by bardsmaid

Chapter 6




Scully walked slowly across the parking lot toward the motel, toward her room, or Mulder's. Come back, he'd said in that soft voice, the one he'd use like careful hands to cup something wondrous and fragile. Come back. Let me know it's real.

Don't run.

He'd given the way he always did, unconditionally, and what had she offered him in return, aside from a body that cried out for his? She'd given only partially, body willing, mind silenced, heart trembling precariously at cliff's edge. He was her best friend. He was already there, in her heart, whether she'd consciously admitted him or not. But there was reality to consider, the differences they both knew they had: hard science vs. his convictions, her belief vs. his incomprehension. Balanced meals vs. the year-old orange juice at the back of his refrigerator. Then there was his all-engulfing passion. Would she lose herself in his love and then chafe, feeling restless and suffocated? And if she left him then? Would he deserve that? Would it break him?

She stepped between two cars that led her to her own door, a room she had yet to enter. She hesitated on the walkway, unwilling to take that final step, and then turned, moving on, spanning the few feet to Mulder's door, to a window where her own hesitant fingerprints lingered on the glass. She stepped up, turned the handle and went into the warm darkness.

Movement on the bed.

"Scully?"  He was half-asleep.

"It's me, Mulder."


She took off her sweatshirt and hung it over the desk chair, cool air--then warmer air--caressing her bare skin. She looked toward the sound of his sleeping, swallowed and then approached. His clothes and her bra lay in a heap at the foot of the bed. She flushed, bit her lip and continued around to the far side of the bed and watched him in the dark: wild-headed, passionate, exhausted. Carefully she pulled back the edge of the covers, reached for the snap on her jeans, undid it and slid down the zipper. She started to slip the jeans down over her hips, paused and looked again at Mulder's sleeping form. For the first night in too long he would sleep well. She shifted her fingers, hooked her underwear with her fingertips and slid them down with the jeans. One step forward, knee on the bed, under the blankets and into the warmth. His warmth. An arm circled her and pulled her close; his hand drifted down her back and settled on her hip.

"They give you something?" he asked, his voice full of sleep.

"Yes." She let her head go against his chest. "Mulder..."


"Mulder, you give--you always give--all of yourself, to whatever you do." She looked up. "What have I given you?"

He opened his eyes, blinking away the sleep. He smiled and then went serious, smoothing the hair back from her face with a warm hand. "You gave me your trust, Scully."

She swallowed and lay her head against his chest. "Mulder, help me. Help me to do this."



Krycek woke to pain in his side, opened his eyes and tilted his head until he could read the alarm clock. 1:17. It has been more than six hours; he should take another dose of the painkillers. But then he should eat something and he had no energy to poke around looking for food. He could try to tought it out and not take the pill... No, not even an option. The old man would expect him to call the girl, but hell, it was the middle of the night and she was just a kid. And an odd kid at that.

The room was stuffy, and for some reason his body was clamoring for fresh air as much as for relief from the drumming in his side. Had to be a psychological thing, but he couldn't seem to get past it. The more he tried to push the sensation away, the more suffocated he felt. 

Slowly he eased himself up, pushed out a breath and inched his way to the edge of the bed. The cane was within reaching distance. He stretched carefully, touched it, grabbed... and watched it clatter to the floor. He closed his eyes, snorted out his frustration, and opened them again. The window. He needed air. Taking hold of the bed frame, he eased himself up and waited for the sudden flush of hot pain to pass.  

Carefully, he took a tentative step. Not great but he'd live. He took another step and another, grasping the footboard, easing himself around the end of it to the window. Letting his right leg take the weight, he turned the window lock, braced himself against the frame and pushed.


He paused and pushed again. Nothing again, and then a tearing sensation in  his side, accompanied by searing pain. He panted loudly. Fucking window probably hadn't been opened since last fall. Might take a hammer and two working hands to pry it open, and guess who didn't qualify?

The pain increased, throbbing. He took a step and reached for the footboard. A key turned in his door lock. Instantly he froze.

Sitting duck.  If it was anyone but her, he'd be nothing more than a pathetic offering. He braced himself against the bed, arm shaking.

The door opened a few inches. "Alex?"

"Yeah." It sounded like someone else, almost a bark.

"Do you need anything?" The door opened wider. The girl stood haloed in the hall light, peering into the darkness. "It's really hot in here."

"I know. I was trying--" He gulped in quick, shallow breaths.

She took a few steps inside and flipped the light switch.

"Don't," he snapped.

Immediately the darkness returned.

"Here, I'll get the window." She came closer, looked at him, quickly realizing that he was stranded like a wrinkled old man without his cane.

What the hell had the old man been thinking when he chose her? There was no way to hide the pain now, and he couldn't move. She was looking up into his eyes.

"Alex, lean."

He stared at her, lost in the banging chaos inside him.

"Lean. Here." She was in front of him, a hand going around the back of his neck, pressing his head down against her shoulder. He didn't have the strength to protest, or move away. "Lean. Just stand a minute and we can walk you back." She let out a breath. "You need support over here, on your left side, but you've got nothing to lean on."

He breathed against her, his cheek pressed hard into her shoulder, letting it take the weight. For a moment the pain eased.


"...Yeah," he managed. It was a lie.

But they were moving, the girl inching backward, him leaning against her, the next best thing to a crutch on his bad side, his hand grasping at the bed's footboard, fingers shaking. Step. Stop. Step. Around the corner. Almost.


"Wait here, Alex. Can you hold just a second?"

He could only grit his teeth and nod against her. The pain echoed in every corner of him.

"Now you need to stand just a minute, and wait for me..."  Soft hands went against his chin and shoulder, lifting him. He tried to stand still.  "Okay, now here--" Her arm slipped under his armpit. "Now down, slowly. Let me do the work."

He couldn't do anything else. He let her.

He was sitting now, the bed under him. Quickly she moved the pillows up behind him and eased him down against them. He curled toward his right side, panting.


He opened his eyes.

"Which is the pain medication?"

"The--" He tried to wet his parched tongue. Fuck, he couldn't stop shaking. "The smaller bottle. Small one."

She disappeared into the bathroom. His legs were awkward, hanging down over the edge, but he couldn't lift them. Didn't dare move for fear of the pain increasing.

"Here." She was back with a glass of water--his bathroom glass--and one of the painkillers.

He pushed up on his elbow and took the pill, hand shaking. She steadied the glass. He drank it down and lay back.

" a minute," she was saying when he surfaced momentarily from his haze. "Just give yourself a minute and then we'll put your legs up." She sighed. "You should have called me."

"How'd you know?"

"My mom was an invalid for her last two years. I took care of her," she said. "She was a big woman. I learned to lift and do things--"

"No." He reached up and caught her wrist. "To come. How'd you know to come?"

She tried to shrug away. "I was just up. I figured I'd check--"

"You're a poor liar."

She turned away. "I know," she said softly.

The pill was starting to take effect; he was beginning to feel thick and heavy. The pain began to recede, its place taken by fogginess. He still had her wrist; he could feel the wrist, though not his own arm. Then she was gone, slipped away. He caught sight of her at the window, pushing, nudging it up. Cool air flowed over him, chilling the sweat that covered his face. 

Felt good.  So good. 

He ought to say something, thank her, but no words came.

Loosening, he slipped into the beckoning haze.



"I don't know, Ralph-man." Wilkins massaged Ralph's coat absently. "This is sticky shit, you know? I should write to Rita but what am I going to tell her? That we caught the killer but nobody dares bring him in and now he's gotten away?" He shook his head. "He waltzed off and now he's stringing the chief along; and Skinner, he's--"

He got up and went to the window. Ralph followed, tail wagging.

"He doesn't appear to have much choice, I guess. He knows what he's seen. Who am I to lecture him, this uppity new agent?"

Ralph put a paw up on Wilkins' knee. Will bent down and picked the dog up.

"You been gaining weight, old man? Guess I've been neglecting some of those walks we used to take.  I'll be here tonight.  Promise."

Ralph's wet nose sniffed at his ear. Will grimaced.

"No kisses, man. We had a deal."

Ralph looked repentant and settled his head on Will's shoulder, flashing his best bloodhound eyes.

"Guess I just wish everything was clear-cut, old man. You know: bad guys and good guys clearly labeled. One envelope of options labeled 'The Right Thing to Do', the other labeled 'Don't Even Go There'." He smiled ruefully. "Doesn't happen that way, does it? Maybe we'd just get flabby if things were that easy."

Wilkins rubbed Ralph's back and stared out the window. He could see his mother again, standing in the kitchen cooking pancakes, mountains and mountains of them with never a complaint. It was a gift.



A shaft of bright light glowed between the motel room's curtains.

"Mulder, it's morning, it's--" Scully rolled toward the nightstand where alarm clock numbers glowed red. "It's after eight." She sat up cross-legged and smoothed her hands back through her hair. She glanced toward her partner. He was lying with his back to her, facing the wall. "Don't we have to get going?"

He shook his head and grunted, refusing to open his eyes. "I told Rita a day or two. It'll wait. This is the first time"--a sigh--"the first time we've been halfway secure all week and you know we're going to have to watch our backs once we get to Owensburg." He rolled toward her. "I don't know about you but I'm not ready for it. Give yourself a day off, Scully."

"So you're just going to lie there and sleep all day?"

"I'm not sleeping. I'm just not opening my eyes."

"And you do this every morning?"

"No." There was a hint of a smile on his face. "Just today."


A warm arm reached out from under the covers and circled her waist. "Because if this is a dream, I'm not ready to wake up yet."

She fought a smile and looked at the light between the curtains.

"It's not a dream, is it, Scully?"

She didn't answer. His palm remained against her hip, hot against her cooling skin. She shivered.

"Come here, Scully," he said softly. "We've got all day. Take it easy while you can."

She glanced over at him. "Mulder, you are too looking."

He raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Recklessly taking my chances."

The hand beside her was suddenly tugging, pulling her toward him. The covers were lifted and she was pulled in, rolling over him--with him--to the far side of the bed.


She came to rest wedged against him, stomachs touching, chests, legs. She slipped an arm around his waist and closed her eyes. His fingers ran through her hair, smoothing it away from her face.

"You know, Mulder, the other night, when you were sick..." She paused and adjusted her breathing to match his. "I was... It seems silly now, a pointless fear because there was no actual evidence, no indication, but--"

"I know." His voice was suddenly solemn. His hand smoothed through her hair again and stayed there. "I felt it, too."  

His cheek settled against her forehead and he curled around her protectively. "We're here now, Scully. It's okay."



Dear Mother J-
Just your sometimes-faithful reporter checking in. Things here have shifted somewhat. The man involved with the Millers has been discharged from the hospital, at which point I lost track of him. Caught sleeping guarding the hen house, I guess, but he's still a player, having now dangled an offer of freedom in front of the chief in exchange for taking the fall for him on some apparently minor matter. Did verify that the chief had indeed been set up at the time of his arrest. I'd had no doubt about that anyway. Just doing a little time in limbo here, wishing, I guess, that life were a lot less complicated. Let me know if I can be of any further help to you.




His arm stretched out full-length. She was off the bed now, her fingers slipping out of his. She shook her head. She was flushed, still breathing hard.  Beautiful.

"No, Mulder, I have to do this. I have to--" She struggled to wipe away the smile, to put on a straight face. "If I don't get up and go do something focused and productive, I'm going to--"

"...succumb to an unthinking existence of total, instinctive sensuality?"

She nodded, blushing. "Something like that."

She went to the window and looked out. He watched her, silhouetted by the light.

"It's raining, Mulder. Did you know it was raining?"

"I guess I heard it a little earlier." He grinned. "I've been busy."

She turned. "I'm going to take that shower I've been meaning to take. Do you have my room key?"

"Door's unlocked," he said, nodding toward the door that joined their rooms.

"And my bag is...?"

"Still in the trunk." He sat up. "Go on. I'll get it."

"Just leave it at the bathroom door, Mulder. No funny stuff." Her mouth was still half-open. She closed it, but it formed a smile. She went to the door and disappeared into the next room.

He watched her go. Surprising--that she hadn't rushed to cover up. Nice. After he'd pulled her back under the covers she'd fallen asleep for maybe twenty minutes and then had wakened again, a small, warm bundle of drowsy-eyed, open-mouthed, unashamed need, a need she hadn't tried to hide this time, or rationalize away. 

Not that she'd changed from night to day. There was a war going on inside her head, a showdown between self and duty, need and self-control. Duty, responsibility, support, contribution, level-headedness: they were her framework, her structure. Now she'd faced another part of herself, realized it wasn't just weakness, or superfluous, and where did that leave her? Just how did she define herself where she was Dana Scully instead of Special Agent Scully?

It wasn't something she'd take lightly and he couldn't afford to, either. She'd been fragile already, before they'd had to leave D.C., and then the stresses of running, hiding, the strain of insecurity had been added. He'd always taken it for granted: guarding her life, and her mental well-being. Now there was more. Now he had her heart to guard as well.

Mulder crawled to the end of the bed, reached down for his jeans and set her bra aside. She'd be waiting for her clothes. She'd need some space and maybe he should get some of his own, air his head out, make sure he wasn't pushing her. Make sure he was thinking clearly, that all this wasn't going to his head, lulling him into a false security he could hardly afford to indulge for either of their sakes. Tomorrow was Kentucky--hiding again--and they'd be split up, this small, brief paradise just a tiny blip on the larger screen.



The old man let out a stream of smoke against the glass and looked out onto the street below where people were moving, scurrying, absorbed in their small lives like ants, oblivious of the bigger picture. They were necessary for fulfilling the small tasks, the mundane, indispensable things like collecting trash and making the economy run: drones in the service of a larger plan. But without direction--without someone with vision--all this would be for naught, vanished in a strange, barren landscape few of them would ever comprehend, much less survive.

He took another drag on the Morley, tipped his head up slightly and let the smoke billow out above him. Alex had been strangely silent on the subject of the woman who had shot him. He hadn't once asked about Mulder and Scully, or what avenues were being pursued to find them. Perhaps it was the effect of the injury--it was obviously extremely painful when Alex let the medication wear off too much, something he did with disturbing regularity; the white knuckles on the hospital bed railing hadn't escaped him. His little caretaker would no doubt notice this sort of thing with that innate instinct women seemed to possess. She'd make him take his medication, keep him quiet and calmed as much as possible until his body mended.

Perhaps Alex's lack of concern about Mulder and his partner could simply be the effect of having matured to the understanding of the larger purpose. Things directed at you were very seldom personal. Actions taken and consequences received were less often personal vendettas than mere intermediate actions designed to fulfill a larger goal, some more complex plan, in the same way Scully herself had lost her sister, or Mulder his father. Human beings were but small building blocks regardless of their illusions of greater grandeur.

He would visit Alex today, check up on the boy. And make sure there was nothing he was missing, that he wasn't seeing him through the rose-colored glasses of sentimentality.



Do you know exactly what was on that tape of Ben's? Something compromising to the old guy at any rate--wasn't that the jist of things? If there's a copy somewhere (I can't see Ben not having made at least one), is there a chance of showing it to a panel or somebody upstairs who will listen? Just a thought, in case there's a way to get this monkey off everyone's back.



Krycek watched as Tracy eyed the contents of the small refrigerator.

"Ooh, yogurt.” She took a deep breath.

"Go ahead. Take one."

She turned and shook her head. "He got that for you, Alex. I've got my own money.  Anyway, I'm used to making do."

"Even when it's right there in front of you? Take it," he said.

"I could get another one to replace it," she offered, reaching toward the shelf.

"Just take it." He frowned.

She hesitated a moment and then picked out a tub of boysenberry yogurt, took a spoon from the box on top of the refrigerator and retreated to the small desk.

"You know, you've got that wheelchair," she said as she stirred the contents of the tub, nodding toward the chair behind the door. "The back reclines some; I checked it. You may not want to use it, but--" She looked up at him. "It might be safer--you know, than how you ended up last night."

He grunted and shifted his gaze to the ceiling.

"I could take you outside if you want.  When you're ready. A change of scenery can be a good thing."

"I don't go out. Not my style." He turned toward her. "You know, you never answered me last night. How did you know to come down here?"

Tracy stared into the creamy purple contents of the little tub on the desk.

"Come on, spill."

She put the spoon down and rubbed one hand with the other. "I just know." 

"What do you mean, 'know'?"

"It's a feeling--the kind of thing that nudges your mind."

"So you just got a 'nudge' to come down here and check on things at 1 a.m.?"

"No. Your pain was like a howling in my head.  It woke me up."  She grimaced, remembering. "And no, I didn't come down here just to make the noise stop. You helped me once, and it was a huge help. I owe you for that."

Had he accused her out loud?  No, he hadn't said a damn word.  Which meant... 


Silence swallowed the room.  On the bedside table the alarm clock ticked a muffled rhythm into the still air.  Krycek flashed on a memory, a car trip with a soft-skinned, innocent 12-year-old who'd walked right up to the Brit and told him he was a liar.

"I try not to let it out," she said finally, resigned. He refocused on her.  "But I'm no good at hiding it.  It's the beginning of the whole miserable cycle."

"Cycle of?"

"People find out and they--" She looked past him. "They look at you differently. Freak show.  And then they get scared that you're going to expose things inside them they don't want anyone to see. Like you were going to strip them naked." She sighed. "Or they want something from you. They want to know things. They just want to use you." She refocused on him, despair tingeing her face. The corner of her mouth twitched.

Krycek cleared his throat.  "And what? You've always been like this--able to see or feel or whatever it is you do?"

She nodded. "My mom had a touch of it, too. She knew how people are, so she kept me close to home, to shelter me from all that. But then she died a year ago and I went to live with my aunt and uncle and"--she shrugged--"I hadn't learned how to hide it. I slipped, people found out, they started stories, and--" She gave him a guileless, straightforward look. "And that's why I left Elleryville. I had to get away."

"And you came here. Why?"

She shrugged. "I didn't know. It was just a strong feeling I had." She smiled ruefully. "I figured it had to be right, because it sure wasn't what I would have picked--all the noise and crowds and traffic." 

She picked up the spoon and began to eat.  Krycek stared up at the ceiling and exhaled sharply.  The old man had picked a real prize this time.  Whether he knew what he'd gotten was a whole other matter.

"I know just the place for you," her voice came a few moments later.  He glanced toward the desk.  "Have you been up on the roof?"

He shook his head.

"There's a patio up there. Nothing fancy, just a space you can be in, but it's quiet. Private. The top of your tree is up there"--she pointed to the narrow window with the spoon--"and it makes kind of an umbrella over the corner of the roof. It's nice under there." She dipped her spoon into the tub again and took another bite. "The elevator goes up to my floor and then it's just twelve steps up; I counted them. We could take the chair in the elevator to my floor.  Then I just pull the chair up the stairs backwards from there. I've done a lot of that before, and my mom's chair was the heavy steel kind." She glanced toward the one behind the door. "This one's amazing. It's aluminum. It hardly weighs anything." She looked distant for a moment.

"I'm not going to have you hauling that much weight--"

"My mom was a big woman, Alex.  Besides, I'm strong." She looked straight at him. "I can do it."



Mulder tapped on the e-mail program and waited for it to load. There was a message to send to Rita and it would be a way to focus, as Scully said, on something beside...

He worked to force the grin from his face. It was hard to do, but didn't they deserve a grin or two after all this time--all these years? But contacting Rita was critical, and it would be a way to keep some perspective. He paused, set his fingers at the keyboard and began to type.

Taking a little more time than expected. I believe we haven't been traced and the idea of a day or two of not looking over our shoulders is… The truth is, we could really use the breather right now so it may be another day before we reach you. A quiet environment for Annie would be ideal, whatever you can work out. She's been under a lot of stress in the past weeks/months and could use the chance to rebuild. Anything will do for me. Thanks for your generosity. It's always nice to know the porch light's on.

He hit 'send' and waited. The phone line gurgled and whistled and the transfer was made. One message out, one in; he clicked on it. It was from Wilkins. Krycek was out of the hospital and trying to work some kind of influence over Skinner.


Mulder shoved back abruptly from the desk, hit the shutdown button hard, and slammed the desktop with the side of a fist. He got up and searched through his bag, looking for the blue flannel shirt. Socks and T-shirts flew out onto the bed. Just one day, one single fucking day without having to think about Krycek or Smoky or hiding or running or keeping her--keeping them--two steps ahead of disaster: it wasn't so much to ask. It was what had made Scully wonder about the people who'd lived in the cabin. She'd known the pioneer couple hadn't lived a perfect life. She knew it was hard and unpredictable. But it was nothing like this.

He sat on the edge of the bed and laced up his running shoes. A run would feel good right now, all exertion and predictable rhythm, forward motion and...

Forward motion: that said it all.



Nice try with the tape. Unfortunately the Old Guy has over half the members of any potential panel securely in his pocket. Trying to get anything through it is like walking a minefield; I believe that's what Ben ran into when he tried to present the tape himself on Monday.

Remember not to let your interest in this matter take your focus from your official duties. Your access is at stake.



Scully stepped carefully among the rocks beside the stream, looking down, watching her feet, watching the rocks pass beneath her. She felt her breathing, her movement, her body. Odd how this had heightened that simple awareness of being a body, a physical person: breathing, movement, muscles, skin. As if her body had suddenly become more than itself, supersensitive, swollen with its own sensuality. Her jeans moved against her but what she felt was Mulder--close, breathing, his skin grazing hers. She looked up, into the misty morning, and quickened her pace.

Water dripped from leaves overhead, each one trembling with the weight of perfect drops until finally the weight became too much and the leaf bent and tipped, drops running together, mingling, falling. The only sounds were the sounds of water: rushing through rocks, gurgling, dripping. Then something else. A voice. Several voices.

Young voices. Scully scanned the area. Up ahead, two children were hovering near the stream looking down at something, while a younger one, a tow-headed little girl of perhaps five, let herself lean backward from a tree trunk, eyes closed, long blonde hair dangling behind her.

"Hello." she said as she approached them.

The oldest child, a blonde-haired boy of eleven or so, looked up first. "Hi."

"What are you doing?" Scully asked.

"Making a water wheel." He paused. "Well, getting it to work, anyway."

"It's all in where you put it," the other one said, looking up from under a nearly shoulder-length headful of dark, unruly curls. It was a girl, probably a year younger than the boy.

"Maybe what you need is to adjust the water flow coming toward your wheel," Scully said, bending down to look. "It's a very nice model. Did you make it?"

"He made most of it," the girl said, nodding at her brother. "He's the artist. I'm just the brains."

Scully stifled a smile. "And you live around here?"

"At the motel," the boy said, pointing up the hill. "Our parents are the managers."

"It's a beautiful place to live. Pretty far from school, though, I bet."

The boy smiled. "We homeschool. All this is our classroom." He gestured around him.

"So this is a school project."

"Yeah, kind of. I guess so."

"Brent's going to make this whole village"--the girl nodded at her brother--"a historical village, and I'm going to make it work."

"Sounds like you'll learn a lot."

"Are you staying here?" the girl said. "At our motel?"

Scully nodded. "Yes. Just a little vacation, a... change of scenery."

"Where are you from?" Brent asked.

"Wa... Boston. I've been living in Boston for a while now. I haven't been here--out to the mountains--for a long time." Scully's lips pressed together.

"What did you mean about the water flow?" the girl said.

Scully bent down over the water wheel. "Do you see how all this water is rushing by on either side? And it has some strength, this current that you have, but if you channel it, make it all run in a narrower area, the force of the water will be greater, probably enough to make your wheel turn."




I spent nearly an hour with Brent and Cory and their younger sister Tara, showing them how the stream's flow could be changed to fit the requirements of their waterwheel, helping them to reshape the stream bed. The work was just what I needed, a focus away from myself, away from my body and Mulder, from the overload of what had happened the night before and the burden of the problems we'd brought with us. The children were eager learners, bright and involved, and most of all, unburdened by the kinds of problems that had become such givens in my life that I'd almost forgotten how very foreign they would seem to anyone else.

Watching Cory I saw my younger self, eager to understand the workings of the world around me, ready to forge a plan and make a mark. The little girl, Tara, was a free spirit--looking for frogs, singing to herself, spinning circles around the smooth trunk of a young tree and laughing at the dizziness it caused. I tried to remember what it was like to feel that free, to know with assurance that life was a joy and not a burden.



Tracy set her bag of groceries in front of Alex's door and straighted. The key was... But she wouldn't need it. Not this time. Alex was there, and he wasn't alone. The dark man--her employer--was in there with him. She picked up the grocery bag, started quickly toward the stairs that led to her own room and then stopped. She was supposed to be here, helping. She turned back to the door and knocked softly. "It's me, Alex."


She opened the door. The sharp scent of smoke filled the room. Alex's father was sitting on the desk chair, looking like a polite visitor, a cigarette in his hand, an ashtray on the desk beside him. He nodded at her as she came in.

"I got your things," she said, and went quietly to the refrigerator to put them away. She wanted to be somewhere else; anywhere would do. She put the food in the refrigerator and took the rest of the things into the bathroom. He'd noticed, Alex's father had. He'd noticed her work, straightening, organizing. He was pleased, but most of all he was pleased with himself for knowing enough to pick the right one. He was prideful of his skill.

"...haven't had any luck at all finding Mulder and Scully," the old man was saying now. "We've gone through every flight manifest, every rental agency record--"

"Mulder's no fool." It was Alex's voice. "He'll figure out a way to get out of town if he has to. Scully was kind of... off balance. Probably spooked him. Hell, they could have left D.C. in the back of a delivery truck and there'd be no way in the world to track them."

Alex talked logistics but he was thinking about the two people, about Mulder and how he depended on Scully, how far he'd go to protect her. Tracy came to the door of the room and hesitated.

"Possibly. In any event, Scully's become a definite liability." The old man took a drag on the cigarette. His lips curled slightly. Smoke billowed out from between them. He smiled. "Or, in our case, an asset. She's always been a convenient tool for manipulating her partner."

"Yeah, except that if Mulder wins, we lose ground. She's a motivator for Mulder."

"True. True." The old man noticed Tracy in the doorway and waved her in. "Have a seat."

He got up from the chair and offered it to her. A quick stab of alarm ran through Alex, though on the surface only a small movement of his mouth gave anything away. Tracy went to the chair and sat down on it sideways, gripping the chair back with one hand.

"I think I may have a way to flush them out of the woodwork, though," the old man went on, his manner confident. "One at a time. If I can get Scully, then I've achieved two objectives. I will have eliminated Mulder's aid, and undoubtedly he'll come after her.  He always does."

"Yeah, but how are you going to get her to leave him?"

"I'm sure if there were a family emergency... say, if her mother were to have a health crisis"--the cigarette went between his lips and was removed a second later--"she'd be more than willing to leave. Quite often a person needs something to go toward, not just a reason to leave the place where they are, especially if they're content."

"Mulder'll know it's a setup."

"Quite possibly. But that's not likely to stop her." He shrugged. "It may even drive a wedge between them, her wanting to rush to her mother's aid, him begging her not to. Could be effective. Very effective."

"Maybe." Alex was frowning, though the old man didn't notice.



Scully went up the back steps to the old cabin and through the doorway. Through the two windows at the front, ridgeline after ridgeline melted into the distance, an impressive sight when it had been visible. Now everything past the first line of mountains was shrouded in fog and mist. Still, it was beautiful, peaceful country. She went to the window ledge and looked out.

"Mulder?" He was sitting on the steps below the broad front porch.

He turned and smiled at her. "I figured you might end up here eventually."

She went to the front door, opened it and went out onto the porch.

"It's quiet," he said.

"Yes, it is."

She sat down on the step behind him. His hair was damp from more than just the mist drifting by. "Have you been out running?"

"Yeah," he said, not turning around this time. "Running.  Running away.  Or maybe just wishing I could."

"Did something happen?"

"We got an e-mail from Wilkins. He said Krycek's disappeared from the hospital and now he's trying to bargain with Skinner, offer him his freedom... if he'll take the fall for Krycek on that recorder he set up in my apartment." He let out a heavy breath. "What the hell was Krycek doing watching me, Scully?"

"I--" She shook her head. "I'd say he has some sort of... fascination with you, Mulder. You are related. Though I admit I'd never have pegged Krycek as the sentimental type."

"Yeah, well I don't really want to think about it." His head went down. "Actually, I don't want to have to think about any of this. Maybe I just need a break, Scully, I don't know." He breathed into cupped hands. "I'm not going to check my mail again until we're ready to leave here."

"Mulder--" She rested her hands on his shoulders.

He leaned back against her and she slipped her arms around his neck. He looked up. "Hope your morning was better."

"I re-engineered a river."

He turned to look at her.

"There were some children--the managers' kids. They'd built a waterwheel and were trying to get it to work in the stream. I"--she smiled--"spent an hour getting dirty, freezing my hands, moving rocks and watching the kids. Almost made me feel like a kid myself."

"Then it was a good thing, Scully."

She smoothed her fingers through his hair and looked out across the mountains.

"Yes, it was. I think I've gotten so bogged down in all of this. And you lose perspective, you forget that there's joy in life, that there's spontaneity, freshness. That raindrops fall from leaves overhead and when they hit you it's something to laugh about." She paused. "You should have seen that little girl, Mulder. You would have liked her."

"I kind of like the one I've got," he said, smiling.

He closed his eyes. She smoothed his hair back again and let her lips rest against the top of his head.

"Scully, if you were stranded in a bleak, deserted landscape, bad guys hot on your trail, your future looking like shit, and you could take just one other person with you, who would it be?”

“You, Mulder.” She grinned into his hair. “Only you.”

She tightened her arms around him. His hands went over her arms, warm and steady. Closing her eyes, shefocused on her breathing, in and out in the warm darkness, her rhythm against his reassuring, close, as if the whole world were concentrated inside the circle of her arms.



Krycek held his breath for a few moments, listening to the receding footsteps in the hallway outside his room. Finally he relaxed against the pillow. Another inspection passed. Hopefully he hadn't blown it, or given away anything critical. The old man still hadn't said a word about the recorder. It made him jittery.

The desk chair squeaked and he glanced toward it. Tracy sat with her head leaning against the arm resting on the chair back, her feet on a rung on the side of the chair.  Not relaxed, though.  Tense.

"Why do you do it?" She looked up. "What he asks you? Because you're afraid of him?"

He frowned. "Afraid?" 

"You are."

The words were delivered without anger or malice. Probably it was her... whatever it was she did, or saw, which would make it pointless to argue with her. His jaw set and he looked away, at the corner above the window at the foot of the bed.

"Sorry," she said.

A cobweb dangling from the molding moved slightly with the current of air.

"It's none of my business." She paused. "I got all your things--the ones you asked for at the market."


Pale gray clouds drifted by outside the window, visible between the slightly waving leaves of the tree. It was getting warm. It would end up being hotter than yesterday.

"Is there anything you need, Alex?"

He shrugged. "Don't think so."

"Then I'm going to go up to my room and rest for a while." She looked up. "I've got the pager." She pulled it from her sweater pocket. "Call if you need anything."

She got up from the chair and pushed it in under the desk, then picked up the ashtray and took it into the bathroom. The toilet flushed and he could hear water running. A moment later she came back through the doorway, set the clean ashtray on the desk top and went to where her backpack lay on the floor beside the door. She picked it up and reached for the door handle without looking back.


She looked up but didn't turn.

"Last night... Thanks."

She nodded, opened the door without speaking and went out.



Mulder fished in his pocket for the room key. She'd said she was tired and was going to rest. The mist had retreated to a place beyond the second ridge line but the sky was still overcast, the air warmish and humid. He put his key into the lock and turned it. She wasn't here. He went inside. His bag was on the bed the way he'd left it, shirts and socks still scattered on the spread.


The bathroom door stood open but the room was dark inside. He went to the door that separated their rooms and turned the handle carefully. A small mass was visible under the covers in the semi-darkness. He walked quietly to the bed. She lay facing the far wall.



"Just... just wondering where you were." He sat down on the edge. "Everything okay?"

A hand reached back to find him and touched his leg. "I'm okay, Mulder. Just a little sleepy."

"Okay." He leaned over and brushed her temple with his lips. "Yell if you need anything."


He smoothed a hand over her shoulder and stood. It was a strange mood, strange atmosphere that had suddenly infused everything, like a sudden change in the weather. Something hollow if not exactly threatening, empty where there should be fullness. It was their day of safety and the place was beautiful. Somehow it should feel different.

He walked to the door and closed it quietly. It was dark, almost as dark as night except for the bright gray light coming through the narrow slit where the curtains met. Where she'd stood last night, waiting. He sat down on the edge of the bed and started to put his clothes back into the bag.

A knock came on the door and he went to open it.

"Can we make up the room now?"

"Yeah," he said quietly. "Sure. Go ahead."

He opened the door wider, let the two women in and stepped out into the parking lot. She hadn't stopped for anything to eat. Maybe there was something he could find to bring back to her.



Thought I'd drop you a line and let you know we're still safe so you won't worry--not as much, anyway. Thanks for all your support. It means a lot, especially now, to know we're not facing this alone. I think Annie is making some progress--that's a positive. Let me know if Smoky tries to contact you again. With any luck he'll leave you alone, but if not I'll do whatever I can to help out. Thanks, too, for coming downstairs the other night and spending some time. I'll be in touch.
                                                             -Kid in the Plaid Shorts



Krycek eased himself a few inches to one side, stopping as soon as a twinge of pain flared. Lying around was definitely losing its charm... as if it'd had any in the first place. He'd memorized the cracks above the windows, the patterns the leaves cast at different times of day, the floating handiwork of spiders.  Aside from the three or four slightly varied positions he was comfortable in, his days consisted of trips to the bathroom, pain, the constant nagging in the back of his mind about the recorder from Mulder's apartment, more pain and the girl. 

Who knew how much information she was pulling out of his head.  It was frustrating just thinking about the possibilities, but practically speaking she was helpful and he was stuck with her.  She seemed to have no love for the old man, though, which was a definite point in her favor.  If she could see inside him... Hell, judging from the way she'd cleaned out the ashtray the minute he left, she could.  It was as if she were trying her best to wash away the old man and everything he stood for.

She was strange, but surprisingly skilled.  Naive, but gutsy in her own quirky way. Unnerving? No question. Nobody told him he was scared. Nobody asked him why he did what he did. 

But there was no fucking reason for blatantly slapping her with a death sentence the way the old man had: inviting her to sit and listen to them.  He might as well have handed her a card that said, "In six weeks you die." But that would have been too confrontational; the old man loved his private game, holding someone's life like a card from a deck, strategizing over exactly when to play it, smug in the knowledge that his victim had no clue what was coming.

Realistically, it was probably a given from the start that she wouldn't be walking free when this was over.  It was simple security; you didn't pick up someone for a job like this and then let them go to spread whatever they'd learned.

Still, it stank.  She was a kid, not some strategic player, or an enemy with leverage to use against anyone.  And from what she'd said, she'd had a hard enough road just to make it this far.



Sandy watched from her perch on a kitchen stool as Heather Barker drifted from one window to another. She seemed as if she were on a permanent search for someone or something she'd lost, like a ghost or spirit visible only to herself. Whatever she was looking for, she never seemed to find it.

"Do you want me to make some pudding?" Sandy spoke up, anxious to be doing something. The little boy--Adrian--had asked for pudding.

Heather turned toward her, her face brightening. "That would be good. That's a good idea."

She had a nice smile. Her smile made her look alive again.

"Can you show me where the ingredients are? Do you usually make it from scratch?"

Heather puzzled a moment, then smiled again. "Adrie knows," she said. "Come on, Adrie."

Adrie looked up from his wooden trucks on the floor. He took the hand his mother offered and went with her to the pantry. It was a big kitchen, an old country kitchen with knotty pine panels and windows that looked out onto a broad, leafy woods. It was a beautiful setting. Sandy waited and watched a squirrel perched on a tree branch outside.

Something tugged on her shirt. Adrie looked up, eyes big but restrained. "Mom's lost again," he said.

He led Sandy to the pantry. Heather was looking out a small window, talking quietly to herself, her thick yellow-blonde braid trailing down her back. Sandy swallowed and made herself move forward. She bent down to the boy.

"Do you know where the things are, Adrie? To make the pudding? Maybe we can surprise your mom. What do you think?" She forced herself to smile.

The boy nodded. "I know. I know where they are. Here..."

He took Sandy around the pantry, finding cornstarch and vanilla and sugar and salt. She gathered them and took them to the kitchen table.

"You gonna help me, Adrie?" she said. "I bet you're a good cook."

He looked at her and nodded slowly.

"Does your mom have something to stir with?"

Adrie went to a drawer and came back with an egg beater.

"Good. Now we're going to measure these things, and we're going to mix them--"

"I got a stool to stand on."

"Good. Get your stool. You can help me do this mixing."



I have a job for you. Will bring instructions to the usual spot. Don't fail me.




He rolled toward her voice and opened his eyes. Scully was standing beside the bed, tentative, wearing an oversize T-shirt that would have held at least two of her.

"Hey." He stretched a hand toward her.

She sat down on the edge of the bed.

"What's up?" he said.

"Nothing really. I was just..." She pursed her lips. "I think I was lamenting my loss of time--the fact that we've got this... this breather... and all I can do is worry about tomorrow." She shook her head and smiled. "I figured if you were doing the same thing we might as well do it together."

"Yeah, I haven't been doing much better." He nodded toward the mattress. "They made up the room and then I just sacked out." He ran a finger along her leg. "I picked something up for you at the restaurant. You hungry?"

She smiled briefly. "Maybe so."

"It's in the fridge," he said. "Yogurt and some fresh fruit. I didn't know what else to get."

He watched as she went to the refrigerator, disappearing into the shadows and then reappearing again with a styrofoam bowl. He pushed back the covers and she sat down cross-legged on the bed.

"Mmm. It's good. Where do they get melon this early?"

He shrugged. "California. Mexico."

Scully picked up a strawberry, took a bite and paused. "You know what worries me the most, Mulder?"


"What we're going to be able to do that has meaning. Just running--" She shook her head and looked toward the window. "I need something to get out of bed for in the morning."

He made no reply. She turned back and caught him trying to squelch a smile.

"I need meaning, some kind of"--she was blushing now--"larger purpose. What?"

"You should see yourself, Scully."

She pursed her lips, forced the excess color from her face and picked up a chunk of watermelon. "Do we have napkins, Mulder? This is messy." She licked the trailing juices from her fingers.

"I got rid of them all so I could watch you do that."

She gave him a look, picked up a piece of pineapple and looked out the window. She ate it slowly, in tiny bites, tearing off small bits with her teeth. When she was finished she licked the juice from her fingers. Very slowly.

"Scully, did I ever tell you you're the bravest woman I know?"

"What, because I slept with you?" A pause and her face clouded. "Mulder, I didn't mean--" She watched him for a reaction, cautious. After a moment one corner of her mouth pulled up.

"What?" He frowned.

First her face colored. Then she smiled. Then laughter bubbled out of her. "Mulder, you should see yourself."


She tried to wipe the smile from her face but it was no use. She laughed again.

"Hey, Scully, this is no way to treat a guy--"

She only laughed. "You should. You should see your face, Mulder--your expression. You have the most--" She laughed again. She laughed until she toppled over on the bed.

"You're going to hyperventilate, Scully."

She was pointing. "I had you, Mulder. I did. I got you." She was still laughing, dissolving into giggles.

"No. I've got you." He reached for her and pulled her under the covers, still sputtering.

"No fair, Mulder. No fair." Her cheeks were flushed. Her chest heaved with every breath. The smile remained on her face. "No fair."

"Oh, so now you want fair?"

She gave him a look and bit her lip. "Maybe."



Krycek set a book over the edge of the napkin to hold it and then wrote carefully, trying not to press hard enough to make the fragile paper skitter away from the pen. It wasn't a great neighborhood--it wasn't a safe neighborhood for a kid like her--but she was here to help him, wasn't she? That's what the old man had hired her for. And there was no one else to send on this little errand.

He stopped and lay back and stared at the ceiling.



"Are you sure..." His mouth was close. She could feel his breath. "...that fair is what you want, Scully?"

She could almost taste him. She squirmed and tried not to give herself away.

"Well, 'fair' this--"

His mouth covered hers, soft and wet. Current spread through her, then dropped right through the center of her body.

"Mulder.  Mmm--" She pushed on his shoulders and then pulled, bringing him down against her. His lips left her mouth and drifted to her cheek, her temple, her ear. She shivered, caught her breath and cupped his face with both hands.


"You like this, don't you?" she said. "This power you have over me."

"I cannot tell a lie." He kissed the palm she held against him.

"Just a kiss here, a touch there, and you've got your weak-kneed little partner feeding out of your hand."

He pulled back suddenly, the light in his face suddenly gone.


He rolled off her and let his head fall onto the pillow. He stared at the wall above the headboard, his mouth small and tight.

"Mulder, I didn't mean it that way. I didn't mean those things the way they came out."

She reached toward him, paused and let her hand fall onto the bed. It was too hard, too awkward. It was what she'd always feared. Everything had changed. Doing this had changed the solid ground between them into quicksand. She ventured a glance beside her. Mulder lay there like stone, his eyes shining from too much moisture.

"Mulder, I'm sorry. I think I was just... defending myself from... I think I'm scared, a little. Of letting go.  It's been so long."

Silence. The too-cool air from the air conditioner surrounded her, an amniotic sac of chill and emptiness. A hand came to rest against her waist. She took it and felt it circle her and pull her back to nest against the warmth of his body. She swallowed.

"Scully, you know"--his voice was gritty--"I would never do anything--anything--to compromise you."

She nodded. "I know, Mulder. I do. I do trust you." She sighed. "I think it's just me I don't trust sometimes. And I panic, and then I say things that... I didn't mean to, Mulder. I love you; I wouldn't--"

She stopped abruptly. The noise of the air conditioner filled the room, laboring on and on. He didn't move. She didn't speak. There was a kiss against the back of her neck, soft, and his arm tightening around her. She closed her eyes.



Tracy looked out the bus window at the passing buildings. It was one of those old, tired neighborhoods that had gradually come undone, where the vitality had left to take refuge in some more prosperous, outlying area and now only the weary skeleton remained. The lamp posts were ornate, with shaped glass covers at the top of slim, ridged green poles. Brick buildings stood shoulder to shoulder with the occasional gap where one had been torn down, or had finally given up on life. Trash clustered in small piles near the curbs.

It was the next stop; Alex had given her explicit directions when she'd gone downstairs to answer his call. She was to take the bag--an ordinary brown lunch bag with a beer and a napkin inside--to the bearing factory and leave it with Raul. There was a separate envelope for Raul which she had in her pocket. That was it. Just give the bag and the note to Raul and come home. She knew where the stop was, that the bearing factory was two doors down from the corner on the left, that the street was one-way and that she could catch the return bus just around the corner and to the right half a block.

It was another of Alex's 'errands': some kind of scheming, a plan to get him somewhere, to stay one step ahead of his father, to keep on running so he could... keep on running, endlessly going and going, motivated by fear, by the bitterness of his life and the way the old man had shaped and used him. And by the vision of a bleak future that scared him even more than his father did. That future--changing it, catching it before it exploded in his face--was what he'd lived for, even though he dreaded it. It was all a puzzle, so empty and devoid of meaning.

Tracy stood and waited for the bus to pull over. She'd opened up the bag. It wasn't really cheating because Alex knew she'd figure it out anyway, written or not. The beer can was actually unopened--an advance of sorts, she guessed--and the napkin, unfolded, had instructions written on the inside: the bald man's name and a date--last Saturday's--and a time close to midnight. It was evidence he wanted gotten rid of, the evidence his father had planted to get Skinner out of his way. The envelope Alex had given her for Raul was sealed. She left it alone.

The bus stopped and Tracy went down the stairs behind an old woman with a dark-eyed little girl in tow. The girl kept looking backwards, up the stairs, as the old woman tried to coax her down to the street. The sign Alex had told her about was sticking out from the edge of the building; she could see it as she stepped onto the sidewalk. 'Universal Bearing' it said in faded paint. There was a globe behind the lettering in blues and greens. She waited for the bus to pull away, checked for traffic and started across the street. It wasn't a good neighborhood. He'd had his doubts about sending her here but he needed the message delivered.

The entrance was in a tired parking lot to the side of the building. A broad, wooden sliding door gave entrance to a darkened workshop where rows and rows of crankshafts stood on end on the floor like strange metallic plants springing from greasy ground. The building smelled of oil and machinery. There was a table to the left, an ancient picnic table with crankshafts for legs, where two men sat.

"I'm looking for Raul." She tried to make her voice strong.

The older man nodded at her and smiled. "You ask right over there, young lady." He pointed at a service counter on the other side of the door.

She swallowed carefully and walked to the counter. A man in the dingy office area beyond looked up from a darkened desk.


"I brought this for Raul."

The old man behind her was watching her, or more accurately, sizing her up as he might a steak. The younger one with him seemed only marginally less interested. Tracy tapped her fingers on the counter and shifted from one foot to the other.

"He's upstairs," the man said. "Hold on. I'll get him." He picked up an old brown phone. "Raul, you got someone down here for you. Yeah." He paused. "Yeah, okay."

He looked at Tracy. "He'll be a couple a minutes."

"Thanks." She forced another smile.

Turning back, she glanced at the two men. Predictably, they turned back to their work at the table. She could only see partway back into the dimness beyond them. The walls were of old brick. Above them arched a wooden framework in peeling white paint, as if the building might have been a barn at one time. Something about the place--the darkness and the brick and the ancient furniture--reminded her of old movies about gangsters. But they were like gangsters; Raul would be. He and Alex were the modern-day equivalent.

Footsteps came down the old green-painted stairway. Tracy turned to see. Raul wasn't expecting anyone. He looked at her curiously.

"Oh," she said, remembering suddenly, and handed him the envelope from her pocket.

He took out the note and read it. He appeared to be about thirty, with dark hair slicked back, not dirty like the other men but wearing the same uniform-blue pants and shirt. He seemed ordinary. After a moment he looked up. Tracy pushed the bag across the counter to him.

"Thanks. Come on," he said, nodding toward the street. "I'll show you where to catch the bus."

Tracy swallowed and flushed. Her heartbeats were faster now. She made herself move, trailing Raul, heading out into the late afternoon brightness.

It's not far," Raul said, looking back at her. Inside, he was mildly puzzled in an amused sort of way.

Tracy breathed out and counted the sections of paving in the sidewalk. Stairways disappeared up into shadow in the centers of buildings. An old man sat in near the curb on one set of stairs, nursing a cigarette.

"It shouldn't be long." Raul's voice was pleasant. He wore a wedding ring. He nodded into the distance. "There, it's on its way. You lucked out." He turned to look at her. "I'll wait with you 'til it gets here."

"You don't have to," she said.

"No, it's--" He shook his head and smiled. "It looks harmless enough, but it's not always such a great place around here."

Tracy looked into the distance and watched the bus grow larger and larger. When it stopped, she got on. She moved to the back, hands slipping past chrome seat rails, and took a seat by the window. Raul was still there, watching as the bus pulled away. Finally she turned to face forward.

Maybe she was too curious for her own good, but she'd known she'd be able to figure out Alex's message when Raul read it. It had said, "Give this to Buzz and don't mess with the girl; she's mine. See that she makes it back onto the bus in one piece."



Opening the front door, Sandy found her mother sitting on the couch with Joe. Joe had his arm up behind Raylene on the back of the cushion. Inside, Sandy flinched and hoped her reaction didn't show.

"We wondered where you were, Sandra. We were worried."

"Sandy." Joe nodded toward her, pleasant, probably for her mother's sake.

"I was... I had a job. I've got work." She was flushed, from running home. She'd only wanted to come home and be alone, to let go of the afternoon.

"You never told me--"

"It was the first day. I wanted to see how it would go." Sweat trickled down the side of her face.

"Who you working for?"

Her mother's toenails were freshly painted. For Joe, most likely. What she saw in him was a mystery. People in their right minds gave Joe a wide berth. What he saw in her... Probably the fact that she slept with him had a lot to do with it.

"I'm just taking care of somebody."


She watched her mother's crossed legs, the top one swinging, her foot making little circles.

"It was a long day. I don't really want to talk about it." She turned and went toward the bedroom.

"Sandra Jo!"

Sandy dropped her pack inside the bedroom door, headed for the back door and hurried down the narrow stairs, leaving the door swinging. At the bottom, she broke into a jog. Her chest and throat were tight, the images in front of her wet and streaky. There had to be a way to get away from all this and she wasn't a baby anymore; she couldn't act like a whiny child. She focused on the rhythm of her running, the movement of the muscles in her calves and thighs, the dryness of her throat, as if she were being chased on and on without any prospect of it ending. There had to be somewhere to go.

Her legs took her to Rita's.



"Scully, I wasn't kidding when I said that." His voice barely broke the room's silence.

"Said what?"

"That you were brave. It wasn't some smart-ass remark to throw you off. I just--"


His cheek was against her shoulder. "I think sometimes you don't see it in yourself... when it's there all along."

She glanced back to look at him. "What do you mean?"

"It's not the fears you have. Everybody has fears. You know, when you're a kid you think only you're afraid, that your parents"--he raised his eyebrows--"that they didn't feel that, what you felt. And then you grow up and you see what they were going through. You understand it in a way you didn't when you were a kid. And you realize they were afraid, too. Sometimes I think about my father now, about what he had to deal with, knowing what the Project was doing, how that's probably the reason..."


"The reason he was up so late in his study every night, cracking sunflower seeds. The reason he drank as much as he did." He looked up at her. "But I mean it, Scully. You..."

She waited.

"You're passionate about the truth. You're ready to run right in there and find out what it is even when it scares the hell out of you. That's courage."

"Or foolhardiness."

"No, it's not." A finger went against her lips. "It isn't."

She kissed the finger in front of her and rolled to face him.

"Mulder, I didn't mean to make fun of you, or to make light of what you said." She moistened her lips. "I shouldn't have laughed. I--"

He shook his head and smiled. "Laughing's okay, Scully. You're so beautiful when you just let go."

A finger traced the line of her cheekbone. She closed her eyes. The finger drifted to her lips and circled them.

"Scully, did you mean that--what you said?"

"Mean what?"

"You know what I mean."

There was a short silence.

"Yes, Mulder, I did. I do."



The knock that came on Krycek's door was firm, louder than usual. He rolled as quickly as he could and grimaced, struggling to sit up. His side throbbed. "Yeah--"

"It's just me, Alex."

The key went into the lock, turned and the door opened a few inches. She was red-faced, sweating. "I didn't want you to think it might be somebody else." She dropped her backpack beside the door and opened it wide. "I found something," she said, smiling. "I hit the jackpot this time."

She disappeared into the hallway. When she reappeared a moment later she was dragging a recliner. It was a slightly faded blue-gray but otherwise appeared to be in one piece.

"Someone just set it out on the sidewalk in the next block--free. It works and everything." She straightened and looked at him, still catching her breath. "I tried it. It's comfortable. I figured it would give you someplace else to sit--you know, when you get tired of lying there in the same old spot." She pulled the small desk closer to the door and wedged the chair back into the corner between the two desks. "Come try it."

He opened his mouth.

She'd already noticed that the cane was on the floor again. She came and handed it to him and then turned--thankfully--leaving him to get up without an audience. He steadied himself and took a step, straightened, then took another. It was a little easier--just a little--than the day before. He made it to the chair and turned around.

"Wait.  Let me help you sit." She looked up at him. "Look, I know you don't like it, but think of it as a way to keep from straining your injury."

Her arm slipped under his, so that her forearm rested under his armpit, and he was able to rest his weight against her. She felt hot. It was that crazy little sweater she always wore.

"Now down easy... There." She took a step back. "So what do you think?"

"Yeah. It's good." He reached carefully for the lever.

"Lucky they didn't put that thing on the other side," she said, nodding.

He cleared his throat. "Guess so."

Nobody dared to say anythng about the arm.

He pushed the chair back. It was comfortable like she said. "There are drinks in the fridge." He looked up at her. "You look like you could use one."

She hesitated a moment and then went to pick one out. By the time she turned back he'd managed to make it up and out of the chair.

"Take a load off," he said, nodding toward the chair. "How far did you have to drag that thing?"

"Just a block."

"Go on," he said. "Sit."

He made his way toward the window, not ready to lie on the bed again. "So you made it back into town okay?"

She nodded. "Raul took me to the bus stop. He waited with me there."


It was hot this time, not just warm, and the air conditioner was broken. The leaves hung limply from the tree outside. Even the shaded glass was hot. He turned away from it.

"It was a strange place, Alex, like something out of an old movie. Have you ever been there?"


She was stretched out in the chair. She'd taken off the sweater and left it hanging on the back of the desk chair but her cheeks were still red. Some time to pick to pull a recliner down the street. He started slowly for the bathroom. He was making progress... at least, the way you'd measure progress for an old man: twice across the room. Big deal. But it felt like a marathon.

"At least the guys there wouldn't have been looking you over like a piece of meat."

Her words caught him at the bathroom doorway, bringing him to a stop. He gripped the cane tighter and stepped forward onto the tile.

She almost laughed. "Or if they did, at least you wouldn't have had to know about it."

He closed the door, took care of business and washed his hands.  When he looked out into the room again, Tracy's eyes were closed. 

Pink cheeks. 

He stood a moment in the doorway, then turned back, reached for the washcloth and ran it under the faucet.  With practiced motions he squeezed it one-handed and folded it into a small square. 

Back in the doorway, he hesitated. Cleared his throat.  "Hey." 

The girl's eyes flew open.

"Here," he said, and tossed her the cloth.



Do NOT try to walk off with the stuff. Just flush it and melt the bag. Let me know when you're done.



Through a strange quirk of fate, I may be looking at a second chance. Long story, but how like the war. (There you have it.) Don't know how long this will give me, or what I'll be able to do in whatever time I'm given. Time is always of the essence, I suppose. Let me know if there's anything I can do for your sister's situation.



Krycek stared out the window above the desk. Tracy was asleep.

It hadn't taken her long, just a few minutes stretched out, the heat probably added to it--hers and the room's--and she was gone, mouth slightly open, relaxed as if she had no comprehension of what it was to live in danger. The mirror opposite of the clones in Alberta. They'd been under no immediate threat, but underneath, the restlessness was definitely there.

Krycek stared a moment at the sleeping girl, the drying washcloth twisted between her fingers. He could feel his legs weakening. Taking a step, reaching for support, his hand landed on the sweater on the back of the desk chair. It felt warm, as if the material itself were a source of heat. He glanced down to examine it. It was soft and fuzzy, something obviously expensive at one time, though it had been worn until the knit showed through the soft surface. It was too small for her, really, but she wore it nearly all the time, a sweater that barely came to her waist, the sleeves ending just below her elbows.

Shrugging, he reached for the cane and paused. Maybe it meant something to her. He ran two fingers over the smooth surface.



"Is she going to be okay, Grammy?"

Bethy stood in the doorway of the guest bedroom, obviously worried by their guest's crying.

Rita gestured for the girl to come close to the edge of the bed where she sat. With her other hand she reached out and smoothed through Sandy's hair. "I expect so, Sweet Pea. She's just working all the sadness out so she can start over again. Don't you feel better after you cry?"

"But I don't like to cry."

"I know, Bethy, we never do." She looked up at the girl. "Now can you go check those potatoes on the stove for me. They'll be boiling all over the place, wanting to hop right out of the pan."

Bethy gave a last glance at Sandy and left the room. Gradually Sandy's sobbing slowed.

"The worst part is"--Sandy stopped to breathe--"that little boy's lost his mother. She was right there lookin' at him, but she was gone as sure as if she was dead, and he knew it, too. He's a smart little kid."

Rita held out a tissue. Sandy took it and wiped her eyes.

"I don't think I can go back and watch that again. I mean, I tried. I tried real hard, but--"

"It's just your boy you're thinking about Missy, and that's only natural. But David needs someone up there. You need something to do. And that little boy... If that boy were your Roddy, wouldn't you hope some mother would take him in and give him what he needed if he couldn't get back to you?" She smoothed a hand over Sandy's shoulder. "Give it a little time, Missy. Just say you'll try it a week. Five little days. You can do that."



He was sitting in an easy chair this time--Walter the soldier. He was eased back into it, his head against the chair back, talking to her, though she couldn't see herself in the picture.

"I keep thinking back," he was saying, "to that time, that incident." He glanced toward her. "And I've realized that what I hadn't seen before was that for all the terrible things that happened in Vietnam, I'd been given a second chance--in a moment, in the time it took for Lanier to decide to come in after me. I probably would have been killed if he hadn't. And yet that one second, one moment"--he glanced off into the distance, into memory, then back at her--"changed the lives of anybody I've ever helped since that time."  He paused a moment. "I guess it's just human nature to focus on the damage so completely that you lose sight of the positive that's happened. That can happen."

It was obvious that he could see her. Somehow he could see her, or sense her. She stretched her hand out tentatively in front of her but saw nothing.

"I"--he shook his head--"I have no idea how much time this will buy me--this deal with Krycek.  If it works at all. He can maneuver all he wants but there's nothing to stop the Smoking Man from planting something on me again if it suits his purposes; nothing to stop him from having one of his goons just pull the trigger." He gave her a grim look. "Maybe this is my last shot. Maybe I have only a few seconds to move, but I figure... if I do, if I have any time at all, then I have to make it count; I have to do something--"

"Worthy?" It was her own voice.

He nodded. "Something that makes a difference, and I need to be ready, to know how to decide what that something is." He sat up straighter. "The thing I hadn't realized before was how that split-second decision was Lanier's, not mine. It was his. And he's paid dearly. But so much has come from it." He paused and leaned toward her. "Is it wrong to see it that way? And what about you? Is there anything at all I can do to help you?"

She shook her head. "I'm fine. I'm... It's okay." She swallowed. If he could see her, why couldn't she see herself? Her blood buzzed, racing now.


She needed air. Suddenly there wasn't nearly enough.

"Are you sure?" Walter was looking at her, concerned. "There must be something I can do to help." He was reaching out; she could feel his hand on her arm but she couldn't see it.


There was a escalating tingle in her head--not enough air. She struggled.


The hand was firm on her arm now. Her eyes flew open.

Alex was sitting in the desk chair, leaning over her. The recliner. She was in his room. The air around her was hot. Alex's grip on her arm eased and he let go.

"You must have been dreaming."

She swallowed and nodded. Looking up at the ceiling, around the room, she worked to pull herself back onto safe ground.

"What was it?" he asked, concern in his eyes.

She could only shake her head.



Wilkins sat in the darkness of the theater and glanced at the softly glowing dial on his watch. 6:10. She should be here any minute. He had her picture, one the Gunmen had dug up somewhere, and she'd told him she'd be wearing a purple scarf. Good thing it was Saturday--no regular assignment. He'd stopped by the Gunmen's this morning to see if they had news. Byers had been the only one there. Without the more bizarre company of the other two they'd sat down and talked, mostly about Scully. Byers was obviously impressed with her, though it was his concern that came through loud and strong when he talked about the last time he'd seen her. He didn't elaborate, merely mentioned that it had been Monday when she and Mulder had left D.C., but he described her as having been in a 'fragile emotional state'. Somehow the description didn't fit the woman he'd met, the woman who could explain what had happened to a two-year-old, curly-headed boy lying in an autopsy bay without coming undone, who could question an overwhelmed teenage widow and balance professionalism with caring.

Sudden light flooded the wall above him; he turned to look. A middle-aged woman walked tentatively in and glanced around the darkened seating area. She knew he'd be in the left corner seat, back row. He squinted to see; she appeared to be wearing a scarf. He turned forward, waiting. She came closer and entered his row of seats.

"Are you reserving any seats?" she asked.

"No. You're welcome to any of them."

She looked relieved. "Will?"

"You found me, Mrs. Scully." He smiled and offered his hand.

She shook it, sat down next to him and smiled, then paused. Worry washed over her face. "Is there any news?"

"Nothing today," he said. "Nobody's heard from them today that we can tell. As far as we know they're okay, lying low somewhere they won't be noticed. I was talking with John Byers this morning and he mentioned you might feel a little better having a visit from someone else who knows about what's going on."

"I do. It was very thoughtful of you. I'm sure Dana would appreciate your coming to see me." She glanced briefly at the movie screen. It was an older movie, Horton Foote's 'Tender Mercies'. She turned back to Wilkins. "So you've worked with my daughter?"

"Last week. I was assigned to a case in Kentucky that got us all shut down. She was analyzing the forensics for us. I believe Skinner asked for her specifically because he trusts her work. She's quite an investigator, a real professional. She certainly was a lot of help to me."

Maggie looked down at her hands. "Her father was very concerned when she made her decision not to practice medicine. He believed that law enforcement wasn't the place for his daughter. I think he was afraid of something like this ha--" She looked up at him. "But it's reassuring to know she's very good at what she does, that she's made a contribution with her life." She turned away. Wetness showed at the corner of her eye.

"She's got a lot of support, Mrs. Scully. I'll do anything I can to help her. I believe the assistant director feels the same way."

"Mr. Skinner?"

He nodded. "And Byers and his friends."

"John Byers was very helpful. Very reassuring. Extremely patient with me, showing me how to use the e-mail. I haven't really had much experience with computers."

"Amazing how they're helping us stay in touch. I think Langley's been playing with their bank accounts, too--Mulder's and your daughter's--so they can access their money without it being traced. I don't believe anyone knows where they are."

Maggie studied him carefully. "I think they must be on the road. I saw Dana," she said, glancing momentarily toward the door, as if to check for listeners. "Fox called me yesterday morning and told me to be at a shopping mall in the afternoon. I met my daughter in a dressing room." She tried to smile. "We had ten minutes together. It was so strange, meeting like that with people all around you going about their everyday business. The time went by so quickly. It was so difficult not to feel like it might be the last--"

She looked away and went silent. No movement, then a sudden intake of air. Wilkins reached out and rested a hand carefully on her shoulder.

"Mrs. Scully, I don't know what it's like to lose a child, but when I was eight years old I lost my mother. So I know what it's like to lose a parent, and I want you to remember that no matter how much it seems like she's gone, she's still out there somewhere and you need to support her, to let her know she hasn't lost her mother. I know it's not an easy thing. My mama was the kind of woman who would tell you to make lemonade when life gave you lemons, but when something like this happens, that's the last thing you feel like doing. You just want to hoard those lemons, to hug them close to you as you can because they're the only things you've got left, no matter how sour they are. But you know, after a while they just rot if you don't use them." He raised his eyebrows. "Use 'em or lose 'em. It's the way life works. Your daughter's going to be living off your support now. It's going to keep her afloat--knowing you're there for her." He paused. "Have you written to her yet?"

Maggie shook her head. "I didn't know what to say. I... You know she almost didn't come? She said she was afraid to. She was afraid of what she'd done to the family--to me--by her choices. I've been thinking about that, whether I've condemned her myself... Or condemned Fox for getting her involved in all of this."

"Any assignment at the Bureau can be dangerous, Mrs. Scully," he said. "You can cross the street and get hit by a car, too. I've only met Mulder once, but he seems to regard her very highly."

"He does. He respects her. He's very protective of her, very concerned. It was his idea for us to get together yesterday."

"Then that's something you have to be thankful for."

"Yes, it is."

"And I'll be glad to stay in touch. If there's anything you need, anything at all... I've got a whole lot of mother-helping potential stored up inside me.  I'd be glad to be able to put it to use."



"How much farther is it?" Mulder stepped carefully between the stones near the stream.

"I thought it was right here." Scully paused. "It must have been a little farther downstream. I didn't even think about it at the time. I got so involved in the mechanics of what I was doing that I just set my watch down on a rock and forgot about it."

Mulder looked up, at the sun grazing the tree line. Nearly the same time as it had been yesterday when they were here. In a whole different lifetime. He smiled without thinking. Ahead of him Scully led the way beside the water's edge, her hips swaying gently, her hair swinging with her movement. He could picture her standing in the shadows by the window that morning.

"Do you think they left the waterwheel?" he said. "Without it, a lot of this stream bed is going to look the same, Scully."

"I don't know. I think I recognize this area."

They went on. The clouds had cleared for the most part, leaving clear swathes of blue that were beginning to turn golden in the weakening light.

A sharp sound came from somewhere above them. Mulder stopped and strained to hear. In front of him Scully stopped, too.

"You hear that?"

"I heard something, Mulder. I couldn't tell what it was."

He waited a moment. The only sound was the sound of water flowing. He nodded at her and they went forward. The cry came again and then was gone.

"Sounds like someone calling," he said. "Can you tell what they're saying?"

She shook her head. "I couldn't even tell if it was a person or--"

The cry came once again, this time from two different voices. They looked up toward the motel. Figures could be seen running down the hillside.

"It's Brent and Cory," Scully said.

"Tara! Tara!" their calls came drifting down the embankment.

"They're calling their little sister." Scully waved. "Cory. Brent."


"Is something the matter?"

Their eyes were big, their cheeks pink with running.

"It's Tara," Cory said. "Nobody can find her."

"How long has it been since anyone's seen her?"

"She was at home about two hours ago," Brent said, eyeing Mulder.

"Brent and Cory, this is my friend Ben."

Mulder nodded. "What was she doing last?" he asked.

Brent shrugged. "Trying to get out of taking a nap. Mom still tries to get her to nap sometimes, but she gets out of it a lot."

"Has she taken off before?"

"She likes the woods," Cory said. "She's not supposed to come down here without one of us, but"--her face twisted a little--"sometimes she does and we haven't told on her. She's never been away this long, though."

"You know, parents make these rules for a reason," Scully said quietly, trying not to lecture. "Because they know sometimes bad things happen and they don't want to see you get hurt, or to lose a little sister. Mul"--she caught herself--"Ben and I would be glad to help you look for her."

"Thanks." Brent looked relieved. "Because if we don't find her we're in really hot water."

"What does she do when she comes down here?" Mulder said, stepping forward. "What does she like to do?"

"She plays in the water," Cory said.

"Are there any deep places in the stream?" Scully asked.

Brent shook his head. "Not in this part. Not anywhere she could get to easily."

"Not within a mile or so?" Scully's lips pressed together.

"She's a little kid, Annie," Mulder broke in. "She's probably not going to go trekking. Most likely she'll find something that interests her and stay pretty close to home. What else does she like to do?"

"Look for bugs and frogs," Cory said. "Spin around tree trunks. She likes to get dizzy."

"She rolls down hills, too," Brent said, rolling his eyes. "She climbs trees when she can find ones small enough, but she's not big enough for many of them."

"Ben--" Scully's eyes widened momentarily; she'd nearly called him Mulder again. "Why don't we split up? You and Cory take this area here and Brent and I will look farther downstream."

"Yeah, okay. But we'd better get moving or we're going to lose the light."

There was a knot in Mulder's stomach now, an nagging urgency. Cory looked up, giving this new stranger the eye. Scully and Brent turned and started down the stream.

"Does she ever go very far from the water, Cory?"

Cory shrugged. "Not usually."

"What's on the far side?" he asked, nodding toward the stream. "Does it lead to anywhere?"

"Just more woods, way way down to the gullies. She's never been down there."  The girl's forehead wrinkled.

Not yet, he thought, and tried to squelch the idea. "Then we probably ought to focus closer to here. Someplace she's familiar with, somewhere she's likely to be."

"But wouldn't she hear us if she were close by? She doesn't like hide and seek games. She'd answer if she heard us."

Mulder jaw tightened. Not necessarily. Not if she were hurt. "Cory, how about you take this side here. Call, but look around for anything she might have brought with her. Does she ever bring toys or anything down here with her?"

"She's got a family of clothespin dolls," Cory said, looking dubious. "Sometimes she brings them along."

"That's the kind of thing. Look for anything she might have brought. Or shoe prints. Was she wearing shoes?"

Cory shook her head; a smile passed over her face. "Not my little sister."

"Okay, look for footprints. But we need to get going. I'm going to check the other side. If you find her, just call out. If I find her, I'll do the same."

Cory nodded and started along the bank, watching the ground.

Mulder started, too, looking for places where trails opened up on the far side, the kind animals or kids might have made. He crossed the stream as soon as he found one. It was close to where the kids had come down the hill. If it was their usual route, it'd be convenient for little Tara. He walked quietly along the trail. On the other side of the stream, he could hear Cory calling.

"Tara," he called out. "Tara."

What was it about little girls disappearing at night when it was getting dark? If she were a pioneer child--say, if she'd lived in that cabin at the top of the hill--she could have been carried off by a bear, or by local tribes frustrated at having their lands plundered, or any one of half a dozen other dangers, leaving a grieving family behind. Things didn't change so very much with time.

"Tara." He paused and cupped his hands. "Tara!"

He wasn't the only one. Scully wouldn't miss the parallel, either. She'd be focused on Tara, but the similarity wouldn't escape her. She'd be thinking about Emily. He paused to look up into the trees and went on. He could hear Cory's voice in the distance.

"Tara--" It wasn't a good sign, the fact that there was no answer. Either she wasn't close by, or she couldn't hear, or she couldn't speak. Or...

He pushed on again, taking a cross-trail leading back toward the stream and Cory's concerned voice. There was more light here, the trees smaller, the understory given an unexpected chance to develop by the fortuitous death of a large oak that lay fallen across the path. He stopped and looked around. Sun glinted gold through low branches. He wondered how far Scully and Brent had gone. He frowned and looked up.

Turning a circle, he scanned the clearing and stopped short. Behind a tree trunk at about head height was something that didn't fit in. He stepped over the carcass of the fallen tree and went closer. It was a foot, a child's foot.

He swallowed and stepped through the undergrowth to the far side of the trunk and looked up. A little body was lying on a branch, butted up against the trunk of the tree. She had wispy blonde hair. She was asleep, hugging the branch she lay on. Small feet dangled below.

"Tara?" he said. "Tara..."

The little girl opened her eyes, drowsy.

"Are you Tara?" he said, making his voice soft so as not to spook her.

She nodded slowly, big-eyed, only half-comprehending.

"I think you fell asleep."

"I got stuck," she said, sitting up. "I got up and it was too hard to get down."

"Yeah, well, that's why your mom and dad want you to take your nap in your bed at home. It's easier to get in and out of." He stepped closer. "Here, I'll help you down. Your brother and sister and my Annie are all looking for you. They were worried when they couldn't find you."

He reached up. "Here, put your foot in my hand. It'll be like a stair."

She slid to one side. A small foot on a pale, sturdy leg came to rest in his palm.

"Okay, now hold on to the tree, like bars at a playground. Both hands--that's good. Okay, now the other leg over... yeah. Now we're going down..." He lowered his hand slowly. "Okay..." He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her in against him.

"Do I get a piggyback?"

"This okay where you are?"

She nodded.

"Okay, because I'm not letting you get away again. Now we've got to find your sister. Go ahead, you call her."

"Cory," she said. She took a breath. "Cory! I'm here!"



"Feeling restless, Alex?"

Krycek grunted in reply and pressed harder on the cane. "Just need to move around. There's only so much lying on your back you can take." He turned away from the narrow window and toward the desk where Tracy was folding laundry. "It's too hot in here, anyway. If you, uh... if you're still up for that trip upstairs, I guess I could give it a try."


She retrieved the wheelchair, opened it and brought it close to the bed. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat. This time he was ready for the arm that eased him into the chair.


He shifted slightly. "As good as it's going to get, yeah."


He nodded. She backed him across the room, opened the door and stepped through alone. She was smart enough to check the hallway--a good thing. Anyway, she seemed to have a habit of going above and beyond. Maybe she had yet to dig the curly-headed kid out of his head, or any of a dozen other things he'd done.

He closed his eyes momentarily. Tracy took hold of the chair handles again and he was being pulled out into the silent hallway, turned and pushed the few feet to the elevator. Slightly cooler air drifted up the stairwell.

"It won't take long," she said, turning to him, one hand constant on the chair handle.

He wondered if she'd managed to pull the old man's intentions out of his mind this morning. Would she recognize them for deadly serious if she had?

The doors opened. Tracy turned the chair around smoothly and pulled him into the elevator. She pushed the button. The car lifted with a soft jolt and a sinking feeling went through his stomach. Almost immediately the car was leveling out again and the door opened. They emerged into another vacant hallway and rolled to the foot of the stairs leading to the roof.

He looked up at her. "I don't want you pulling the weight of this chair up there."

She gave him a look.

"Look, I can stand for a minute. You take the chair up--" He nodded toward the roof. "You help me, stand on my other side, I'll be able to make it up and the chair will be waiting at the top."

Her lips came together and her mouth pulled to one side. "You sure you're strong enough for this?"

"You saw me down there. I'm doing better. Anyway, I need to move."


Slipping her arm under his, she helped him stand. He took hold of the railing.

"You okay, Alex?"

He nodded.

He could hear the chair being collapsed behind him and then she was hurrying up the stairs. At the top she disappeared; he could hear the sound of the seat being snapped into position. Krycek leaned his head against the wall and let his right leg take the weight. It was the perfect window. He'd taken the last painkiller four hours ago. The grogginess had worn off and he'd have clear sailing for a good couple of hours at least. Tracy came floating down the stairs again, one hand holding up the hem of her dress.



She stood on the left and slipped an arm around his waist, hooking two fingers through a far belt loop. She was tall for a girl, probably 5' 8" or so, and though she was a skinny kid, she was strong like she'd said; he could feel it every time she lifted him. They stood hip to hip.

"Ready? Get a grip on the railing."

He put his foot up, gripped the handrail and felt her lift; he was up. He breathed out.



"Alright, another. Just tell me when you're ready."

"Okay, ready."



"Now wait. Give yourself a second."

"Okay." He let himself breathe. "Let's go."

"Up... Don't push yourself, Alex. You've still got eight more. Just take a second."

He had a sudden picture of himself--the invalid, one-armed assassin--challenging the Everest of a set of apartment stairs with a pale waif holding up his bad side. Crazy. But then life was crazy most of the time, and usually in worse ways than this.

"Ready to go?"



He pushed hard on the handrail and let her lift. She was more of a find than the old man had realized.



Scully locked the door, slid the safety chain into the slot and turned, lost in thought. Mulder stood in the darkness near the desk, watching her.

"What?" he said.

"You." She smiled and looked up. "You the way you looked coming up the trail with that little girl in your arms." She walked up to him and let her head rest against his chest.


Her arms went around his waist. "No. Just... It was nice--the look on your face, the way you carried her." She let out a breath she'd been holding. He'd know what this was really about. His hands came up and cupped her face but she moved back half a step and reached for his shirt buttons. Quiet. Deliberate. One undone. Two. Three.

"Scully, what--"

Four. Five.

"Just getting close," she said, feeling no embarrassment, not holding back. This was getting easier. She undid the last button and slipped her hands inside the shirt and around his waist. A pause and his arms went around her. Her breath filled the small space between them. "We're going to have to stay in separate places, Mulder..."

"I know."

She listened to the thump-thump of his heart under her cheek. He smoothed her hair back and cradled her head with one hand. They swayed gently, almost imperceptibly.

"I'll find you, Scully. I'll come to see you when nobody will notice."

His arms tightened around her. She pressed her lips against his chest. She could stay like this forever. She focused on their slight swaying and gradually began to loosen.


She felt drowsy. "Hmm?"

He nudged the top of her head with his chin. "Scully--"


"Scully, I need you to be my lover." He tipped her chin up. "Will you be my lover?"

She looked up at him, smiled and closed her eyes.

They swayed, standing in the middle of the room, close together, breathing, barely moving.

"Mulder, do we have to go tomorrow?"

"Not if you don't want to. A day or two won't make any difference." He spoke into her hair. "When you're ready. We won't go until you're ready."

She was warm. He was wrapped around her, close, alive, strong.

"Yes," she murmured.


"The answer to your question, Mulder."



In the darkness under the overhanging tree Tracy could barely see Alex, half-reclined in the wheelchair, quiet. The city's lights had come on; now they seemed to wink on and off between patches of leaves.

They hadn't said much. Alex had walked a little and finally had sat when he was tired. Her own mind had been crowded with the afternoon's dream--not so much about Walter, the soldier, but about the strangeness of the dream itself.  The fact that she hadn't been able to sense herself should be nothing, a detail; it was a dream, after all.  And yet it had never been like that before. 

Beyond that, what would have happened if Alex hadn't been there to wake her when the suffocating feeling had come?

Gradually she became aware of dark eyes watching her.

"What will you do when the kid comes?" his voice came from the shadows.

She shifted on the old chair and tried to pull herself into the present. "I don't know. There'll be something."

"Kids don't survive on dreams.  You need to plan." He breathed out. "You may move by your own compass, but there may not be someone willing to pull you off the street when you've got a baby on your hip." He paused. "Kid deserves better than that."

"What happened to your mother, Alex?"

He tightened suddenly and turned away. 

Inwardly, Tracy cringed. She'd done it again--overstepped, pulled something out of his mind that was none of her business. Her hands found each other and squeezed hard. In the street below, horns honked, followed by a shout, and then another. 

"She had an affair with him." His voice was tight, clipped. "Her husband found out. He didn't want some other man's dirty little bastard kid growing up in his house." He shifted on the canvas seat. "What happened this afternoon, Tracy? When you were asleep?"

"It was just... a dream."

"No, it wasn't. Look, you can reach inside my head and pick out anything you damn well please, but you won't even--"

"No, I don't."  She paused.  "I don't mean to, anyway. Sorry." Another pause. "I try to tune out most of what people think. It's like static that wears you down and makes you ache. It would drive you crazy to know everything people are thinking."

"So what happened in your dream? Whatever it was, it scared the hell out of you."

She bit her lip. "I'm too easy to read."

"Look, I have to be able to read people. If I didn't pay attention, I wouldn't last long."

She pulled one leg up to rest in front of her on the rusty patio chair and paused. "There was this man in my dream. We were talking. We've talked before."

"In a dream?"

"In another dream. Usually I'm part of the dream, too--I'm there. But this time when he was talking to me, I couldn't see myself. I held my hand out in front of me and there was nothing, which was weird. It seemed like he could see me. He was looking straight at me and then he reached out... and I could feel his hand on my arm--but that was you--and... I couldn't see my arm. And then I couldn't breathe, I couldn't get enough air. Or maybe I just panicked."

"Anything like that ever happen before?"

"It was like I was invisible, a ghost or something. Like I was--"  Her mouth refused to form the word.

Alex cleared his throat.  "We should go," he said.


(End Chapter 6)

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