TITLE: Almost Home
AUTHOR: Shoshana
EMAIL ADDRESS: shoshana1013@excite.com
DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Gossamer, Spookys site, Xemplary, etc.
SPOILER WARNING: Seventh season episodes through Requiem.
RATING: NC-17 (Most of the story is rated R, NC-17 parts will be clearly marked)
KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully Romance
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me.

SUMMARY: Post ep for Requiem. Mulder comes back... but he's missing something.

NOTE: Thanks to my great beta readers Char, Keleka, Lisa, Paulette, and Teresa.

February 19th, 2001
A little after nine p.m.

She didn't have time to grab her weapon before he threw open the bedroom door and flipped on the light. She sat up quickly, immobilized first by fear, then by outright joy. She opened her mouth to speak, but was duly interrupted by the intruder.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" he barked at her. Unbelievably, his handgun was trained on her, aimed right for her head.

Scully was lost for words, flabbergasted by his noisy entrance and inexplicable demands. She clutched at the bedcovers, frightened not only for herself, but also for the child within her.

"Mulder?" Her heart was racing, her stomach was tied in a huge knot of disbelief.

"You know me?" he asked, his voice crackling with fear and disorientation.

"I'm Scully, Mulder. Your partner," she said, as firmly as she could. She was finding it difficult to breathe as she choked back tears.

He finally lowered the gun, partially because of her visible sincerity, partially because he'd just noticed her rotund belly, the belly of a very pregnant woman.

He looked at her suspiciously, then walked backward a few steps and dropped down in the only chair his small bedroom had ever had. He dropped the gun on the floor, then combed one hand through his hair fretfully.

"Partner, as in...?" he asked, clearly confused by her use of the term.

"FBI partner, Mulder," she retorted, exasperation seeping into her tone of voice. "We are FBI partners."

Perplexed by her statement, he furrowed his brow and stated the obvious, "But you're in my bed."

"Yes. I've been your 'partner' for almost eight years, your best friend for pretty much all that time, and-- "

"My wife?" he asked, wide-eyed.

"We're not married," she said sadly, looking down at her twisting hands, avoiding his gaze. She then lifted her eyes, calling upon inner strength to assert, "But this is your child. It was conceived last August."

He looked at her with complete bewilderment. He didn't recognize this woman and he couldn't imagine having a child with *anyone* at this time of his life.

She'd been trying to stay calm the last few minutes, anxiously hoping he'd snap out of it. Wanting him to remember who she was, what they were to one another. Her whole body ached to welcome him into her arms.

"You've been gone for five months, Mulder. You were abducted from Bellefleur, Oregon. I don't know how you've found your way back, but I've been looking for you every day since you disappeared. I never gave up hope... "

The tears began to flow now, and she gave up the fight to keep them back. She reached over to the nightstand and grabbed some Kleenex, embarrassed by her breakdown, surprised it hadn't happened sooner with all the hormones surging through her body.

"Please don't cry," he appealed sympathetically. He leaned forward in the chair, wringing his hands involuntarily, as though the slight movement would help him through this crisis. His eyes were much warmer now, compassion replacing the mistrust he'd exhibited just moments ago.

"You really don't remember, do you, Mulder?" she sobbed, both hands covering her face in despair.

She wanted him to come over to the bed and make it right, tell her it was some elaborate prank, tell her he really knew who she was, and he knew how much he loved her.

"No, I don't," he replied gravely.

His words stopped her cold, and she regretted her momentary loss of control. She sat up as straight as she could against the headboard, wiping her eyes, trying to regain her composure. "What *do* you know? " she asked. "How did you get here?" She lowered her hands and made nervous circles against her thighs, an idle gesture to calm her emotions.

"I woke up in the woods in Oregon. I know that now because I had to hitchhike to Portland from there. But the last place I remember being in before that was New Jersey, on the Appalachian trail, with a backpack and a pair of binoculars. It was nighttime and I was chasing some UFO sightings."

"That sounds typical," she sniffed, a small smile spreading across her face in spite of her misery.

He smiled back, briefly, but beautiful to her nonetheless. "I guess you must know me," he rejoined, his eyes meeting hers.

"You're my partner," she said wistfully.

A whole host of connotations lingered in her plainspoken words; neither could ignore them, nor spare comment on them now. They sat in uneasy silence for several minutes, contemplating the mess in which they were embroiled. Hazel eyes held blue ones, silently seeking answers to questions he hardly knew how to ask.

Finally, he forced himself to relax his twisting hands, placing one on each knee, then resumed his story. "Anyway, I assumed I'd been abducted. I didn't have any other explanation for flying from New Jersey to Oregon without some kind of 'earthly transportation.'"

She laughed at that, smiling fondly at him when his eyes begged her for clarification.

"On one of our first cases," she explained, "you said something like that at the end of it. It still makes me smile."

"Did you say your name is Scully?" he asked earnestly.

She grimaced, still stinging from the notion he was suffering from what she *hoped* was temporary amnesia.

"That's what you call me," she confirmed. "But we've almost always called each other by our last names. Ever since you asked me to, during our first year together."

"What's your first name?"

"Dana," she replied softly, her hands moving to her belly, seeking to reconnect with the one thing they still seemed to have in common.

"Dana", he repeated, testing her name on his lips. "May I call you that?" he asked cautiously.

"If you want. You did sometimes," she replied shyly.

Mulder caught himself before he asked her the next logical question, fearful of making an ass of himself. Of course he had called her Dana at some time in their relationship; as a term of endearment, or during pillow talk.

He studied her closely instead. She was beautiful, radiantly healthy in her pregnancy. Her skin was translucent, her hair thick and loose and tumbling to her shoulders in silky red waves, and her eyes were the bluest he'd ever seen. He was a lucky man to have her-- if he could only remember her. And he had yet to address the worst aspect of his amnesia.

"Scully," he began slowly, deciding it was the only safe form of address for now, "there's another thing. I haven't just lost the last few months of my memory. I've lost eight years."

She nodded, thoroughly miserable and not bothering to hide it. "I know," she answered in a very small voice. "I assumed as much."

He took a deep breath and continued in a rush, averting his eyes from her pain. "I looked at the newspapers at the airport and thought I'd got sucked into some kind of time portal or something. It was January 1993 when I was in New Jersey. And I do remember a rumor around Hoover before I left on my trip; something about a partner for me..."

"I was assigned to you in March. To debunk your work."

He chuckled at that, then asked, "Well, did you?"

She nodded, a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips, then said quite seriously, "I tried to be as objective as possible. I didn't have an agenda. And you opened my eyes to corruption inside the halls of government. We still approached all our cases from our own perspective, but we learned to work together. We had a very high solve rate. We've always been proud of that. And we discovered a lot of things that still need to be addressed, even now."

An uncomfortable silence enveloped the darkened room as Scully retreated into her memories. Mulder squirmed in his chair as he considered how to phrase his next question to her.

"Why did you get pregnant, Scully?" he asked quietly.

A look of pain crossed her features and he wanted to retract his question, but she answered before he could.

"We didn't think I could have children." She glanced down at her hands and worried her palm with one thumb. "It's a very long story. One I can't tell you right now." She lifted both hands to her head, massaging her temples as she closed her eyes, squinting, as if in pain. "There's so much to tell you. I don't know where to start."

She suddenly jumped, as if startled, and reached for the great mound of her stomach. "Ouch!" she gasped, rubbing her belly ruefully where the stray heel had caught her. She smiled, unable to suppress her joy at her condition and the healthy movement of the child within her. It wasn't the first time he'd moved so aggressively; she prayed it was a sign of vigorous good health. She looked back up at Mulder and beamed with pride.

Mulder hung back shyly, afraid to approach her without permission. "Is it the baby?" he asked, a note of wonder in his voice.

She gave a little nod, then extended her hand in invitation. "Yes. Would you like to feel him?"

"Do you want me to?" he asked, still unsure of himself.

It was clearly his child. He had no reason to disbelieve her. But until he regained his memory, or became more comfortable with this bizarre situation, he felt as timid as a first-grader with a crush on the teacher.

"Of course," she answered. "Come here."

She motioned him to the side of the bed, indicating he should sit next to her. He got up from the chair and staggered a couple steps. He'd been on a plane most of the evening and his legs had never really recovered from being twisted like sardines in a can.

Gingerly, he sat beside her, maintaining a respectful distance between them. She smiled at his diffidence, then reached over and pulled his hand over to the curve of her belly.

"Just let your hand rest here for a few minutes. He'll kick again," she told him.

"It's a boy?" His voice cracked on the word 'boy,' and he averted his eyes, staring down at his other free hand.

"Yes. This baby has had every medical test possible. DNA, amniocentesis, you name it, he's had it. We were worried-- "

She covered her mouth with one hand and closed her eyes, trying to decide just how much to reveal at the moment. If he remembered nothing of the last eight years... he wouldn't have to feel guilty about what had happened to her for at least a little while longer. Somehow, that was better than the alternative, allowing him to brood over injustices done to her body because of their work on the X-Files.

"Did you think there was a problem with birth defects?" he asked softly.

"I, I thought there might be... anomalies." She turned away from him for a few moments, searching for the right words. "I wasn't sure," she said finally, trying to be as honest as possible without shedding too much light for now. "I'd been told that I was barren."

Mulder's hand rested on her stomach as she spoke, wishing he could feel something for this woman, but she remained a stranger. A lovely, brave stranger who clearly had strong feelings for him. He tried to imagine what he'd felt for her after their first meeting in 1993. He'd probably been in love with her at first sight, knowing him. He wanted to ask about that, propriety be damned.

"If we were partners for seven years, when did we..."

He couldn't finish his sentence. He knew he was chronologically close to forty years old and he couldn't bring himself to ask her when they'd become intimate. It was much too personal a question to ask someone you'd only just met. And *essentially* he'd just met her, just begun to fall in love with her all over again.

He knew it wouldn't be so hard to do so. He'd always wanted to be loved; always wanted a family for that matter. If he could only get a small percentage of his memory back, he hoped it would be all about his hopes and dreams for her.

She blushed at his query, mentally filling in the missing last words. She'd never told him how responsible she'd felt for deferring their relationship. After he was abducted, she'd spent many fruitless hours condemning herself for making him wait so long. It'd been evident for years how he felt about her. She'd been frightened of the consequences, reluctant to change the status quo. If she'd known he'd be taken from her so soon after their first tryst...

"Only recently. Last April, in fact. We had some issues to resolve," she said, trying to avoid going into detail.

She didn't want to get into a discussion about this until later, much, much later. There were larger problems to tackle first, like getting Mulder well again. She'd studied amnesiac patients in medical school; it had always interested her. She was optimistic about his recovery; she had to be. She needed the father of her child with all his faculties intact. She needed the Mulder who loved and cherished her.

He was Mulder, of course. But not Mulder, too. He didn't have the benefit of all the years they'd spent together, on the job, on the road, at home. He probably didn't have feelings for her, didn't love her, in his present state of mind. He was attentive as she spoke, warming to her every minute they spent together. But something was missing, and she yearned for his love more than ever.

He smiled timidly and said, "Don't all couples? Have issues, I mean?"

She smiled wryly, looking up at him through her lashes. "Yeah, but we have a few more than most, Mulder. It's not everybody who has to contend with a global conspiracy to collaborate with aliens and colonize the planet."

"You're kidding? Aren't you?" he asked, after absorbing the initial shock of her pronouncement.

She chuckled softly and replied, "No, I'm afraid not. We have more than our share of challenges, Mulder." Then softer, very seriously, she said, "That's why we need to get you well again. The baby's very important. It's all I've had my mind on, other than your disappearance, these last few months. But we really need to see why you can't remember, see if we can do anything about it with hypnosis or other therapies. It's one thing to bring you up to speed on the problems in our lives; it's another to protect you from dangers you might not even be aware of."

"Like what?" he queried, tilting his head to one side to express his confusion.

"You wouldn't know a bad guy from a good guy, would you? You can't go back to active duty if you don't know all the players, all the situations we've encountered. I guess it might be possible. You have such a good memory; you could memorize names, faces. But, if anyone were to find out about your memory loss, they might try to manipulate you."

"So you want to keep it a secret?" He paused to think, sweeping his unruly hair off his forehead with his free hand. "I'm game, if you are. It would be difficult, but not impossible. We'd have to be careful about getting treatment. And there'd be situations when we're not together, when I'd have to play it by ear. I could probably wing it if I didn't remember someone, play act a little. But I'm sure someone will suspect something eventually."

"We'll just have to have some faith then. That's all it takes sometimes, Mulder. It's sustained us before," she said, pointedly staring into his concerned hazel eyes. Eyes she'd missed so much; she was thrilled to get them back, even with great obstacles looming on the horizon.

"Oh!" he cried, feeling the baby kick beneath his palm. He smiled joyously, and reached over for Scully's hand, ignoring the fact he couldn't remember conceiving this child with her. He knew instinctively this was his child and he wanted to share this moment with her.

She squeezed his hand gently, just enough to affirm her feelings, not so much to scare him off. He was gentle and sweet, just like the Mulder she'd fallen in love with over the course of so many years. He wasn't running away from this situation; he was leaping right into it, with the strong resolve she'd witnessed so many times before.

She loved him so much. She hoped and prayed he'd get his memories back. And if he didn't, if it was an impossibility, she begged God to let him love her with half the passion he'd offered her before.

They had this tiny child to shepherd through the world. She knew they would do just about anything to protect him, to shield him from harm. She knew Mulder. And this man was still Mulder, no matter how many memories had been stolen from him.

She'd seen the happiness in his eyes, the delight on his face, when he felt the baby move a fraction of an inch. Presently, his thumb stroked the knuckles of her hand distractedly, unaware of its affect on every nerve ending in her body. Or maybe he did know, in some subconscious way. Maybe he could sense how much she loved him, returning her love in some discreet, small way.

"He's beautiful, Scully," he mused, rescuing her from own meandering thoughts.

"He is, isn't he?" she smiled back.

He gazed at her, chewing on his lower lip thoughtfully. She returned his attention, scrutinizing his face for any clues to his next move. His hand never left hers, thumb now drawing tiny circles on her palm.

He swallowed hard once, then twice. He felt so much more for this woman than he had five minutes ago. He felt closer to her than anyone he'd ever known in his sometimes miserable life.

He must know her on some molecular level, some way that had nothing to do with conscious experience. He knew he could love her, knew she already loved him. He wanted to tell her he'd never leave her again, never make her worry for five solid months whether or not he was a dead man.

"His mom is beautiful, too." The words fell from his lips even as he thought them, and he felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. He didn't mean to put her on the spot. What if she felt too awkward in this situation to receive a compliment from him?

His eyes dropped to their joined hands, hands which were communicating better than words would ever suffice. She squeezed his hand firmly, then slowly brought it to her lips. Her kisses were tenderly given; his whole body craved her as she touched his knuckles with her soft lips.

"Thank you," she replied. She lowered their hands to her stomach, fingers still entwined.

"Scully..." he said, tentatively.

"Yes," she whispered.

"The baby needs a name," he asserted.

"We'll name him. We have time," she responded.

He bit his lower lip contemplatively, considering how to broach this subject. There was no other way; he would have to be direct.

"A last name," he clarified.

"Oh," she said, her lips remaining in the shape of that single letter of the alphabet.

She appeared to be shocked by his proposal, and he gnawed on his lip all the more, turning his face to hide his chagrin. His hand fell from the top of her stomach and he wished he were dead.

Her hand left his, disentwining their fingers. He was about to bolt from the bed, when she caught his face between two strong hands and held him fast. Her thumbs stroked his jawline, then his cheeks. They settled over his abused lips, chapped from the elements, numb from his old habit of chewing at them.

She leaned closer to him, her belly a challenge, but no impediment to her mission. He was paralyzed by her touch, a frozen man, waiting for the spring thaw. She touched her lips to his softly, savoring what had been denied her so long.

He responded with care, pressing his mouth to hers cautiously, tasting her like a gourmet. He didn't dare go any further. He was terrified he'd already gone too far. She made it clear it wasn't his decision to make when she slipped her tongue between his teeth, stroking gently against his own.

His arms reached around her back, pulling her close. She cooed as he stroked her back and neck, then caressed her lavender scented hair. Her smell, her touch, were so essential to him. It was as though his subconscious mind recognized her, and was trying to persuade his intellect to follow through on its impulses.

She ended the kiss, leaning back against the headboard with a sigh. She scooted six inches to her right, then urged him next to her, pulling his arm until he slipped beside her on the bed. She grabbed his left hand, placing it back on her stomach, then covered it with her own.

She turned her head and whispered in his ear, "Nothing can keep us apart. Nothing."

He wrapped his right arm around her, pressing his lips to her cheek. He pulled her into the space between his thighs, supporting her weight with care. She leaned heavily against his chest, and he placed both his hands on the curve of her belly. The pads of his fingers smoothed up and down its contours, caressing the baby, caressing her.

"Everything will be okay," she said softly.

He kissed her hair, then whispered back, "I know."

February 20th, 2001

Bang! Bang! Bang! Something was banging in Mulder's head. He was having the oddest dream and he didn't appreciate being disturbed by that incessant banging. It involved coming home last night and discovering a captivating pregnant redhead in his bed, then falling into a deep, peaceful sleep beside her.

He was so tired, so tired from his hike out of the forest yesterday. It had taken hours before a car came by to take him to Portland. He'd roamed around the airport for hours till his flight took off, reading every newspaper he could find, trying to figure out why it was 2001 and not 1993.

He, of all people, would be more inclined to believe in time travel, of some blip in the space/time continuum. He didn't panic, because he knew there was a good reason for every paranormal experience. This one was no exception.

He would stay calm and logical and go straight home to DC. The best place to be was his own apartment, where he could use his computer, watch television and try to track down the Gunmen.

They'd help him sort out what had happened to him. If he'd been abducted, if he'd been off in a spaceship for eight long years, he wouldn't be surprised to find his apartment occupied by some new tenant. What he hadn't expected was the presence of a five foot two beauty great with child, *his* child.

It had completely thrown him at first, until he realized she was telling him the truth... she was his partner, she was his best friend, she was carrying his child. And when he sat next to her on the bed and felt that child move within her stomach, he knew, in some elemental way, that it was truly his progeny.

He didn't know Dana Scully, but he felt closer to her than anyone else on Earth. He didn't know why, he couldn't *remember* why. But there had been an electric current between them from their very first conversation, the very first touch between them.

He'd felt more and more comfortable in her presence, more and more convinced that he was where he was supposed to be. Of course, he was. It was his own apartment. But he didn't recognize all the furnishings as his own, as if they'd been accumulated over years of haphazard decorating, Mulderstyle.

The surroundings may have been a mite foreign, but Dana Scully wasn't. She was as warm and comforting as a summer breeze, snuggling up to him in his bed as if she belonged there. He'd fallen asleep next to her, his arms around her, one hand zealously protecting the child they shared.

The banging was getting truly annoying. It was accompanied by a woman's frantic voice, "Mulder, Mulder wake up! There's someone at the door. Mulder, let me go so I can get the door!"

He felt his face flinch as she gently tapped him with her index finger. He half-opened one eye cautiously.

It wasn't a dream. She was very real. She was very pregnant and she was getting progressively more annoyed with every second he ignored her.

He loosened his arms from around her waist, and opened both eyes, taking stock of the situation. She jumped out of bed as soon as he let her go, and he witnessed a flash of red as she ran out of the room as quickly as her pregnancy would allow.

He heard a man's voice, Skinner's voice. He remembered Skinner all right. He'd just taken over the supervision of the X-Files in January 1993. They didn't know each other very well, but Mulder didn't mind him. Not yet, anyway. Skinner hadn't had time to go through all his expense reports. He'd probably be livid when he realized how Mulder was spending government dollars.

The bedroom door opened and closed, and he turned over on his side as Scully approached the bed, in flannel pajamas and robe; he was still in his jeans and tee shirt from yesterday.

He'd taken a shower at some cheap motel near the airport before leaving Portland. Even so, he was ready for another one. The disorientation of the last twenty-four hours was catching up with him. No wonder she had such a hard time waking him up.

He had no idea where he'd been before waking up in Oregon. If he'd been missing for five months, like Scully had told him, he had no more recollection of that time period than he did of anything since January 1993.

A less visionary man would be frenetic, angry, agitated. He felt exceptionally calm and cool, all things considered. Odd things had happened to him before; it was why he had pursued the X-Files so vehemently.

He knew his ideas sounded like hogwash to most rational people. He knew that his theories were difficult, if not impossible to prove. But the notion that Dana Scully had stuck by him for the last eight years vindicated him. There had to be truth to his excursions into the paranormal if this apparently sober-minded woman had remained his partner all these years.

Scully wore a humorless expression as she filled him in on the AD's arrival. "Skinner says you were spotted at National last night, but he didn't get word until an hour ago. He's been trying to reach me by phone, but I was recharging my cell and I turned off the phone here by mistake. He decided to wait until morning because he thought I needed the rest. He's making coffee for himself right now and I told him we'd be out in five minutes. Right now... if I don't get into the john in thirty seconds, I'm going to need adult Pampers. Wait till I come out and then you can wash up."

She lowered her voice as she leaned closer to the bed. "And *don't* go out there until I get back. I didn't tell him about the amnesia. He doesn't need to know if we play our cards right."

She gave in to her need to relieve herself, closing the bathroom door behind her. Mulder sat up on the bed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. They must have rested for eight hours, surely a record for him. It was nine o'clock when he arrived last night, and he vaguely remembered the glow of his ancient LCD clock before falling asleep. It was one item that remained the same in his memory. He'd apparently never replaced it, even though it was vintage late eighties technology.

What was he going to do if he never remembered all these lost years? He had started an electronic journal before he'd gone off UFO hunting in New Jersey in 1993. He'd ask Scully or the guys if they'd found it on his hard drive. Certainly they would have looked for one if they were trying any means to hunt him down. If it still existed, he could fill in most of the memory loss within a few days time.

Whatever else he needed to know could be provided by Scully. He trusted her. He knew he'd never be this involved with a woman again unless he trusted her implicitly. He'd been burned by Diana's sudden flight to Europe, away from him, away from their growing relationship. She'd left him a 'Dear John' letter in the summer of '92; her belongings packed up and spirited away before he got home from an out of town assignment.

Scully loved him. She trusted him. She'd felt safe with him the minute he explained what had happened. And stopped aiming his gun at her head. He felt awful about that. Paranoid as always, he had checked out every room in the apartment before finding her in his bed. He hadn't stopped to think that she belonged there, that this was her temporary home while he was missing.

The toilet flushed, and he jumped out of bed and met Scully at the door of the washroom. She'd changed into jeans and a sweatshirt after quickly washing up and putting on a little makeup. My God, she was pretty, he thought. He must have done something right along the way.

"I'll entertain Skinner and explain to him everything I know so far. When you're done, come out and you can fill *both* of us in on the details. Just remember not to tell him everything... not even a hint about the memory loss. We'll go over to the hospital today and run a few tests to make sure you're all right and look for implants. Other than that, we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see Dr. Werber for hypnosis."

She pulled on the belt loop of his jeans, bringing him closer to her in the doorway. "As your personal physician, I want to make sure you're A-OK." She smiled suggestively, and sauntered toward the bedroom door.

"My personal physician?" he wondered out loud.

She turned around when she reached the door jamb and said, "Your one and only."

Then she was gone... off to sweet talk their supervisor.

Mulder was aghast. Had she learned that from him? He was the master of sexual innuendo at the FBI academy and beyond. He'd always flirted with female agents. Innocent flirtation of course, never full-blown sexual harassment.

This very pregnant woman was sexier than any busty model in one of his Triple X magazines. He was incredibly turned by her intentional remark, a bit of innuendo that surprised him and delighted him at the same time. How many years had they practiced their banter on one another until they resolved this palpable sexual tension?

She'd told him last April was the first time they'd been together. He chuckled to himself, vowing to discover just how outrageous his bills at the local video store had been all these years. No wonder she'd looked sheepish after telling him. They must have been faithful to one another for years, with no sexual involvement.

He just knew it, could feel it about them. Aside from discouragement from the Powers That Be, there must have been other factors to keep them platonic. He could only imagine why... until he got his hands on his journal or asked her to tell him about the government conspiracy they'd discovered.

First things first, he thought, as he brushed his teeth and washed his face with the plain terry washcloth. First he had to convince Skinner he was all right and fit for duty.

It didn't surprise him that his partner was a medical doctor. The FBI recruited agents from all walks of life. He would have become a psychologist in private practice if he hadn't joined the FBI. The FBI sounded easier when they came calling for him. It sounded like he'd be more useful to society as a profiler than a private doctor. Little did he imagine how difficult the job would be on his psyche, how tortured he'd be by his cases.

He'd been delighted to discover the X-Files. After putting up with Patterson's crap for several years, he wanted to pursue his own interests. He wanted to find his sister and he wasn't going to accomplish that while working for the BSU. And it gave him the opportunity to be his own boss, something he'd been yearning to do.

He wondered if he'd given Scully a hard time when she'd been partnered with him. He must have been the Senior Agent, must have ordered her around like some flunky. No, that wouldn't have happened. She seemed too strong to have obeyed him without question. She was much too bright and sure of herself to let him get away with that. He couldn't wait to find out what she had to say about those early years.

"MULDER!" she yelled from the other room.

He ran a comb through his hair, noticing the extra muscle in his upper body, the lines around his eyes, the maturity of his facial features. He was older, eight years older. This was *real*, this was really happening to him. If it had been anyone else, they'd have been checking into a mental institution. They hadn't nicknamed him 'Spooky,' for nothing, after all.

He quickly pulled on his sneakers and walked through the bedroom door to face Skinner. The AD looked different; he'd always been balding, it suited him. But were he and Scully responsible for all those worry lines on his face? He hoped not.

"Hello, sir," he offered, sitting down on the opposite side of his familiar leather couch. Thank God it was still there, like it had always been.

"Mulder. How are you feeling? Scully told me you don't seem to be harmed in any way."

"I feel fine. I took a shower yesterday and didn't see any evidence that I was tested, no scars or needle marks. Naturally, I'll want to get medical tests, make certain they haven't done any damage... or given me a little present before dropping me off in the Oregon woods."

"You can't remember anything? Nothing of the last five months?"

Mulder glanced over at Scully. He shouldn't have, because her silent admonishment aroused Skinner's suspicions. She was telling him something with that look, and Skinner would get to the bottom of it. He was all too familiar with his agents' secretive personal language. He wasn't privy to all its nuances, but he knew when it was being utilized.

"Nothing. Not a thing," Mulder asserted. He tried not to reveal anything more through his body language. His face was expressionless as he relaxed into the cushions of the sofa.

"We'll go to see Dr. Werber," Scully interjected. "Hynopsis may help him recall where he was, what was done to him... if anything."

"Have you examined Mulder for scars or implants, Agent Scully?" Skinner asked.

A rosy glow crept over Scully's face, her embarrassment obvious. She tried to suppress it, but it was there, whether she liked it or not. They hadn't even taken off their clothes last night. God knows how long it would be before they could behave like the loving couple they once had been.

It was difficult to envision Mulder with the same clinical detachment she'd used before they'd made love. Despite her little joke earlier this morning, she realized that Mulder would need some time to get used to her attentions. And besides that, she was six months pregnant. She didn't think he was all that attracted to her in her present condition. She liked to think he was pleased by the baby, that he felt something for her because of their child. But she couldn't imagine him looking at her in a libidinous haze of lust.

"Not yet, sir. We've slept most of the time since he arrived home last night," she said flatly.

"Well... go get him checked out by the hospital. Then, both of you, take some time off... get out of town. I don't want Agent Mulder back on duty until he's completely ready. And I think you need a vacation as much as he does, Agent Scully. No matter how pleased I am to see you back, Mulder, I'd like to see very little of you the next few weeks while you recuperate."

"I'd actually like that, sir. Especially... because of the baby," Mulder replied, a bit abashed.

It felt so surreal to be discussing this with his boss. He would have preferred to have told Walter Skinner months ago, before Scully was so obviously pregnant. The AD had grown accustomed to her physique by now, had accepted their relationship in every respect. They would have received a lecture on unprofessional conduct immediately if Skinner intended to end their partnership. Instead, he'd asked them to take some time to relax.

Mulder wasn't sure he could relax. There was so much he had to learn in such a short period of time. He had to bring himself up to speed, absorb all he'd missed the last eight years. It could be crucial to their safety.

No one had to remind him how corrupt the government could be. He'd been friends with Byers, Langly, and Frohike since 1989 and knew they weren't just some kooks investigating dishonesty in the halls of past and present regimes. He'd seen things already, things that had convinced him to conduct his own covert research.

He'd only scratched the surface of this treachery in 1993. He was curious about the global conspiracy Scully had alluded to last night. He could tell by her tone of voice they'd had unpleasant things happen to them, things she didn't want to go into right away.

He wasn't about to risk upsetting her by bringing up the topic. He'd read his journal, he'd talk to the guys. She wasn't a fragile flower, but she was six months pregnant. He'd let her decide how much she wanted to relate to him. He was certain she wouldn't avoid the subject forever.

"Yes, that sounds good, sir. I'd like to spend some time away from DC. I think we have some catching up to do," Scully said.

She'd be grateful to get away from her doting mother and overprotective brother. He hadn't stopped giving her grief about Mulder's disappearance since she'd told him about the pregnancy in October. He'd called or left e-mail messages begging her to marry a nice man so the baby would be legitimate.

She finally told him to stop trying to communicate with her in any way around Thanksgiving. The only reason they were civil at this time was due to her mother's machinations, getting them all together for the holidays. Bill, to his credit, had apologized profusely and had promised to help her. He hadn't said another word about Mulder's fitness as a father, and he'd tried to get Navy intelligence sources to help her search for Mulder.

"Well, I'll be getting along then," Skinner said, rising from the couch.

Scully remained seated, but Mulder rose and escorted the AD to the door. They shook hands and said perfunctory words of farewell.

By the time Mulder got back to the living room, Scully was in the kitchen making coffee and toast. He didn't know what to say for the first time all day. Were they going to live here together? Were they going to sleep together every night? What about the vacation Skinner had ordered them to take? They were going together, weren't they?

"Mulder..." she beckoned.

He poked his head around the arch between the kitchen and living room and said, "I'm here."

"Why don't you get some butter out? I forgot it."

"Okay," he replied, crossing to the refrigerator and opening the door.

He was astounded at how much fresh food it contained, more than he'd ever kept. She must have been living here the whole time, he thought to himself. She wanted to be here when he returned.

"Bring it to the table. I don't know how hungry you are, but I'm ravenous. I'm having real cream cheese; the butter's for you," she said with a smile.

"Heh, I never liked cream cheese, did I?" he jested.

She grinned over her shoulder as she poured two mugs of coffee for them.

Scully passed the paper to Mulder after pulling the news and leisure sections for herself. She was determined to give him as much normality as possible under the circumstances. She wanted to allow him the time to readjust to life with her and the FBI. Eight o'clock in the morning was too early to be planning strategy or even talking about a vacation. She just wanted to have breakfast with Mulder, to read the newspaper together like they used to do on Sunday mornings.

After several silent minutes, spent buttering toast and drinking down the rich Kenyan decaf, Mulder asked, "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine," Scully responded.

She looked up from the paper, and he couldn't resist a smile. She was adorable; her glasses made her look like a schoolgirl. For the hundredth time that day he asked himself how he'd been so lucky, how he'd managed to keep her as a partner and court her, too.

He knew he wasn't the easiest person to live with. He'd found that out when Diana moved in. It was the first time he'd lived with any of his girlfriends, the rest always maintaining their own domicile.

Their eventual split-up had convinced him that he'd never find domestic bliss with anyone. He'd had a few girlfriends since Diana, but nothing serious, not even close. He wondered if there'd been anyone after he met Scully in 1993. He was reluctant to ask her.

Maybe his trio of old friends would fill him in. He occasionally would tell them if he was seeing someone. He must have told them how he felt about Dana Scully. Or maybe they knew without asking. He'd call them this morning. They probably knew he was home, knowing their ability to find out anything about anybody. Maybe they'd told Skinner he was seen at National. He wouldn't be surprised at all.

"What will we do all day?" he asked after they'd both finished their breakfast and started on their second cups of coffee.

"I have to call Mom. I should have called her right away, but I wanted to relax a bit before I talk to her. She'll be really excited, Mulder. She's been very anxious about you lately. In fact, she had a dream and you were in it."

"She did?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes. She told me not to worry. That you'd be home soon. She was right."

"I won't recognize her, will I?"

She shook her head, her expression a bit wistful.

"I'll show you pictures of all my family before we go see them. I'm sure everything will be fine. I don't think you should worry about that. I think we should get the hospital over with today, and perhaps Dr. Werber tomorrow. I don't think we should go to Hoover. I think we should take Skinner up on his offer and get out of town. Your family has a summer cottage. We'll go up there."

"What about my parents?" he asked innocently.

Her face fell before his eyes. The sadness there was so deep, he knew immediately he'd asked the wrong question. Whatever the answer was, he needed to know, so he pressed on, "Scully, tell me the truth. What's happened to them?"

"They're both dead, Mulder," she said, her expression as grave as he'd seen it so far.

"How?" he choked out.

He was trying to maintain his composure, but he couldn't. Tears came unbidden to his eyes and his face scrunched into a miserable grimace.

Scully got out of her seat, walked behind him and slid her arms around his neck. She pressed her cheek against his hair, speaking softly, "It won't make sense now. You'll have to read your journal. I don't want to tell you how until you've seen that."

"You found it on my computer?" he asked.

"Yes. I'm so sorry, Mulder. We had to invade your privacy. But you wrote in it frequently. You wrote down all your thoughts about our cases. All your thoughts about me. You'll understand so much better when you've read it."

He turned his head and pressed a kiss to her cheek. She returned the gesture, then stood up straight so that she could gently knead the tension from his shoulders.

"I can do that tonight," he said quietly.

"That's what I thought," she agreed.

"Have you always been this way?"

"What way?" she asked.

"So good," he croaked out, his throat constricting with tears.

"Oh, Mulder."

She pulled him to his feet and embraced him fully, or at least as well as she could with the baby between them. He nestled his face against her chest and drew her tightly against him. She rocked him like a child as he cried, mourning the death of parents he'd never really understood or known.

Scully ran her fingers through his hair, trying to soothe away the sorrow. She pressed gentle kisses to his forehead, and massaged the nape of his neck, trying not to cry. She needed to be strong enough for both their sakes.

After several minutes, he quieted and she suggested they get on with the day. "Why don't we both get cleaned up and go to the hospital? I can call Mom and anyone else from there while they run tests on you."

He sniffled softly, trying to regain composure. He lifted his tear- streaked face and her heart constricted once again. "Sure," he agreed. "That sounds like a good plan."

She brushed his unruly hair back from his forehead, smiling gently at him. "Like I said last night, everything will be okay."

Her lips touched his cheek one more time, and she extricated herself from his grasp slowly, squeezing his hands before leaving to change her clothes. He didn't move until he heard the click of her heels in the hallway.

February 20th, 2001
Alexandria Hospital
Alexandria, VA

Chaos reigned in the waiting room of the X-Ray department of Alexandria hospital near Mulder's apartment. It was unusually crowded today and small children whined in their mothers' arms or twisted restlessly in their seats.

Scully struggled to speak into her cell phone while simultaneously filling out numerous forms for Mulder. He hadn't been to this hospital in a very long time and she was trying to fill in the gaps in his medical history.

She hadn't been able to reach her mom on the way over and refused to leave a message on the answering machine concerning Mulder's return. Now, she'd just gotten through to her mother, and was trying to carry on a conversation, write, and ignore Mulder's expressions of astonishment every time she detailed some past medical condition on paper.

It usually drove her crazy to have people read over her shoulder and this was no exception. Mulder was *very* interested in all the mishaps he'd had, making smart ass comments about each one as she scribbled them down chronologically. He was trying hard not to interfere with her phone call, but couldn't help himself, repeatedly observing 'No way!' or 'Unbelievable!' after she described each incident.

Scully paused in her attempt at legible longhand to send Mulder a warning glare. She had reached her limit. Her mom was still sobbing in her ear, children were screeching all around them, and she was racking her brain to complete the necessary forms.

Mulder obliged her by sitting back in his chair, shutting up, and pouting. Actually, Scully was thrilled to have him with her. She'd sat through too many lonely hours in waiting rooms these last few months, feeling forlorn about not having him around during her pregnancy. He was a curious ball of nonstop energy today, talking incessantly on the way over in the car. Now, he was inordinately interested in all the tests they'd been running on him. He'd never enjoyed hospitals, and he hated being poked and prodded endlessly, but he was desperate to find out what had happened to him.

Scully finally said goodbye to her mom, promising they'd try and come over for dinner Sunday night if they could. She really doubted whether it was a good idea to subject Mulder to her family just yet. Especially not Bill. Mulder had no concept how much Bill had resented him in the past.

Bill had been livid when he found out she was pregnant, rapidly concluding it must be Mulder's. He knew his sister well enough to know she wasn't promiscuous, and his mother had been dropping strong hints they were a couple, apparently trying to prepare him for the inevitable.

When his mother had told him Mulder was AWOL, Bill was furious, condemning the agent and begging his sister to find a suitable husband. Her reaction to his suggestion was swift and predictable. She hung up on him, then refused to speak to him until their mother had smoothed things over between them. Bill had calmed down eventually-- he'd even asked for her forgiveness, offering his assistance in her search for clues about Mulder.

Still, Scully wasn't ready for Mulder to undergo that particular familial experience. He needed time to adjust to his mysterious amnesia. He needed time to get used to fatherhood, though he seemed to be doing a pretty good job so far.

He was exceptionally solicitous of her, opening doors, even car doors for her. He'd never been that courteous when they'd first started working together. Mulder had always liked touching her, guiding her silently with the palm of his hand. But he'd recognized her need for independence from day one, never treating her like a china doll.

Now, however, it seemed like he felt every minute with her was a novelty, a chance to be whatever he hadn't been before. It would have bothered Scully more if she wasn't so happy to have him back. And she was *very* pregnant; it felt good to be coddled a little.

She glanced over at Mulder, who was slumped in his chair, arms crossed defensively. He was staring into space, no doubt thinking about his shifting tides of fortune. She nudged his ankle with the toe of her shoe to get his attention, beaming at him when she got it. He returned her smile, sitting straighter in his uncomfortable plastic seat.

"Wanna call your friends?" she suggested.

"Frohike, et al? I don't know what to say," he fretted.

"Just tell them you're okay. They probably already know, but it would be nice to hear it from the horse's mouth. They've been helping me out a lot," she reminded him.

"Well, at least I know who the hell they are. Do they look pretty much the same, Scully? Like three techno-nerds in need of a makeover?"

Scully laughed, a rich, beautiful laugh Mulder was already addicted to. He grinned back at her, pleased she thought his description was apt.

"I guess so! I haven't given it much thought lately. They are who they are. I haven't noticed any radical changes, if that's what you mean. Oh, I've been wanting to ask them to be the baby's godfathers-- if that's all right with you," she asked.

Mulder had a sudden image of Frohike, Langley, and Byers at the baby's christening, all lined up in their best regalia. Scully had mentioned going to Mass with her mother every Sunday the last five months. He had no objection deferring to her religious preference. It was probably better to give their child a spiritual background in Catholicism rather than giving him nothing at all. The Mulder family had avoided choosing between two faiths by not choosing at all. And religion seemed a lot more important to Scully than it would ever be to him.

"Yeah, that sounds fine. They're good guys." He reached over and took her hand, rubbing his thumb over her tender knuckles. "They took good care of you, I know."

Scully felt a little overwhelmed by this simple gesture. They hadn't held hands or kissed in a public place yet. Ever. Not even after they became involved last April. They'd continued to act professionally, only breaking down physical barriers in times of extreme crisis.

She remembered holding his hand during the tobacco beetle case. Yet another instance of her playing Florence Nightingale. It was permissible to touch then; it felt odd to have him touch her now. She didn't let go of his hand though, at least not until the nurse called out his name and they headed for the examining room.

Hours later, after dozens of tests were performed and the day slid into afternoon, they left the hospital for home. His home, her home, they were the same now. Mulder was surprised how easy this was. He was assuming a role of husband and father and he'd essentially just met Scully the previous night.

He knew there was more to it than that. She was anchoring him through this perplexing ordeal. She'd shown him such patience and love, and was clearly pleased to have him back. He knew that even if they hadn't been romantically involved and this had happened she'd still be traipsing around to hospitals and doctors' appointments with him.

He was grateful to have someone who knew him so well, who could help him navigate the treacherous waters ahead. He didn't doubt for one second there were people who would harm either of them, or their unborn child, if they knew of his present weakness. He'd been an agent long enough to know there was a shadow government operating beneath the surface of America's institutions. He just hadn't gotten around to exposing the seamy underbelly of our most cherished establishments.

He was anxious to get home and read his journal, to find out what he'd been up to all these years. Scully had seemed embarrassed about having violated his privacy by reading it. The information might have proved useful but they had no way of knowing until they snooped around his hard drive.

Perhaps there would be observations about Scully, he thought. He wanted to know when he'd first fallen in love with her, when he'd first told her he loved her. If he asked her these questions, he'd only be hearing her side of the story, and charming though that may be, it wouldn't be from his perspective.

Scully was exhausted by the time they arrived at his apartment, more so after they prepared and ate some lunch. She powered up her laptop and pointed him toward the journal files she had copied off his home computer. He'd be much more comfortable reading them on the couch while she retired to the bedroom.

The test results were good so far, no signs of physical scarring, no signs of abuse. Whatever they'd done to his mind, it had been done without evident harm. So far as they knew. A few tests were still pending; she'd call about them later this afternoon. She fell asleep in the bedroom easily, satisfied with the progress they'd made already.

In the living room, Mulder was pouring over his journals, captivated by the power of his own words. Not because he thought they were so artful or sound, but because he recognized himself in every page of the journal. He was an arrogant, cocky son-of-a-bitch too many times over. Always taking chances, always leaving Scully in the lurch while he chased after mysterious informants or false leads.

He discovered, to his great consternation, that Scully had indeed been assigned to debunk his work. However, it seemed like it hadn't taken long for her to become his closest friend, as well as his protector. He'd transcribed her words at the end of one journal entry: 'I wouldn't put myself on the line for anyone but you, Mulder.' No extraneous commentary was needed on that simple admission of faith and trust.

When he finished the story of her 'abduction,' he had to stop reading. There were very few entries during that time. They were tersely worded. They were infinitely sad. The thought that even her mother had given up hope, purchasing a headstone before she was mysteriously returned, tore at his stomach like shards of glass.

He'd deferred to her family's wishes, allowed them to disconnect her life support. He'd always thought of himself as an atheist before that day. The day she recovered was the day his world view seemed to shift. He became an agnostic that day, still not sure whether to thank God for her recovery, or curse Him for putting her through such pain.

Mulder only made it through the first year and a half of the details of their partnership and he already felt like a lucky guy. He got up, walked over to the bedroom and spied on her for several minutes, just revelling in the sight of her. Watching her sleep peacefully revived his resolve, and he headed back to the couch to resume his study.

The next major stumbling block came hours later. In the fourth year of their partnership Scully developed cancer, like the other MUFON abductees. He'd managed to read through accounts of his father's and her sister's deaths without falling apart. But when he got to Scully's struggle to remain at work, to discover who'd done these things to her... he felt lost.

He could deal with monsters, both human and fantastical ones. He'd seen plenty of strange things during his years with the BSU. It was all just a different variation on a theme.

But her illness was different somehow. He was clearly in love with her by then. He didn't articulate it in so many words, but the affection he felt for Scully was imbued in every word he wrote.

And he'd outlined what he planned to do if she died. He intended to take the Smoking Man and as many of his cronies out at once. A suicide mission, so he wouldn't have to pull the trigger himself. He'd been very clear on this-- he wasn't planning on staying alive very long after her funeral.

He didn't finish reading all the details. Intellectually, his curiosity wanted him to press further, to find out what had cured her cancer. Emotionally, he was too drained to continue.

How could he deal with the guilt of putting her through all this? How *had* he dealt with it? And she'd stayed with him, even after her recovery. Had she loved him as much as he'd loved her?

The diary never speculated on whether she loved him, but his devotion to her was obvious, especially after she'd become so ill. He'd admitted he couldn't live without her, that he'd rather die than continue on.

But he'd never written down the words 'I love her.' He wondered if he'd ever told her he loved her in the past year. He'd never taken that declaration lightly, only saying it to Phoebe and Diana. Both failed relationships, both lessons learned.

He didn't know if he had the guts to ask her if he'd ever said those words. He didn't know if he could tell her he loved her now. It might be disingenous on his part to say so, even if he knew he'd loved her in the past, and thought he wanted to love her in the future.

He laid down on the couch, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun with his forearm. Just a nap, just until she woke up and called the hospital back. The verdict was still out on his physical health, so he might as well work on regaining some of his elusive mental health, too.

An hour later, he woke to the sound of her subdued voice speaking on the phone in the next room. He opened his eyes and checked the time: four o'clock. Stretching his arms and shaking out aches and pains he couldn't remember acquiring over the years, Mulder sat up and turned on the news with the sound off.

He hadn't even attempted to catch up with world and national events. He was having enough trouble keeping up with major developments in his own life, much less on a grander scale. And anyhow, it was more of the same. No matter who was in power, the same deceitful game played continually behind the scenes.

He was just getting up to make coffee when Scully walked in, rubbing her eye with one hand and carrying her cell phone with the other. She motioned him back to the couch and sat beside him there. Her expression was quite serious and he steadied himself, expecting bad news.

She noticed his uncertainty and smiled once, then grasped his hand, twining their fingers together.

"Hey," she said softly. "Did you nap? You look like you just woke up."

"Yeah, I read as long as I could and dozed off around three."

"How far did you get in the diary?" she asked, a trace of concern in her eyes.

He half-smiled, then lowered his eyes to their hands. "1997."

"That's pretty far," she said, repressing her desire to ask him exactly how far he'd gotten in the narrative.

"I was highly motivated. I had a lot to catch up on. And now-- now I know why I have something to return to you," he said mysteriously, retrieving his wallet from the coffee table.

She waited patiently for him to dig in the depths of his wallet. He pulled out her small gold cross, still attached to its chain. She'd noticed it wasn't on him minutes after he'd arrived last night, but she couldn't bring herself to mention its loss at the time.

If he truly had amnesia, he would have had no memory of the necklace, no idea how much it had meant to them over the years. She'd decided to wait until he'd read through the diary, quite certain he'd connect all the dots and either tell her he'd lost it or return it to her.

"This is yours, I believe," he smiled. He gestured with his forefinger for her to turn away from him so he could secure it around her neck, where it belonged.

"You held on to it," she said, smiling back at him. "I'm not surprised."

"I didn't know why I was wearing it when I woke up Monday in Oregon. I had no clue who'd given it to me, but I felt compelled to tuck it away some place safe. A strong feeling it belonged to someone important to me. And then today, I read about finding it in Duane Barry's car, after you were abducted. Then I knew what made me hold on to it so carefully."

Covering her hands with his own, he closed the distance between them so he could brush her lips with one chaste kiss. He pulled back to admire the cross around her neck, satisfied he'd returned it to its rightful owner.

It had puzzled him when he'd found it around his neck in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. He didn't like to wear jewelry, and had never worn a religious symbol of any kind. It was so delicate, it seemed more appropriate for a woman. He'd wondered if he'd met someone the night before, someone he couldn't remember.

After he'd hitchhiked to the airport and discovered that it was 2001, not 1993, the origin of the pendant became the least of his worries. He was so anxious to get back to DC and discover whether he still had an apartment or not, the item had slipped his mind. The journal had jogged his memory that afternoon, and he'd planned on returning it to Scully as soon as possible.

She beamed back at him, then lowered her eyes to the piece of gold, bringing her hand up to finger it.

"It brought you back to me, Mulder," she asserted, lifting his hand to cover her own on the charm. "I know it."

She brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it softly, then gently lowered it to his side. She smiled briefly, then hesitated, as if she had something unpleasant to say.

"Well, I talked to the hospital just now. And I have good news and bad news. The good news is you're in perfectly good health, if a little underweight. The bad news is... you're in perfect health and they can't find a damn thing wrong with you."

He chuckled, then slouched down low in the couch cushions.

"Damn," he swore.

"If you were taken, Mulder... if you were on an alien ship... their technology must be so advanced. They could have done some kind of mind swipe without leaving a trace," she said solemnly.

"Jesus, Scully! What happened to my skeptical partner from 1993? Alien technology. Mind swipes. You sound like one of the Lone Gunmen!"

She giggled at his emphatic reaction, and leaned back into the cushions next to him.

"I don't know, Mulder. It got awfully hard to deny these things after a while."

"When I asked you if you believed in the existence of extraterrestrials at our first meeting, you said, 'No-- given the distances needed to travel from the far reaches of space, the energy requirements would exceed a spacecraft's capabilities.' I can only guess if I quoted you correctly on that. That's what was in my journal."

"Oh, you were absolutely right. You remembered every word I said. Mulder, I've read most of those files. You've always had an amazing memory for our arguments."

She smiled and put both her hands on top of her tummy, a contented look on her face.

"May I?" he asked, raising his hand above hers.


He placed his hand next to hers, idly stroking his thumb against the fabric of her maternity blouse.


"Yeah?" she said, her eyes closed, relaxing into his touch.

"Does your family hate my guts?" he asked quietly.

Her eyes flew open, and she clasped his hand within both of hers, pressing them to the living symbol of their love for one another.

Her eyes were determined and fiery as she said, "No, Mulder. They don't and they never will. You're my family now, and don't you forget it! Nobody can change the past. Things happen. I could have been partnered with someone else and been a dead woman by now. I was afraid you'd see things that way after reading your journal. Don't you forget how much we need you! Both of us."

She was crying in spite of herself, and she used one hand to brush tears from her eyes. He was speechless, distressed that he'd made her cry. He moved closer to her and brought his hand to her right cheek, catching tears with his fingertips.

She leaned into his hand and kissed his palm, a warm, wet kiss that sent electricity through his whole body.

"Please, don't cry, Scully. I seem to have a knack for asking things the wrong way. Scully, I haven't had a family for so long, just pieces of one. I don't know what it's like to have a happy family."

"Well, you better learn fast," she warned, smiling softly as she continued to hold his hand to her cheek. "We're going to have our own soon."

"I just can't believe you've stuck with me all these years. What have I done for you except give you misery?"

He was shedding tears also, and she reached up to swipe them off his cheek.

"That's not true!" she assured him. "You have to believe that's not true. You've made me very happy. I've had a wonderful life with you. I would never have seen or done so many things without you. You deserve a family. You deserve a good life. *We* deserve it. Don't even try to argue that point with me."

She opened her arms, beckoning him closer. He wrapped his long arms around her, holding her tight to his chest as their mutual tears gradually dissipated.

"Scully?" he rasped out against the silk of her hair.


"Did I ever tell you I loved you?"

She emitted a small shocked gasp, then took both of her hands and framed his face so he had no choice but to look at her.

She grinned at him keenly, then said, "The first time, I didn't believe you. You were in the hospital on Demerol. But, last year, after we first made love-- "

He smiled sheepishly, then said, "Would you believe me now? If I told you I think I may be falling in love with you again?"

She couldn't think of a thing to say in response. Instead, she pulled him close, lavishing kisses over his face, in his hair, down the side of his neck.

"I love you, Mulder," she whispered into his ear. She slid her head to his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist.

"I think I can't help but love you," he whispered back.

February 20th, 2001
4:15 p.m.

Scully shifted in his arms and lifted her head from his chest so she could place a soft kiss on his cheek. He shyly reciprocated with a light peck to her forehead. Even after the heartfelt declaration he'd just made, he felt a little awkward about pressing her for any more intimacy beyond kisses.

It didn't seem proper, somehow, since he still didn't have any clear memory of being with her physically. Mulder only knew he belonged here, with Scully, with their developing child. Whatever evolved between them would be totally natural, blossoming as they spent more time in each other's company.

There was no reason to rush into a situation for which neither of them was prepared. She'd missed him so much the last five months, but she didn't feel compelled to hasten their physical reunion. To tell the truth, she felt a little self-conscious about her pregnant physique. That, coupled with the fact Mulder couldn't remember what she looked like before her pregnancy, gave her pause.

She knew it had never been just sex between them; they'd bonded spiritually and mentally long before they'd become lovers. She sensed he was arresting his own desire now for similar reasons. Or maybe he was just being exceptionally polite. It was in accordance with what she knew of his character; he'd never demanded more than she could offer him, even when she knew damn well he was falling in love with her.

She suddenly felt confined by the four walls of his dimly lit apartment. They'd been a constant comfort to her all the time he was missing. Now he was home, she wanted to leave her cozy retreat and catch the last rays of sunlight from a nearby park bench.

She pulled back from him a little and said, "Why don't we get out of here for awhile, Mulder? I'm sure the rest of your journal will be there when we get back. I'd like to take a walk and stretch my legs. I spend too much time off my feet and behind a desk as it is."

Mulder smiled and brushed her cheek lightly with his fingertips, his eyes conveying agreement. He stood up, chivalrously offering her his hand. She took it, more than gladly; it was nice to have his help after so many weeks of struggling to her feet on her own. He wasn't being oversolicitous; he was just being Mulder. And she was delighted to have him home.

An Hour Later

Mulder shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting for Scully outside the women's restroom in the park. He'd discovered earlier in the day just how often expectant women take bathroom breaks, so this stop was not unexpected.

The day had proven remarkably nice for February, no snow on the ground and reasonably dry, but a brisk breeze was beginning to pick up, scattering stray bits and pieces of dead leaves and random debris in a swirling path before them. He wanted to get back to his apartment so he and Scully could have something warm to drink and continue to become reacquainted with each other.

Scully had already made an appointment for him to see Dr. Heitz Werber tomorrow afternoon, and he anticipated the session with a mixture of hope and dread. He'd been to the hypnotherapist many years ago, in early attempts to recover memories of the night his sister was abducted.

Scully hadn't told him whether or not she knew of Samantha's fate. He suspected she did, and it wasn't something he wanted to get into on their pleasant walk through the park. Even though it was fast approaching twilight, the paths were well lit and quite a few people were jogging or strolling in their winter garb.

It felt so normal; so typically suburban. He and the missus out for an evening stroll. Of course, she wasn't his wife. Not quite yet. And they weren't ordinary people. He'd just been returned from alien hands, possibly from the bowels of a spaceship, and tomorrow he was going to undergo hypnotic regression to discover what had destroyed his memories.

He was interrupted from his study of the ground by a sudden shift in the shadows around him. He looked up to find a man with cat-green eyes not ten feet away from him, watching him closely. Mulder didn't recognize the man, but he knew instinctively this was someone malevolent. The man's gaze was venomous; obviously this was not one of his FBI pals.

Mulder returned the man's stare as he surreptitiously inched the hem of his black leather jacket away from his hip, revealing a SIG in its holster. He was damn happy he'd insisted on bringing it. It wasn't the gun he'd had when he was abducted. He didn't have a clue where that one was.

He'd been returned with all his personal possessions, wallet, credit cards, etc., but not his weapon. This was the first gun he'd ever been issued, and he'd apparently kept it around after receiving a newer model. He'd remembered where this one was, and loaded the clip before they'd left for their walk.

Mulder and the strange man continued their staring contest for several long minutes before the other man finally moved closer. Mulder noticed a flash of synthetic material between the edge of the man's black glove and the hem of his coat sleeve. He knew who this was.

This was Krycek, the man who had lost his arm in Russia, the man who had aided and abetted in Scully's abduction. The man who may have killed Mulder's father, may have stood by as Melissa Scully bled to death on Scully's hardwood floor.

He wanted to kill the bastard, but checked the impulse, mindful of Scully's close proximity, and the public setting. He put his hands on his hips and spoke first, anxious to demonstrate he wasn't at all cowed by this knave.

"Can I help you?" he drawled sarcastically.

Krycek remained silent, not because he didn't have a smart ass retort on the tip of his tongue, but because Scully emerged from the washroom.

'If looks could kill,' was not a tired cliche this time. She quickly observed the tableau, taking in Mulder's stance, his gun on his hip, his overall attitude.

Krycek had his hands in plain sight and made no movement for a weapon. She eyed him carefully, then asked, "What are you doing here, Krycek? Haven't you done enough harm already?"

Krycek smiled deviously, scratching the ground with his toe and calmly avoiding her steely glare.

"Contrary to popular opinion, Agent Scully, I had nothing to do with Mulder's abduction."

"Hell," he snorted, then continued, "If I'd known that Wonder Boy was going to stick his hand in the wrong place again, I would have warned him to be more careful."

"You're a fucking asshole, you know that, Krycek?" Scully replied coolly.

Mulder hung back, a little alarmed at her use of profanity. It seemed so uncharacteristic of her. But he'd only been around a deliriously happy Scully since he'd returned to DC, not the callous Federal Agent she was on the job. Diana had been tough too, especially when it came to defending her own.

He already knew Scully was definitely not some delicate flower, even in her present condition. He'd gathered as much from reading his journal-- but seeing was believing and he'd become a true believer in the last few minutes. Why should he think anything else? Especially after all the tragedy she'd endured while partnered with him.

His head was preaching patience, while his Y chromosomes were kicking in with a vengeance, commanding him to protect this woman, his woman. He swiftly moved in front of her, one hand shielding her, the other unholstering his gun.

"Mulder!" she protested behind his back. Goddamn his machismo, she thought. She knew she could hold her own in a war of words with Krycek. And that's all Krycek was anymore, full of blathering threats. At least, that's what she'd chosen to believe. He hadn't approached her once in all these months Mulder had been lost to her.

Krycek grinned snidely, mildly surprised at Mulder's protectiveness. He'd imagined the aliens had done something to Mulder's brain over the last few months, but he didn't think Mulder would pull a gun on him so soon. He had anticipated a few minutes grace period. After all, they'd been almost cordial the day he'd left for Bellefleur with Skinner.

"I thought you'd at least give me a chance for a few words before you took a shot at me, Mulder," Krycek smirked. "I have a warning for you. Both of you. But I won't tell you a thing unless you put that gun away."

He stepped back slowly, his hands in plain sight. It was a reasonable assumption by the two agents that he'd had something to do with Mulder's disappearance. But it wasn't true. He hadn't known about the anomalous brain activity in all the other abductees.

Krycek was aware Mulder had experienced aberrant brain waves during his illness in October 1999. But he didn't have access to other patients' charts, and the Smoking Man hadn't filled him in. He'd only discovered the similarities later, by bugging the X-Files office one day. The listening device was found the next day by one of her three fine friends, but he'd already gathered enough useful information to know how to proceed with his own plans.

He chuckled to himself. They misunderstood his mission. He wasn't here maliciously. He was here to help them, to warn them of the danger they and their child were in. They would collaborate with him eventually. They'd have to if they wanted to survive.

Mulder eyed him suspiciously, noting Krycek had backed away, making no threatening movements with his hands. He put his gun back in its holster, but left his hand on his hip. He didn't protest when he felt Scully move alongside him, glancing at her briefly to see if she approved.

She did, giving him a weak smile. She then turned her attention to the man a few feet away. "What do you have for us, Krycek?"

"I know you'll find it hard to believe. Both of you will. But I'm here to warn you. There are people interested in you. Survivors of the old Project, loyal to no one but themselves. They know about the baby. As soon as the baby is more or less viable-- "

He was interrupted by Mulder's hiss, "Viable? They're waiting till it will survive outside the womb?"

Scully turned away from both of them, hand clasped tightly over her mouth. Recently, her nightmares had been filled with horrendous images-- men in white coats, slicing open her belly, stealing her child. For years she'd had terrifying dreams about her own abduction, dreams she'd never remembered in entirety. Alarming afterimages of the violation of her body continued to haunt her, embellished now with this new, more hideous aspect.

These fresh terrors were more abominable than anything she'd ever experienced before. There'd been no one around to wake her, soothe her, whisper to her softly, while Mulder was gone. Even when they hadn't been involved with one another, he'd rescued her from nightmares-- rocking her to sleep after he'd heard her cry out from the next motel room. He'd always been ready to listen when she'd called him in the middle of the night, unhinged by another frightening vision.

And there'd been no one to allay her fears, to tell her the nightmares would never come true. She hadn't even been able to tell her mom, not wishing to upset her, too. Scully was trembling involuntarily, reliving her dread. She heard Krycek begin to speak again and felt Mulder's hand on her shoulder. She turned back around, trying to contain her emotion.

"Yes. The baby will be special. You've both been exposed to alien viruses. You both have immunity to them. Mulder has vestiges of alien DNA in his bloodstream, no matter what Cancer Man tried to remove from his brain. I'm not sure about you, Scully. I've never been able to steal your lab results. I guess I'm good, but not that good," he cackled. "You'll have to believe me on this. You don't have to consider me a friend. Just consider me a concerned citizen."

Mulder couldn't follow all of this. Alien DNA, the Smoking Man took something from his brain, exposure to viruses-- not finishing his journal this afternoon had put him at a disadvantage. Determined to keep his secret from Krycek, he decided to shut up and let Scully take it from here. He wasn't disappointed by her performance.

"Even if I give you the benefit of the doubt, Krycek, and believe half of what you've just said, what do you expect us to do? Run away to some South American country? Refuse to fight colonization? Cut a deal with the bad guys so they'll let us live in peace? Just what do you suggest we do?"

Scully's voice had gotten progressively louder as she railed at Krycek. She struggled to maintain control, her anger overwhelming her customary reserve. Part of her was screaming at herself: this is no good for the baby, it's no good for you, just get away from him. She knew that wasn't possible. She would have to hear him out; he might be just be telling the truth.

"I don't know. I can't tell you what to do. I only suggest you think about what I've told you. Go away somewhere and talk about it. I'd offer you my help, but I'm quite sure you don't trust me. I'm just the messenger. Not your assassin."

His last words were spoken softly, a tone of regret seeping through. All present knew the underlying significance of his remark. There would always be doubt about Krycek's role in their family members' deaths. His loyalties would always be questionable.

But if Krycek's warning was true, if the baby was marked for removal, kidnapping, whatever nefarious fate the shadow men had designed for him, they had little time to dwell on Mulder's memory loss. It was the least of their problems now.

February 20th, 2001

Krycek fled quickly, a cursory 'I'll be in touch,' his only farewell. Scully stared off into the night around them, stunned by the younger man's revelation. A groan beside her brought her back to her senses.

Mulder was doubled over against the wall, hands clutching at his knees for additional support. Even in the dim incandescent light, she could tell his color wasn't very good. She rushed to his side and forced him to sit down on the ground beside her.

"Mulder? What's wrong?" she asked, fearful of another side effect of his abduction.


He took in one deep, painful breath, then exhaled it in a whoosh as he lowered his head between his knees. Scully rubbed his back, cooing to him about taking it easy. He took in several more less arduous inhalations, calming slowly. He was able to sit up against the brick wall within minutes; his breathing becoming more regular with every stroke of her soothing fingers.

"Better?" she asked.

He looked over at her gratefully, then said, "That doesn't happen to me very often."

"Me neither, Mulder. I had attacks of vertigo right before you left..."

She realized too late she shouldn't have brought this up.

"Oh, great. Another thing I can't remember, right?" he said bitterly.

He pulled himself to his feet and raged at the wall, "Goddammit, Scully! How can I protect you when I can't recall what's happened to you?!?"

He struck his fist against the brick wall, blindly lashing out at his own inadequacy.

"Ow!!!" he howled, cradling one fist with the other. The uneven texture of the bricks had chafed at his hand, skinning his knuckles.

"Mulder!" she shouted, moving to his side immediately, urging his fingers apart so she could examine the damage.

He held still for her, regretting his loss of control. She was infinitely patient, reaching inside her coat pocket and pulling out a handkerchief to wrap his injury. He could tell it wasn't the first time she'd witnessed the foolishness of his ill temper.

"Sorry," he apologized, his eyes telegraphing remorse.

"'S'okay, Mulder. I've done the same thing. Unlike you, I wait all day, internalize all my anger, until I have a chance to be alone. You've always just let it go, whoever happened to be around," she told him, tightening the makeshift knot.

"Have I ever hurt anyone? I don't remember taking it out on people, just inanimate objects..."

He was panic-stricken by the thought he'd ever taken his ire out on Scully, or anyone else close to him the last eight years.

"No, no, no! I've never seen you take your anger out on an innocent person. You've had to replace the office wastebasket several times, and plaster over a few holes in the wall of your apartment-- but that's it, Mulder. I've seen you go ballistic against a criminal, but I hardly think that's misplaced emotion."

"You stopped me from killing Krycek," he remarked.

"Yeah, and if you hadn't been with me just now, I might have killed him myself. I blame him for luring you back to Bellefleur. He told you the ship wouldn't be there much longer. You wouldn't let me go with you because of the vertigo and we didn't have a clue it was caused by my pregnancy. It never even crossed my mind. I thought it was--"

She hesitated, lowering her eyes to the concrete slab beneath them. She didn't want to rub salt into his wounds, revealing more grief from the past. He implored her to continue, raising her chin with his good hand. He cupped her cheek gently, encouraging her to look into his eyes.

"You thought your cancer was out of remission. I probably thought so, too," he said quietly.

"You wanted me to go home from Bellefleur as soon as I felt ill. You told me how much I'd lost, how much more you wanted for me."

A few tears trickled down her cheek, and he gently wiped them away with one slim finger. He took her in his arms, holding her as tightly as he could with one hand incapacitated.

He whispered in her ear, "I do want more for you, Scully." He smoothed his hand over her back, comforting her as she wept silently against his chest.

Mulder pulled away from her slightly, looking directly into her eyes as he continued, "You've got a small part of what you lost back. You're going to have a baby. No one's going to take him from your womb, or from your arms. I won't let that happen."

"What do we do now?" she asked, still troubled by Krycek's warning.

"We do what we were going to do, Scully. We call the guys and have them debug the summer house-- set up a great security system there. We'll go to see Dr. Werber tomorrow, then we'll drive up to Rhode Island and stay there-- at least through next Sunday. The guys will check out our apartments while we're gone."

"Okay. All right. We can't be intimidated by threats. We can't be sure what Krycek told us is the absolute truth."

Scully rubbed her eyes with the fingertips of one hand, cleansing them of tears. She gave him a brave, but weak smile, entwining her right hand with his left one.

"Let's go home, Mulder," she said, quietly leading the way.

When they arrived at his apartment, Scully allowed him to remove his jacket, then dragged him into the bathroom to bathe his hand with alcohol and apply a few Band-Aids. It wasn't as bad as it looked; he'd be able to use the hand with no problem the next day.

Mulder sat docilely on the toilet seat, enjoying the attention. He chuckled to himself, imagining this might be why he'd been so accident-prone while partnered with Scully. Subconsciously, he must have craved her touch-- the more damage he inflicted upon himself, the more physical contact he received.

"Aren't you hungry?" he asked, as she applied the last bandage.

"Not really," she replied.

"I'll make you something," he offered.

"Not hungry," she said, shaking her head and turning to leave.

Mulder's left hand snagged Scully's wrist before she could escape. He reeled her back in, imprisoning her between his thighs. His large hands balanced gently on either side of her hips; hazel-green eyes daring her to elude his grasp.

"You *have* to eat. It's eight o'clock and you haven't eaten all day. You have to put what Krycek said out of your mind. We'll do everything we can to protect this baby, but first and foremost you have to stay healthy."

"You can't cook."

"Who says?" he replied.

"I know for a fact you have an extremely limited repertoire, Mulder. That's why we eat out ninety-nine per cent of the time."

"I used to cook, years ago. I stopped after--"

"After Diana left," she filled in.

He gave her a quizzical look. "There's not much you don't know about me, is there, Scully?"

Scully panicked temporarily; he'd had virtually no reaction, positive or negative, to Diana's name. Mulder hadn't finished his journal and couldn't possibly know of her death. It would be bittersweet news for him; Diana had saved his life by sacrificing her own.

Scully didn't have the energy for this, couldn't imagine how she'd marshal enough strength to tell him. She gathered up her last ounce of energy and told him the truth bluntly, "She's dead, Mulder."

"Who?" he said, temporarily confused. Then, comprehension sank in, and his face reflected an aching disbelief.

Scully brought her hands to his face and experienced a sense of deja vu. She'd delivered the news twice to him now. He was truly stunned this time.

He didn't realize Diana was involved with the Consortium, as he had in October 1999. She wondered whether she should have prefaced her remark with that information. She stroked his cheeks with unsteady thumbs, trying to assuage his grief with physical tenderness.

"She returned to the states in 1998. There's a lot you don't know about her, Mulder. It's a long, complicated story. I guess I've been reluctant to tell you about this," she said sheepishly.

"I can tell you this, Mulder-- she didn't pass in vain. She was still your friend when she needed to be." Scully fought back tears unsuccessfully, blinking them away as she spoke.

Mulder closed his eyes, folding his arms around her waist and crying softly into her belly. She tangled her fingers through his hair, soothing him as best she could. She wondered if they'd both go mad before the week was up. He, from the stress of losing so much at once; she, from a growing sense of dread Krycek's prophecy would be fulfilled.

"Sshh, Sshh," she crooned into his ear.

He lifted his bereaved face to hers and said, "Scully, I'm sorry. I'm not a whole lot of help, am I? Losing my cool twice today."

He released his hold on her, leaning back, rubbing at his eyes with his uninjured hand. She stood patiently beside him while he took several deep breaths.

"What next, Scully? Anything else I should know that we've missed?" His tone was sardonic, but not directed toward her.

Scully dabbed at her eyes, clearing them of tears. "Come on, Mulder, let's go have some tea. It did both of us a world of good last spring. Maybe I'll even let you cook for me."

She took his hand and helped him to his feet. Before she could turn toward the door, he enveloped her in his arms, rocking her from side to side. It felt so good to have him back. She knew they would survive, their baby would survive, if they just stayed this close to one another.

An hour later, Scully was falling asleep on Mulder's shoulder. He tickled her cheek with his finger, trying to rouse her.

"Scully, let me put you to bed," he urged.

"Hmmm, that was a good peanut butter sandwich, Mulder," she muttered.

"Glad you liked it, but I think your back will be much happier if you sleep in a comfortable bed," he insisted.

"Okay. You have to go to Dr. Werber tomorrow. And call the guys tonight."

"I will, I will. Now, would you like to walk or do I have to carry you?" he teased.

"Walk," she declared. Using Mulder as a springboard, she rose onto wobbly legs and started for the bedroom. Mulder jumped to his feet, guiding her around obstacles on the way.

She was pretty mobile by the time they reached the dresser she'd expropriated while he was gone. Without much thought, she reached in a drawer and snatched some warm pajamas and proceeded to the bathroom.

Mulder turned the bed down, then sat down to take a good look around his bedroom. He hadn't used it after Diana left for Europe. He'd piled file folders on the stripped-down mattress and stacked boxes and boxes of magazines and government reports around the room.

He must have had a reason to change the decor in here, if not for Scully, then for some other reason. Out of curiosity, he reached under the bed and found cardboard boxes lined up in a row. He pulled one out and discovered his pornography stash.

He was scrutinizing one of the labels, a film with several auburn haired porn stars on the cover. It was called quite aptly, 'Redheads in Bed.' He didn't hear Scully's approaching footsteps, and all attempts to conceal the tape were futile.

He gave her a guilty smile, then passed it over to her outstretched hand. She let a guffaw of delight and collapsed backward on the bed beside him. Her laughter was contagious; she was charming him more every hour he spent with her.

They laughed beside one another, until Scully sat up and said, "Don't worry Mulder. I'm quite familiar with your taste in video."

"I'm just glad I got the hair color right," he joked.

"They're not natural redheads," she said with confidence.

Mulder gave her a sidelong glance, considering a suitable comeback. He felt clumsy cracking sex jokes with Scully, even though they'd slept next to one another all last night. He wanted to give her more respect than that, but also realized their levity was easing a pall surrounding them-- the prospect of having to hide their child from a mysterious shadow organization.

She laughed at his hesitancy, then said, "Sorry, Mulder. I'm so used to this kind of banter between us. It's unavoidable. I've forgotten about your amnesia so many times today when we've joked around. It's like it never existed... and you came back to me completely whole."

Scully reached over and took his hand in her own. "I'm not trying to tease you," she concluded apologetically.

He leaned over and pushed a stray hair behind her ear, then replied, "I like a woman with a good sense of humor. But most of all, I like a woman who's easily tickled..."

Without warning, he reached under her knees and tickled her till she cried out for mercy. Mulder ceased immediately, but she couldn't stop laughing for several minutes. Scully fell backward onto the bed, hands poised to ward off further attacks.

"How did you know?" Her voice quavered slightly, anxious he might try for a second round of unbearable mayhem.

"Know what?"

"That it was behind my knees."

"I don't know, Scully. It seemed like the logical place. Must be instinct. I think I'll open an X-File on it."

She groaned at his jest, punching him softly in the arm.

"I wanna go to sleep, Mulder. I'm exhausted. Tuck me in."

She slid underneath the bedsheets, settling in as he helped rearrange the comforter to her liking.

"Don't stay up too late. I know it's useless to tell *you* that. I know you have a lot to read and plenty to think about, but it would be nice to have you beside me when I wake up," she said, playing with his hand above the covers.

"I'll be here," he promised, kissing her once on the lips, then switching off the light.

Mulder went back to the living room. He felt energized by all the time they'd spent together so far. He was beginning to enjoy their new domesticity and didn't know what they'd do after the birth of their child. He didn't know where she wanted to live or if she wanted to get married right away. Scully hadn't seemed adverse to his offhand proposal Monday night, but he wasn't sure she'd taken him seriously.

He was worried about the X-Files-- would they continue if he didn't have her as a partner? Evidently she'd been a huge factor in their survival, and he hoped she'd come back after her maternity leave. He was sure Mrs. Scully would love to babysit. She'd have to-- from what he'd read of their life so far, they'd been on the road constantly, with little time for a child. Maybe Skinner would allow them to cut back on their responsibilities while the baby was still young. And then there was the other, more ominous factor, the knowledge the baby might be taken by someone. He didn't want to come back from Podunk, USA and find both baby and grandmother missing. Or worse.

He yawned and decided to call Frohike to set up the summer house arrangements. All three of them were home, of course, and didn't seem bothered he'd waited twenty-four hours to contact them.

"How is Scully?" Frohike asked immediately.

"She's fine. Really tired. She's in bed already or I'd let you speak to her," Mulder replied.

"How's fatherhood treating you, Mulder?" Frohike asked cheekily.

"Quite a surprise, Frohike. Quite a surprise. I'm really happy for Scully. I'm pretty happy about it myself, old friend," Mulder replied.

He treaded cautiously through the rest of the conversation, carefully avoiding any verbal slips concerning his memory loss. After he hung up the phone, he decided to tell them the truth tomorrow. They were completely trustworthy and had taken good care of Scully while he'd been gone. They needed to be told; he needed their help to protect the baby.

Mulder sat down on the couch and started in on his electronic journal again. After reading about Emily, and her affect on Scully, he didn't think he could take much more bad news in one day. He felt unbidden tears trickle down his cheeks, so he got up and gazed out the darkened window for half an hour. He returned to his task only because he was determined to plow through the diary before his therapy session the next day.

The alien virus, the trip to Antarctica to rescue Scully, all read like science fiction. If he hadn't been absolutely positive the account had been written by him, he'd have trouble believing it, too. God knows who paid the bill to get them back from the South Pole.

Diana's reappearance in his life and her assignment to the X-Files when they were taken away from Scully and him was a major jolt. He suspected her involvement with the Consortium because of what little Scully had told him earlier. Why she would ally herself with these monsters was beyond belief. She'd been his best friend and lover for almost a year. What the hell happened?

He skimmed through most of their cases. He noted, however, the end of each entry. He always said something about Scully in that last paragraph. He was most definitely in love with her by 1998, though the attraction had been growing since the day he'd met her.

He finally made it to the fall of 1999. This was crucial reading. He needed to know the significance of the artifact and its affect on his brain functions. Scully could always fill him in on the medical aspects, but he didn't feel secure not knowing why he'd ended up in the psychiatric ward.

Mulder didn't find any easy answers in his journal. He wasn't able to read minds after the surgery but he'd tapped into Diana's head before that, discovering that she'd been involved with the Project for years, studying MUFON women in Europe. Diana had wanted to survive and was willing to go to great lengths to do so.

She'd had a change of heart before it was too late-- probably because Cancer Man was willing to leave him for dead. Diana had saved his life, losing her own in the process. She'd slipped the key card to Scully, gone back to the Watergate Apartments and quietly waited for an assassin's bullet.

He was too exhausted to continue. He'd made it through October 1999, and fatigue was setting in. It was one o'clock in the morning and he didn't have to sleep alone tonight.

He turned off the laptop and shut off the rest of the lights around his apartment. After checking the locks and burglar alarm, he tiptoed into the bedroom, stripping down to his tee shirt and boxers. Within minutes, he was nestled from head to toe next to Scully, one hand curving around her belly.

As he dozed off, weary, but more content than he'd ever been in his life, he wondered if there were any more bombshells in the rest of the diary. Could it be their life had been pretty routine (at least by their standards) until his abduction?

They'd gotten romantically involved, that was a major development last April. But what had impelled their relationship, what had made the difference for Scully? His journal entries sounded like he'd been ready to make his move for years, especially after her bout with cancer.

He'd read the rest tomorrow and find out what had changed Scully so profoundly last spring. Now, he just wanted to sink into the comfort and security of his own bed-- his best friend snuggled beside him.

February 21st, 2001
8:00 a.m.

"This is more like it," Mulder whispered when he was certain she was awake.

"Like what?" Scully asked.

"This is a much nicer way to wake up than yesterday, Scully. All that banging on the door by Skinner interrupted a great dream I was having... you know, the one with the beautiful woman in my arms?"

"Oh, is that what you thought I was? A hallucination?" she replied, flustered by the compliment as it so easily rolled off his tongue.

He kissed her cheek tenderly, then rested his chin against her shoulder. His body was curled around hers, arms resting lightly on the curve of her stomach.

"I'm pretty lucky you're not," he muttered into her neck.

She found his hands, warm against the fleece of her pajamas, and covered them with her smaller ones.

"I'm glad you didn't sleep on the couch," she said.

"How could I? And miss this?" he teased.

"I wasn't sure how appealing a woman my size might be," she answered quite seriously.

"You're enchanting, Scully... just the right size for me," he assured.

"Would you care for some enchantment now?" she asked coyly, lightening her tone.

He paused for a long minute. For a moment, she thought she should have kept her big mouth shut.

"I do. But I think we should wait a few days," he said slowly.

"You do?" she asked curiously.

"I have good reason to-- hear me out, Scully," he said, cutting off any protest. "I, I feel like I'm competing with my other self, the one that's known you for so many years-- the guy who's already made love to you. I felt comfortable with you the minute you held my hand and told me about our baby. But-- "

He leaned closer and kissed her cheek again, trying to reassure her this had nothing to do with his attraction for her.

"I'll feel better when we're done with the hypnosis. There's a possibility I'll remember everything from the last eight years. And if I don't, at least I'll be relieved of that responsibility, in a way. At least, for now."

"Responsibility?" she questioned.

"I want to be the man you know, the one you trust implicitly with your life and your love. I seem to be having a bit of an identity crisis. Especially after reading my journal."

"Did you finish?"

"Only through October 1999. I know about the surgery, the alien craft, your trip to Africa. My eyes went fuzzy with fatigue last night and I decided to go to bed."

She was silent for a minute as she considered whether to tell him about Samantha. He needed to know. Her revelation about Daniel Waterston last April paled in comparison with the peaceful vision he'd had of Samantha in California.

"There's something you need to know, Mulder," she said, turning around in his arms with the slow, measured movements of a very pregnant woman.

He gave her his full attention, shifting his head so he could look directly into her expressive, blue eyes, still hazy from slumber. He caught her right hand in his left and nodded at her to continue.

"We found Samantha," she stated, her lips quivering ever so slightly.

There was pain in his eyes as he tried to restrain all the emotions his sister's name called forth. He squeezed Scully's hand once, then twice, his lips parting vainly to speak. He couldn't articulate the sinking feeling this news was far from good. He knew about his sister's clones, and another, very plausible woman he'd met in a diner several years ago. He couldn't believe any of them were really his sister, not after reading about the Smoking Man's other dirty tricks.

Scully continued, ignoring his tongue-tied silence, "She lived on a military base in California after she was taken from your home. We assume she was with Cancer Man and his family. She was subjected to tests by the Project; we only know because she kept a diary of those terrible years."

Scully paused, gathering strength to go on. She licked her lips once, then continued, "You found her diary after a psychic guided us to the house they'd lived in. After an impromptu seance, you knew just where to look for it-- we read it together, over coffee in an all-night diner. The next day, with the help of some of our resources, I found more information about a runaway admitted to a local hospital. We used old hospital records to find the ER nurse who'd taken care of Samantha. You asked me to speak to her; you seemed too overcome by the moment to do it yourself. I entered the old woman's home and you didn't stick around-- you wandered off into the forest for about ten minutes."

"Did she tell you anything definitive?"

"The nurse remembered her very well. She thought Samantha had been an abused child. She checked up on her that night, and had a vision for a few fleeting seconds-- she thought she'd seen Samantha dead, covered in blood. The hallucination lasted only a few seconds; she chalked it up to working too many hours, not wanting to admit the vision was real. Spender came the next morning to get Samantha, and she was gone. Just gone-- from a locked room."

"What do they think happened?"

"What's important is what you thought, Mulder. You returned from the woods, and you said this was the end of the road. That you were fine. That you were free."

"Did I ever tell you what I'd seen?" he rasped, fighting to contain his sadness.

"Later. You told me later. You saw Samantha and other children who'd been rescued by 'walk-ins.'"

"Spirits that rescue children who are the victims of child abuse or serial killers. Their bodies are never found. I've read about this in the literature. Parents usually have a precognitive image of the child, already dead," he explained.

"Yes. That's almost exactly what you told me last year. The psychic told you the spirits intervene, transforming matter into pure energy. Starlight. That's why no one finds their bodies."

"We were in California for this, or another case?" he asked.

"There was another case, a child molester and murderer. We found graves behind a Santaland where the man worked. Harold Piller, the psychic, approached us. He ended up helping us with our investigation and led us to Samantha's old home. Poor man. Even when you came back from the woods and told him his son was all right--"

"His son was missing also?" Mulder asked incredulously.

"Yes, that's why he worked these cases; he was looking for his son. But he didn't believe you, Mulder, and I have to admit I didn't either. At first. But I saw how much peace you gained-- you'd seen her, in starlight, among other laughing and playing children. You described it to me so beautifully--"

Scully started to cry softly, periodically dabbing at her eyes with one hand. Mulder leaned over and gently kissed the tears from her feverish cheeks. He wept too, eventually nestling his face against her shoulder.

"I guess this was the catalyst," he mumbled.

"What?" she replied, confused.

"The reason we became--" He lifted his head from her soft pajama top, taking one second to brush her hair back from her brow. Her entire face was tear-stained and he wanted to wash all her sadness away. He pressed his right palm to her cheek and finished his sentence, "intimate."

Scully smiled brightly, then twisted her head toward his hand so she could rub against it like a kitten.

"Partially," she said demurely.

"Partially," he repeated, as flatly as possible.

"I had my own epiphany last spring. An opportunity to reconcile my past with my present."

"Be less cryptic, please," he begged.

"I ran into an old flame and realized how much my world view had changed-- since I'd met you, since I'd been on the X-Files. I was able to help him recover physically from an illness, but he still saw me as the same person I'd been ten years before, when I was at medical school."

"He was important to you?"

"Very much so... at the time. But he was married, Mulder. I didn't realize his duplicity until I became involved with him. I got out of the relationship right away... for his family. Apparently, he never reconciled with his wife, because he wanted me to start all over with him last spring. I knew I couldn't do that and it wasn't only because of our differing values. It was you, Mulder. You. I could never leave you for anyone else."

She whispered these last words, kissing the palm of his hand. He gathered her in his arms, joining their lips in a breathless kiss. He nuzzled her neck affectionately, pausing to enjoy her sweet, distinctly female fragrance.

"Mulder," she sighed impatiently.


"I hate to break the mood, but I really need to leave," she said.

"Leave where?" he asked, confused, and perhaps a little bit worried.

"I have to pee, silly. Not leave *you*!" She untangled herself from his warm and comfortable body and swung her legs over the side of the bed. "I guess you've always been a bit insecure," she teased playfully.

"Not so. Not me," he denied quickly, eyes brightening as their somberness fell away.

She rolled her eyes at his speedy contradiction, then rushed to the bathroom. She wondered how she'd ever made it this long. Maybe it was the new company she was keeping, she mused happily to herself.

She was glad they were renewing their intimacy at a glacial pace. It made perfect sense, considering how long it had taken for them to become lovers. She thought back to the night she'd run to his motel room in 1993, terrified her mosquito bites were of alien origin.

If he'd reacted differently to her and taken advantage of the situation that night they might not have stayed partners very long. This man was Mulder circa 1993-- and nothing but a gentleman, then and now. He treated her with kindness and respect, not lasciviousness.

As soon as she emerged from the restroom, Mulder zipped right past her, nature calling him too. She noticed it was nine o'clock already. How the hell did it get so late? They must have slept very late, and then they'd talked, and then they'd kissed--

She looked forward to being completely alone at the summer house with no distractions-- other than black-gloved thugs out to kidnap her baby. Reality was setting in fast this morning. Their lives would never be simple, and they would never live a placid existence without constantly looking over their shoulders.

She'd known that from the very beginning of her tenure on the X- Files; danger had stalked them on almost every case they took on. Things were not going to change soon unless they could defeat the machinations of the Consortium. And they'd need lots of help to do that.

Sooner or later they'd have to enlist Skinner's help. He was still their friend, no matter what power Krycek held over him. And they should certainly sit down with the Lone Gunmen and explain Mulder's amnesia in detail.

She thought of the hypnosis session that afternoon. Maybe Mulder would learn something, anything, of value to cure his memory loss. She didn't expect eight years of memories to come flowing back all at once, but if he knew why he'd had his mind tampered with, at least he'd be able to deal with it better, maybe attain a little peace of mind.

She decided to make coffee before getting dressed for whatever errands needed to be done before seeing Dr. Werber. She yelled something to that effect at the closed bathroom door, then left the bedroom in search of her morning brew.

Office of Dr. Heitz Werber
Silver Springs, Maryland
1:00 p.m.

"I'm very glad to see you again Agent Mulder, Agent Scully. And I guess congratulations are in order for both of you," Dr. Werber remarked in his quiet, dignified manner.

"How did you know?" Scully asked, wondering if the whole world knew she was pregnant.

"Assistant Director Skinner has kept me informed of your situation. He came here a few months ago. He thought hypnosis might help him remember some pertinent facts, anything which could help him find Agent Mulder. He inadvertedly told me about your child. I'm sorry if I've said anything to offend you."

"Oh, no. No, Dr. Werber. It's quite all right. But considering the unusual medical condition Mulder is experiencing, I must ask you to keep this session completely confidential. Perhaps not even noted in your files?" she added.

"That would be fine. I was puzzled that we didn't do a pre- interview on the phone, but I chalked it up to the confidentiality of much of your work," the doctor commented.

"Why don't we all sit down and get comfortable before we start the session and you can fill me in on any other details," he offered.

Mulder and Scully sat side by side on the large maroon couch. Dr. Werber sat down in a chair directly across from Mulder, notebook in hand.

"Please tell me how I can help you," Werber said.

"Dr. Werber, as you already know, I was missing for the last five months. I don't have any idea where I was all or what was done to me. Of and in itself, that would be hard to deal with, even though I have no lasting mental or physical problems from my captivity. The greater problem is much worse-- when I woke up in a Bellefleur, Oregon forest on Monday, I had no recollection of the last eight years. I initially thought I was in New Jersey, still chasing a UFO sighting in January 1993. I recognized the flora and fauna as that of the Pacific Northwest, and I knew something was very wrong. I hitched a ride to Portland's airport and thought I'd stepped into the Twilight Zone-- as you can well imagine. That's it. The essence of my problem," he admitted, shrugging his shoulders resignedly.

Dr. Werber had been listening attentively and nodded his head, weighing the information.

"I've had amnesiac patients before. We've had some success in recovering their memories. How are you doing in general now? Do you think you're ready for this?"

"Yes, I do." Mulder reached over and grasped Scully's hand. "I have some fine people in my life who've been more than understanding."

"Okay. We'll proceed then. I know you're familiar with hypnogogic trance. I'll talk you through the steps, even though you already know them. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, relax your body. Long, deep breaths. Relax your hands, relax your feet. Relax your jaw, your pelvis. Take long, deep breaths."

Mulder followed the doctor's instructions, opening himself up to a light trance state. He was still holding Scully's hand when he slumped into the comfortable couch. She could tell when he saw something in his altered state; his grip tightened, and his whole body became tense.

"Oh, God. I'm here," Mulder said tautly.

"Where are you, Agent Mulder?"

"I'm on a ship, I think. I don't know. All the walls are white and I can't move. I don't feel any pain, but I can't move. There's nothing on the walls, no furniture except for the table I'm lying on. I'm not cold; I'm not hot. I can't feel myself breathe. It's like all my bodily functions are regulated by someone else. Oh!"

"What is it, Fox?" asked the doctor.

"A gray just walked in. Now another one. I understand them. They're talking about me-- I know too much. I'm the most successful test subject-- but I know too much. They're going to return me. Oh, God. They're going to return me. They've decided to erase my mind of all I've learned. I can read their minds, but they don't know why I can do it. They saying to each other they can't let me remember. Oh, fuck. They're going to screw it up! Oh, God! I don't know why I know, I just do."

"Are you still in the room, Fox?"

"I am, I am-- I can feel one the grays in my mind. He's doing something. Oh shit, it hurts my head. I can't take this. I'm getting dizzy... I don't get dizzy. I'm--"

Mulder's head fell limply forward. His body inched off the couch, and Doctor Werber leapt to his feet, preventing him from falling over. He helped Scully position him in a prone position on the couch, allowing her to check his vitals. He had his cell phone out, ready to call an ambulance if necessary.

Mulder started to groan while she did her routine check; his eyelids fluttered open as he grimaced in pain.

"Ow! Shit! What the hell?" he grumbled.

"Mulder? Are you all right?" she asked worriedly.

"No, Scully. I need pain killers. My head!" he howled.

"We have ibuprofen. I don't think we should give him anything stronger, Dr. Scully, until you can determine why he fainted," advised Dr. Werber.

"Didn't faint. They fucked up. They took eight years of my life away. It was only supposed to be five or six months and they took eight years," Mulder moaned.

Dr. Werber's assistant arrived with tablets and a glass of water. Mulder leaned sideways to swallow the medicine.

Scully sat next to him, having pulled the doctor's chair beside the couch. She made him lie back down, and despite their audience she caressed his forehead, trying to help him relax. His hands were at his sides now, trying to respond to Scully's soothing ministrations.

"Just relax, Mulder. Just lie still awhile. There's no rush," she crooned.

"No, there's none at all. My assistant and I will leave you alone, if you like," Dr. Werber offered.

"Thank you, Doctor. We'll just be a few minutes," Scully responded.

They left the room and Mulder groaned again, less inhibited with only Scully present, "Oh God, Scully. The fucking aliens screwed up. I could feel it happening. I could feel the loss. It hurt so much, so much. I must have been unconscious when they dropped me off in Bellefleur. I had a headache when I woke up, but I just thought I'd been cold-cocked by someone."

Scully was leaning closer to him now, both hands soothing his temples. She quipped, "Wouldn't be the first time, huh, Mulder?"

"Oh, you're making a joke," he complained back sarcastically.

"Sure, I am. I'm so damn happy you didn't lapse into a coma just now, Mulder. Let's not try this again. At least for awhile, okay?"

"I don't *ever* want to try it again! Damn, my head's still pounding."

"Just take it easy. I'm sure it's not permanent," she assured him.

"Oh, not permanent. Like my amnesia is?" he scoffed.

"You don't know that! You don't know what they made you believe, Mulder! Maybe they implanted false memories. You don't know what's real and what's not. You can't give up hope-- we haven't even begun to pursue other treatments," she asserted.

Mulder took several long, deep breaths, shutting his eyes and flattening every inch of his body against the couch. Scully continued to smooth back his hair, then found a handkerchief in her coat pocket to mop his brow. He smiled up at her when he opened his eyes again.

"I love you."

"I know," she smiled back. "Relax. Close your eyes. We're not driving anywhere tonight. I'm changing our plans right this minute," she asserted.

"Okay," he mumbled, trying to unwind while she gently caressed him.

Scully stroked his face, trying to relax every tight muscle. Her strong hands felt like heaven to Mulder and he almost dozed off in a blissful haze. The headache was fading fast and he knew he ought to tell her, but he was enjoying this all too much. Then he remembered how worried she must be, and how very pregnant she was and decided to curb his selfish motives.

He stilled her hands, opening his eyes and saying, "I'm better. Much better. Let's go home, Scully."

Scully smiled at his recovery, rising to her feet and holding out a steady hand. He accepted her help gladly, swinging his legs off the couch, then standing up on slightly wobbly legs.

"Whoa, be careful now. You might be a little woozy," Scully warned.

"Real men don't get woozy," he declared solemnly.

Mulder attempted a few steps on his own, but his lurching feet betrayed his lightheadedness. He looked over at Scully despondently, then managed a weak smile when she wound her arm around his waist to support his forward movement.

She chuckled at his grumpiness, "Come on, real man, let's get out of here."

February 21st, 2001
3:00 p.m.

There were voices coming from his apartment. Mulder stopped short of the door, gently shoving Scully behind him.

"Scully," he whispered, "when are the guys supposed to be here?"

"I have no idea. I thought they were going to Rhode Island today."

"Well, then who the hell is this?" he questioned.

He unholstered his gun and inched toward the door.

"Mulder! You aren't in any shape to be confronting intruders. Let's just call the cops on my cellular!"

"I'm okay. I feel fine now."

"At least let me back you up. I have a weapon in my bag," she offered.

"Ooh, Scully. Always prepared, are we? Okay, get the gun out, but don't even think of doing any of that tae kwon do stuff," he joked.

"Very funny. I'm pregnant, not helpless. And I didn't just faint in the doctor's office," she reminded him.

"I'm one hundred per cent better, Scully. The longer we stand here and argue, the more my apartment is probably getting trashed. Now, I'm going to see if the door is unlocked," he said, easing the doorknob to the right.

It opened easily, and they edged around the corner cautiously. Several voices continued to emanate from his bedroom. Mulder swept the living room, scanning the space for intruders, while Scully headed for the kitchen area. They found no one, so they both proceeded down the hallway to the bedroom area.

All sound in the room suddenly ceased, save for the noise of a mechanical drill. Mulder and Scully gave each other questioning glances, then flattened themselves against the walls outside the room. Mulder kicked the door open with a flourish, gun at the ready.

Three astonished sets of hands flew to the ceiling when they spied Mulder and Scully in the doorway. Frohike was kneeling next to the wall, his high tech drill quickly discarded when he'd heard the door slam open. Langly trembled on the lone chair while Byers surrendered across the bed.

"Holy shit!!! Who the hell do you guys think you are? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?!?" Frohike shouted. He was still wide-eyed with shock, truly startled by their dramatic entrance.

"Who the hell do you think you are, sneaking around my apartment?" Mulder said, lowering his gun and starting to laugh.

He was delighted to see their familiar faces. They all looked older and better than he remembered them being in 1993. Well, maybe Langly's hairstyle hadn't changed much, but he certainly looked clean and well-groomed. He even had a non-subversive tee shirt on, advertising a local Marathon for charity.

Byers and Langly rose quickly from their seats. At first, it seemed like they were rushing over to give Mulder a hearty handshake or bear hug hello, but their real target was just behind him. They skirted Mulder, who stared at them with openmouthed surprise.

"Scully, come sit down. You should get off your feet!" Langly said, taking her arm and leading her to the bed.

Scully flushed several shades of pink at all the attention directed toward her. These guys had been doting on her for months, but she'd never been more embarrassed by their regard until this moment. They should be welcoming Mulder back. He was the one who deserved the grand homecoming. Then again, she thought to herself, they were clueless about Mulder's amnesia-- and he'd already been back several days. Her delicate condition obviously took precedence over returning abductees.

"Oh, Langly, stop! I'm fine. It's Mulder who should sit down. He fainted at the doctor's office," she blurted out.

Two seconds later, she realized her faux pas. Men hate being reminded of physical weakness in front of other men, particularly friends who would probably never let them forget it.

"Hey, Mulder. You didn't come back impregnated by an alien, did you?" Frohike teased.

"Fuck you, Frohike. Nothing's wrong with me that reporting your stolen DMV database won't fix." Mulder grinned at him, enjoying their friendly sniping match. "What the hell are you doing here anyway?" he said, gesturing around him.

"You asked us to install more security," Byers pitched in. "Or at least I thought that was the plan. We went to Rhode Island last night and drove right back. None of us has slept for twenty-four hours, but we wanted to get this done as soon as possible."

"Mulder. Sit. Now," Scully ordered, trying to control the level of chaos in Mulder's ordinarily tranquil bedroom.

Mulder rolled his eyes, and finally put his gun back in its holster, then sat next to Scully on the bed. He couldn't resist putting his arm around her possessively. He wasn't sure how demonstrative he'd been with Scully before his abduction, but he was extremely proud to be a father and didn't mind showing off in front of his friends.

"Bit of a shock for you, huh?" Langly commented, a knowing smile plastered all over his face.

Mulder smiled back, shaking his head in wonderment. He gave Scully an affectionate sidelong glance, communicating more than words could say.

"I'll say," he replied, settling his hand around her waist.

"You didn't have a clue, did you Mulder?" Frohike asked.

"Well... no, and not for reasons you might imagine... I think I may have suspected something before I left for Bellefleur the second time. If I could only remember what happened before I left--"

"What? What did they do to you? Did they do the old mindswipe trick on you?" Langly replied, not sure if this was one of Mulder's practical jokes.

"He's not kidding around, guys. He has amnesia."

Scully couldn't sit and listen to them crack wise about this. It wasn't a humorous topic for her. She could only imagine how Mulder felt, though she knew he'd disguise his apprehension for vanity's sake. He was willing to disclose his emotions to her but he'd always been a lot less open among male friends.

"Whoa," was all Frohike could manage to say.

Langly sat back down on the chair, too dumbfounded to speak.

"Wait, it's all a matter of degree. If Mulder goes for hypnotherapy maybe the lost time will return," Byers said helpfully.

"That's where we just were, guys. And the prognosis isn't very good. And as for the amount of time lost--" Mulder replied glumly.

Scully squeezed Mulder's hand tightly with her small, but strong fingers. She surveyed the room with a concerned gaze, catching all three men's eyes.

"He can't recall a thing before January 1993," she exclaimed soberly.

"But that's-- that's when he met you, Scully," Frohike wondered aloud, trying to remember the exact month she'd joined him on the X- Files.

Scully shook her head. "Nope. I came on board in February."

"Then how did he know... how did Mulder recog--" Byers was tongue- tied, but at least he could speak. Langly and Frohike's mouths gaped wide open at this revelation.

"I didn't know who the hell she was when I came back to my apartment. I pulled a gun on her, then demanded to know what she was doing there. It should have been pretty obvious, but I'd been travelling all day from Bellefleur and didn't expect a pregnant woman in my bed. Especially when the last place I thought I'd been was New Jersey-- eight years ago," Mulder added.

"That's fucking amazing," Frohike blundered out.

"Frohike, stick a sock puppet in it, will ya?" Langly scolded.

"It's okay, guys. We're okay." Mulder tightened his hold around Scully, demonstrating their bond. "I felt connected to Scully almost immediately. And not just because she's having my child. I guess we've spent so many years as partners, I recognized her on some subconscious level."

"That's totally rad!" exclaimed Langly.

Everyone laughed at Ringo's display of enthusiasm. Mulder was relieved his friend looked and acted the same as always. He'd always gotten a kick out of Langly's hippie persona.

"Okay, guys. Now that you've heard the good news--" Scully said wryly.

"*Amnesia* was the good news?" Frohike exclaimed.

"No, Frohike, Mulder's ability to deal with all that's happened to him in the last five months and not go stir crazy is the good news. I'll let Mulder tell you what else we learned at Dr. Werber's office before we move on to the bad news," she replied.

"Huh? What?" asked Langly, always articulate.

"The aliens didn't intend to steal eight years of my memories, only five or six months worth. It didn't work out the way they wanted it to-- that's my initial theory. There's no proof, no logic, to what's happened to me... other than what I remembered at the doctor's office. I've had to deal with the memory loss by reading my journal and asking Scully a zillion questions over the last couple of days. When I woke up in a forest on Monday I could remember being assigned to the X-Files, and knowledge of the paranormal helped me deal with my sudden dislocation to the great state of Oregon. Of course, after I hitched a ride to Portland and saw all the newspapers were dated 2001--"

"You, of all people, would be able to deal with time travel, Mulder," Byers weighed in.

"Ironic, isn't it? I've become a living X-File," Mulder replied.

"So what's the bad news?" Frohike inquired anxiously.

Mulder looked askance at Scully's worried face and decided to break the weighty silence for her, "Krycek paid us a social call yesterday."

"Ah, shit. That bastard," Frohike cursed.

"Well, I'm not too sure about his parentage, Frohike," Mulder said, "but he claims our baby is in jeopardy--"

"So, that's why you wanted all this security..." Byers mulled.

"Yeah, it was. We haven't told Skinner about this, guys. You have to keep it confidential," Mulder pleaded.

"We really need your help," Scully added, her blue eyes darting from face to face.

"You have it. You know how we feel about being godfathers," Frohike quipped, trying to break the tension in the room.

"We don't know if Krycek was full of it or not, but we're not taking any chances. The only reason we haven't told Skinner about the memory loss is Krycek's previous association with him. Skinner may still be at risk-- we'll wait and see what develops. Skinner's been so depressed about losing Mulder in Oregon-- I've never had the heart to bring up the subject of Krycek," Scully explained.

"Are you guys staying here tonight?" Frohike queried.

"Yeah, it's been an exhausting day. We'll leave for Rhode Island early tomorrow morning. Thanks for your help with the summer house. Skinner gave us a couple of weeks off from work, and we'll be gone until Sunday. I think Scully mentioned an appointment on Monday--"

Scully nodded affirmatively to her collective audience, clutching Mulder's hand again for support.

"Well, we're almost done here. This is the last room we had to debug. We didn't tear out the old security system, just enhanced it. We put it in just after you disappeared, so Scully would feel safe here. Same thing at her apartment," said Byers.

Mulder looked over at Scully and asked, "You stayed here most of the time?"

"Yeah. I thought you'd be like a homing pigeon, coming back to roost. I was right, wasn't I?" she said, giving him a huge smile.

"Yeah, you were right," he agreed with a grin.

He leaned over and kissed her impulsively, oblivious to their audience. The smooch lasted a little longer than they expected it to; they sprang apart when they heard groans and catcalls all around them.

"Get a room!" Langly jested.

"This happens to be my bedroom, guys!" Mulder retorted.

Frohike snickered, returning to the job he'd been doing before Mulder and Scully barged in, their guns drawn and aimed at the three of them. "Go watch cartoons for a half hour so I can finish, damn it!"

"Okay, okay. We're outta here," announced Mulder.

"Thanks, guys. We really appreciate all the trouble you've gone to," Scully said earnestly.

"No problemo. Our pleasure," answered Byers.

Mulder and Scully left the bedroom, his hand balanced on her lower back, like so many thousands of times before. Scully appreciated this gesture more than Mulder would ever know-- or at least until he regained his memory, and was able to recollect just how significantly his gentle touch had sustained her throughout the years.

Scully was beginning to doubt whether Mulder would ever remember anything more than inexplicable, sensual memories of her. She'd been his closest friend these past eight years; it made sense he'd remember her differently than anybody else in his day-to-day existence.

She'd never divulge such a theory to him without proof, and she was dubious they'd ever get it. She wanted to believe what he'd seen and heard at the doctor's office had been real, but it could all be a delusion, a hoax spoon-fed Mulder by an insidious, earthly source. He might have been brainwashed into thinking he was on a spaceship, then experimented upon by Consortium scientists at some remote site.

She wasn't about to bring this to Mulder's attention until he'd had more time to adjust to being back home. He'd been cruelly used by someone, even if he hadn't suffered any obvious physical harm. She was certain Mulder would consider any and all extreme possibilities, then share his thoughts when he was prepared to do so.

Scully's skeptical attitude had always challenged him to poke holes in his own theories. She was certainly ready to do that, whenever he showed sufficient interest in questioning what had happened to him. Until then, she decided to concentrate on enjoying the precious time they had together.

The constant spectre of baby snatching criminals, lying in wait around every street corner, would be combatted by their impassioned promises to one another. They'd rather die than see harm come to their growing child. His instinctive protective streak wasn't just a fluke; they were bound together by much more than simple biology.

Scully turned to Mulder before they reached the living room, stopping him in his tracks.

"Why don't we feed these guys? I'd like to do something more tangible than just say thank you."

"I've got no problem with that, Scully. I'll go ask them what they want on their pizzas," he responded.

"You know your friends, Mulder. That's for sure."

She gave a quick kiss on the cheek, and hurried off to assess their beer readiness. She had a gut feeling the guys would be sticking around for more than pizza. They'd been her faithful companions on many depressing nights in the past and she was overjoyed to share Mulder with them.

They'd never given up on him-- nor on her. Their optimism and sometimes excessive attentiveness had sustained her through innumerable bad days. Scully had wanted to crawl into bed and cry sometimes. She'd known she was made of stronger stuff than that, that a lot of her despair was hormonally driven. Their attitudes had given her the capability to go on, the energy to keep the X-Files functioning as a division.

Mulder didn't know it yet, but they'd almost been shut them down when it became apparent he wasn't coming back from Oregon. With Skinner's help and her testimony, she'd kept their office open, trimming back expenses by limiting the number of cases she and her temporary partner investigated.

Initially, Scully hadn't been happy about the partner situation at all. However, the agent had been handpicked by Skinner, and she'd found him to be a topnotch investigator. It had been nothing like working with Mulder, but Charlie Huber never tried to usurp her partner's place. He'd become a real boon to the X-Files while she'd struggled to balance her private and public responsibilities.

She needed to retain access to bureau resources in order to find Mulder, and this compromise allowed her to do so. She'd spent every minute of her off-bureau time looking for Mulder, calling emergency rooms, monitoring reports of UFO sightings all around the country. Charlie had offered his help on many occasions, but she'd consistently refused it.

Scully had permitted him to put in as much overtime as he cared to, on cases they were pursuing for appearances' sake. They weren't spending anywhere near the amount of money they used to, when Mulder was on the job. Perhaps she'd been overly cautious in her choices; they'd always been within their budgeted amount of expenses.

She'd chosen an unusually high amount of X-File cases having to do with reports of alien spacecrafts or abductions. There'd been more than a few adults, and even some children, who'd claimed to have been taken, tortured, then returned to their homes or neighborhoods.

Scully had tried not to become too personally involved when investigating these instances. She'd wanted to retain a healthy dose of skepticism. Popular books and movies had romanticized abduction experiences, and they'd become part of our national folklore. She couldn't depend on anyone to be completely honest with her, or to withstand a simple test of sanity.

She'd felt compelled to check out their stories anyway. The one abductee she passed off as a crank might be the one who'd seen a hazel-eyed man in the cell next door. Although many of the incidents related to her seemed laughable, she'd patiently interviewed each and every person involved, hoping for a breakthrough.

Scully had realized in the past month how difficult it was getting for her to function as a FBI agent. She was a small person and the baby was getting large by the beginning of her sixth month. She'd already cut back on their field work and had decided to take early maternity leave.

Charlie would be transferred to VCU now, most likely permanently. She'd given him a call on Tuesday, when Mulder was busy with medical tests at the hospital. He'd been genuinely pleased to hear of Mulder's return and offered them any help they needed to get re-established.

She'd promised to visit him at his new workplace soon. However, with the visit from Krycek, and new concerns about the safety of their child, she doubted she'd be paying social calls. She'd trusted Charlie for several months, without incident, but her new paranoia about the Consortium would exclude most people from her confidence, including Skinner.

Scully couldn't think of a good reason to trust Charlie implicitly. He seemed to be on her side the last few months, but there'd been times she'd felt like he was monitoring her, gathering information for someone outside the bureau. They'd have to survive without his help. For now.


Mulder was standing next to her in the kitchen, his hand on her shoulder. She'd been leaning against the dishwasher for God knows how long while Mulder chatted it up with his friends. He bent down to meet her eyes, amused by her dreamy reverie.

"You seemed a million miles away. What were you thinking about?"

Scully smiled at him mysteriously, determined to keep some of her thoughts private. She'd always wondered how much had been revealed to him at Georgetown Memorial that day-- the day she'd urged him to hold on, to keep it together in his seemingly hopeless, catatonic state. What had he known of her innermost thoughts? Had he been convinced of her love that day? Had he been confident of her devotion long before he'd become ill?

Their new state of affairs was less tragic, but problematic nonetheless. Would they be able to maintain their relationship, raise a child, eventually marry? Their bond seemed forged by intuition, a sixth sense which drew Mulder to her in spite of his lack of cogent memories.

"Nothing," she replied, assuming a Mona Lisa smile.

Mulder seemed to get the picture, allowing her secrecy. They'd spent twenty-four hours a day together since his return. He knew she wouldn't conceal anything of great importance, anything crucial to their safety. He didn't know how he knew; he just knew.

He'd always trusted some people too easily, others not enough. It had seemed right to have faith in her from the moment he'd touched her hand Monday night. There was no rational explanation for this magnetic force between them. Other than her inherent beauty, which any man would admire.

Mulder couldn't remember her intellectually, not even now. The session with Dr. Werber had jolted nothing loose in his psyche-- other than what had supposedly happened on the alien ship. He was still trying to keep up with the everchanging swift flow of events; he felt unusually tired for a man who had been pronounced medically sound.

He was astounded when he glanced into a mirror, when he noted the changes in his features over time. He wasn't entirely displeased. He'd never enjoyed looking like a punk ass kid to match his attitude.

Mulder had just started to lose his boyish looks at the age of thirty-two, the last time he'd taken time to scrutinize his looks. He would turn forty this year, and he couldn't complain about his visual aspect-- as long as Scully approved. He knew she wasn't so shallow as to take a lover based solely on their outward appearance, but he did want to please her.

He couldn't separate the lure of her physical beauty from her enticing, brilliant mind. He'd always been attracted to smart, charismatic women and despite his obvious interest in pornography, he'd always preferred women for their intellect, not their breast size.

He was still chafing from Scully's discovery of his secret stash under the bed. She was disquietingly familiar with all his habits. He'd need time to get used to that. Advantage, Scully, was all he could say.

"Oh, I bet there's a whole lot more than nothing going on in your beautiful mind, Scully," he responded to her claim.

She broke into a grin, remembering the last time she'd used that very phrase. He couldn't possibly have known about her journal. She hadn't even shown it to him yet. She'd definitely have to do so now.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" she replied boldly, reaching up to caress the pleasant roughness of his five o'clock shadow.

Mulder placed his hands on her shoulders, then leaned down a little closer, so they were almost breathing the same air.

"No. I think I'll leave that to the enigmatic Dr. Scully's discretion. As long as you're not daydreaming about Frohike," he teased.

"Well, Melvin did coin the phrase 'enigmatic Dr. Scully,' Mulder. You've been gossiping about me in the bedroom, haven't you?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I'm still amazed you're mine."

His last word had been little more than a whisper. He closed the gap between them, his lips sliding across hers sensually. It was possibly the most erotic kiss they'd shared since he'd come home and she felt unbearably aroused. Scully flitted her tongue across his lips, seeking entrance to his mouth and--

A loud rapping at his door announced the arrival of their pizzas. They pulled away from one another slowly, and Mulder continued to massage her shoulders affectionately, desire evident in his darkened eyes.


"Raincheck," she parroted back, gently pushing him in the direction of the apartment door.

This chapter is rated NC-17.

February 21st, 2001
8:00 p.m.

The empty pizza boxes and abandoned beer bottles were a testament to the fine time had by the Gunmen and their gracious hosts. The former had finally excused themselves when Scully had started yawning, then apologizing for her inattentiveness. She wasn't drinking any alcohol, but the pizza was more cholesterol-laden than her usual diet, and she was apparently fading fast.

However, the moment her friends left the apartment, Scully got her second wind. Inspired by the dark, lust-driven gaze her partner directed toward her when he returned to the couch, she found plenty of energy to meet and exceed his expectations. Mulder hadn't expected this much passion from his tired partner. He thought she'd want to call it an early night, but she seemed to revive as soon as the guys left for the evening. So, here they were, on his couch, sharing long, slow kisses with each other.

Scully had longed for Mulder for five long months and wanted to grant him permission to love her. She sensed an uncharacteristic shyness in him the last few days; he seemed to be playing a guessing game, trying to intuit when to take their physical relationship further. She knew he would feel a certain impropriety in making love to a woman he couldn't consciously remember.

However, lust was winning out over rationality for both agents. Tonight, he felt an overwhelming magnetic attraction to her soft skin and silken hair-- he knew exactly how to kiss her, how to touch her, more from instinct then from practice. Scully responded eagerly, expressing her own raw need with a little aggressive behavior of her own.

They were half-seated, half-lying down in an awkward position and Scully knew there had to be an easier way than this. Her mobility was seriously limited by her large belly and frustrating inflexibility. She knew where she wanted to be and was determined to lure her companion elsewhere.

"Mulder?" she asked, gently separating their tangled limbs.

"Yeah?" he replied roughly, openly disappointed she might be calling it a night.

"I'm going to draw a bath," she said simply, rising from the couch, then walking toward the direction of the bedroom.

"Okay," he acknowledged blandly, trying to disguise his dashed hopes for a little more intimacy that night.

Ten minutes passed slowly as he listened to the sound of running water coming from his bedroom. Mulder gathered the trash from the coffee table, recycling the beer bottles loudly so she wouldn't think he'd passed out on the couch.

He sat back down and was about to turn on the televison, when he heard, "Mulder, I need you in here now."

There was no fear or apprehension in her demand, so he sauntered over to the bathroom door, then peeked around its corner.

Scully was standing in the middle of the room, fully clothed. The room was very humid from the bath water, which smelled strongly of vanilla. She extended her hand, beckoning him to her side.

Her expression was comfortably smug, and he knew she had something up her sleeve. She gave him a mysterious little smile, then pulled his sweatshirt away from his body, taking the time to run her well- manicured hands over his smooth back muscles. He grinned down at her, enjoying every minute of this slow seduction.

She unbuttoned his jeans, slowly, carefully, then pulled them down over his hips. She set them next to his top, which she'd already folded neatly on the counter. She made no move to strip off his boxers-- instead, she took two small steps backward toward the door.

"Now," she whispered, "I'll be back in a minute. Get in the tub and stay there."

Mulder stepped forward quickly, grabbing her for one more kiss before she exited. He chuckled as she left the room, wondering why she didn't just stay and allow him to dispense with her clothes, also.

He slipped into the modern-style bathtub, mentally thanking her for not using floral bath salts tonight. The tub was so easy to get in and out of; it must have been one reason she'd been living in his apartment the last few months. That, and the overwhelming need to be here if he returned, the only place he'd called home for almost ten years.

Mulder remembered something he'd written in his journal during the time she'd been missing. He'd had a key from the early stages of their partnership, and he'd found himself lying in her bed one night, weeping over his inability to protect her. She must have done the same for him, longing to come close to him in that same simple way. Except their relationship had advanced so much further by last fall, resulting in a child of their own. Her joy over her inexplicable fertility must have been tempered by his apparent disappearance.

He heard the door open, then her admonishment, "Close your eyes, Mulder. No peeking!"

He obeyed. His compliance was well worth it, if she was planning on joining him.

She lit a few candles, additions to his decor he'd definitely noticed since he'd returned home. The smoky smell of the match infiltrated the air, and he could sense when she turned off the overhead light.

He heard the rustle of her clothing as she unbuttoned her blouse, then unzipped her jeans. The same careful placement of her clothes next to his, then a soft snap as she unhooked her bra. He heard her pull her panties down to her feet, and he could only imagine which ones they might be. He'd seen several out of the corner of his eye when they'd sorted laundry yesterday, glancing away when she'd caught him in the act.

Her bare feet made little noise as she walked over to the edge of the tub, pausing first on the squared-off ledge, then deftly lowering herself between his legs. There was no way he could disguise his arousal now, she felt it as soon as she settled her back against his chest. His arms encircled her, hands just skimming beneath her breasts.

"So, Scully... when do I get to open my eyes?" he whispered hopefully.

"Not yet. Not till I say so."

"Bossy, aren't we?" he teased, nuzzling her neck.

"No, I just think this will jog your subconscious memories. It was one of my favorite activities-- and I'm certain it was one of yours also."

Scully punctuated her remark by shifting position, acknowledging his growing desire beneath her. Mulder groaned with pleasure, pressing his groin against her bottom. His fingers encircled her breasts, teasing at her nipples with care. He'd never made love to a pregnant woman before, but he had enough sense to know they'd be ultra- sensitive.

"Oh," she responded softly, loving the tender way he smoothed his thumbs over every inch of her. It was exactly the way he used to touch her when they'd made love last year. He then drew concentric circles around each areola; disturbing the bath water in a similar mesmerizing pattern.

He still hadn't opened his eyes. He wanted to see her so badly, but she was right about the subconscious memories. It felt so good to reconnect with her this way. Everything felt so familiar, so comfortable between them.

Maybe the physical body remembered every experience from the past on a molecular level, a level of consciousness having nothing to do with retained cognizance. Just because he couldn't explain his perceptions didn't mean he wasn't going to revel in them.

Scully turned in his arms, ascertaining he'd kept his promise and was still sightless in their quiet, insulated world of candlelight and soothing waters. She clasped her hands on his shoulders, balanced so she could place kisses all over his face and jaw. She was tempted to ask him to look into her eyes, but she didn't. He seemed to be enjoying this sensory deprivation experiment as much as she.

Mulder explored every vanilla-scented inch of her body, including her swelling belly. He lingered there a few minutes and was rewarded with robust movement from the baby. She felt him smiling against her, lips grazing her dewy neck.

"This was a great idea, Scully," he crooned softly.

"I have some more good ideas, Mulder," she responded, moving her hand between his legs.

"Oh! Jeez, Scully. I don't think so yet," he warned, gently removing her touch.

His eyes had popped open the moment he'd felt her soft hand on him. He continued speaking, intently gazing into her blue eyes, "It's been a long time for me, Scully. Either way it's been a long time-- all these months I've been away from you... which I can't remember... or what I *do* remember from 1993. I hadn't been with a woman for six months before I'd met you."

"So..." she smiled, placing her finger on his lips.

"I don't want to disappoint you. That's all." His eyes entreated her to understand his hesitation.

"You could never disappoint me, Mulder," she assured, wrapping her arms around him tightly.

He sprinkled kisses up and down her neck, then pulled back to admire her now that his eyes were open.

"God, you're beautiful, Scully."

He was at long last able to appreciate what he'd been fondling without the powerful sense of sight.

"Want me to close my eyes again?" he teased, kissing her nose, then anchoring one stubborn strand of hair behind her ear.

"No, I think the controlled experiment is over for today. But I don't think the investigation is over yet. What about you?" she asked flirtatiously.

"Nope. Not over," he agreed, covering her mouth for a long wet kiss.

Before she could respond verbally, his hand had found its way to the juncture of her thighs. She leaned into his shoulder as he gently caressed her mons. His thumb started to tease her clitoris, in perfect harmony with her encouraging sighs. He sprinkled kisses along her brow, then nudged her lips back to his own. He licked and kissed her madly, never ceasing his ministrations below.

She rocked against his hand insistently, begging for more contact. He moved one, than another, finger inside her, creating gentle friction where she needed it the most. His touch was very light, very cautious. He still wasn't sure about this pregnancy thing, though he'd always heard it was only during the last month couples needed to abstain.

"You won't hurt me," she mumbled through her euphoric haze.

"'Kay," he muttered, his own arousal heightened by the sweet sounds she was making as she swayed against him.

Scully's lips sought his for more deep long kisses as she teetered closer and closer to an orgasm. Her thighs brushed provocatively against his groin as she squirmed in his lap. He wasn't going to last long enough to take her to bed-- he was pretty sure it wasn't even an issue anymore.

Mulder shifted his body in the tub-- his fingers moving slowly and steadily in and out of her body, bringing her closer and closer to the edge with each movement of his hand. His thumb gently caressed her sensitive clit at the same time, and shimmering waves of pleasure surrounded her as she suddenly came.

Her mouth clamped down on the skin of his sweaty, slippery neck, and Mulder lost his last ounce of control, coming hard against her smooth, small thigh. Involuntarily, he slumped lower in the tub, catching Scully before she could be harmed by falling roughly against the porcelain surface beneath them. Her body molded quite naturally to his new position, and she pressed her face into the dark hair of his heaving chest.

"Love you, love you," she gasped, her body still trembling against his sturdy frame.

He tried to recapture his breath, answering her with small kisses along her cheek. Somehow he found the strength to sit taller against the wall of the tub, lifting her into his arms so she'd feel snug against him.

"Scully," was all he could say. He wanted to call her Dana, but it just didn't seem right. Not yet, not now. Even after this extraordinary intimacy, he wondered how he'd ever called her anything but Scully.

"Hmmm... what?" she hummed softly against his chest.

"Nothing. No question. Just Scully," he answered. He caressed her forehead with his lips, still thirsty for the taste of her.

"Sometimes you'd call me Dana when we made love," she crooned softly.

"How do you know what's on my mind?"

He marvelled at their ability to guess what the other one was thinking, even now, on the edge of total exhaustion.

"I'm not sure myself, Mulder. You asked me about my name on Monday and I've been thinking about it the last few days. When you called me Dana last year... after we first made love... you'd hadn't called me Dana for years." She laughed softly, then lifted her eyes to connect with his now sated ones. "Don't get me wrong, I do like it. I think it's about as much of a pet name I'd ever consent to."

"But you don't call me Fox."

"Oh God, no! I like my first name, Mulder."

He furrowed his brow in frustration, and apologized, "I'm sorry I couldn't wait any longer-- so we could make love."

She looked at him fondly and asserted, "We just *did* make love." She cradled his cheek in her palm. "I'm not disappointed at all. After all you've been through... It's understandable."

He grinned and kissed her one more time. When they parted, Scully let out a huge, involuntary yawn.

"I guess I'm pretty boring after all," Mulder quipped.

"No, no. I just seem to need more and more sleep the farther along I get. Your lovemaking is just fine, Mulder... I've missed you so much," she answered, caressing his cheek with one hand.

Mulder nodded, then moved his right leg slightly flipping the bathtub drain open. The water started rushing out and Scully gave him a questioning look.

"I'm going to shampoo your hair and put you to bed, young lady," he informed her.

"All right, as long as you allow me the same privilege," she cooed in his ear.

He kissed her cheek quickly, then helped her maneuver to a standing position. As she reached over to turn on the shower, she felt him tracing the outline of her tattoo with his forefinger.

"I only caught a glimpse of this when we were in the tub. It's very sexy, Scully." He crouched down to trail light kisses over the design, then continued, "I know how you got it from reading my journal, and I didn't sound too pleased at all. What the hell happened?" he asked earnestly.

"It wasn't a very good time for me, Mulder. I don't have a good explanation for what happened in Philadelphia. I was questioning everything-- my X-Files life, my personal life. I didn't know what you were to me anymore. We were best friends, but sometimes you treated me like a subordinate at work."

"I'm sorry if I did. I know I'm capable of being an arrogant prick," he said, winding his arms around her so he could hold her right below her breasts.

"It's not worth worrying about, Mulder. And if you're curious, and I know you must be-- nothing happened. Just a few kisses and then Jerse let me sleep on his bed. I've never told you that before because you never asked. But now is just as good a time as ever to let you know the truth."

He kissed her shoulder tenderly, then said, "It's easy to believe I never asked. Certainly not then, or even later on. Especially after you became sick, Scully. I couldn't live with myself if I'd made you dredge up bad memories when you were facing so much."

She turned in his arms and reached her hands up, framing his face. "I must have sensed something wasn't right with my body before I found out about the tumor." Scully felt Mulder flinch in her arms when he'd heard her last word, and she gathered him against her tightly.

"If you combine that with my mental malaise and my desire to rebel against something, anything... Mulder, please don't feel bad. I don't know what I would have done without you. Whatever else happened between us remains inconsequential. You were there for me when I really needed you."

"I'm glad," he said simply, turning his cheek into her palm, kissing it softly. He wrapped his arms around her again and caressed her neck with his lips. "Now," he growled, "Hand over the goods, woman. I want to wash your hair."

Scully chuckled, then blindly reached into the cubby hole next to the tub for the shampoo. She had a mischievous gleam in her eyes. She wasn't going to relinquish the bottle so easily.

"I know where you're ticklish, Scully. It's no use holding out on me," he asserted when he saw her expression.

She retaliated by shifting the vanilla concoction to her left hand, so she could insinuate her right hand between their bodies, and gently grip his member.

"Oh," he gasped. "All right. No tickling. Please, Scully."

She smiled devilishly, stroking him once more before releasing the bottle to his shaky hand. "Okay," she chirped, turning toward the shower head and saturating her auburn locks.

Mulder counted to five before daring to open the bottle. She knew exactly how to unsettle him, and he wouldn't have it any other way. He knew she would always keep him on his toes, especially when she had the advantage of memories he couldn't retrieve.

"Have we taken a lot of showers together?" he asked idly, as he lathered the thick gel through her hair.

Her shoulders shook as she laughed at his question. "Not too many. But they're all memorable."

"Well," he drawled, "I hope this one will be."

"This one's near the top, Mulder. Don't worry about that."

He massaged her scalp with both hands and she moaned softly at the luxury of having someone do this for her. She smiled at the prospect of Mulder bathing her during her ninth month of pregnancy. By then, washing between her toes would be a futile exercise without assistance.

By the time they'd finished their shower, gently drying each other off with soft towels and wet kisses, it was close to ten o'clock. They set the alarm for seven, and crawled between clean, smooth sheets, not bothering with pajamas this time.

Mulder draped his long limbs around her, too tired to ask for more than the pleasure of cradling her all night. His large hands gently stroked her abdomen, blessing the life she nurtured within its graceful curve. She stilled the movement of his fingers by entwining their hands together, then sent up a silent prayer to God, thanking Him for bringing Mulder back to her side.

February 22nd, 2001
1 p.m.

Highway driving was always monotonous and Scully took heart when she glanced at her watch and noted they were an hour away from their destination. They'd gotten up at seven, loaded their bags into her car by eight, and were on the road within minutes of an obligatory Starbucks visit. They *were* stopping every hour for her to use whatever facility they could find, but otherwise no obstacles stood in their way.

Mulder had driven the first three hours of the journey to his parents' summer house in Rhode Island; Scully was now behind the wheel, listening to a classical station while her partner slept. Or at least she thought he was sleeping, his face firmly pressed against the seat cushion, breathing unfaltering in its regularity.

Eyes held fast by the road before them, she calmly tapped her forefinger to one of the Brandenburg Concertos. Occasionally she'd glance over to find Mulder slumbering-- jaw slack, hands relaxed against his thighs. She still didn't think he was one hundred per cent recovered and she worried about further headaches and/or vertigo plaguing him.

Scully's attention was fixed on the highway when he spoke at last, startling her so profoundly she was grateful both hands were firmly grasping the steering wheel.

"What?!" she demanded, not sure she comprehended his softly-spoken words.

Mulder sat up a little straighter in his seat, rubbing at his eyes with one hand. He paused, then repeated what he'd just said, "I want you to get out. Out of the X-Files. While we can still find a safe place for you and the baby."

She glanced over at him quickly, then returned her eyes immediately to the road ahead of them. He was deadly serious. She'd feared a conversation like this would unfold sooner or later. She immediately executed a maneuver more commonly seen on a raceway than a public highway, pulling over onto the shoulder of the road.

She reined in her anger, attempting to see it from his perspective. He just wanted to protect her, remove her from the line of fire. He hadn't included himself in the equation because he knew the only way they'd be able to continue to fight their opponents was behind the facade of the X-Files.

Her ire spilled over despite her best efforts to harness its intensity. She turned to face him directly, "And where exactly are you going to be, Mulder? Living in the basement of the Hoover building while we're in the Witness Protection Program? No way! I'm not leaving you to fend for yourself. Not now. Not ever. You're still at great risk! You can't work without me. You can't cover your own back. I'm *not* leaving the X-Files!"

Mulder opened and closed his mouth several times during her angry response. His efforts to interrupt were tempered by the fire he saw in her eyes. But he wasn't going to back down so easily.

Coolly, he attempted to explain his reasoning, "You've suffered enough, Scully. I'm in a unique position to see this whole situation from a different perspective. If you hadn't been partnered with me you'd be better off. You'd have a husband and children, and you wouldn't have to worry about being dragged off in the middle of the night by men with no names."

"Being a Federal Agent is a dangerous job, Mulder. There are a hundred other ways I could have *suffered*. I could be dead by now without you beside me. And I'm pretty sure you'd be long gone if I hadn't rescued you innumerable times. You can't tell me I'd be any safer in a safe house. I'd be a sitting duck in one of those places. And I won't even have you-- isn't that what you're suggesting? I should cut off my ties to you so I can raise our child without a father!"

"If that's what it takes to keep you safe-- yes! I'm willing to sacrifice for your safety, for the baby's safety. And he wouldn't be without a father. We'd find a way to see each other," he said, trying to sound conciliatory.

She glared at him furiously. This was too much. When had he taken it upon himself to plan out her life? The long drive had provided the perfect environment for a guilt- stricken, already confused Mulder to invent the ultimate solution to their dilemma. Why not ship Scully and baby off to some clandestine locale where she could be bored shitless until the birth? Then let her continue to cower in some safe house while Mulder took on the Consortium himself and tried to make the world safe for democracy. She would never accede to this plan, never let him lock her away while he put his life on the line for her, for her family.

"You are out of your mind! I'm not going to sit around some dreary suburban house guarded by Bureau flunkies while you do *our* work and solve *our* problems. Maybe simply being who you were eight years ago isn't enough, Mulder!"

"What do you mean, not enough?" he shot back.

"It seems to me-- if we had somehow gotten involved when we first started working together-- if I'd gotten pregnant, for whatever reason... I might have been easier to convince of the validity of this stupid scheme. But I'm not that green anymore, and I'm not willing to allow you to orchestrate my life. You may have lost eight years, but I haven't! I won't allow your *lack* of perspective to influence how we handle our lives!" she roared.

"Scully, you were twenty-nine years old in 1993! I hardly think I could have forced you into into any 'stupid scheme.' I'm sure I would have encountered the same resistance you're giving me right now. I'm not telling you to do anything. I'm asking you to do it-- for you, for the baby, for my peace of mind," he pleaded.

"It sure doesn't sound like a request, Mulder! It sounds like an ultimatum to me. 'I want you to get out. Out of the X-Files.' And don't tell me your tone of voice didn't convey your resolve. You think you can coax me into going along with this madness. I can spot a psychologist's ploy a mile away," she reminded him.

Mulder heaved a sigh and shook his head in disbelief. This was ridiculous. Scully would never accept his motives for asking her to leave the X-Files, if only for a brief period of time. He felt powerless-- she had years of experience debating his theories and opinions-- he had zilch. Eight years had been stolen from him by some unknown entity, including his ability to counter her arguments successfully.

The only difference between this disagreement and those they may have bickered over during a case (and he could only imagine those squabbles from second hand information) was its very personal nature. Well, that was slightly incorrect, he thought-- they were both central figures in several cases they'd worked on.

Scully had once said personal involvement was all she had without the X-Files. When he'd read those words yesterday, in the context in which they were spoken, he'd been ashamed he disbelieved her at the time. He also could appreciate why he didn't validate her suspicions immediately. Diana had left him, but she'd never tried to harm him.

How wrong he'd been-- blinding trusting Diana. Her treachery was revealed much later-- and Mulder could only hope she'd betrayed him out of a desperate hope for survival, not because of ill will toward himself and Scully.

When he didn't respond to her remark, Scully added, "You don't have a good comeback for that, do you, Mulder? I know you'll use those profiling skills any way you can. You'd like to whittle down *my* resolve, but you're sadly mistaken if you think I can. I'd rather have you pissed off at me than deny my child his father. I will not live like a fugitive. I will not live without you or any of my relatives or our friends around. Live with it. Because I won't be changing my mind. Ever."

She crossed her arms, resting them firmly on her chest. Her brothers had often teased her for being stubborn to a fault. The most rational arguments couldn't sway her when she decided she was right, and they were wrong. She could only be swayed by proof. Proof she couldn't climb as high as they could. Proof she couldn't convince Mom and Dad to let her go out on a school night. There had to be a verifiable reason why she couldn't accomplish something.

Scully's attitude served her well in school, as she constantly faced barriers and tore them down. Her family had been proud of her, but by no means surprised when she graduated top of her class or when she entered medical school after graduating magna cum laude. Her willfulness paid off in any arena she entered.

This might have been what shocked her parents so much when she announced she was going to join the FBI. There was no reason for her to challenge herself this way, no reason for her to fight so hard anymore. All she had to do was make it through her residency and she'd have a successful medical practice. However, there would have been nothing left to prove. It would have been so easy to take the path of least resistance, to leap into a medical career.

She never was one to take the easy way out. She became interested in forensic medicine because it was such a challenge for her, physically and mentally. She wouldn't settle for a comfortable coroner's job, either. She wanted demands made of her-- stimulating discussion, intriguing cases.

After passing all the entrance exams, all the rigorous tests, to become a field agent, she'd found herself teaching at Quantico. It had been interesting initially, teaching fledgling agents the peculiarities of her field. Ultimately, it was disappointing. She'd been able to apply her knowledge in the morgue or laboratory, but she never was called out to a crime scene, never experienced the excitement of a stakeout.

Being assigned to Mulder as a field agent had been the best thing to happen to her since she'd joined the FBI. They were on the road, investigating, in the thick of things-- and the excitement, the sense of accomplishment she'd yearned for was satisfied by their work.

Scully's intellect was stimulated by Mulder's outrageous, sometimes brilliant deductions. He was the perfect match for her; she required the use of all her abilities and personal resources to keep up with his sharp mind. In spite of some initial distrust on his part (well- founded, considering who'd handpicked her to debunk him) he'd demonstrated himself to be fairminded and honorable in all respects.

So asking her to hide from the world, from the power their relationship gave to both of them, was ludicrous. If he didn't realize this-- it was only because he'd lost so much, been through so much, the last few months. She looked over at her frustrating, defiant partner, his body language a reflection of her own.

She started to laugh. She laughed so hard, she doubled over as far as her pregnancy would allow, and tears of joy streamed down her face. She started to hiccup, an unfortunate side effect of all the indigestion her hormonally-charged body experienced daily. This provoked her into hysterical giggles and was the final undoing of Mulder.

He was almost offended she wasn't taking the discussion seriously enough, when he realized how pigheaded he'd been. There was no black and white solution to their problem. He should have known better. Frankly, even a few days away from Scully at this point would be to his detriment. He needed her. He loved her. They'd have to stay together, no matter what they decided to do about the baby or the X- Files.

He grinned back at her, then slipped across the seat so he could pat her gently on the back, trying to ease her hiccups. When that remedy didn't work, he practiced the only other surefire cure he knew of-- he started to kiss her, molding his mouth to hers until her respirations were even, and she was clinging to him like a vine around a trellis.

She left his mouth reluctantly, lowering her eyes as she pulled away. His hands swept over her cheeks, mopping up the wet tears she'd shed.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I guess I've been saying that a lot lately, but I really am sorry I underestimated you. I shouldn't ask you to do something I wouldn't be able to do myself. We'll get through this somehow. I promise to be less of an asshole if you forgive me," he proffered.

"Oh, Mulder," she said, grasping his hand tightly to give him some physical sign of absolution. "Of course, I forgive you."

"Not the first time you've been this pissed at me, huh?" he asked.

"No, not the first time, nor the last time. But at least we're together now. I thank God for that every day, Mulder. You have no idea--"

"I do, Scully. I don't think I could stand to be without you for a day, much less five months worth of days."

He leaned over to kiss her cheek, then said, "I'm so proud of you. I want to show you to the world. I don't want you to hide away until the baby's born."

"Well, we'll be going to Mom's on Sunday. I'll be showing you off in a way. If you can survive my family--"

"I know, Scully. I read about Bill. It's easy to understand how he'd feel about me. I had a little sister, too. We fought all the time, but I was her big brother, her protector. I can only imagine the crap I would have given someone I felt was unworthy of her."

"He'll behave. You have my word on it," she said, straightening the wayward cuff on his jacket.

"I can believe that, if you're there," he quipped.

"Flattery will get you everywhere, Mulder. But, I'm afraid we won't be getting to the house any faster if you don't let me get back to driving," she advised.

"Was this our first official fight as an expectant couple?" he asked with a grin.

"Yeah. Our first knock-down, drag out. There'll be more where this one came from if we don't get going! The pregnant lady needs to visit the first gas station on the way."

"Those woods look pretty deep over there," he jested.

"Shut up, Mulder," she responded, punching him playfully in the arm.

February 22nd, 2001
2:30 p.m.
The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

The white frame building was sorely neglected, paint was peeling from the eaves, its windows were covered in filth. The Gunmen had been kind enough not to mention how decrepit the structure had become, but Scully wished they had. The look of dismay on Mulder's face said it all; he'd never seen it so rundown.

Teena Mulder must have scheduled regular maintenance on the home when she was alive. Mulder had been too busy or preoccupied to do so last year and it certainly wasn't foremost in Scully's mind after his abduction last September. So the yard was overgrown with weeds and cluttered with trash.

Scully was surprised the city fathers hadn't sent Mulder a nasty letter yet. Evidently most of the decay had occurred since last September when the summer residents all scurried back to their larger homes in Massachusetts or elsewhere. The year round residents most likely ignored the place's condition, thankful to be rid of traffic jams and long lines at the grocery store which seasonal residents brought to town.

His shock quickly turned to resignation as they walked toward the front door. With a wan smile on his lips and a half-hearted shrug, he turned to Scully and quipped, "Welcome home."

"Oh, Mulder. It's not that bad. Anyway, it hasn't been like this long. It's one of those details that got lost in the hundred other things you had to do after your mom passed away." She reached over and grasped his hand firmly. "We're only here for a few days. Let's go in."

He smiled and pulled his key out of his jean pocket. It opened easily; it was a new lock, courtesy of their friends' handiwork. They entered the house, and disabled the alarm. Most of the furniture was covered with white sheets or clear plastic covers. Several millimeters of dust covered everything, disturbed only by hand or thumbprints left behind by the Gunmen as they accomplished their tasks.

The air was musty and it was chillier inside the house than it had been outdoors. Mulder shivered, not from the temperature so much but from the knowledge his whole family was deceased now, would never gather in this home again. They were apparitional creatures, haunting this cold, shadowy place.

He moved to the back of the house and threw open the patio doors. Somehow the backyard didn't look so awful. The grass had always grown high back there; the path leading to the sea had always been rocky and unkempt. He had some wonderful memories from his old life here, mostly ones having to do with Samantha, the seashore, and sandlot baseball games.

Scully walked out the door and stood several feet away from him, gazing out at the churning Atlantic. At that moment, watching her breathe in the salty seaside aroma, he realized how premature it was to listen to this haven's death knell. They'd soon have a baby to bring to this place; a son who would love to crawl through the thick grass and play in the sand. His family hadn't vanished into the netherworld; his lover and his unborn child were alive and well beside him.

He walked up behind her, threading his arms under the suede material of her jacket, and pulled her close to his chest. He kissed her neck once, then positioned his chin on her shoulder so they could stare out at the vista before them. She caught his hands, placing them just below her breasts, just above the curve of her belly.

"This is such a splendid place, Mulder. The house can be mended. It's the view that counts," she said optimistically. She rubbed her hands against his briskly, warming them both.

"It's not only the place, Scully. It's the company I keep," he breathed in her ear.

She shuddered against him, chilled by the brisk February wind, but warmed by the low whisper of the man she loved. She rubbed her cheek against the rough texture of his jaw, then turned within the shelter of his arms, facing his unshaven countenance.

She lifted both hands to caress him with her thumbs, then said, "Lazy guy, didn't shave today, huh?"

"Thought I'd wait for nightfall. And a reason for being clean- shaven," he teased.

"Oh, you *are* so confident, aren't you?" she retorted, pinching one cheek with her thumb and forefinger.

"Ouch! Okay, not so confident. Just hopeful," he answered, leaning his forehead against hers for just a few seconds before trailing soft kisses down the now familiar bridge of her nose, then descending slowly to its very tip. His lips continued downward, in pursuit of her rose-colored mouth.

After one languid kiss, she pushed him gently away. "Let's go for a walk, Mulder. I don't think I've ever seen the beach here."

"All right," he responded. "Just let me reset the alarm and close these doors."

He turned toward the house and sprinted inside, grabbing an old afghan off a chair in case it got too cold. He didn't see Scully outside the patio doors, so he quickly secured them, then raced down the grassy knoll leading to the shoreline. He spotted her once he got a hundred yards off the Mulder property, slowly making her way down the well-trod path to the sea.

He caught up with her within thirty seconds, annoyed she'd gone off without him. "Scully, wait up," he gasped breathlessly, grabbing her elbow with one hand.

She paused in her tracks, arms akimbo. "Gonna have to get back in shape, Agent Mulder," she joked.

"Not funny, Scully. Don't take off like that! You may be armed, but you're not that dangerous." He let go of her arm and leaned over, placing one hand on his knee for support as he recovered from his dash down the slope. His other hand still clutched around the old blanket as he struggled for air.

She raised one eyebrow, questioning his assertion. "Don't make me prove you wrong."

Straightening his spine as he regained his composure, he shook his head, rolling his eyes heavenward. "You know what I mean, Scully. You have to take me seriously on this. You're in no shape for hand- to-hand combat! Let me protect you." He extended his free hand to her, palm facing upward, and entreated her, "Please." His voice reflected the anxiety he'd felt moments before.

Scully shrugged her shoulders and gave him a wry smile. "I guess so." She studied the ground between them, one hand still poised on each hip. "I guess it's time to relinquish some control-- " Her eyes lifted to meet his worried ones. "I've had to be very assertive lately. The society for the protection and care of Ms. Dana Scully was getting on my nerves. Even when I told the guys I was going to be fine, that I didn't need a ride to the grocery... they insisted on taking me."

Mulder laughed and reached for her hands, taking them off her hips and into his own. The afghan fell to the ground between them. "They're good people. I'm glad they worried about you."

"Yeah, well the last few weeks since I stopped working have been boring as hell. I haven't even filled you in on everything that's gone on at the office."

"You told me about your temporary partner. I'm surprised he survived as long as he did," he said, tightening his grip on her hands when she tried to wrest them away. "It's true," he grinned, "He must be very tolerant."

"Mulder!" She smiled back, cheerfully accepting his gentle taunts. His perceptions were on the mark, if not a little too frank for her ego. She'd been very fair to Charlie Huber. At least she'd thought so at the time. Perhaps she'd been a little aloof at first, but she'd warmed to him after awhile. She'd never bossed him around. No, never.

"Truth hurts," he teased, pulling her close and wrapping his arms around her. The wind was increasing in velocity from a northeasterly direction and Scully shivered in its forty degree blast. Mulder bent down to retrieve the blanket from the ground.

"Put this around your shoulders, Scully," he offered, unfurling the dusty thing.

She complied, preferring his arms, but realizing they'd never make any progress down the beach if she were clinging to him. It was warm and woolen and looked like something Mulder's grandmother had crocheted for a formerly happy family.

They walked along the sand without conversation for several hundred yards. One of her hands held the wrap around her, the other was entwined with Mulder's larger one.

"What was our first kiss like?" he asked out of the blue.

"Huh!? I thought you'd caught up with your journal reading, Mulder," she said, hoping to avoid a play by play narration of the night in question.

"Nope. I've been too busy with hypnotherapy, techno nerds, and my new roommate," he responded playfully.

"Roommate. Good euphemism, Mulder. I'll try using that this Sunday when we see Bill. 'Bill, meet the father of my unborn child, my roommate.' I'm not responsible for what happens after that, Mulder. You'll have to defend yourself-- he's already mad as hell..."

Her voice trailed off as she noticed the abrupt change in Mulder's facial expression. She stopped walking forward and said, "Mulder, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring that up. I don't care what he thinks-- about the baby, or about us. All I care about is being with you, sharing this time with you."

Mulder squeezed her fingers tightly and made a dismissive gesture in the air with his free hand. "I know, Scully." He paused, looking at the sandy terrain below their feet. "But, I have to agree with Bill, Scully. We ought to be married. If only to please your Mom," he added.

She closed her eyes, an uneven smile on her lips. "Mom is very pleased, and there's no pressure either way from her. There won't be from me, either. I think we have enough to deal with right now; we don't need the extra pressure of planning a wedding, too."

"No, not a wedding, Scully. Just a ceremony," he said earnestly. "Why can't we just make it legal?"

Scully took several long breaths. "We will. We can. I don't want to get married because of what Bill wants. Or Mom, for that matter. I know you want to do the right thing, but sometimes it's best to wait. You've just been through a tremendously confusing experience, one which hasn't resolved itself yet. I think we both need time to reacquaint ourselves with one another."

Mulder worried his bottom lip with his teeth, solemnly considering her words. He knew she was right, but he wanted to extract some promise from her today, some assurance she'd adhere to his wishes. After all, it wasn't like he was asking her to run away to Las Vegas on the spur of the moment.

They certainly had good reason to get married; he very much wanted to legitimize the baby in society's eyes. It wasn't only about outward appearances though-- he hadn't felt this way about a woman in years, ever since Diana had left him for greener pastures. He wasn't sure why he needed Scully so much... perhaps because he'd lost so much lately; there were so many memories he might never recover. He wanted to rebuild his life around her, and he needed to know she'd accept him completely-- as her husband, and the father of their child.

Mulder smiled at her affectionately, leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. "All right. You're right." She beamed back at him. "Just this once."

"Just once? I think I've been right more than that," she alleged.

"You probably have, Scully. I'll take your word on it. Now tell me about our first kiss and I'll postpone our marital plans. Deal?" he proferred.

She scrunched up her nose in obvious distaste for this 'deal.' She'd tried to avoid further conversation on their first kiss and been rewarded with a dispute over marriage. Too bad it hadn't lasted long enough to distract him completely from his original question.

Scully bit her lower lip, then tossed her head to one side, pretending to ponder a response. It was all pretense; she just wanted to postpone this stupid rehash of their New Year's Eve kiss. She'd peeked at his diary and read how disappointed he'd been with her initial reaction. She knew what had happened later, when they arrived at her apartment building, and wished she could skip to that part of the story.

"Scully? Is there something I should know? I would have asked you this eventually, even after reading my journal entry. I purposefully left it at the apartment. I want to hear about some things from your perspective, not my own."

Mulder only persisted in his inquiry because she seemed so reluctant to spill the details. After reading what happened to her in his hallway in 1998, he needed some reassurance nothing abysmally wrong had occurred the day of their first kiss.

"Okay." She took his hand and started walking slowly down the beach again, glancing at him often as she spoke. "I'll play. We'd just rescued you from some zombies-- "

"What?" he snickered.

"Zombies. Zombies created to speed the end of the world, the advent of the apocalypse." She threw him a look of disgust. "Mulder, if you're going to interrupt me at this point, I won't continue."

He waved his hand in the air, offering her the floor. He puckered his lips, exaggerating his silent promise.

"As I was saying-- it was New Year's Eve, 1999. Not really the Millennium, but what most people perceive as the Millennium," she reminded him. "Four FBI agents were transformed into zombies by a man who thought he was doing God's work. To make a long story short, you ended up in a basement surrounded by the undead, and I arrived in time to save you and Frank Black. You remember him, don't you?"

"That I do. He was legendary when I was at the academy."

"Well, he was helping you out on the case. I'd tell you *his* story, but we'd never get to the point, so I'll tell you about that later on. We all ended up in a hospital waiting room close to midnight. Frank left with his daughter and we stayed to watch the ball drop on the television monitor."

"So we were surrounded by people?" he asked.

"Not really. Hospital personnel were having a party, of course, not far from where we stood. We were pretty much by ourselves, watching people on TV kiss in Times Square."

"So what happened, Scully?" he prompted. He was like a kid being told a bedtime story too slowly.

"I'm getting to that! Have patience. You had your right arm in a sling, and I had some injuries on my neck. We were both transfixed by the images on the television, by the countdown, by Dick Clark's voice, I guess."

"I'm *sure* I wasn't thinking about his voice, Scully."

"No, you weren't," she chuckled. She stopped walking so she could finish telling him the tale. "I knew you were leaning in toward me. I felt your breath, the heat of your body. I didn't want to turn away. Even if you only intended to give me a New Year's Kiss as a friend, Mulder... I wouldn't have turned away."

"Did you enjoy it?" he questioned softly.

"It was nice." She noticed Mulder's tiny grimace. "No, really. It lasted just long enough. We were in public, after all. Everyone knew we were FBI partners. I think you did the right thing, keeping it chaste. If you hadn't... "

"What? What would have happened?" he asked with a smile.

Scully let out a laugh. "What would have happened? Exactly what happened when we pulled up in front of your apartment thirty minutes later."

"Oh," he said, smiling to himself. "So, Scully... if we didn't get together till April... was New Year's Eve more like my high school prom than my college days?"

"Heh, you could say that. I definitely put the brakes on things before they went too far. But what happened in the car was far better than our first kiss, Mulder. It was... intense."

"But a little too much for dead tired federal agents sporting injuries?" he guessed.

"That had a lot to do with it, but also I wanted to think about how it would change our relationship. I never wanted you to think I was rejecting you. That's not why I made you go up to your apartment alone. I just needed a little time."

"'Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness lady were no crime," Mulder quoted from memory, raising his eyebrows at the conclusion of the line.

"Yes, I know. I'm just as familiar with that poetic argument as you are, Mulder. 'The grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace,'" she recited back to him quickly.

"'Let us roll all our strength, and all our sweetness, up into one ball: and tear our pleasures with rough strife, through the iron gates of life. Thus, though we cannot make our sun stand still, yet we will make him run.' I knew there was a reason for eighth-grade English class, Scully," he mused.

"Well, seventeenth century poetry will always impress the girls, Mulder," she answered.

He moved toward her slowly, stealthily, as if he were stalking her. "What else can I do to impress you today, Ms. Scully?"

Mulder stood mere inches away from her, arms slack at his sides. His smile exuded mischief and she gleamed right back at him. It was a virtual standoff-- how close could they get, how long could they maintain their composure?

They grinned at one another in spellbound silence, waiting patiently for one of them to crack. It only took a few more minutes of torture for Mulder to relent, extending his hand to Scully. He hoped to reinact their New Year's Eve festivities, and he knew the perfect place to take a girl, having spent several teenage summers on the island.

She wasn't a teenaged girl, and it wasn't summer in the least, but Mulder felt the years melt around them-- he boldly led her toward a memory they could recapture from his past.

February 22nd, 2001
5:00 p.m.
The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

"I can't believe they did it, Scully! I can't see why they had to destroy a magnificent grove of trees for a parking lot!" Mulder stormed into the house, still irritated by his recent discovery.

"It's all right, Mulder. We had a good walk anyway," she soothed.

"But, don't you see, Scully?" He turned to her, opening his palms in a gesture of frustration. "That was someplace I remembered so well, had such great memories of. I wanted to share it with you and it wasn't there."

She gave him a dubious look, attempting to relate to his dilemma. "Mulder, my family moved around so much when I was a kid I was lucky to stay in one place two summers in a row. You're lucky you have your memories--"

He interrupted her swiftly, "But I don't have my memories, Scully. I've lost eight years of precious memories. The loss of that special place means more to me than you know. I know I sound like a two-year-old having a tantrum, but it just pissed me off so bad... Okay, all right, let's switch gears. I'm sure you're sick of hearing about it. I've already talked your ear off for the last half hour."

She smiled, her lips parting slightly. She shook her head from side to side, telling him she wasn't irritated in the least. "I enjoyed those stories about your dating disasters, Mulder."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't dare tell you about my successful soirees in the forest," he joked, waggling his eyebrows.

She stepped closer to him and punched him gently with her loosely- closed fist. "I think there are limits to 'things we have to tell our significant other,'" she teased.

"Oh, is that what I am now?" he answered, lowering his hands to her waist and dipping his head to kiss her brow.

"Very significant other, okay? Make you feel better?"

"Much. But I know what would make *you* feel even better, Scully."

"What's that?" she said, raising an eyebrow inquisitively.

Mulder smiled and paused, waiting for her to become impatient for his answer. He enjoyed toying with her; she was so easy to frustrate when he kept her guessing.

"Come on, Mulder. No games. I'm hungry as hell and not in the mood for charades."

"Actually," he said, stroking her cheek with his hand, "Hunger has something to do with it."

"Is that a clue or an innuendo, Mulder? Because I'm way too ravenous to indulge in certain activities. I'm eating for two, don't you forget!" She punctuated her statement with one jab of her forefinger to his chest.

He chuckled at her annoyance, and grabbed the offending digit, kissing it tenderly. "Scully, how could you think such a thing? That I would deny you sustenance to fulfill my own longings?"

"Not if you're smart, G-man. I have cravings of my own, you know." She freed her hand, lifting it to his chin. "Now, let's get over to the supermarket before they close. I feel my urge for submarine sandwiches and Ben and Jerry's cancelling out your 'longings.'" The nearest grocery store was in Charlestown and they made it there just in time to do some shopping. Mulder and Scully had been to supermarkets all over the United States, but rarely as a couple. Scully had insisted on keeping a low profile in the DC area, especially after they'd become intimate.

It was difficult enough to deflect rumors at work, much less if they were spotted in their own communities. Mulder had always thought this slightly ridiculous. It was unlikely anyone cared enough to split up their partnership, but he went along with Scully's cautious attitude.

There was really no point to concealing their relationship now; everyone assumed the baby was Mulder's, and Scully never did anything to disavow that notion. She was delighted to stroll up and down the aisles of the establishment, Mulder's warm hand on her shoulder as she wheeled the cart through an obstacle course of displays and other shoppers.

"Mulder, please get those for me, will you?" she asked, pointing to the package of Mallomar cookies on the top shelf.

Scully's eyes pleaded sympathy for the mad desires of a hormonally challenged woman shopping on an empty stomach. Two empty stomachs to be precise. His lips curved into a doting little smile. She wielded complete power over him in this situation. He'd obey her every request. Or so she thought.

"What ever happened to bee pollen, yogurt, and tofutti bars, Scully?" he teased.

"How? How do you know about that?" she said with surprise.

"I have my sources," he answered mysteriously.

"Those rat finks! Snitches! It's all their fault I went off my health food diet and started eating junk food!" she asserted.

"Oh, yeah. They must have forced you to acquire a taste for Chunky Monkey and Mallomars."

Scully's face flushed, irate, but also embarrassed. She'd been having trouble during the first few months gaining weight because of her restrictive diet. The Lone Gunmen had taken it upon themselves to lead her into temptation, bringing over pizza and doughnuts whenever they had a strategy session.

Her willpower had crumbled after a month of delicious sights and smells all around her. In retrospect, it was a godsend; *they* were a godsend. She gained enough weight immediately, maintaining an exercise program to offset any excess calories. She knew she shouldn't feel self-conscious about her eating habits while pregnant, but the mere thought of Frohike, Byers, and Langly discussing them with Mulder upset her.

"Hey," Mulder said gently, smoothing his hand across the nape of her neck. "It's just a joke. We weren't sitting around making cracks about your figure. They thought it was cute when you fell off the wagon."

Scully glared at him and said, "I don't do cute, Mulder."

He chuckled and leaned over to peck her cheek. "Adorable, then," he teased.

She swatted him away playfully, barely suppressing a smile. "Time to hit the ice cream aisle, Mulder. And Chunky Monkey's not my favorite anymore," she advised.

She loved shopping with Mulder. It was about time she could share this small dose of domesticity with him. The guys had accompanied her on many trips to the grocery store, and she'd always felt so forlorn when well-intentioned people would congratulate one of them on the baby. She would nod and smile at perfect strangers, never bothering to correct them.

All that aggravation was in the past, now that she had Mulder by her side. He escorted her around the store like a fertile goddess, hand pressed against her lower back. There were some very attractive women doing some last minute shopping after work, but he only had eyes for her. Her insecurities were consoled by that, but not entirely erased.

She still had doubts they'd succeed at becoming a family, not because they didn't care about one another, but because of Mulder's unaccountable amnesia. They didn't know all the long-term effects it would have on him psychologically. She planned on tracking down other similar cases on the internet as soon as they got back to DC. She wanted to know if other patients were able to reconcile with their families, and start new lives without their precious memories intact.

"Scully?" he whispered in her ear.

"Huh?" She snapped out of her reverie, realizing it was taking her way too long to decide on her new favorite flavor.

"Hard to decide?" he asked, warming her now freezing cold hand with his fingers. She'd rested her hand on the case while lost in thought and it was about ten seconds away from turning an unattractive blue color.

"You choose," she demanded.

"Ah, Scully. I've never had Ben and Jerry's. I don't think they went national till recently because I can't remember eating any of these strange flavors. But on the name alone, I think we should take home some Cherry Garcia."

He let go of her hand and fished out a couple of pints of that flavor, throwing some Chunky Monkey into the cart for good measure.

"How's the Grateful Dead doing, anyway? Are they still a band?" he asked.

Scully's eyes softened with regret, and she let out a little sigh. "Oh, Mulder. Jerry Garcia's dead. The band's probably still together, but he passed away. I don't even recall what was wrong with him."

"Wow. He wasn't even that old," Mulder wondered.

"No, he wasn't," she said ruefully.

"Well," he said, perking up a little as he put his arm around her shoulder, "at least his name lives on. I doubt Cherry Mulder or Scully will ever become a household name."

"Not unless it's our household! And I definitely think our names are going to live on," she asserted, raising her hand to her belly.

Mulder leaned down and warmed her lips, chilled from too much speculation in the frozen foods aisle. They ignored the rest of the world for a minute, celebrating their little effort at posterity.

"Come on, Scully," he said, commandeering her cart, "Let's check out."

She insisted on paying for the food since he'd gassed the car up before they'd left DC. He peered over her shoulder, curious about something he should have discovered by now. His eyes went wide when he realized what tomorrow was.

Mulder couldn't let this happen again. His journal had several anecdotes detailing valiant efforts to compensate for all those forgotten birthdays. He'd even taught her to play baseball under the pretense it was a very late birthday present.

He wasn't fooled by that. He had a pretty good idea why he'd taken her out for batting lessons that night. His motives had been far from innocent, even though he didn't get very far with the object of his affection. Surely he would have mentioned in his diary if things had progressed beyond gentle touches and hand holding.

He'd have to work fast, make a few phone calls in the morning when she was otherwise occupied. He could still redeem himself in this respect. He *would* remember her birthday this year.

"Mulder?" she questioned, snapping her fingers in front of his face.

"Oh, sorry. Just thinking about something," he answered sheepishly.

Mulder gathered up the few bags they had and followed her out to the car. His mind was racing, trying to recall where his mother had hid her jewelry in the summer house. He knew one item she'd kept there was perfect for Scully. At least it would do until he could find something better to give her. If she would let him, he mused.

Scully seemed a lot less concerned about tying the knot than he was. He couldn't blame her--he wasn't considered the most stable individual in the world. He thought she might feel otherwise, but when you added rumors of insanity to his current amnesia... his psychological profile wasn't all that promising.

He'd learned enough about amnesiacs in school to know what he was up against. Those who successfully reintegrated into society had excellent support at home and good reasons to stay there. He knew he would have all that and more, but he was still scared he'd screw up somehow, someway. He shoved his insecurities to the back of his mind and concentrated on driving.

They didn't say much on the way home. He'd glance over at her occasionally, but she seemed preoccupied with her own thoughts. The sun had set an hour ago and he couldn't wait to get back and kindle a fire on the hearth.

Hopefully, some sparks would fly between the two of them tonight. She needn't worry whether he found her attractive during her pregnancy. He was fascinated by her swollen breasts, her round, soft hips. He would never look at angular, pencil thin models the same way again.

Scully insisted on helping with the groceries so Mulder could unlock the door and disable the security system. The electricity and heat had been activated by the Lone Gunmen, so all they needed to do was uncover some furniture and set the table for dinner.

"Mulder, I'm going to change my clothes upstairs. Why don't you build a fire and I'll be down in a minute."

He grabbed her before she could leave the kitchen, kissing her long and hard. He wanted her so much--and knew she wanted him too, if her reaction to their kiss was any clue. They parted for a breath, then swayed in one another's arms a few minutes before she pulled away.

"Hey," she reminded him softly, "we've got the whole weekend together. I'll be right down." She ran her fingers down his cheek, a caress and a promise for the night to come.

Mulder went about the business of starting a fire on the hearth. There was plenty of firewood. No one had used the house for years and it was still stacked neatly in the corner.

He found silverware and plates just where they'd always been, a circumstance which gave him great pleasure. The rest of his life was out of sync, sometimes unrecognizable to the one he'd left behind. Not so here. Everything made sense here, familiar and in the same place as always. He knew they couldn't stay here the rest of their lives, but at least this weekend would give him some peace.

Scully came down the stairs as he was pulling out the subs and soft drinks. She was wearing a long chenille robe over flannel pajamas.

"Nice change of clothes," he said, walking over so he could smooth her unruly collar down under just-brushed silken hair.

"It's a lot more comfortable," she responded, tugging at his sweater meaningfully. "I laid out some sweats for you. Why don't you go change, too?"

"All right. But don't do anything I wouldn't do. I mean, foodwise," he amended.

"Mulder, you're truly nuts." She sent him on his way with a well- practiced swat to his rear and headed back into the kitchen.

Several hours later, they reclined on the musty couch, Mulder spooned closely behind her. They'd made it through sandwiches and two pints of ice cream with no problem at all. Scully was still a little concerned about his general health. He was lighter than he'd been for years, and she feared the dizziness he'd experienced in the doctor's office might recur.

"Hey, Mulder."

They were listening to his old Beatle and Motown records from the sixties. Mulder knew every lyric of every song on every album. He was singing along to 'Respect' in a questionable falsetto as they lay cuddled against one another.

"What you want... yeah, Scully?"

Mulder nuzzled her hair fondly. She smelled so familiar, as though they'd nestled like this after every evening meal for many years. He didn't know whether to attribute this ease to his subconscious or to the instant rapport they'd had since Monday night. Why bother to question what was so pleasant to accept?

"I still don't understand why you didn't exhibit any symptoms of weightlessness," she questioned.

"Never left the ground, probably," he posited.

"I know. I've thought of that. It's possible what Skinner saw was an optical illusion. They wanted him to believe you were taken into space."

"But I remembered being on a spaceship in Dr. Werber's office. Of course, there weren't any window seats, Scully. I could have been anywhere. The aliens might have been little men dressed as aliens. They might have had me under the influence of powerful drugs before they wiped out my memories."

Scully shifted around so she could see his face and brought one slender hand to his cheek. Mulder didn't appear too anxious--calmly discussing the only experiences the hypnotic regression had allowed him to remember. He was still angry about the abduction, but was slowly accepting the notion he might never find out where he'd been incarcerated for five months time.

"Do you want to find out? Is it important to you?" she asked, stroking her hand through his thick, brown hair. Someone had kept him well-groomed all this time; the hair was a nice length and still lustrous.

"Only if it helps me to protect you and the baby, Scully," he affirmed. "I'm interested in finding out if the other abductees were returned to their homes in Oregon. I know you've kept me away from Hoover for good reasons, but when we get back to DC we'll have to sneak back into the office and use our resources."

"Oh, I think if Teresa and Billy return to Bellefleur the Lone Gunmen will tell us," she answered.

"I guess you're right. But don't you think we ought to get in touch with the authorities there? Tell them to comb the woods and look for local people? I'm curious why I was returned alone."

"Maybe they're back already and the information's been suppressed. I don't know what to tell you. I'll ask the guys when we get back. You know I have a doctor's visit on Monday, don't you?" she asked, tickling his chin with her nose.

"Of course. You told me Tuesday. I do remember a few things, Scully," he said with mock indignation. He kissed her fine hair, then moved along to her ear, eliciting giggles when he wiggled his tongue against it.

"Stop!" she cried, squirming in his arms. He refused to let her go, giving his full attention to her graceful neck, the next item on his menu.

She relaxed as his caresses became more arousing than bothersome; his interest was welcome if it felt this provocative. He traced her jawline with his moist lips, then traversed her chin with an erotic slowness that made her shudder inside.

Mulder finally kissed her, driving his tongue against hers with finesse. Scully loved to neck like this with him; she always had. But she thought he might expect more tonight, and she was ready to offer it.

"Want to go upstairs?" she asked coyly, pulling back from his face a scant few inches.

He smiled back; his darkened eyes surveying her warm gaze. "Not yet. We're just getting started, aren't we?"

Scully's face was flushed with desire, but she was happy to take this slow. She was so well acquainted with his handsome features, so familiar with his gentle, roving hands. She had to remind herself that every nuance of their lingering kisses was remarkable to Mulder.

She was conversant with every inch of his body, well preserved in both her nighttime fantasies and daytime musings. In contrast, it was a voyage of discovery every time he trailed his hands from her brow to the tips of her fingers. The look of wonder on his face was worth the wait. There'd always been more to their lovemaking than intercourse. He was clearly content taking the long way home.

Mulder kissed her once, then surprised her by disentangling their limbs and gently shifting her to one side. He sat up on the other end of the couch and Scully joined him, easing her body weight to a sitting position.

"What?" she asked, mildly annoyed at the loss of contact with his warm body on this chilly night.

The fireplace wasn't raging with heat anymore. Someone would have to feed the fire. She decided to do it herself, since he made no movement whatsoever, grinning at her from the other end of the couch.

"Whoa, sit down, Scully. I'll get that," he announced, reading her mind.

Mulder threw another log onto the hearth and used the poker to get it burning reasonably well. He reached over to one side of the mantelpiece and grabbed a little box from behind an old chiming clock. She expressed her curiosity by elevating one crimson eyebrow skyward.

"What's that?" she queried.

He smiled enigmatically, then sat down on the couch, leaving a foot or so between them.

"I remembered where my mom kept all her summer jewelry. She kept something there she'd always promised to Samantha."

"Oh, Mulder. You can't! Don't give me--"

He held up one hand and silenced her protests. "No, Scully. It's something my mom would have wanted to be passed on to the next generation. Now that I know what happened to Samantha--" He paused to swallow a small lump in his throat, then continued, "Anyway, she'd want you to wear this."

Mulder opened the plain white box and produced a golden ring, a modest emerald set in between two smaller diamonds. "I don't know if it will fit. It was my grandmother's. I was so young when she passed away."

His thoughts drifted to all the times he'd seen this item on his grandma's slim hand and he struggled to contain a few tears. Scully scooted over on the couch and stroked his forearms as he clutched the box in his hands.

"I'd love to wear it, Mulder. It's lovely. She must have been a special grandmother," she said quietly.

"She was," he murmured, slipping the ring on her left hand.

Scully allowed him to do so, knowing it belonged there. It was a promise for the future, their future. She wasn't opposed to marriage, but she wanted him to feel self- assured before they made a lifetime commitment.

There was still an air of hesitancy in his touch sometimes. Not the cool confidence he'd exuded before--the cocky possessiveness that had both annoyed and enthralled her. He'd develop those traits soon enough; they were already part of him, waiting to be drawn out by the love of a strong woman.

"It fits," Scully proclaimed, lifting her hand toward the fire so all the beautiful facets would reflect the light. She leaned over to kiss him on the lips briefly, then caught his hands in her own. "Now can we go upstairs?" she complained mildly.

They laughed in unison and Mulder brought her bejewelled hand to his lips for closer inspection. "Yes, I think we can," he replied.

This chapter is rated NC-17.

February 22nd, 2001
9:00 p.m.
The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

"This usually works better without any clothes on, Mulder."

She was standing between his legs, his face buried against her tummy. He was sitting on the bed, still wearing his sweatshirt and pants. His hands roamed from her lower back to her rear and back again, as he kissed her stomach through the material of her robe.

"Like to look at you. Like to feel you like this," he mumbled into the fabric.

"Don't you want more?" she teased. "We've already seen each other in the altogether last night, but you don't seem too eager to get undressed now."

He looked up at her with adoring eyes, filled with love and lust and a plea for understanding. He grinned and put one hand on each of her hips, tilting his head back slightly as he spoke, "I want to remember all of this, Scully. I want to have these memories to replace the ones stolen from me." His eyes were liquid with unshed tears and his hands gripped tightly at her robe.

Before they'd retreated to the bedroom she'd had some idea how much he was relishing this time alone, uninterrupted, luxurious time alone. She loved it too. There were no trilling cell phones, very little traffic noise, no sounds from apartment neighbors next door. Just the two of them, relaxed and happy with one another after a big meal.

His desire to recreate past memories, to literally re-enact the sparks which flew between them their first night of lovemaking-- touched her deeply. She caught his face in her hands and gently pressed her lips to his forehead. Tears threatened her own eyes, but she staved them off.

She wouldn't cry on such a happy occasion. They could make love for the first time all over again. She recollected the sweet and gentle passion between them last April, and she wanted to share it with him once more.

She wanted to lose herself in the moment, pretend it was her first time also. It would be for him--not physically of course, they had the baby to remind them of that little fact. But he had no recollection of how beautiful that first night had been for the two of them. She wanted him to regain that beauty.

She bent down to capture his lips with her own briefly, then pulled his head back against her torso.

"They're good memories to have, Mulder. They're the ones I clung to all the days you were taken from me. I don't think either of us was quite ready for the feelings unleashed that night."

"What do you mean?" he asked, sounding worried.

"Oh, don't worry--everything was fine, Mulder. Making love to you for the first time was wonderful. We fit together perfectly and I knew we'd changed everything in just the space of an hour."

She rubbed her fingers into his shoulders in a gentle circular motion, relaxing him against her.

"So--" He urged her to continue, sweeping his hands across the small of her back in movements similar to her own.

"Well... I started crying and you were so concerned, so afraid you'd done something wrong," she told him, pulling him off her tummy so she could look him in the eyes.

"Like hurt you?" he asked cautiously, as his gaze met hers.

"No, that wasn't it. You knew I'd enjoyed myself as much as you had. You were anxious I'd changed my mind, was instantly regretting the choice I'd made by coming to your bed that night."

His face was lost in thought for a few seconds as he considered why she'd cried. There could only be one other option. He hoped there was only one other reason she would weep openly for him.

"They were tears of joy?" he whispered, leaning his head back slightly to catch her eyes. His hands continued to stroke her hips and thighs. He couldn't stop touching her; it felt so good to do so.

"Yes, they were. And it took me ten minutes to convince you of that. You started crying yourself, apologizing for letting things go too far. For even thinking you deserved me. Which is ridiculous by the way, Mulder! You deserve to be loved and don't you forget it," she asserted, stroking her hands through his hair.

He caught one of her hands with his own and pressed it to his lips. He kissed every one of her fingers, then entwined their fingers together.

"I love you," he said softly.

"Oh, Mulder. You don't have to say that." Rosy highlights spread across her face as she became flustered, language failing her. "I mean, I know you did. And I hope you want to someday. But it's not necessary for you to commit yourself right now."

"Why not?" he asked. He was perplexed by her attitude, particularly after she'd accepted the ring so readily. He'd considered it a symbol, a promise they would marry.

"I don't think it's fair to demand that of you. You are here because of the baby we share. If I weren't pregnant--we might not be here, like this. It brought us together right away. I don't think I would have told you everything about our relationship Monday night. I think I would have let you discover it in your diary and come to me if you wanted to. I didn't want to trap you if you couldn't remember us--"

"Scully! Don't even think that! Baby or no baby, I would have known we were supposed to be together! You were sleeping in my bed, for God's sake! I think that's a real big clue right there," he asserted.

She averted her eyes to the side, biting her bottom lip with her teeth. He was so sure, so tuned into the bond between them. He'd always been so intuitive in their work, acting on his instinctive reactions to people, places and things.

She was a bit embarrassed for doubting his ability to size up things. If she hadn't been six months with child he would still have discerned the cohesion between them. The joy in her eyes had been unmistakable Monday night, mixed with fear of the unknown, but unmistakable nonetheless.

He was still a profiler, through and through. He would have picked up on any false note in her body language, her tone of voice, immediately. If she hadn't told him they were involved with one another, he would have sensed the omission, followed up on it with interrogation worthy of one of their cases. He was relentless in pursuit of the truth in any situation.

He pulled her face back around gently, placing his thumb and forefinger on her chin. "I would have known, Scully. I would have known and I would have been happy about it. I'm not here, holding you, loving you, just because you're pregnant. Please give me more credit than that."

She flashed him a small smile and then gazed down at her feet. "I do. I know you and I know what your mind is capable of. You're always able to follow your first impressions, to use them somehow. Sorry I doubted you."

Her voice fell off at the end, a little abashed at her lack of confidence in his motives. He was the most honorable man she knew. He would never follow through this far if he didn't intend to stay with her, raise their child with her. He might have been attracted to her if she weren't having a baby with him, but he sure as hell wouldn't be intending to make love to her tonight if he didn't cherish her. He simply wouldn't do such a callous thing. He meant it when he'd told her he loved her and she better get used to it.

He closed his eyes, mildly frustrated at the course the conversation had taken. He patted the bed beside himself and told her, "Sit down, Scully. You need to rest."

She lifted her eyes just as he was reopening his, making sure she was moving to his side. She smiled, more bravely this time, then walked to the other side of the bed. She easily bounded onto the old-fashioned frame and positioned herself in front of the pillows spilling across the headboard.

"That's more like it," he said, moving next to her and winding his long arm around her shoulder. "I want you to be comfortable."

"I am," she averred, leaning her face up toward him.

"We have all the time in the world, Scully. It's just us here. Nobody keeping track of our whereabouts, trying to reach us by phone, making us trudge out to a crime scene at two in the morning. I know that had to be hard on a relationship. It was probably responsible for keeping me single so long." He grinned at her slyly. "Other than the fact I hadn't met the right woman yet."

She chuckled softly, then fluttered her lashes coyly. "Oh, and who is she, Agent Mulder?"

He gave her that enigmatic smile again, the one which made him look like a cat who just ate a canary. It was the same one she'd seen last year, right after she'd urged him to tell her what his final wish had been in the genie case. He'd never told her either. He'd just settled back against the couch cushions and looked at her with that self-satisfied grin.

He leaned in close and whispered against her lips, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

His hot breath made her tingle all over. She wanted to make passionate love to him, but she was enjoying these preliminaries too much to rush him. If he'd wanted to play strip poker and undress her one item at a time she would have thought it a fine idea. She hadn't had this much fun with anyone for months. Only he could provide this unique brand of entertainment, seduction by intellectual tete-a-tete. And the physical wasn't too shabby either, she mused, welcoming his lips to her own.

They generated some heat between them, seriously raising both Scully's internal and external temperature. She gently separated her lips from his, then started to struggle with her robe.

"Hey, let me help you," he insisted. She smiled as he facilitated the removal of the garment. "Trying to steal my thunder, Scully?"


"Last night was your turn to lead me astray. My turn now," he declared, placing a soft kiss on her cheek.

She pursed her lips, both flattered and amused by his attentions. This was no time for a snappy comeback. She was genuinely touched by his attempt to recreate their first night together.

"Shut your eyes, Scully," he crooned, nudging her back to her nest of pillows.

She obliged, relaxing against the velvet texture of the well-worn linens. The furnishings at the summer home were all vintage, but tasteful, seventies style. She imagined these sheets and pillowcases were original to the home since the Mulder family only had spent a few months a year there.

He positioned himself carefully, one knee to each side of her thighs. He didn't want to exert any pressure on her belly while he massaged her temples, speaking to her softly, "That's it, just lie back and unwind, Scully. I don't want you to think about anything except what you're feeling right now. Just listen to me and keep your eyes closed."

She sighed happily, her back muscles loosening up in this restful pose. His fingers soothed every inch of her face, as he whispered to her, "You're so beautiful, Scully. Your skin is so soft, so smooth. I love to touch you... I love to kiss you."

Scully blushed at the compliment. She never saw herself the way he was describing her. She always saw the little imperfections, her freckles, the mole above her lip.

As if he knew what she was thinking, he touched the beauty mark affectionately, then brushed his knuckles against the sensitive skin beneath her jaw. His hands moved to her shoulder blades, kneading out tension she'd held for far too many months.

He continued to speak softly, "You're so beautiful pregnant. You're just as beautiful as you always were. I took a peek at my secret photo collection, Scully. You probably know which one I'm talking about, since you must have rifled through my desk sometime."

She responded with a muffled little sound, expressing agreement and resignation. She'd hated going through all his things without his permission, but it had to be done at the time. She was finding it difficult to keep her eyes closed, but didn't want to disappoint Mulder by opening them too soon.

"Were you surprised I kept every clipping of you through the years? I'm glad I did, because I'm not much for taking Kodak moments, you know that. I don't even know how to use all the bells and whistles on my camera. I just know you're camera shy, right?" he asked, not really expecting a response.

She nodded her head slowly. He couldn't tell whether or not she was answering his first question or his last. It really didn't matter, she was finally in the lax state he wanted her in before he removed her clothes.

Mulder wanted to know what she liked sexually, but didn't want her to exert herself in any way, including trying to make conversation about such things. He had a hunch she enjoyed foreplay as much as he did so he was going to go with his sixth sense and undress her very slowly.

He sat back on his heels and started to unbutton her pajamas, stumbling over the small mother-of-pearl buttons. Scully tensed for half a second, then melted back against the cushions behind her. She voiced her acquiescence with a diminutive, delighted sigh, intended to encourage his efforts.

"Guess these buttons are made for smaller hands," he thought out loud, struggling with the last one triumphantly.

Scully reached out blindly and caught his hand, "Your hands are fine, Mulder. They're just the way I like them."

She half-opened one eye, catching the pleased expression on his face.

"No cheating, Scully. You're peeking!" he admonished mildly.

She closed her eye and responded playfully, "Keep going, G-man. You're just getting to the good part."

Mulder chuckled and scooted down the bed a little, changing position so he could do just that. He'd been too tired last night to pay enough attention to her breasts. And this morning they'd been in a hurry to get dressed and out of town.

He liked making love in the morning, but Scully was already in the bathroom by the time he woke up. He wasn't sure, but he thought she might have been avoiding his scrutiny in the harsh light of day. Candlelight would have seemed much more flattering to her. They'd bathed by it and fallen asleep by it. He'd been willing to wait until tonight, confident some of her natural shyness would diminish.

There were no candles in the bedroom they were in, but the dim incandescent lighting was low and she didn't seem to care how much of her he saw. He glanced up at her face, checking to see whether she still had her eyes closed. She did, and for some reason it emboldened him to lean down and nuzzle her top away from her breasts with his face.

She gasped a little when his nose made contact with one nipple, then the other. She was so sensitive from the pregnancy, so aroused by him near her, that the slightest touch excited her.

He kissed her tenderly between her breasts, then brushed his cheek against her right nipple. He rubbed the other side of his face against her, then took her in his mouth, gently suckling on the sensitive flesh. She sighed pleasurably, reaching blindly for his head so she could run her fingers through his hair.

He shifted around on his knees slightly, carefully balancing his hands on either side of her torso. His clothes were becoming uncomfortable, but he wanted to minister to her left side first. He kissed and suckled her, eliciting the same wonderful sounds again.

He pulled away from her, already missing her hands caressing his face and hair. He wanted to start talking to her again. She seemed to like that as much as he did.

"Your breasts are so beautiful, Scully. I've wanted to taste them again and again since I first saw them."

While he spoke, he pulled her forward and helped her out of her top, throwing it to one side. She laid back down with his help and he kissed each breast once more, giving full attention to the whole area around each sensitive nipple.

"I'm going to take my clothes off, Scully. It's getting awful warm in here," he said lightly. He quickly divested himself of his clothes, including his boxers.

She laughed aloud and asked, "When do I get to open my eyes?"

"Not yet. Hold on a few. But I'm not going to ask you to keep your pants on," he teased, pulling at the waistband of her pajamas.

She lifted her hips so he could strip them off easily. The giggle she'd been trying to suppress erupted finally, and her eyes flew open involuntarily.

"Oh my," she said, eyeing his significant hard-on.

"Scully! No fair peeking!" Mulder couldn't resist laughing at the expression on her face, falling next to her on the bed in stitches.

Scully was laughing so hard she felt like Mulder's happy little Buddha underneath his fish tank. She tried to contain her hysteria, but found it difficult to do so every time she looked over at Mulder.

Finally, they both regained control, or some semblance thereof. Mulder was still chuckling to himself, but he'd turned on his side and was facing Scully, admiring her body in the low light. She was lying on her back among her pillows, chortling ever so often.

"Mulder... not laughing at you. Not really. Oh, God, maybe I am."

"Sure sounds like it."

She lifted her head and held out her hand, beckoning him to her side. "Come here, you impossible man," she demanded.

He sidled over next to her, then gently helped her turn on her side so they were face to face. Her hands reached out for his face, pulling him in for a long deep kiss. He moved as close as he could to her, reaching down between her legs and encountering wetness there.

He nipped and tickled her breasts, arousing her even more. Her hands were everywhere she could possibly reach, around his neck, his shoulders, enmeshed in his silky hair. She wanted him even closer and she couldn't wait much longer.

"Mulder. Please."

He stopped kissing her neck long enough to lock eyes with her. "Is this a good position, Scully? Side by side?" he asked earnestly.

Love and desire were apparent in her eyes as she gazed back at him. Their height difference was so extreme. She hadn't thought about this ahead of time. But there was always a better way, especially if she wanted to see his face when he came.

"Um, lie on your back, Mulder," she instructed.

He fell onto his back and Scully took the initiative, climbing on top of him. She was thankful for all the exercises she'd kept doing these past months. She brushed her sex against him sensually, hands supported by his chest. He held her loosely by the hips, fingers splayed wide, stroking her from waist to shoulders and down again with a tenderness she'd only known from Mulder.

She shifted slightly so he could slip inside her, pausing to take hold of both his hands with her own. Their fingers entwined, gripping tightly as he filled her completely. She was hot and wet and she curled her legs around his hips, encouraging him to move.

"You can't hurt the baby. Don't worry," she said breathlessly.

This was pure bliss for her. She'd missed him so much, and here he was beneath her, rocking gently to meet the rhythm of her movements. He was still being so careful with her, moving so cautiously inside her.

"I know, Scully," he managed to say, his eyes gleaming with arousal. "I'm going slow for you. I want to see you come."

"Oh, you will, I can guarantee that."

Scully disentwined their hands, moving her fingers to balance against the dark hair of his chest. She increased the speed of her thrusts, challenging him to meet them. He did so, a look of astonishment in his eyes.

Scully had to remind herself this was essentially Mulder's first time inside her. He couldn't remember last year, all the times they'd been together between April and September. She'd all but forgotten amnesia, spaceships and dizzy spells while they made love to one another in this room. She closed her eyes involuntarily, euphoria overwhelming her, and sweeping her away as she came.

Mulder watched in awe, and felt her inner walls clutch around him tightly, setting off his own orgasm. This felt like nothing he'd ever felt before. He'd never held so much love for one woman. Maybe he thought he had, but he'd been sorely mistaken. This was his beloved; Scully was the one he'd always needed.

Scully couldn't really collapse across his chest like she used to do so many months ago. So she slid off of him, and into his welcoming arms. He pulled her close to his side so he could lean down and kiss her sweetly. He hadn't said anything the last few minutes while they'd made love, hadn't even called out her name.

He made up for it now, a stream of lovely words and gentle kisses flowing over her. Neither of them had ever been too vocal during sex. Perhaps they'd always feared someone was listening; perhaps it was in their nature to be this reserved.

"Dana," he whispered against her cheek.

She was suddenly alert. He'd been extolling the virtues of Scully the last few minutes. Where did this come from?

"Mulder?" she said, raising her eyes to see if mischief lay in his.

"Just seeing if you're all there," he teased.

"Of course, I am. I'm just exhausted. You know, Mulder, you're the only man I've ever known in the Biblical sense who's energetic after sex. I would always fall asleep ten minutes after we'd made love. You'd always either lie awake and think, or get up and read for hours."

She looked up at him in mock disgust, a smirk on her lips.

"That sounds like me all right. Some things never change," he said resignedly.

She rubbed his stomach with her hand affectionately, smiling against his arm.

"I wouldn't have it any other way, Mulder. And I do like to be called Dana. It just threw me for a minute there."

She moved her hand to his chin, directing his gaze toward her own. "You never have to do anything exactly the way you used to do it, Mulder. I don't expect that of you. We don't have to recreate our old relationship to the last detail. I think that's too much to ask of you."

"But I want to do things that please you," he protested.

"Mulder... I think you're doing plenty that pleases me."

He laughed at the insinuation of her words, pressing his cheek to her palm. She grinned back at him, enjoying their comfortable banter.

"Other than that kind of pleasing! Everything you do, have done, this week has been wonderful. You're under tremendous stress, yet you accepted me and the baby almost immediately. You don't know how much that's meant to me. That somehow your soul remembers me, accepts me as yours."

Her eyes were brimming with unshed tears and Mulder felt responsible for them. She shouldn't be crying, he thought. Even if they were tears of joy, he felt guilty for making her go through any of this. He'd have to try to make it up to her every day for the rest of their lives.

"You are mine, Scully." He cupped her cheek in his hand and stroked away the few tears that she'd shed. "And I am yours. However I knew on Monday night, however I know now, I'm not going to question it. You know I'm not a religious man. But sometimes there are miracles we don't need to question. Don't you think?"

She smiled up at him and said, "I believe, Mulder. I believe enough for the both of us."

February 23nd, 2001
8 a.m.
The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

The aromatic smell of good coffee wafted over from the bedside table. Scully crinkled her nose, but didn't open her eyes. She was enjoying this too much. Mulder was patiently waiting for her to stir, seated in the upholstered chair in the corner.

She'd heard him tiptoe in thirty seconds ago, but she didn't want to break the spell immediately. It was so nice to have him around to take care of her like this. She was at the point in her pregnancy when she needed him most and he'd reappeared in her life.

He hadn't even complained about drinking decaffeinated coffee once, though she suspected he was spiking it with something stronger from a well-hidden source. She'd finally found a better grade grind from a Georgetown cafe; one could hardly tell the difference after awhile. Giving up caffeine had been one of the most difficult things she'd had to do the last few months, but the deprivation had paled next to the loss of Mulder. Now that she had him back, every sip of java, every single morsel of food tasted rich again.

Scully decided to put him out of his misery. She opened her eyes, refreshed by nearly eight hours restful sleep. Mulder had been watching her like a hawk, finding nothing more sublime than Scully in slumber.

He smiled sweetly at her and chirped, "Morning, sunshine."

"Oh, Mulder. You used to tease with that greeting all the time."

He got up out of the chair and sat close to her on the bed, taking one of her hands in his own. "Cruel, cruel man," he joked, bending over slightly to kiss her fingers one by one.

"Positively heartless," she replied.

She tugged at him until he fell off balance and into her arms. They shared a long kiss before she released him. Mulder played with her mussed up hair, coiling her recalcitrant curls around his slim forefinger.

He hadn't gained much weight back this week. He seemed to burn more calories than he took in and Scully was still worried about his overall health. She hoped he was going to eat breakfast too, if only to excuse her ever-increasing appetite for anything and everything on the menu.

She smiled up at him and asked, "Is that my breakfast?"

The ordinary dinner plate was covered with a pot lid. It smelled like eggs and toast as she gradually separated out all the delicious odors beside her.

"Yes. And I've already had mine, so I suggest you dig in. We have a busy schedule today," he told her, a hint of mystery in his voice.

"Oh, yeah? I thought we were going to take it easy this weekend, get some rest. Why the change in plans?"

"Well... it's really not an arduous schedule, Scully. Just a busy one." He smiled at her, delighting in her confusion.

She narrowed her eyes, trying to decipher his doublespeak. "I'm feeling a little thick-headed this early in the morning, Mulder. What the hell do you mean?" Her lips pursed together impatiently, awaiting an explanation.

Mulder grinned, then got up from the bed and left the bedroom before she could utter another word. He returned ten seconds later, hands hidden behind his back. With a flourish, he presented Scully with a dozen perfect red roses.

"Happy birthday, Scully," he said, almost demurely.

She put her hand over her mouth, astonished he'd remembered her birthday. He *never* did, so much so she'd teased him about it every year. Last year had been the only time she hadn't given him grief about it. His mother had just died and he'd found out the truth about Samantha shortly thereafter. Her birthday had passed unremarkably for a good reason.

"How did you know what day?" she asked.

Mulder laid the flowers next to her on the bed, then helped her sit up straight against the headboard. He presented the flowers to her with endearing formality, like it meant the world to him. She pulled at his forearm until he leaned over and gave her another lasting kiss.

"I thought you read my diary, Scully. Don't you remember our baseball lesson?"

She looked at him, befuddled by his remark. How could he find out when her birthday was from that? He'd taken her out to the ballpark in April.

"You--that wasn't the right day. It was a very early or very late birthday present," she asserted.

"Yeah, but I was determined to find out when it was after reading about that. I didn't want to go through your things and I really didn't think about it until we went to the grocery store yesterday. You wrote a check and I realized today was the day. You don't know how difficult it is to conceal even one measly phone call from you, Scully."

She reached out and touched his cheek with her fingers, stroking his rough morning stubble. She was genuinely affected by his unassuming manner. It seemed like she had the best of both Mulders all the time now: the indefatigable, idealistic man she'd met in 1993, and the loving, physically demonstrative man she'd lost five months ago.

Not that he'd never touched her all those early years they were together. He'd always invaded her space, brushed up against her with an audacity she'd accepted from the very beginning. The deeper meaning, the love, associated with those not so subtle territorial invasions grew exponentially every year they spent together.

In less than a week, she and Mulder had rekindled their passion for one another. Naturally, it had required little effort on her part. She remembered every day she'd spent with him, every kind and generous act she'd seen him do onto others as well as herself.

She recalled in vivid detail how flirtatious they'd become after the spring of 1999. Even though they'd waited a whole year to come together physically, she'd known what his intentions were. He was prepared to wait her out, until she decided to advance the relationship further.

Thank God I finally came to my senses, she thought. You never know what will happen. Thank God he's finally back with me.

"Scully? Don't cry, please--"

He brought his hands to her face and gathered her tears, gently wiping them away.

She sniffled and protested, "Not crying," even though she clearly was. All that cursed self-examination, she mused to herself. "The roses are beautiful, Mulder. They're perfect. You have so much on your mind. To go out of your way for me..."

"Of course I'd go out of the way for you." He placed his hands on either side of her tear-streaked face, stroking his thumbs over her flushed cheeks. "I love you."

She closed her eyes, embarrassed by her loss of control. She knew he loved her in a certain way now, but she still held some apprehension about the future. She wanted to be confident, wanted to believe things would never change.

Mulder's mental health had not always been stellar. She didn't want to discuss this with him yet, but she felt he should start seeing a therapist right away. Losing all those years of memories, becoming a father so abruptly, plus all the stress and strain of dealing with threats against his family--it could unhinge the best of us.

Mulder was the best and the brightest of all the people she'd ever known. Their reunion had been going so well, in spite of his amnesia, in spite of his instant fatherhood. She was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I'm worried about you," she blurted out.

"What? How so?" he asked, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"Oh, Mulder. I don't know. This is all so much. For you, for me. I'm happy, so happy. But I'm just waiting for the inevitable, for whatever price I have to pay for this happiness."

He dropped his hands from her shoulders and sat quietly for a minute, thinking over what she'd just said. Running his hand through his hair thoughtfully, he responded, "I know what you're getting at. I have doubts, too--but everything's been going so well the last couple days. Well, everything except for Krycek. I don't know what to say. We just have to stick it out together, Scully. All of us," he said, stroking the curve of her belly affectionately.

She covered his hand and stilled it, looking up at him earnestly, "Promise me you'll tell me if you have any more vertigo. Promise me you'll tell me if you feel uneasy about anything, anything at all. I can't imagine what you're going through."

He leaned down and kissed her hand, resting his chin lightly on her stomach. "It's all easier with you around, Scully," he said softly, looking up at her. "I've never had anyone like you. Someone I could rely on completely... Knowing you need me just as much, especially now... it makes me happy. Don't you know that?"

He sat up, then moved next to her on the bed so he could pillow her head on his chest. She nestled into him, her shorter arms wrapping around his waist.

"Anything you think I should do, Scully, just tell me about it. I know you're holding back, not wanting to criticize every move I make. If there's something on your mind, and I *know* there is, I want to know about it," he whispered softly.

She snuffled a little, clearing away the effects of her brief crying jag. One hand made tiny circles in the fabric of his henley shirt as she spoke, "Well, uh. Mulder."

"Yes," he replied gently, one hand smoothing her hair behind her ear.

"Maybe you should see someone. To deal with the consequences of the amnesia," she said, cringing as she did so.

He pulled back a little so he could meet her eyes. "Is that what you're worried about? You thought I wouldn't go see a counselor? Don't worry, Scully." He leaned down to kiss her cheek tenderly. "I'd already planned to. I might not want to go for more hypnosis if it's going to bring on severe headaches or vertigo, but I can see the value in talking to someone."

She blinked her eyes several times, as if clearing her vision would similarly clear her mind. "I'll come along if you want me to," she offered.

He stroked her hand gently with his thumb. "I'd like that. Eventually. I think I need to go by myself the first few times. It's not like marriage counseling, you know," he said, smiling.

She smiled back and said, "I know. Speaking of marriage..." Mulder's eyebrows shot up in response and she laughed. "No not yet, Mulder. I still think we ought to wait a little while. What I was going to say... are you sure you'll be all right at my Mom's on Sunday? She'll bring it up. And Bill won't be silent either."

"I don't see any problem. I just have to keep in mind they don't know what's wrong with me. I'll leave the explanations to you. Hey, Scully!" he said, pointing to the bedside table. "You have to eat breakfast! It'll only stay warm so long under that lid!"

"Okay, okay. Let me run to the john and I'll come right back," she said, accepting his assistance as she struggled to stand. She kissed him once on the forehead and promised in a low voice, "I have a good appetite."

"Oh, I know you do, Scully. I found that out last night," he said, ducking down as she playfully punched at his arm.

"*Just* last night?" she queried, one eyebrow ascending toward her hairline.

"Okay, I guess that would be *Wednesday* night too, if you'd like to be technical about it," he offered.

Scully smiled over her shoulder, then slipped into the bathroom. It was going to be a fine thirty-seventh birthday; Mulder was home to share it with her.

11:00 a.m.
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

"Are you sure this is what you want to do all day?" Mulder asked over the sound of the roiling surf.

"Sure. This is what we came here for, isn't it? The smell of salt in the air, the view from this precipice--this is exactly what I want to do today. It's not even cold today."

"Oh, no. Forty degrees fahrenheit. Not cold at all. I should have my head examined for letting you sit out here for even an hour," he replied.

He hugged her tightly within the circle of his arms, anxiously transferring all the body heat he could spare.

"I'm not cold," she stated, belying her words by snuggling closer to his large, warm chest.

"I appreciate your honesty, Scully," he answered with sarcasm.

"All right, we'll leave soon. Just a few minutes more." She turned her face toward his, eyes pleading her case.

"Okay, fair enough," he said, kissing her cheek lightly. "Scully, do you want to keep the summer home?"

"Well, whatever you want to do with it is fine with me. You have lots of memories there, don't you?"

"Some good ones. Some very bad ones, too. At least that's what I gathered when I read journal entries from April '97."

"I don't want you to dwell on that incident, Mulder," she said, turning in his arms so she could look him in the eye. "You weren't yourself. You were drugged--" she sputtered out.

"Scully, I allowed some quack to drill a hole in my head and administer a strong hallucinogen. Yeah, really hard to believe I'd do something like that," he replied dryly.

"You just wanted to find out about Samantha! Yes it was stupid, very stupid. But it doesn't have to influence your opinion on the summer house," she argued.

"I thought it might influence yours," he said quietly.

"No, Mulder. It's your decision. It doesn't bother me either way. These things happened a long time ago, long enough to be forgotten-- by both of us! I wasn't planning on bringing it up this weekend and I thought we were going to avoid a conversation about this. But since you brought--"

"Scully, you don't understand... it's your decision, too. Everything I have is yours-- your vote counts. I didn't start thinking about those journal entries concerning Providence, concerning the summer house, until this morning. I managed to block them out completely when we arrived yesterday. I seem to have a selective memory when it serves my purpose--especially when it's about incidents I've only read about." His eyes veered downward, studying the ground with interest. "I'm not proud of what happened here."

"Oh, Mulder! That was four years ago. You've done enough penance for what happened here. The end result is all that matters, Mulder. You trusted me, you didn't harm me."

"It could have ended differently," he posited.

"Yes, but it didn't!" She caught his face between her hands and forced him to observe her. "You fought the drugs, you came to your senses... before you could do harm to anyone. You've every reason to question memories you had during those days--of your family, of what happened to those MUFON members. You'd been injected with psychoactive drugs, Mulder--"

He drew her hands down from his cheeks and grasped them tightly. "Exactly. I *let* myself be injected. I still bear responsibility for my actions, even though it's been four years since everything went down. I started thinking about it this morning... I should have asked you how you felt before we came here. When I suggested we come here, my mind wasn't on what was nearly a tragedy... it was occupied with memories--vivid, childhood memories, not ones transcribed in a journal. Apparently, reading about coming perilously close to shooting my partner wasn't enough to dissuade me from vacationing here," he explained, visibly downcast.

"It doesn't matter now, Mulder. It just doesn't matter anymore. You're reading your journal for enlightenment, not self-reproach. It's hard to deal with all this; I'm amazed you've absorbed as much as you have. You've always been a speed reader," she teased, caressing his cheek with her hand.

"Here's the thing, Scully. The flashbacks I had of my family, here, at the summer house... the ones in which my parents had a loud argument with the Smoking Man about Samantha... those are false memories, right?" he questioned, tilting his head to one side.

"I don't know, Mulder. We know what happened to Samantha now, so there's no reason to dredge up these things."

"I'm not bringing them up to torture you, or myself, Scully. I'm relating their unreliability to the ones I had during my hypnotic regression on Wednesday."

Scully looked confused. She'd thought his recollections during the session with Dr. Werber were authentic. "You don't think they're reliable memories?"

"No. Not at all. How could I remember *anything* that's happened to me in the last five months? It's inconceivable. If I truly have amnesia... then I should remember zero, zilch, nada from the last eight years. Why would I remember just one five minute period out of all that time?"

"Oh, God... Oh, no, Mulder... That's why there weren't any signs of weightlessness... you were never on an alien ship. You were incarcerated somewhere on good old earth... they drugged you and brainwashed you. Human beings are responsible for this," she concluded bitterly.

He bit at his bottom lip thoughtfully, then replied, "Maybe. Maybe not. I could have been abducted by aliens--no really, listen to me, Scully." He held his hand up, pleading with her to let him finish.

"There's no reason the aliens kept me all five months. They might have required me for a few months, then handed me over to their human contacts here. Who knows where I was all that time?"

"But it doesn't explain your lack of injuries, Mulder. Abductees usually come back with marks or scars when testing has been done," she argued.

"I don't think they were interested in anything but my mind, Scully. They're only interested in one thing now, studying anomalous brain wave activity. If they can control our minds... they can conquer the planet without destroying humans or any other species."

"You think you're a living testament to mind control? Just because they took your memories?" she asked incredulously.

"Why not? They've tried to develop a way to enslave us with disease. Why not delve into our psyches and discover all the right buttons to push?"

"But why you? Are you a warning to us? That they can do anything they please to the human mind? Or are they trying to destroy your ability to launch a defense against such a plan?"

"I don't know, Scully. But I think Krycek is half-right. The baby's in danger because of its special qualities, but not necessarily the ones that immediately come to mind, such as immunity to the alien virus. If the colonizers intend to control human beings via their brain waves, then they'd be very interested in our child. It's possible he'll inherit the telepathic abilities I had before my brain surgery."

"But why return you, Mulder? Why let you come back to me? I just don't get it."

Scully's brow furrowed in thought, weighing all the possibilities in her mind. Her pensive mood was soon interrupted by tremors throughout her body, brought on by the chill wind off the sea. The previously moderate breeze was harsher now; it had been picking up speed gradually. Mulder drew her closer, rubbing his hands up and down her back to promote warmth.

"I don't get it either, and I'm not sure if we'll ever know," he pondered.

He pulled away from her slightly, his thumbs warming her ice-cold cheeks. "What I do know... is we ought to get back to the car and drive back to town. There's a hot cocoa with your name on it at the corner drugstore I used to go to as a kid. This time I'm sure it's still around. I called this morning and asked them if they kept their soda fountain."

"Did they?" she asked, smiling at the thought of going to an old- fashioned watering place.

"Yeah. They call it a cafe now, but I'm sure it's about the same. I talked to the owner's daughter for a few minutes. We knew each other before Samantha--"

He cast his eyes downward, studying their tightly joined hands. It was still difficult to discuss Samantha, even though he knew the truth about her death. He wasn't enjoying this moment of weakness; sometimes things hit him like a ton of bricks.

"You don't have to explain, Mulder," Scully soothed, squeezing his hand. "It's never going to be easy to talk about. It shouldn't be. It's what keeps us from giving up when everything seems so hopeless."

She stroked his chin with her fingers, raising his gaze to her own. "We have to keep fighting the Project, no matter what form it takes today. Not just for revenge--but for all the lives we can save in the future, including our own. Including the life of our growing child. We're going to get to the bottom of this. You know that, don't you?" she asked, peering deep into his clear hazel eyes.

He leaned forward and kissed her blush-colored lips, then whispered against them, "With you, everything is possible, Scully. With you, I can do it all."

February 23nd, 2001
12:30 p.m.
Margie's Pharmacy and Cafe
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

Scully had no difficulty spotting Mulder's childhood friend at the claustrophic, yet pleasant, drug store. She was the only woman who raced over to the tall agent, trapping him in an affectionate bear hug.

Attired in pharmaceutical white, and bearing a huge smile on her face, she said cheerily, "Oh, Fox. It's so good to see you. You're looking great!"

Mulder was a little taken aback. The last time he'd seen Margie was in high school, when he'd come to the summer home with his mom for several months. He knew she'd wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and was pleased the store now bore her name.

Margie Townsend had been just one of a crowd of teenagers who'd hung out at the beach, a mixed group of townies and seasonal residents. Samantha and Margie had been close friends before his sister's disappearance. She'd always seen Mulder as a big brother type, a relationship sustained throughout their adolescent years.

The incident at the summer home in 1997 had caused her family nothing but worry for her old friend. Everyone had seen Mrs. Mulder occasionally after her son had graduated high school, staying at the summer home for a few weeks every year. They all knew about Fox's illustrious career at Oxford and his subsequent job with the FBI, but Margie never dreamed there would be a hostage situation involving her friend.

Local cops had filled her in on the details not printed in the newspaper. The FBI had tried to suppress as much information as possible, but it was truly difficult to quash small town rumors. Margie had been content with the knowledge Fox Mulder hadn't harmed himself or anyone else around him.

She'd shelved the whole thing in her mind, attributing it to excessive job stress. There were times she wanted to scream at little old ladies in her establishment who wouldn't obey her warnings about mixing medications. That was as stressful as her job got. She could only imagine what law enforcement was like and what pressures led to his apparent breakdown.

Margie had been sad to hear of his mother's suicide. Convinced she'd never she him again, his phone call that morning had been most welcome. She unhooked her long arms from around his all too skinny frame, and smiled at his shocked, but pleased expression.

"So, who's your friend?" she asked, not bothering to give Fox Mulder a chance to respond to her initial greeting. He was still gaping at her like a fish, so she decided to expedite all necessary introductions.

Mulder grinned at her demand, then bobbed his head shyly in Scully's direction, "Um, uh, Scully. This is Margie Townsend, a good friend from high school. Margie, this is Dana Scully, my, um, uh, partner and uh--"

"Fiancee," supplied Scully, rescuing her flailing companion.

Mulder's eyebrows soared skyward, amusement crossing his stunned, but joyful face. He hadn't expected any acknowledgement of this kind from Scully, not even when they went to her mother's house on Sunday. He'd given her his grandmother's ring the other day as a promise-- with no timetable, no set expectations. Her public candor pleased and delighted him to no end.

"Well, for goodness sakes, I hope so!" quipped Margie, gesturing toward Scully's midsection. "It's about time, too, Fox! I've already got three of my own!"

Scully blushed involuntarily, uncomfortable in the spotlight. Margie saved her quickly by adding, "Come on, Dana. There's a table with your name on it right over here."

She offered Scully her hand, then gently guided her to a seat at one of the six tables near the coffee bar. The old soda fountain had been renovated, reduced in size and outfitted with the latest coffeehouse paraphernalia. Margie had wanted to maintain some of the atmosphere of her Dad's store, which was a hangout for local residents all year round.

Mulder shook his head in astonishment. Margie had always been feisty and outgoing. She'd looked after him like a mother hen after Samantha disappeared, despite being years younger. He'd always looked forward to summer in Quonochontaug, confident he had one friend in the small tourist town.

At thirty-seven she still looked great, blonde and lanky as he remembered her. Mulder was exceedingly grateful there'd never been anything other than friendship between them. He wasn't prepared to face the wrath of Scully if she suspected anything otherwise.

Margie spoke first again, her curiosity a great motivating factor, "What the heck are you doing here in February? I thought you Mulders never show up in the winter months?"

"We're taking a break, Margie. I was, uh, on special assignment for a few months. Scully was at work until this past week when I returned from out-of-state."

He thought fast, improvising a plausible scenario in his mind in case Margie's audacity compelled her to pursue this topic any further. She didn't, sensing Dana Scully's discomfort as her 'fiance' spoke. Instead, she beckoned her young counterperson over to the table and plopped menus in front of both her guests.

"Well, I hope you'll at least have a couple of warm drinks today. I might have to take off and fill some prescriptions for a few minutes, but in the meantime I want you two to enjoy yourself."

"Thanks, Margie. You don't know how much it means to me to see a familar face," Mulder said earnestly.

Scully smiled at him from across the table, the poignancy of his words evident to them alone. She'd made the right decision not mentioning his breakdown before they arrived in Quonochontaug. He'd digested all the details in his journal and it still hadn't prevented him from driving up here for the weekend.

She surmised their conversation this afternoon had occurred after some soul searching on Mulder's part. He couldn't remember every second of their confrontation in the summer house as she did. Secondhand knowledge of that incident was working in his favor this time. He didn't need to recall pointing a gun at her in a hallucinogenic haze. There were some memories best left forgotten.

Margie turned her attention to Scully after they'd ordered their drinks. "When are you due, Dana?" she asked, her tone more sisterlike than maternal.

Scully smiled, first at Margie, then across the table at Mulder. He was rapidly recovering from Margie's warm welcome, totally relaxed in the small town setting around him. He loved DC, but he also loved every little roadside eatery he'd visited as an FBI agent.

This one was even more special to him; it had been a haven for him as a child, with his friend Margie and her family constantly around. Now, as an adult, he savored his reacquaintance with his old friend, elated to share the good fortune of Scully's pregnancy with her.

"May, I hope," Scully responded, enjoying Margie's candidness.

"Well, all my kids were a little early. All healthy, too. I suppose he's been coddling you," she teased.

"A lot more lately," she responded, glancing at Mulder knowingly. He winced, a flash of regret temporarily on his face. Margie missed it; her eyes were totally focussed on Scully's blue ones.

"She's very independent," Mulder said, trying to lighten the mood. He wouldn't dwell on his forced separation from Scully, and he didn't want her to either.

"She'd have to be, to put up with you, Fox," Margie replied, her eyes brightening.

"Ah, I wasn't so bad! Samantha just made it sound that way!" he asserted.

Margie's face darkened suddenly, her tone becoming deadly serious, "Fox? Did you ever?" She reached beside her and placed her hand over Mulder's. "I don't mean to pry... you know how much it would mean for me to know."

Mulder squeezed Margie's hand once, then glanced at Scully before he spoke, "She's gone, Margie. She died when she was fourteen."

Margie gasped, placing her hand over her mouth in disbelief.

"We found out last year, around the time my mom passed away. It's a long story, too long to recount here." He paused to place his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm sure she's at peace now. That's the most important thing for me to know. I hope it will help you, too."

"Oh, Fox. She was a beautiful friend to me. I've always wondered--"

"She's in a safe place now. You don't have to wonder anymore," he assured her.

Marge put her hand over his while it still rested on her shoulder, patting it softly. "You always said you might find her if you looked hard enough. Don't you remember telling me that?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I do. And I did find her. But the path I took to find her led me to Scully, too. We never would have met, would never been partnered at the Bureau."

Mulder stopped talking and looked over at Scully, who was pursing her lips and gazing downward. He didn't want to embarrass her publicly, but she'd come to mean everything to him in less than a week. Granted, he knew their history together, knew they'd had a strong commitment to one another long before his abduction and subsequent memory loss.

His sixth sense kicked in whenever he was near her--and he was never far from her distinctive scent, her mellifluous voice, the soft touch of her cream-colored skin. They were all so familiar, so soothing to him. He knew he'd be lost without her; he didn't care to analyze the situation any further than that. There was no logical reason for him to be so in love with Scully after less than a week-- but his life, his work at the FBI, had seldom been altogether logical.

"I'm glad something good came out of your long search, Fox. And now... what are you going to name the baby?" Margie chirped.

Mulder and Scully laughed in unison. With all the other things on their mind, they hadn't even discussed baby names. Mulder grinned at Margie, then at Scully and said, "Just so it's not Fox, right Margie?"

"What? Doesn't Dana call you Fox?" she queried, amused by his longstanding aversion to his given name.

"He won't let me. Never has," interjected Scully dryly.

Margie smiled broadly and replied, "So that's why he calls you Scully! I was wondering what was up. How long have you known each other?"

Both agents opened their mouths to answer the question, then paused to look at one another. Scully smiled sweetly, tilting her head to one side, waiting for his cue.

"Eight years, Margie. We've known each other eight years," Mulder replied wistfully.

"Margie!!!" a voice from the other side of store screamed out.

"Oh, gosh. Sorry to spoil the party! I have to go back to work. Damn! Fox, I'm so glad you stopped by. Dana, I know you have your work cut out for you with our friend here," she said, giving Scully a conspiratorial look.

"Margie, if she doesn't know by now--" Mulder wisecracked.

"Exactly. He's a handful, as his mom used to say. But he's never looked happier since he teamed up with you! I wish you both the best. Now... eat lots of doughnuts. Especially you, Fox," she said, winking at Mulder.

Margie embraced them both before leaving to take care of business at the other side of the store. They both watched her stride off, her licorice-colored turtleneck and gabardine slacks a striking contrast to her white pharmacist's jacket.

Mulder swiveled his head back around, suddenly self-conscious he'd been staring a little too long at Margie's receding backside. Scully had her lips wrapped round the rim of her coffee cup, a barely concealed, but wry smile meeting his guilty eyes.

"Scully! There was never anything--" he sputtered.

Scully giggled into her beverage, using her considerable manual dexterity to lower the mug to the table without spilling its contents.

"I know, Mulder! It's not a sin to admire her. She's a very pretty woman. A lot more outspoken than I'd expect in this conservative little town. It's no wonder you two were friends; you both defy the status quo in your own idiosyncratic way," she observed.

"She's done well for herself. I always knew she would," he mused.

The lunchtime crowd had fled the little cafe area, returning to their jobs or other wintertime errands. A local newspaper was nonchalantly spread across the top of the wooden countertop, so the barperson could simultaneously read and keep an eye out for new customers.

Mulder moved from his chair across from Scully to the one on her left. He slid the wicker chair close to her side, then did a boardinghouse reach to retrieve his coffee from the other side of the table.

"Comfy?" Scully asked dryly.

"Very," he responded, grabbing a sip of his unadulterated black coffee. He savored the rich taste; Scully's pots of decaffeinated had not been cutting it lately, even when he spiked them with Taster's Choice.

"I think we need a second coffee maker," she said, reading his thoughts.

"Maybe we'll get one as a wedding gift, fiancee," he teased.

Scully almost lost control of her coffee cup a second time, laughing at the term thrown back at her.

"I saved your butt, Mulder. What would your old school chums say?"

"I doubt they even know I'm alive, Scully. Margie's the only person who'd remember me. The older residents knew my mom, probably still did--until last year." He paused for a minute, choosing his words carefully. "After my mom died, Scully, there were a lot of changes made."

Scully looked at him blankly, unable to guess where he was going with this.

"Yeah?" The one word sounded more like a statement than a question, uttered simply to encourage his narrative.

"You know, I asked you if you wanted to keep the summer home with good reason, Scully--I spoke to my lawyer this morning while you were taking that long delicious shower of yours."

"The one you ordered me to take?" she reminded him.

"Yeah, so I had an ulterior motive; I had to call Henry. I was curious about some things only he would know," he replied enigmatically.

"I've spoken to Henry, Mulder. Two weeks ago I was investigating how to handle your bills when they stopped your paychecks in March. Skinner had bought me six months time and it was getting close to the wire."

"I know. He told me he talked with you. He obeyed my instructions to the letter--or at least the ones I'd left with him last March," he explained.

She pursed her lips, impatient with this slow unveiling of what she could only guess was some Mulder family secret.

"Well?" she said, pressing for details.

"Apparently, my mom had everything planned out before her death," he stated unemotionally. "She left everything to me naturally. All the other properties were sold off, including my dad's house. The only remaining property is the summer house, which someone has offered to buy."

"So sell it if you want to, Mulder. Don't let my opinion stand in your way."

Even if they were unofficially 'engaged,' Scully felt no need to interfere with his decision. If for some reason they never married, she'd have a clear conscience about her actions now. She didn't want to unduly influence what should be his decision alone.

"Scully," he said quietly. He leaned closer, placing one hand on her shoulder. "The summer house is half yours. I wasn't kidding when I told you everything I have is yours. It is. Legally you have the right to veto the sale."

Scully stared at him in astonishment. She didn't want to believe what he seemed to be saying; he'd willed her his estate last March? Immediately after his mom's death?

Mulder kneaded her shoulder gently and continued, "Henry's been my lawyer for twenty years. He's been warned never to believe any tale of my untimely demise without a body and complete dental records. He knows how dangerous our jobs are and he also knows a little bit about the specific problems the X-Files have had. He would never have revealed this arrangement to you--"

"Arrangement?" she parroted back, still incredulous.

"Is it so hard to believe I'd try to take care of you, Scully? Granted, I needed to know more of the details from Henry--but it was no shock you were my beneficiary," he responded sincerely.

She blinked hers eyes in disbelief. In all the months preceding his abduction they'd never spoken of marriage, or even moving in with one another. They'd maintained separate apartments by unspoken agreement, guarding their independence by simply refusing to confront one another about other living arrangements. This was far beyond what she'd expected of him.

"I never thought--I didn't know, Mulder," she stammered. "I should have known... I guess. We had such an equal partnership... you know? But I have nothing to offer you in return, Mulder. A 401k plan, maybe," she quipped.

He shook his head slowly, then slipped his hand in hers, clutching it tightly, "You don't have to give me anything, Scully. You wouldn't have known about this unless I was declared legally dead. I never wanted to pressure you into marriage--or at least that's the impression I get from Henry. We were happy, weren't we? The way things were last year?" he asked tentatively.

"Yes! Oh, Mulder... we were very happy! I've never seen you so relaxed. Our difficulties didn't start until the audit of the X- Files in September and Bellefleur. We were finally enjoying ourselves a little. I haven't even begun to tell you half of it--"

"And you will." he interjected. "We have plenty of time now... I think it's ironic--I can't remember making these provisions for you, but I'm really glad I did. If I hadn't-- and I hadn't come back to you--"

"Don't say that, Mulder," she replied firmly. "You always come back to me. I don't want to think of the alternative." She squeezed his hand, then continued, "I'm glad Henry obeyed you. I don't think I could have handled this knowledge if you were still missing."

"So you're not mad?" He breathed a little easier, the lump in his throat rapidly disappearing.

"You think I'm mad?" she questioned.

"You didn't seem really pleased," he moped.

"I'm not displeased, Mulder. I'm just... I'm just stunned. We weren't even involved when you made these provisions."

Mulder chuckled, then pulled her hand to his mouth for a soft kiss. "Scully, I *read* my diary--we've been involved for a long, long time. You can't tell me having a sexual relationship had anything to do with my feelings for you. I was in love with you for years before I could tell you how I really felt."

Scully scowled in spite of his protestations. She knew he'd loved her--but that was before his amnesia. She wanted to leave things indefinite for now. There was always the chance, always the possibility they'd be incompatible as husband and wife. She didn't want him to feel obligated toward her or the baby.

"You *were* in love with me for years, Mulder," she said, lowering her voice. "But you're not the same now. You may never recapture the last eight years, and I don't want you to feel you have to marry me... or even love me. You're the same man I met in 1993, but you deserve your freedom if you so desire it," she said firmly.

Mulder let go of her hand and slumped down in his chair, amazed at her resistance. He thought they'd resolved the question of marriage. Why would she present herself as his fiancee to Margie? She was playing it safe, giving him a way out. Maybe she had the right to be cautious--he didn't think of himself as that great a catch.

"Don't sulk, Mulder. It's unbecoming," she teased, trying to cheer him.

She loved him dearly, but there'd been a few moments in the last week that had taxed her hormonally-charged nerves. He hadn't been a child when she'd met him, but his childish behavior could still be an issue. As things stood, they didn't have the benefit of years and years of life experiences together.

Scully was in a better position to interpret his moodiness, his unarticulated thoughts and desires. He'd have to work twice as hard to figure her out, since she wasn't planning on a personality transplant. Anything could happen to their relationship in the coming months. They might decide to live separately for all she knew. She still didn't want to get married right away, baby or no baby.

"You don't want to get married," he frowned, arms drooping on either side of his chair.

"I've never said that."

She chewed at her bottom lip, frustrated with his lack of empathy for her situation. She pulled his lax hand into her own, entwining their fingers with some difficulty, since his fingers refused to cooperate at first.

Mulder came around eventually, his grasp tightening as he spoke, "Okay. We'll wait. As long as you want, Scully. I'm prepared to tell your mom whatever you want me to on Sunday, but she might not be very understanding. As both your mom and a Catholic," he reminded her.

"You let me handle Mom," she smiled. "I've had more practice."

Mulder snickered at her comment, then said, "Let's not forget Bill, Scully. I've read the choice comments from him from when you were ill. I don't think he'll be as forgiving as your mom."

Scully's shoulders fell, exhausted at his endless energy. He constantly anticipated every bump in the road.

"Mulder, you have to relax. My relatives aren't going to surprise us with a shotgun wedding. Not if I have anything to say about it."

"How about a nice, easy Rhode Island wedding instead?" he offered.

Scully smiled at his persistence. "You won't stop, will you?"

"Never," he vowed, grinning at her affectionately.

"I'll consider it," she grinned back, hoping for conciliation.

Mulder's eyes brightened, and he moved closer to her again, close enough to whisper in her ear, "I'll hold you to that, Dana."

A tiny shiver travelled down her spine when he used her given name. She had little opportunity to return the 'favor' by calling him Fox... his generous lips were swifter than her vocal cords, effectively squelching any impulse to do so. By the time their kiss had ended, she would have gladly driven to the county seat.

February 23nd, 2001
10:00 p.m.
The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

"You're sure we've never done this before?" Mulder asked, surrounded by Scully's precious family photo albums. "I feel like I've seen most of these people before," he added.

"Yes, I'm positive, Mulder. You've asked me about individual photographs on my bookcase shelf, but I've never subjected you to all this before."

They were sitting on the couch at the summer house, drinking tea and enjoying the warmth of a crackling fire. They'd spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing, returning just in time to watch the sunset from the cliffs nearby.

She glanced up from the volume in her lap and grinned. "You have seen quite a few of these people before," she agreed. "I hate to read more into that than there is... but I think your reaction to sensual memories is a good sign."

He matched her grin, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "I'm very pleased to have vivid sensual memories of you, Scully." He drew back so he could stroke her softly with his forefinger. Her face had reddened slightly with his words.

"You didn't recognize me when you came charging into your apartment Monday night," she remarked doubtfully.

"Not at first. I think I was too hyped up on adrenaline to give your features proper attention. Once I sat next to you on the bed and relaxed for a few minutes--your voice, your touch seemed so familiar to me. It's only intensified with every passing day, Scully."

Scully pursed her lips in thought for a minute, then said, "I'd like to believe you retained those memories, Mulder. I really would. But my skeptic heart knows we've been together almost twenty-four hours a day since Monday."

"No, no, Scully. You can't analyze this from a logical perspective. I *know* these aren't things I hadn't just discovered about you. I can't imagine trusting you, spending Monday night in the same bed with you, if I hadn't remembered you on some subconscious level. It's a positive sign. Moreover, if the only memories I ever retrieve from the past eight years are limited to the sight and smell of you... well, I think I can live with that."

He kissed her on the lips this time, stroking her silky hair with one hand while balancing several photo albums on his lap.

Scully's cheeks were glowing now, warmed by his flattery as much as his heated kisses. "I can still hope for more, can't I? I'd feel better if we knew what happened to you. Mulder, I hate to bring this up now, but there's no better time. We're going to have to go back to Hoover so we can use the resources there. I'm going to want to get back to the office next week."

"No problem. We'll just go when the fewest people are there. If I don't remember someone, I'll play it by ear. We're on vacation, Scully. Not banned from the building itself."

"I know. But Skinner's been bugging me to take some time off. If we start spending a lot of time in the basement he'll personally throw us out."

"Do you trust him, Scully?"

She shrugged her shoulders, still baffled by the enigmatic AD. He'd been so helpful to her all these months, allowing her access to all the Bureau's resources, cooperating with the Lone Gunmen's requests for specific information. She didn't know what to think of Skinner anymore. He was more friend than foe at this point.

"I'm not sure. Most of the time I trust him. I think he might warn me before I revealed too much to him. He's done that before, especially when you were in the psychiatric ward at Georgetown. He told me he was already compromised--before I told him information Krycek might desire."

"We don't have to tell him everything, Scully. Just enough to get his help in certain areas. I don't think there's any way we can keep the memory loss a secret from him forever. It will come out sooner or later, in a meeting about a case, maybe even a casual conversation. I can prepare myself for that by spending hours of time at the office. Or I can just try to take things as they come."

He shifted the photo albums to the couch beside him so he could put his arm around her. He put his feet up on the coffee table and leaned back against the cushions of the old, but sturdy piece of furniture. Scully relaxed against his side after shuffling her volume to an end table.

"Tell me more about your dad, Scully. I only found a few paragraphs about him in my journal. I know there's so much more than that; things you've never told me."

"It's been so long since we've talked about Dad, Mulder. I wish I could remember what I told you about him, but I had to skim over that part of your journal. I was more interested in how recent events could help me find you when I used it last year, not those from the early years of our partnership. Should I just begin from the beginning?"

He leaned over to press a kiss to the crown of her auburn hair, "I'd prefer to hear your version anyway, Scully," he told her softly.

She squeezed his hand gently and began, "My father used to read to me from Moby Dick when I was a little girl. I can't remember the day I started to call him Ahab, I was so young when I nicknamed him that. And in return he called me Starbuck, his good little sailor."

Scully entwined her fingers with Mulder's and drew tiny circles on his thumb as she continued, "He was gone for months on end, but seemed ever-present, always in our hearts and minds. His letters were read out loud by the youngest child, as soon as they acquired the ability to plow through his plainspoken words. I couldn't wait to learn how to read so I'd be the one to have that privilege."

"He was gone a lot, but when he was home, he was really home, Mulder. He spent every minute after school was out for the day with one or more of his kids. He'd never actually pull us out of school or anything, he was too concerned about all of us doing better than he had. Which was really silly, in my opinion. He was a great success in life; a naval captain, a good husband, a great dad."

She tilted her face up toward Mulder's so he could see her eyes were filled with unshed tears. "I wish you could have met him. He would have understood you, Mulder."

"How so?" he whispered softly. He didn't need much volume to be heard distinctly in the stillness of the beachfront home. By this time of night, very few cars passed by outside and most winter residents had turned in for the night.

"He was a dreamer, too. He'd spend so much time on his own at sea; he'd come back with fascinating stories, some from books, some all his own. Stories about the stars, and the sea, and monsters of the deep. He'd always tell me a story before bedtime when he was home."

"He'd tell you scary tales at bedtime?" Mulder gawked.

"They weren't scary when he was through telling them. The hero always succeeded, always slew the giant squid or octopus or whatever he came up with that night. My mother would warn him not to tell us a particularly chilling story, and, of course, that was the one we'd beg for. It took me years to realize my parents were playing a little game with one another; she never really meant to dissuade him all."

"What happened at bedtime when he wasn't around?" Mulder asked curiously.

"Mom had her own repertoire, Mulder. More like Grimm's fairy tales than anything else. Sometimes she'd improvise and change the endings, but we always called her on it when she did that."

"Who was the disciplinarian of the family?"

"They both were, in their own ways. It was kind of difficult for Mom. She could never say 'Wait until your father comes home!' to us. She dealt with sibling fights and rivalry like she did everything else, with fairness and lots of good humor."

"Didn't you ever rebel against your parents? Or did you leave that all to your siblings?" he wondered.

"Well, I know you're aware of Melissa's vagabond ways. She was always a free spirit, even as a young child. I was constantly warned by my parents not to end up like her, especially when she dropped out of college and cruised up and down the California coast with her friends. Bill and I never did anything like that. We didn't want to disappoint Mom and Dad."

Scully smiled up at him and continued, "Of course, that didn't stop Charlie from becoming a hellion in high school. I was in college by the time I started getting calls from my mom about his behavior. After just a few minutes of pleasant conversation, she'd give a resigned sigh and tell me 'You're not going to believe what Charlie did at school the other day.'"

Mulder gazed down at her, lifting his hand to guide one stray tendril behind her ear. "Where's Charlie now?"

"In Germany. He was in the Army for his hitch and now he's married to a native girl there. They have three kids, but I rarely see them. It's just too expensive to bring the whole family over," she said wistfully.

Mulder winked at her and stroked her cheek with his thumb. "Maybe we'll get them over here soon. So we can get all the little cousins together."

Scully beamed up at him. "I'd like that. Bill's family is stationed in Maryland temporarily. They may be transferred back to the West coast at any time, but it would be nice to plan on having everyone here for Christmas." She paused a beat, then asked, "Would that be all right with you? Really?"

He leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips, and responded, "Scully, it's only February... so much will be resolved by then. It will be more than all right with me."

She returned his kiss, pulling his chin toward her own and lingering a little longer than he had. She smiled, then unhooked his arm from around her shoulder. He raised his brows, silently asking her why she was moving toward the other side of the couch.

"Let's finish looking at one last photo album, Mulder. You want to be well prepared for Mom, don't you?"

"It's not your mom I'm concerned about, Scully. You know that," he answered goodnaturedly.

"Bill's nothing but a show off, Mulder. He's all bluster, no substantial threat to you."

"Yeah, but his little sister's never been knocked up by her alien chasing partner before, has she? I can imagine what he was like when he heard about this."

She reached over and pulled his hand into her lap, twining their fingers once again.

"Look, I already told you--my mother has already given him a lecture. He's heard my opinion loud and clear, and he won't be giving you any trouble on Sunday."

Mulder ran the pad of his thumb over the smooth, soft skin of her hand. He licked at his lips, pausing to choose his words carefully, "I... Scully... I just want to prove to them I'll be a good father. Like your Dad was."

Scully ran her hand along his strong jaw line, smiling at him. "So that's why you asked me about Dad." She bobbed her head knowingly and continued, "I thought there was more than mere curiosity in your request."

Her thumb stroked his full mouth lovingly, and she pulled him down for a quick caress of his lips.

"You'll make a fine dad, Mulder. I know you love children. You're wonderful with children. You already were... with Emily," she whispered softly.

Scully's eyes welled with tears once again; this time they strayed down her cheeks with abandon. Mulder closed the gap between them, pulling her against him tightly. She buried her face against his chest, finally giving in to thoughts and emotions she'd entertained often while Mulder was gone.

She'd often thought about those few days with Emily, how Mulder had played so well with her, how the little girl had instantly taken a shine to him. More poignantly, she remembered Emily in his arms at the children's home, feverish with an illness the Consortium had given her. She'd pushed Mulder away before Emily had died; she could never exclude him from her life again. More than ever, they needed one another--to deal with Mulder's illness, to provide a happy, safe environment for their newborn child.

Mulder mumbled softly against her hair, "I don't want anything to happen to our child. No experimentation, no genetic juggling acts. We'll protect our baby. We'll find a way, Scully."

"I know," she sniffled against his shirt. She pulled away from him, trying to compose herself, brushing tears from the corners of her eyes.

Her sobs had all but tapered off now, and she addressed him with more courage now, "Mulder, we don't even know the truth yet. I didn't have any contact with Krycek until you came home. Maybe he's just trying to scare us. He could be trying to manipulate us into allowing him access to the baby."

Mulder nodded contemplatively, then answered, "I got really bad vibes from him, Scully. I do think he's responsible for my absence... why return me now? You're not ready to give birth. Maybe there's some physiological reason someone would want the baby's blood at this stage in its development."

"It could be mean that the antibodies which provide immunity from the alien virus don't mature until a certain stage in the baby's development," Scully mused.

"You know I'm not a biologist, Scully. I understand the basics and I trust you'll know the rest if we need to pursue this line of questioning. But... I can tell you this right now... I'm not so sure I want to trust anyone with this kind of information. If you want to find out about the baby's immune system we better be careful when and where we conduct tests," he warned.

"We'll be cautious, Mulder," she asserted. "We'll find a doctor through the guys. They have lots of physican friends. I don't think that's a problem. I do think we need the resources of the Bureau. All their resources, including their protection."

Mulder rolled his lower lip between his teeth and slowly shook his head in agreement. "We'll have to tell Skinner, won't we?" he concluded.

"There's no one else. I know he's felt compromised in the past, but he knows the importance of our battle against the Project, Mulder. If he can't help us directly, at least let's give him the opportunity to find someone who will. Unless Krycek controls the entire FBI bureaucracy--which I seriously doubt. There *has* to be a way past this, don't you think?"

She reached out for his hand and brought it to her face once more, rubbing her cheek against the palm of his hand.

"Let's look at one more album, Mulder," she proposed.

"Oh no, Scully! Not another one!"

He had enjoyed this Scully family cram session immensely, but he couldn't resist poking fun at her zealous efforts to bring him up to speed on every aspect of her kinfolk. She seemed to be overcompensating for his lack of memory by showering him with trivia about relatives she'd rarely seen or heard from the last eight years.

Every single great-aunt or uncle had some fascinating story associated with them, but they'd been perusing photos for hours and Mulder wanted to give Scully one last birthday present before midnight--if he didn't pass out by then. Sleeping with Scully every night had all but cured him of insomnia this week. It was unusual for him to go a whole week without nightmares, and he wondered whether it was her influence or some other factor they didn't understand yet.

Whatever had been done to him by his captors had been so subtle, so undiagnosable, not a trace was left behind. Mulder feared he might be a human time bomb, programmed to detonate after so many weeks or months back home. He planned to see a psychotherapist as soon as he was able, perhaps as soon as next Tuesday.

He'd had enough experience with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder to recognize its symptoms, and it disturbed him he had none. The inability to recall his captivity was almost as stressful as having full knowledge of it. In any case, it would help to discuss these things with someone objective, someone who wasn't Scully.

She already had enough to worry about; he didn't want to burden her with his wealth of insecurities. She probably was already aware of most of them, but he saw no reason to unload everything on her. He'd gone through voluntary therapy sessions before leaving Oxford and he was willing to slog through it again if it would protect Scully in the future.

"Yes, Mulder. This will the last, I promise!"

Scully reached down into the soft-sided suitcase underneath the coffee table and produced the goods. She made herself comfortable next to Mulder once again and allowed him to crack open the album.

"This is us! These are from years ago! How did you get all these old clippings, Scully?" he asked.

He was already scanning each article with great interest. This was a virtual archive of their years together. She'd managed to track down almost every case which gained public recognition of some kind. Mulder knew only a fraction of their work was ever scrutinized by the press, but this seemed like a complete record of their most high profile cases, such as the Tooms case.

"I had a lot of help from our good friends. I worked on this scrapbook when I'd run out of leads on you the last few months. I started out with a shoebox full of yellowed newspaper articles I'd saved over the years. I decided to replace them with archival quality copies so I could show the baby..."

Scully faltered, painful memories resurfacing with their conversation. She fought back tears so she could explain, "I was so afraid you wouldn't be back for a long time, Mulder. I wanted our child to know what kind of man you were."

Mulder stroked her cheek gently with the back of one hand, then assured her, "Don't cry, Scully. I can't promise nothing will ever happen to me but I'm here now and I'm not going anywhere if I have anything to say about it. I have two of the best reasons in the world to stay out of trouble, you know."

Scully managed a weak smile, checking her emotions through sheer willpower. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, all capable of triggering dramatic outbursts. She'd never been this demonstrative before her pregnancy. She'd been the epitome of self- restraint on the job and it embarrassed her to have Mulder see her this way now.

She produced one of Mulder's old handkerchiefs from her pocket and dried her eyes, composing herself before she spoke, "I don't like you to see me this way, Mulder. I'm sure you realize how humiliating--"

"Shh, Scully," he whispered, as he tangled one hand through her auburn curls. He could feel the tension in her neck muscles and he gently caressed her there while he spoke, "There's no disgrace in facing your feelings. You don't have to hide from me. I know what you've been through, Scully. Samantha had been gone for twenty years the year I met you. I can't imagine five days without you now, let alone five months."

Scully's head fell forward to her chest in relaxation as he smoothed his hands over her shoulders, banishing all the tension there. She closed her eyes and Mulder was pleased to see her smile once again.

"I'm going to really enjoy reading through this scrapbook, Scully," Mulder said quietly. He pulled her close to his chest, lacing his arms around her growing waistline. His hands stayed in one place while his lips travelled downward, layering kisses from her forehead to the sensitive skin beneath her jaw. He paused there, mouth lingering across her cream-colored throat.

"Why don't we go to bed now?" he whispered in her ear.

"All right," she responded, turning slightly, rubbing her cheek against his unshaven chin.

"Upsy daisy," he requested, pulling first himself, then Scully, to her feet.

She shuffled along beside him, the feeling in her legs slowly returning. He put his arm around her and they tackled the steps together, laughing at their uncoordinated efforts to climb in unison. Finally, they established a rhythm between them; their efforts rewarded by arriving at the second floor landing.

Scully giggled, her hand still entwined with his, ready to take the last few steps to the bedroom. Mulder had other ideas, leaning over to press kisses throughout her hair, then down her cheek, and on to her rosy-colored lips. He lingered there a few minutes... their mouths engaged in deep, passionate kisses, their hands threading through one another's hair.

They parted with some hesitation, and Scully took the first step of three small ones leading to the second floor. She took the second step, then the third one, then turned in abject horror at the sound behind her. Not only was Mulder not following her lead--he was crumpled on the landing, groaning in agony, palms clenched tightly against his forehead.

February 24nd, 2001
2:00 p.m.
Westerly Hospital
Westerly, Rhode Island

Bill Scully, Jr. screeched to a halt in front of the Emergency Room door and told his mother, "Mom, I'll park and meet you inside."

Maggie Scully slammed the door of the Lariat rental and yelled over an incoming vehicle's siren, "He might already be in a private room, Bill. Find me when you're done."

Bill pulled away from the curb, far more leisurely now, shaking his head. His mom had insisted they fly into Newport and drive to Westerly, Rhode Island. She would have done so herself if he hadn't offered to come along, so he'd done the right thing and accompanied her. This was just one more frantic hospital visit of so many his mother had been forced to endure.

He was really tired of this. Either his sister or her borderline insane partner were always getting injured, on and off the job. He was thankful Fox Mulder had finally shown up to take care of his very pregnant sister. Bill still disliked the man, but his mother had convinced him Dana would never accept anyone else as the father of her child.

Dana had promised she'd come for Sunday dinner tomorrow, but this latest development had delayed any happy reunion for now. His sister had called at eight o'clock this morning, dead tired after an all- night bedside vigil. She'd asked their mom to come if she could; she couldn't stand the thought of Mulder waking up alone.

Bill Scully walked over to the Emergency Room desk and quickly discovered Mulder had been transferred to a private room upstairs. He was listed in fair condition and had been there since shortly after midnight. He'd been air lifted by Charlestown Search and Rescue within minutes of the 911 call from his family's summer home.

Maggie intercepted her son in the hallway before he could enter the room. She took his hand and told him solemnly, "Fox hasn't regained consciousness yet, Bill. She'll only leave for a shower and some rest if I stay with him. Do you think you could wait outside?"

Her eyes begged his forgiveness for excluding him, but Bill knew why it wasn't such a great idea for him to sit with his mom. He'd never gotten along with Mulder, a situation he was determined to remedy in the near future. This morning held no promise for conciliation with his sister's partner, 'boyfriend,' whatever he was to her--Bill was well-advised to fade into the woodwork of this small regional hospital.

"All right, Mom. I'll talk to Dana, then I'll buy a few magazines at the gift shop. Would you like some coffee?" he offered.

"Sure, son," she said fondly, patting his shoulder with motherly affection. "Thanks so much for getting me here so fast. The prognosis is very good, Dana says. No evidence of an aneurysm, no unusual brain activity."

Bill heard the door to the private room open and close quietly behind him. He turned around and gave his obviously exhausted, disheveled sister a giant bear hug.

"Dana, you go rest now... Mom will watch over Mulder, and *I'll* watch over Mom," he assured her.

Dana Scully squeezed her brother's hand firmly, then spoke in a tired, thready voice, "Thank you, Bill. I'm going to do just that."

Scully's eyes were still red from tears shed earlier that morning, but the latest news on Mulder's general condition had encouraged her. It was unusual for a patient to sleep for over twelve hours, but not unheard of. There had been no traumatic injury; Mulder had simply passed out on the second floor landing, remaining there until the paramedics tied him to a gurney and flew him to the nearby hospital.

She kissed her mom on the cheek and walked toward the Nurses' Station, ready to take them up on their offer of a shower and nap in the staff locker room. Mrs. Scully took leave of Bill and crossed the hall to enter Mulder's room. She was pleasantly surprised at the absence of any monitoring devices. There was an IV drip providing nourishment and hydration to the sleeping agent, but no other tubes present.

Maggie sat down in the upholstered chair next to Mulder's bed, still warm from Dana's long, stressful watch. She hoped her daughter would get several hours rest now, confident her significant other was in good hands. Mrs. Scully understood why neither of them implicitly trusted hospital personnel anymore.

Dana had recently told her about Mulder's hospital stay at Georgetown Memorial. She didn't usually tell her mother such details, but her daughter had been trying to explain why Fox may have been abducted. Dana Scully didn't often answer her mother's probing questions so openly, but her need for a confidante had been obvious to her mom.

"Hello, Fox," she said, taking his limp hand in both of her smaller ones. "If you're ready now... we'd appreciate it if you'd wake up," she joked.

She chuckled softly to herself and lowered her hands to her lap. Before she could decide whether she would knit or read while waiting for her daughter's return, a soft knock at the door signalled her son with the promised coffee.

8:00 p.m.
Mulder's hospital room

Dana Scully looked over at her mom from the seat beside her. She looked exhausted, having hopped on a plane at a moment's notice, then driven from Newport to the hospital. Miraculously, Scully had slept for almost six hours in the staff locker room. She'd been so dead tired not even the chatter from employees in the lunch room close by had disturbed her.


"Yes, honey?" her mom answered, eyelids fluttering with fatigue.

"Go get Bill and check into a motel. I'll be fine now."

Maggie Scully took her daughter's hand in her own and answered, "Okay, Dana. Why don't you check with the Nurse's station later? I'll call and let you know where we are."

They both rose from their chairs and Dana embraced her mom tightly, telling her, "Thanks so much, Mom. I wouldn't have made it without you."

"He's going to be all right, honey. I just know it," she soothed.

Scully glanced over at Mulder on the bed where he was still sleeping soundly. Occasionally, he'd mumble to himself--he was definitely experiencing REM sleep, another positive sign of recovery. She wondered if he was having nightmares earlier; his face had scrunched into a painful grimace for a few seconds, then he'd relaxed, his jaw going slack as the fleeting moment passed.

"I'm certain of it, Mom. The neurologist didn't find anything wrong with him. They have every expectation he'll come out of it tonight. I'll call you as soon as he wakes, okay?"

Maggie smiled and reminded her, "I don't care what the hour is, you just call, sweetie."

Scully escorted her out to the waiting room so she could thank Bill again. They both understood how much she wanted to get back to the room, taking their leave from her with little ado. Scully strode swiftly back to Mulder's side and stood beside the bed for several minutes, holding his hand and wondering whether his dreams were so important they'd taken precedence over his conscious, waking life.

She carefully sat next to him on the bed, avoiding the ever-present IV. "What's going on in there, Mulder?" she queried, stroking his warm forehead.

The room they were in was cool and comfortable, but she felt compelled to fidget with the thin thermal blanket which barely covered his torso. She was adjusting it to conform to the long, straight line of his body when the hand not encumbered by an IV moved swiftly to cover her own. Scully was startled temporarily, recoiling slightly at the unexpected movement. Her eyes moved from his lower half to his face, catching the tail end of a self-satisfied puckish expression.

"Gotcha big time," he rasped.

"Oh, Mulder!" she exclaimed, shifting her weight so she could get closer to him. "Don't try to get up," she cautioned, pushing him back against his pillows.

She reached beside her and grabbed the device controlling the tilt of the adjustable mattress. She depressed the button and the upper half of the bed rose slowly.

Mulder grinned as he warned her in a scratchy voice, "Scully, I don't think that's the 'magic fingers' control. I think we'll have to wait until we check into a cheaper motel."

Scully grinned back at him, then leaned over to kiss his dry, chapped lips. "Hold on, I'll get some water for you."

She filled a cup with water and held the straw as he took a small sip of the cool liquid, resuming her place beside him on the bed.

"Mom's here," she said before he could finish his drink.

"Really? How long have I been out, Scully? And where are we?" he asked, looking around the room with curiosity.

"Almost twenty hours. Westerly Hospital," she answered, smiling broadly.

"Twenty hours! No shit! No wonder I had such great dreams!"

"You did?"

"Well, some of them were nightmarish, but they were all very entertaining. Scully, did we see a yacht in a trailer park last year?" he queried, squinting his eyes in mild disbelief.

"Yeah... we did," she drawled slowly. Scully's eyes enlarged with wonder, and her hands gesticulated frantically in the air, attempting to ferret out the meaning of his question. "But, Mulder... you couldn't possibly know that... you haven't read anything about last year in your journal!"

Mulder stilled her frenetic hands with his own, then winked at her suggestively, "Did we do it in the car on a balmy July Fourth night, Scully?"

"Oh, God! Mulder! You've remembered! Oh, God. What else?"

Mulder's mood changed drastically as he retrieved images from his catalogue of dreams. "Scully... you're going to want to examine my scalp for puncture wounds. That's how they delivered the drugs when I was taken."

Her lips parted, trembling with anxiety and frustration. She licked her lips nervously and clutched at his hands. "They did?" she finally croaked out.

Mulder wished he could erase his last comment no sooner than it had left his throat. He should have waited until much later to tell her about his captivity. She was probably exhausted, sitting up with him all night while he dreamed about their last year together. It wasn't fair to lay this on her now. He pulled her close to his chest, battling with the IV line in their way.

"Scully..." he whispered softly in her ear. "I only remember things piecemeal. It's like a crazy quilt of memories; all jumbled up and thrown back into my head." He sighed joylessly against her before continuing, "I don't want you to hear all the bad stuff right away... okay? I'd rather tell you about taking long drives in the sticks or seeing the sun rise on the beach. I'll tell you everything--but not today. You're tired, aren't you?"

"A little. I got some sleep while Mom watched over you," she said, battling the impulse to break down in tears.

"Do you have to talk to the doctor? Or do you want to lay down next to me and sleep a little more?" he asked, rubbing his nose against her freshly washed hair.

She considered this a moment, then said, "Let me call the nurse. We need to get this IV out of your arm and we need the doctor's approval." She leaned out of their embrace and stroked his cheek with her forefinger. "I didn't say anything about your amnesia, Mulder. I told the doctor you'd been held against your will because of your occupation--nothing more than that."

"Maybe I'll learn more next time--" Mulder responded with excitement, his mind still swimming with intriguing, but widely scattered images of the past year.

Scully wrest free of his loose grip on her arms, pacing away from the bed in anger. Her back quivered slightly underneath the too large sweater someone had let her borrow from the staff room.

She clenched her fists tautly, and spat out her response with her back to Mulder, "Next time? You want there to be a next time? Do you have any idea what I've been through since last night, Mulder? If this is the price you have to pay for regaining your memories--"

She lowered her head into her hands, swaying unsteadily as she sought to contain her exasperation. Mulder scrambled off the bed, his IV line tripping him up for a few transitory moments before he unsnaked the line and wheeled the device across the room.

"Scully," he whispered tentatively, his free hand tracing the contour of her shuddering forearm.

She flinched away, still infuriated at his comment. Her deeply ingrained medical training chastened her fit of pique when she realized Mulder was trailing his saline solution behind him. She twirled around quickly, making a cursory visual inspection of the damage done.

Mulder maintained several inches between them, unwavering in his placatory attitude or stance. He braced himself for a lecture from Dr. Scully, but none was forthcoming. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and an acute sense of how ridiculously undignified and foolish she felt at the moment.

Mulder extended his hand to her, eyes pleading for absolution. She closed the distance between them, speaking softly and guiding him back to bed, "I shouldn't have reacted like, Mulder. You must be elated to remember anything at all from last year."

She readjusted his IV line as they sat down next to each other on the bed. She continued, "I don't want to see you go through this every time your body decides it's time to take a trip down memory lane. I didn't tell you before, Mulder... your vitals were extremely weak on the way over here. I was really worried about you."

Mulder's face fell instantly, supremely miserable she'd had to endure another medical scare on his behalf. He slipped his free arm around her and said quietly, "I'm so sorry, Scully. If I'd been thinking clearly... I wouldn't have anticipated another incident like this with such enthusiasm... I don't want to put you through this again."

Scully threaded her arm around his waist and tilted her head against his shoulder. She lifted her eyes to meet his and told him, "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have blown up at you, but I *am* worried about future episodes happening when we can't get medical assistance so easily. I'm going to become too pregnant to deal with every eventuality--"

"Let's not worry, Scully. We'll be more careful. We'll keep the cell phone handy, if it makes you feel better. What makes you so sure I'll have another attack? Maybe the rest of my memory will return during my regular dream cycle. In any case, I feel more competent to deal with your family now... I won't have to lie to them. And I remember who you are, Scully... every bit of who you are," he whispered softly before leaning down to kiss her warm lips.

They lost themselves in a welcome moment of passion, chasing away concerns about the future. They broke off their kiss, hungry for oxygen--both exhausted by their stressful argument. Scully slipped her head against his chest and waited for them to catch their breath.

She spoke quietly, but firmly, "Mulder, I'm going to get the doctor now. I know you'll be kept overnight for observation and I'm sure you want to get rid of the IV. I think they'll discharge you by noon tomorrow if there's nothing else revealed by then."

"What about your mom, Bill?"

"I promised to call her, and I will--but not until the morning. They were tired from travelling and as long as you're doing well I don't see any reason to wake her." She lifted her head to address him directly, "You know we'll be driving back to the summer house with them--they'll probably fly back today."

"We could get rid of their rental and drive back in your car. I think I can be civil to Bill that long," he quipped.

"You really don't know Bill, do you?" she laughed back.

"I don't think I ever have--have I?" he said, searching his mind for some concrete image of the man.

"No, you haven't. Even if you remembered your few encounters with him... you wouldn't really know the man. I think you've spent a total of three hours in his presence, and that's only because you came out to San Diego when I was seeking custody of Emily."

Mulder flinched against her, guilt sweeping through him like a poison. Scully noted his pained expression and intervened, "Don't, Mulder. Don't blame yourself--you didn't create Emily and you didn't hasten her death. We have so much to look forward to and I don't want you to dwell on the past."

"It's hard not to when I'm consciously trying to recreate it in my mind. These dreams I had all day... everything must have happened after October 1999. I didn't get any farther in my journal and even though you've filled me in on Samantha and a few other things, I'm still confused by some of the images. Why did we go to an office building looking for the Cancer Man's office? There's more to that story, isn't there?"

Scully placed her hands behind his neck, rubbing her fingers across the nape of his neck. Her right hand swept through his disheveled hair, and she pulled him down gently for a brief kiss. He could tell this was a painful revelation for her; he almost wished he'd kept his big mouth shut.

"Cancer Man offered me the Holy Grail, a cure for all diseases. I ditched you, Mulder, then I ran off to some resort in Pennsylvania and almost got myself killed. My 'informant' was conveniently shot to death, probably by Spender. The disk he insisted I take along with me was blank. You were royally pissed and wouldn't look me in the eye--until we went to the bogus office Spender had set up for himself."

She looked away from him quickly, but he caught a glimpse of self- reproach in her eyes. Mulder hooked his finger around the tip of her chin and forced her to concentrate on his words.

"That's the part I remember--speaking to you in an empty office. I also recall taking you to your apartment immediately afterward and kissing you goodnight, Scully. I couldn't possibly have been *that* upset if things ended so positively."

He smiled at her warmly, then watched the subtle changes in her face as her mood lightened. Scully pursed her lips nervously, then the corners of her mouth formed a pleased expression which reached her eyes. She ran her fingers down his arm, resting her hand around his wrist lightly as she responded, "You're going to be insufferable, Mr. Know-It-All... you know that?"

He grinned back and remarked innocently, "I thought I already was insufferable."

"Just incorrigible until today, Mulder."

"That's me, earning new adjectives daily for your amusement," he replied, caressing her forehead with a slow, warm kiss.

Scully yawned openly as he retreated a few inches from her--lack of eight hours sleep had finally caught up with her.

"How about some more rest, sleepyhead?" he asked, turning his wrist in her hand so he could entwine their fingers.

"Okay. I'll go get the doctor. Like I said, I don't think they'll keep you past noon." She glanced at her wristwatch. "I think I *will* call Mom. It's only nine o'clock and she did tell me to call her as soon as you woke."

Scully slipped off the bed, smoothing her wrinkled clothes, then turned to give him one last kiss before stopping to use the mirror in the attached bathroom. Mulder discovered the remote control for the TV set in the few seconds it took to make her presentable, and he was busily clicking channels when she exited to find the doctor.

Several hours later, she was asleep in his arms, too weary to watch any more of "Plan Nine From Outer Space." Mulder was listening to the film with only half an ear, watching her slumber peacefully. His mind wandered, settling on newly recovered memories from last July Fourth--when their own fireworks display had lasted long into the night.

February 25nd, 2001
12:30 p.m.
US Highway One
Rhode Island

"So when are you two lovebirds gonna tie the knot?" Bill asked the agents, glancing to the backseat of the rental car.

"Bill!" scolded Maggie Scully, seated next to him in the front.

Scully sighed with resignation, then lifted her wrist in the air to check her watch. "It only took you fifteen minutes to pester Mulder, Bill. I'm touched by your restraint."

Mrs. Scully turned to her son and added, "Fox just got out of the hospital, Bill. Leave Dana and him alone. I'm sure you'll be one of the first to know--after me, that is."

Maggie half-turned in her seat, smiling at her daughter and Mulder. Mulder seemed embarrassed at her scrutiny, managing a forced smile in return.

"If we're going to be together in this car for almost eight hours, Mom, I might as well get the burning question over with, don't you think?" Bill responded, glancing quickly at his mom.

His hands were gripping the steering wheel tightly, unfazed by his mother's reprimand. He enjoyed putting Mulder on the spot about his sister's pregnancy. He was surprised they hadn't rushed over to a local justice court and done the deed as soon as possible. He would--if it were Tara in Dana's position.

"I agree," Mulder voiced from the back seat.

Scully shot him a glare, annoyed he might fall for Bill's taunts. She knew Mulder couldn't resist reacting to Bill, especially when it involved the subject of marriage. She knew why they hadn't wed immediately; she'd resisted Mulder's proposal, hoping he'd recover some of his memories. He'd done so in the last twenty-four hours, and there was a good chance he'd remember more of the last eight years shortly.

She knew nothing stood in the way of matrimony now, but she didn't want to explain Mulder's memory loss to her brother. Bill probably still believed Mulder had been AWOL the last five months. She didn't feel the need to encourage his cynicism about her partner.

She also was concerned about something else, pressing her palm across Mulder's mouth before he could utter another word.

"Mulder, I don't think this is the place," she warned.

He gently pulled her fingers away from his lips and entwined their hands on the seat beside them. "Scully, there's no way this car is bugged. Your mom told me they didn't have time to reserve a rental. No one knew Bill was going to rent it in Newport."

"Why all the paranoia? Are you guys being followed around by aliens?" Bill asked sarcastically.

"Bill, please stop. You have no idea what Fox and Dana are going through. I probably know more about that than you do, and as your mother, I'm going to have to ask you to ease off. They don't deserve this kind of treatment," Maggie advised her son.

"Look, there's a really simple explanation to why Dana and I weren't married the day I got back from Oregon--" Mulder began.

"Mulder! You don't have to do this," Scully interrupted.

"No, I do, Scully. I want Bill and Maggie to know." He'd just started to call Scully's mother 'Maggie' that morning, at her request. It rolled off his tongue awkwardly, and he had to pause to collect his thoughts. After a beat, he continued, "I couldn't marry Dana because I couldn't remember her."

Maggie turned all the way around in her seat as she let out a little gasp. She extended her hand to Mulder, and asked in a worried tone, "What did they do to you, Fox? Are you going to be all right?"

Mulder leaned forward and took her hand, squeezing once lightly, smiling at her encouragingly. "I'll be fine, Maggie. We think it's starting to reverse itself. That's why I had this episode last night," he explained.

"So how'd you recognize my sister last Monday? I heard she was over at your apartment when you came home," Bill asked curiously.

"It's really none of your business how he knew me, Bill. He came home to his apartment and I was there waiting for him. End of discussion," she snapped at her brother.

"Scully, it's all right. I don't mind telling him, or your mother. I want both of you to understand that I had every intention of marrying Scully from the very first night I got back. No, I didn't recognize her immediately. In fact, I even pulled a gun on her when I found her in my bedroom."

Bill and Maggie's mouths dropped open at this revelation. Bill stared in the rear view mirror, eyeing his future brother-in-law. Mulder was pleased to render Bill speechless, but didn't want to upset Mrs. Scully, so he continued, "It took me about thirty seconds to drop my weapon once I saw it was a pregnant woman. I would never harm Dana--both of you know that."

Scully stayed silent, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. She wasn't happy about Mulder's candor, but she knew she couldn't prevent him from relating the story to her family. He seemed to be getting some pleasure out of making Bill squirm. She was trying to stay neutral, but she was relishing a little Bill Scully torture herself.

Maggie placed her hand on her son's shoulder, stilling his next comment. She had her own questions to ask. "Dana, how can this be? How have you been coping all week if Mulder didn't remember you?"

"I remembered her," interjected Mulder. He caught Scully's frustrated glare and apologized, "Sorry, Scully."

"It's okay, Mulder. I think it might be better if you explained it anyway. I'm the skeptic, right? I think it's a lot easier for you to explicate your own theories. Not that I don't see some truth in this one. I do. You go ahead and I'll listen, too."

Mulder reached over to take her hand, but directed his gaze at Maggie and Bill. "They, whoever held me captive, tried to rob me of eight years of my life by wiping out my memories. But the subconscious mind must work in mysterious ways--I knew I was in the right place, that I belonged with Dana. I didn't recognize her face immediately, but other senses told me who she is, what she means to me."

He turned to look at his partner fondly, who returned his attention with a warm smile. Maggie's expression was still serious; she wanted to know more about the connection with his collapse the night before.

"You regained your memory? What about your health? Are you going to have more incidents like last night?" Maggie inquired.

"I gained back some of last year's memories. It's like a big jigsaw puzzle. The pieces keep coming back slowly, and I only remember stuff from the last year or so," Mulder responded. He faltered on the question of his fitness, glancing over at Scully, entreating her to answer for him.

"We don't know if he'll have another episode, Mom. We'll have to be careful; stay near a phone, near civilization. I'm afraid he's not going back in the field as quickly as he'd like," she remarked, lowering her eyes to their joined hands.

She hadn't broached this subject with Mulder, but she was sure he knew the score. He couldn't return to active duty for awhile, at least until they were fairly confident he wouldn't have excruciating headaches, followed by total blackouts.

"Can you take a leave of absence?" Bill asked, his tone more sympathetic, more accepting than before.

"I won't do that. I'll work out of the office until we decipher the medical problem. I'm sure *we* will," he said, looking over at Scully for confirmation.

Scully lifted her downcast eyes, offering Mulder a reassuring smile. She had her doubts, but now was not the time to voice them. She didn't know how to prevent any more trips to the emergency room, at least not yet. She'd make him see a neurologist, perhaps get a prescription for something to prevent seizures. She didn't feel qualified to make the decision herself, but knew Mulder would listen to a specialist about this. He wouldn't want to jeopardize her or the baby by becoming seriously ill unexpectedly.

"You'll both be fine. You always have been," Maggie said soothingly.

Scully leaned forward in her seat, grasping her mom's hands in her own. "Thanks, Mom. I knew you'd understand." She turned her head to her now taciturn brother and said, "Thanks, Bill. For trying to understand. I know it's hard for you," she added lightheartedly.

"I'm not a total jerk, am I, Mulder?" Bill joked, glancing first at his sister, than in the rear view mirror at the man behind him.

"Honestly? I don't remember anything about our previous encounters with one another, Bill. I have a few notes in my journal, but they don't bias me about you one way or the other. I'm sure I'll remember you eventually, but I don't think animosity in the past is worth worrying about. I don't see any reasons we can't be friendly. I want to be part of Scully's family--I don't have anyone left in my own."

Mulder's voice wavered on his final words, and he swiftly averted his eyes from both Bill and his mother. Scully caressed his hand lightly with her thumb, wishing she felt bold enough to embrace him in front of her relatives. It wasn't often Mulder laid bare his insecurities in front of strangers. She knew he'd seen her mother in the last year, but she wasn't sure that memory was available to him yet. She was positive Mulder hadn't seen Bill since 1998, when she'd tried to adopt Emily.

She'd seen Mulder show his emotions in the company of other men before, but this was her brother, a man she was sure he wanted to impress. Scully wanted to take him in her arms, reassuring him that Bill wouldn't think any less if he broke down into sobs there and then. She decided against it, sensing Mulder's need to maintain some dignity after revealing a vulnerability of which only she knew.

Mulder had been lost emotionally for weeks after his mother's suicide, and despite his statements to the contrary, she felt the discovery of Samantha's death had depressed him a great deal. He'd never felt more alone then at that time in his life, and she'd been so grateful he'd turned to her. They'd become so close since New Year's Eve that year and she knew Mulder considered her his only family. She'd accepted that role--even before they'd moved from friends to lovers she knew she'd never stray far from Mulder's company the rest of her life.

Maggie Scully broke the uneasy silence with her tranquil voice, "Fox, you'll always be part of this family. You already were, before Dana's pregnancy. We're so happy you're back."

She reached across the passenger seat again and offered her hand, which Mulder took gladly, grinning affectionately at his soon to be mother-in-law. He released her delicate hand, then leaned forward and gently slapped Bill on his shoulder, saying "You're stuck with me, Bill. Maggie said so."

Bill laughed and the two women in the car noticeably relaxed, both delighted to see the testosterone level was in no danger of further elevation. Scully and her mother had discussed the merits of putting Mulder and Bill Scully, Jr. in a sedan for the eight hour drive to DC while the two men were out of earshot. They'd cleared a big hurdle by revealing why she hadn't wanted to get married right away. Scully knew what was next on the agenda, and she'd no way to prepare Mulder for her mother's next words.

"Well, if there's nothing preventing you from marrying, Dana... why don't we spend our time in the car wisely and discuss what kind of wedding you'd like?" Maggie said cheerily.

Scully's first inclination was to groan and tell her mother she didn't want to talk about this right now. It seemed silly and inconsequential compared to the problems she and Mulder faced with the Consortium. However, she and Mulder had already agreed *not* to tell her mother about threats against the baby. Mulder had kept up his part of the bargain; he'd come clean on the memory loss, but he hadn't breathed a word about Krycek's warning.

She welcomed the diversion of discussing ceremonies, dresses, caterers, and shoes with her mom. Scully was certain Mulder would doze off beside her after a few minutes of mother/daughter conversation. Bill would stay awake to the sound of sports radio, which he was already struggling to tune in. She might tell her mom about the dangers they were facing later on, but now was not a good time.

The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island
1:30 p.m.

Mulder and Scully scurried around the summer home, gathering their possessions, then took measures to close the place down until next time they vacationed there. Maggie and Bill had opted for a walk to the beach and would return within ten minutes, so they swiftly threw out the little garbage they had made and recovered the couch and kitchen table.

Scully was upstairs, packing her bag, when Mulder came up behind her, "Where's your ring, Scully? I didn't see it on you today or I would have pointed it out to your mom."

"Oh, dear. It's down in the kitchen. I took it off when we did dishes last night. Let's not forget it, Mulder."

She slammed her case shut and tried to move away from the bed, but was penned in on both sides by two Mulder-sized arms. She laughed and squirmed against him as he refused to let her go.

"Mulder! We have to go!"

"Everything's packed and ready to go. All I have to do is set the alarm. Just one more kiss to make everything better, Scully," he teased.

"Okay," she said, turning in his arms as he released his grip on elbows.

They kissed deeply, trying to create one last memory in this home before leaving for DC. Neither wanted to dwell on Mulder's traumatic experience on the second floor landing, nor did they care to consider how soon such an event might reoccur. Hopefully, they'd put a stop to his violent headaches and prevent another trip to the hospital.

"Hello!" Bill's voice bellowed from the first floor, signalling they were ready to go.

The lovers broke their kiss and Mulder yelled back, "Be right down!" He smiled down at Scully, gathering in how pretty she looked, even after a long night at the hospital. "Thanks, Scully."

"For what?" she asked, slightly amused.

"For sticking with me through all of this."

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know. I can't imagine a day without you, Scully... and I want you to know how much I appreciate you. How much I love you."

He leaned down to kiss her once more, cutting it short when he heard Mrs. Scully's voice call, "Dana!" from the front door.

"Let's go Mulder. If we're lucky Mom will take a nap and stop talking about great receptions she's known and loved."

"Oh, I must have slept through that part of your conversation. Conveniently," he said with a smile.

They grabbed their suitcases and headed downstairs. Mulder set the alarm and they all piled into the car. Bill was about to pull away from the house when Scully yelled for him to stop. Mulder understood immediately, reaching for his door, then running back to unlock the house. He was back in less than two minutes, Scully's ring shoved into the pocket of his jeans.

"What was that all about?" Maggie asked as they pulled out of the driveway.

"This," Mulder said, his chest still heaving from his brisk sprint.

He grabbed Scully's left hand, slipping the ring onto her finger before she could protest. She blushed at the attention she received from both her mom and Bill, who had slowed the car down to peer over his shoulder with interest.

Maggie snaked her arm around the headrest, beckoning her daughter to let her see the ring. She oohed and ahhed until Scully was sufficiently embarrassed, burrowing her hand beneath her jeans.

"Mom, quit it. It's just a ring."

She was a little exasperated with her mom's reaction, but secretly pleased the gem had passed her inspection.

"It's my grandmother's ring," Mulder told Maggie proudly.

Mulder was glad her mother was making a fuss over it, and was even enjoying Scully's discomfort, though he knew he shouldn't. She was adorable when she interacted with her mother, especially about this lighthearted stuff. He'd pretended to sleep earlier so he could eavesdrop on their conversation.

"It's beautiful, Dana. Did Fox just give it to you?" Maggie inquired.

Scully reddened slightly, much to her discomfort. She didn't know why this was so difficult to talk about. It wasn't like her mother hadn't known about their romance last year. Even her brother knew now. She felt Mulder's hand on her own, his fingers stroking her knuckles tenderly.

"Yes," she gulped. Her free hand moved to her stomach, resting there comfortably. "Last Thursday, at the summer house."

"Well, it's lovely. We'll have to get you to a jeweler for wedding bands before the week is out," Maggie added helpfully.

"Mom! There's no rush!" Scully protested.

Mulder chuckled beside her and Scully threw him a dirty look. He continued to smile and play with her hand as he said, "I knew Maggie would be my best ally."

"Co-conspirator is more like it," Scully asserted playfully.

Bill had already pulled back on the road a minute ago after taking a quick glance at the ring. He fiddled with the radio, finding an oldies station right away. He looked in the rear view mirror and saw Mulder yawning lazily, then heard his sister sleepily echo him. He resisted the urge to yawn himself, sipping some of the coffee they'd bought at a minimart earlier in the day.

"You two get some rest. You too, Mom. I always sleep like a log and last night was no exception," Bill said.

"Okay, son. You wake me up if you need me to drive," Maggie responded. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, truly satisfied with her day.

Mulder tugged at Scully's hand to get her attention, then patted his lap, hoping she'd take the hint and recline against him awhile. He knew he could sleep sitting up, but didn't want to see her do so. She had all that extra weight on her back muscles and she'd be more comfortable lying down.

Scully didn't need much persuasion. Even in the company of her mother and brother, Mulder's lap made a tempting pillow. She knew he would brush her hair softly while she fell asleep against the rough material of his jeans.

February 25nd, 2001
9:00 p.m.
Scully family home, Maryland

"Scully? Scully?"

She opened her eyes slowly, disoriented for a few seconds. She could feel Mulder's calloused hand stroking her cheek, but couldn't see very far in the dim light of the car's back seat.

"What?" she mumbled, attempting to sit up with difficulty.

"We're at your mom's house, Scully. We're here. You slept the whole way."

"Oh, boy. Help me up and out of here, Mulder."

Scully allowed him to lift her to a sitting position, too groggy to protest his gentle efforts.

"She wants us to stay overnight, but I know you have an early doctor's appointment. What do you want to do?" he asked, helping her out of the car.

"Gotta drive home," she said, leaning against him until the tingling in her feet subsided.

"I'll drive," Mulder said glibly.

"You shouldn't," she cautioned.

"I'll be careful, Scully. It's only an hour or so. I slept all day. Come on, we're supposed to come in for a few minutes."

They made their way up the porch steps and walked straight to the kitchen where Bill and Maggie were bringing Tara up to speed on the day's events. Tara rushed to Scully, taking her hand solicitously and leading her to a chair.

"Wow, look at you, Dana. You're as big as I was in my seventh month," she said with wonder.

"I know. The baby will be in the NBA by the time he's a teenager at this rate." She smiled at Mulder, who was leaning casually against the kitchen counter. He was already slugging down some coffee Maggie had shoved into his hand the minute he'd entered the room.

"My spotless genetics," he quipped, drawing curious looks from the rest of the family and a hearty laugh from Scully. "Sorry, private joke," he added, as he noticed the blank expressions around them.

"It's a long story, too long for now, Mom. We better get going, I have an early appointment. Bill, did you ever find out how long you'll be stationed here?" she addressed her brother.

"About three more months. Perfect timing, uh?" he said, walking behind her chair, then leaning down to give her a brotherly kiss on the cheek.

He patted her shoulders, then extended his hand to Mulder, who juggled his mug to receive it. "Take care on the road, buddy. Hope to see you pretty soon."

"I'm sorry you have to leave, but this means you *are* coming over next Sunday, doesn't it?" Maggie asked hopefully.

"Yes, Mom. I'll try to keep Mulder out of the ER on Sunday, just for you."

Scully tried to get up by herself, but Tara was at her side in half a second. She grinned at her sister-in-law, truly grateful she could share her pregnancy with her. They would have to have a long talk next Sunday after dinner. Scully hadn't been able to wholeheartedly participate in the birth of Matthew in January 1998. No one had faulted her for that; they'd all understood what's she'd gone through with Emily.

She'd tried to make up for it by being a good aunt over the years, but her schedule was so hectic sometimes--she'd often missed Bill and Tara's visits to her mother. Now was the time to remedy that situation. It also served to take her mind off more sinister subjects, ones she'd never reveal to her family unless their lives depended on it.

Maggie shoved a care package into Mulder's arms, kissed both agents goodbye and the family stood on the house steps in the brisk February night to wave as they pulled out of the driveway.

"That wasn't so bad, was it, Mulder?" Scully asked, brushing her hand against his as he steered toward the freeway.

"Bill didn't kick my butt. Your mom likes me. What's not to love?" he answered.

Scully chuckled, moving her hand to the back of his neck to massage his stiff muscles.

"My mom has liked you for a long time. She's always defended you, especially when you were missing. I don't know how I would have made it without her," she responded wistfully.

"So, you going to call the minister she suggested?" Mulder tossed out daringly. "Mulder! Weren't you sound asleep during our conversation? It's not polite to eavesdrop!" she teased him, moving her hand to his shoulder and working the muscle there.

"Whoa, Scully. You've got quite a grip, there," he said, shrugging her away gently. "I would *never* listen in on your private conversations, would I?"

Scully looked at him dubiously, then ordered, "Drive, Mulder. Drive."

"Yes, ma'am," he responded. Thirty seconds later, he added, "It was only a rhetorical question--"

"I know, they're your specialty," she retorted.

She traced her finger down his cheek, stopping at the corner of his generous lower lip. He turned his head slightly, kissing her fingertip.

"You're distracting me, woman," he joked, willfully keeping his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road.

"I can't imagine how," she said coyly, lowering her hand to her stomach. "Oooff!"

"Baby kicking?" he asked, glancing over at her quickly.

"Just a little," she replied, fondly rubbing her belly.

"Our first OB appointment togeth--"

Mulder stopped midsentence, spooked by the bright lights flashing into the rear window of the car. The highway was otherwise deserted this late on a Sunday night and a single vehicle had been following them for several miles. He'd ignored the sedan thus far--now it was too close for comfort and undeniably tailing them closely.

"Mulder?" Scully asked as he accelerated the car, rapidly approaching eighty-five m.p.h.

"Hold on, Scully. Hold on tight!" he exclaimed.

Mulder's white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel didn't slacken as he attempted to outrun their pursuer. He finally spotted an exit to his right, swinging unhesitatingly off the road and navigating two sharp curves at high speed. They were in an affluent neighborhood close to DC, one with lots of winding streets and cul-de-sacs.

Scully had clung to the seat cushions on their wild ride from expressway to city streets. She felt like the breath had been knocked out of her temporarily; she inhaled deeply, taking in precious air. She unclenched her hands, moving them to cradle her belly protectively.

Mulder hadn't slowed down much, zipping down the unfamiliar roads, purposefully getting them lost in the maze of upper middle class homes. He finally tore his gaze away from the rear view mirror to check on Scully, decelerating the car gradually through the quiet well-kept streets.

"Are you okay?" he asked roughly, slightly winded by his frantic efforts to elude their chaser.

"Fine. I'm fine, Mulder," she replied in a reedy voice.

He uncurled his right hand from the wheel, reaching over to cover her smaller ones as they sheltered their child from harm.

"I'm sorry... sorry, Scully. I didn't have much warning. I'd noticed him before but didn't perceive him as a threat. Are you sure you're okay?" he asked again, his heart rate decreasing with every minute they cruised the silent streets of suburbia.

She shook her head from side to side, and moved one of her hands to grip his own. "I'm okay. Just a little out of breath for a minute, but I'm fine now. Do you know where we are?"

Mulder peered out the window at a nearby street sign. "I don't know and I don't feel too comfortable about approaching one of these homes at night. Let's drive around and see if we hit something commercial."

They seemed to be out of imminent danger, so Scully tried to relax in her seat. Her pulse was still racing, much to her dismay. Mulder had removed his hand from her stomach and gone back to driving two- handed, leaning forward against the wheel and reading every street sign they approached.

Her hands started to tremble, a delayed reaction to the terror she'd felt as they'd eluded the mystery car. She wove the fingers of one hand into the other, steadying them, concentrating on slowing her respirations and getting complete control of her shuddering body. Mulder hadn't noticed how shaken she was by the experience and that's how she wanted it to remain.

"Here we go, we're in Greenbelt, Maryland. There's a sign back to 295. Do you want to stop at a gas station first, Scully?" he asked, pulling over to a curb away from traffic.

"Sure. Fine," she answered, a little uncertainly.

Mulder heard the quaver in her voice, so he twisted the ignition key, killing the engine. Scully wouldn't look at him; her eyes stared at the dashboard indifferently. She was bottling up all her emotions so she wouldn't have to deal with them right away.

His newly recovered memories, plus what he knew of her from their week together thus far had heightened his senses, made her easier to read. He unbuckled his seatbelt, then leaned over and did the same for her. She remained motionless, the digits of her hands tightly interwoven.

"I'm sorry," she cried, as he moved closer to her, enveloping her in his arms.

"Don't be sorry, Scully. I was really scared, too. My hand is shaking... see?"

He placed one hand against her cheek and she could feel his fingertips quiver, as hers had when she descended from her adrenalin high. She unhooked her hands from one another, bringing one to her face to still the tremor coursing through his fingers.

"Do you think it was Them?" she asked softly, pressing his palm against her own.

"I don't know how they found us... it couldn't be anyone else. Maybe someone has an eye on your mom's house."

Mulder was profoundly disturbed by the thought; surveillance of Mrs. Scully by the Consortium was certainly unwelcome at this point. They expected peril to themselves, especially when they returned to DC-- but not anticipating risk to other family members was foolish, almost unforgivable.

He didn't want to upset Scully further, but he knew she'd want him to be straight with her. He dropped their hands between them and leaned back a little so he could address her directly, "We have to ask Skinner for protection for your family, Scully. We can take precautions for ourselves, that's part of our job. I know you don't trust Skinner completely, but I don't think we have any secrets to conceal from him at present."

Scully brushed moisture away from her eyes--tears she'd resisted, but couldn't halt entirely. She blinked her eyes several times, then answered, "I'm sure we can tell him what Krycek told us. In fact, he probably knows already. He's waiting for us to come to him. He's a good man, but Krycek still has him cornered."

Mulder threaded his hand through her hair, tidying errant strands their high speed chase had liberated. "I agree. He's still in a vulnerable position. But we don't have to lie to him about the amnesia anymore. That's a plus. I think we should go see him after your appointment tomorrow. I'm sure he'll be surprised to see us back so soon... but then again, maybe he won't if Krycek filled him in on the Consortium threat."

"Mulder?" she asked, reaching for his hand once again.

"Yes?" he responded, leaning over to kiss her forehead. He moved his hips closer to hers and wound one arm around her shoulder.

Scully leaned her head against his chest and spoke softly, "You're different, Mulder. You didn't only retrieve memories yesterday; you got part of yourself back. You seem so much more confident, with me, with my family. Can you feel it?"

Mulder rubbed his cheek against her hair gently, then leaned over to caress her lips with one soft, slow kiss. He drew back so he could speak to her, "I feel better. I'm relieved to remember last year, but not anxious to land in the hospital every time my body decides it's time for more reminiscing. We'll have to stop by a neurologist and get some medication, like you said."

Scully grinned at him, and his expression changed from serious to curious.

"What?" he asked, his eyebrows raised in query.

"I never told you about the neurologist. You must be reading my mind," she said lightly.

"Oh, you think I'm telepathic, Ms. Scully? Well, I'm pretty damn sure what you're thinking about now--"

"How much I'd like to go home?" she answered wearily.

"Bingo! The lady wins a prize!" he said enthusiastically.

He carefully moved away from her, placing her hand back on the gentle slope of her stomach. Once he was behind the wheel again, he reached over and stroked his thumb over her lips one more time. She caught his hand before he could reach for the ignition and brought it back to her mouth, placing kisses on each of his fingers.

"It's so good to have you home, Mulder."

He nodded in assent, reluctantly pulling his hand away. "It's good to be home, Scully."

February 26nd, 2001
2:00 a.m.

"No. No, no. Don't. Don't. Not now."

Mulder woke to Scully's muffled whimpering beside him, shifting from his back to his side so he could rouse her as gently as possible. He wound his right arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to his chest. His left hand sought out her smaller one, enveloping it protectively, bracing for any sudden move on her part.

He spoke softly in her ear, "Scully, wake up. It's only a dream. Scully, please wake up."

She continued to sob in her sleep, repeating the same few words in anguished supplication. Her body felt too cold to Mulder--whatever she was dreaming was affecting her physiology as well as her mind. He continued to plead with her but she was wholly unresponsive.

"Scully? Scully? Come on, honey. Wake up!" he begged, louder than before.

Frustrated with his unsuccessful efforts to bring her around, he sat up beside her, then pulled her to an upright position between his legs. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, trying to stimulate blood circulation as he entreated, "Dana, you have to wake up. Please, please, wake up!"

Mulder shifted her again, positioning her across his lap. Her eyes fluttered rapidly under their lids, then opened wide, finally beginning to respond to his pleas. He was relieved for half a second until he realized she was disoriented and upset, still caught in her nightmare.

"Go away! Take your hands off me!" she shouted, struggling against the firm grip on her arms.

"Scully! It's me! It's Mulder!" he yelled back, desperately trying to restrain her.

Whatever was gripping her consciousness like a vise released her suddenly--her eyes focused on her surroundings for the first time since she'd opened them.

"Mulder?" she said, scanning his troubled expression for answers.

His concern diminished rapidly, and a relieved smile spread across his face. Cold sweat was dripping down his forehead and his hands trembled slightly as he encircled her waist, pulling her against his chest. She was too shocked to resist--her mind processing the situation as coherently as possible.

"Oh, God, Scully. You wouldn't wake up. You wouldn't wake up," he murmured against her shoulder.

He inhaled deeply and tried to relax; he was finally free from distress now she was fully awake. He breathed in her distinctive scent--she smelled heavenly--the light dusting of baby powder after her shower was still in evidence.

Scully was quiet, evaluating her shaky limbs and rapid heartbeat with an alert, practiced eye. She must have really scared him--his body was quivering against hers, echoing her own unsteadiness. She leaned heavily against him, allowing herself the time to regain full consciousness and full composure.

"It's never happened like this before, Scully. I mean, I don't know... I'm still missing all our time before last year, before we became lovers. But I remember last year, and I don't remember you having nightmares this bad. Not that I can't wake you from," he stammered. "God, I must sound like a blithering idiot, Scully."

"No, no. You don't," she replied solemnly. "I had some really bad dreams while you were gone. I'm surprised it took almost a week for one to recur. I should have warned you but I guess I was too embarrassed to mention it."

"Have people tried to wake you before?" He moved her gently as he spoke, seeking out her watery eyes.

A blush was hidden beneath her flushed, tear-streaked face. "Yes. My mom, twice. The guys, once. I fell asleep at their place and I really scared them one night. I should have warned you," she repeated needlessly.

Mulder leaned over and kissed Scully's mouth gently, then allowed her to shift her body weight between his legs again. She reclined there; her back against his chest. His arms wrapped around her and he nuzzled her cold, clammy neck, hoping to warm her up by raising their body temperatures the old-fashioned way. She seemed to agree, caressing his bare thighs with long strokes of her slender hands. Well-manicured nails caught against his skin at random moments, raising his blood pressure in a much more pleasant way than a scant five minutes ago.

"Getting fresh with me already, G-Woman?" he teased.

She chuckled softly, then leaned her head back against his chest so their mouths could meet again--with more heat, more longevity, than their previous kiss. Another one followed, and soon both of them were breathless, parting only to replenish the oxygen in their lungs. Scully ran her hand over Mulder's cheek before reluctantly scooting toward the side of the bed.

"Nature calls, Mulder. I'm *such* a pregnant lady," she said, imitating the New York accent of an old lady she'd met in a deli just a few weeks ago.

Like most older women she'd come in contact with for over five minutes time the last few months, the sweet and kind matron had inquired when she was due, and then told her about her grandchildren. She hadn't patted her tummy--to Scully's great relief. By the end of their conversation though, Scully realized she wouldn't have minded-- the woman reminded her of her Irish grandmother.

She wished her grandparents were still alive at the time of that conversation but now knew she'd been granted a much greater gift from whoever was doling out wishes these days--Mulder was back--to share these last few months of pregnancy with her, to make love to her, to care for her. The bad dreams might continue, might even worsen before she gave birth, but she knew in her heart everything would turn out well.

Scully leaned over to kiss his smiling face. He was clearly amused by her impersonation, but seemed more than willing to wait for an explanation.

"I'll hurry back," she promised, returning his smile.

"Not going anywhere," he responded in a velvet tone, sliding seductively against the pillows at the head of the bed.

She licked her lips once, then hurried off to the bathroom, eager to return as soon as possible to those sultry bedroom eyes. fin

February 26nd, 2001
9:00 a.m.
Office of Dr. Myers

"Mulder, stop fidgeting! You're driving me nuts," Scully scolded.

If anyone had the right to squirm at that moment it was Dana Scully, not Fox Mulder. Her bladder was 'optimally filled,' just as the doctor had ordered. 'Optimally filled' so her bladder would move the gas in the intestines out of the way of the ultrasound beam.

As a doctor, Scully knew all the science behind every test she'd gone through over the last six months. That didn't mean she had to enjoy them, particularly when the doctor was running twenty minutes late and she hadn't visited a bathroom for an hour and half. Mulder refused to sit still in the waiting room, discarding one magazine after another. He was driving her crazy. He also had the nerve to excuse himself to use the bathroom twice.

Scully knew it was irrational to expect him to adhere to the same regimen she had to as a pregnant woman, particularly when it pertained to diet or exercise. Or not peeing before the ultrasound examination. She hadn't told him why she hadn't made her usual twice an hour pilgrimage to the rest room. He hadn't seem to notice, so she just assumed he knew why.

He probably was too distracted to remember anything she'd told him in the last twenty- four hours about the test. He was clearly more nervous than she was about this doctor's appointment. It was there first one together and she was delighted to have him beside her. She just wished he'd settle down in his seat for longer than five minutes.

"Sorry," Mulder apologized, uncrossing his legs and bracing his knees with his hands.

Mulder threw her an tentative half-smile, and she pursed her lips, trying not to laugh at his endearing restlessness. His episode in the hospital over the weekend and subsequent retrieval of assorted memories from the previous year had increased his solicitude toward her, if that were even possible. He'd been so attentive to her over the last week she'd sometimes felt like telling him it wasn't necessary to constantly help her with the most fundamental of movements.

Scully didn't protest at first because she found herself appreciating his overprotectiveness for the first time in their eight year relationship. She'd craved his company so much, for so long--it seemed silly to complain. She also had to take into account his amnesia; he could be trying to compensate for not remembering their life together.

However, even after he'd regained enough memories from the last year to feel confident of people, places and things he should know, their encounter with a mysterious car on the highway Sunday night had spooked them both. Her nightmare this morning hadn't helped either. He'd had such a difficult time waking her, but he hadn't pressed her for details of her dream. He'd simply told her they needed to see Skinner as soon as possible, elaborating no further.

"I talked to the neurologist's office this morning, Mulder," she offered, trying to divert his attention from the long wait.

"Do I have an appointment already? he groaned mildly. He'd seen enough medical personnel on his own behalf over the weekend, and was only glad to be in a doctor's office because Scully was the patient.

"Yes... it's a friend from medical school. It won't take very long. I had your records faxed over from Westerly hospital to Alexandria hospital where coincidentally he practices. All those tests we did last week can be compared to your latest ones," she informed him.

"And Skinner?" he asked.

Mulder's eyes reflected genuine anxiety for her continued safety. He didn't know whether they'd be lucky enough to elude pursuit next time they were chased down a dark highway at night. Skinner was the only person who could authorize personal protection for them at this time, and they'd agreed it might be necessary not only for themselves, but also their extended family.

"One p.m., his office," Scully responded.

She took his hand in hers and added, "We don't have to tell him everything, Mulder. Just about the car on Sunday night. It's not even necessary to mention Krycek's name. We're justified in asking for his help."

"I know, I know. I'm the one who was so insistent about seeing him." He raised his hand to her lips gently, preventing her response until he could finish. "The more time I have to think this morning, the more misgivings I have--but I do want to see him, and I do want to protect your family."

"Mom can stay with Bill and Tara for awhile, Mulder. They're on a secure naval base. I don't want to scare her though. We have so little information to go on at this point. Have you talked to the guys yet?"

"No, I forgot to call and tell them about our trip to the hospital, Scully--" he voiced guiltily.

"I did," she told him with a self-satisfied grin.

"That's my Scully," he replied, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

"We're going over there for dinner tonight."

"So... when were you going to tell me? You certainly have my day planner filled, Ms. Scully," he jested.

"I just like to keep you guessing, remember?" she said, smoothing her hand against his own.

"I do now," he said solemnly. "I seem to remember more every day since Saturday. Words and images come back randomly, then combine to make sense ten, fifteen minutes later. Sometimes the whole story comes back at once, but that's only about certain activities, if you know what I mean," he leered playfully.

"Mulder!" she said, glancing around the waiting room at the other patients.

"What? Scully, no one is listening! Even if they were, they would be so confused by our conversation they'd tune it out." He put his arm around her, then kneaded her tight shoulder. "Relax, we're having an ultrasound."

"Yes, I know we're having one. I just wish they'd hurry the hell up in--"

"Dana Scully," the technician yelled to the room at large.

"Yes," she responded enthusiastically, popping out of her chair faster than she imagined possible at this point in her pregnancy. Scully was eager to see her baby's development once again. Not to mention her bladder was about to explode.

Mulder followed her into the examining room, then helped her hop up on the table. He then leaned against the nearest wall, arms crossed, patiently watching the two women prepare for the procedure.

"Hi, Dana. How've you been?" the technician asked while she helped Scully lift her shirt and roll down her maternity pants. She then tucked a large paper drape into the waistband to protect the fabric from the gel.

"Great, just great, Amy. I haven't seen you since my amniocentesis... Amy, this is Fox Mulder. He's the baby's father."

Scully beckoned him to her side while continuing to speak to the technician, "Amy, you know I'm a physician so you gave me an abbreviated explanation last time I was here. You can give Mulder the grand tour, so to speak, if you like."

Amy chuckled as she warmed the gel between her hands. "It's nice to meet you Mulder. You'll have to excuse me from a handshake for now."

"Quite all right. Amy. Why did you have to have an ultrasound during your amniocentesis, Scully?"

"They monitor the insertion of the needle to gather amniotic fluid. It only took about thirty seconds, and I barely felt it. I could see the baby move on the monitor after the doctor withdrew the needle, but I was so nervous about the results of the test I couldn't fully enjoy it. I did get a nice photo to take home with me. I was too embarrassed to tell you I'd lost it in my apartment," she replied sheepishly.

Scully squeezed the hand Mulder had offered her seconds earlier. This time was easier on her; she was confident the baby was healthy after seeing the amnio results at sixteen weeks. He smiled at her and moved his other hand behind her neck, gently massaging there.

"It doesn't matter now, Scully. I'm sure this will be just as exciting," he assured her.

Scully shuddered involuntarily as Amy placed a puddle of gel in the middle of the lower abdomen, about halfway between her navel and her pubic bone. There was no way to completely warm the substance in the few minutes they had, but Amy had certainly done her best. She used the transducer to spread the gel over Scully's belly, from top to bottom.

The room fell silent as the image danced across the monitor. Mulder and Scully watched the blurry picture in awe, searching for recognizable body parts.

"Look!" Amy pointed out finally, as the baby's position changed slightly. "He's waving to you."

The baby wasn't actually moving, but he did have his hand and arm extended, a pose very similar to one stop-action frame of a movie.

"Wow," was all Mulder could manage.

"Wow is right," Scully responded, smiling at Mulder's astonishment.

Amy grinned at both parents. It never ceased to amaze her how predictable people were. No matter how well-educated or articulate they were before the exam--they seemed to lose the power of speech at the first sight of their developing child. 'Wow' was definitely in their vocabulary, along with other common phrases such as 'Oh, God' and 'Look at that.'

She'd been curious about Dana Scully's situation, aware only that the child's father was also an FBI agent because she'd looked over new medical information added to her file. She could only imagine what Dana had been going through--not knowing where he was, what assignment he was on. He'd probably done undercover work, just like on those Discovery Channel shows. That was how Amy explained his absence in her own mind; she could never imagine this attentive, gentle man missing the first months of his child's life for any other conceivable reason.

"Okay, I'm going to print out a few copies of that frame. Dr. Myers should be in any minute. I know you requested this ultrasound, Dana, and so far I see no problems of any kind in fetal development. I'll let you ask the doctor any further questions you may have. Don't move an inch!" Amy warned goodnaturedly.

Amy left the two agents alone, gazing at the frozen image on the screen. Mulder stepped back from Scully a little and asked, "You requested the ultrasound?"

"Yeah. She concurred with my request, Mulder. I was worried about the size of the baby and... my size. There's no harm done. I was going to have one done at eight months also, but I don't think we'll need to. I'm no obstetrician, but I'm pretty happy with the baby's physical development. I think Dr. Myers will be too."

Mulder smiled and leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Serves you right for getting knocked up by a tall guy like me."

"Mulder! You're impossible," she scolded.

Dr. Myers opened the door to the room just as Mulder was moving from cheek to lips for another kiss. He pulled away quickly, startled by her entrance. One glance at Scully informed him of the close relationship that had developed between the two physicians, no doubt because Dr. Myers was noticeably pregnant herself. Not as much as Scully, but enough to show.

"Hey there, how are you doing, Dana?" asked Ashley Myers as she moved the wand over Scully's belly.

Ashley was a brunette with Mediterranean features, a couple of inches taller than Scully. Her long hair was pulled up in a bun, and her green eyes twinkled as she paid close attention to the image on the monitor.

"Fine. Just fine. This is Fox Mulder, Ashley. Mulder, this is Ashley Myers. We went to medical school together," Scully told him, smiling broadly.

"You did, huh? Why didn't you tell me?" he said, feeling slightly out of the loop.

"Probably so she can say 'Gotcha!' when you head back home," joked Ashley before Scully could reply. "She was always pulling crap on us, weren't you, Dana?" she added, grinning at her friend.

"*You* were the class clown?" Mulder asked incredulously.

"No, Ashley was. I just tried to keep up with her," Scully responded.

"No, no. I was trying to keep up with you, Dana. But we'll never see the end of this argument, will we? Now, I wish I could be more chatty today, but I'm very behind schedule. I don't see a thing wrong here, Dana. Everything looks really good. You don't want another one at eight months, do you?"

"No, I don't think so. I don't see the need for it now. I think we'll just go with whatever you think is best for the rest of the pregnancy," Scully replied.

"Okay, sounds good. I don't have to see you for another month. Keep alert for Braxton- Hicks contractions, however mild they are. I also want you to keep a diary of any unusual bouts with heartburn, leg cramps, or faintness. I know you're familiar with all the other symptoms of late pregnancy, but those are the ones I'm most concerned with, other than the contractions. We'll give you something for all those things if you they're too severe. Won't we, Mulder?" she said, surprising them both by addressing Mulder singly.

"Ashley! Are you suggesting I'm a difficult patient who won't take her meds?" Scully teased back.

"Yes, I certainly am. One of the worst in my experience, and I can see by the look on Mulder's face he agrees with me," she added.

Scully shot Mulder a mock glare. "There's only one person who could surpass me in crankiness, and you're looking at him, Ashley."

Mulder let out an indignant little huff, then replied, "I'll remind you of this conversation when you're pleading for your epidural, Scully."

Ashley laughed gleefully, delighted her friend had finally met her match, in more ways than one. They hadn't had very much time to catch up with one another until lately, when Dana started coming to her for her pregnancy. She was happy to see Dana Scully was a changed woman since her last visit; her smile was genuine, her eyes sparkled with life, not worry and dimmed hopes. The return of Mulder, from wherever he'd been, was a joyous one for Ashley if it made her old friend feel this great.

"I'm glad you two get along so well," she remarked dryly. Ashley extended her hand to Mulder across the examining table over Scully's still-exposed tummy. "Hope to see both of you next month, I gotta run!"

Ashley squeezed Scully's right hand affectionately, before sending both of them one last smile and rushing out the door.

Mulder and Scully turned to one another immediately, both suppressing laughter. They both succumbed at the same time, as Amy came walking in to help clean up Scully's slick tummy.

"Hey, I'm glad you're doing so well," Amy told Scully as she wiped up the excess gel from her stomach. "Those sonogram prints are waiting for you when you check out, Dana."

"Thanks, Amy. Thanks for everything," Scully said, hoping to convey her deep regard for her. The whole office had been so supportive of her while Mulder was still missing. She wouldn't have expected anything less of her friend Ashley and the people she employed.

Scully adjusted her waistband and pulled her shirt back down with a little help from Amy. Mulder stood ready to help her off the high table, and they left the room for the receptionist's desk.

"Wait here," she ordered Mulder, ducking into the nearest bathroom.

Mulder nonchalantly leaned beside the door, chuckling to himself. He had a hard time envisioning his Scully as a prankster in college, much less graduate school. Then again, he'd been more wild in his undergraduate years than he was willing to admit to most of his FBI friends.

Phoebe had been the only person from those days to visit him at work. Thank God she didn't spill everything to Scully, he thought to himself. At least, he hoped she hadn't. He still had no memory from that year of his life and no warning when he'd have another episode like the one the previous weekend.

Scully emerged from the washroom and Mulder wasted no time asking her what was now plaguing his mind, "When's my neurologist appointment?"

"Three o'clock, more or less. My friend's on duty tonight at Alexandria hospital. We'll go over and wait until he has a few minutes. He promised to review your records before his shift, and I believe him. He's a real nice guy. You'll like him."

Mulder smiled as they walked down the hall toward the receptionist. "In other words, he's an ex-boyfriend, don't be jealous of him."

"Hardly. He's married to Ashley. We were all in school together, smart ass. I'm not even going to remind you who I was seeing at the time. I think you remember... Oh, God, Mulder, I'm sorry. What if you don't remember?" she said, stricken by her faux pas.

Mulder stopped her from walking any further and put his arms around her. He kissed the top of her head and told her softly, "You already told me about Daniel, Scully. And I *do* remember the night we sat and talked and you told me all about him. It's coming back to me slowly, at least the last year or so."

"Do you remember what happened after I fell asleep on the couch?" she asked, looking up at him beseechingly.

"Yes. Yes, I do, Scully. And I'm not likely to forget for the rest of my life," he whispered, smoothing a stray hair behind her ear.

"Me neither," she responded. Scully reached up and caressed his cheek lightly, her thumb grazing the outside of his lips. "I think it's time we go visit our old office. What do you think of that idea?"

Mulder turned his head slightly, kissing her palm as it rested against his cheek. "I think it's a good one. A great one, actually. I'd like to see if you've redecorated," he said lightly.

Scully groaned with humor, "No, Mulder. Every scrap of paper has been left in its disorganized place! Except for the ones I added to the mess. Come on, G-man, it's time to go back to work."


February 26nd, 2001
11:00 a.m.
FBI Headquarters

"Sure you're ready? We can go somewhere else until our meeting with Skinner."

Scully reached across the car seat for Mulder's hand, initiating a playful war between their thumbs as she waited for a response.

"No. I want to go in. I just needed a minute to collect myself. How about you? Didn't you want to go somewhere for lunch, Scully?" he asked.

Mulder knew he should have suggested a bite to eat before but his thoughts had been focussed on what lie beyond the elevator doors of the Hoover building.

"How about the cafeteria?" she asked with a devilish grin.

"You want to make a grand entrance or something, Scully? Alien hunter Spooky Mulder returns to FBI headquarters accompanied by his very pregnant consort Dr. Dana Scully?" he joked.

Scully looked over at him affectionately and rubbed her thumb over his chilly palm. "Sure. I've been biting my tongue every time I've heard snippets of conversation about us for five long months. I've had to endure stares, people clamming up whenever I enter the room, and stupid, ill-mannered questions from support staff who don't have a clue what our work is all about. Yes, I'd like to make a grand entrance. I've had it with all the rumors, Mulder. I want to show everyone you had no intention of abandoning me, our child, or the X- Files to fly off in a spaceship."

There was a trace of venom in her words, contempt for all the morons who'd come out of the woodwork since Mulder had disappeared last September. Every trip to the bathroom, and she'd had to make plenty of them since the beginning of her pregnancy, became a test of her self-restraint. Since November, women in the Hoover building had freely commented on her condition while Scully used the facilities.

Most had the good sense to shut up when she would exit her stall and step over to the basin to wash her hands. A few would apologize for their thoughtless words. Some would ask her how she was feeling, ask her if there was any word about Agent Mulder. Overall, they were remorseful and Scully never encountered the same discourtesy twice.

However, there were thousands of employees in the building and it never failed to happen on one of her more miserable days, coinciding with some uncontrollable, quite natural surge of hormones through her body. Those days she would wait until the gossip mongers had cleared the restroom, then taken the stairs in lieu of the elevator--just to get away from it all.

Mulder sensed the bitterness behind her levity and responded, "Scully, we don't have to prove anything to these idiots. I'm sorry I treated the situation so lightly... I didn't realize--"

Scully shook her head and interrupted him, "It's okay, Mulder. I don't resent these people; it's human nature to gossip. I just... I just would like to act like ordinary people for once, even if means risking our partnership."

"There's no chance of that, Scully. Skinner would have said something last Monday. There's no reason to split us up; there are other married agents. They don't supervise each other, and I could make a very good case why I don't supervise you anymore. Especially since you managed the X-Files while I was gone," he reminded her.

Scully smiled at his optimism, but remained doubtful. She decided to keep it to herself; there was no point in arguing about their partner status. What will be will be, she thought. If the bureaucrats decided to separate them as an FBI team, they would still be together as a couple. Their love for one another and their child bonded them forever.

"Still want to eat upstairs?" he inquired. Mulder smoothed down the collar of her coat in the back, then twined his fingers through her rapidly growing hair. He never wanted her to have short hair again. Ever.

"Bring me something? After all, I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on in the office," she openly fibbed.

Mulder leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek, "Yeah, I think I can swing that. And Scully?"


"We are going to act like ordinary people. We're going to get married and we're going to move and we're going to have a baby. I don't want to miss out on any more events in our life, even the minor ones--like running out for ice cream at two o'clock in the morning or..." He gave her slender hand a caress with his lips, then continued, "Or dashing off to the Bureau mess hall to get you lunch."

"You think you'll be able to handle it if you can't remember someone?" she fretted.

"Sure. I don't see why not. I'm not always Mister Personality around here anyway. I remember last year and I don't recall being too chummy with anyone other than the lab staff. Seems to be me we've already alienated everyone else, possibly as far back as Antarctica. Don't ask me for details of the OPR meeting though, I only know what I read in my journal. That's one reason I'd like to spend some time in the office--let's take some files home with us. I want to review some of the cases dealing with the alien virus."

"That's exactly what I was going to suggest, Mulder. I'm going to be home a lot for the next few months. I haven't had this much time to study chemical analyses of what we've discovered for years. Not to mention the need to study our own blood--" she added a little anxiously.

"I know," he interrupted. "I didn't want to ask you to do this, Scully, but no one else can. We can't trust anyone else with the information. I don't want to take Krycek's warning seriously, but I'm afraid we're going to have to. We don't know who followed us on the highway last night... or why. I'd like to find out though."

"I think we have to use the lab when no one's around, Mulder. I've done it before, and I can do it again. You don't have to worry about asking me to do anything--it helps to work. It takes my mind off other things..." Her voice trailed off at the end as she studied her hands, clasped loosely in her lap.

Mulder lifted her chin with his forefinger and looked into her eyes. "Hey, nothing's going to happen to you or the baby, Scully. I promise." He leaned over for one chaste kiss, then told her, "Come on, let's get going. It will be one o'clock before you know it and I'm looking forward to seeing Skinner again. This time I won't be at a disadvantage; I think he knew something was wrong last Monday but was too polite to bring it up. Maybe we ought to give him a chance to ask me a few questions before we tell him about the memory loss."

"You think he already knows?" she asked.

"Yes, I do. But it's just a hunch, Scully."

Scully gave a mild groan, accompanied by a grin.

"I know, I know. But how many of my hunches have turned out to be valid theories... tell me that?"

"Oh, once in a while..." she waffled.

"Scully... I may only remember last year, but I can name ten cases off the top of my head when my first impressions proved to be true. You're just being difficult, aren't you?"

She smiled at him indulgently and responded, "I'm hungry, Mulder."

"Argh, woman," he growled affectionately. "You never cut me a break." He leaned over and kissed her on the nose. "Let's face the music, sweetheart."

Scully laughed and popped her car door open. Mulder did the same on his side of the sedan, rushing around to help her climb out gracefully. They were soon in the elevator descending to the basement.

No one was in the car when they got on; not many people used the lower floor for anything but office supplies and major copying duties. Scully got out her keyring and opened the door which still boasted Mulder's nameplate. He smiled at the addition of a second one below, Agent Dana Scully, M.D. How had he neglected to get her one before?

The office smelled musty from being closed up for the last few weeks. Scully doubted anyone but the cleaning crew had been in here lately. Her temporary partner didn't have a key anymore, but Skinner had access to the office at any time. She hadn't minded that at all; if Mulder hadn't returned, he would have been her liaison to important databases.

She could still get around pretty well in her sixth month, but she had a realistic expectation she might be confined to bed the last month of her pregnancy. If Mulder hadn't been back by then, she would have done whatever she could from home to find him. But he's home now, she thought to herself. She smiled to herself, basking in the joy returned to her life since last Monday night.

"What's so funny, Scully?" Mulder asked, amused by her Mona Lisa smile.

Forest-colored eyes searched for any renovations or improvements of note. Everything looked pretty much the same, except for the addition of another desk, crammed into the far corner of their claustrophobic domain. The partner's space, he mused. Thank God Skinner had found her someone untainted by the Consortium. Of course, he thought, there was no assurance her temporary partner was clean. He could have been waiting for the right moment to...



"What are *you* thinking about?" she inquired thoughtfully. "You seem far away."

"Your partner Charlie. I was having paranoid thoughts..." he admitted a bit shamefacedly.

"Oh, don't worry about him. The guys bugged his apartment the whole time he worked with me. He's completely clean," she told him confidently.

Mulder grinned at her, then wove his arm around her waist. She didn't resist, though he knew she would have done so a year ago. There had been a hands off policy at work as soon as they'd started sleeping together.

"Scully, you committed an illegal act! I'm flabbergasted at your temerity. So... find out anything interesting about your temporary partner?"

He whispered his last sentence in a voice laden with prurient interest. Scully choked out an indignant laugh at his accusation.

"Mulder! He's a nice guy! And no, I didn't listen when he had women over, you pervert!" She shuffled her feet a bit and looked down at the floor shyly, "I left that task to Frohike."

Mulder chuckled at the visual image of his trollish friend, and whoever else happened to be at the Gunmen's office, listening to Charlie get some action.

"All in the interest of keeping you safe, of course?"

"Of course," she replied, finally succumbing to a few giggles.

Mulder took her by the hand and they wove their way around his old desk. It had a sprinkling of dust from disuse, but was still pretty much like he'd left it. Scully had carved herself a workspace, leaving his toys and other familiar objects at rest.

"You spent a lot of time down here, Scully?"

"Yeah, I didn't like to leave until eight or nine at night. It always made the nights go faster when I had just a few hours to kill at home. Or your apartment. I started staying there more the last few months."

"For the tub?" he guessed.

"Yeah, for that, and just to be there as much as I could..." Her voice wavered as she continued, "I wanted to be near you. I couldn't smell you in my apartment anymore..."

Tears brimmed in her eyes, and Scully felt slightly silly. She'd resisted crying all day, why now? Perhaps because they were absolutely alone now--she could let it all hang out if she wanted.

"Hey, come here," Mulder crooned, pulling her into his arms, then gently wiping the wetness off her cheeks with his thumb. "I'm sure I did the same thing when you were gone. God knows... I still can't remember those three months. Maybe I'm better off not retrieving sad memories, Scully. I was pretty terse in my journal entries... with good reason, I'm sure."

"You know I'm not terribly sentimental, Mulder--but I felt like I was going over the edge some evenings. I couldn't talk to my mother or the guys sometimes. There were times when I was so alone..."

Scully tightened her arms around his back and leaned her cheek against his chest. Mulder shushed her before she could say more, kissing her forehead several times before telling her, "Come on, why don't you sit down? It's getting close to noon and you need to eat lunch. I'll run upstairs and get something, okay?"

"Okay," she responded, smiling up at the crooked grin on his face.

She reluctantly moved out of his arms and navigated around piles of manilla folders on the floor. She carefully sat down in the adjustable office chair, her latest bout with its stability fresh in her mind. Mulder stepped back to admire her, trying to remember when she'd usurped his seat last--it must have been shortly before he'd left for Bellefleur a second time. He shook off the memory when she smiled at him, clearing her throat with an understated 'harumph.'

"Chef's salad? Milk?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.

"Sure. Extra milk... okay?"

"Okay. I'll just be a few minutes. This kind of service doesn't come cheap, you know."


Her lips curled into a little bow as she realized he was teasing her. Mulder walked over to her and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"Payment received," he whispered, before turning to leave.

Scully watched him walk to the door, then turn and glance at her one more time before locking the door behind him. He didn't have to do that, she had her weapon with her--it was *their* office, for goodness sake! She appreciated it nonetheless. It was getting easier to accept his protection when he gave it without patronizing words of caution.

Mulder strode over to the elevator doors and punched at the button beside him. Ten seconds later, the metal barrier parted and he collided with a man slightly shorter than himself yet a good thirty pounds heavier.

"Mulder! Good to see you! I just found out you were back!" exclaimed the paunchy, but pleasant looking brown-haired man. He extended his hand in a such a friendly manner Mulder was forced to reciprocate.

Exasperated by his inability to place this man from his past, Mulder found it difficult to disguise his bewilderment. He tried to erase the confusion from his features, but the stranger had already noted his befuddlement.

"Hey, Mulder, I know I've gained a lot of weight in the last couple years, but surely you remember me? Tom, Tom Colton. Sorry if I caught you off guard. I just heard about you and Dana."

Mulder searched his memory frantically, settling on a case he'd read about in his journal. 1993. No wonder he couldn't recognize this man; they'd worked on the Tooms case together but Mulder hadn't seen a photograph of him among the ones Scully had shown him last week.

"Oh, Tom. Tom, I'm sorry. You do look different. You grew a beard, didn't you?" Mulder hedged a bet the beard was a new addition to the man's visage. "How come you have a Visitor's pass and not an FBI ID on your lapel?" Mulder asked, attempting to evade scrutiny of his own faulty memory by focussing on Tom's status as an agent.

"Didn't you hear? I quit the Bureau about a year and a half ago and formed a company with a few friends. Security systems, personal safety seminars, that kind of stuff. We're still struggling, but I think it will work out. Didn't do much good for my personal fitness regimen, though," Tom remarked, patting his extra girth.

Mulder grinned, then answered, "It suits you, Tom. You look happy to be a civilian. To tell the truth, Scully and I spend so much time out of town some months we never hear the latest buzz around the water cooler. I guess you were on your way to say hello to Scully, weren't you?"

"Yeah, I was just visiting a few friends in the bullpen. Hey! Congratulations, Mulder! I mean... I don't mean to be presumptuous-- " he stammered.

"No, no. It's true. Scully and I... we're getting married soon," he admitted.

"That's great!" he responded, offering Mulder his hand once again.

Mulder grasped his hand firmly, internally praising some unknown deity for getting him through yet another awkward situation.

He gestured with his hand toward the office door and said, "Go ahead, Tom. I'm on my way to pick up lunch, but I'll be back in ten. I'm sure Dana would like to see you."

"I'll just be a minute. Got a client interview at one p.m. but I wanted to give her my best wishes. Take care, Mulder. It's good to see you made it back... from wherever those *gray* Reticulans had you," he quipped.

Mulder smiled and replied, "Thanks, Tom. I don't know if they were gray or not, but they were definitely Reticulans..."

Tom grinned back. "I know you're full of it, Mulder. No matter where you were, I'm glad you're back. I'm glad Dana has you," he remarked honestly.

"Thanks, Tom," Mulder replied, with equal sincerity. "*I'm* glad to be around now. I'm going to fly before Scully has to wait much longer for that great cafeteria food. Take care of yourself," he concluded, shaking Tom's hand for a third and last time before running off to summon the elevator.

Thirty minutes later, Mulder felt like he'd just run an obstacle course. He managed to pin a frozen smile on his face from the moment he emerged from the elevator on the second floor. People waved cheery hellos, some stopping him in the hallway to shake his hand. Spooky had never been so popular among Hoover employees before-- they'd generally avoided him like the plague.

He imagined once the search had been called off for Agent Fox Mulder, MIA, the news had spread like wildfire. Scully's pregnancy was no secret, even though she'd secluded herself in the basement the last few months. No one believed the baby could be anyone else's-- she'd never been seen with any other men--at least not in the same way everyone associated her with Mulder.

Mulder tried to be gracious, but finally had to tell some well- wishers he was on a tight schedule and move along. The line moved swiftly at the cafeteria and he was eternally grateful those in line to either side of him were total strangers. If he had to converse with someone he couldn't remember, Mulder was ready to leave the building for the nearest McDonald's.

"Special delivery!" he shouted before entering the office. He looked around the basement hideaway, trying to spot Scully among the familiar clutter. "Scully?" he questioned when he didn't see her scarlet tresses.

"Here," she voiced from the door. "Another trip to the john. So, what did you think of Tom, Mulder?" she asked lightly.

"Boy, Scully. That was a close one. If he hadn't put on so much weight... I mean I really didn't know who he was... he thought it was his size, not my recollection of him. I must not have seen him since he left the FBI. It's a good thing I ran into him, though. It prepared me for what lay ahead on the second floor. There were a few people I had to smile at like some goofy clown; luckily no one thought it was odd I didn't know them by name."

Mulder was obviously relieved to be in their out-of-the-way sanctuary. He set the bags down on an empty desk and pulled two chairs over so they could eat on the flat surface. Scully rummaged through the food before sitting down, carefully placing her salad and drink to one side.

"I'm surprised Tom dared to show his face around here after some of the rumors he's spread in the past, Mulder. He does seem to be a changed man. Since he got married..."

She caught Mulder's eye as he was sitting down. He sheepishly responded, "I hope you don't mind that I told him we were getting married, Scully. I couldn't allow him to think--"

"It's fine, Mulder. I don't mind. In fact, I think my mother has come up with March tenth as a possible date. That okay with you?" she asked coyly, tilting her head to one side.

Mulder smiled and scooted his chair closer to her side. "Yeah, you know it is." He took hold of her left hand and fingered the antique ring she continued to wear. "You sure tried to chase me away before I regained my memory, Scully."

His tone was light, but she knew how aggravated he'd been before she'd green lighted the nuptials on their way back from Rhode Island.

"Humph," she replied with mock indignation. "Just another case of the two of us seeing circumstances through a totally different lens, Mulder. I'd never chase you away, but I would make you slow down and think things out rationally."

He leaned over to kiss her cheek quickly, then agreed, "You always have, Scully. I hope you always will."

Mulder turned his attention to the hamburger and fries he'd brought back for himself, tearing the bag apart and spreading a dozen napkins across the table to capture the grease.

"You're lucky I'm past the queasy stage or I'd be out of here in a flash," Scully teased. She picked at her salad, fishing out the pieces of cheese and egg with care.

"Did you get morning sickness? I never thought to ask," he queried before taking a huge bite of his burger.

"It was bad for a few weeks after I first found out. It got better. The dizzy spells went away as soon as I made sure I ate enough protein. I guess skipping meals probably contributed to that symptom more than anything."

"We, I, thought you were sick, Scully. The night you came to my motel room... I wish we'd done something then," he reflected solemnly.

"We couldn't have known, Mulder," she assured him, running her hand along his forearm.

"No, but I wouldn't have left you here if I'd known you were pregnant, Scully. You have to believe that. I don't think anything would have made me leave you if I'd known. Even a cloaked spaceship in Oregon," he responded quietly.

Scully reached over and swiped her finger across his chin, capturing a stray dollop of ketchup. "I believe you. But--" she sighed pensively.

"Buh wha?" he mumbled around his fries.

"I don't want you to stop trying to solve problems because of me, or because of the baby. That's what we do, Mulder. It's our job to save people's lives, and if we have to..."

"We have to look out for ourselves, too. We've taken enough chances for humanity, Scully. I want to see you have a good life. If that means cutting back on the X-Files, or if it means finding something else to do with my life, that's what I'll do."

Scully shook her head, "No, we can't give up on our work, Mulder. I agree... there may be less dangerous ways to go about it, but there will always be pitfalls for us--because of what we know... because of what we carry in our bloodstream."

She spoke with a tone of resignation which hurt him physically, tore at his gut. He wanted to make it crystal clear what his priorities in life were now he was back home to stay. Mulder never wanted her to doubt his devotion, no matter what path they followed in the coming months.

"I'm not going to let you get hurt again, Scully," he responded determinedly. "Or the baby. That's the whole reason we're here this afternoon--to see Skinner... to explain what we think happened to me, what we know happened the other day. I don't think anyone else in the FBI will take us seriously."

"Oh, really?"

The voice behind them startled Mulder and Scully; they reached for their weapons instinctively and turned around.

February 26nd, 2001
12:45 p.m.
FBI Headquarters

"Relax, agents," Skinner chuckled. "You might want to reconsider sitting with your back to the door from now on."

Mulder and Scully cringed at his words, painfully aware of their lapse in security. The basement office seemed so comfortable; it was easy to get complacent there.

"Sorry, sir. In light of why we've asked you to meet with us today-- I feel very foolish letting down my guard," Mulder apologized.

"Please sit down, sir. We're not late, are we?" Scully said, checking her watch.

"No, you're not. I'd feel better talking to you down here. I believe this office was just swept for bugs," he remarked.

"How?" Scully sputtered. No one was supposed to be using their office while they were on vacation.

"Frohike, Scully. I must have told him last week we were going to use the office today. How did *you* know, sir?"

"I happened to be in the neighborhood at two o'clock this morning," Skinner told them.

"Thanks, sir. For not busting Frohike, that is. I gave him permission, after all," Mulder explained.

"Well, both of you are damn lucky I have a sense of humor," Skinner replied with a small smile. "What did you want to see me about, agents?" he added, getting directly to the point.

"You probably already know about my stay at the hospital over the weekend. I imagine Human Resources got a fax from Westerly this morning."

"Are you all right now? Will this illness be affecting your fitness for duty?" Skinner asked.

Mulder looked to Scully for guidance, uncertain how much to reveal.

"We're not sure yet, sir. We're going to see a neurologist this afternoon," Scully interjected quickly.

"I'd like a full report as soon as possible. I didn't expect you to go back to work right away, Mulder. But I'd like to know if your abduction will prevent that eventuality--so, please keep me informed," Skinner told him.

"I will, sir," Mulder assured. "My hospital stay isn't the only thing I wanted to discuss with you, sir. We drove back to DC with Scully's mom and brother; we dropped them off at her home in Maryland Sunday night."

"You drove?" Skinner inquired.

"Yes. I felt fine by then. I had plenty of rest in the hospital; I felt okay. It's just a short drive down 295 so we should have been home in less than an hour but we were followed by a single vehicle for several miles. I didn't notice them behind us right away and I managed to lose the tail by speeding up and taking the first exit I could. I don't think they caught up with us again," Mulder concluded.

"You never got a good look at the car behind you?" Skinner asked.

"No, I took off as fast as I could once I noticed headlights in the rear view mirror one too many times," Mulder responded.

Skinner heaved a sigh, then relaxed his posture in the straight chair he'd been sitting in. He clasped his hands together and looked from one agent to the other.

"The car following you was one of mine, Mulder. I'm sorry... I assigned protection to both you and your relatives as soon as you returned a week ago. I should have told you about this but--"

"They were FBI? Since when do you have agents following us around?" Scully inquired furiously.

"Scully..." Mulder whispered, placing his hand over hers as she seethed over what she perceived to be a violation of trust.

Scully snatched her hand away, resisting his appeal for calm. She wondered if Skinner had been protecting her since last September when Mulder disappeared. How many other agents knew of their predicament? She didn't appreciate the infringement upon her privacy this 'protection' implied.

"How long have you had a tail on me, sir? Since last fall?" she snapped.

Undaunted by the steely glare accompanying her ire, Skinner plunged ahead, "No, I haven't been keeping tabs on you since last fall, Agent Scully. There've been times I was tempted to--but I knew you had three friends to do the Bureau's job--"

Scully blushed at this revelation, recalling how attentive the Gunmen had been until Mulder returned just one week ago. Their vigilance must have included surreptitious round-the-clock surveillance. She didn't know whether to kiss them or kill them for looking out for her.

"Thanks, sir. At least we know what happened now," Mulder placated.

This was one time Mulder wanted to brownnose the AD, appreciating Skinner's interest in keeping Scully safe, even if she felt her privacy was invaded. He understood her objections to not knowing--he would have preferred to know himself. However, he couldn't take offense at Skinner's efforts; Mulder knew he would have done the same thing himself.

Scully lifted her eyes from studying the vinyl floor beneath their feet and added, "Yes, sir. I'm sorry I lost my temper." She looked thoughtful for a moment then continued, "The protection was unexpected, but I guess I can't say completely unwarranted considering our situation. You have agents assigned to all my family members, then?"

"Yes, even the ones overseas, Scully. They have no idea they are being watched."

"Did you hear from Krycek, sir?" Mulder asked, anxious to get to issues surrounding the baby's safety.

"Yes, in a way. I bugged the bugger, so to speak. He thought he was controlling me, agents. Little did he know." Skinner gave them a satisfied smile, and continued, "I have something to show you. It's not a pretty picture, and I don't want to upset Agent Scully..."

"I'll be all right. If you have any worries at all, show it to Mulder first, sir. I'm sure he knows my limits by now," she assured.

Skinner reached inside his suit and pulled out a 5 by 7 glossy photo. It was black and white, but Mulder recognized the dead men immediately.

"You were bugging Krycek's apartment?" Mulder asked.

"Yes. After he reappeared last fall, I found the right men to do the job. I'm sure you're familiar with them, so I won't name names," Skinner replied.

"Our friends?" Scully asked anyway.

She held her hand out, expecting Mulder to hand over the photo, no matter how gruesome. She'd probably seen worse and she wasn't going to be coddled if it concerned Krycek and his involvement with the Consortium. Mulder looked over at Skinner with resignation, then shrugged his shoulders and handed her the piece of paper.

"Smoking Man? He wasn't dead?" she gasped when viewing the two corpses.

"No. He survived Krycek's assault on him last fall, with the help of his nurse, but Cancer Man couldn't survive a bullet from our one- armed friend. It appears they shot one another during a heated argument, and by the time I'd mobilized a team to collect the bodies, someone had cleaned up the mess. Apparently, we weren't the only ones watching Krycek. Of course, this means we can't be sure they are both dead--but the photographic evidence is pretty damning..." he concluded.

Skinner then stood up and said, "That's all I have for you, agents. I'd still like to see you take more vacation time. I think both of you deserve it. I'd like to know what the neurologist has to say also."

"Sir, there's something we haven't told you yet," Scully informed him.

Mulder almost spoke, but thought better of it when her eyes begged him to do otherwise. He leaned back in his chair, hands interlocked behind his head. Memories from the last year and half had flooded his consciousness the last few days, confirming what he'd already discovered within minutes of 'meeting' Scully last Monday night--she could convey so much, so well, with just a glance his way.

Mulder was beginning to feel like his old self--every new recollection seized and held by electrical activity in his brain. He didn't think it would have been possible to recover so rapidly without Scully's love and patience. If it had been the other way around--if she'd been the one to suffer such a devastating loss of memory--he only hoped he could have given her as much or more tender loving care.

"What is it, Scully?" Skinner asked anxiously.

Skinner had sensed something different about Mulder last Tuesday morning; he still wondered what had aroused his suspicions about him then. Mulder seemed perfectly normal today; he bore no visible effects from his physical collapse over the weekend. Why had he seemed so distant his first day back?

Skinner hoped to learn the truth of the matter but would be summarily disappointed. Scully had decided to conceal Mulder's memory loss from their boss as long as possible, and Mulder would no doubt agree with the wisdom of that choice when she explained her remarks later. She was more concerned about enlisting the AD's help in finding and fighting the Consortium than trying to explain Mulder's partial amnesia to her wary superior.

"Krycek approached us last week in a neighborhood park and warned us- -he told us the baby was unique--there were men interested in him..." she stammered.

Scully was battling tears as she spoke. Why was this so hard for her? She'd rehearsed this twenty times in her head while waiting for Mulder to get her lunch. Dammit, she thought to herself, pull yourself together. She lowered her eyes to the floor and blinked her eyes in frustration.


Mulder had moved beside her and taken her left hand between his own. She was embarrassed by the attention, but determined to stave off a full fledged bout of weeping in front of Skinner. She reached inside her jacket and extracted a tissue, then dabbed the wetness from under her eyes.

"Finish for me," she choked out finally.

Mulder turned to Skinner and continued, "Krycek seemed to think the baby's immunity to the alien virus would make it the perfect test subject. He told us the Project was not totally disbanded--there were parties dissociated from the Smoking Man who were aware of Scully's pregnancy and our medical histories. He said he was doing us a good turn. Naturally we didn't believe him, but--"

"It's plausible someone would be interested in the child, Mulder. That's why I've arranged for even more protection now than before you returned. I don't know what connection your release has to this threat but I do take it seriously. I know you're both capable agents --I'd feel better if you'd respect my efforts and not try to escape your protection, as you did the other night," Skinner told them.

"It won't happen again, sir," Scully promised, with a steadier, stronger voice. She smiled weakly, and continued, "We appreciate what you've done in the past."

"All I've done is watch out for two of my best agents, Scully. I hope you and Mulder will come up with a solution to the overriding problem you've been investigating all these years. I know you can. I know you will."

Mulder was surprised to hear Skinner allude to colonization in this way; he'd clearly become a believer since last autumn. Not having to argue this point with their AD would help navigate the rough road that lie ahead. At least Skinner didn't think he was looney tunes anymore.

"Thank you, sir," he told the AD, nodding his head in acknowledgment of the older man's confidence in them. "We'll try our best."

Skinner rose from his chair, evidently satisfied with their meeting. He grinned briefly at the agents, both waiting for his final word of the day. "I know I can't keep you away from this office, but I'd appreciate it if you conduct your research discreetly. You're on maternity leave, Scully, and Mulder, you better get yourself fit for duty. Go see that doctor and get a clean bill of health. Then you can see about going back to work. I still think you both ought to take it easy for another few weeks--"

"We will, sir. We're not planning on going very far afield. We have plenty to do in the interim, though, and I promise you we'll be careful if we use the FBI lab. We may not have to go there--I think I know an alternative," Scully answered thoughtfully.

"Don't hesitate to ask me for assistance, Scully. I want you both to know you're not alone in this. It's far from over, in my opinion. Take care of yourselves, agents," he concluded, slipping out the door before either of them could respond.

"Well, that went better than I expected," Mulder told her immediately.

"I guess... for you at least," Scully responded, uneasy about her loss of control in front of Skinner.

Scully had managed to remain stoic around her supervisor and the guys for the most part while Mulder was gone. As her pregnancy progressed, and Mulder's absence dragged on, she'd excused herself more than once when in the company of her four protectors. It was more difficult to display her emotions in front of them than Mulder-- it always had been.

She knew she'd return to being a more staid, less demonstrative person once the baby was born. It was the way she'd garnered respect in the past, carefully restraining her reactions when among her peers in the FBI. The times she'd lost her temper, lost all that well- practiced discipline which prevented her from exhibiting how she truly felt, were always justified in her mind and heart.

It was close to impossible to avoid displaying her heart on her sleeve now--less than three months to go, she thought. The baby will be born soon and I won't have to worry about hormonal outbursts anymore. Then she felt the baby softly kick from within her womb and she wished for more time to savor their child's growth--especially now that Mulder was here to share this miraculous experience.

"Scully?" he asked, interrupting her thoughts. The serene look on her face vanished when she turned her head.

"Yes?" she asked, as a smile bloomed across her face.

"When's that appointment with the neurologist?"

"Three o'clock. It'll take thirty minutes to drive over to Alexandria and it's--" Scully glanced at her wristwatch quickly, "close to two now."

"Good. Just enough time," he told her, crossing the room and throwing the deadbolt on the door. Mulder sauntered slowly across the office, then stood comfortably behind her.

"What do you have in mind, Mulder?" she asked, rolling her head back against his stomach. She smiled as he caressed her shoulders, working out the tension their discussion with Skinner had fostered.

"Scully... please. It's not what you might think--I have a fantasy I've always wanted--" he pleaded.

"Mulder," she warned lightheartedly, "I don't think the desk is a possibility in my condition--"

She took his hand and gently pulled him around to her side. He chuckled softly as he knelt beside her, placing his free hand on the slope of her belly.

"Scully, what would make you think I ever entertained a fantasy like that?" he teased back. He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed each finger before entwining them with his own.

Scully smiled shyly, then told him, "I bet I can match every one of your office daydreams with one of my own, Mulder."

"I bet you can--and maybe someday we'll exchange thoughts on that. But now--"

Mulder took both her hands in his own and pulled her to her feet. She followed him cautiously as he walked backward, luring her toward the filing cabinets. He gleamed triumphantly when they arrived, dropping her hands and entreating her in a low, gravelly voice, "Open a drawer, Scully."

"You've lost your mind, Mulder. *This* is your fantasy?" she responded incredulously.

"Humor me. It's harmless fun. You heard what Skinner said--no one's watching us-- there's no surveillance cameras in our fire sprinkler heads, no bugging devices at all."

He swept his hand over her arm, touching her lightly on her elbow, then her wrist, before resting his warm fingers on her hip. He gently pushed her closer to the metal structure.

"All right, Mulder. I'll humor you, but there better not be anything worthy of a honeymoon video. This is still the place we work," she shot back.

He leaned over and kissed behind her ear, then whispered roughly, "This is the most innocent of fantasies, Scully. Not everything is rated Triple X in my mind."

"Okay, you win... I'm opening the drawer, Mulder," she said, slowly inching the metal container along its tracks.

"Find a file, any file," he urged. "Start skimming through the contents."

Scully turned to give him a dubious look, but obeyed his seemingly inane request. She stood before him, his hand on her hip, his lips caressing the crown of her hair. He moved closer, slowly soldering his lower body to her own.

She felt his body heat, his growing arousal, as he snaked his arms through her own. He lowered his mouth to the back of her neck, kissing her there while he removed the file from her still hands.

She gave it to him willingly, leaning back against the immovable barrier of his torso. He dropped the file back in the open drawer, freeing his hands, moving them along her velvety curves.

His hands grazed lightly beneath her breasts, just enough to make her wish for more of his gentle touch there. He continued to rain small kisses over her shoulders and neck, never stopping too long in any one place.

Scully felt a little weak, not quite ready to swoon, but strongly shaken by his quiet, patient seduction. She turned around slowly in his arms, then lifted her hands to his face, sweeping his lower lips with the pads of her thumbs.

Mulder smiled down at her, then imitated her gesture, bringing his palms to rest on her cheeks. Her face returned his joyous expression, silently urging him to diminish the distance between them.

Mulder kissed her tenderly, soothing her lips with feathery touches of his tongue. She opened her mouth to him and they kissed deeply, passionately, for several minutes, forgoing respiration as pleasure diffused through their bodies.

When they finally broke the kiss, Scully placed her hands on his chest, allowing a little distance between them. She stroked her hand from his breastbone to his collarbone, a bemused expression on her face.

"That's it? That's your office fantasy, Mulder?" she asked, no trace of sarcasm in her soft inquiry.

His lips curved up slowly, eyes darting over her radiant features. "Uh, that's the one I've had the most. As far as I can tell anyway-- from the memories I recovered. I'm sure I've been having the same one since the day you walked in the door of this office, Scully. I know I thought you were beautiful the first day I met you because I wrote it down in my journal. Didn't you ever peek at my first entry?" he asked seriously.

"No, no. I, I avoided the first few years when we poked into your personal diary, Mulder. I didn't think there would be anything of value to our search. I--" She lifted her hand to his face again and softly caressed his cheek with her thumb. "I thought you were handsome. I wonder how well I concealed that from you," she said with a warm smile.

"Pretty damn well according to my first impressions. I wrote several weeks later that I was sure you'd leave the X-Files and settle down with some guy before too long. I suppose I was wrong, wasn't I?" he asked, the timbre of his voice expressing doubts even now, even after all they'd been through.

She clutched his hand possessively. "Yes, you were, Mulder. I remember, I know, I would never have settled for anyone less than you. I didn't tell you... I denied it for years... I knew I'd never leave your side."

He sealed her lips with gentle fingers, then replaced them with the soft texture of his mouth. They shared a few more kisses, then pulled slightly apart, grinning with unspoken happiness.

"Time to face the medical music, Mulder," she told him, brandishing her wrist in his face.

"Yes, Doctor Scully. I agree. Speaking of medical advice... will you rest tonight? Please? I know we have a lot to do here, but by the time we're done at the hospital--"

"Okay, Mulder. We'll call it a day, but we're going to call the guys and find a lab to use tomorrow. We have to find answers to all the questions we've posed. We have to know why there's so much interest in our immunity, in the baby's immunity, to the virus."

"All in good time, Scully. All in good time," he whispered as they crossed the room to leave for his appointment.

February 26th, 2001
4:00 p.m.
Alexandria Hospital

Mulder popped a pill in his mouth, then leaned over to slurp some water from the fountain. He wiped the back of his hand over his glossy lips, then licked them thoroughly, eyes gleaming with mischief. Scully was watching his every move, agape with unconscious abandon.

"You'll catch a lot of flies like that," he teased.

Scully smiled back and offered him her hand. They were openly touching one another in public now; by tacit agreement they hadn't gone back to their practice before Mulder's abduction--keeping a polite professonal distance for appearances' sake.

There really was no point in disguising their relationship anymore-- FBI employees with only a marginal interest in their saga knew about Scully's pregnancy and Mulder's recent return to DC. No one assumed anything, but it was a pretty good guess their colleagues thought they might be headed for the altar. Ten or twelve of them had ambushed Mulder and Scully as they'd strolled casually across the parking garage an hour and a half ago.

It was less difficult than either of them could have imagined--they shook everyone's hand and smiled shyly as a group from the bullpen congratulated them on two counts, the baby, and Mulder's successful return from wherever the hell the infamous alien hunter had disappeared this time. Mulder was well known for getting himself into impossible predicaments, surviving them by sheer luck, or through the intervention of his loyal partner. Fortunately, the friendly agents were on their way to a seminar at Quantico and didn't detain the couple longer than necessary.

When their admirers had left, Mulder and Scully realized they'd been gripping each other's hands tightly as they chatted it up with the crowd--something they'd never have risked last year. Not a word had been sent down from the upper echelons of the FBI bureaucracy concerning their partnership, but both agents were well aware the continuance of the X-Files was by no means a sure thing. There was some cause for worry when they both returned to work, presumably as newlyweds, but neither Mulder nor Scully wanted to dwell on this possibility. They had other dilemmas to focus on; futile worry over their marital status would only distract them from their own, more timely, agenda.

"You think this medicine will work, Scully?" he finally asked when she offered no retort to his lighthearted comment.

Her eyes shone with a contentment she'd only embraced in the last week; his whirlwind return and recovery had shaken her makeshift universe, the one which had offered her strength to cope through five months of alternating hope and despair. She'd depended not only on her faith in Mulder's uncanny ability to survive disaster, but also on her renewed belief in a higher power, one which had graced her body with a child, a sliver of Mulder's soul.

Scully answered him confidently, "Brian thinks so. He's a top-level specialist, Mulder. He looked over your recent EEGs, CT scans, and all your bloodwork from both hospitals, and I don't know any one better qualified to treat you. I know you had a bad experience with phenytoin when you were hospitalized a year and a half ago, but that was a thousand milligrams and Kritschgau was not a physician--"

"I know, I know. You'll make sure I get my dosage adjusted weekly, I'm sure," he responded with cautious, but cheerful optimism. "Millions of people live with seizures. I just hope mine aren't chronic--they should diminish as all my memories return, don't you think?"

"There's no guarantee, Mulder. Medication can control the problem to some extent, but we'll have to be careful the next few months. I guess you're just going to have to allow your personal physician to accompany you everywhere you go. Would you like that?"

She playfully swung their joined hands between them as they strode down the corridor. He grinned back and said, "*Everywhere*, Scully? Even my bachelor party?"

"You've got to be kidding!" she replied, feigning disgust with the inevitable ritual. She'd expected the guys to throw Mulder a bash, but she didn't have to sanction it, especially if it included consumption of alcohol.

"The guys... they're insisting. Sorry, Scully. No girls allowed."

She shook her head in mock exasperation, suppressing a grin. She knew she wasn't fooling Mulder with her disapproving act. She smiled in spite of herself and told him, "I'll entrust the three Stooges with your welfare, Mulder... but you'll have to stay sober if you're going to take your medication. I don't want anything to mess with your recovery."

He nodded his head in agreement. "Deal, Scully. I'll let the guys do the heavy drinking this time."

Any response from Scully was cut off by the trilling of her phone. She reached into her coat pocket and flipped it open.

"Scully," she said solemnly, although her eyes were still smiling from Mulder's latest concession to her wishes.

"Oh. Okay. We'll be there in twenty minutes, all right? Thanks, Byers. See you soon," she concluded.

She thumbed off the device and replaced it in her jacket. Mulder watched her expectantly, his head tilted to one side.

"So?" he asked when he saw her expression lose its levity.

Scully's shoulders slumped with the weight of her newfound knowledge. She didn't want Mulder haring off across country as soon as she told him the latest news. Her mouth opened and closed once or twice before she found the words to articulate Byers' message.

"Teresa Hoese is back. So is her husband, Billy Miles, and other abductees from the area. All of them were returned in the last twenty-four hours, but the news reports just came over the wire now."

"Are they all right?" Mulder asked.

"For the most part. They've all refused to be interviewed by the media, thank God. They haven't told authorities much. Billy and Ray are both law enforcement, but they don't want to talk about their experiences," she replied.

"I don't blame them. I don't want to talk about mine."

"I thought they didn't hurt you--" she voiced with concern.

"I don't know for sure what happened to me, Scully. I started to remember things last Saturday that I don't want to tell you, maybe I'll never be able to tell you. I don't want to upset you, Scully-- not, not now. You understand, don't you?" he asked, sweeping his hand through her hair until he gently cradled her head.

She moved closer to him, placing both palms on his chest. "I do. I've never told you what happened to me. I don't remember much, you know... I don't think I want to remember. I may have entertained the thought of retrieving those memories through hypnosis at one time--"

Mulder leaned down and gently kissed her forehead, then pulled back and said quietly, "You do understand."

Scully gave him a glimpse of a smile, then moved her hands to his waist and responded, "I do."

He grinned at the two simple words, imagining how beautiful they'd sound in an entirely different context in less than two weeks. If they were lucky. If he didn't get them into hot water before then. Mulder wanted to assure her he wasn't going to take the next plane to Oregon and disappear into the mists of the forest again.

"I'm not going anywhere, Scully. I'm not leaving you again," he whispered softly in her ear.

Scully murmured back, "Of course you're not, Mulder."

He kissed her softly on the lips. "That's my Scully. Come on, Frohike will cook for us if we're nice to him."

Lone Gunmen's residence
Somewhere near DC
4:45 p.m. "Whaddaya got for us, boys?" Mulder asked, escorting Scully through the security door and over to the vintage vinyl couch.

It was dark in the Gunmen's headquarters, more so than usual. The guys were all present, ready to show off the fruits of their labor. They'd been monitoring satellite news feeds from the television station near Bellefleur since last September when Mulder had disappeared.

"I'm sure Scully told you about the news reports we recorded. Those were local news reports--they didn't amount to very much because they were interrupting afternoon soap operas. There's a three hour time difference so the best reports will be at eight o'clock our time. Here's what we have so far--I'll run it through the set over there," Frohike said, pointing to a fairly large television near a phalanx of computers.

"Yeah, and it's Langly's fault there's no sound," Byers sniped.

"Is *not*, asshole. You're the one who left the sound switched off," Langly protested.

"You're supposed to check it, *moron*, before you tape anything," Byers shot back.

"Hey, cut it out! It doesn't matter, dickheads. I'll tell them what's being said. For God's sake, you two belong in pre-school," scolded Frohike.

"Do you read lips, Frohike?" Scully asked.

"Yeah, my grandpa was deaf. He knew sign language, but when I was a kid there were no closed captions on TV programs. He enjoyed showing me how well he could interpret what was said. After awhile I could do it too--we'd kill the volume and take turns being the characters," Frohike replied.

"Who took the female roles?" Mulder teased his friend.

Frohike laughed and told him, "We watched an awful lot of Westerns, Mulder. I guess I had to be Miss Kitty a few times on 'Gunsmoke,' but only when my neighborhood pals were absent."

Everyone chuckled, then fell silent when the tape finally rolled. The guys knew this was serious business for Mulder and Scully--they could possibly discover where Mulder had been held for five long months.

Frohike began his narration, "The news reporters are all shouting 'Where have you been?' and 'Did aliens abduct you?' at Teresa and Ray as they try to walk up the sidewalk to her parent's home. Ray just said 'No comment. Please leave us alone,' to the camera. Okay, that's all... I told you these were brief. Here's the clip with Billy--he seems to have a little more patience with the press. He says 'There will be a full report on file at the Sheriff's department. You'll have to wait until then for details, folks.'"

Billy Miles turned away from the media and escaped inside his house as reporters continued to shout questions at him. The video ended and everyone blinked when Byers turned the lights back on.

"Not much to go on, I know--but at least you know they're all back and they look reasonably healthy. We'll tape the evening news for you and if you like we'll bring it over later tonight," Langly told Mulder and Scully.

"We'd really appreciate that, Langly. We're both pretty bushed. We've been to two doctors today, plus we had an audience with Skinner at headquarters," Scully answered.

"Um, did he mention anything, uh, you know--" Frohike stammered.

"Yes, Frohike. He told us he ran into you last night. We wouldn't have had a conversation in our office if you hadn't debugged it for us. Thanks for doing it," Scully replied.

"Your wish is my command," Frohike told her, waving his hand in the air with a flourish.

"Seems to have been my wish, wasn't it?" Mulder countered.

"Oh, Mulder... when will you learn? Everything is about Scully, not you," Byers quipped.

Scully's expression reflected both her amusement and embarrassment at being the center of so much male attention. They probably would have gone all out for Mulder if she'd been the party in question-- they most likely already had several years ago when she'd been missing. None of them had ever discussed that dark time in their lives, but she imagined Mulder had turned to the guys for their expertise years ago.

"And all this time I thought it was me, me, me..." Mulder responded. He sensed Scully's consternation and attempted to deflect the spotlight to more pressing matters. "Have you guys intercepted the police reports yet?" he inquired hopefully.

"Working on it," said Langly, tapping away at his keyboard.

"You two hungry?" asked Frohike.

"Ah, there, I told you, Scully... Frohike's gonna feed us," Mulder said, breaking into a broad grin.

"Okay, fifteen minutes and counting. Make yourself comfortable, folks," Frohike replied.

In twenty minutes, they were all balancing plates on laps or beside computer monitors. Mulder and Scully took the couch, and each of their friends had some favorite spot around the room.

"How ya feeling, Mulder? I haven't spoken to you since you asked me to take care of your office for you," Frohike said.

"I'm much better. Scully didn't tell me until this morning she'd gotten in touch with you. She's been too busy supervising every detail of my recovery," he said wryly.

Scully ignored his gentle barb and said, "Mulder went to see a neurologist today. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him--but the episode Saturday night left him with some lasting effects."

"Like what?" asked Byers with interest.

"I seem to remember last year, maybe all the way back to the fall of 1999. It's a jumble... it all comes back randomly, then fits together after I have time to think about it," Mulder told them.

"That's great! Both of you must be really happy about that!" Langly remarked.

Mulder smiled, then reached over and affectionately caressed Scully's hand. "It is great. I remember a lot of good stuff that happened last year."

Scully averted her eyes as a blush of color swept over her cheeks. Even though the Lone Gunmen were truly among her best friends now-- they were still *guys* and she was somewhat abashed at the implication of Mulder's words. Despite her fears, not one of the men adopted an inappropriate leer. They smiled quietly--the only noise interrupting their temporary silence was the tap tap of Langly's fingers across his keyboard.

"The doctor give you anything to prevent more medical problems?" Frohike asked.

"Yeah, it's not a sure cure, but it might work. Scully thinks so," Mulder claimed, dipping his head to one side, catching her eyes with his own.

Scully responded to Mulder's subtle encouragement, finding the words to further describe his condition, "He's taking phenytoin... it's no guarantee he won't have any more episodes, but it's the best we can do for him at present. There's no precedence for this in the medical literature, or at least what Dr. Myers has had time to review, which wasn't much. Maybe you guys could do a little 'research' for us--"

The Gunmen knew this was Scully's code word for 'Could you hack me some information?' She'd never felt comfortable asking them to commit illegal acts; an innocuous request for research assistance sounded less jarring to her ears. Scully knew that brainwashing had been a popular technique during the Cold War, and military records were far from public. These closely held records, and others at major psychiatric facilities scattered around the country, might go a long way in unravelling the mystery of Mulder's affliction.

"We'd be happy to do it. Ah, here's the police reports right now. I'll print them out for you," offered Langly.

"Thanks. Thanks to all of you for everything you've done for Scully and me," Mulder said with evident emotion.

Scully added, "And thanks to Frohike for the huevos rancheros. They were definitely on my cravings list."

Frohike grinned and replied, "Oh, we're well aware of the contents of that list, Agent Scully."

Scully smiled back at him shyly, remembering late night snack runs with all three of her friends in tow.

"So... what do you think you'll do?" Byers asked.

The question of whether or not Mulder and Scully would return to Oregon in the near future had been weighing on all three Gunmen's minds--Byers was nervy enough to ask it. Three pairs of eyeballs focused on the expectant parents, their hands casually joined between them.

Mulder remained silent, bobbing his head a fraction of an inch in Scully's direction, telegraphing his desire to abide by her wishes. He'd meant every word several hours ago-- he'd never leave her again, for any reason. It was up to her whether they interviewed the abductees in person, by phone, or over the internet. It made no difference to him, as long as Scully was comfortable with the investigative method. He was slightly worried about her travelling by plane this late in her pregnancy, but he realized there was an even chance he'd have medical difficulties of his own. They would fly to Oregon together or not at all, he thought to himself.

Scully hesitated before she spoke, pulling her lower lip between her teeth in unconscious deliberation. Her eyes flitted from one Gunman to the next, then settled on Mulder's intentionally neutral mask. He was determined to let her decide their course of action, and considering the ill-fated one he'd taken five months ago--one which had resulted in his abduction and confinement--she understood his reluctance to influence her choice.

She gave her little audience a megawatt smile and asked, "Hope you guys know where all the internet bargains are--it's time to cash in all those frequent flyer miles--"

February 26th, 2001
9:00 p.m.
Somewhere over Iowa

"Are you sure you're feeling all right, Scully?" Mulder asked. She was readjusting her pillow for the twentieth time since takeoff.

"I'm fine, Mulder... really good. We had to rush a little but otherwise I'm happy we left tonight instead of tomorrow morning. We got a great deal on these seats, and you know I wouldn't have slept much tonight anyway," she reminded him.

Scully snuggled closer to his side, burrowing her nose into the soft jersey of his henley. The air temperature had to be at least seventy degrees; they'd shed their jackets as soon as they realized how warm it was going to be. What little chill there was from the forced air flowing through the cabin was offset by Mulder's warm hands, brushing over her arms and shoulders in hypnotic, circular motions.

"I know. I wouldn't have either. Do you think we should have phoned Teresa and Billy? They may leave town if the press continues to harass them," he told her.

"I don't think they'll leave. You're going to laugh, Mulder... but I have a feeling they're waiting for us."

He leaned over to gently kiss her forehead, tightening his grip around her right shoulder. "I'm not laughing, Scully... I agree with you. Billy called us last year when he needed to tell us what was going down--I doubt if he trusts anyone else to believe him-- even if I ended up being no help at all."

Mulder's dismay was genuine; he'd gone out to Oregon last September to prevent more abductions, only to find himself among the chosen few, paralyzed by transfixing white light. He'd breached the cloaking force field with his hand, then found himself surrounded by ethereal, strangulating luminosity. Blinding illumination--out of place in the dank, densely wooded area--he knew the minute he crossed over the invisible barrier he was in another fine mess once again.

His mind had raced through all the possibilities--could he, would he, escape this? Skinner had been a mere fifty feet away, but it might as well have been fifty miles for all the good it had done him. There were no exit signs plastered on the perimeter of his new prison; he was like the ubiquitous Blattella germanica, wandering into an inviting, all too grim, roach motel.

"They won't blame you, Mulder. Billy, Ray, all the abductees, know you're not at fault. Whoever took you in that forest is responsible for any harm that's been perpetrated against every one of you. I don't think anyone involved in this investigation will suspect the victims of collusion with their captors."

"I felt so helpless, Scully. I realized where I was and what what was going to happen next, but I couldn't turn away from the light. It drew me like a moth to a flame--"

"Like a lamb to the slaughter?" she interjected facetiously, tongue firmly in cheek.

Mulder's lips twisted in perverse delight--it was so nice to get back to their usual banter. "Like lemmings to the sea, Scully."

"A fly caught in an endless web," she countered.

"A, a... oh shit, Scully! I know you're trying to distract me, and you're doing a good job of it, too," he told her, stroking her forearm with his fingertips. "But I have to claim some responsibility for my own actions. I knew more than the other abductees; I should have given them more warning. I should have told them all to get out of town, get as far from that ship as possible."

"You didn't know, Mulder. *We* didn't know what connected the abductees to one another until you left for Oregon with Skinner. I doubt whether you would have stayed in DC if you *had* known about the anomalous brain activity. I think you would have gone anyway. I think, I know, you would have taken the risk. You've put yourself in the line of fire so many times before. I know you, Mulder, I know you'd never forgive yourself if you hadn't tried to help Teresa and Ray and every other person taken that night," she concluded, her voice wavering slightly at the end of her sentence.

Mulder shook his head vigorously. "I might have gone to warn them, Scully. I might have thought it was the right thing to do... but I would never have gone if I'd known about the baby. You know that, don't you? I couldn't have left you."

He rubbed his cheek against the silk of her hair, then lowered his lips to her jawline, showering the sensitive skin there with fleeting kisses.

"It may seem like I don't care about my own safety sometimes, and that's probably all too correct an assumption. I went back to Oregon to solve this, to find out what the Consortium, the aliens, are doing to innocent people. It's gone on too long, and it has to stop sometime--but I don't think I would have left you here alone. I think I'd be certifiable if I did, Scully. I would never leave you--"

Mulder whispered his last words close to her ear, then kissed her lobe gently. He turned her face toward his with one hand, joining their lips in a sweet, lasting caress. They were isolated in the back of the dimly lit plane--not many people flew this late at night. Their tranquility was shattered by a noise from the seat in front of them--both agents found it difficult to contain their laughter when they realized it was simply a man snoring in his sleep--so loudly he could be heard throughout the economy class section.

"Think he's trying to tell us something, Scully?" he asked, pulling the blanket she'd lain across her lap back to its original position.

"I think so," she whispered sotto voce, not wishing to insult the noisy passenger. "He needs to go to a sleep clinic!"

"Always seeing it from a physician's perspective, huh?" He turned slightly, peering into her sleepy eyes. "I don't snore, do I? I mean, you'd tell me, wouldn't you?"

"Would you tell me?" she answered playfully.

"No fair, I asked first," he insisted.

"All right. Let's just say... it's not an immediate problem."

"What? What does that mean?" he objected.

"I think it'll be thirty years or more before you sound like a locomotive in your sleep, Mulder." She reached over and fondly caressed his cheek. "I'm happy to put up with a little night music from you."

"I don't know whether I've been insulted," he told her, in a deliberately deadpan tone. "But you know..." he whispered, more expressively, "I'd be very happy if you put up with me for the next thirty years, Scully."

For a few minutes she was so quiet he thought she'd fallen asleep against his shoulder. He was drifting off himself when he heard her mumble, "Me, too," in a sleepy soft voice.

February 27th, 2001
Hoese Residence
Bellefleur, Oregon
9:35 a.m.

"Thanks for meeting with us this morning... both of you." Mulder glanced from Ray to Teresa Hoese, then back to Scully beside him.

Tabloid rags and sleazy 'news' shows had deluged the couple with requests for an exclusive interview since they'd emerged from the tall pine forest near their hometown. The agents had taken a leap of faith; they'd flown out to Bellefleur without scheduling an appointment with their fellow abductees. When Mulder had contacted the Hoeses that morning through the Sheriff's department, they'd returned his call and readily agreed to see them.

The modest bungalow bore no trace of Teresa's violent abduction months earlier. Yellow crime scene tape wasn't strewn around the perimeter of the cozy home, nor were strange marks resembling an acid spill etched into the kidproof carpeting. Everything was as it should be; all the tidying up and repairs had been done by Ray's mother, hoping against hope her son and daughter-in-law would be returned.

Ray had been taken repeatedly over the last eight years and his parents had participated in a townwide conspiracy of silence concerning his mysterious disappearances. He couldn't have been in law enforcement, couldn't have afforded to provide Teresa and their child with a decent lifestyle, if everyone was privy to his secret.

His wife's family had been similarly discreet concerning Teresa's fewer, but nonetheless disturbing abductions over the years. Both Ray and Billy Miles had managed to land jobs with the local police because of their parents' popularity in the community. No one who knew the truth questioned the wisdom of their appointments to the force, either because they liked the young men personally, or they too had relatives who'd been torn away from their families by the same nameless intruders from the sky.

"It's no problem at all, Agent Mulder. We remember very little of the last five months or so... but we do know the price you paid for trying to help us. Our friends and relatives filled us in on the search for the missing FBI agent while we were all gone. I guess it drew some unwelcome attention to our town, but that's nothing new here, as you are both already know," Ray told them.

Teresa nodded her head in silent agreement and smiled wanly at her guests. She appeared to have lost almost twenty pounds during her ordeal, no longer the vibrant woman who'd recently given birth to a child. Ray seemed a bit scrawny, maybe fifteen pounds underweight, though no more so than Mulder had been on his return. It was a mystery--how had they all maintained muscle tone during their captivity--did their kidnappers have a secret formula for keeping them fit, yet were unable to sustain their body weight?

"Are you both okay? We read the local police report at the station this morning, and we know you were taken straight to the emergency room after you flagged down some campers yesterday. We don't have access to your medical records at the moment and we were concerned about you," Scully remarked.

"We're okay," Teresa affirmed. "Not like other times at all, thank God. Both of us are relatively healthy considering how much weight we seem to have lost. We have no scars or needle marks. If they didn't want to do physical tests on us--we can't imagine why we were taken. Do you know why?"

"We have a few theories, but nothing set in stone. Mulder wasn't harmed physically, as far as we can tell. There was some memory loss, especially concerning whatever happened to him while he was confined. He's regained a fraction of those memories; they're still hazy and disconnected. Which leads me to my next question--have you forgotten any events in your lives prior to your abduction last September?" Scully asked.

Teresa glanced over at her husband, swallowing hard. They hadn't discussed every aspect of their nightmarish adventure, preferring to tell each other as little as necessary. They'd both been interviewed by law enforcement yesterday, but revealed as little as possible to Ray's former colleagues. Claiming exhaustion, they'd asked to be excused until a later date when they'd thought things through more clearly.

The current Deputy Sheriff was mildly irritated, but understood the need to be reunited as soon as possible with their child. He'd asked them to write down whatever they could last night, but both Ray and his wife found it impossible to adequately express themselves on paper. They were in bed by eight o'clock, their child snuggled between them.

"I can only speak for myself. I barely remember the events leading up to our disappearance, because I was incapitated by whoever, whatever, took me from my family. I remember seeing Agent Mulder step into a circle of light... after that... I just don't know... I have vague memories of being restrained in a hospital bed. That's about it for the last five months, I'm sorry to say," Ray apologized.

Teresa agreed with a slight bob of her head. "It's pretty much the same for me. I haven't forgotten my life before we were taken. I remember standing in the forest, seeing so many familiar faces around me, then seeing Agent Mulder. I guess we should be thankful we don't recollect more," she sighed.

Mulder shook his head and sent them both a sad, sympathetic smile. "Maybe so, but if you have any post-traumatic symptoms, you probably should see a therapist. That's not my opinion as a professional, Mr. and Mrs. Hoese. It's just my hope for you as a friend."

"Thanks, Agent Mulder. We appreciate everything you've done for us. But the real question now is... do you think they'll be back for us?" Ray asked.

Teresa squeezed Ray's hand firmly, his eyes meeting hers fondly. They waited patiently for Mulder to respond, "I don't know. I have to find out why we were taken first. That's why--"

Mulder was interrupted by a toddler's cry, bleating from the baby monitor positioned prominently on the Hoese's coffee table. Teresa gave her guests a nervous smile, then rose from the couch.

Before she ascended the stairway leading to the second floor, she turned around and addressed Scully, "Come along?"

Scully glanced over at Mulder, seeking and finding silent approval. Divide and conquer, he'd always told her. People were more easily persuaded one on one, especially under these circumstances. Scully realized this was more than an ordinary interrogation of witnesses-- these people were their friends, and what they had to ask of them was above and beyond the call of duty. Even for law enforcement personnel.

Scully followed Teresa to the nursery where the now eighteen-month old child was broadcasting his displeasure. His mother picked him up and placed him on the changing table immediately. The baby had been fed moments before Mulder and Scully arrived at their doorstep, so she knew what the problem had to be.

"Please sit down, Agent Scully," Teresa said, motioning toward the white rocker nearby. She efficiently changed the baby while continuing their conversation, "You know, he remembered me," she told Scully, her voice cracking with emotion. "I was so afraid, almost six months gone... I thought he might forget--"

"Was he with your parents?" Scully inquired.

"Yes. Ray's, actually. I guess I should be grateful he doesn't wonder what happened to his mother all these months. That's why we're so concerned--what happens when he's older, when he can figure it out for himself. Or maybe the kids at school will tease him about his missing Mom or Dad. I just don't know what to think anymore," Teresa said, a note of despair coloring her voice.

"We're going to solve this, Mrs. Hoese. But we need your help. Desperately," Scully said, losing a fraction of her composure in response to Teresa's malaise.

Teresa turned all the way around, pulled by Scully's plaintive tone.

"Are you at risk, too? Because of Agent Mulder--is the baby--"

It was an educated guess on her part, relying on her previous impressions of Mulder and Scully--and how they'd related to the baby last time they'd all been in the same room together. Teresa had sensed the agents were involved with one another; she hadn't had the nerve to hint of such a thing, not even when Scully showed up on her doorstep, obviously well along in her pregnancy. The Hoeses had acknowledged her condition with broad smiles, offering her the most comfortable chair in their living room. Beyond that, they'd both been too shy to ask for confirmation of parentage.

Scully fought back tears, treading a fine line between professionalism and personal interest. No one could be more sympathetic to their plight than a fellow abductee like Teresa, with a small child to protect from seemingly random, senseless harm. Scully needed the Hoese's cooperation, but didn't want to burden them with unfounded fears. There was no evidence the aliens were interested in taking young children from abductee parents--at least not yet.

"We're just concerned right now, Teresa. May I call you Teresa?" Scully continued when the young mother bobbed her head, "We don't know what lies ahead for our family. Whatever we discover could benefit us all, but we need your help to do some research. We need to ask a lot of you and Ray."

"What sort of research? Tests?" Teresa's voice quavered on her last word, one with so many negative connotations.

Scully swallowed hard, hating herself for asking so much of someone so fragile, so recently traumatized by losing months of her life, of her child's life.

"Blood tests, and non-invasive tests like MRIs, CT scans. All the abductees from Oregon had anomalous brain activity, including you and Ray. We'd like to know if your child has a similar condition." Scully shook her head, attempting to stave Teresa's fear, etched clearly across her face. "No harm would be done. I promise you."

Teresa nodded her head, then turned back to her toddler, checking his diaper one last time. She lifted him from the table, hesitating slightly, then crossing the room to Scully. She gently transferred the baby to the seated agent, smiling at the look of wonder in Scully's eyes.

Scully cradled the child in her arms, speaking a few nonsense words to make him giggle. "He's beautiful, Teresa."

"Yours will be, too. They all are, Agent Scully."

"Please call me Dana," Scully insisted.

"Dana, then," Teresa agreed. "Do you think we can wait a few days? I think it will be easier to convince my husband when we've had a little more time to rest."

"I don't see why not. Mulder and I don't have to be here. You can have your doctor fax the test results to us. I can't promise you anything, Teresa. But you can imagine how much your help means to both of us. It may safeguard our child's future," Scully told her, carefully passing the child back to his mother.

Scully stood up slowly, gaining leverage with her feet. Her own baby chose that moment to use her womb for kickball practice, causing her to wobble slightly on her feet. One hand flew to her stomach, the other balanced against the baby's crib.

"Are you okay?" Teresa asked with concern.

"Oh, yeah. I'm fine," answered Scully automatically. She added, "Just a little reminder to Mom, I guess. He's getting more active lately."

"Am I interrupting anything?" Mulder asked from the nursery doorway.

Scully beamed at him. He looked handsome in the suit he'd been loath to wear while on medical leave. She'd convinced him to bring it along, just in case. Her clothes were less versatile--tunic tops in black, brown or navy--leggings with a similar color palette. Last month the saleslady at the maternity store had frowned when she'd refused to consider brighter shades; it would have been impossible to explain why she favored somber ones, at least until Mulder came home. Maybe it's time for a change, Scully mused to herself.

"No, not at all, Agent Mulder. The baby is changed, and Dana and I had a good talk, didn't we?" Teresa said while bouncing her child gently in her arms.

"Well, *Dana*," Mulder said with a smile. "I just got a call from Billy. He'd like to see us. You up for that?"

"Are you done speaking with Ray?" Scully asked, amused by the use of her first name under the circumstances.

"I think so. I hope so," he responded.

Mulder cast a worried glance toward Teresa. He was reassured immediately by her tranquil demeanor as well as Scully's ease in her presence. The womenfolk had been up to something, he knew that for sure.

"Let's get moving then. We have a few more stops before we meet with Billy," Mulder urged.

"Hold on," Scully said.

She crossed the room to Teresa and whispered something in her ear. Teresa nodded once, then smiled brightly. Scully leaned over to kiss the baby, then patted his mother's hand.

"Take care, Teresa. I'll call you within the week."

"You take care of yourself, Dana. Allow Ray to show you out. I think I'll spend a few more minutes here."

Mulder stepped forward and attempted to shake Teresa's hand, ending up with a bit of gurgling baby in his face. He tickled the child gently, resulting in giggles from the baby and laughter from the adults.

"Thank you, Teresa," Mulder said, putting his arm around Scully's waist, escorting her down the stairs and out of the house.

A few photographers waited miserably in the cold on the periphery of the Hoese property. They'd been warned to stay behind an invisible line by Ray's fellow officers that morning. The newsmongers ignored Mulder and Scully, unaware the duo were newsworthy in their own way. Apparently flyers had stopped circulating with Mulder's mug the previous week when Skinner had relayed the news of his return to local law enforcement.

The partners were halfway down the sidewalk which led to the Hoese front door when Mulder could no longer contain himself.

"What did you whisper to Teresa back there, Scully?" he asked.

"Ah, wouldn't you like to know," she said with an air of mystery.

"Everything's all right, isn't it? I mean, I just assumed it was from the way you were--"

"Oh, Mulder. Everything's just fine. She's agreed to the tests. Not right away, though."

"So, what did you tell her?" he insisted.

Scully grinned at his persistence, then snickered softly. "I told her, 'Doesn't he look great in that suit?'"

"Scully! You are so full of it." Mulder stopped her in front of the driver side door. "What did you really say?"

"It had absolutely nothing to do with you, Mulder. You're just paranoid enough to believe anything." She pushed him gently toward the sedan door. "So there!" she said, strolling toward the passenger side.

"I'm not totally paranoid," he mumbled under his breath.

"What's that you say, Mulder?" she turned and asked, close to laughter.

"Get in the car, Scully," he ordered goodnaturedly.



"Not me. I'm a respectable pregnant lady. By the way, Mulder, where's our tail? Did you tell Skinner where we were going last night?"

"I left a message on his answering machine. If they followed us here, I haven't seen them. They must be damn good if Mr. Paranoid hasn't detected them, don't you agree?" Mulder grumbled.

Scully reached over the seat and took his hand in her own, caressing his knuckles with her thumb. "They must be very good, I imagine."

He pulled her hand to his face, locking their fingers together beside his cheek. "Not as good as you are, Sherlock."

They smiled at one another, then he gave her hand a mannerly kiss, releasing it to buckle his seatbelt.

"Where to?" she asked.

"Back to the station. They've compiled a full list of returned abductees, with possible alternative hideouts from the press. I guess the 'Weekly World News' has been busy harassing these people, and most of them have fled their own homes. I don't know if we can get to everyone on the list in just a few days. I'm not even sure we need to. What do you think?"

"I think we need to do what we can. And I think I'd rather be doing this than sitting around at home worrying about what the Consortium has in store for us," she responded.

"I don't want you overexerting yourself, Scully. I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't have made you stay home--"

"No way, G-Man. I'm not leaving you to your own devices and losing you again. It's only a couple days, right? And you promised to stay out of the woods, didn't you?" she purred, straightening the collar of his dress shirt.

Mulder intercepted her hand, twining their fingers together. "I have a pretty good incentive to stay in my motel room tonight," he answered, voice low and silky.

"The same one you had last night?" she smiled, continuing the flirtation.

"I sure hope so," he whispered back.

He smiled back at her, resisting the temptation of even the chastest kiss considering their ready-made audience of paparazzi.

"Let's get going," he said before turning the key in the ignition.

"Let's," she responded, her attention already drawn to Billy Miles's medical file on the seat between them.

After a few short stops, they arrived at Billy's temporary quarters at a friend's home. There were a few stray reporters here, too, wincing as a light rain began to sprinkle around them.

Billy had lost body mass also, much more than Mulder or Ray had. A slim man before the abduction, he was a ghost of the man they both remembered. He welcomed the agents and offered them coffee, smiling at Scully when he told her decaf was available. She smiled back and took him up on it, sitting down on the couch next to Mulder.

"My aunt sent over some sandwiches, if you're hungry, Agents," he offered his guests as he made the instant coffee.

"Thanks, Billy. Maybe we'll hold off for now. We have a few other stops to make," apologized Scully.

Mulder repressed a scowl; he didn't like to see her skip meals anymore. She'd always ignored lunchtime on the road, preferring to catch up in their motel rooms at night. Of course, this notion was based on his limited memories of their last year together. He'd tried to reach farther back than October of 1999, hoping to recall more about their life together. His mind always failed him, only able to reminisce from some point after his non-elective brain surgery. It didn't really matter if she declined a sandwich here, he told himself, making a mental note to drag his beloved to a local diner shortly after their visit with Billy.

"If you change your mind, Agent Scully, don't hesitate to tell me," Billy added. "My aunt is just trying to fatten me up. Problem is, I've lost most of my appetite."

Mulder nodded with understanding. Images of his own confinement had begun drifting into his consciousness every waking hour since Saturday's episode at the summer house. He wasn't about to reveal any of those memories to Scully just yet, even if Billy related identical experiences to them.

They all sipped their coffee for a minute until Billy initiated the conversation, "You saw Ray and Teresa, then?"

"Yes, we did. I'm glad to see them doing so well," Scully responded.

Billy looked around the living room sadly, then met her eyes. "They'll have nightmares later. We're all so used to this by now, it's pathetic. I want to help you, agents. I want to stop this from happening again. I've had enough--all these good people who are taken repeatedly have had enough. Can't you help us?"

His last plea was so heartfelt; Scully wished she could embrace Billy and tell him they'd do whatever they could to stop the cycle of abductions. She balanced her coffee cup in her hands, slightly swollen from pregnancy. Maintaining a completely objective demeanor didn't mix with their mission here; these people were not only victims, they were their friends.

Fate had brought them together again and Scully felt cornered by forces beyond her control. She sensed Mulder felt as helpless as she did--he sat in stony silence beside her, lost in his own thoughts. He rarely zoned out when they were on investigations, but this was different--she knew he wasn't telling her the whole story of his captivity. She wouldn't push him to do so, nor would she sit idly by when they returned to DC. Mulder needed to start seeing a therapist as much as the Hoeses--the sooner the better.

Mulder surprised her by speaking up, "We could use a little help, Billy. Do you know some of the abductees with children?"

"A few. Why?" Billy asked.

"They might be more easily persuaded if a familiar face asked them to help our investigation," Mulder responded.

"I'll help you any way I can, but you must realize we're all scared. We want to help, but we don't want to be taken again," Billy fretted.

"We'd like to see if certain traits of the parents are passed on to their children. It might help us determine why you were taken. We hesitate to ask this... we'll understand if people don't want to help... all we can do is ask and hope for the best," Scully told him.

Billy smiled shyly, and nodded his head affirmatively. "I'll go along with you, introduce you to the ones most likely to agree. I'm sure it will be more helpful if I'm with you."

"Thank you, Billy. You have no idea how much this means to us," Scully said, placing her cup on the table before her.

"We can go now, if you like. I'll call ahead."

"Thanks, Billy," Mulder added, gulping down the rest of his coffee before rising from the couch.

Billy took their cups and went into the kitchen to call the other abductees. Mulder took hold of Scully's hands, making her giggle softly as he pulled her to a standing position in front of the couch. He put his arm around her shoulder and sprinkled the crown of her head with a few gentle kisses.

"Mulder," she scolded, "This is work."

"Oh, is that what this is?" he laughed, lowering his hand to her thigh.

The jingle of Billy's car keys warned them of his approach and they sprang apart seconds before he re-entered the room. Scully fussed with her hair nervously while Mulder studied his shoes with interest. Although Billy had probably figured out their relationship months ago--when they'd arrived to help him prevent more abductions--acting unprofessional was never in their best interest.

"Ready?" Billy inquired with a grin.

"You bet," Scully answered, confidently striding toward the door with Mulder right behind her.

February 27th, 2001
10:13 p.m.
A motel room
Bellefleur, Oregon

Scully hugged the extra pillow between her knees, listening to the now familiar sound of Mulder's nightly routine. She fidgeted on her side of the bed, rearranging her nightgown for the umpteenth time since crawling under the covers. The mattress swayed gently as he came to bed, sliding across the sheets to mold his body behind hers.

Mulder threaded his arm around her expanded waistline, resting his palm on the slope of her belly. Warm lips caressed the nape of her neck, cold toes became better acquainted with her own. She hummed with contentment, burying her cheek against the soft cotton of the pillowcase.

The bed clothes smelled of sweet detergent and fabric softener, but Mulder tasted minty when she turned her head to receive his kiss. Just over a week now, she thought. He's been home such a short while and we've already settled into a routine.

They were both too tired for anything but sleep, yet she sensed some agitation on Mulder's part, something left unsaid in the last few hours at the motel.

"What's wrong?" she whispered, stroking her thumb across his hand.

"Oh, you're too tired. It can wait," he muttered.

Mulder nuzzled her shoulder gently, then rained small kisses across her shoulder blades. It was soothing to her until his mouth returned to her neckline, chancing upon a ticklish square inch just above her shirt.

"Ooh," she cried softly, squirming back against his chest. "Tickles."

"Sorry," Mulder apologized.

"Don't be." After several silent seconds, she demanded, "Tell me what's wrong, Mulder. I'm too curious to fall asleep now."

He repositioned his arms around her, one stretching beneath the pillow, the other cradling her belly. She waited patiently for him to speak, long acquainted with the brief pauses he often took before telling her something significant.

"I wanna go home tomorrow, Scully," he told her pensively.

She hesitated in her response, expecting more of an explanation. When he remained silent, she spoke calmly, "Okay. We don't have to stay. Billy hooked us up with several receptive parents who'll allow their kids to be tested when things settle down around here. There's no reason to hang around, Mulder."

"I know I said we should go out to the abduction site, Scully, but I've changed my mind. Frankly, I've had enough of Bellefleur for the rest of my life. It gives me the creeps, Scully."

Scully laughed softly, her lips forming a wry smile. "Knowing your threshold for creepiness, I guess we better get out of Dodge, partner."

Mulder chuckled, then caressed her neck softly with his nose. He lifted his head slightly, attending to her small, delectable earlobe with his tongue. She shivered at the contact, pleasantly exhilarated despite her fatigue.

"I don't feel comfortable here, that's all," he added.

She slowly shifted in his arms, coming to rest on her back so she could see his eyes gleaming in the filtered light from the stylized lantern outside their door. He propped himself up on one elbow, inches away from her. His free hand sought out her left one, lacing their fingers neatly together.

"Me, neither," she admitted, meeting his gaze.

"Good. I mean, I don't want you to stay here if you don't want to, Scully. I think we did what we had to--now I just want to leave. I don't have any curiosity about these woods. I don't want you hiking around as far along as you are."

"Oh, I'd be all right," she said quickly.

"Yeah, probably. But what's the point in going out there? If I was truly taken aboard a ship--it's not there anymore--I'm fairly sure of that. If I was kept at some facility, I think the boys would have found it with their satellite maps. You already checked out all major structures around here months ago. And you know there wouldn't be any evidence left behind anyway. I think we need to get on with our lives back home; I want to get back to work, plus all the plans your mom has for us--"

"Ha! Don't worry about my mom. She's a military wife. She's used to changing plans at the drop of a hat."

"You want to? Change plans, that is?" he asked with some trepidation.

Scully realized within seconds what he thought she meant. She sighed with exasperation, "No, Mulder. I don't mean *not* get married. I'm just saying, if we need to postpone she won't go ballistic. Family events always were last minute affairs; there were times we didn't know where we'd be living the next month of our lives. It didn't pay to plan too far ahead."

Mulder grazed his fingers down her cheek, then leaned over to kiss her on the mouth. "No wonder you put up with me, Scully. I haven't given you much advance notice, have I?"

She smiled up at him, "Especially when you'd tear off in the car without me, Mulder. No notice is more like it," she complained goodnaturedly.

"I was bad, wasn't I?" he admitted.

"Very bad," she responded, reaching over to capture his hand. She gripped it tightly, lifting his fingertips to her lips.

"Wanna punish me?" he managed to say between chortling laughter on both their parts.

Scully tugged at his arm, then lowered the register of her voice, "Get over here and I will right now, G-Man."

Mulder grinned roguishly, then carefully gathered her into his arms. Their lips met for several minutes, until they relaxed away from the kiss, remaining in a side by side embrace.

"You need to rest," he said, tenderly tracing her mouth with his index finger.

"I will," she pledged. "Later."

He snickered softly, then bridged the gap between them, pulling her as close as he could, with special deference to her expanded figure. His hands coursed down her back, paying close attention to the bumpy knobs of her vertebral column.

She sighed with obvious pleasure; this was what she had yearned for, all those lonely months. A simple back massage was as welcome as every other aspect of their intimacy, including lovemaking. She'd missed it all and she had it now--she felt tears trickle down her cheeks in spite of a mighty struggle to contain them.

"Oh, Scully," he crooned softly when he felt the wetness on her cheeks. "You're crying."

She shook her head as he cradled her cheeks with his large palmed hands. "Happy," was all she uttered before their mouths met again, lips moist with passion and salty tears.

Mulder paused to swipe his thumbs across her face, gathering the last traces of moisture from beneath her eyes.

"Me, too," he breathed into her lips, before kissing her again. "Let's get some sleep, okay?"

She felt his smile as he brushed his lips against her forehead. "Okay."

Scully turned onto her right side, then readjusted the pillow between her knees. As if on cue, Mulder snuggled close to her body again, draping his arms around her waist. Her feet sought out the warm flesh of his shins and his hand left her side for brief seconds, pulling the bedcovers over her shoulder.

February 28th, 2001
United Airlines Flight 920
3:59 p.m.
Thirty minutes away from Dulles airport

Scully held on to her left forearm with great effort, steadying it so she could read the digital readout. Twenty minutes between Braxton-Hicks contractions, she thought to herself. Damn, damn, damn. She couldn't possibly be going into labor now.

She knew these mild contractions increased towards the end of pregnancy and were more common for women who'd had at least one child before. This didn't prevent her from fretting over their frequency and intensity. They might increase in regularity for several hours, then become farther apart and gradually fade away.

They *should* fade away! She was nowhere near thirty-seven weeks pregnant, when she should first see signs of preterm labor. She didn't want to alarm Mulder, who was presently sprawled out in the seat beside her own, lost in dreamland.

The contractions were somewhat erratic, occuring every twenty to forty minutes--and they weren't increasing in intensity like Scully knew they should if she was actually in labor. She'd drunk her whole bottle of water since the flight had begun several hours ago, trying to manage what she hoped were unproductive contractions.

Fortunately, it had been non-stop from Portland to DC--a five hour flight leaving at 8:40. Mulder had been up at the crack of dawn, making arrangements with the airline. It was costing a fortune; he hadn't wanted to rush and make an cheaper, earlier flight the Bureau would have preferred.

He'd told her he just wanted to get out of town, didn't care if they had to make up the difference when 'Chesty' Short bitched about it during their next audit from hell. If there ever was one. She wasn't so sure they'd get to keep the X-Files after all.

The silence from the powers that be was peculiar; she'd expected a review board almost immediately after Mulder's reappearance in DC. It hadn't happened yet, pending some decision from above Skinner's level of bureaucracy.

She dreaded the consequences of an OPR meeting. Theoretically, they could close the X- Files, could separate her and Mulder, could strip them of access to resources she needed to study the medical records of all the abductees and a select few of their children.

Worrying about these possibilities distracted Scully from her physical problems, but didn't prevent her next contraction from occurring at four o'clock. They were still twenty minutes apart, still the same moderate intensity. She couldn't wake Mulder this soon before they landed, she thought.

Ultimately, she had no choice but to tell him. He'd already awoken, and was staring at her as she let out a tiny gasp, then gripped the circumference of her belly with her hands.

"Scully?" he asked, rousing himself from his sleep state quickly.

Mulder rubbed his forehead with his hands, wishing he had some pain relievers, yet knowing his first priority was definitely not his own welfare.

"What is it, Scully?" he persisted when she didn't say anything.

Her eyes betrayed her anxious state and Mulder pulled his body out of a relaxed slouch. He reached over with one hand, tenderly embracing the right side of her face.

"Tell me," he demanded.

He noticed red marks on her lips, tender flesh she'd gnawed at with worry. The thumb of his right hand traced over her lips lightly, and he could feel a slight tremor course through her body.

"Scully," he entreated, his hand coming to rest on her cheek again.

"It's nothing, Mulder. Really," she said unconvincingly.

"Are you having contractions?" he guessed correctly.

Scully opened her eyes wide and nodded affirmatively, appreciative of his insight. Mulder must have been peeking at her pregnancy manuals, especially after their visit to Dr. Myers on Monday.

"They're too far apart, Mulder. And they don't feel like real labor. I mean, I don't know for sure, but I don't think this is it. Okay? I wasn't hiding from you. I just didn't want you to panic."

Mulder fixed his eyes upon her with a penetrating gaze, one betraying a calm she'd seen many times in the field. He seemed to be approaching this whole pregnancy as one prolonged investigation, researching it as he would any other adventure they'd embarked on. His attitude was contagious; she felt herself relaxing against her seat, forgetting her obsession with timing the contractions.

He gave her a quick smile, then said, "Wake me next time. You don't have to go through this alone, Scully. I want to be here for you, okay? Now, what happened, again?"

"Braxton-Hicks contractions or false labor. I'm not sure which, but they're twenty minutes apart," she reported tersely.

"Is that bad?" he asked, one hand scrubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"Not necessarily. They're irregular; they aren't getting stronger and closer together with time. I guess I just got a little worried there, but it's nothing, Mulder. I'm a doctor, remember?"

"A doctor who's delivered one baby in her life--one who's had to do extracurricular reading in a field she vaguely remembers from med school--"

"Vague, my ass! I aced my exams in prenatal care," she countered.

"Yeah, and I graduated with first honors in psychology, Scully. It didn't prevent me from ending up in a padded cell, did it?"

"That was different, Mulder. You couldn't have avoided that. It's a ridiculous comparison."

"Well, I can think of other times I lost my cool demeanor and ended up in four point restraints. My point is, you don't have to do this on your own. Just because you studied pregnancy or got an 'A' on the exam doesn't mean you have to see your own experience from a clinical perspective. Every day I look at you--see you grow--it's amazing to me, Scully. It was incredible before last Saturday when I wasn't all that sure who I was anymore."

Scully sat open-mouthed, a smile reaching her eyes as she took in his testimony. He was correct--she'd seen her pregnancy clinically before he'd arrived home, protecting herself from the disappointment of going through the whole experience alone. Even after he'd returned to her, she'd been reluctant to let her guard down and accept all the help he was willing to give. It was just an extension of her normal, nonpregnant personality, unaffected by hormones, off- side kicks inside her womb, or cravings for Ben and Jerry's.

She swallowed hard and cleared her throat. "I guess I should have said something. But really--I don't think there's anything to worry about. If I get up and walk around a little the contractions should go away." She reached over and patted his cheek assuringly. "I'm not hiding from you, Mulder. I can't even lie to you--how would I ever lie to you?" she concluded with a smile.

Their conversation was interrupted by the usual announcement to fasten one's seatbelt and prepare for landing. They spent the rest of the flight quietly, holding hands, watching the green fields of western Virginia fly by and the familiar cityscape of DC rise to greet them.

February 28th, 2001
6:15 p.m.
Scully's apartment

Mulder and Scully sat at opposite ends of the couch staring at the offensive sheet of paper on the coffee table. Crumpled and misshapen by Mulder's initial fit of anger, it rocked precariously on the edge of the wooden surface. Ten minutes ago he'd read the summons aloud at her request while she'd bustled about her apartment, opening the drapes, turning the heat on to take the chill off the late winter night.


"Just got his too, Scully. There's a time stamp of five o'clock. He either didn't know about this or he's not allowed to communicate with hearing participants. I don't think he tried to pull a fast one on us by not warning us in advance. He's known where we were the last few days."

Scully played idly with the hem of her tunic top. She'd managed to take her winter coat off before Mulder finished reading the entire missive. He still wore his leather jacket, shoulders tense from his spontaneous outburst.

They both had known it was possible--that Mulder could be called before the OPR, forced to explain his mysterious disappearance five months ago. The time and effort of dozens of FBI agents and vast financial resources had been expended to search for him last fall. The search had tapered off as autumn leaves left the lush Capitol greenery, dwindling to nil by the season's first snowfall.

Scully, Skinner, and the Gunmen had continued to look for their friend, never abandoning the fervent hope Mulder would show up in some local emergency room. The men remembered Scully's return from oblivion all too well; she only knew secondhand accounts of her initial stay at Northeast Georgetown Medical Center.

It was one of the hospitals on their primary checklist--every morning, afternoon, and night their high-speed Pentiums would search lists of John Does for certain distinguishing characteristics--red flags that should make Mulder's admittance to a hospital impossible to miss.

Ironically, Mulder hadn't ended up in any medical facility they'd been monitoring; he'd hitchhiked his way to Portland, flying home in a comfortable jet. He'd been shell shocked the entire way home, gazing with disbelief at the date on all the newspapers he could muster.

His worries had been far from over, of course. Life had thrown him another curve ball on top of his seemingly extreme case of amnesia--a red-headed partner three months shy of her due date. Said partner sat across from him tonight, skimming her elegantly done manicure over the seat cushion beside her.

Scully had remained unflustered, observing him with a cool sense of composure as he'd crushed the OPR letter between his hands--then thought better of his action, unfurling the abused sheet, flattening it on top of the coffee table. He'd then settled into the couch, smiling sheepishly for a brief moment. His mood had darkened in less than a minute as they'd pondered the consequences of the official inquiry.

"What will you say?" Scully asked him, as of yet unflustered by the matter at hand.

Mulder rubbed his eyes with the tips of his fingers, then threaded his hands through his hair, pushing it off his forehead.

"Argh." He shook his head from side to side, eyes wide open, perplexed beyond words for one of the few times in his life.

"You don't have to tell them what happened, Mulder. You haven't told me," she said in a tone of voice she hoped didn't sound the least bit accusatory. She didn't want him to feel bad about keeping this to himself. Lord knows she hadn't been completely honest about what she remembered from her abduction experience.

He turned his face toward her, jaw clenched slightly, pain evident in his mossy-colored eyes. He didn't want to have this conversation, not now, perhaps not forever. Especially not while she was pregnant with her first and perhaps only child.

"I need to show up, Scully. I'll lose my job if I don't. I know they'll think I'm a nut job when I tell them about Bellefleur, about the ship, about the little I remember of my abduction. I'm so hazy on details--I'm not sure whether I dreamed what happened to me during my captivity. For all I know, everything I remember from the last five months could be an implanted memory."

She considered this with some gravity, nodding her head as she curled her lip with the edge of her teeth. He considered this her 'thinking mode' and couldn't suppress a tiny smile as he admired her zen-like calm.

Scully caught the tail end of his grin, smiling back and asking, "What?"

"Nothing," he lied, not wishing to explain everything he loved about her just yet. He didn't want her to feel self-conscious about every little thing she did. And he wanted to keep the discussion on track for now.

Her eyes kept smiling as she retorted, "I'll bet. Something's on your mind, Fox Mulder. Give it up. I want to know, too."

Mulder shook his head no, fully aware she didn't believe him for one DC minute. His palms rubbed up and down the rough fabric of his jeans, then tapped a staccato beat against his thighs. He had a plan--one he'd been formulating for days. It had been too soon to reveal it to her on their trip to Bellefleur, but now might be a good time to tell all.

He turned to face her, slinging his arm over the back of the couch. Their hands were still too far apart to meet, but he considered that a good thing for the moment. They needed to discuss the future as sensibly as possible; he was much more rational when he wasn't touching her.

He thought she might feel the same way--they'd made an art out of avoiding one another physically on the job last year, especially after they'd become physically intimate. There was so much heat between them when they were alone in their own homes, it became difficult to touch casually at work.

Mulder studied her for a moment. She was waiting patiently for his reply, accustomed to long pauses in their conversations, particularly ones this important in the scheme of things. He decide to go for it, take a chance she wouldn't banish him to Alpha Centauri the minute she heard his plan.

"I'll go to the hearing, Scully. I'm obligated to do so. To tell the truth. I'm not going to lie about what I think may have happened to me."

"It didn't only happen to you, Mulder. Other abductees have been returned. We have evidence, medical records, personal accounts. You don't have to feel like a kook anymore. God knows it took me years to believe," she told him with a grin. "I'll be there. I'll back you up with what medical evidence we have."

He smiled at her, wanting to bridge the physical gap between them, but resisting the temptation for now. "I know you will. I know I'll piss off fifty per cent of the panel with my talk of alien abduction and brain waves and cloaked space ships. The other fifty per cent might actually listen to me." He paused, taking in a long, steady breath before his bombshell. "It will be great to get it off my chest. Almost like therapy. But Scully, after I tell them what happened, after they make a decision whether or not to retain me as an agent or to keep the X-Files open--what happens after that? We go back to investigating the paranormal when we know there's more important things--"

"You want to quit?" Scully interrupted.

She'd had a horrible sinking feeling about this since he'd read the letter to her. Just as she'd expected, he wanted to quit the bureau. It was too soon--too much had happened to him in the last week and a half. He'd had to make the physical and emotional adjustment of being home for the first time in months, discovering a ready-made family waiting for him. He'd recovered part of his memory, but would that be all--would he always wonder about the years he had lost?

Mulder waved his hands in the air in protest, then covered his mouth with one hand, debating his response. Scully seemed agitated, anger bleeding through her previously calm composure. His best guess was that she was furious because he hadn't mentioned anything about this before tonight. She might be willing to listen to his rationale for quitting the bureau; it was the perceived deception that was pissing her off.

Scully sighed heavily, then launched herself from the couch with a lot less difficulty than either of them would have expected. He practically leaped off the couch, but she raised her hand in a silent gesture, asking him not to follow her. He fell back, sitting down on the edge of the couch, watching as she walked to the window overlooking the parking lot.

Her back turned to him, her voice caught as she spoke. He knew she was fighting back tears; he just didn't know why.

"Mulder, I don't think you can make a decision like this right now. I know everything has happened so fast. I know you're struggling to integrate your life before you met me with the last year of your life. But you can't do this anymore. You can't make decisions by yourself anymore."

She turned around slowly and he saw the tears she'd shed already, streaming down her cheeks. "We can't raise a child, be a family, if you don't want to include me. How could you come to such a decision without so much as asking me how I felt about it?"

"I am asking you," he interrupted. "I'm asking you now," he answered.

He wanted to rush over to her and gather her into his arms--he resisted the impulse, wary of her mood.

"You sounded like you had already made your decision, Mulder. You've never asked me what I want to do after my maternity leave is over. We've never discussed our future beyond May when the baby will be born. It would have been nice--"

Scully put her hand over her mouth and rushed by Mulder, en route to the bathroom. Oh shit, Mulder said to himself. The door slammed and he raced over there, placing his hands against the door, counting backwards from one hundred slowly before opening his inept mouth.

He heard muffled sounds of her throwing up. Probably not morning sickness, he surmised. Probably just the stress, the pain he had brought to her. Why can't I ever learn, he thought. I could have brought up leaving the bureau a hundred different ways. Count on me to choose the wrong way.

Mulder couldn't stand outside the door and listen to this anymore. He knocked softly, then called to her, "Scully, please let me help you. I want to help you."

He heard the faucet being turned on, then off. He thought he heard her brushing her teeth, then knew she was when she walked over to the door and opened it, toothbrush still in her mouth.

"It's open," she said, returning to the sink so she could rinse.

He didn't enter--just leaned against the door jamb and watched her finish up, dabbing a towel across her mouth. He dropped his head to his chest, closing his eyes and relaxing stiff muscles by leaning from one side to the other. When he re-opened his eyes, she was standing six inches away from him, smelling of mint.

She lifted her hand to his cheek and stroked his rough beard with her thumb. A tiny smile told him he was one lucky man. Scully hadn't banished him yet.

"Let's get something to drink, Mulder. I need some camomile tea," she told him.

He followed her out to the kitchen, ducking into the refrigerator to inspect the beverage selection. He reached for a beer, then thought better of it. What if she wants me to leave, he thought. He didn't relish that prospect, but he knew it was a likely one. It was still early and he should wait and see how the rest of the evening played out.

"You can have a beer, Mulder. I'm not sending you home," she said with amusement.

He glanced over at her smirking face and said, "Sure you're not telepathic, Scully?"

She leaned against the counter, grinning back at him as he opened his beer with an opener he'd found with no problem at all. It was strange the things he could remember about their life before his abduction, she mused.

"I don't have to read your mind to know what you're thinking, Mulder. I know you too well."

He slouched against the dishwasher, several yards away from her. "I think you've got the advantage, Scully. You've got eight years of interpretive observation. I'm still trying to remember most of last year."

The teakettle sang and she was still smiling as she threw a tea bag in her mug. She motioned toward the living room with her head, and he followed her back out to the couch. They sat close to one another, knees almost touching.

She looked over at him, sensing his continuing apprehension.

"Mulder, relax. I told you I'm not making you leave. And take that jacket off for goodness sake." She then gave him a wicked smile and added, "I'm not promising you anything about sleeping arrangements, though."

He laughed out loud, relieved she was trying to lighten the atmosphere. He knew he wasn't completely absolved. That's why they were having this tete-a-tete on the couch.

"I'm sorry, Scully," he told her, not wishing to waste another moment without making a sincere apology.

She took another delicate sip of her tea, then placed her cup on the coffee table, avoiding the OPR summons handily. Her hand sought out his free one and she curled her fingers into his palm.

"I know. I'm... I wasn't feeling that great when we got home... and I don't want you to think it was the subject of our discussion that made me run away from you."

"I didn't think that, Scully. I know you don't back down from arguments," he said with obvious pride.

She ducked her head, feeling her cheeks burn at his words. It was impossible to stay angry at this man anymore. He was stupid and thoughtless and arrogant at times, but he knew exactly what to say to back in her good graces.

"No, I don't," she asserted, raising her eyes to meet his again.

Mulder took another swig of beer with his left hand, then set it down on the table. He wrapped both his hands around her left one and brought it to his lips. He kissed her tenderly, then lowered their hands to his lap.

"I'm not going to make any career moves without your approval, Scully. It was the most logical idea to me at the time. They can't fire me if I've already resigned."

Scully nodded her head in agreement, then responded, "They can still make things difficult for you. What if they decide to declare you AWOL the whole five months. I think staying an agent until they've decided this case is a stronger position. If you really want to leave, we can discuss that. I don't know that I want to be a field agent anymore. Not with a baby to care for."

He raised his hand to her shoulder, kneading the tight muscles there. "You can teach at Quantico. They would only send you out-of- state occasionally."

"What will you do?" she asked.

"Turn around, Scully. I want to get both sides," he said, helping her do just that.

Ecstatic little moans told Mulder he had hit all the right muscles. He kept massaging as he answered her question, "I can always teach there, too. Or at one of the universities. I don't think that's a problem. Maybe I can take care of the baby."

Scully turned her head, eagerly meeting his eyes. "Are you serious?"

Mulder nodded his head yes.

"Really serious?" One more nod in her direction.

"I'd like that very much. I was going to ask my mom, but--"

"It would be a lot safer for me to be Mr. Mom all day, Scully. Your mother is no match for the kind of people I'm worried about."

"Do you really believe a threat exists? Krycek may have been bullshitting us. Maybe the Project is dead like he and the smoking man."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I'd rather not take a chance on it. Short of changing our names and going into a witness protection program, having one of us take care of the baby at all times is the best solution. But it's no guarantee of anything, Scully. I don't know what to tell you--things can still happen."

"I know... I know... but I don't want to do anything rash like go underground, Mulder. Leaving my Mom and my brothers behind would be like a death in the family. We can work with the Gunmen, try to find out whether there's a threat to us--or anyone, for that matter."

Mulder put his hand on her hip, gently goading her to turn around. He covered both her hands with one of his own, then told her quietly, "There may be no threat, Scully. To us, or anyone. But we won't know until we do more research. And you know we'll get it done. Bureau resources or not, we'll get it done."

"The hearing is Friday morning," she reminded him, apprehension seeping into her equally subdued voice.

"All the cool kids will be there, Scully," he quipped, hoping to disarm her fears.

A smile rejuvenated her face, erasing tiny lines and wrinkles Mulder had been loath to see there. He returned her smile, then without a word, nestled her comfortably against his chest.

"Now, about those sleeping arrangements," he whispered softly in her ear.

Retaliation was immediate.

"Hey! Those are important organs down there!" he cried in mock indignation.

Mulder pulled back from her, capturing both her hands in his own. Scully chuckled silently, beaming up at him with a high-wattage grin. She struggled against his grip, but he held fast.

"Leggo!" she sputtered, suppressing laughter.

"Promise not to throw me out?"

"Sure," she answered unconvincingly.

"Seal it with a kiss?" he prodded.

"Hmmm, maybe," she retorted, still smiling.

His eyebrows hitched in surprise. "Not good enough for you?"

"Depends on the kiss," she threw back, with impish glee.

"Well, now--" he said, inching toward her.

"Well, now, indeed," she replied.

The couch was empty that night.

March 2nd, 2001
J. Edgar Hoover Building
9:22 a.m.

Scully brushed more imaginary lint off Mulder's Armani suit, the third time since they'd taken their seats across from the hearing room. He reached over and grabbed her restless hand, lacing their fingers together.

"Don't be nervous, Scully," he advised.

She gave his hand a little squeeze. "I'm not nervous, Mulder. I'm anxious to get this over with."

"I am too," he responded, leaning closer so he could lower his voice. "Just remember what we agreed last night--nothing they can say, nothing they can do--short of locking us up for perjury or insubordination--and I doubt they'd be bold enough to do *that*--can prevent us from achieving our goals. We're going to find out what happened to me and all those other abductees, whether the Bureau cares to employ us or not."

Scully fingered the material of her maternity dress, a classically tailored navy blue number her mother had insisted could be altered after the baby was born. She'd protested the price tag until Maggie had offered to pay for it herself. Scully wouldn't allow her to do so--her mother had already shelled out a lot of money for their small, impending wedding.

"You look nice," he whispered, repeating the compliment he'd paid her that morning. "I don't think they'll fire you." She smiled at the lopsided smirk on his face and replied, "They're not going to fire you either, Mulder. You haven't done anything wrong. Skinner will testify to that. He may not want to tell the board he saw a flying saucer, but I know he'll vouch for your sanity the day you disappeared."

"Ha! One of the few times he can!" Mulder jested, winning another quick smile from her.

"Agent Scully?" The meeting secretary was standing outside the door of the conference room, facing the two of them.

Scully nodded at her, then allowed Mulder to help her rise from their bench.

"Behave," she admonished.

She knew both Deputy Director Kersh and Assistant Director Cassidy were on this Professional Review board and she wanted him to tread lightly during his testimony. The other members were relatively unknown to them, in spite of Mulder's propensity to get pulled in front of OPR committees. They had a good chance of keeping their jobs *and* the X-Files if Kersh and Cassidy could be swayed toward their side. The auditor had been unable to find misuse of funds last year--that was why the X-Files had remained open during Mulder's absence. All she and Mulder had to do today was justify the expensive manhunt last fall for the missing agent.

Scully believed she had enough evidence from Dr. Werber's hypnotherapy session and Mulder's recent hospital visits to corroborate some minor changes in his physiology over the last five months. They hadn't been obvious at first, but the neurologist had finally reviewed tests from before and after his traumatic brain surgery of October 1999. He'd then compared them to recent scans done in the last week. Someone had been experimenting on Mulder's brain--his massive amnesia had been the most obvious side effect.

Scully was prepared to disclose that to the committee today if it would disperse the cloud hovering around his disappearance last fall. She knew this revelation could result in permanent desk duty but they might have to chance it--he was better off employed at Hoover than not at all.

She'd considered his offer to become 'Mr. Mom' seriously, weighing his complete lack of experience in the area of child care against his fierce determination to protect his child. She wanted Mulder to have a choice, even one he wasn't altogether thrilled about--a desk job.

They'd discussed that possibility last night and he agreed to disclose the extent of his amnesia and his episode of seizures. It was not definitive proof he'd been held captive, but it had to give the board food for thought. Mulder had been kidnapped once before by Spender--they had well documented proof of that. It wasn't a giant leap for intelligent minds to make that he had been used for similar purposes again.

Scully gave Mulder a parting smile, then tried her best to make a graceful entrance to the hearing room. Her new outfit helped--it was modest--with an empire waist and white collar. She looked more like a schoolgirl than a Federal Agent, at least from the waist up. Beneath the neatly gathered tucks, she was a very pregnant woman. A male agent she didn't recognize pulled a chair out for her, then receded to the back of the room. Blushing slightly, she clenched her hands into fists underneath the table, willing herself not to be nervous and not to let her hormones get the best of her.

Jana Cassidy was apparently the chairperson of the committee, addressing Scully first, "Good morning, Ms. Scully. I'm happy to see you again. We've spoken to your supervisor, AD Skinner, and we have just a few questions for you today. I'd like to inform you right away that this hearing will not result in the closing of the X-Files. Their role in the organization has already been proven by an extensive audit and we are not here to debate their viability. We do need to question you about your partner's absence. As his doctor, you are well qualified to give an opinion about his past and present health problems and how they may be related to the time he was missing. Please tell us what you have found out since he returned home last week."

Scully opened the file folder she had been clutching since leaving the bench outside, took a deep breath and said, "My partner, Fox Mulder, was abducted from a forest near Bellefleur, Oregon last September. His supervisor, AD Skinner was with him and I'm sure he has already told you the details of that event. I, and my temporary partner, along with AD Skinner have been using the resources of the bureau to search for him after an initial agency-wide manhunt came to a dead end last fall. We did not discover any new leads, but were able to monitor hospitals and organizations around the country, and distribute to them Agent Mulder's physical description. Fortunately, he was returned by his captors to the Oregon woods, relatively unharmed. He does have certain health problems--treatable ones-- which should have no impact upon his duties as a Federal agent. I believe that he will be able to return to full duty status within six weeks time."

"What kind of health problems?" Deputy Director Kersh asked.

Scully swallowed the lump in her throat and responded--she really had no choice now. "He is prone to seizures, treatable by a drug used primarily for epilepsy. The seizures are a result of some form of brain experimentation by his kidnappers. We cannot determine precisely what was done to him, but we do know how to control the resultant seizures. He has also undergone hypnotherapy once to try to remember the circumstances of his captivity. It's possible he may do so again, but only after seeing a therapist for several months time."

"So he is in reasonably good health otherwise?" AD Walker asked. Scully knew him by sight, but not by name.

"Yes. He's slightly underweight, but that isn't a problem. We've run extensive tests on him and his neurologist thinks he has the seizures under control. I have no doubt he will be able to do every activity he was able to do before in the field."

"Does the bureau have copies of these medical records we can look through?" AD Cassidy asked.

"Yes, of course. They have all been forwarded to his personnel files," Scully responded.

"Agent Scully, you are on maternity leave. Do you foresee returning to work on the X- Files after your leave is over?" asked AD Chen.

"I haven't made a decision yet. I may take a leave of absence until my child is older."

Scully knew the board would never ask about her marital status in a public forum such as this. AD Chen's question was reasonable, but it made her nervous. What if they were planning on separating Mulder and her when they both returned to the X-Files? They would be married by then, subject to bureau rules and regulations.

"That will be all, Ms. Scully. Good luck with the baby," AD Cassidy concluded.

"Thank you," Scully replied, fairly stunned that she was free to go. It hadn't been that bad, she reflected. And she hadn't revealed a thing about Mulder's amnesia. Of course, the board could peruse the medical documents and discover any details they wished. She was willing to bet this would be the end of the busy bureaucrats' interest in Mulder's medical condition.

She pushed herself away from the table and stood up, still feeling a little unnerved by the whole experience. She grabbed her file and was escorted to a seat in the back of the room by the administrative assistant who had summoned her to the conference room. Apparently there would be no problem if she remained during Mulder's testimony. She had spotted Skinner earlier, sitting thoughtfully in a far corner of the room.

Mulder entered the hearing room, his eyes flitting around the room for a glimpse of Scully. He smiled briefly when they made visual contact, then sat down in the chair behind the witness table. His finely tailored suit felt a little too large for him and he shrugged his shoulders to adjust the length of his woolen sleeves.

Jana Cassidy allowed him a minute to get comfortable in the 'hot seat,' pretending to shuffle through a file folder full of Mulder's medical records. She'd already scrutinized all the materials therein earlier that morning--she just wanted to allow her witness to relax a bit.

She remembered Mulder well from his OPR hearing in 1998. Although she found his extraterrestrial theories hard to believe, she respected much of the work he'd accomplished on the X-Files. He and his partner had more triumphs than failures over the past eight years, apprehending some of the most elusive criminals ever pursued by the bureau.

In preparation for this meeting, she'd found herself playing devil's advocate, championing Mulder's point of view in an argument with Deputy Director Kersh. It was a calculated risk to engage in verbal conflict with the higher ranked bureaucrat. In essence, she had nothing to lose--she was one of the few highly respected female ADs in the bureau, with fifteen years tenure in her position.

Cassidy's stance for Mulder was one of the reasons Kersh had been relatively quiet during Skinner and Scully's testimonies. She hoped he remained so; from what she'd heard so far there were no grounds for either closing the X-Files or censuring Agent Mulder. Both options had been tossed out by DD Kersh during their preparatory work session. Fortunately, he'd backed off when he'd seen Skinner's account of Mulder's disappearance in Oregon and the extensive medical records from Mulder's recent hospitalizations.

The hearing itself was a formality--the committee was prepared to reinstate Mulder as an agent if no contradictory evidence was uncovered during their proceedings. Naturally, this was a well-kept secret among them. Skinner suspected as much, but had been reluctant to approach either Mulder or Scully with that information.

He'd been burned too many times trying to interfere with bureau matters, and he was fairly sure he'd done everything in his own power to legitimize Mulder's adventure to Oregon and subsequent mysterious disappearance. Skinner knew his agent well enough by now--he had confidence he'd hold his own in front of these bureaucrats. Plus, if Kersh gave Mulder crap in the hearing, the newly energized AD would intercede on his behalf. He owed it to Mulder--and to Scully--after feeling he'd lost one of his best agents in a Pacific Northwest forest five months ago.

AD Cassidy began the proceeding: "Hello, Agent Mulder. We're here to discuss your reinstatement to active duty. For the record, we'd like to hear a personal account of your ordeal the last five months. We've reviewed your medical records and noted the testimony of both your supervising AD and your partner, Dana Scully. Please tell us whatever you can about the time you were missing."

Mulder was a little taken aback; he'd thought for sure this was a disciplinary hearing--one which would result in some level of penalty against him. He expected to either lose the X-Files or be thrown out on his ass. The summons he'd received by courier the other day certainly implied that. Maybe he did have a friend in the FBI, he thought to himself with immense relief.

"Would you like me to tell you what I *believe* happened to me or what I can *remember* happened to me?" Mulder asked, still unsure what the committee desired from him.

"A little of both would be fine, Agent," Deputy Director Kersh urged.

Mulder bowed his head, pressing his fingertips to the tabletop in an intense moment of concentration. Finally, he pushed against the hard surface, in imitation of the beginning of a clocked race.

"I don't remember very much of the last five months. One session of hypnotic regression last week didn't yield much--in fact I question any memories recovered at that time. I believe I was held against my will in an institutional setting. I don't think I was mistreated, but I do think I was studied by my abductors. I don't have any concrete evidence of what was done to my mind, but I did have what can be described as a series of seizures last weekend in Rhode Island. Fortunately, I have recovered and the prognosis is optimistic--I don't think I will experience any more episodes in the future. I'm willing to wait a reasonable period of time to prove my medical fitness. I'm sure Agent Scully has gone into that and I won't repeat her findings."

Mulder paused, biting his lip in concentration. He continued, gesturing with the palms of his hands, "I don't know what else to tell you. I'm planning on seeing a therapist, to explore ways of recovering my time lost and cope with any possible post traumatic stress. I may take a leave of absence in the near future, but I'd like to reserve the right to continue on the X-Files."

"Your partner also mentioned a leave of absence. Would yours coincide with hers by any chance?" AD Cassidy asked.

Mulder became slightly flustered. He hadn't wanted to get into this in a public setting. If they wanted to separate them after their marriage, he'd have to live with that, but he didn't relish drawing attention to Scully's pregnancy and her currently unwed status in front of this audience.

"I think there's a good chance mine will begin immediately after her maternity leave is over," he said.

It was most the most diplomatic thing he could think to say. He was under no obligation to provide more personal information, but he felt the committee should know that either he or Scully would have guardianship of the X-Files in the near future. He could manage the division from behind a desk until Scully wanted to return to work, if at all. One of them would be taking care of the baby, he knew that for a fact.

"I'm sure everything can be worked out to everyone's satisfaction," Cassidy replied with equal tact.

"I hope so," Mulder responded as confidently as he could.

He knew they wouldn't have to face the married agents dilemma for months, perhaps a year. Maybe never, if he could justify it. There were more important issues in their life that took priority until then--they had to find out why he had been abducted and what the aliens had planned for their world. Mulder certainly couldn't tell the committee about those questions today; he didn't want to be held up to ridicule if he could avoid it.

"I think we've covered all the items on our agenda today, Agent Mulder. I don't see any problem with your reinstatement at the moment. We will be reviewing the findings of this committee and sending them to the Director. I'm sure you will hear from the Bureau soon," AD Cassidy concluded. "We'll adjourn the hearing now."

With that pronouncement, all present slowly came back to life. Chairs squeaked as they were pushed back from conference tables and muted conversation began in all corners of the room. Mulder raced over to Scully's side, grinning widely. He had to restrain every muscle of his body that wanted to take her into his arms. Her face reflected his relief this ordeal was over, but he knew how undignified an overt display of affection would seem to her.

Instead, he helped her rise from her seat, then guided her with one hand toward the still seated figure of Skinner across the room. He was conversing with someone beside him and excused himself as soon as he saw his agents coming toward him. He rose and extended his hand to Mulder, who reciprocated the gesture with a smile.

"Thank you, sir. I'm sure your testimony was crucial here," Mulder told his supervisor.

"I owed you, Mulder. I owed you both all the support I could come up with. Why don't you come to the office and we'll start the paperwork. I'd like to see you back whenever you feel comfortable," Skinner replied.

Mulder looked over at Scully for approval. He had no idea what she had planned for their afternoon; he would have been pleased to go back to one of their apartments and blow off the rest of the day.

"That sounds like a good plan, Mulder. That, and a corned beef sandwich from the deli down the street."

"See, sir... from bee pollen to corned beef sandwiches in just six months--" Mulder quipped.

Scully swatted him with her file folder and scolded, "Mulder!"

She then turned to Skinner and said, "Thanks, sir. For today and every day you helped me out since last fall." She tossed her head toward Mulder and commented, "Maybe you can send him to a training seminar while he's desk bound--one for headstrong, insubordinate agents--"

"Not me!" objected Mulder.

"I think the gentleman doth protest too much," Skinner parried back. "Come on, you two. It will be nice to have you back in the office."

March 3rd, 2001
8:00 a.m.
Scully's apartment

Mulder woke to find Scully's side of the bed empty, sun streaming through a tiny crack between the still drawn drapes. He could hear his beloved's voice from the other room, gradually escalating in volume and aggravation.

"How could you, mother?!? I thought we already agreed--you even promised!... uh, huh... uh, huh... Yeah... I guess so... Oh, for pete's sake, all right!... No, Mom, I'm not mad... No, I don't think he'll be mad either... You want to what?... Are you sure I need that? You're positive?... Oh, all right... Okay... I'll be ready by noon, Mom."

Scully slammed the phone down into its cradle, still fuming at her mother's presumptuousness. Maggie Scully had taken the liberty of moving their wedding from the living room of her home in Maryland to the chapel of a local Unitarian church.

Every Scully cousin in existence had shown interest in the nuptials after Tara got the word out in one fateful E-mail announcement. The capacity crisis had arisen while Mulder and Scully were in Bellefleur earlier in the week--Maggie didn't want to disappoint their extended family by not having a large enough venue for either the ceremony or the reception.

When her daughter had returned from her investigation in Oregon, she'd called her mother to tell her about the OPR hearing on Friday. Mrs. Scully knew better than to broach the subject until her daughter and future son-in-law were done with that ordeal. She'd had no idea what the outcome of the hearing would be, but being ever optimistic, she'd made the reservations anyway.

Maggie had waited until the last minute to notify her--Saturday morning was a week away from the actual event. She knew she could sweet talk her daughter into the change in plans, including a trip to the mall for a suitable dress to go with the new location. It had been surprisingly easy to convince Dana to go along with her plan, even with some token, half-hearted resistance.

Mulder moseyed into the dining room after going to the bathroom and splashing some water on his face. He mentally prepared himself for whatever debacle her mother had planned for them.

Scully looked suitably glum, but not devastated. She was sitting at the table, thoughtfully playing with the salt and pepper shakers. Mulder approached her from behind, wrapping both arms around her shoulders and kissing the crown of her head.

Curbing his apprehension, he asked right away, "What's your mom got up her sleeve for us, Scully?"

His light tone conveyed a nonchalant attitude concerning the impending occasion. Scully relaxed visibly, enjoying the impromptu massage Mulder was giving her stiff neck and back.

"Oh, oh that's good," she moaned. "Hmmm, I needed this, Mulder."

Mulder sank to his knees, continuing his ministrations from behind.

"Tell me, Scully. What's up?"

"I'm sorry about this, Mulder. My mother has assumed control of all our wedding plans--not that I didn't encourage her in the first place. I'm too pregnant and too busy to plan something like this-- and she's done it twice, once for Bill, once for Charlie. To make a long story short, my aunts, uncles, cousins and distant relatives all wanted to attend. So Mom rented a chapel at a Georgetown Unitarian church."

"That sounds nice," he responded blithely.

Scully turned around in her chair, meeting his eyes for the first time that morning. "I thought you'd hate that." She reached over, stroking his cheek with one finger. "You don't hate that?" she asked tentatively.

Mulder's eyes matched his smile as he replied, "Why would I object to getting married anywhere you'll have me, Scully?"

Her cheeks felt warm with mild embarrassment. She'd thought it would be more of an issue for him than her. Obviously, getting married in a church wasn't as big a deal as she'd thought it might be.

"You don't mind the chapel?" she asked softly.

"Why would I mind? Because it's more formal than your mom's living room? Or because it's a religious setting? Scully, I was willing to get married in the Catholic church."

"I thought it would be easier for us to go Unitarian. Or at least my mom did. She suggested it."

"I know. I was half asleep when you discussed it on the way from Rhode Island." Mulder took a deep breath, exhaling with a sigh. "You can still change your mind--we can wait if you like."

"No, no. I don't want to upset my mom's intricate plans." She stroked his hair away from his forehead and leaned over to kiss him lightly. "I have to go shopping with mom this afternoon. She wants me to buy a dress, a real wedding dress."

"Can you, uh, do that?" he asked, gently rubbing her pregnant belly.

"My mother thinks of everything, Mulder. She's located a maternity shop that has everything the well dressed and knocked up bride will need."

She giggled at the absurdity of their conversation and he answered her with a broad smile and a satisfied chuckle.

"Scully, I'm sure glad Bill and I made our peace right away. I sure as hell don't need the shit beat out of me--are your other relatives going to be okay with this?"

"I don't think they'll tar and feather you, Mulder--if that's what you mean--" she chortled. "And they are coming to the wedding of their own free will. Stop worrying so much," she assured him.

Mulder reached over to frame her face in his hands and replied, "Okay, boss. But you know, Scully... we're both so new at this family thing... I just want to make a good impression on your relatives."

Scully covered his hands with her own, caressing his knuckles gently. "You'll do fine. And we have a whole week more to adjust to the idea. I wish my mom had left well enough alone, but that's never going to happen, I'm afraid."

Mulder lowered his hands to Scully's hips, smiling fondly as he caressed her soft curves. She put her hands on his shoulders as he kneeled before her, kneading his muscles with care. Mulder gave her a sly smile and gathered her closer, lying his head on the side of her stomach.

"When's your mom coming, Scully?" he muttered into her robe.

"Noon. What's it to ya?" she responded lightly.

She thought they might be on the same wavelength this morning--she wanted to ignore reality for a few more hours with a warm Mulder in her bed.

He turned his head so she could see him grinning against her side. "Plenty of time for some bedrest, Scully--"

"Yeah, I'm sure I'll get plenty of rest," she quipped, smoothing her hands through his thick dark hair. Her hands stilled at the back of his neck so that her thumbs teased the thickest part of his earlobes playfully. "Help a poor pregnant lady back to her bed, mister?"

Mulder chuckled, then rose slowly from his knees onto somewhat shaky legs. Both knees made an ominous cracking sound as he used the kitchen chair to boost him to a standing position.

"Argh! Are you sure you want a decrepit old man for your husband, Scully?" he queried. He regained his equilibrium, then offered her his hands.

"Are you sure you want a cranky old woman for your wife?" she returned.

Mulder laughed, "Scully, you are a lot of things, but old you're not. You'll never look old to me."

He wrapped his arms around her tightly and pressed his face against the softness of her neck. Scully was tongue-tied for several minutes, touched by his sweet, sincere statement. They weren't the first words of endearment he'd ever said to her; yet they seemed to hit her like a ton of bricks at that moment.

She buried her cheek against his chest, concealing the rosy glow of her face. She felt silly and hormonal, adolescent and womanly all at once. Mulder was even more demonstrative with his affection than he'd been before his abduction.

Perhaps losing a whole chunk of his memories from the last eight years had changed him, made him even less inhibited, if that were at all possible. He'd always outpaced her in his ability to show his feelings; she made a silent vow to meet or exceed the flood of devotion he directed toward her.

Mulder eased up on his secure but soothing grip around her upper torso. He grazed his fingers beneath her breasts with a tantalizing playfulness and met her eyes with an unspoken question. She answered by extending him her hand, soliciting some assistance out of her chair. A satisfying shudder of happiness shot through him as he led Scully back to their bedroom.

2:00 p.m.
Maternal Instinct clothing store
A mall in suburban Maryland

"It's one of these two, Mom. I don't like any of the rest of them," Scully said decisively.

"Okay, honey... It's so hard to choose between them... but I prefer the lilac one," Margaret Scully responded.

The three-quarters length dress had the faintest hint of lavender in its silky fabric. Lace adorned the full-length sleeves and scoop neck. It covered Scully's stomach in a simple straightforward manner--the design didn't seek to disguise her shape, nor did it cling with undue emphasis on her girth.

"Yeah, you're right, Mom. You always were good at picking out formals for me in high school and even college." Scully smiled pensively. "Although I didn't have much time for those kind of events in medical school, did I?"

"I think you may have gone out two or three times, honey. It's getting to be a little vague now. Honey?"

"Yeah, Mom?" Scully began to fold the sleeves of the special dress neatly against its back.

"I have something to ask you... I've been reluctant to do so... I hope you don't think me an interfering grandmother--" Margaret asked, lowering her eyes at the end of her sentence.

Scully stopped fondling the hand of the fabric and tried to catch her mother's gaze.

"What, Mom? You know you can ask me anything--at least I hope you do now. I know we haven't always been completely frank with one another."

Maggie Scully took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly, then spoke with groping hesitance, "Well, I've been wondering... Dana... aren't there people out there who might not be too pleased to see your baby survive?"

Scully grimaced in an expression of extreme anguish. It was horrific enough for her and Mulder to entertain these thoughts from time to time--why should her mother have to be subjected to this misery also?

"Mom, I don't know if I can talk about this--"

"You don't have to, honey. I just wanted you to know how worried I am sometimes. If, if it would help matters--I was going to suggest to you... don't consider my feelings if you and Mulder have to disappear--"

Scully's chest tightened with anxiety, her legs felt like they would give out beneath her. She used the wall of the dressing room to guide her toward the other straightback chair provided for customers. Maggie jumped up to help her, reluctantly sitting back down when her daughter shooed her away.

"Mother! I don't want to have this conversation! No matter what you say, it would kill you if we left now. I can't do that to you, Mom. I can't take your grandchild away from you because of some nebulous threat from an organization which may not even exist."

Mrs. Scully threw her hands in the air in a gesture of acquiescence. "Okay, honey. I shouldn't have brought this up. But you know I'd do anything for you and Fox. That includes losing you for awhile to protect you."

Scully's head sunk to her chest, eyes closing in exasperation. She would never convince her mother they were safe for now. Even she knew that was an unreasonable expectation. Only after she and Mulder could study the abductees, including Mulder himself, could they know for certain why he had been abducted and whether their child was at risk also.

"Please, Mom. If there's anything you can do, we'll ask you to help us. Right now, I just want to concentrate on this happy occasion you've done such a great job planning for us. I don't want you to worry about me, or Mulder. Or the baby."

Scully stretched her arms out to her mother, beckoning her from across the room. Mrs. Scully rushed to her side, embracing her tightly against her side. She leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss on her forehead, then framed Scully's face in her hands.

"Okay, sweetheart. I promise not to worry. I just wanted you to know--anything you need or want--don't hesitate to ask."

"You've already done everything you possibly can for us, Mom. The wedding is going to be beautiful, and it's all your doing. Come on, let's get going. Maybe we can catch some of those biscotti you like down at the coffee shop."

Scully allowed her mother to help her up, then grabbed the barely purple dress from the corner of the room. Maggie grabbed her daughter's purse from the floor and followed her out to the register. The transaction took about ten minutes, then they were out in the shopping mall once again, headed for a shoe store.

"Did you decide how long you're going to take maternity leave?" Maggie finally asked while her daughter slipped on the seventh pair of shoes that day.

"Oh, I'm not sure, Mom. Mulder says he'd like to take care of the baby--but you know... he has the best intentions... but I'm not sure if he'll be happy staying home all the time. I'll see what happens after he returns to work. If his body cooperates, he might be back in the field sooner than you think. He'll need a new partner, I suppose. That will be the hardest thing for both of us."

"You had a temporary partner, didn't you?" Maggie asked.

"Yes, but that felt different. Mulder wasn't around to observe the dynamics of our partnership. I'm sure it will be difficult for me to see someone new go out in the field with him, but there's no alternative. I don't see anything wrong with you or the Lone Gunmen babysitting once in awhile, but we really want to be hands on parents. After all, we both waited so long to have children--"

"Honey, I'm all for either you or Mulder staying home with the baby. Just keep in mind how loved this child will be. I bet you'll even be able to enlist Mr. Skinner's help with him."

Scully laughed at the prospect of her boss changing her son's diapers. "Yeah, I'm sure he'd really be comfortable with that, Mom. Of course, they may resemble one another for a few months if our little one looks like Bill did as a baby!"

Mrs. Scully smiled at the memory of Bill, Jr. with little or no hair for the first six weeks of his life. "He still hates those photos. Dana, those look fine. Why don't you take them and we'll stop at the coffee shop. I promised Tara and Bill I'd be home by six and it's already three p.m. I don't mean to rush you--"

"No problem, Mom. I knew you couldn't stay all day. I don't like you driving home in the dark by yourself anyway."

"Aren't they providing extra protection for you and Mulder?"

"Not anymore. We asked Skinner to drop it yesterday. I guess it may sound foolish, but I'm not as worried as I was a week ago. I still carry my weapon on me, if that's what you're wondering about, Mom."

"I was just curious, honey. I'm not trying to pry or make a judgment call. Well, let's get going. I can almost taste the coffee now."

Scully and Margaret paid for her shoes, then stopped at the mall coffee shop. A half hour later, they were at Mrs. Scully's vehicle loading the dress and shoes into the back seat. The parking garage was practically empty that day; it was too early for the Easter rush and long past Valentine's day.

Once the items were loaded in the car, Maggie started to help her daughter into the passenger's seat. Scully adjusted her seat belt and smiled up at her mother when she was done. Before Mrs. Scully could step away and shut the door securely on her unsuspecting daughter, a van pulled up beside them.

Scully knew what was happening and struggled to reach her weapon, but the ambush was too well planned and executed. Within minutes both women were subdued by their captors, then immobilized by stun guns. A quarter hour later, Margaret Scully emerged from a temporary haze to find herself seated in the front seat of her car, without her daughter beside her.

March 3rd, 2001
4:00 p.m.
Mall parking garage

Mulder had no badge to flash at the cops surrounding the crime scene but he recognized the officer in charge, Derrick Johnson. Years ago he had assisted the suburban police department with a string of murders that may or may not have been committed by one individual. The crime remained unsolved to this day but Mulder remembered the rookie cop well. Now a lieutenant, he crossed the parking lot to lead him past the black and white cruisers and toward Mrs. Scully's car.

"Agent Mulder! We've been trying to get a hold of you at home!"

"Didn't Mrs. Scully tell you? She dialed Scully's cell phone and managed to tell me what happened-- just barely though. She must have dropped the phone after that but I was already on my way by then," replied Mulder.

His voice shook with anger and fear despite his attempt to appear calm and rational in public. He dug his hands deep into the pockets of his coat, forming tight fists to keep from screaming. His heart had been beating double time since Margaret Scully's phone call less than a half hour ago, and every brain synapse had been totally devoted to making the trip to the mall as swiftly as possible.

"No, she must have passed out, Agent. I just got off the phone with AD Skinner though. I guess you talked to him after you dialed 911 a half hour ago. He's sending a task force immediately--should be here within minutes. Dana Scully is your partner?" Johnson questioned.

"Yes. And my fiancee, Derrick," he said, dropping the formality intentionally. Johnson was just being polite under the circumstances--they'd become good basketball playing buddies after the case years ago and addressed each other without their titles on the court.

"She is? Skinner didn't say that but he did tell me she was seven months pregnant. Mulder, we're doing whatever we can to canvass the neighborhoods and look for any abandoned vehicles. We have a forensic crew coming out as we speak. When the fibbies get here I'll know what to do next. Do you want to see Mrs. Scully? I think the paramedics said she was coming around slowly a few minutes ago."

Derrick motioned toward an ambulance parked nearby, then steered Mulder in its direction with a firm hand on his shoulder. They continued to talk as they walked there

"Mulder, we're gonna find her. I just know it. You've gotta believe that," he assured his old friend.

Mulder cracked an uneasy smile for a few seconds, then shook his head in dismay. "I should never have let her go without me. I should never have let her call off the bodyguards. There's a lot more to this than I can tell you now, Derrick. I don't think her kidnappers will harm her, but it doesn't make it any less harrowing an experience."

"You think you know who these guys are? That might help. Come on, Mulder. Let's see Mrs. Scully before the Feds get here."

Mrs. Scully was sitting up and drinking a cup of water when Mulder appeared at the ambulance's tailgate.

"Fox!" she exclaimed through tears that wouldn't cease. "They took her!"

She tried to get up from the gurney but the female paramedic cautioned her, "Don't get up yet, Ma'am. You need to rest a few minutes more."

"Can I climb on through?" Mulder asked. At the technician's nod, he clambered into the vehicle and sat down on a gurney opposite Mrs. Scully.

"Fox, we were just talking about this--I had just asked her about your safety before we left the dress shop," she told him rapidly. "What's going on?" she added, her voice lowering to barely a whisper.

Mulder dug into his jacket's inner pocket and offered her his handkerchief. He shook his head and faced her with sad eyes.

"I don't think they'll harm her, Margaret. I don't think either of us are much good to them dead. I think they'll keep her until they're through testing her and the baby--then give me a call."

"You're not going to pick her up alone, are you?" she wondered incredulously.

"I think I'll have to. I think that's the only way." Mulder leaned closer and whispered softly, "Don't mention this, Margaret. When the Feds get here they'll insist I stay out of the way and off the case. They know I won't and I also know they won't try to keep me chained to a desk somewhere. Skinner should be here soon. I called him as soon as I heard from you and made a 911 call."

"Have you called Bill? Fox, even if you haven't gotten along in the past--I think you should call him at the base. He needs to know right away," she pleaded.

"Here's my phone, Mrs. Scully. Please call him for me. I just spotted Skinner pulling up in the lot. I better go talk to him. Do you remember anything? A physical description of the kidnappers?"

"No, I'm sorry, Fox. It happened so fast. I knew Dana was reaching for her gun but it's so awkward when you're that pregnant," she replied, her voice breaking on her last word. "You go... I'm sure you need to talk to the AD before they can proceed," she concluded, taking his proffered phone.

"Okay, I'll be back in a few minutes to see how you're doing and to get the phone. Lie down and rest, would you?"

"I will. You go now," she said, gently pushing him toward the ambulance door.

Skinner was dressed casually in a turtleneck and jeans. He ran over to Mulder as soon as he spotted him.

"Mulder! What does Mrs. Scully say?"

Mulder sounded as dejected as he felt. "Not much. It was well planned. I'm sure of that. I don't think they meant to harm either of them but I have a pretty good idea what they want from Scully, Sir. They'll do tests on her and release her later today if my guess is on the money. I think this is nothing but a waiting game from here on in."

"We'll be combing these neighborhoods anyway, Mulder. Maybe they'll leave some clue." Skinner put his hand on his agent's shoulder. "You know I can't put you on the task force--you're not fully reinstated. I can let you participate as an observer though. You have a weapon with you?"

"Old service weapon, Sir," he responded, flipping his jacket open for a fraction of a second to reveal its presence.

"It's good to have, but you better be discreet," he dictated softly. "You think they'll call you?" he asked in an even softer tone.

Mulder nodded affirmatively, then studied the tips of his sneakers for a brief moment. "I have to believe that, Skinner. If I can't hold on to that--there's not much hope--"

His voice broke and he turned abruptly from his boss's scrutiny for a good minute. When he turned back, Skinner was still standing there, fists curled against his sides, expression grim.

"There's always hope, agent. Let's go talk to the new arrivals and get a look at the condition of scene."

Skinner put his hand on Mulder's shoulder for a few seconds, to lend moral support as much as to guide him toward the waiting task force.

Unknown location
5:00 p.m.

Scully woke slowly, a strong medicinal odor assaulting her before she could open her eyes. She was tired and groggy, still feeling the effects of some mild sedative. Bodies bustled around her, obviously preparing for some intended procedure.

Panic rose through her with the realization she was the patient in question. Her eyes flew open, then closed again tightly, aching from the too bright light overhead. She tried to move her hands and feet, but couldn't--wrist and ankle restraints bound her to the padded table.

Her eyelids fluttered open once again, determined to regain consciousness before anything was done to her child. The room spun for a few minutes as she took in the objects and personnel around her. She didn't dare lift her head until the vertigo stopped.

A woman's voice across the room caught her attention and she pivoted her head in that direction. Recognition forced bile up from her digestive tract; she fought the impulse to vomit her last meal.

"You fucking bitch!" Scully spat at the well-dressed woman. "You're going to kill my baby!"

The blond woman nodded at her subordinate, then strolled casually closer to the examining table.

"Quite the opposite, Agent Scully. We've done everything we can to insure your safety. Your baby is alive and well."

"Let me go! You have no right to do this! You have no right to touch me or my baby!"

Marita shook her head slowly, a half-smile etched on her face. "We're not going to harm you, Agent. We have every intention of keeping you and your partner happy and healthy for the rest of your lives."

"What do you want from us? Our baby is normal. There's nothing unusual about him at all. I've already had an amnio done. I've done DNA tests. I've had ultrasounds. What could you possibly need to know that would necessitate this, this *kidnapping*!" Scully protested vehemently.

Scully tried to modulate the tone of her voice, hoping beyond hope she could still talk Covarrubias out of harming her child. It was useless. Her words flew out like venom-tipped arrows despite her best interests. She could not, would not, control her outrage with this woman.

"Agent Scully," Marita repeated calmly, pulling up a round stool on coasters to sit on. "If I had asked you to submit to these simple tests--would you have?"

Scully just glared at her, undisguised wrath in her eyes.

"That's what I thought. You know, you have to understand that we can save humanity with the child's antibodies. I didn't want to do it this way. You know I had no other option."

"Your option should have been to stay the fuck away from me and my child! I'm not a lab rat! You of all people should know what it's like!" Scully shouted back.

Marita bent her head toward her chest, sighed deeply, then lifted her eyes back to Scully. "I do. I know what it's like. But I have an obligation, a duty to find a vaccine for the coming plague. I know you and Agent Mulder are planning on studying the problem but you are so far behind the research we've done--we need to speed things up. There will be no future for your family or mine if we don't develop the vaccine now."

She parted her lab coat, revealing the growing curve beneath. "I have everything to gain by saving the world, Agent Scully. This child is the last thing I have of Alex. You may not have liked him; there was a time when I hated him passionately. But I grew to understand him, to trust him and follow him. He was trying to save us all."

Scully pursed her lips in thought, trying to recall every encounter she and Mulder had ever had with this woman. She had no reason to trust her, none at all. She didn't want to be led astray by the same line of altruistic bullshit the Cigarette Smoking Man had fed her.

She looked around the room more closely now, scrutinizing the medical equipment and supplies waiting to be utilized. They were going to do an amnio on her, and an ultrasound--whether she liked it or not. Struggling against them would potentially harm the baby; she had to submit to their demands upon her body.

Hatred rose within her chest, tightening the muscles until she willed herself to breathe again. She swallowed hard, banishing her nausea back to the pit of her stomach. She had to get control of herself. She had no choice.

"Will you release me as soon as you have your precious tests?" Scully tilted her head toward the equipment across the room.

"You have my word," Marita responded with the same chilly composure she'd maintained throughout the conversation. "Agent Mulder will be notified where to pick you up. I reiterate, you will not be harmed here."

"Why now? Why did you wait so long to take me? Why not before Mulder came back?" Scully asked with a touch of sarcasm.

Marita bit her lip in thought for a second then told her, "There was some disagreement before his return about when to do the tests... that obstacle fell with Spender's death." She looked away for a few more seconds, tamping down her emotions. "Alex had approached you, warned you about the others. If--" Her voice broke on that one word and she forced herself to continue with little or no expression. "If he had lived--he planned on asking for help from you."

"He expected it?" Scully asked incredulously.

"I guess he thought it was worth a try. I had no such illusions. I knew we would need to detain you. We were waiting for the right time--we expected you to maintain the extra protection, and then suddenly it was gone. It was a tactical decision, Agent Scully. We need you for a very brief time and we may never need your help again."

"No guarantee of that, though?" Scully questioned.

Marita said nothing.

Scully's distrust had waned not one iota; Marita's little display of remorse had virtually no affect on her opinion of the woman. Dana knew she was wasting time trying to reason with her. The tests would be performed this evening. If she was lucky, they would let her go in a few short hours.

"Let's get it over with," Scully offered at last. "I don't want to prolong my mother's agony over this."

"Or Agent Mulder's," Marita provided.

"I'm sure he's dealing with it better than she is. Let's just get this over with, please," she entreated, closing her eyes in defeat.

Scully listened to the movement of humans and machine around her, opening her eyes when she felt a nurse preparing her for an IV. She was determined to watch every odious step of the way; she couldn't stop this from happening, like her abduction years ago, but she would at least know what was being done to her this time.

Skinner's office
7:15 p.m.

Mulder slumped down in his chair, fighting the dizzy spell he didn't want to deal with right now. He couldn't get sick now, Scully needed him too damn much. He cradled his head with his hands, rubbing the fingers of one hand over his forehead. Skinner had insisted he go to his office to take a break from the situation room. He'd gone with some reluctance, then acceptance of his need to stay lucid.

"Hey," Skinner said as he opened the door to his office. "Feeling better now?"

Mulder raised his head a few inches to meet his boss's eyes. "A bit."

"Good." Skinner sat down behind his desk. "Nothing yet, Mulder. Sorry."

Mulder sat up straight in the chair, continuing to rub his forehead with two fingers.

"You really think they'll call?" queried Skinner.

"I'm convinced of it."

The older man saw unshakable conviction in the younger one's eyes. He wondered to himself how Mulder and Scully had survived so many years of trials just like this one. It boggled his mind they could stay sane, stay committed to their cause, to each other.

As though on cue, Mulder's phone rang. He reached in his jacket, then placed it against his ear.

"Mulder. Yes. Yes. All right. I'll be there."

He thumbed the cell off, avoiding Skinner's gaze.

"Alone, right?" the AD asked.

"Alone," Mulder repeated.


"Hour from now."

Skinner heaved a sigh, then flipped his spectacles off his face and onto his desk.

"Go. I didn't hear a thing here."

Mulder looked up at him, and their eyes met for a few brief seconds before Mulder stood and headed for the door.

"Thank you, Sir. Thank you for everything," he told his friend as he shot out of the office and into the hallway.

8:10 p.m.
A bench along the Potomac

Scully sat, watching the cold river flow relentlessly. She was tired. She had minor cramps in her abdomen. But she was alive. And Mulder would be there any moment to take her home.

She gathered her coat around her tighter, braving the rising wind. She heard footsteps behind her and she turned to face their source. Out of the shadows came Mulder--walking, then rushing, to her side.

He hurried to embrace her, crushing her against his chest. She buried her face in the leather of his coat, unleashing all the tears she'd held back in Marita's presence. Mulder was shaking against her, sobbing quietly as he ran his hands up and down her back.


She squeezed him soundly around the waist and mumbled his name into his turtleneck.

He pulled back a bit, eyeing her general condition.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I am."

"What happened?"

She averted her eyes, still too overcome with emotion to discuss the last few harrowing hours of her life.

"I'll tell you later, okay?" she choked out between sniffles and sobs.

He bobbed his head ever so slightly, then gave her a chaste kiss on the lips.

"Let's go, Scully," he said, helping her to her feet.

She nodded silently in agreement, briefly, painfully, smiling at him.

He wound his arm around her shivering, cold body and took her home.

March 10th, 2001
Church banquet room

"A toast--to the new bride and groom!"

Bill Scully, Jr. raised his champagne glass high in the air, his complexion already flushed from the first few glasses he'd imbibed. He wasn't much of a drinker and overconsumption always affected him for the worse. Tara would probably put a stop to a fourth glass before he could be offered another one.

Mulder and Scully sat next to one another, goblets in hand. They smiled diffidently at their wedding guests, then found shelter in each other's gaze. Being the center of attention wasn't new to either of them--they'd received commendations in public, graciously accepting recognition well deserved.

Being in the spotlight as a real, involved couple was still a novelty though, bringing a blush to their cheeks which had little to do with alcohol consumption. In fact, both their glasses contained sparkling cider--Mulder refused to indulge if Scully couldn't drink some too. He also wanted to remain conscious for his wedding night-- having never chanced the mixture of phenytoin and champagne before, he'd decided to lay off the bubbly.

The last week of Mulder's life hadn't provided a lot of time to experiment with his meds--nor did it even occur to him to do so until a few hours before their wedding in a small Unitarian chapel. Skinner had permitted them a day to recuperate from Scully's kidnapping, serving as an impenetrable shield from the demands of both the local cops and FBI investigators all day Sunday. He'd insisted they make themselves available to authorities on Monday morning, and both agents had complied.

Scully had told her fellow law enforcement officers a version of the truth which satisfied her good conscience. Only Mulder would know the details of her conversation with Marita and he wasn't divulging one word more than his fiancee. Skinner attended the FBI debriefing, fully aware by the end of the session that something remained unarticulated. He wasn't about to push for details from two of his best agents--he knew they wouldn't be forthcoming.

The betrothed couple decided to go forward with their wedding plans even before they entered Maggie Scully's house on Monday night for an early dinner. Mrs. Scully wasn't about to pressure them to comply with the timetable for the event; she was inclined toward a postponement of the nuptials. However, both Mulder and Scully seemed untroubled about the timing of the event, if only to give them an escape from the harsh reality of their strange lives.

This Saturday night, in front of their family and friends, they were as far away from the outside world as they could ever hope to be. It was a comfort to both of them; Scully felt reunited with her extended family--Mulder relished his initiation into clan Scully. Even so, being focused upon was a mite painful.

They found security in each other's eyes, listening to the second and third toasts of the evening with half an ear. Someone yelled out "Kiss her!" and Mulder obliged by closing the gap between them with care. She looked lovely in her fancy dress and he felt deliciously drunk with happiness. He was willing and able to fulfill all requests to kiss his new wife.

The crowd of fifty or so revellers clapped and shouted good tidings while the bride and groom smooched away. The strains of "Love Me Tender" spilled out of the speaker system Langly had set up hours before the reception, bringing the amorous couple back down to earth, off their euphoric little cloud of temporary privacy. Mulder and Scully's eyes glittered with laughter--their bespectacled friend had refused to divulge a song list, assuring them they'd be pleased with the selection.

Mulder was more than pleased, glancing at Langly in the corner of the room to convey his approval. His eyes only strayed for a few seconds, returning to the radiant face of his new bride. He rose from his chair and offered her his hand, mimicking a similar gesture made so many years ago in a small midwestern dance club, years before he and Scully were involved, years he couldn't possibly remember due to his continuing selective amnesia.

Scully let out a little gasp, recognizing the sweet irony of his familiar, courtly stance. Mulder misinterpreted, asking her with one concerned glance whether she was up to the mild physical exertion of a dance, even a slow one. She nodded yes with a warm smile and they moved out onto the tiny dance floor amidst shouts and whistles from the happy crowd.

Pressed tightly against one another, they raised their arms slightly, beaming with delight as they circled the small space until the very last words of the song,

When at last my dreams come true
Darling this I know
Happiness will follow you
Everywhere you go.

Mulder leaned down and whispered in her ear, "Truer words were never spoken." He nipped at the soft flesh of her lobe quickly, then lifted his eyes to meet hers again.

Before Scully could get another word out, Mulder felt a light tap on his shoulder.

"Second dance for big brother," Bill Scully told them with a huge grin.

Mulder pretended to be put out by the demand, but handed over his dance partner with little fuss. Scully grinned back at her brother, thinking back to just a few hours ago when he'd escorted her down the aisle.

"Thanks, Bill. Thanks for all the help you gave Mom this past week. I know how much she wanted to keep the wedding date."

Bill looked down at his petite sister and shook his head, "It was nothing. I was planning on helping her anyway. I just wasn't expecting--"

"Your sister would be kidnapped?"

Bill chuckled mirthlessly at her candor. "Yeah, something like that."

He paused thirty seconds or so, appearing to concentrate on the beat of the music. "Dana?" he finally asked soberly.

"Yes?" she responded with equal gravity.

"I know it's not my business, and we haven't had any time to talk about this all week... this may sound like the most naive thing to say... but, it won't happen again, will it?"

Scully lowered her eyes as they continued to dance to a popular tune. She had no honest answer to his question, at least none she could reveal to him.

She lifted her eyes and faced him at last, "I hope not, Bill. Skinner's put our bodyguards back on duty. Every precaution will be followed from now on."

She paused, biting her lip in thought. Her next words were spoken so softly he had to lean close to catch every one. "I don't think we can control everything that happens to us, do you?"

His eyes softened with his reply, "No, no one can, I suppose."

The music lulled as Langly combed his CD collection for a request. Bill squeezed his sister's shoulders affectionately, then leaned over to kiss her forehead.

"Good luck, little sis."

Dana colored slightly at the sound of her childhood nickname. No one else would ever call her by that moniker--it was Bill's privilege forever.

"Love you," she said, yanking gently at his arm so he'd bend low enough for her to kiss his cheek.

"Love you, sis."

Bill smiled, then turned around and headed toward Tara and Matthew's table. Mulder had been waiting patiently, chatting with one of Scully's many aunts when he spotted her availability.

"Hey, wife," he said, approaching her from behind.

Mulder wrapped his arms around her, resting his head on her shoulder.

"I don't think Bill suspects a thing," she told him gravely.

Mulder frowned. He didn't want their day ruined with thoughts such as these.

"How could he? He lacks the perspective we do, Scully."

She bobbed her head in assent, but he could hear a tremor of sadness in her unsteady voice, "Yes, I suppose you're right."

He slowly turned her around, meeting her eyes with utter solemnity, "Don't think about this now, Scully. It's our wedding day. Don't let this get to you." He grasped her shoulders lightly and leaned closer to her face, "I won't let anything bad happen to you ever again."

Mulder leaned in for a long passion-filled kiss, the firm pressure of his lips calming her anxiety. Family and friends ceased their incessant chatting and grazing to applaud the sweet display of affection, and the newlyweds parted with flushed cheeks and tentative smiles. With a shy nod to their enthusiastic audience, they headed back to their table to continue with the reception.

They never discussed Bill's misgivings again--not that night, nor in the future.

August 11, 2001
The Mulder Summer Home
Quonochontaug, Rhode Island

Little hands explored the tanned plain of his father's chest, pulling weakly at the fine hairs there. Mulder resisted the desire to giggle madly, even though the kid was tickling the shit out of him. The boy gurgled happily, attracting his mother's curious gaze from underneath their huge beach umbrella. She leaned over and made eye contact with her little boy, and he bubbled and cooed nonsense to both adults, clapping his little hands against the bronzed skin of his dad.

Mulder cradled his tiny fists in his much larger hands and crooned, "Whose little boy are you, huh? Whose?"

Scully felt her eyes fill with joyous tears; they were so frequent anymore--even now, when her body had returned to its previous hormonal balance. They had everything they wanted in the world, each other, and this beautiful creature with hazel eyes and auburn hair. Three month old Josh made baby chuckles and Mulder pulled the infant across his chest, settling the child's dimpled chin flush with his own.

Scully had provided the boy's patrician nose--thank God, Mulder thought to himself. It looked well with his chubby cheeks and multicolor eyes. They had started out medium blue and gradually became suffused with brown and yellow hues, changing them from green to hazel to brown depending on the quality of light above.

Mulder bussed him sloppily on the lips, then blew raspberries into his little chin. This provoked wild laughter from not only his son but also his amused wife beside him.

"Leave it to you to teach him bad manners at a tender age, Mulder," she told him affectionately.

She reached over and smoothed the recalcitrant bangs out of her husband's eyes so father and son could engage in a goodnatured staring contest. Mulder blinked first--the kid could outstare most adults with a gaze that suggested rich past lives. To Mulder, that is. Scully had already shot down this theory, threatening to adjust her husband's pharmaceuticals if he dared continue with that train of thought.

Their little tyke was brand new; she wasn't interested in what or who he'd been before his present incarnation. He was the most beautiful child in the world to her, their child. A miracle they could still not account for, though she highly suspected an adjustment in her chip months before Joshua's conception.

Cancer Man's last gift to them, one he'd never taken responsibility for. Marita had suggested the possibility to her months ago--when she'd imprisoned Scully in a makeshift examining room. Dana hadn't wanted to believe it could be true, that her fertility had been restored by that bastard. She and Mulder discussed it once briefly, then dropped the subject in mutual disgust. Neither of them wished to be beholden to the Smoking Man, even if only posthumously.

"Babies need to act out their deepest feelings, Scully," Mulder answered with a smile. "Watch--"

Mulder lifted the child a few inches from his chest and rubbed their noses together vigorously. The youngster cried out with glee and his father provided silly nonsense syllables to go with his actions. Joshua was chirping back non-stop, reaching out little hands to try and attack Daddy's nose.

"You're full of shit, Mulder. I know you majored in abnormal psych, not child psych. Leave my baby's deepest feelings alone," she quipped.

"Ah, Scully," he whined, "You know we're just havin' fun."

He gave her a little pout and Joshua reproduced it with perfect mimicry. Both parents laughed out loud, astonished at their child's ability to imitate his elders.

"Won't be too long now before he's raising one eyebrow, Scully--" Mulder threw out, ducking and covering beneath his little boy's overalls. Joshua giggled wildly, apparently believing this to be a new game Mommy and Daddy had invented just for him.

Scully punched him goodnaturedly and chuckled, "I'm not the only one with overactive eyebrows, Mr. Waggles."

Mulder laughed at the absurd nickname. "I think you've been reading too many Peter Rabbit tales to Josh lately, woman. That has to be an original Beatrix Potter character."

Josh let out a loud, unexpected burp and Mulder exclaimed, "All right, Josh. Thattaboy!"

Scully couldn't help but laugh at her husband's enthusiasm, and she sidled over to her two best boys. Mulder balanced the infant on his chest, then gathered Scully close to his side. She leaned over to kiss Josh, then Mulder, on the lips, then snuggled against both of them, draping her arm around the little boy's back.

Scully became very quiet, then told him solemnly, "I got an E-Mail today. From Marita."

"Oh," he answered with calculated disinterest.

"The trials are successful. We're relieved of our obligation," she intoned dully.

Mulder bit his lower lip and fought back anger and tears that threatened to ruin their calm summer day. He took several deep breaths and replied, "Good. That's good, Scully. I just hope it's the end. I hope she means it this time."

Scully strained to keep control of her emotions, "I hope so too. We've lied to so many people to keep Josh's immunity a secret. If anyone else had known--the military, some faction against Marita... I don't know what would have happened. She provided all that disinformation to throw everyone off Josh's importance. I don't understand why she did it--"

"She has her own to worry about, Scully. She'd like to see her daughter grow up. I don't think she'll bother us for any more blood samples."

"It's not over, though, is it?" she asked sadly.

"No." He sighed heavily, stroking his little son's head as Josh fell into a deep sleep. "There's still the brain activity angle. We haven't had enough time to research enough children or adults. It's another possible way the hostile aliens could invade. I don't know what to say, Scully. We have to keep trying to find out what all those tests they performed on me were for."

Scully reached her arm around him, squeezing tightly. She kissed his shoulder tenderly, then muttered into his side, "Let's rest, Mulder. We all need to rest today."

He pulled her a little bit closer to his side and kissed her on the cheek.

"Today we rest," he agreed.

They dozed off in the waning summer sunshine, savoring one small victory at a time. They were just a normal family, relaxing on the beach. Saving the world could wait 'til Monday.


Huge cyberhugs to all my beta readers along the way: Amy, Char, Keleka, Lisa, Paulette, Sallie and Teresa. They all contributed so much to this story and enriched it with tales of their own experiences.

Special thanks to Teresa's husband, David, for medical advice on everything from stun guns to pregnancy.

Thanks to all who sent feedback during the last nine months! I had no idea this story would exceed 600k and I am very grateful for all your encouragement.

Please visit my web page at:


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