Title: Not Without Permission
Authors: Fox’s Gal and XScout
Classification: SA
Keywords: Sequel
Spoilers: Tooms, Fire, Bad Blood, Fight The Future
Summary: Held captive by a madman, Mulder must stay alive long enough for Scully to find him. He may not have a choice.

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner, TLG, and the Scully Clan belong to Chris Carter, Fox, and 10-13 Productions, not us. You’ve seen what we’d do with them if they *were* ours, so maybe this is a good thing. Otherwise, most of the episodes would be spent in one hospital or another. Cupid is ours, and we refuse to share.

Authors’ Notes: This is a sequel to ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, by Fox’s Gal, based on ‘I Know Someone’, by XScout. It would be highly advisable that you read ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ first or much of this won’t make sense. Reading ‘I Know Someone’ is unnecessary as it is including in ‘IBSY’.

This was my first collaboration with another author and so I must thank Fox’s Gal for all her patience and input as we nurtured this story. A talented writer and a marvelous friend, I am honored to have produced this story with her. Please send feedback to us both. XScout and Fox’s Gal

And now, on with the show.


Not Without Permission


July 3, 1998
Mulder and Scully's Basement Office
9:18 PM

His eyes were beginning to hurt. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes in an effort to make the blurriness disappear. He blinked a few times and looked back at the paper in front of him. The typed words stared back at him, dancing, doubling, twirling together; his brain had ceased to process information. Somewhere in the back of his head, a dull ache began throbbing. Disgusted, he tossed the profile back on the desk and glanced at his watch. It wasn't even 10:00 and the ol' neural cortexes were shutting down already.

It figures. The other half of my brain left 20 minutes ago.

He had told her to leave. She was due at her mother's house early the next morning to participate in the holiday routine. He had been urging her to leave since about 7:45 and she had kept putting him off.

"I still have a few things to take care of," she had said. It had been a few minutes before 9:00 when he had all but physically removed her from the office. Before he had shut the door behind her, she had sent a look over her shoulder at him. He'd seen it so many times before. He had no label for that look; he only grinned and assured her that he wouldn't be staying much longer.

She had seemed satisfied with this and left. As he had been ushering her out the door, she'd invited him over.

"Hamburgers and potato salad, nothing too fancy. Why don't you stop by?"

He had thought this over for a whopping 3.5 seconds.

"Okay...I'll stop by around 6'ish. Now, will you get going?"

Finally, she had left; and he had intended to actually get some work done.

Fat chance.

Deciding that all he needed was a little bit of exercise; Mulder got up and stretched his long limbs. Multiple cracks and pops ensued and he instantly regretted not taking his early morning run that day.

"Then again, you might just be getting old, Mulder. It's entirely possible," his mutter was loud in the silent room. He supposed that considering it was late at night right before a holiday weekend, the entire building was probably so silent he could have been heard all the way up in Skinner's office. Oh, there were still people there. He wasn't the only agent in the FBI with no social life to speak of. At least he hoped not.

He filled his lungs with stale, recycled basement air. He expelled the breath and looked around. He didn't know why he was having such a hard time concentrating. It wasn't like this was a boring case they were working on. Quite the opposite, actually.

It was just the thing he needed to occupy his mind lately. The X-Files were closed, his life's work up in flames only a few months earlier. Then his partner, his one in five billion, had been the unwitting victim of the Syndicate. It had only been a month ago she'd been taken from him again. Images of her in that cryopod invaded his subconscious regularly in the form of some of the most horrifying nightmares he'd had in a while. To say it had been a rough couple of months...that was a grand understatement. It still seemed a miracle to him that she was alive and well and still working with him. A smile graced his lips now as he thought of what she had said that day after her testimony.

"If I quit now, they win."

She had thrown his own words back at him. He loved the way she did that. Who the hell am I trying to kid here? I love the way she does everything.

Mulder examined the sheets of paper on his desk. The profiles, the notes, the interviews...he chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment. There was something missing.

"The photos. Still up in VCS." He wanted those photos of the victims. There was something niggling in the back of his brain that wouldn't quit and he was sure if he took a look at those photos things would begin to click into place. His exhaustion was renewed with the spark of purpose and Mulder strode to the elevator, riding up several floors to VCS. He was settling into his swivel chair minutes later, a large folder in one hand and a bottle of iced tea in the other.

He was just about ready to put his feet up and get down to the nitty-gritty when he realized what was missing. He yanked his front right drawer open and rummaged around until he found them. He placed the first seed of the night in between his teeth and cracked down hard, effectively splitting the husk in half. He sucked on the husk, savoring the salty tang before he spit it halfway across the room, missing the wastebasket entirely.

Shrugging, he leaned back in the chair and opened the folder. He rifled through a few papers before the slick photos came up in the stack. Mulder swallowed hard, clenching his eyes shut before focusing them on the gruesome crime scene photos. No matter how many times he subjected himself to this, it never got easy.

Imagine that Foxy boy, you're still human. Maybe you should worry when this doesn't bother you anymore.

The first few pictures were of the very first victims. He ignored the knot that formed in his throat as he flipped through them. That wasn't what he was looking for. His hand froze as he came to what he was looking for. Taylor, Donovan and Murphy; one after another, labeled and stuck in a folder. Paper clipped to each photo was an autopsy report. He read Murphy's report first, then Donovan's. He couldn't bring himself to look at Francine Taylor's photo or autopsy report. It hadn't been that long since he'd seen her, live and in person. In fact, it had been right before he had sent her to her death. He'd given her information she'd asked for. He'd helped her, or so he'd thought. The fact was, he should have never gotten involved. He should have never written that profile for her. She'd still be alive if he hadn't bent to her heartfelt pleas.

Mulder closed his eyes, trying to prepare himself for the picture. He had actually looked through everything but her photo. He couldn't look. He clenched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. You can do this. You can do this. He opened his eyes and felt the blood drain from his head. The petite frame, the fair skin, the unseeing blue eyes glazed over in death. He shut his eyes again. The resemblance had struck him the night he'd met her. That night he'd gone to her house, she had opened the door and the porch light lent a reddish tint to her brown hair. God, how she'd looked like Scully; standing there before him, her chin tilted up stubbornly. She had practically dared him to insinuate that she shouldn't look for her partner. Fool that he was, he had suggested as much. The icy glare she'd given him was pure Scully. And now he saw what was left of Francine Taylor. The damage done to her was so extensive, she looked nothing like herself. Her body looked like one huge bruise; long, ragged cuts creating congealed red gashes clashing with the bluish purple of the bruises. Her face was distorted due to her shattered jaw and split lip. He tore his eyes away from the picture for a moment and looked down again. He felt sick. Lying there on the gurney in the photo was not Francine Taylor.

It was Scully.

He slammed the folder shut. Mulder put the folder on his desk and put his feet back on the floor. He took a long drink from his iced tea to rid the taste of bile from his throat. He tapped his fingers nervously on the desk as he tried desperately to distance himself from this nightmare. He stood up and paced. As much as he didn't want it to, his mind was working feverishly on this case. Things were beginning to click into place. Details were beginning to make sense.

Then it hit him. An epiphany unlike any other he'd experienced screamed out at him from the darkness of his abyss. He knew what this man was doing. He knew how he had to stop it. A cycle had begun and it was up to him to end it. Feverishly, he ran his fingers through his hair as he considered the strategy of the killer. He enticed his victims to him. Not unlike Modell, this man chose his victims carefully.

No, his mind whispered, his victims choose him. He waits for us. He waits for us to come to him. To get to know him. It's a dance, and he's leading. He's targeting us and if I'm not careful...if I'm not careful, then I'll...

"Lose her again." He was unaware that he'd said this aloud. He looked at his watch, shocked at the time. It was nearly midnight. She's going to kill me if I show up tomorrow in these clothes. I think maybe I should call it a night...God, I must be getting old. I can't even work past midnight any more.

He put the files in his briefcase in neat stacks and slammed it shut. He was halfway to his car when he realized that not only had he left his suit jacket in the office, he'd left his iced tea as well as his bag of seeds on his desk. He contemplated going back for them, but decided against it. He loosened his tie and dug his car keys out of his pants pocket as he approached the car.

It was during his ride home when he realized what needed to be done. He needed to ask Scully to not work on this case.

He laughed mirthlessly to himself. "Yeah right. You'd have a better chance of getting Skinner to approve a trip to Graceland to bust Elvis' ghost."

He skillfully maneuvered his car through the streets of Alexandria. His mind went on auto pilot as he neared his apartment building. He wracked his brain trying to think of the many ways he could beg, cajole, convince or bribe Scully into acquiescing to this one. He pulled into a parking space and sat in the car for a minute. There was no way. She'd never go for this one. He'd asked some pretty outlandish things of her lately but this one would take the proverbial cake.

Sighing resignedly, Mulder opened the car door and trudged up to his apartment. He paused briefly at the top of the front stairs. The hair pricked up on the back of his neck. He was being watched. Turning nonchalantly, he put his hand on the gun in his holster. He looked around, peering into the darkness. Suddenly, the feeling left as quickly as it had come on. The incident had spooked him nonetheless and he entered the building cautiously, his hand resting ever so lightly on the handle of his gun.

He opened the door to his apartment carefully. He let it swing open and stood in the doorway, his eyes resting on the long silhouette on the floor. He reached inside the doorway and flipped the light switch on. The entire apartment was illuminated and Mulder was at once both relieved and concerned at the sight of his empty apartment. He set the briefcase down and took the gun out of his holster. Slowly, he entered the apartment, his gun drawn in front of him. He looked through the scant space and, satisfied that there was no one there, closed and locked his door for the night.

He settled on the couch with a glass of tea and a leftover box of Thai takeout. Hitchcock's Vertigo was on and he settled on the couch in his Knicks T shirt and cutoff sweat shorts. Dinner unfinished on the coffee table, Fox Mulder drifted off to sleep unprepared for the night terrors that awaited him.

It was dark. Dark and cold.

He sat up and looked about him, trying to get some sense of where he was. Nothing but shadows flickering from black to blacker. Beneath him the ground was unstable, sinking slightly with every movement he made. He lowered his hands and placed them at his sides in an effort to discover why. His fingers sank into the grainy soil, swallowing his hands into the cool depths.

Jerking his arms out of the sand he struggled to his feet, stumbling several times as the thick dirt pulled at him. He stood there, trying to decide what to do, unable to form his thoughts into one stream. He stared at his hands, darkened by his contact with the soil, bits of grain still clinging to his sweating palms.

Somewhere in front of him a moaning emerged from the darkness, a low wail that sent chills down his spine. A glow appeared suddenly, a faint light bathing the sand in the pale white of moonshine. It seemed to hover several feet from the ground about twenty paces from where he stood, its illumination growing stronger with each passing moment. Then the light was cut in half, it's beams spraying out from behind the dark mass that formed in it's center. The mass grew until it coagulated into a human figure, it's features hidden by the backlight. It moved towards him, walking easily across the sand that refused to let him do more than stand immobile. Closer it came, until it halted a few feet away. The darkness that surrounded them both, disappeared and it was as though a full moon had risen over a desert. Cool blue dunes stretched as far as the eye could see; some rising high enough that black shadows poured across the sand.

He could see its face now, the sharp nose and full lips, the eyes that matched the dunes, and the hair that was stained purple by the blue glow. He opened his mouth but no sound emerged.

'Scully!' he wanted to scream, to run to her and take her into his arms. His limbs were as ineffective as his voice. The light behind her framed her head in a halo, as though it was a physical manifestation of what he already knew she was. His savior. She was dressed in black silk, the ebony fabric swirling about her shapely form, her hair whipping around her face. But there was no wind. Nothing but the sand, the light, and the two people.

Scully's arms rose gracefully from her body, languidly reaching out to her partner, beckoning him forward. He wanted so badly to go to her, be with her in this vast wasteland of nothing. He didn't want to be alone. The soil pulled at him, his feet solidly planted in the unstable dirt. He couldn't move any closer and he cried out with agony, his voice torn from his throat.

Her face, which until now had been expressionless, began to shift. Round cheeks sunk, beneath wide eyes smudges of gray emerged, the silk drapery reflecting the gauntness of the figure beneath. Her fingers curled and opened, grasping at thin air, as though begging for some relief. The light behind her died abruptly, leaving behind nothing but the invisible moon to illuminate the sands. With the light went Scully's strength. She collapsed to the ground, her legs crumpling beneath her. Mulder strained with all his might but all that happened was that he sank further into the soil, it's coldness numbing his shins. He couldn't even kneel down and stretch out to reach the woman before him. Her soulful eyes stared into his, his mouth opening and closing in silent screams. Dark stains were spreading out on the sand under her, turning the black silk an unearthly red, in places tinged deep purple by the blue light. Her chest heaved as she gasped for air, blood pouring from her mouth and a dozen wounds that were revealed through tears in the sheer fabric. She continued to look at him, her arms outstretched, pleading for help.

"Scully!" He could speak now, his voice cracking with emotion. "Scully! I'm coming!"

As though sensing his intentions, the sand sucked him down deeper, burying his legs in seconds.

"No!" He struggled, frantically pushing at the dirt to free himself. She was dying and he couldn't help her, couldn't prevent it from happening. The silk was soaked entirely in red, he could barely differentiate between her and the sand upon which she lay. She was sinking just as he, but the sand was devouring her at a much faster rate. It was a living entity, an evil being who was taunting him, torturing him with his greatest fear. Not being able to save her. Paralyzed and forced to watch as his soul was taken from him.

"Scully!" It was more of a sob now, the cry of a man who was being torn in two.

She was gone. Her body was buried in the sand, the last thing to be sucked down was her hand, still begging for help. Just as her fingertips disappeared, he was free; the soil releasing him so suddenly that he fell forward. He scrambled across to where she had been, his hands plunging into the sand. He dug desperately, his arms moving at an astonishing rate, pushing through the soil that he had escaped only moments before. His fingers grazed something firm, something solid. He wrapped his hand around it and pulled, grunting with the effort. He was unprepared for it to come so readily and he rocked back on his heels, clutching at the find. He lifted it up and stared at it, his hands trembling. He dropped it to the ground as if it burned him, shaking his head in disbelief.

The skull's black pits stared back.

"Scully!!" he screamed into the fading light. His cry echoed over and over until it ran together in an unending litany of pain. The tone grew deeper, more menacing, and the words changed, transforming into howling laughter. The sand was laughing. He knelt on the blue sands, his arms in his lap, his hands palm up as though in supplication. The skull lay next to him, gleaming in the moonlight. And the laughter grew louder.

He awoke with a gasp, lurching forward on his couch, his sweat soaked back peeling away from the leather painfully. He gulped at the air, unable to breathe properly because of the sobs wracking his body. He was shaking, his limbs tingling with numbness, his face and chest wet from the mixture of tears and sweat. He buried his face in his hands and continued to breathe deeply.

Eventually he was calm enough to stand, moving into the kitchen and pulling a glass from the cupboard. He filled it with some water and drank greedily, spilling some down his chin in his haste. After finishing he filled the glass again, this time sipping slowly as he headed back to the couch. He sat heavily and set the glass on the coffee table. Looking at the VCR clock above the flickering TV screen he sighed. 4:02. He'd gotten about four hours of sleep. He could live with that.

The sci-fi movie he had been watching had ended long ago, replaced by unoriginal infomercials. He stared at it for a while, his thought focused inward. An idea was forming in his mind, a terrifying thought concerning the case he was working on. What if the killer...? The dream came back to him suddenly and he blinked rapidly, clearing away the image. He wouldn't let it happen, Not again.

He stood and went into his little used bedroom, going to the dresser and pulling out a pair of running shorts. A quick jog and then a shower. He would head into work early and rework the profile, plan ahead. He'd have to work quickly, he'd promised Scully that he would attend her mother's Fourth of July party tonight.


What was she going to say about him working on a Saturday? Of course, how would she find out? He'd tell that he had worked a bit longer after she'd left and the came home and slept, eaten, showered. That he had spent the day with the Lone Gunmen, since he was going to have to stop by there anyway. After all, a lie was best hidden between two truths, wasn't it?

A plan slowly forming in his mind, he shoved his feet into running shoes. He had nearly reached the door when he stopped short. He'd had a strange feeling the night before. It felt so much like someone was watching him. He didn't leave for his run without his weapon. It was heavy and cumbersome, but it made him feel infinitely better. Mulder locked the door behind him and eschewed the elevator in favor of the stairs. He jogged down to the landing and headed out into the early morning fog. A run would clear his head and help him work out his plan.

It was clear to Mulder that this psycho was targeting law enforcement officials. More importantly, it was clear that the officers targeted were the ones assigned to his case. It was entirely possible, even probable, that the officers in question had no idea they were being targeted. Mulder noted the pattern that was taking place. The first officers...he'd killed both the man and the woman. Donavan had died first, then Taylor; a man, a woman, then Murphy, a man. It struck Mulder that the next victim would be a female.

The female working on this case was Scully. Again, the image from his nightmare sprang to mind. He shook his head violently in order to rid his mind of the flashback. Drops of sweat dripped into his eyes, stinging them. He forced himself to concentrate on his breathing, it was the only thing keeping him calm. His mind wandered back to his scheme. If I know that I'm the next target, then he's not likely to catch me by surprise. The only way to make sure that I'm the next target is by making sure that Scully isn't on this anymore. Now, how am I supposed to go about doing that? I suppose I could just ask her. He laughed at the thought. He knew his partner better than that. He sighed. Well, I'll ask. I'll ask her and just pray she goes with it. And if she doesn't...well, I'll have Plan B ready.

He took a long, hard run. By the time he returned to his apartment, his face was flushed and his shirt was soaked. He did, however, feel refreshed. The vivid nightmares from the night before had faded significantly. He stepped into a cool, refreshing shower and began to feel nominally human again.

He stood in front of his closet. What to wear, what to wear. He shrugged as he selected a clean shirt and jeans. It was a Saturday and he didn't particularly feel like donning a suit. As if anyone actually comes down to see me. It occurred to him that it would be a good idea to grab some extra clothes for Mrs. Scully's cookout. He pulled a fresh T-shirt from his laundry basket, a pair of khaki shorts from his dresser drawer and a pair of seldom worn boat shoes from his closet. Shoving these items into a duffel bag, he was satisfied. He was ready to go.

Hoover Building
4:55 PM


He'd been working so solidly, he'd completely lost track of time. Mulder leaned back in the swivel chair and rubbed at his eyes. It had turned into a long day. Once he'd started reworking the profile, he found that he couldn't stop. He'd stepped into the killer's mind yet again; and again he'd had a hard time coming back to himself. He flipped through the thick folder, perusing the contents. He hadn't forgotten a thing, or so he hoped. This folder was even more complete than the official one. It had more. It had things in it he hadn't told her about yet. If he failed, this is what she'd need to find him. He slipped a preliminary profile into the old folder and sent it back up to VCS. Now, he had to prepare a backup plan for this tentative Plan B.

He took the file folder and all its contents to the photocopier. One by one, each sheet duplicated. Soon, he had another folder full of papers. He'd lock this one in his desk at home. That way there'd be a backup if Scully couldn't get the first packet.

"For God's sake, Mulder; she might surprise you. She might go along with your scheme and drop out of this investigation." He laughed mirthlessly. "Yeah right. And someday pigs might just fly." He glanced at his watch and swore. He was due at the Scully residence in just under an hour. The Gunmen would have to wait. Folders in hand, he strode back to the office. He locked the door behind him and executed a quick change that impressed himself. He walked out of the building looking like a new man, file folders wrapped up in the discarded clothes now in his bag.

The ride to Mrs. Scully's was a relatively short one but for some reason, Mulder felt an ominous heaviness on his shoulders thereby making the ride seem longer. He sighed in the quiet sanctity of the car. He knew exactly what she was going to say to him. He didn't even have to think about it. He could see her, her blue eyes narrowing at him at the very prospect of her not working with him. They were partners, for Pete's sake. Simply by being his partner, he knew she'd not let him go this alone. She'd never let him make her ditch him.

Okay Sherlock, so what are you going to do? I mean, after she tells you to go to hell at the very suggestion that she not get involved with this. What next? His mind surveyed the question like an intricate puzzle. If he was right in thinking that this killer was targeting Scully, then he was probably watching her, observing her. So, theoretically, he could put himself in the killer's place. He could pretty much guess where someone would watch Scully and then...what? Then what? What would he do if he came across a killer hiding in the bushes watching Scully?

He'd kill him. No arrest, no judge, no jury; he'd kill the fucker.

Mulder pulled up to Maggie Scully's house and sat in the car for a bit. He decided he'd put off his plan until after he talked to Scully. He would wait until then. He could wait. He was good at waiting. He looked up at the house, imagining the Scully clan, enjoying the holiday. He could just make out the overjoyed screams of children. For an instant, he was transported back to another time; a happier time, a happier place. The summerhouse in Quanochatog seemed a lifetime ago. Determined not to allow himself to fall into a chasm of depression, he took a deep breath and got out of the car. Slowly, he walked up to the front door and rose his hand to knock. Before his knuckles came in contact with the hard wood of the front door, it flew open. The sudden movement startled him and he jumped back.

Scully stood before him, grinning wickedly. Seeing her in person, standing before him made his task for the evening so much more difficult. How was she going to react to this? Her "I'm-not-taking-any-shit-from-you-Mr.-Psychology-Degree-From-Oxford-so-cut-the-crap" attitude was one of the things he liked most about working with her. She made him bust his ass for every little scrap he earned. She never gave him anything; and in that simple, infuriating fact, she had earned his esteem and respect. He sometimes wondered what he had ever done to earn her respect. The sheer wonder of their partnership to him was the fact that considering all of his goose chases and witch-hunts, she was still there for the next case, no matter how absurd.

She led him into the house. He followed, still somewhat distracted by the task at hand. Then she had said it. Her brother, Bill, was there. To hell with this, he thought. In one fluid movement, he turned on his heel and headed for the door. Telling Scully that he didn't want her on the case would be hard enough. To tell her with her brother there...the brother who made no bones about letting him know how much he hated Mulder--was not an option. He was ready to go back to his empty apartment, his lonely existence. He was prepared to chicken out again. Scully was hurrying after him, trying to get him to reconsider.

She probably thought she had won him over.

She nearly did. She was using his own tricks against him. The patented hangdog look he gave her regularly was finding its way back to him. But it wasn't anything she was doing that was changing his mind. It was her brother. Indeed, a sorry son-of-a-bitch would have chickened out much like he was about to do. A sorry son-of-a-bitch wouldn't have had the guts to face his partner. A sorry son-of-a-bitch would have skulked back to his miserable excuse for an existence and waited to breach the subject during work.

Mulder had worked too hard to prove to himself that he was no sorry-son-of-a-bitch. He had proved it to himself, now he had to prove it to Bill. Call it some weird, macho hang-up; but he had to prove this. He filled his lungs with fresh air in an effort to steel himself for the hellish afternoon that was bound to follow. When he agreed to stay, he could see the victory smile cross her lips. He decided to let her keep her victory. Let her think she won. It wouldn't hurt this once.

He followed her to the back yard and met Bill's icy glare with a warm smile. I can play nice. It was easy to play nice when you finally realized you just didn't give a goddamn.

They had emerged from the house to find a stereotypical backyard barbecue. Margaret Scully was setting plates and utensils on an old yet sturdy looking picnic table decorated in red, white, and blue. At the table sat a woman, cradling a tiny child in her arms and sipping from a glass of lemonade. Her husband was standing by the grill, spatula in one hand, dish of raw hamburger patties in the other.

The older woman looked up from her chore to see the two people step off the back porch. "Fox! I'm so glad you could make it." Maggie set down the basket of bread she had been holding and joined her daughter and her partner.

To Mulder's complete surprise and, from the look on his face, Bill's too, Margaret pulled him into a warm embrace. He returned it as best he could, trying not to look at Bill. "Thanks for inviting me Mrs. Scully. Looks like you've planned quite a feast, how could I pass up such a delectable offer?"

Maggie laughed. "Good, you could use a few extra pounds."

"*Mom*." Scully warned.

Her mother was all wide-eyed innocence. "What?"

Scully sighed. "Nothing." She turned to her partner and took him by the arm, leading him to the picnic table. "Mulder, you remember Tara?"

He smiled at Tara Scully. "Last time I saw you, you were shaped a bit differently."

Tara giggled. "Quite a bit. I may have more work to do now, but it is certainly more enjoyable than feeling like a beached whale." She lifted the baby into the air and proudly showed him to the new admirer. "Matthew, meet Fox, uh...sorry, meet Mulder."

Mulder took one of the chubby little hands in his own and shook gently. "Nice to meet you Matthew." The baby's hand latched onto his index finger and gurgled happily.

"I do believe he just said hello!" Tara exclaimed, bursting into laughter. Mulder couldn't help but smile. But then he glanced over and saw the father scowling at him. He extricated his finger from the child's grasp and moved back a step.

"So, *Mulder*, let me ask you something I've been wanting to know."

Mulder gritted his teeth as Bill stressed his name, as if it were slander. He was not going to let the bastard get to him. "As long as it has something to do with ghosts, goblins, vampires, werewolves, mutants, monsters, little *gray* men, UFOs, witchcraft, possession, alien viruses and abductions, reincarnation, psychic phenomena, serial killers, government conspiracies, or cockroaches, then I'm your man." he rattled off, not even pausing for a breath.

Bill just stared open mouthed, "I...uh..." He wasn't sure how to respond, so he decided to ask his question and hope that it would put that sorry son of a bitch in his place. He cleared his throat, "Actually, I was wondering why you spend more time with *my* family than with *your* family."

Ignoring the unspoken implications, Mulder gestured to the table, "Better food."

Bill pursed his lips, angered by the fact that his statement had fallen short of its goal. "Speaking of which, how do you want your burgers?"

Mulder knew what Bill really wanted to know: 'How should I NOT cook your food?' Did the man think he was *that* stupid? But before he could answer, Scully was answering for him.

"He likes them well--"

"Rare. Close to rare." he said, cutting his partner off. She gave him a confused look, knowing that he preferred his meat well done. He just shrugged at her.

Bill grinned toothily. "Close to rare it is." He plopped a patty in the center of the grill, right above the highest flames.

"Dana, why don't you and Fox have a seat?" Margaret ushered them towards the table where she had finally finished laying out all the appetizers. There were bowls of coleslaw, potato salad, green salad, and thick slices of buttermilk bread. A steaming pot of corn on the cob and another filled with baked potatoes were in the center, surrounded by various condiments.

"I don't think I've ever seen so much food, Mrs. Scully." Mulder observed, scooting down on the wooden bench next to his partner.

"Wait until you see my Thanksgiving dinner. And you *will* see it, won't you Fox?" Margaret glared at him, expecting a positive answer.

Mulder swallowed nervously, frantically thinking of some excuse. He came up empty. "I wouldn't want to impose."

An audible snort came from the direction of the barbecue. Mulder felt warm breath against his ear and a soft voice whispering, "You're not going to win this one Mulder. When my mom gets that tone, it's do or die." Scully's hand came to rest on his forearm. "Besides, *I* would love to have you there."

He smiled tenderly at her, touched by her statement. His eyes met Maggie's, "Yes Mrs. Scully, I'm sure I'll be very impressed."

Margaret nodded her head in approval. "Now, as soon as those burgers are done we can start. I'll go see how Bill is doing." She turned and headed towards her son.

"Kinda pushy isn't she?" Tara said across the table, "But you gotta love her."

"Yeah, I wouldn't want to find myself in a debate with her. I have the feeling that I'd lose miserably," Mulder grinned.

All of a sudden Matthew started crying. His hands were balled into fists and were flailing about in the air.

"What is it sweetie?" Tara cooed. The cries turned into wails. "You just had a nap, you shouldn't be cranky," his mother admonished.

"Maybe he's hungry?" Scully offered.

"No, I fed him just before Mulder showed up." Tara was frowning, going over her mental list of baby speak. "Ah ha! He wants his pacifier." She started to look around her, searching for the object of her son's desire. "Hmm, I must have left it in the house, I'll go get it." She stood, and moved to the person nearest her, holding out the shrieking child. "Mulder, would you mind taking him for a minute?" Before he could reply she had deposited the baby in his arms and was already disappearing into the house.

Bill heard his son crying and looked over to find him in the arms of 'that guy'. Hah, served him right. Bill hoped that Matthew would make Mulder go deaf.

Meanwhile, Mulder was trying to remember how to hold a baby. He'd done it once, a long time ago. But he was four at the time and Samantha had seemed a lot bigger in his arms. He was the one who was a lot bigger now. It took a few moments before things clicked into place and he had the child situated. Matthew looked up at the strange man who held him and shrieked loudly.

"My, don't you have a strong pair of lungs. Your mom is gonna be right back so you can save your energy for more important stuff, like playing." Mulder used the tone he had often spoken to Sam with, soft, playful, and almost conspiratorial. The baby quieted down and gurgled. "What? You mean you haven't been able to play all day? Well, we'll just have to remedy that, now won't we?"

He set Matthew down on his leg so that the baby straddled his knee. Keeping his hands wrapped around the child's torso he began to bounce his leg slightly. Matthew looked stunned for a moment, then opened his mouth wide. Mulder was suddenly afraid that he was scaring the baby but instead of the cry that he was expecting, a high pitched laugh came from the open mouth. He continued to play horse to Matthew's cowboy, pleased by the delighted giggles the child was producing.

Scully watched, a huge smile on her face. It never ceased to amaze her that her partner was a wonder with children. They seemed drawn to him, as thought they could sense his inner child, that kindred spirit of a twelve year old buried under years of emotional scars.

Bill had noticed that the crying had stopped and immediately sought out his baby. If that son of a bitch hurt Matthew, he'd... But the child was fine. In fact he appeared to be having the time of his life. In Mulder's lap. Bill wielded the spatula like a weapon and started to move towards the table, intent on ripping that bastard apart. A touch stopped him.

Margaret had her hand on his elbow, her head shaking back and forth, "Let him be, Bill."

That was all she said before she left him standing alone by the grill. Tara returned from the house, pacifier in hand, only to find that it was no longer needed. "My goodness, I think that's the first time I've ever seen him forego the pacifier."

Mulder grinned at Matthew. "There's more interesting things to put in our mouths, huh buddy?"

"Mulder!" Scully slapped him on the shoulder. "He's just a baby!"

"And I was just talking about food, you're the one who should get your mind out of the gutter," Mulder riposted.

Everyone was laughing wildly when Bill joined them, his expression stony. Mulder handed Matthew back to his mother and looked down at the meat on his plate. Well done, just the way he wanted it. He saw Scully looking at his food out of the corner of his eye. He caught her gaze and grinned knowingly. She shook her head in exasperation. The rest of the meal progressed smoothly, filled with good food, good conversation, and good company. Which meant that Bill was mostly silent. He only offered comments every now and then, mostly along the lines of 'Pass the ketchup' or 'Where's the salt'. The stern look his mother kept shooting his way every time he opened his mouth was enough to curb his tongue. Finally he decided that he would risk Margaret's wrath, just once.

The others were discussing the merits of the government, Mulder often interjecting with observations on the heinous acts committed by the 'hidden government'.

"Well, if you don't trust them so much, why do you work for them?" Bill sneered.

Mulder looked straight into his eyes. "I get to carry a gun."

Bill didn't miss the implied threat, or the icy glares from Dana and his mom. He swallowed the lump in his throat and became engrossed in the food on his plate.

After dinner was finished everyone helped clean up the dishes and put the backyard back in order. Now they were all gathered on the porch, eating bowls of ice cream.

Maggie eventually stood up, gaining everyone's attention. "It's almost nine o'clock, the fireworks will start soon."

"Well then, we'd better get a move on. I don't my son to miss his first fireworks display." Bill started ushering them all into the house.

They set their bowls in the kitchen and headed out to the car, grabbing blankets and jackets on their way. Tara sat up front with Bill, Margaret got comfortable in the back.

Scully leaned into the window past Tara. "I think I'll go with Mulder, don't want to squeeze too many people in you know."

Mulder, who was just behind her, couldn't help but feel a bit of satisfaction at the look of dismay on Bill's face. He wondered if that was Scully's intention.

So it was that Mulder found himself alone with Scully, driving towards the local high school where the fireworks show would be held. Without the distraction of her family he felt the need to tell her about the connections he had made on the case. He glanced over and saw her staring out the window, chin in hand, elbow propped on the door handle.


She turned and smiled at him. "Hmm?" She looked so happy, so content, so beautiful.

He couldn't spring this on her, not now. "Um, nothing," He cursed his cowardice.

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "What?"

"Nothing," he insisted, "I just...I wanted to thank you for inviting me, I had a good time."

She appeared to accept that. "I'm glad you decided to come."

He laid his hand atop hers. "Me too."

They spent the rest of the ride that way. Upon reaching the school they searched out the rest of the Scullys and Mulder set out a blanket a few feet away. He and Scully sat down cross legged, staring up into the night sky. The first explosion of light was right on schedule, the crowd gasping in delight at the huge globe of shimmering specks. Mulder leaned back on his elbows to get a better view, Scully following suit. They watched the fireworks light up the field, bathing everyone in a myriad on colors, from red and blue to green and gold. His eyes drifted over to his partner, reveling in the joy that he saw on her face, his own happiness of just being with her adding to the moment.

The next explosion was a big one; the kind that makes a huge crack long after the fireworks have dispersed. Everything was tinted by the light; Scully's upturned face became pale blue. Mulder's heart jumped into his throat as he had a flashback to his nightmare. It was terrifying, as though a portent of what was to come. He needed to feel her, to be sure that she was still there, not about to disappear into the darkness. He slid his fingers into hers, twining them together. She didn't move, didn't say anything to him, but he swore he could detect a faint glimmer in her eyes. It might have been the reflection of the fireworks.

They watched for a while longer, the display ending in a marvelous finale, dozens of explosions among each other; a sight that could have competed with the aurora borealis. Then it was over. Scully's eyes lingered heavenward for a moment and it was then that Mulder decided that he was going to tell her tonight, no matter what. He stood up, his hand still in Scully's grip, pulling her up with him. He grinned lopsidedly at her and let go, moving his hands to brush the grass from his elbows. She knelt down and folded up the blanket they had laid upon and stuffed it into a bag. When she turned she found her partner staring at her.


He shook his head. "Nothing." He reached out, as if to take the bag from her but instead took her hand. Scully smiled softly and squeezed.

Together they headed for his car. They had just about reached it when Mulder bent his head slightly and murmured in her ear. "I need to talk to you."

She furrowed her brow at the seriousness in his tone. She nodded, "Okay."

Mulder stood by the car and loaded the blankets in his back seat as Scully called over to Bill's car and explained that she'd be riding with him. He saw the dirty look that Bill sent him. He resisted the urge to wave at him. He only bit his lip in a smile and busied himself unfolding and refolding the blanket. He sat in the car and waited for Scully. It wasn't long before she was back in the passenger seat.

Well, he thought, it's now or never. You can't chicken out now, Mulder. No way, no how. He sighed.

"So, what do you need to talk to me about?"

He shifted uncomfortably in the seat. It would be so easy to change the subject. So easy to make something up and banter back and forth on it all night. Oh, it would be too easy. "Do you know anywhere we can sit and get a good cup of coffee?"


She navigated him through the narrow streets until they found themselves in front of an old fashioned coffee shop. Mulder looked at the etched glass in the front window, the wrought iron chairs and table under the front awning. It looked like the kind of place Scully would like; quiet, small and private. He almost wished there were some people in the café. At least there would be witnesses if she decided to kill him. He got out of the car and opened the door to the café for Scully. She went on in and he paused for a moment before he followed her.

He was chewing on the inside of his cheek so intently, he barely noticed the waitress approach their table.

"So, what'll it be tonight? We've got a great mocha cappuccino, iced, with a double shot of espresso topped with whipped cream and patriotic red and blue sprinkles," she grinned. The waitress was a twenty-something, probably a college student. She had short brown hair that barely brushed her shoulders; bouncing waves that moved every time she moved. Her brown eyes were inquisitive, heightened possibly by the wire framed glasses that were perched on the bridge of her nose. Said nose was sprinkled with freckles. Right now, she was looking at Scully with a great bit of familiarity and amusement. While the concoction she described sounded horrendous to Mulder, Scully actually seemed to contemplate the bizarre mixture.

"Nah, not tonight Shelby. Just two coffees, that's it."

She scribbled the order on her notepad. "Coffees it is," she turned with a flounce; a sing song voice floating from over her shoulder, "Bo-ring..."

Scully smiled and seemed lost for a moment. She looked at Mulder and seemed to concentrate on him a bit more than what he was comfortable with. As the seconds went by, Mulder was growing more and more uncomfortable. This was too much. He really wanted to tell her. He had to tell her what was going on. His palms were slick with cold sweat. So many things came to mind that he wanted to tell her. What actually exited his mouth...

"We have a problem." He could have smacked himself for that one. Good going Mulder. Great. He watched her face carefully. For moment, she looked like she was about to say something; maybe come back with a smart remark, but she said nothing. He took a deep breath, not really wanting to get to the point, so he beat around the bush for a few more moments. "This file we were assigned. I've been working on it. Putting a profile together and such." He kept watching her face, afraid. He felt like he was going to be sick. Nervously, he clenched and unclenched his jaw. He wished desperately for some sunflower seeds, but knew they would do little to alleviate his tension.

"And the problem is...?"

Oh God, he was actually going to have to say it. There was no way around it. He began wishing for distractions. Please, he thought, oh please, just this once...just this once let Skinner call or barge in or something and announce that this creep's been caught. Please just let something happen. Anything to keep the inevitable from occurring. Even another patron in the café would have been welcome.

Mulder tried to steady his breathing before he said it. "I...I don't think..." there was no turning back now, "I don't think you should be involved." He nearly closed his eyes so he wouldn't see her palm coming.

For the most part, while she didn't react the way he thought she would; she did react pretty much the same way he expected she would. She lifted that damn eyebrow and ever-so-politely requested more information. Mulder's distraction came, but not in the form he was hoping for. The waitress brought their coffees. In a vain attempt to soothe his nervous energy, he began spooning sugar and pouring cream into the coffee until it was practically undrinkable.

Hoping she would see his point, he plowed on, heedless of what would come from his request. He went on to try and explain what happened to Donovan, Taylor and Murphy. He started at the beginning, hoping, praying that she'd understand. He told her about how it all started with Georgetown. This whole mess started with what should have been your painfully average serial killer. While all the victims were totally unrelated, the MO was identical in every case. Then once Donovan and Taylor were found, the case was handed off to Murphy and his partner (a newbie by the name of Morris.) What had eventually happened to Agent Morris was something Mulder had nightmares about: her partner was dragged into this bloody web. Agent Murphy was missing.

While the FBI exhausted it's resources for weeks looking for him, it wasn't until nearly a month later was he found. Mulder had looked at the autopsy report briefly and made a mental note to talk to Dr. Dawson, who had performed the autopsy. There was something he wanted to know about Murphy. He wanted to know exactly what had killed him. During the investigation into Agent Murphy's disappearance, Mulder sympathized with the newer agent. He had been in her shoes once before when Scully was abducted. How Scully's story had turned out, however, was something Mulder thanked whatever god was listening that day for. While the complications that had come with her abduction succeeded in making both of their lives painful, the sheer fact that Scully was found alive made Mulder thankful. Everyday, the miracle that was Scully amazed him. He only wished Agent Morris could have been so lucky. Hell, for that matter, he wished Agent Murphy could have been so lucky.

He explained to her what he had seen in the Taylor/Donovan autopsy reports. He knew very well that Skinner had been screaming from the highest mountain the importance of partners watching each other's backs. He couldn't spend every single moment with Scully, no matter how much he might like to. He didn't know when this sick bastard was going to strike. It was the not knowing that made him want to put her out of the equation completely and just take this on alone. Mulder was lost in thought about Francine Taylor and Scully when he realized that his partner was talking to him. Something about the MOs; were they the same as the others.

"Yeah, pretty much."

"I'm not doing this Mulder."

Relief flooded through every extremity, making him giddy. He felt his shoulders relax with the sensation. While her answer had been unexpected, he was glad for not having to fight her on this. For once she was going with him without any questions when he asked the impossible of her. For once he was going to be able to save her before the fact. For once he'd actually be able to prevent something. For once--

"I'm staying on the case."

As quickly as it had come, the relief was sapped out of him. His mouth went dry, his stomach plummeted to the depths of his body.

"Scully, please...please don't do this." He was so bothered by this statement, he barely heard what she said next. She thought he didn't want her working on this because she's a woman??? How could she even think such a thing? This woman pulled his fat from the fire more times than he was comfortable remembering. This woman was one of the best agents he had ever had the pleasure to work with. But the fact was, this woman was going to be the killer's next target and she didn't know it.

No...no, that's not the reason. The reason is because I couldn't bear for that to be you. He let his head fall into his hands. Oh god, what the hell am I going to do? He knew. He knew that the next step was Plan B. While he might not have wanted to resort to it, now he didn't see another alternative. He sighed deeply and exhaled

"Fine." He tried to focus his attention back on his coffee, but now it had become too sweet even for him. He nursed it for about an hour, allowing it to cool to the point that no reasonable person could be expected to drink such a concoction. In that hour, the two people sitting at opposite ends of the small table could not have been further away. He hadn't wanted it to come to this. He hadn't wanted to have to do this. If Scully ever found out what he had done, she'd kill him and enjoy doing it.

They rode back to Mrs. Scully's house in silence. It was an uncomfortable ride, blessedly short. Mulder knew Scully was fuming at him. Considering that she thought he didn't want her on this because she was a woman (God only knew where she pulled that from) he almost couldn't blame her for her frosty attitude. Scully got out of the car with a short "See you Monday," and let herself into the house. Mulder sat in the driveway for a few moments, contemplating. Then, he put the car into gear and drove back to Alexandria in the inky darkness.

Upon arriving back at his apartment, he had formulated his entire plan. He set the duffel bag on the desk and pulled out the file folders that had been wrapped up in his work clothes. One folder got locked in his desk for safe keeping. The other was hastily shoved in a large, yellow envelope. He thought frantically for a moment; how was he going to get it to her? Who did he trust to make sure she got this? He knew the answer immediately: The Gunmen. Mulder glanced out the window into the sleepy darkness that was Alexandria. Streetlights poked through the blackness with intermittent beacons of florescence. In the buildings across the street, scarce few windows were illuminated like his was. He could make out the distant rumble of fireworks, muffled by his closed window. While it was definitely late for any displays, he remembered his childhood vividly enough to recall the family sitting outside watching while his father set off bottle rockets. He closed his eyes as the memory blossomed in full color in his mind. Samantha, laughing gleefully at the sparkling prisms lighting up the night sky. She'd grasp his hand when the thunderous booms scared her and she'd beg him to get her yet another sparkler.

He opened his eyes and swallowed hard. While those days were long behind him, tonight was closer than he'd ever been to them. Something about the Scullys...well, the female Scullys anyway, was almost like going home again. He felt accepted, wanted, comfortable...all those things that were missing from his upbringing. It was like coming back to your own bed after a long arduous journey. He hoped tonight wasn't the last time he'd be able to experience that feeling in conjunction with the Scully family. Hopefully, if all went well, it wouldn't be.

Sighing resignedly, Mulder grabbed a legal pad and a well-chewed pen. He thought carefully as he composed, absently sucking on his bottom lip and grinding his teeth. After about a half an hour, he had two letters composed, both addressed to Scully.

It was time to visit The Gunmen.

2:48 a.m.

He knocked loudly on the door, knowing that those within were awake, even at this early hour.

A tiny panel in the middle of the door opened up and two large eyes peered through it. "Password."

"It's me Frohike, open up."

The eyes blinked and the voice repeated, "Password."

Mulder was not in the mood for this. "I'm Dorothy and I'm wearing the God damn ruby slippers. Now open the fucking door," he growled.

The panel slammed shut and the door was flung open to reveal a stocky little bespectacled man in a hairy vest. Frohike stood back and let his friend enter, muttering, "Some people have no sense of humor."

Mulder ignored him and moved to the center of a large room overflowing with various pieces of electronic gadgets and several computers. A scraggly blond haired man was leaning over one such computer, his fingers rapidly dancing across the keys. Mulder pulled out a chair next to him and sat heavily.

"Yo Mulder."

"Hey Langly. Where's Byers?"

The hippie throwback didn't glance up from the screen. "Home with the wife. They're going out of town for a few days to visit her parents."

Mulder was never quite able to imagine Byers married, but contrary to popular belief, the man had a life. He'd never met Mrs. Byers and for that he was thankful. Involving loved ones in the sort of dangerous games they often played would be a grave mistake.

Such a horrendous mistake. That was why he was here. He tossed the thick manila envelope on the table.

Frohike had joined them and was now sitting in another chair, greedily chomping on a handful of mixed nuts. "So Mulder, what's up? If you don't mind my saying so, you look like shit."

Langly finally paused in his incessant tapping and looked at the man next to him. "Yeah dude, you look totally wiped out."

Mulder sighed deeply and brought his hands up to scrub his face. "I'm fine." The looks of disbelief they shot his way went unnoticed. "I need you guys to do me a favor."

Langly reached over and grabbed some nuts from the can in Frohike's lap. Throwing them in his mouth he talked around the mouthful. "Shoo, wha-evah oo eed."

“I need you to hold this envelope here for a while." He laid his hand on the subject of conversation. "It's for Scully. If she doesn't come to pick it up within two days then I'll be by to collect it."

"Why don't you give it to her yourself?" Frohike queried.

Another deep sigh. "Look, I can't really explain this right now okay? Please just do it."

Frohike was nodding, concern wrinkling his brow. "Is there anything wrong?"

"God, I hope not."

Langly had finished his mouthful and now leaned forward. "What can we do?"

"Just what I asked." Mulder pushed himself out of the chair. "I've gotta go."

"You sure? We're about to start up a game of Doom with some guys on the west coast." Langly was already turning back to his computer.

"No thanks." Mulder said absently. Frohike was walking him to the door. "If Scully does drop by, would you tell her..." he trailed off.

The little man's eyebrow quirked. "Tell her what?"

Mulder closed his eyes and shook his head. "Nothing, never mind." And then he was out the door, his friend staring after him until he disappeared into the darkness.

Frohike turned and went back inside, taking the seat he had just vacated. "That man needs a lesson in facing his feelings. Agent Scully isn't gonna wait around forever for him to make the first move."

Langly just grunted in agreement.

3:14 a.m.

He pulled the laces tight, his feet secure in the running shoes. He grabbed his gun off the coffee table and shoved it in the back of his jeans. Not the most comfortable jogging clothes, but it was easier to hold a hidden weapon in the stiff waist of blue jeans rather than in sweatpants.

He looked around his apartment, trying to decide if he had done everything correctly, not forgotten any details. Then he took his keys, stuffing them in his front pocket and headed out the door. He walked quickly down the stairs, looking both left and right as he emerged outside.

He was alone. Nothing but a few leaves and a cat moved underneath the pale yellow street lamps. Moving to his right he began at an easy pace, his legs working on automatic as he followed the familiar path of his jogging route. He tried to stay focused, to be ready for any sign that he was being followed, but he couldn't seem to keep his mind from wandering.

His thoughts were plagued by doubts. Was he doing the right thing? He imagined Scully's body lying on a cold metal autopsy table, her body a grotesque copy of Francine Taylor's and he was able to answer that question immediately. Yes, he was doing the right thing, the only thing.

On he went, his feet pounding on the pavement in the natural rhythm of a constant runner, his breathing steady. His mind ran through an endless circle of his profile of the killer, then his partner, and next his carefully laid out plan. One led to the other and always came back around to start again.

He was so absorbed by this that he never saw the movement in the alley he was passing, never heard the scraping of feet on wet concrete. Yet he was only mildly shocked when his leg exploded in pain, his momentum carrying him forward a few steps before collapsing. He rolled over onto his back, his left leg screaming in agony from his hip to his toes.

He was greeted by the smiling visage of a killer. "Agent Mulder, how nice it is to meet you." The man knelt down next to him, pulling at him so he could reach around and confiscate Mulder's weapon. Mulder bit his lip to keep from crying out as he felt the bones in his leg grind against each other. The man lifted the gun into the light before tucking it into his jacket. "Let me introduce myself - I'm the man you have spent the past week worrying about. I don't think you really need to know my name so you may just call me... Cupid."

Mulder swallowed, his throat tight with pain and fear. He looked at the grinning man in front of him and returned the smile. "All right then, *Cupid*, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

Surprise registered on Cupid's face, quickly turning into satisfaction. He knew that this one would be worthy.

"You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one then one will be provided for you. Do you-" He stopped as the pointed toe of a boot connected with his forehead. His vision clouded over, what he could see of the world was spinning at a sickening speed. He managed to continue, "-understand these rights as I-"

Another kick and black spots swam across his eyes, warm liquid trailing a wet path down the side of his face. He would not give in. "-have read them to you?"

This time he heard his attacker grunt with the effort put behind the blow. What little light there was swirled away and was replaced by comforting blackness. His last thought was that at least he had saved his partner from this.


"So stubborn," he chided. The large man chuckled maniacally as he contemplated the hours of entertainment his chosen prey would bring. He knelt down next to the motionless body and grabbed the slim figure around the waist. With a quick heave he had the limp form slung over his shoulder, blood dripping from both ends.

For a six foot, middle-aged man who was supposed to be in peak condition, the FBI man weighed next to nothing. It was with ease that Cupid carried him to the back of a waiting van and tossed him in. He swiped his grimy hands on his pants and turned to do one last survey of the area to make sure he hadn't been seen.

Satisfied that no one was around he moved to the front of the black vehicle and got in the driver's seat. Putting the van in gear he drove away from the alley stained with blood. He never saw the pair of eyes shining from the fire escape.

Unknown Location
Time Unknown

It was dark.


Nothing. Just darkness. It took him a while to realize that it was because his eyes were closed. When did he fall asleep? He raised a hand to his face to wipe away all vestiges of sleep when his fingertips brushed the side of his head, scraping against dried crust.

Pain lanced down his jaw and spread across his brain, making him clench his eyes shut again. He took several deep calming breaths, but he lost control again when he remembered the events that led to his present state. On the verge of hyperventilating, he heard a soft voice in his head.

*Deep breaths Mulder, in...out...in...*

His eyes snapped open. "Scully?" The world tilted crazily, the air appearing to ripple as though with heat. He had to blink rapidly to clear his vision enough to make sense of his surroundings.

I built my house of stone, I built my house of bricks, I have no chance to sing and dance, 'cause work and play don't mix.

Damn. He must have a concussion if his mind wandered *that* far. In this story the little pig was anything but safe in his house of stone. The Big Bad Wolf would be coming soon, he had to find a way out or perhaps something to defend himself with. He pulled himself to his knees then lurched to his feet, moving one step forward before the stone floor rushed up to meet him. The echo of his cry resounded in his already pounding head, competing with the utter agony in his leg. Looking down at himself he saw the wound decorating his right calf, a hole on both sides, one larger than the other. It was oozing blood and clear fluid, soaking the edges of the large tear in his jeans.

Shit. Infection was setting in already. How long had he been here? He glanced at his left wrist and flinched at the empty space where his watch was supposed to be. Damn it. Cupid must have taken it, knowing that time deprivation was a very effective way of putting more psychological stress on a prisoner.

Mulder almost smiled. Little did his captor know that he had an eidetic memory and could easily keep a kind of clock and calendar in his head. He figured that it was probably still the fifth, though since there were no windows in his cell he was unsure of the actual time. The only light source was from flickering fluorescent light far too high above his head to reach.

Focusing back on the task at hand he noted that further down on his injured leg a stainless steel chain adorned his ankle. From the length of it he estimated he could move in a circle with about a five foot radius. Not that it mattered in a ten foot square room. A look at the huge iron door at one end sent a rush of fear through him because it could open any moment and this nightmare would truly begin. His fear gave him the adrenaline he needed to drag himself across the floor, his fingers scrabbling at the corners in search of loose mortar. Failing that he crawled back to the center, and pulled at the chain on the remote chance that had a weak spot that could break if enough pressure was applied. No luck.

Next he tried to pry up the bolts that secured the ring to which his chain was attached to the floor. One of his fingernails ripped off in the process and more blood dripped on the metal. In a moment of levity he snorted. Stainless steel my ass. About a foot away from the ring was a drain, centered in the middle of the floor, which the ground tilted towards. Mulder didn't even want to begin to contemplate the reasons for the drain. Still, he pried up the small grate to see if he could use it somehow. Sad to say, he was not fucking MacGyver.

He had just replaced the drain when the imposing iron door swung open, creaking ominously. He could now see the face of his captor more fully than earlier, when it was shadowed in an alley. He was six foot, muscular without being bulky, thinning brown hair gracing his head. Wide set eyes above a square nose and firm jaw placed him in the 'not quite handsome but not quite ugly' category. He could be your average, everyday kind of guy, if it wasn't for the malicious gleam in his eyes.

He was carrying a cardboard box, its contents clinking and rattling in a promise of torment. The arms wrapped around the box were scarred, thin strands of pale skin standing out starkly against the darker undamaged skin. Cupid dropped the box with a loud thump and stood several feet away from his prisoner, hands on his hips.

"It's time to play doctor." Lips parted to show straight, perfect teeth.

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "I'd prefer a nurse if you don't mind."

Cupid grinned. "Then maybe I should bring your lovely partner here and she could tend to you."

Mulder's expression hardened at the mention of Scully. He didn't say anything, wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction of seeing how much the words affected him.

The big man crouched down and wrapped a strong hand around the bottom of the chain, grasping it solidly. Then he yanked. Mulder had to bite his lip to keep from screaming as the muscles in his leg screamed for him. Slowly he was pulled across the floor, getting inexorably closer to the madman. He dug his fingers into the ground desperately, finding no purchase on the stone.

With a final jerk he found himself pinned beneath Cupid's heavier weight, unable to move. The box was next to him and Cupid stuck his hands into it, coming out with a brown bottle and some bandages. A towel and scissors followed. The hands then set to work rolling up the bottom of the jeans, being none too careful about avoiding the wound. The brown bottle was uncapped and brownish red liquid poured out onto his leg.

He sucked in his breath at the stinging sensation, as though a thousand bees were clustered on his calf and were attacking the area. Cupid picked up the towel and liberally soaked it with more iodine. Then he brought it down to Mulder's leg and began to roughly scrub at the ragged edges of the wound.

Oh shit, shit, SHIT!!! Jesus Christ it hurts! Mulder's teeth had punctured his lip and his mouth was filling with a metallic taste. He shut his eyes and tried to imagine Scully, her tender hands deftly dressing his leg, gently cleaning and bandaging it.

It didn't work. There was no possible way that she would ever make him feel what he was experiencing right now.

The scrubbing stopped and the bandages were grabbed, brownish fingerprints marring the white gauze. Cupid wrapped the strips of cloth around the calf, tight and neat, not wanting the FBI man to lose blood too fast. He patted Mulder's knee when he was done.

"There, good as new."

His only response was a pair of eyes rolling up and a loud exhale before the body beneath him went slack.


On one level, he knew he was dreaming. On another different level, he hoped he wasn't. Vague memories of pain, exquisite, blinding, horrible pain seemed to probe at a far corner of his mind. But at that moment, the only thing that existed was the present. Scully. He felt warm, safe, and comfortable. It was dark, but a safe darkness that was not threatening. Like being wrapped in a warm woolen blanket, he relaxed and heard his partner's voice.

"Oh Mulder, what have you done?" Her voice sounded husky and thick with emotion.

He wanted to tell her. He wanted to let her know that he had done this for her. She could help him. She could find him. But he couldn't speak. His only option was to listen. He seemed to hear her thoughts over and over, like a mantra. "He did this on purpose." And with hearing those thoughts, he felt an inexplicable sadness; despair beyond anything he'd felt before.

She didn't know. She didn't understand. She didn't understand that the infection spreading through his leg was for her. She didn't know that she would have been the one here, chained to a stone floor, the room reeking of infection and vomit.

She didn't know and he couldn't tell her.

Approximately 24-48 hours later
Date and Time Unknown

He wasn't sure how long he'd been there, only that he was ready to leave...any way he could. He lay on the floor, shivering. He wasn't sure if the room was actually cold or if fever was beginning to rage through his weakened body. Of course, 'Cupid' had just come in to 'clean'. Mulder had been sleeping somewhat soundly when he was jarred awake by a shower of frigid ice water. The water and subsequent debris drained through the grating in the floor.

Mulder cringed as he realized it was time for another session. They seemed to last forever; but rationally, Mulder figured they never went longer than an hour or two. During those times he was introduced to pain and reintroduced to it. Just when he thought his mind had become immune, just when he thought he couldn't feel any new sensations over the dull throb that had become his body, this man seemed able to find a way. Through something that could only be called demonic genius, this man was able to not only remind Mulder that he was alive; he made him wish he was not.

This session was no different.

In a vain attempt to keep his sanity, Mulder had begun to keep a running catalog of his injuries. It was thankfully short, but he had a feeling that that wasn't going to last. So far he'd come to the conclusion that his leg was infected beyond repair. His chest was a mess of bloody lines...the macabre modern art that had graced the bodies of his other victims. He had done that the day before. Mulder had been on the floor, laying on his side, shivering but trying to remain totally still. He had been thinking of his partner, working tirelessly to find him. If she couldn't, it would have been his own fault. The profile he had given her, all the information he had left for her...they should have been enough. He had been occupying his mind with all the other times she had come through and saved his ass, My increasingly scrawny ass... when he heard the now familiar sound of the door creaking open. He looked up in time to see a gleaming straight razor in the scarred hand of his captor.

Knowing what the razor would *not* be used for, he had attempted a smirk that resembled more of a grimace. "I'm afraid I'm not in the mood for a shave if it's all the same to you."

"A good thing, Fox. Neither am I."

He had then pinned Mulder against the floor, one strong arm across his throat. He had struggled to breathe, darkness beginning to close in on his vision as Cupid ripped what was left of his T-shirt over his head. He had nearly passed out when Cupid chose to make the first bloody streak across his chest. He had been caught off guard and nearly cried out, but couldn't get the air in his lungs to do so. He had had no choice but to lay there, incapacitated by his other injuries and unable to breathe properly while Cupid made slash after painful, bloody slash across the smooth skin of his chest and abdomen. He had hummed as he worked, a tuneless melody that, for some unknown reason, stuck in Mulder's head. Only when he had had his fill of sadism for one day, did he leave; leaving Mulder writhing in pain on the floor.

Now as another session was about to begin, it occurred to Mulder that he had begun to see himself in the same vain as the others, a victim. His temper flared momentarily and he struggled weakly against the strong arms that were holding him down on the cold cement floor. He was pressed face down and for a fleeting moment, feared rape. He was perplexed when he felt his increasingly tattered T-shirt being pulled up roughly to expose his back. Then with a slight whistling sound, a metal coat hanger ripped apart the flesh on his back. Every weak muscle in his body strained against Cupid, but to no avail. He dug his fingers against the unyielding cement, but it did nothing to quell the pain. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think of Scully, but nothing materialized through the haze of pain. Instead, he waited. He shut himself off and waited for this sick fuck to finish doing whatever it was he was trying to accomplish.

He had closed himself off. He was shut down. He felt nothing.

Until he heard the whisper in his ear.

"A woman's back is such a beautiful thing, wouldn't you agree, Fox? Miss Taylor's back was so well shaped and colored up so very well. Your partner resembles Miss Taylor, did you notice that? Perhaps we can invite her to our party and show her my artwork?"

Rage overtook pain at that moment. "Don't you lay a goddamn hand on her!"

He nearly amazed himself when he had knocked Cupid from his back. He had only stunned his captor and was soon pinned back to the floor. He thrashed about, bellowing until he was hoarse, but Cupid only watched and laughed maniacally. He got up, shrugging Mulder from him, and walked out of the room, closing the heavy door behind him. The lock clicked with a finality that began to instill a deep fear within him.

She would be there soon. It wouldn't be much longer. It couldn't be.

He lay back on the cold floor and began to shiver again. He tried very hard to keep his head very still. The slightest movement on his part would make him violently ill. He closed his eyes and thought of Scully. He tried to will her to him, silly as it sounded. He thought of her and, for a moment, could see her as clearly as she probably saw herself.

She was in his arms. It was such a welcome reprieve, he found he could only press his lips against the cool skin of her forehead and jawline. Then, the warmer flesh of her neck. He inhaled the sweet perfume that had become so familiar over time as he buried his hands in her hair. She pressed the side of her face against the fabric of his shirt and he felt her warmth as her arms wrapped around him. He realized that he wanted to kiss her. He wanted more than anything to press his lips against her mouth. He looked down to her eyes, as blue as he'd remembered, and began the descent to her mouth. He had no sooner brushed his lips against hers when a white, searing pain jolted through his body. He lost control and they two fell in a heap on the floor. The pain was so intense, he found that he could only beg Scully to make it stop. She promised him that she'd save him. He jerked awake, if only for a few minutes, hearing her voice echo through his head, "I can save you, Mulder."

God, he hoped so. He closed his eyes and waited for sleep to claim him. It wouldn't be long until he was rudely awakened again.

He didn't know how long he'd been asleep when another sound echoed through the room. It too, had become familiar; a harsh scraping of tin against stone. It was feeding time for the main attraction. Mulder eyed the crude tin mug filled with water and the flat plate of what apparently passed for food. He didn't have to taste it to know it was drugged. He contemplated it for a moment, knowing that drugs would alleviate his pain. He dismissed the thought at once and turned away from the offering. Just then he heard Cupid's voice filter through a speaker, making him sound tinny and, if possible, more inhuman.

"Not hungry, Fox?"

He ignored the voice as it took on a taunting tone.

"I don't think you can afford *not* to eat. Do you?"

Again, Mulder ignored him; shutting down to a quiet place within himself. The voice began to grate on him, needling its way into his mind.

"You were skinny to begin with. Didn't she make sure you ate well? Hmmm...must not care about you as much as she should... Ever consider that, Fox? That's why she's not come for you yet. Of course, I might be wrong. Oh, hello, what's this? A message for our esteemed guest? Fox, it appears that I have a message for you. Would you like me to play it for you?"

He shut his eyes tight against the voice that seemed to fill the entire room and was beginning to permeate his thoughts. He pulled his long legs up to his chest and tried not to listen. A strange click sounded then and he heard Scully's recorded voice filter through the speaker.

"I know you've probably turned off the ringer, but I wanted to let you know that I'm ready to step away from this for you. Why don't you give me a call at my mom's house and we'll discuss it further over brunch?"

The irony of the situation struck him as tears filled his vision. Didn't it just figure? Scientific and analytical Dana Scully had to process the information he'd given her before she came to her own conclusion. It occurred to him then that this man had stolen his answering machine. He had been in his apartment. He had probably trashed the place...and probably had taken the profiles stowed away in his desk. Anger seeped past the pain and his vision turned a hazy red.

Cupid was speaking to him again. "They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach...judging by the looks of you, Fox...she hasn't made it there yet. But a brunch invitation? A shame you missed it. But I'm honored to have you here, even though you reject my meals. That's okay. You won't be able to for very long. Though," he continued thoughtfully, "maybe if we had Ms. Scully deliver your meals..."

He turned quickly, too quickly, and instead of giving Cupid the tongue lashing he had intended, Mulder found himself vomiting instead. He stilled his head and body immediately, but not before the familiar sounds of Scully's voice floated down again through the speaker.

"Mulder, I know you're probably mad at me right now. Please, if you are there, please pick up the phone."

The torment in her voice ripped his soul to shreds. She thought he was angry with her. She had to have figured it out by now, especially if she had been to his apartment and saw how Cupid's little search went. Please Scully, please don't give up on me.

He squeezed his eyes shut tight and turned his thoughts inward. He'd go mad if he didn't hear her or see her soon. Soon, his subconscious intertwined with his imagination and he began to hear things. He, very clearly, heard the voice of one Walter Skinner.

"My office. Ten minutes."

The demand had become such a familiar one and Mulder relaxed as the scene played out in his head. The next voice he heard was the most welcome one he could imagine.

"Yes sir."

He began to feel Scully's voice echo through his mind as if she were talking to him. She was afraid. She needed him.

Okay Scully, so he wants to talk to you. You know that he doesn't have any interest in talking about the weather. Chances are, he wants to either see what the hell you're doing here when you're supposed to be sitting on your hands back home. Either that, or he wants to brief you on how the official investigation is going. Now, you know as well as I do that he's not going to order you to stop your investigation. You know why? Because he doesn't know you're conducting an investigation. He knows you're not doing what he ordered you to do, but hey, what the hell does he expect? You're my partner. Some of my bad habits have probably rubbed off on you by now. He's going to try though. He's going to press you and try to find out what you've been up to. Just be a rock. Give him that 'Little Miss Innocent' shit you always try with me. Be careful though, he'll probably have someone following you or some other covert shit. Now, you had better pull yourself together and go in there and be Special Agent Dana Scully, okay? I love you.

The imaginary pep talk made him feel infinitely better. Even if it was all in his head. And he had been able to tell her he loved her. He could only do that in his head as well.

It struck him then that she would be receiving the letters soon, if she hadn't started getting them already. He prayed silently to whatever god would listen that she would turn them over without opening them. He didn't want her to know what he was going through and he was only too well aware of the detail of Cupid's letters.

Up close and personally aware.

Location Unknown
Date and Time Unknown

It has been said that it was man's ability to create fire that placed him above other animals. To overcome instinctual fear and master one of Nature's elements.

Instinct can never be fully overcome, it always lurks somewhere beneath the surface, below man's veneer of civilization. And one night, long ago, watching over the smoldering remains of his friend's house, Fox Mulder had learned that other animals' fear of fire was completely justified. Perhaps it was because he relied on his instincts more than the average person, or perhaps it was because his father had extinguished one too many matches on his bare skin, but Mulder had been terrified of fire for most of his life. The Cecil L'ively fiasco years ago had done nothing to assuage that fear, he had only been able to overcome that instinct because the fear of those children dying was far greater.

Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, Mulder wished that at this moment in time, more than anything in the world, that he wasn't deathly afraid of fire. It was pure coincidence that Cupid chose fire as his next method of torture, there was no way he could have known. But he was enjoying the discovery.

Mulder was huddled in the corner of the cell, his good leg pushing at the floor in a useless attempt to get away from the flames, his mind and eyes focused on nothing but the flickering heat. Cupid moved his arm to the right and then the left in slow motions, taunting Mulder with the burning torch grasped in his hand.

"I thought you were cold," he sneered. Sweat was running down his captive's face, from fever or fear it was indistinguishable. He jerked the torch forward and the flames licked at Mulder's right arm.

The sound wasn't quite a scream, but it came pretty close. Mulder's body was trembling in terror, shock and pain, his breathing hitched.

Cupid chuckled deep in his throat. "Guess I was wrong." He faked left and watched in glee as Mulder squirmed against the stone wall, head shaking back and forth. "C'mon, you've faced down some of the most horrifying killers known to man, don't tell me you're afraid of such a beautiful thing as fire? It's almost alive in its hunger, its need to devour. Can you feel it? It's hungry for *you*."

He placed a worn boot against Mulder's heaving chest and sighed in ecstasy at the look of pure and utter terror in the man's eyes. The torch lowered slowly, taking as much time as possible in order to prolong Mulder's fear. Finally it was so close that he could see the hair on his captive's chest shrivel from the heat. That was when he thrust the flaming piece of wood straight down on Mulder's left shoulder.

It was just too much. Mulder let out a howl of anguish and with strength that surprised both men, he pushed Cupid's foot off of him. He'd had to turn his body to get enough muscle behind the action and inadvertently made the torch slip right, spreading the burn across his left pectoral. He followed through with the motion so that he was now on his hands and knees, facing away from Cupid, who had been thrown off balance and was sitting on the floor.

But his relief was short lived. He had moved too fast and the nausea that was a constant threat attacked once again. He retched bile, nothing else was in his stomach. His head pounded relentlessly, sound and sight wavering. Finished with the expulsion of his stomach contents, he collapsed onto the ground, suddenly grateful for the cold of the stone. It eased the ache of the burns just enough that he could concentrate on something other than the pain.

The only thing he got from that was the resounding echo of Cupid's laughter as he closed the door and shut off the light, leaving him in complete darkness.

He huddled in a corner, drawing his legs up to his chest. He was hyperventilating and couldn't catch his breath. Somewhere in the far reaches of his mind he screamed for Scully. Over and over again, his mind called her name. He needed her there, to feel her cool hands on his hot, fever-ridden body. He needed her comforting, medical touch. Even the harsh chill of her many antibiotic ointments would have been welcome. At this point, even the cold sterility of glinting silver needles filled with multicolored vaccines would have been accepted...as long as Scully came with them. He needed her so badly, he could taste it. He imagined her soft, small hand inside his own. He imagined her voice echoing off the cold, dank walls.

"Mulder." The familiar voice sounded hesitant and, quite frankly, scared.

At some point he had gone from calling her name in his mind to calling her name out loud. And at some point he had stopped calling her Scully completely.

"Dana...Dana...Scully? Where are you?" Her presence excited him, though he was only half aware that this meeting was entirely in his mind. She was there, hallucination or no.

He felt her move closer to him and place a cool, soothing hand to his forehead. She fingered the sweat soaked pieces of hair plastered to his forehead and ran her fingers through them comfortingly. "It's okay Mulder...I'm here. We're going to get you out of here."

"Scully...Scully..." Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew she couldn't really be there. He continued to whisper her name in an effort to call to her.

He felt her move in the pitch darkness. Absently, he wondered what pitch was and how dark was it, exactly? Soon he felt her maneuver his head into her lap. He inhaled the well-known mixture of her shampoo and soap, mingled with light edges of sandalwood. Vaguely, he remembered that he had a tube of sandalwood soap at home...home seemed very far away just then.

"Oh God Scully...I didn't think you'd come. God, don't let me die here." He didn't know why he said that just then. He knew she'd look for him. He knew she'd find him. He had never doubted her for a minute. His confusion just then had increased to more than he could bear and he felt his body begin to wrack with harsh sobs. He felt her hold him in response.

"Shh, I'm here Mulder. I'm here. Don't worry, I'm here."


He became aware of her arms wrapping around him in an awkward embrace. On one level, he knew he was dreaming. On another, completely different level, he wished he wasn't. He heard her husky voice whisper by his ear.

"Be strong, Mulder. I will find you." He felt the gentle pressure of her lips on his bloody temple. He turned his head slowly and Scully placed another kiss on his forehead, feverish and sweating; then his hot, flushed cheeks felt the cool touch of her lips; then he felt her soft mouth on his cracked and chapped lips, dehydrated and bleeding. He needed to tell her something now, and he began to work his mouth slowly.

"Scully? Scully, I'm sorry. So sorry I didn't...didn't tell you..." That I love you.

"Tell me what?"

"That I..." love you.

But the apparition was gone. His head was once again resting on the hardness of the floor, sticky with blood and vomit.

Location Unknown
Date and Time Unknown

If, by taking away Mulder's watch and therefore his sense of time, Cupid intended to drive Mulder over the edge, it was working. He had given up his attempt to keep track of the days in his head, unable to sort out the hours of unconsciousness and pain. Plus, he had forced himself to start eating the meals Cupid provided, if only so that he could keep his sorry self alive until Scully came to get him.

That of course meant that he was accepting the drugs that laced the nourishment. They took the edge off the pain, making consciousness more bearable, but they also dulled his thinking. So it was either the drugs or the time deprivation, but he was sure he was going crazy. That was the only way he could explain the fact that he had just spent the last hour having a conversation with his partner.

They were talking...actually, he had been doing most of the talking. She had seemed stunned at his presence. His mind chalked it up to some sort of defense mechanism. He had to believe that Scully hadn't given up on him yet and talking to her and trying to help her find him were doing wonders for his sanity...maybe.

He could see her clearly, sound asleep on her couch. There was a bottle of scotch and a half empty glass of the amber liquid sitting next to the bottle. He watched her face for a few moments and noted how peaceful she looked when she was passed out drunk. He chuckled and sat down on the couch. Gently, he shook her shoulders. She woke up slowly, rubbing at her eyes and face in such a childlike manner, he couldn't help but smile.

"Scully. Wake up there sleepyhead. Come on Scully, wake up." He eased her into a sitting position and helped her come wake up. He shook his head, laughing. "You never could hold your liquor."

She looked at him, utterly shocked; as if she couldn't believe he was sitting there with her...(truth be told, he couldn't believe it himself.) "Mulder!" She gasped. "You're here...but..."

He ignored her confusion and instead focused on the physical state of his partner. She looked as though she hadn't slept in days. That meant he had been gone for days. The realization made him sick. Her face was pale and gaunt and she didn't look as if she had been eating at all. That's one thing we seem to have in common right now... He was filled with a sense of guilt over her. This was his fault...all his fault. Even though he had sacrificed himself for her, this bastard was putting Scully through another type of torture. "Look what he's doing to you. God Scully...I'm sorry."

She was still looking at him as if she didn't quite believe he was there. That made no sense to him...this was his fantasy, wasn't it? Of course, it was a little on the tame side as far as fantasies went...

She was talking to him.

"Mulder...Mulder, he's going to kill you."

He? He, who? Oh...even in my dreams I can't escape, can I? "No he won't. I won't let him." Mulder only wanted to allay her fears, to instill the quiet confidence he had come to know and respect. He would tell her anything if he thought it would soothe her. The way she was looking, she needed some soothing.

That patented look. Her eyebrows lifted and contorted in a mixed expression of apology and pity. She had given him that same look when she pulled the fake vampire teeth off of Ronnie Strickland in Texas. "Mulder..." she began.

He interrupted, not wanting to hear it. "Go ahead, ask me why. Ask me why I won't let him." Her very presence made his pain vanish and made his mind clear brilliantly. He could think clearly and he could move with no discomfort at all.

"Why won't you let him kill you?" Tears choked her words and ripped at his heart. He felt familiar prickings behind his lids and worked valiantly to rid his eyes of the moisture.

"Because I'm not going to die without your permission. We're going to get through this Scully. I promise you that. We've faced bigger things than this." He knew, even as he spoke, that he was telling the truth.

"But--" She was still trying to argue with him. Some things'll never change...

He took a deep breath and looked her directly in the eye. It was so good to look into those familiar blue eyes again. The scenario was such a comfortable one; he never wanted to leave it. "Say it Dana. Say 'you're not going to die, Mulder.'" He needed to hear those words come from her mouth. He needed to know that she believed that she could find him. He needed to hear that she still believed that he was alive. If she lost her faith in herself and in her instincts and abilities...he was as good as dead. It all boiled down to faith in the end, didn't it? He had his faith and she had hers. Then they both had their faith in each other. If only the faith they had in themselves was equal to that what they had in each other.

Her low voice found its way to his ears. It was strangled with tears and thick with emotion. It was a beautiful voice; husky and mellifluous. "You're not going to die, Mulder." The words were even more beautiful than the voice that spoke them.

It was those words he hung to as he returned from sleep, unconsciousness, La La Land, or wherever it had been.

He was still trying to figure out if it had been a dream or if it was a hallucination, when the now familiar sound of the iron door creaking open broke him out of his reverie. Cupid loomed in the doorway, an object dangling from his hand. "You've been cooped up in here for quite a while, I think it's time you got some exercise."

He stepped into the room and Mulder could now see that he was holding a very solid looking baseball bat. "I prefer basketball."

"I'm afraid the ceiling isn't high enough to put up a hoop, baseball will have to do." Cupid tapped the bat against his leg in an almost impatient gesture. "Here are the rules: I am the batter. You are the ball."

Mulder snorted. "That's it?"

A foul grin spread across the bigger man's face. "Yeah, that's it." He hefted the bat into position. "Play ball."

Mulder assumed a crouched stance, keeping most of his weight on his uninjured leg. He was going to have to be ready to dodge at any moment if he planned on surviving this session. Cupid advanced steadily, his eyes twinkling in the dim light, the bat gyrating in small circles as he planned his attack.

It came swiftly, but Mulder was prepared. He lurched out of the way, landing heavily on his side. He scrambled to his feet just in time to dodge the next swing. He could feel the air brush against his cheek as the bat passed by, stumbling out of its reach.

This luck couldn't last forever and Mulder knew it. He was seriously injured, a bad leg and the effects of the concussion sapping any chances he had of keeping this up. So after another minute of struggling from one corner of the cell to the other, his energy ran out. He tried to duck under the latest swing but was too slow, the tip of the bat caught him on the shoulder, spinning him into the nearest wall. He slid to the ground, knowing he needed to get up, to keep moving. But he couldn't.

So he decided to make due with what he had. He could still turn at the waist, take the brunt of the blows on his upper back, lessen the chance for internal injuries. That was just what he did when the hailstorm of wooden fists came raining down on him. He twisted and turned, keeping the bat at his back. He could feel the blood from reopened cuts trickle down his feverish skin, sending shivers down his spine. Similar sensations mimicked on his chest as puss from his burns dripped lazily downwards.

That was when the muddled thinking of the drugs decided to take their hold of him. He focused on the trails of liquid, fascinated by the colors they created in their wake, the way the light glinted off the droplets. So absorbed by this, he failed to shield himself from the onslaught of the bat. The loud cracking sound registered in his mind before the pain did.

Excruciating was the only word to describe the daggers that were piercing his neck, shoulder, chest, and back. It seemed as though his entire right side was on fire. He tried to turn his head to see if that was what was indeed happening. The pain from that simple movement was enough to send him to the edges of consciousness. He froze and waited for his vision to clear, tears streaming down his cheeks as he tried to catch his breath.

Holy shit! What the hell just happened?? A tiny twitch of his shoulder was enough to tell him. His collarbone was broken, snapped when the bat hit it perpendicularly. Somewhere in a distant part of his mind he noted that it was his *right* collarbone.

The one that was instrumental in the use of firing his weapon. It was going to take a hell of a lot of physical therapy to get up to the point he would be allowed back on field duty.

He laughed hysterically at the thought. He had to get out of here alive first.

Cupid's brows furrowed at the unexpected sound coming from the broken form on the floor. Mulder was laughing? This wouldn't do. This wouldn't do at all. It was too soon for Mulder to lose it. He whirled around and strode out of the cell, slamming the door on the FBI agent, who was still giggling on the ground.

Looks like he would have to stop drugging the food if he wanted his boy at peak performance.

Location, Unknown
Date and Time, Unknown

Mulder had always been confident of his sanity. Sure, he would readily admit that, at times, his passion and honesty made him look like an idiot; but he never thought he was insane. Even when he saw behavior in himself that he would think abnormal in others, like obsessively sketching pictures of gargoyles, he never once thought himself as anything less than stable. There was, however, a first time for everything and the longer he stayed chained to that floor, the more he was sure that even if he did get out of there alive, he'd spend the rest of his days in a padded cell.

He had called her name so many times, his voice was hoarse with exhaustion. The continuous grinding of his collarbone was a constant reminder of his line of work and his partner, both of which he was missing immensely. His leg...the very idea of referring to it as a leg nearly made him laugh. Even through the drugs, which Mulder had suspected were lessening, there was a constant ringing of pain. He tried not to look at it, because when he did only one word came to mind: amputation. He knew there would be no way to save his leg. If there was no way to save his leg, there was no way he could ever return to the X-Files. If he couldn't return to the X-Files, the likelihood of returning to Scully was significantly diminished. In his fever-ravaged mind, it only made sense to him that one came with the other, never thinking that Scully would want to be a part of his life outside of work.

Of course, by now he wanted to die. He wanted to die so many times by now. He would have killed himself had there been a way. Short of holding his breath, nothing would have worked. He had tried starving himself, but then Cupid would make a snide remark about bringing in "Dr. Scully" to whet his appetite. At that point, Mulder would begin to reluctantly pick at the scraps Cupid would bring him. Mostly though, his days consisted of him laying on the cold floor, shivering and trying not to throw up. Even the "sessions" were lessening. Mulder was beginning to think that maybe Cupid had become bored with him. That only left one possible alternative.

He would kill Mulder soon.

While it was heart-wrenching for him to think about Scully and the many reasons why she had not come yet, he still had not given up on her. Though, by now if she had found him, he would have begged her to put a bullet in his brain. But then, when he thought of asking Scully to kill him, her voice always reverberated through his mind with a resounding "No."

His entire body was sweat soaked with fever. Rationally, he knew that the room was cold, but his skin felt hot and salty sweat mingled with open wounds causing intermittent snaps of stinging pain. He shivered and tried not to cry anymore, since he was fairly sure that his emotional pain got Cupid off more than any physical torture he'd been through so far.

Above all else though, was Mulder's constant battle with insanity. He wondered many nights if he had, indeed, gone over the edge. He didn't feel like he'd gone mad though...but they say that's the first sign of true insanity. So, as long as he questioned his sanity, logically, he was still sane, right?

Then why did he keep talking to his partner?

It's my safe place. She's my safe place. If I don't talk to her... he couldn't finish the thought. Many ideas of what would happen if he didn't talk to her began to seep through into his consciousness. None of the possibilities were particularly appealing.

Sometimes he visited her in her home, sometimes in their office and sometimes she came to him like an angel venturing into hell. His mind wandered to Greek myths and the stories of the Underworld, Hades and his queen Demeter. Mulder pictured Scully standing at the river Styx, beginning her journey to rescue him from the Underworld. He pictured Cupid as Hades and himself as one of the worthless souls trapped in the limbo between life and death. He felt like a worthless soul to be toyed with. He felt like Cupid was a grand puppetmaster who would decide when and where his life would eventually end.

But through all of this, he could still feel Scully looking for him. He knew she had not given up on him yet. Much like he had never given up on her during her abduction. Though, during her abduction, he had never dreamed dreams like these. He had had nightmares about her, but never dreams where she had come to him or talked to him. Never, while she was missing, would he be sitting in the dark and all of a sudden, hear her voice as clear as if she'd been sitting next to him.

Like what was happening now, more and more often.

He heard her, frustration evident in her tone, as she demanded scientific evidence.

*What? What, exactly, are you thinking? Are you thinking you can actually consider this conclusive evidence regarding Mulder's disappearance? Because, if that's what you're thinking then allow me to be the first to welcome you to the land of the insane. You sound just like Mulder, for God's sake! That's about as nuts as thinking you are actually communicating with him via dreams.*

*Dreams? Don't make me laugh,* he scoffed. *Astral projection.*

*I don't care what you call it, it's nuts! You can't communicate that way. You just can't.*

He thought back to their most recent case...the psychic rapist. *Yeah, and you thought those women were drugged.*

Scully sounded almost like she was talking to herself as well as to him. *So, what are you going to do? Go to Skinner and tell him to be on the lookout for a man because YOU DREAMED HIM? You'll be lucky if he doesn't have you committed.*

*But what if you're right?* It wouldn't be the first time, Madame Scientist.

*Well, Skinner's not going to buy it; that's for damn sure. I'm not even sure if I buy it.*

Jeez, always following protocol. You're on leave...do what you feel, for once! *So don't tell Skinner. You've come this far on your own.* But, how far, exactly?

*But I have to tell him something. He's getting suspicious. He knows I'm up to something that I'm not letting him in on.*

He thought vaguely of golf courses, though he didn't know why. *So tell him to stake out golf courses. Or why don't you get lists of contractors from all of the golf courses and see if any names come up more than once. You know, Scully, it doesn't matter if anyone believes you. Don't be afraid to look like an idiot. I'm not.*

She was staking out golf courses and contractors? Why? Did she have a suspect? Was she coming? The very thought of his angel coming to him excited him...perhaps too much. He could feel his heartbeat quicken within him and his blood pressure begin to raise. Perhaps it was these two things that acted as a catalyst, perhaps the seizure would have come on its own anyway. Regardless, he began to feel himself rise out of his body as it thrashed about uncontrollably. His mind felt completely separated from his corporeal self. As if in a dream, he could see this happen. He winced as he saw his head bang heavily against the wall, but he knew he wouldn't be feeling it until later. Just then, he saw Cupid come into the room with a tub and hose. His captor set the large metal tub down with a loud clang. Quickly, he filled the tub up with water from the hose. He left the room and came back with two bags of ice. He dropped the ice in the water and turned off the hose. He then went over to Mulder and, after releasing him from his chains, hefted him up into his arms.

Mulder watched from above and saw Cupid bring his lifeless body over to the tub and drop him in. In an instant, Mulder found himself back in his own body with a life that surprised even him. Heedless of the many pains that were ricocheting off of his body, he leapt from the tub and tackled Cupid to the ground. He could see the still-open door only a few feet away. Freedom was the only thought in his mind as he attempted to crawl to the door.

Cupid watched his captive with growing interest. The boy actually thought he was going to get out. He held back the laughter, but just barely. He jabbed Mulder in one of his many open sores and watched with satisfaction as he collapsed onto the floor, breathing heavily with the effort.

"It won't be long now, G-man," he said as he locked Mulder back up in the chains and closed the door.

Location, Unknown
Date and Time, Unknown

He had been trying to occupy his restless mind with thoughts of the past. He had been thinking of his life before Dana Scully had waltzed in with her foreign talk of scientific evidence and irrefutable proof. He had thought his work had been fulfilling. He had thought his existence had actually meant something. He had thought that he was happy with how his life had turned out. He had his personal quest to conquer and was determined not to let anyone get in his way. Then, she appeared, not to get in his way like she was assigned to, but instead to walk beside him. Somehow, her walking beside him turned into the one thing he couldn't live without. His existence, in comparison, was now more enriched than it had ever been. He lived for her.

But now, he had this terrible ache inside him. Something that couldn't even hope to compare to the physical pains he was enduring. His soul was tearing itself apart and the sense of loss and hurt was radiating through him.

He couldn't begin to explain it, but he knew that she thought that he was dead.

Somewhere, in the far reaches of his mind, somewhere between conscious and subconscious, he heard her. *I can't believe I nearly said that. My God, I nearly said...no. He's not dead. He is not dead.*

The anger that flared up in him at that moment surprised him, in his weakened state. *Damn right I'm not. What the hell were you thinking anyway? How many times have I told you that I won't die without your permission? How many times, Scully? How could you think that I'm dead? Goddammit, I'm alive.*

She sounded apologetic, placating, and so very, very sad. *I know. I know you're alive. I know that. But you've been gone so long. If anything, I'm beginning to doubt myself. I'm beginning to doubt as to whether I am going to be able to find you in time.*

*You'll find me, Scully. You will. I have faith in you.*

Location Unknown
Date and Time Unknown

Mulder had already noticed that the sessions were becoming less and less frequent. That realization had begun to bother him and he knew his only choices now were to wait for Scully or wait for Death.

And though I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me...

The beatings had dwindled to Cupid coming in and kicking him wherever he could, whatever part of his anatomy Mulder couldn't protect. He had halfheartedly brought his arms up to cover his head and received several broken ribs (as if they weren't already broken) in the process.

Mulder knew that he hadn't much time left. Absently, he thought of the other victims and where they were all found: water hazards. He was going to be dumped in a water hazard for some poor schmoe to find in the morning. Then Scully would be called in to identify his body. He only hoped that she *could* identify him.

Damn it, I will not die. I will not. Not without her permission, I won't. Do you hear me, Scully? I'm not going to die without your permission.

"Do you hear me, Scully? Not without your permission."

He closed his eyes and attempted to sleep. He stretched out on his back and laced his bloody fingers across his chest. He focused on his breathing and felt sleep claim him.


Today was the day. He didn't know how he knew, but he did. On some other level, he sensed that today was the day that his captor would finally dispose of him.

But that couldn't be. Scully hadn't found him yet, hadn't come to rescue him. Therefore it was impossible that Cupid kill him yet. Mulder didn't have his partner's permission.

He didn't, did he? Suddenly it seemed so clear to him. It had all been a fantasy, fever-fueled dreams. Scully had given up the search, assuming he was dead after all this time. His mind was in denial, concocting hallucinations to comfort his psyche. But they were so real! He could remember every conversation, could feel her warm skin against his fingertips. Such vivid dreams they'd been. They had comforted him, they had soothed him, they had made him think that he was going to live.

One such strange, vivid dream flashed brightly in his brain. He had been with Scully, though hadn't he always? He had been with her...somewhere else. Somewhere where the scent of salt water laced the air; somewhere where sunshine warmed their skin; somewhere where they smelled of cocoa butter and lime. He could taste the tequila on his tongue, he could smell the salt on Scully's skin, he could taste the combination of both on her mouth. He had talked to her, jokingly, smiling at her welcome face and insisting that she had been dreaming. He had held her and called her Dana; had felt her hot tears as her face pressed into his chest. He had felt hotter tears stream from his eyes. He had told her that he loved her. An existence away from the ever present stench of blood and vomit, a reality void of pain, away from Cupid, away from the chains, the pain, the Hell that had become his life. And it had seemed so real.

I know you'll find me, and I have faith you'll find me because I love you.

So real...

No! It couldn't have been real, it couldn't! Just his mind playing a cruel joke on him, the effects of a prolonged concussion. That meant she wasn't coming.

Then it hit him. She wasn't coming. Oh God, he was going die. Death wasn't what scared him, he had stopped fearing his own demise twenty-five years ago. It was the fact that he was going to die without ever telling Scully how he felt. Yes, he had tried to tell her in the hallway of his apartment on that fateful night she told him she had quit, but he hadn't said the three words that really mattered.

Before he knew what was happening, he was hyperventilating, gasping for breath in a body that was too weak to gasp. His lungs burned with the effort, his shoulders heaving, his collarbone sending shooting pains through his neck. It was too much for him to handle, he broke into gagging coughs. Bloody spittle ran from his mouth, his chest felt as though it was in a vise, squeezing, broken ribs scraping against organs that were already battered and bleeding.

Explosions went off in his head every time he coughed, bringing darkness steadily closer. Sounds grew muffled and his vision clouded at the corners as his body continued to be wracked violently. He vaguely heard the door to his cell open and the hurried footsteps of Cupid. He closed his eyes, willing the sounds to be the imaginations of an oxygen starved brain. He gave up on that line of thought when he felt thick fingers wrap around his lower leg.

Even in this dazed state he still tried to get away, pulling his body mere inches across the stone floor. Cupid just went on with his work. Eventually Mulder felt a weight lift from his ankle and it took him a moment to realize what it was. It had been so long that he had become accustomed to the heaviness of the chain. He was free. So to speak.

He raised his eyes to meet Cupid's cold stare. The man smiled ferally. "Time to go for a swim."

Mulder's coughing hadn't subsided and it was becoming impossible to keep his eyes open. He lowered his head to the ground and allowed unconsciousness to take him, accepting the fact that this was the end.


He lay there for a minute or two, fighting his way past the fog and pain. His eyes remained closed, he didn't want to see what the Fates had decided for his purgatory. He was in Hell, there was no doubt of that. A loud rumbling reverberated through his skull, his body jostled by quaking ground. It was a little colder than he thought Hell would be though.

Maybe he was in Hades. The rumbling was the growl of Cerberus, the enormous three-headed dog that guarded the gates to the Underworld, the quaking caused by the rushing water of the river Styx. That would account for the cold.

He didn't think that there would be pain in the afterlife. Maybe that was his punishment, everlasting torture. It was fitting that he spent eternity this way, considering all the pain and suffering he had caused others throughout his miserable life. Samantha, Scully, Meli--

A blaring noise broke him from his reverie, its shrill voice echoing in his head. A trumpet to announce the arrival of Charon, come to take him to his Fate. Then again, it also sounded a lot like a car's horn. And now that he thought about it, Hell was a lot like the inside of a vehicle.

He cracked his eyes open and allowed them to adjust to the faint light that surrounded him. He felt a bubble of laughter rise in his throat but he swallowed it before it had a chance to escape. He was in the back of a van travelling down the highway. He wasn't dead.

Of course he wasn't, Dana Scully had told him that he wouldn't. What had he been thinking? She would never lie to him. Never.

The van lurched to a stop and Mulder couldn't help the groan that emerged as his body slid into the side of the vehicle. He could feel the van bounce as Cupid got out and moved to the back doors, the hinges squealing in protest as they swung open. Mulder wanted to shove the man out of his way and make a break for it, to show some last bit of defiance, but he couldn't. He could hardly move his body, let alone attack his captor.

He felt himself be dragged across the rough metal and slung across Cupid's shoulder. Pain radiated from his abdomen, internal injuries proclaiming their existence loudly. He was jostled with every step Cupid took, sharp pains like a knife burying itself deeper and deeper shot through him.

Finally they reached their destination and he was dumped unceremoniously onto the ground. It was then that he realized it was raining. Cold splatters on his face, dripping down like tears, many of them tinted red.

Rough hands groped underneath him and he was being lifted. Up and up and then there was nothing underneath him, nothing but air. The next moment he was enveloped in icy wetness, stinging his wounds, his eyes. But he didn't notice. Because he thought he heard something.


He could swear it was her voice, distorted by the liquid. She was here. He was sinking deeper into the frigid water, his mouth and lungs filling with the clear liquid, all light swirling away above him. It didn't matter.

She was here.

He heard distant thunder and thought, as unconsciousness beckoned to him, that it sounded very much like gunfire.


Perhaps it *was* gunfire. He was suddenly very afraid that Scully had been shot. As much as he might have wanted to, he couldn't act on that fear. His limbs felt too heavy in the water. Not that if he wasn't slowly sinking to the bottom of a lake he would have been able to do anything anyway. But the idea that she had come so far... That she had been able to come through for him like he knew she could... Only to meet a watery end with her partner.

Partners in life and death...

It felt so good to let go. A heavy peacefulness enveloped him, the pain of his injuries finally subsiding after days, weeks even, of abuse. He thought for a moment that a smile crossed his lips. It was impossible to be sure.

This is the end, my friend...

The cold water eased away his fever and curling tendrils of water plants teased at his face. He felt his lungs grow hot with effort when it occurred to him, why bother? The last few bubbles of air passed through his lips.

Suddenly, he was seized with pain. He began to raise back to consciousness. What if the last few events had been the work of his imagination? He was a psychologist, he knew of the things that the human brain could do to protect itself. What if Cupid was still there? Was he kicking mercilessly at his head right now? He thought for a second; no, he felt nothing but an overall ache...

That, and a set of strong, small arms around him.

He floated, somewhere between life and death, awake and unconsciousness, as he felt himself being pulled upwards. He wanted to help her; kick his feet, do something to help her.

But then again, he wasn't entirely sure that it *was* her.

The wonderful, sleepy feeling of water surrounding him dissipated. He was vaguely aware of the cool night air, made chilly with his soaked skin. He wanted to breathe, expel the water from his mouth and lungs, but it just wasn't worth the effort. Things felt like they were moving in slow motion. He felt himself being pulled through the water. Soon, he was on solid ground. He was laying on wet grass that smelled sweet with rain. His face was being pattered with raindrops. Clean water, it would have tasted so good just then. He wanted to lick his lips and taste it, but he was already so tired...

A familiar touch poked its way into the limbo he was experiencing. A light touch, prodding his neck. It occurred to him that Cupid wouldn't bother checking to see if he was *alive*.

But Scully would.

Oh, but he was so tired. His mind wandered lazily to Scully, the smirk she sent him with that graceful lift of her eyebrow. The way she seemed to want him to think that she was angry with him. The way she tried to be stern with him. The way he caught her trying to hide a smile with a grimace just so he didn't know that he had made her laugh.

That laugh...

Those things, that woman was enough to make him want to push out of the woolen cocoon that had surrounded him. That, and the voice that sounded so far away... she was pleading with him.

"Come on, Mulder...come on..."

Where are we going?

Hope you brought your cowboy boots.

Why are we going to Dallas?

Actually it's a little town just south of there called Chaney, Texas...

I don' wanna go to Chaney, Scully... Jus' wanna go to bed...

That voice, it had taken on such a pleading tone was gone.


There was a moment of silence in his quiet world and he was afraid that he had died. Died without asking. Died without saying...it.

I love you, Scully.

Oh, but that didn't count, did it? He had to really say it. And now she was gone. She had left him. All because he had died without getting her permission first.

Then, he felt a soft mouth on his. Steady hands on his face, small fingers holding his nose shut...

And painful bursts of air were forced into his lungs.

The mouth was gone, and in its place was a terrible, pain, pressure on his chest. His broken ribs screamed in protest. God, did it hurt...


No more, Scully. Please, no more. Just let me die. Say it, Scully. Say I can die now.

Again, the mouth was back. Again, small fingers pinched his nose shut. Again, air forced its way into his nonresponsive lungs.

Dammit, Scully. Just let me die. Hurts too much...

Her hands, clenched into fists, pressed on his bloody chest again.


If you knew how much that hurts, you'd stop.

Then it occurred to him.

No, she wouldn't. She'd never stop. Not until he was covered up in a white sheet and rolled away to a morgue somewhere. She'd never stop.

And neither would he.

Mulder began focusing on her voice, continuing the counting as she pumped his chest. He felt the air as she forced it into him. He tried to respond. He suddenly wanted very badly to live.

"Where the FUCK is that ambulance?!?!"

Such language, Scully. Your father would be proud.

She continued pumping. Her voice came back to him, the pleading tone lost. She sounded very, very mad. She was mad at him. At last, something to live for.


Oh, yes.

He was ready. He was ready to try and breathe. It should have been simple. He'd been doing it for thirty seven years. He could breathe. Hell, a chimp could breathe. He remembered someone saying once that if you put a hundred chimps in a room with a hundred typewriters, they would eventually write Shakespeare. If a bunch of fucking monkeys could write Shakespeare, he could certainly breathe.

Yeah, right.

He succeeded in gasping a tiny breath of air, coughing as he did so. He began to cough more than he breathed, but soon his body took over. The air burned his throat and lungs. His chest hurt. Hell, his entire body hurt. But he was breathing.

He felt her take his weak form into her arms and rock back and forth, whispering softly to him. Her voice was real. She was real, he felt her. She was there with him, not like the dreams and hallucinations that were the product of his damaged mind.

"I've got you Mulder. I've got you. You're going to live partner. You are. Come on Mulder, for me...live for me. Come on, just keep on breathing. That's it Fox, inhale and exhale. That's it."

You're the only one I'd live for.

A far away snatch of memory replayed itself in his mind. And endless loop, over and over again...a turning point...

They're out to put an end to the X-Files, Scully. I don't know why, but any excuse will do. Now, I don't really care about my record, but you'd be in trouble just for sitting in this car and I'd hate to see you to carry an official reprimand in your file because of me.


And I... I even made my parents call me Mulder. So...Mulder.

Mulder, I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you.

If there's an ice tea in that bag, could be love.

Must be fate, Mulder. Root beer.

I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you.

Must be fate...

Must be.

He heard the wail of an ambulance and felt gentle, if unfamiliar, hands lift him out of Scully's arms. He'd been strapped to enough gurneys by now to know what it felt like.

He was going to be all right.

Room 275
Intensive Care Unit
Mercy Hospital

For the first time in he didn't know how long, he felt no pain. He sensed light behind his closed lids and he wanted them to stay closed. He knew he was safe. He knew he was alive. And judging by the warm fingers entwined in his, he was not alone.

He needed to shift. He was almost afraid to, for fear of the pain that would follow; but damn, he was stiff. He furrowed his brow sleepily. Then a wonderful, miraculous thought occurred to him.

There was, more than likely, a blessed bag dripping Demerol or some other welcome painkiller into his system.

He felt his lips curl in a tiny smile as he shifted and turned his head. Instantly, he felt a crushing pressure on his hand. He forced his lids to flutter open and breathed a silent sigh of relief as he saw Scully; her hair disheveled, her face gaunt and pale, her eyes bloodshot and teary. She was staring at his hand held in hers, a smile on her lips as she tried to hold back the tears that threatened to fall.

He swallowed. "I might be needing that."

She smiled and he knew: This was real.