have gotten a little off course."

He breathed in. "It's here? You saw it?"

"I saw it," she said, enjoying the excitement on his face. "I
autopsied it."

"Was it no longer animate?"

"It was no longer animate. It was very very dead, actually."

"What do you think stopped it?" he asked.

"I don't know what made it stop, but get this, Mulder, we were wearing
radiation suits."

Mulder turned away, processing this. He completed a circuit of his
cell. Something about his practiced circle told her that he had spent
much of his time in here pacing. "Why me?" she asked. "It's like this
whole thing was a setup to summon me here. They used you to get me out
here, and it was like the doctors were expecting me."

Mulder turned back. "I know why. Remember what I said once, that you
are the only person in your field - that you're the world's leading
paranatural cryptozoologist-pathologist? Well, it's true, and they
would be in a position to know about you. Think about it, Scully, all
the things you've seen, all the things you've examined: Eddie Van
Blundht senior; devil babies; a manitou; the Jersey Devil; Tooms;
those firemen in Dallas; Leonard Betts' head? That alien in Oregon!
Zombies! Victims of vampires, of spontaneous human combustion!" Mulder
was disposed to yell when he got wound up, and she tapped her
fingernail nervously on the partition, looking around for surveillance
cameras.

He looked at her admiringly. "Wow, Scully. Tell me all of your
findings before they execute the obligatory Area 51 mindwipe."

But there was to be no mindwipe. Within ten minutes they were in the
back of a black SUV, rattling through the desert. Only Mulder was
handcuffed for the journey, which Scully found mildly insulting. They
sat on bench seats surrounded by soldiers who ignored them, who swayed
against them. The van smelled new. The windows were tinted. Mulder's
foot was against hers. The road rose and fell, wandered down arroyos
and over bluffs, and Scully was beginning to feel sleepy by the time
they stopped.

She and Mulder stood side by side as his cuffs were removed. They were
in the middle of the desert and the moon was out now, a nearly-full
moon hanging over the hills. Everyone loaded up in the van again,
leaving them standing there. The last man in pointed behind them as he
swung the door shut, the vehicle already moving away. They stood
watching in silence as the taillights flickered and jounced away down
the trackless slope.

They looked at each other. The moon was very bright, and the quiet of
the place settled around them. They began to climb the rise, dodging a
few scruffy juniper trees. At the top of the incline there was nothing
visible but another hill, and the bisque landscape, moon-drenched,
knobby with green tumbleweed.

They could get lost out here, thousands of square miles of bomb range
and restricted air space. He imagined them wandering for weeks, living
off radioactive deer and cactus juice, making love beneath the chassis
of hypersonic black craft, watching mysteries swirl in the sky. The
sandstone bedrock would be their bath, their bed, their kitchen floor,
the universe their ceiling.

A wind caught them, fresh and smelling of sage. Mulder checked
abruptly and Scully pranced automatically into the lee of his body,
licking her lips.

He drank in her pale orchid of a face. She was with him through
everything, even the wonders of Area 51. "You know, Scully, if you
kiss me in Dreamland, my life will be fully realized."

She appeared to be sorting through a half-dozen flip rejoinders, but
in the end she simply stepped on his foot and tossed back her dark red
hair.

They hadn't been together in weeks and it was an honest, binding kiss,
there among the night scopes and scanners, the telemetry satellite
dishes, the crackling stars.

She felt very hot and cold and alive, her force field clashing with
his. She wrecked him a little, lingering a smile against his mouth.
"Mulder, if you take me somewhere with a hot shower, then MY life will
be fully realized."

He bent and picked up a chip of rock from the ground by her feet, put
it in his pocket. "If everyone did that there wouldn't be any
Dreamland left," she chided. Her fingers were cold in his, but
belonging. From the top of the next hill they saw the distant road,
and their car, bleached grey in the moonlight, pinned to the ground by
a shadow.

__________________________________

Chapter 13

The feel of the highway grinding under her continues as she takes his
head in her hands. The moon swims in the window, the bed moves beneath
them, the sharp taste of his skin in her mouth, grit and bomb range,
him. All they ever do is travel. Commute, ride, fly. Even lying in bed
she is traveling, covering the miles, a moving target. She pushes his
jeans down like the unfolding hills rising around the road, she leans
into his cushy mouth, mmm, his hand up inside her bra, Mulder.

She is a weak, weak woman when it comes to this man.

"I miss you," he said in the car, cutting through the usual
pretensions of civilized behavior. Back in the car together everything
that had happened faded to a surreal background memory, just another
lap in the potato sack race of their lives.

"We're on the job, Mulder," she murmured, looking away. She folded her
arms to keep from touching him. She imagined his hands exploring the
front of her bra, which was a new one he had never seen. It was black.
Mulder would like it a lot.

Mulder, the eternal cosmological puzzle, tapped his thumbs on the
steering wheel to some internal rhythm. "Not really," he said after
awhile.

Their eyes met and she challenged him to change her mind. "We're
flying out in the morning," he said. "We can just say we were out all
night. We'll get up and drive to Vegas early. I'll pay for the room
myself."

"You plead an interesting case," she said, gazing out at the empty
scrub. They had never been together in a motel. At home they were
forever putting their hands over each other's mouths, trying to muffle
the rhythmic creaks of furniture. The chance to make a little noise
was inviting.

"To be perfectly honest," he confessed, "I was thinking of The Little
A'Le'Inn in Rachel."

Scully closed her eyes.

She weighed the tawdriness of a roadside motel for UFO freakazoids
against the fact that she could, if she so chose, have badly-needed
mind-blowing all-night sex with Fox Mulder. She saw that there was no
contest.

Mulder knew he had her, it had been weeks - she was weak just thinking
about him touching her. Fevered. She allowed her burning eyes to drift
briefly to his, then disdainfully looked away. The car shot along the
highway.

She sits on the bathroom counter watching him wash his penis in the
sink. The rushing water accumulates more quickly than the drain can
contend with. She wonders how women allow themselves to feel so
distant from men, when all she wants to find are her similarities to
him, to experience what it means to be him. She remembers the myth
about a man who will save the world. He is a seeker, Mulder. She
thinks of him as her para-amour.

He puts his brown hand on the counter beside her, leaning close,
rumbly-voiced. He touches her breastbone with his wet finger. "So.
When are you going to open up this burning heart of yours?"

"I thought you knew everything about me." Breathless, her knees
meeting his hips and subtly gripping.

"Hardly."

His eyes are depthless and she stares into them like a terrified
freeway animal. "I thought you were my burning heart."

"I don't think anyone's ever really known you." His thumb finds her
lips, that lightning-in-a-bottle feel of his touch.

"I'm not easy to love," she says. She'd like to explain herself to
him. "I'm not good at relationships. I'm hell to live with."

"I'll be the judge of all that," he says softly. He smiles, lips
brushing the corner of her mouth.
__________________

"Oh, God, Mulder."

"Easy, easy, slow down," he coaxed. Her fingers kneaded his hair.
Their mouths collided, over and over. Somehow, they were good at this.
It felt too good to slow down. Sex hadn't felt anything like this in
her 20s. She couldn't believe that it was Mulder who wanted her like
this, cool, unattainable Mulder, Mr. My-Work-Is-My-Life.

Mulder seemed to forget the mutated and the saucerized as they
concentrated on this torturous meter, noses touching. She fingered the
deep groove in his back. She liked the way she could make him groan
against her mouth, make him forget himself until the only word left in
his vocabulary was her last name.

She rolled him onto his back and collected herself, studying his face.

"Actually, I've always found you very easy to love," he confessed.
"But then, obviously I never adhere to the norm."

"And obviously I've stayed in this job because I'm in love with you,"
she said. "What does everyone think? That I have an endless
fascination with Swamp Things? Come on."

"Come on," he whispered, pulling her forward.

"Oh God, Mulder," she said again.

"Yeah," he gasped, weaving his arms around her.

"Forever," she puffed, "forever is such an inadequate word."

"Spoken like a true scientist," he said in her ear. He looked over her
shoulder and saw lights in the sky.
__________________

"Sir?" Scully yelled into her cell phone.

The 'motel' part of the Little A'Le'Inn Bar, Motel, & Restaurant
consisted of three or four mobile homes anchored on cement blocks at
the edge of the desert. Scully stood in the dirt parking lot and
stretched, the phone pressed to her ear, one hand in the small of her
back. Mulder, approaching with coffee, saw her wince. He had a few
tender spots himself.

"What the hell for?" Scully cried into the phone, hand over her ear,
head tilted to ameliorate reception. Mulder grinned, picturing
Skinner's face.

The sky was washing to morning glory blue as the last stars melted and
her warm fingers closed around his and the cup he was handing her.
Venus was still visible, half-blurred by the whip of dawn wind in his
watering eyes. The blue of the sky was duplicated exactly in her angry
irises and in the shirt under her jacket. He wanted to put his hands
around her waist and breathe the sexy smell of her neck, but she was
Agent Scully now, not the supple affectionate woman with whom he had
so recently shared a bed.

Scully scowled. "I see," she said, her tone conveying that she most
certainly did not see. She had a radiant divinity he'd seen replicated
in Renaissance madonnas in the Uffizi, in the Louvre, someone you
should get down on your knees before. Far-seeing eyes, ministering
hands, miraculous virgin women suddenly with child.

As he got out the car keys her roach stomper shot forward, pinning his
shadow to reddish Nevada dirt. Mulder was brought up short. She
snapped the phone shut. "Bastards!" she muttered. Mulder took the lid
off his coffee and inhaled, watching her over the cup. She glared at
him, sunlit. "Damn it, Mulder, they're auditing us!"
__________________

That evening Scully went through her mail by the light of the fridge
while the neighbor's cat pushed a can of food around on the floor. All
she ever received were bills and junk mail. So thoroughly had she shut
herself off from her past that she barely got any Christmas cards any
more. Mulder's strange and stunning research might be the most
spellbinding work she'd ever done, but it came at a price. Sometimes
she wondered at the depth of her commitment to him, as though part of
her were standing back and watching, wondering how far she would take
it.

She picked up the cat, Tuck, who emitted a kitty belch. "Lovely," she
said, rubbing his velvety knucklehead. He was stout and orange with a
purr like an idling stock car. Crossing the hall, surreptitious in her
bathrobe, she deposited him back in his apartment. His people had gone
to Boston, and he watched her sorrowfully as she departed.

As Scully locked up his apartment, the door at the end of the hall
opened and Mulder appeared, slouching heroically. She could tell by
his striding, loose-hipped walk that he bore news.

He walked up to her and looked into her face. "Armyan Lillegard is
dead," he said shortly.

"How?" she asked.

She followed Mulder into her apartment, thinking again of that
underground room, and the blackened, atrophied thing on the table. It
was insanity to consider that it had once been mobile, that it had any
connection to Lillegard.

She watched Mulder plunder her fridge. "One percent!" he said
accusingly, holding up a carton of milk. "You might as well drink
water."

Scully folded her arms as she watched him pour a glass. The milk was
thin and blue.

Mulder turned, licking his upper lip. "The mummy's curse, Scully! He
was doomed from the beginning."

Scully shifted in annoyance. "Oh, of course, a curse! Why did we
bother to pursue this case at all?"

"Lillegard led us, Scully. He thought we could save him. But he was
fated to die, whether it be from fire or accident or poisoning, or a
burning car sculpture falling on his head." He gulped his milk,
looking at her over the glass. Scully approached, tilting her head.

"You know, one of those urban pop-culture nightmares, a pile of cars
welded together?" he said. "I didn't know they had stuff like that in
Las Vegas, but let's face it, they have everything in Vegas. The
sculpture had caught on fire somehow, and your buddy Lillegard was one
of the spectators."

"It fell on him?" she asked.

"Get this, Scully. You know how the mummy's trajectory had suddenly
changed? It began heading towards Las Vegas because Lillegard had
recently switched his base of operations to there. Creepy, huh? I
don't know how to explain it, but somehow that mummy knew, and
rerouted accordingly."

"And despite the fact that the mummy was indeed terminated, Lillegard
went on to be killed in an accident."

"Not just an accident. He was the only one hit. He was crushed and
burned. The guy was obviously cursed." Mulder finished his milk. "Call
it what you will, Scully, but I'd say that despite its little run-in
with Area 51, that mummy completed its mission." Mulder rinsed his
glass. "Busy day tomorrow, and I'm parked on a hydrant." He sighed.

"Are you upset about getting audited?" she asked him.

Mulder sagged. He shrugged. "It's old hat. They're always picking on
our division, but they can never vindicate shutting us down
completely." Suddenly he seemed ambivalent about leaving, pulling
himself up on the counter and giving her his attention. "Are you OK?
You look tired."

"Well, I didn't get much sleep last night," she observed, trying not
to smile.

He considered her, eyes darkening at the memory. "You were pretty
voracious."

"Mulder," she admonished.

He was looking at her curiously, as though she still held the capacity
to surprise him. "What is it you expect from a well-lived life,
Scully?" he asked.

"Are you suggesting that my life is not well-lived?"

He shrugged carefully. "You tell me."

Scully looked at him nervously. "My life is sufficient. It's - happy."
The word was awkward on her tongue. She didn't believe for a moment
that it fooled either of them.

His dark head had a vulnerable droop, and she went to him and stood
between his knees. He took her face in his hands. "You don't have to
lie to me, Scully. Believe me, I want everything you want."

His nose looked more bulbous than ever and she felt a crash of love
for him. She closed her eyes against his warm stomach, ridiculously
close to tears. "I'm not lying. You do make my world a happier place,"
she choked. It was suddenly important to make him know. He put his
head down on top of hers. She tightened her arms around him, besotted,
and prayed that he was hers forever.
__________________

Ships have crashed on the crusted surface of the planet, crashed and
rebuilt themselves, one regenerating its silver skin on a beach where
emaciated lions lick at rotting fish, another rising to hang humming
above rainforest, its beam drawing in the sojourners, the
telemetrically-chipped, the true believers.

If he goes in her place, maybe they'll never take her again. His
genetic-remnant DNA comes alive, for he is part of this - comes from
this.

The bioluminescence blooms like toxic flora. The shock of it stuns
him, statical blue protoplasm beamed from the wobbling UFO. He reaches
up for it, feeling the labor of his four-chambered heart, the pull of
his feet from the clay.

We see the subtlest forces -

Scully is morningsick, he is sure of that now. The impossible has
happened, and now he and Scully will go beyond the stretch of their
own lives, interfused. They will continue in mingled genetic code.
Forever is such an inadequate word -

Scully -

He must know for her sake. She is rare earth, rara avis, the quietest
place inside him.

He sees that the planet is battered and beautiful, an orb scorched and
flooded, lit by watch fires, a place where he has been stung by sea
monsters and healed by holy men. The place where Scully threw in her
lot with his, because she saw where others did not.

I don't think two people could have been happier than we were -

The ship lifts, spins. It will rise through the stratosphere, past the
dying sun and the reaches beyond, and he will believe.

__________________
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For Geek Goddesses everywhere
__________________

10,000 years of happiness and chanterelles, morels and porcini to Kat
at the Black Hole Farm for many many kindnesses, much music, and the
pinnacle of proofreading.

A nasty, floaty brain in a jar to Jesemie's Evil Twin, who, although
horribly evil, still found time for benediction and beta.
__________________

This story is supplemented by an NC-17 'addendum to casefile' -
'Upsidaisium'.
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