Title: All Which It Inherit 3: Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Author: Brandon D. Ray
Written: November 14, 2000
Categories: X-File (Mytharc), Romance, Angst. Lots of angst.
Keywords: MSR. MulderAngst. ScullyAngst. Colonization. Character death (not Mulder or Scully)
Spoiler Statement: Anything through "Hollywood A.D." is fair game. The story also contains spoilers for "Requiem" -- although the events of that episode havve not happened.
Timeline: Set at the end of U.S. Season 7, about a week after the end of "Hollywood A.D". Nothing subsequent to that episode has happened (but there are spoilers for "Requiem", nonetheless). For events leading up to this story, you may wish to read "All Which It Inherit 1: Insubstantial Pageant", and "All Which It Inherit 2: Melted Into Air", both of which are available on my web page. However, this story stands alone, and reading the first two is not necessary in order to understand this one.
Rating: NC-17
Content Statement: Explicit sex. Character death (not Mulder or Scully). Explicit violence.
Disclaimer: If I owned them, the "Requiem" question would no longer be a question.

Summary: This is the way the world ends. Conclusion of All Which It Inherit 1: Insubstantial Pageant, and All Which It Inherit 2: Melted Into Air.

Our revels now are ended.

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

--The Tempest, Act IV, Scene 1


Dover Air Force Base
Dover, Delaware
Thursday, June 1, 2000
4:37 p.m.

The plane was late.

The man waiting on the tarmac growled softly to himself -- not for the first time - and brought his cigarette up to the stoma in his throat and took another drag, trying to calm himself. The day was bright and clear, with the temperature hovering in the low nineties, and the armpits of his shirt and suit jacket were drenched with sweat.

He let his gaze travel restlessly, taking inventory of his immediate surroundings for at least the fifth time since his arrival, nearly an hour before. His wheelchair sat in the shadow of one of the vast cargo terminals situated around the base. On a normal day, this facility would be buzzing with activity, with military aircraft of all types taking off and landing, and ground crews working smoothly and efficiently to load and unload their cargoes.

This was not a normal day. The personnel stationed here had been decimated by the alien virus, just like the rest of the country, until now only a handful remained. A Gideon's Band, the Smoker thought with grim amusement, as he tossed the butt of his cigarette aside and reached for another. His gaze flicked briefly at the row of Special Forces troopers standing at parade rest a few yards away. Not quite what the Bible had in mind, perhaps ... but he'd never been shy about revising other people's work to suit his own needs.

At last the aircraft appeared, first as a dot in the eastern sky, but rapidly growing larger. The C-5A Galaxy class cargo jet was ridiculously large for this mission, but it had the virtue of availability - and of course, it had the necessary range to make the trip from Africa to the United States without refueling. That was important.

He also had to admit that he took considerable pleasure at his ability to commandeer such an aircraft for his own purposes. How many men were there who could simply pick up a phone and demand something like this? Not many. And it could just as easily have been a squadron of F-14 Tomcats, or even a nuclear submarine, had he so desired.

That was important, too.

He resisted the temptation to have his wheelchair pushed forward as the plane taxied towards him, finally lumbering to a halt a couple of hundred yards away. The passengers on this aircraft were important, but not *that* important. Let *them* come to *him*.

He waited with veiled impatience as the Galaxy's engines were shut down and the massive cargo doors slowly swung open. Finally the passengers emerged, a man and a woman, and the Smoker smiled with anticipation as they began trudging across the hot pavement in his direction.

"Good afternoon, Alex," he said cheerfully, as they came to a stop a few feet in front of him. "How was Tunisia?"

"You had me thrown in that hellhole," Krycek responded, his voice tinged with anger. "How do you think it was? Have you ever been fucked up the ass by a syphilitic Arab, old man?" He was thinner than the Smoker remembered, almost to the point of gauntness. Well, prison would do that to a man.

"You should learn not to play with other people's toys," the Smoker replied with good humor, taking another drag on his cigarette. He glanced briefly at Marita Covarrubias; she returned his gaze steadily, and without expression. He looked back to Krycek. "But now you're free - free at last. And I'm the one who made it happen. So I suggest we put the past behind us, and see what we can do about the future."

He snapped his fingers at the officer commanding the Special Forces unit. The man stepped briskly forward, and handed him a plain mantilla folder. The Smoker took a moment to peruse the documents in the folder, then offered it to Krycek.

"What is it?" the younger man asked. He opened the folder and scanned the cover sheet, then snorted and shook his head. "You never give up, do you?"

"I always keep my eyes on the prize," the Smoker corrected smugly. "I always know what is - and isn't - important. And right now Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the key."

"If they're even still alive." Marita spoke for the first time, her voice calm and uninflected.

"Oh, they're alive," he replied. "Scully is certainly immune, and Mulder has at least a fifty-fifty chance - same as you, Alex. The only question is where they are. Fortunately, as you can see, we have several promising leads."

Krycek closed the folder and tucked it under his prosthetic arm. "So you want us to find them," he said. "Then what?"

"I think you know, Alex," the Smoker replied, fumbling in his pocket for another cigarette.

Krycek shook his head again. "And I suppose I'll be left holding the bag, just like last time. Just like all the other times."

"Oh come now," the older man said with a smirk. "I'm giving you another chance, aren't I? You do as you're told and bring us what we need, and once the experiments are a success, you'll be one of the first in line for the vaccine.

You have my word."

"Shit." Krycek's voice was low and ugly. "You broke every promise you ever made. And I, for one, am sick of it." Suddenly there was a gun in his hand, and the Smoker felt his eyes widening in surprise.

"Don't be a fool, Alex," he rasped out. "You need me far more than I need you. I haven't told you how to contact the lab, for starters - it's moved since the last time you were there." He allowed himself to smirk again. He'd known something like this could happen; Krycek had always been a hothead. That's why he'd arranged to have a squad of soldiers present. Suspenders *and* belt. "You need me, Alex," he repeated confidently. "You need me more than you'll ever know. Now put the damned gun away, and let's be serious."

Krycek glanced at Marita. She smiled tightly, and called to the Special Forces officer. "Colonel? Has our transportation been arranged?"

"Yes ma'am," the man replied. The Smoker felt his jaw dropping in surprise as the officer stepped forward to offer her a set of car keys. "Per your orders. The package of biologicals is in the trunk."

"Very well. Once Mr. Krycek and I have left, you and your men may carry out your evacuation instructions." She turned and nodded at Krycek, almost imperceptibly.

"Marita-" the Smoker began - but then he saw motion out of the corner of his eye, and his head whipped around as he focused his gaze once again on her companion.

"This is your lucky day, old man," Krycek said. Hatred from his words, and there was something dark and wild in his eyes as he took a step closer to the wheelchair. "I don't have time to make this hurt as much as I'd like to." He raised the gun and fired.

C.G.B. Spender's last emotion, as his consciousness spiraled down into the final darkness, was one of surprise -- surprise that there was someone else in the world as ruthless as he.

Chapter One

Residence of George Scully and Nathan Bowers
Near Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Thursday, June 1, 2000
4:18 p.m.

The drive from Washington to Scully's uncle's home in rural Pennsylvania took longer than Mulder would have liked. A week ago, before the end of the world, it would have taken four hours, even allowing for morning rush hour traffic as they were leaving DC. Today, it had taken nearly nine.

Most of the delay had come just outside of Hagerstown, Maryland. They'd stopped at a truck stop just short of the city for fuel, and to dig something out of the trunk for breakfast - and then when Mulder slid into the driver's seat and turned the key in the ignition, the car wouldn't start.

They should have abandoned it, and found another vehicle. In his heart, Mulder had known it, and he could see in her eyes that Scully knew it, too. But somehow, neither of them could bring themselves to do it. The Mercedes had brought them all the way across the country, from Hollywood to Colorado to North Dakota, and finally home to Washington, and now it seemed to stand in both their minds as their one remaining link to civilization. It was stupid of them to have become emotionally attached to a machine, especially under the circumstances, but there it was. And so they'd popped the hood and tried to figure out what was wrong.

Scully had surprised him with her ability to quickly diagnose the problem: the alternator had failed, and that in turn had brought down the entire electrical system. Finding a replacement part for an imported car, in a comparatively small town like Hagerstown, had been harder, especially given the need to be cautious. Several times during the search they narrowly escaped encounters with the Colonists, who seemed to be roaming the area at random.

It *had* been stupid, Mulder repeated in his mind, as he guided the car down the rutted country lane that Scully said led to her uncle's home. Not just stupid - criminally negligent. They needed to work themselves into a new mindset; they now lived in a world where car trouble was a serious threat rather than an inconvenience, and where a minor injury or illness was a catastrophe.

But they'd also stopped at the local hospital, so Scully could pick up some medical supplies against possible future need, as well as a box of dosimeters from the hospital's nuclear medicine department. It had been a macabre, horrifying experience; the medical staff had apparently held on until the bitter end, and bodies were stacked like cord wood in some of the hallways. But now they were better prepared for illness or injury, and the dosimeters would give them at least some idea of how much radiation they were being exposed to.

In their final meeting, just before his death, Skinner had told Mulder that Pittsburgh and Cleveland had both been destroyed by nuclear weapons, as part of a last ditch effort to stop the alien virus. Given the prevailing winds, driving to Johnstown seemed little short of suicidal - but the possibility that Scully's mother and uncle were there, and still alive, made the trip necessary. They would just have to hope that the wind had been such that the fallout from the two ruined cities had been carried elsewhere.

"My mother's car is here."

Scully's voice was flat, apparently devoid of emotion, but Mulder knew better than to take that at face value. He knew that she'd been worried about her family ever since the invasion started on Monday night, and had only been keeping her fears in check by concentrating on her duty. Now that was gone. Skinner was dead, and the Bureau was no longer there - or if it did still persist somewhere, they had no way to get in touch with it to receive orders.

They were alone now, with nothing to focus on other than personal concerns, and Mulder knew his partner well enough to realize that she was sitting quietly next to him, ruthlessly refusing to allow herself to take hope from the presence of her mother's car. All that proved was that Mrs. Scully had made it this far. Anything could have happened since then - and it probably had.

Mulder brought the Mercedes to a stop next to Mrs. Scully's light blue Buick, switched off the engine, and then just sat there for a moment or two, looking around. It was a two story frame house, that looked as if it had been there for a long while - he remembered Scully telling him that it had belonged to her family since the late 19th century. Despite that, there was nothing really wrong with the place that he could see. The paint was neat and recently retouched, the gutters all seemed to be intact, and the front porch looked sturdy and solid. A TV satellite dish was barely visible, peeking out from the south side of the house.

"My uncle was a steelworker," Scully said softly. He turned to look at her, and saw that she was gazing at the building before them, a faraway look in her eyes. "Nobody in my father's generation really cared about the farm; it was sold before I was born. But Uncle George wouldn't let them sell the house, and he kept it in good repair, even though he didn't live here most of the time. He used to come here on vacations and work on it, and sometimes our family would join him. When we were living Stateside, that is. And when he retired, he moved out here to stay."

"Sounds like fun," Mulder offered. She was stalling, he realized - they both were. They were putting off for a few more minutes having to go inside, knowing what they were likely to find.

"It was," she agreed. She paused, and hugged Kyle a little closer. The child looked up at her with solemn eyes, and she continued, "The best vacations I ever had were here. I remember spending most of a summer here, before I started my residency, helping Uncle George and Nathan put on the finishing touches."


Scully colored slightly. "Nathan Bowers," she said. "He's Uncle George's ... companion is the word that's used, I guess." She shook her head. "Sorry; I don't mean to be stupid about it. It's just that the rest of the family's still in denial, and embarrassment is sort of a conditioned response. The official version is that George and Nathan are 'friends', but the fact is that they're married in all but law." Her face softened, and she added, "And they do love each other, Mulder. You only have to spend five minutes with them to realize that." She shook her head again. "People can be so cruel, sometimes. Even when they don't mean to be."

"Yes, they can," he hesitated, then went on, "Scully? You want me to go look? While you wait in the car?"

The old Scully, the Scully of six months ago, would have refused. And he could see that refusal in her eyes as she turned in surprise to look at him. She still wanted to say no, and she was going to say no. Let me do this, he thought. Just this once, let me be the strong one. "You did it for me," he said aloud. "In Sacramento."

And then she surprised him with a tiny little nod of agreement, before turning her attention back to Kyle, her hands fluttering with repressed tension as she lightly stroked the boy's hair. Mulder felt his eyes widening in surprise, but he didn't want to give her a chance for second thoughts, so he leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before climbing hurriedly from the car.

His nose told him what had happened as soon as he opened the front door, and he belatedly drew his weapon. The smell had been stronger at that hospital in Hagerstown, but here it was worse, somehow - probably because he knew one of the victims, his long-ago training in psychology informed him.

For the first time since all of this started, Mulder felt his gorge rising, and for a few seconds he was sorely tempted to turn around and leave. He didn't want to look at what he knew he was going to see if he entered this house -- and besides, if there'd been anyone still alive in this there, he or she would have gotten rid of the bodies, somehow.

But there was still that remote chance that it wasn't Scully's family that lay dead somewhere inside. It could be a stranger who'd wandered in, and then succumbed to the alien virus, or been trapped and killed by one of the Colonists. He had to go through with this, for Scully's sake. She needed to know, one way or the other. And so he pushed the door the rest of the way open, and stepped across the threshold.

It took him less than a minute to determine that there was no one on the first floor. Living room, dining room, kitchen ... apparently a den or study of some sort, that looked as if it had recently been added to the building. Everything neat and orderly, the carpets freshly vacuumed, the hardwood floors recently scrubbed.

So it was the second floor. He hesitated only briefly at the foot of the stairs, looking up into the shadows, then forced himself to begin climbing.

He found them in what was apparently the master bedroom. Blood was everywhere, and a man lay sprawled on his back on the king sized sleigh bed, his body ripped open from the inside. Despite the twisted expression of pain and horror on his face, it wasn't hard to see the family resemblance; this man was clearly a Scully. Another man, about the same age, but shorter, and with just a fringe of white hair, lay in one corner of the room, his body torn and shredded, presumably by the monster that had clawed its way out of his lover's body. And in the room's private bath, her own body gruesomely violated, he at last found Margaret Scully.

And Mulder finally lost control. His stomach heaved and his eyes watered, and he barely managed to turn away in time to avoid vomiting all over her remains. His gun clattered to the floor, and he clung to the edge of the antique, claw-footed bathtub, trying desperately not to choke as his stomach emptied itself into the tub.

It wasn't the smell, and it wasn't the blood and gore. Mulder had seen far worse in his time - including the horror that was the Hagerstown hospital, earlier today. But this was different. This was someone he'd known. He hadn't counted Mrs. Scully as a friend; he hadn't known her that well, and he was well aware that she did not completely approve of him, or of his role in her daughter's life. But he'd respected her, and he'd honored her for her part in rearing the young girl who would one day grow up to be the only woman in the world he could ever imagine himself loving. And now ....

At last, the storm passed, and Mulder found himself hanging over the rim of the bathtub, trying to catch his breath. He needed to get up, he realized vaguely. He needed to get up, and go outside and break the news to Scully, and then they needed to get the hell out of here, and never come back. But before he could act on that thought, he heard the door to the bedroom open, and then footsteps approaching. Scully's footsteps.

He forced himself to be strong, then, and rose to his feet, stepping back into the bedroom just in time to prevent his partner from entering the bathroom. She looked up at him for a moment, question marks in her eyes, and he nodded, and said, very gently, "She's in there, Scully. It ... it isn't pretty."

Scully nodded in return, and tears welled up in her eyes, but her shoulders didn't slump. She was so strong, he thought; so terribly, terribly strong. She glanced around the room, seeming to take it all in at a glance.

"Where's Kyle?" Mulder asked, trying to distract her from the carnage all around them.

"He's in the hallway," Scully replied. Her voice was strained, but level. She paused and looked up at him for a moment, seeming to search his face. Finally, in a soft, tight voice: "Mulder, I need to see her."

Mulder hesitated, then nodded reluctantly and stood to one side, allowing her to pass. She stepped past him and crossed the threshold, and he heard her gasp. He drew in his own breath. His fingers itched to touch her, and his arms ached to encircle her and hold her; to keep her safe and offer her such comfort as he could. The hellish thing was that he wasn't sure if he should.

He knew that his partner needed human contact, more than she would ever be willing to admit. But she also needed her autonomy; she needed the self-knowledge that she could stand on her own two feet, no matter what the world chose to throw at her. So many times in the past he'd failed to understand that; her litany of "I'm fine" had seemed like a personal rejection, and sometimes drove him as close to anger at her as he was capable of feeling.

But he'd watched, and learned, and he'd finally, gradually come to realize that Scully needed to be strong for herself, at least as much as he needed to be strong for her. And so he stood there, watching the partly open door, waiting for her. Knowing that she would come to him as soon as she could. As soon as she was ready.

At last she reemerged. There were tear tracks on her cheeks, but beyond that her face was calm, virtually expressionless. Mulder watched her carefully, looking for some sign, some indication of what she wanted from him, and what she was willing to accept --

And suddenly she was in his arms, her face buried in his chest, her own arms wrapped tightly around his waist. He held her firmly, taking the strength of her embrace as his guide, trying to match it as best he could, as her hands clutched desperately at his back.

He tried to think of something to say, but failed. There were no words for this situation; there were no pretty phrases that would make it all better. All he could do was hold her, just as she had held him when his own mother died.

As they had held each other in turn, down through the long, dark years of tragedy that bound the two of them together.

And at last, her shoulders began to shake, in complete and solemn silence.

Chapter Two

Residence of George Scully and Nathan Bowers
Near Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Thursday, June 1, 2000
9:48 p.m.

It took most of the evening to dig the graves and get the bodies into the ground.

Scully was no longer sure whose idea it had been to bury them. Certainly it made little sense: literally billions of people were going without proper burial, and not only was there the constant risk that the monster that had killed her mother and the other two was still nearby, but there was also the question of radioactive fallout from the destruction of Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

But her memory of the day's events was too fogged with loss and grief for any of that to penetrate past the surface of her mind, and Mulder had not mentioned any of those issues, either. The last thing she remembered with any clarity was stepping from the bathroom to find Mulder waiting for her, an expression of mingled love and sorrow on his face. She'd thrown herself into his arms, and he'd caught her and held her ... and now here she was, in the backyard of her uncle's home, shoveling the last of the loose dirt back onto the small, insignificant mound that marked her mother's final resting place.

And it was done. Scully stood quietly for a minute, holding onto the shovel with a white-knuckled grip and staring down at her mother's grave. They'd taken care of Uncle George and Nathan, too, of course, and in her heart, Scully had also been saying goodbye to Bill and Charlie and their families as she dug. Dear God - little Matthew. How had the end come for *him*?

She felt a touch at her shoulder, feather light, and she jerked around, barely restraining herself from using the shovel as a weapon. It was only Mulder, and she knew it, but the tensions of the past few days needed an outlet. She looked up at her partner, a shadowy form looming over her in the darkness.

"Sorry, Scully," he said softly. "I didn't mean to startle you." His voice was warm and gentle, and for a few seconds anger warred with acceptance in her mind. This *was* Mulder, she reminded herself firmly. He wasn't mocking her or patronizing her, and he didn't think she was weak. He just wanted to take care of her, as he always did - as he always *had*, as much as she would allow. She wasn't sure what his source of strength was, but suddenly, she didn't care. There was no more FBI, no more medical schools, no more boys' clubs - no one watching her every move for evidence that she didn't really belong in a man's world. All that was gone, and all the men who had alternately pushed her forward and held her back were gone. Her father ... her brothers ... Daniel ... Jack ....

Then she was in her partner's arms, the shovel no longer in her hands, her own arms wrapped tightly around his waist. It wasn't worth it, she thought fiercely. It wasn't worth all those deaths, all that destruction, just to let her out of her cage.

It couldn't be worth it.

"It's okay to be glad to be alive, Scully." Mulder's voice again, the words murmured against her hair, barely audible.

"You think that's what it is?" she asked, looking up at him.

"Survivor's guilt?" She turned the idea over in her mind, tried to reject it, and found that she could not. "I guess maybe it is," she admitted reluctantly. "Some, at least." It was not the whole of what she was feeling, she decided, but it certainly accounted for a portion of it.

Her partner nodded, and leaned down and brushed his lips against hers. "*I'm* glad you're alive, Scully."

She tightened her arms around his waist for a moment, trying to absorb his bleak gladness into herself. Then she released him, and turned back to her mother's grave once more, trying to think of the right words. She found herself murmuring the words of the 23rd Psalm, awkwardly and self-consciously, feeling as if she were back in catechism class once more. Any second now, Father Bailey would interrupt her and start dissecting her mistakes, before finally sending her back to her seat in disgrace ....

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." Scully stiffened at the sound of her partner's voice, but then she felt herself relaxing, as his quiet tones merged with her own, helping to smooth out the rhythm. "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."

Could this really be Mulder, she wondered, even as the words were settling around and into her, soothing her insofar as it was possible for her to be soothed. Was this the same man who had given her no end of grief over her faith, down through the years? "Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."

In a way, she realized, it was not. *This* man was the one she had finally permitted to get inside - the one thing she had sworn, after Daniel, that she would never allow to happen again. Well, she'd broken that vow, and she was glad, she thought defiantly. Her mistake had not been that she let someone get that close to her; her mistake lay in not being sufficiently selective.

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever."

It was not enough - it was not nearly enough - but at least it was a beginning, and Scully allowed herself to accept it - all of it. The warm night air, Mulder's arms firm and secure around her, the grief and the sorrow over what was and what might have been ... everything. Eventually, they broke apart, and Scully allowed her partner to guide her away from her mother's grave and back to the house. Somehow, in another of those decisions that she didn't recall making, they'd chosen to remain at the house tonight. Kyle was already inside, just where they'd left him, sitting at the kitchen table with an old box of crayons Scully had found in the attic, and a stack of computer paper to draw on. She stopped to look over the child's shoulder, and saw that he was working on a picture of a house, with some green scribbles that were probably grass, and several stick figures that were so large they actually loomed over the house.

"Whatcha working on, pal?" Kyle glanced briefly at Mulder, his eyelids flickering slightly, then turned back to his drawing. Mulder went on, "That's a pretty good picture. Isn't that your house? And your mommy and daddy and brothers and sister?"

The boy paused in his work, and seemed to be concentrating intently on something. At last, to Scully's surprise and delight, he nodded. He actually nodded. It was very nearly the first conscious, deliberate attempt at communication that Kyle had made, since being rescued from the Rebel lab four days earlier.

Mulder looked at her briefly, then pulled another chair over next to Kyle's and sat down. His head bent over the paper, and he began murmuring softly to the boy. Kyle sat quietly for a moment, then resumed coloring, nodding his head occasionally at Mulder's words.

Scully stood quietly for a minute or so, watching the two of them work on the picture. Mulder never ceased to amaze her in his ability to relate to young children. She'd long since drawn the obvious inference - that he was expressing his love for Samantha, using whatever children he encountered as surrogates. But that didn't make his empathy and caring any less touching, in Scully's view. If anything, it made her love him all the more, the emotion marred only by the dull ache caused by the knowledge that she would never see Mulder communing with a child created by their love, and borne from her body. If only --

Scully shook her head sharply, and forced the thought away. Quietly, she slipped out of the room, and tried to focus on more immediate concerns. After carrying the bodies out of the house, they'd sealed the master bedroom with duct tape, and opened the windows and sprayed all the other rooms with Lysol and air freshener. It had helped quite a bit, but there was still a lingering odor, especially on the second floor, and now she made another pass through the house, spraying those areas that seemed most in need.

Without quite having planned it, she found herself finishing up in the front guest room on the second floor. This was the room she and Mulder would be staying in; it was also evidently the one her mother had used on her final visit here. Mrs. Scully's light green suitcase was still there, and her makeup kit still sat on the bureau.

Scully stood looking at the makeup kit for a pair of minutes, then sighed and turned away - only to have her gaze fall on her parents' wedding picture, the one Mrs. Scully carried with her wherever she went, sitting on the nightstand that stood next to the bed. Automatically, she walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed, picking up the photo as she did so.

They looked so young, she thought. They were so young, and her father was so handsome in his dress whites and sword. Her eyes filled with tears as she drank in the joy on her parents' faces, captured on film so many years ago. All of his attention was focused on his bride - and all of hers was on him. They might have been told to look at the camera, but it was obvious that they'd had eyes only for each other ....

Well, they were together again, Scully told herself firmly, as she carefully put the picture back down again. They *had* to be together. It was what the Church had promised, and she knew that her mother had hoped for it. It *had* to be true.

But she was having trouble making herself believe it. There was a time in her life when it wouldn't have occurred to her to question such a thing, but her beliefs and values had taken repeated hits in the past year. Ever since her trip to Africa, her faith had been hanging on by a thread, and now --

"Hey, Scully."

She looked up, to see Mulder standing in the doorway, a solemn expression on his face - and suddenly her heart seemed a little lighter. She watched him silently as he walked over, sat down next to her on the bed, and hesitantly put his arm around her shoulders.

"I put Kyle to bed," Mulder said after a moment. "In one of the spare bedrooms, down the hall. He went right to sleep."

"Good." Scully shifted her position a little, so she could slip her arm around his waist and rest her head on his shoulder.

"You know, we don't have to stay here tonight," Mulder began. His voice was soft and warm, and she could hear it rumbling in his chest; it soothed her.

"No," she replied, shaking her head slightly. "It's okay. It's late, and we need to rest. Tomorrow morning we'll leave. We'll go to the ... the cabin you mentioned."


The cabin in western Maryland had belonged to the Lone Gunmen, but she couldn't bring herself to say their names; it still hurt too much. Earlier in the day, Mulder had given her detailed, written instructions, which she had dutifully tucked away in her pants pocket, while praying that she would never need to find the place without Mulder at her side. Losing Mulder would just be the last straw, she thought. Please, God, don't let it come to that.

She firmly pushed the thought away, and the two of them sat together quietly for a minute, while Scully allowed herself to relax, drinking in the warmth of her partner's body. Suddenly, she yawned; Mulder chuckled.

"I guess we really do need to get you tucked in, don't we?" he commented, gentle amusement plain in voice. "Here; stand up for a minute." Scully allowed herself to be drawn to her feet, and stood there, swaying slightly, as Mulder quickly undressed her. She wasn't completely sure what his intentions were. Did he want sex? She tried to think; had any man ever undressed her for any reason *other* than sex? She didn't think so. Of course, she wasn't sure what *she* wanted, either. It really would feel good to make love; it was always good with Mulder. On the other hand, it had been such a long, stressful day, and she was so tired ....

She was suddenly aware of something being pulled down over her head - Mulder's t-shirt, she realized, from the soft, cottony feel, and the way his scent was suddenly filling her lungs. She must have fallen asleep standing up, then - and that was enough to answer the other question, too, she thought regretfully. Well, there would be other times.

Then Mulder was pulling back the covers and guiding her down onto the bed. A few seconds later he joined her, clad only in his boxers. Scully sighed in contentment, and snuggled a little closer as he wrapped himself around her from behind. She felt something hard pressing against her lower back, and realized that it was his erection - but somehow that was comforting, rather than daunting. Mulder was beyond question the least demanding, most considerate lover she'd ever had. She really ought to tell him that more often.

She was still considering the matter, through a pleasant, drowsy haze, when she finally drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Three

Residence of George Scully and Nathan Bowers
Near Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Friday, June 2, 2000
4:01 a.m.

At first, Scully wasn't sure what had awakened her. The room was still dark, and it was totally silent. Nevertheless, she had a sense of something being wrong -- and in the next instant she realized what it was. She was alone in the bed.

She frowned sleepily, and turned over, trying to interpret the shadows in the darkened room. As near as she could tell, everything was the same as it had been the night before. Presumably Mulder had just woke up and needed to go the bathroom - or perhaps Kyle had had another nightmare, although it seemed unlikely that she would have slept through that.

Still, something was wrong.

Moving as quietly as she could, Scully slid out of bed and felt around on the floor until she found the shirt Mulder had worn the day before. She slipped it on, then stepped across the room to the bureau, groping along the top until she found her SIG, sitting next to her mother's makeup case.

She then tiptoed over to the door, which stood slightly ajar, and pushed it open just far enough for her to slip out into the hallway.

There was nothing there, either, and Scully was already beginning to wonder if she was just hypersensitive due to the stress of the past few days. Well, one way to find out.

The upstairs bathroom was partway down the hall, in the direction of the head of the stairs, and Kyle's room was right next to it. Mulder was almost certainly in one or the other - assuming that everything was as it should be.

It took her only seconds to discover that he was not. The bathroom was dark and empty, and in Kyle's bedroom she heard only the little boy's soft, steady breathing. No Mulder; no vague shadow sitting at the bedside. Scully took a deep breath, compulsively checked the action on her SIG, and moved on towards the stairs.

She heard the voices first. One was clearly Mulder; she'd recognize his voice anywhere, even if she couldn't quite make out the words. The other ... the other was hauntingly familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. She reached the head of the stairs, barely conscious of stepping over the squeaking board that no one had ever quite got around to fixing, and saw a light - not in the living room, but filtering through from the kitchen --

She found herself at the bottom of the stairs, gun still in hand. The voices were louder, but she still couldn't quite make out what was being said. She was able to discern that there were at least two other people speaking, in addition to Mulder, one of them female - and that Mulder wasn't happy with the way the conversation was going.

Scully briefly wondered who could possibly have wandered in at this hour, but just as quickly pushed the thought away. Most likely they were simply refugees seeking shelter, but that didn't really matter. The fact that Mulder hadn't come to get her indicated either that the situation was trivial and under control, or that he was in serious trouble and unable to leave. Scully shivered slightly, as a brief, vivid memory of what had happened a few days earlier, outside of Peoria, flashed through her mind. She couldn't afford to take the chance that nothing was wrong. She therefore nodded sharply to herself, then moved across the room to the kitchen door, which stood slightly ajar - and barely suppressed a gasp of surprise. For Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias were standing in her uncle's kitchen.

For a few seconds, Scully was so stunned by the unexpected sight that she didn't even notice that her partner was in the room. Krycek was leaning back against the sink, his hands in the pockets of his trademarked leather jacket. Covarrubias stood next to him, her hair, makeup and clothes as perfect as ever - unbelievably perfect, Scully thought, under the circumstances. Rationally, she knew that there was no reason why the end of the world should hinder taking care of one's personal appearance - but why would anybody devote as much time to it as this woman obviously had?

There was something odd about Krycek, too, but Scully couldn't quite put her finger on it. She'd always imagined Krycek to be an example of what might have happened to Mulder if things had been slightly different - and indeed, all those qualities were still evident in the younger man's features. Arrogance, ruthlessness, a single mindedness that drove away any compassion he might have felt for others ... all those things were there. But now there was something else, as well. Something even darker. Something ugly.

"Well, we seem to have disturbed the missus." Scully's eyes narrowed at Krycek's words, and she realized that his alert, green eyes were now focused directly on her.

Her chance of surprising the pair gone, she pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped into the kitchen. She glanced briefly at Mulder, standing on the far side of the old oak table that dominated the center of the room, his own gun at the ready, then turned her attention to Krycek and Covarrubias.

"Mulder, what's going on?" she asked, keeping her voice calm and level - as calm and level as the weapon she now directed at the other two people in the room.

"We have company," her partner said flatly, unnecessarily.

"So I see," Scully replied. She stared quietly at the other two. Finally: "Well?"

"Agent Scully," Covarrubias said with a nod. "We're sorry to have disturbed your rest. But Alex and I believe we may have some interests in common with the two of you."

"Do tell," Scully said coldly. She moved carefully around the table to stand next to Mulder, feeling a little less vulnerable once her bare legs were no longer visible to the others. A thousand questions swirled through her mind, but she managed not to ask any of them. Why were these two here, and how had they found this place? Which side had they been on, in that tangled, shadowy web of conspiracy, and what was their personal culpability for the apocalypse currently in progress? Perhaps most important of all, what did they want now? Any claim of common interests -- beyond mere personal survival - would have to be taken with a huge grain of salt, at the very least.

"There is no love lost between any of us," Covarrubias began, waving her hand to indicate the empty space between herself and Krycek on one side of the room, and Mulder and Scully on the other. "You don't trust us; we don't trust you. And to be perfectly honest, Alex and I don't trust each other, either."

"Sounds like a match made in heaven," Mulder remarked sourly. "What's your point?"

Krycek stirred restively at the comment, but his companion laid a hand on his forearm, and he quieted again. No love lost, indeed, Scully thought, between Mulder and Krycek. But she wondered if Covarrubias really understood the depth of *Scully's* dislike for the man. Mulder's hatred burned hot and bright, and was plain for all to see, while Scully kept her own feelings towards Krycek - as she did all of her strong emotions - close to her heart, and intensely private.

But they were no less powerful for all of that. The man who was responsible for her abduction, for her sister's death, and for the murder of her partner's father would receive no benefit of the doubt from her. As she had said to Mulder, years ago, Alex Krycek was a liar and a murderer - and Dana Scully did not use such words lightly.

"My point, Agent Mulder," Marita Covarrubias was saying, still cool and professional, "is that the vast majority of the world's population has died in the past five days, and --"

"Tell us something we *don't* know."

"-- and it behooves those of us who are still alive to do what we can to ameliorate the situation. That is especially true of those who, like the four of us, have the knowledge and resources needed to take effective action."

Mulder snorted. "What sort of action? And isn't it a bit late?"

"It's never too late to save what's left," Covarrubias insisted. "And the four of us - you and Agent Scully, and me and Alex - are the ones best situated to do just that. We are the ones who have the resources."

"That's the second time you've used the word 'resources'," Scully commented. The word was making her uneasy; it reminded her too much of the way the Consortium had used the word "merchandise". She shook off her discomfort, however, and went on, "But as far as I can see, we have nothing." She was finding it surprisingly hard to keep the bitterness from her voice, and impossible to keep it from her thoughts.

Everything she cared about had been taken from her; everyone was dead - everyone except for Mulder. And the two people standing on the other side of the room had had no small part in it all.

The other woman hesitated, glancing briefly at Mulder and then back at Scully. "We've lost a lot," she admitted. "All of us. I don't think it's possible to overstate how much we've lost." She looked Scully squarely in the eye. "And we all bear at least some responsibility for what's happened. But we do still have one card left to play. All four of us have been exposed to the alien virus - and all of us but Alex have also been given some form of the vaccine. The solution to this problem lies within our bodies. If we can just-"


"Agent Mulder-"

"I said no!" Mulder surged forward, moving so sharply that for a second Scully thought he was going to lunge across the table at Covarrubias. "You are not getting Scully back into one of your laboratories."

"I told you this was a fucking waste of time." Krycek, still leaning against the sink, a scornful curl to his lip. "Spooky doesn't have what it takes to make the tough decisions; he never has."

"Shut up, Alex; that's not helping." Again, Covarrubias had her hand on Krycek's arm, but this time he shrugged her off and rolled his eyes. The alliance between these two was clearly an uneasy one, Scully thought, tucking the observation away for future thought and reference. In contrast to Krycek, the expression on Mulder's face was grim and determined - but still he was maintaining his self-control. It was obviously costing him a great deal, but he was doing it. Scully felt a brief surge of pride at this evidence of her partner's new, hard-won stability. The man she'd known six months ago, before the resolution of Samantha's disappearance, would not have been capable of it.

"I'm not talking about turning anyone into a lab rat, Agent Mulder," the other woman continued. There was a sudden harshness in her voice, plus something else that Scully couldn't quite identify. Fear? What did Covarrubias have to be afraid of? "All I'm suggesting is that we take some blood and tissue samples, and try to reverse engineer the vaccine. It's possible-"

"We tried that," Mulder interrupted, and Scully knew he was referring to the Gunmen. "We worked on it for nearly two years, and got nowhere."

"You didn't have our database," the woman replied calmly. "Nor did your friends have the lab equipment, staff and facilities that we do. Our research director believes that we have a chance of reinventing the vaccine - if we have enough specimens from enough different subjects to create a reasonable baseline."

Mulder snorted. "If it's such a sure thing, why don't you have it already? Hell, your people *invented* the vaccine in the first place. Why-"

"That research has been proscribed for the past two years," Covarrubias said, relentlessly. "Ever since its sponsor within the organization ... fell out of favor." Her gaze flicked to Scully, then back to Mulder. "I believe you've both met him. An English gentleman."

"Yeah." Mulder's tone was thoughtful now, as if he were seriously considering the proposal for the first time - and Scully realized that she was thinking about it, too.

She shivered slightly. The last thing she wanted to do was place herself in the hands of the men who had abducted her and experimented on her, and she was even less willing to place Kyle or Mulder within their reach. A confused, terrifying mishmash of images flashed through her mind -- fragments of memory. Lying on a cold, metal table beneath bright, white lights. Trapped in a transparent tube, and it was so very cold. Surrounded by silent, pitiless, hard-eyed men, knowing there was nothing she could do or say to arouse their compassion. And the pain, and the fear ....

But God - what if Covarrubias was right? She had certainly made some telling points. The Consortium's medical database and research facilities had been uniquely suited to this problem *before* the invasion. Now, it might very well be the only high tech medical research facility left, anywhere in the world. And what was the alternative, really? Personal survival? And for how long? To run and hide like rabbits --

"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Scully asked abruptly. "How do we know we can trust you?"


"Mulder," she said, cutting him off with a shake of the head. "I don't like this any more than you do, but she's made some good points, and we have to hear them out." To Covarrubias: "Well?"

The woman nodded. "It all comes down to trust, of course," she answered. "And to answer your question, we can offer no guarantees." She gave a crooked smile. "We can, however, offer a couple of good will tokens as proof of our intentions. Alex?"

Krycek jerked his chin sharply. "Some people still thought they could negotiate a deal," he said, in short, clipped tones, pulling a Polaroid snapshot from his jacket pocket and dropping it on the table. "We've done our best to eliminate that particular obstacle."

Scully picked up the photograph, and blinked in surprise as she saw the image of Cancerman - C.G.B. Spender - slumped down in a wheelchair, the front of his shirt and suit coat soaked with what appeared to be blood. She passed the picture to Mulder; he glanced at it briefly, then looked up at Krycek.

"How do we know-"

"That he's really dead?" Krycek interrupted. He shrugged. "You don't." A feral smile passed quickly across his face. "But he is."

"That photograph is about twelve hours old," Covarrubias interposed, as if she were reporting quarterly earning reports to the board of directors. "I assure you that it's authentic. But we also have one other item which I think you'll find to be a little more concrete - and of more immediate utility."

Again, Krycek reached in his pocket; this time he drew out a flat, leather case, about the size of a hardcover book, and handed it over to Mulder. Scully waited while her partner hefted it thoughtfully, trying to conceal her impatience, and also carefully reining in her expectations. She'd been burned once this spring already, by the Smoker's claim to have a cure for all illness. She was determined that she would not be taken in again. At last, Mulder shrugged slightly, and popped the case open; a second later, she saw his eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

"What is it?" she asked.

Her partner hesitated, then shook his head. "I'm not sure."

She turned the case so that she could see its contents: half a dozen vials of translucent green fluid. She raised an eyebrow at Mulder; he frowned and gnawed his lip, but didn't say anything.

"Mulder?" she asked at last.

"This ...." His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. "I'm not sure, Scully," he said, in low tones.

"Have you seen something like this before?"

"Yeah." Another pause. Then, all in a rush: "Two and half years ago, in San Diego. I found some vials like these, and had reason to believe that they were what was being used to treat Emily."

"Emily ...."

"I tried to tell you, Scully," he said urgently. "You remember? I asked you if you'd want a cure."

"Yes, you did. And I said I didn't." Scully's thoughts were in a whirl, and she had to fight to concentrate. Mulder *had* asked, and she had said no - and she'd meant it. Hadn't she? She shook her head violently. Even if he'd told her exactly what he had, it wouldn't have saved Emily; it would only have prolonged her dying.


"It's okay, Mulder," she said. He was looking at her uncertainly, and doubt flickered behind his eyes. Doubt of himself, of course. "It's okay," she said again, softly. She waited until his expression had relaxed a bit, then turned her attention back to the other two. "So what is it you're offering?" she asked, still struggling to keep her emotions under control. She nodded towards the leather case full of vials. "You're going to give us those, in exchange for our cooperation?"

"That's correct, Agent Scully," Covarrubias said, still cool and unflappable. "A straight business deal." A hint of ... something ... touched her lips, but was gone so quickly that Scully wasn't sure what it was, or even if it had really been there. "With the added benefit of helping to save the world - or what's left of it."

Silence fell over the room, and Scully tried to think. This shouldn't be a hard decision; the issues were stark and clear cut. The human race was dying, even as they stood here considering the matter; she and Mulder should jump at the chance, no matter how small, to keep that from happening.

The problem was with the messengers. And not even with both of them, but with Krycek. If Covarrubias had come to them alone - but she hadn't. For whatever reason, she'd brought Krycek with her, and was treating him as a partner in the enterprise, and that was clearly part of the deal.

They'd even killed the Smoker in order to establish their bona fides. Scully wished she felt worse about that than she did; surely cold-blooded murder - even of such a person as C.G.B. Spender - had no place in a negotiation such as this. How could the salvation of humanity be founded on homicide? But she couldn't make herself feel sorry that the old man was dead.

And of course, there was Kyle, but he didn't really enter into the equation. Scully had already accepted the fact that the little boy was probably going to die, just as Emily had, and then had sealed the information off from her conscious mind. The vials Krycek and Covarrubias were offering would only delay that outcome; they would not prevent it. It briefly crossed her mind that simply making the offer proved that the Covarrubias and Krycek knew that Mulder and Scully had Kyle, but that didn't seem to be terribly important, and she put the thought aside. She and Mulder had been subjected to on-again, off-again surveillance for so long, that she no longer was surprised when confronted with evidence of the fact.

She glanced at Mulder, trying to assess his attitude towards all of this. His expression was guarded, closed off, but she was pretty sure that she could read it. Her partner's emotions had been an open book to her for years, and right now, although he was doing his level best not to project it, so as to allow her to decide for herself, he wanted desperately to take the offer that had been laid before them. But he would not force that decision on her. If she said no he would back her up, just as he had years ago when she'd chosen to surrender the DAT tape in exchange for the chance to be with Melissa when she died. Once again, he was giving her the right to choose, despite the fact that he had at least as much at stake as she did. The love and trust implicit in his willingness to do that were almost overwhelming.

Almost, but not quite.

Dana Scully took a deep breath, turned to face Marita Covarrubias, and said, "Yes."

Chapter Four

Eastbound on U.S. Highway 22
Approaching Altoona, Pennsylvania
Friday, June 2, 2000
6:38 a.m.

Once again, Scully was driving the Mercedes. But this time, Marita Covarrubias occupied the passenger seat.

After agreeing to Krycek and Covarrubias' proposal, it had taken longer than Scully expected for them to get everything assembled and ready to go. They'd finally gotten everything loaded up shortly after dawn; now Scully squinted into the rising sun as she guided the car to the east, towards Interstate 99. Krycek and Covarrubias had refused to reveal their destination, saying only that it was somewhere in western New York.

She glanced briefly at her passenger, then looked to the front, where the dark blue Chrysler that contained Mulder, Kyle and Krycek set the pace for their tiny convoy. She would much rather have had Mulder and Kyle with her, instead of in the other car with Krycek, but their new "partners" had insisted on mixing parties. Hostages, Scully thought, an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. The word hadn't entered into the discussion, but the intention was pretty clear. As long as Mulder and Scully were in separate cars, it was effectively impossible for them to change their minds.

"You and Agent Mulder have been together for a long time."

Covarrubias' words took her by surprise, and again Scully looked over at the woman. She was looking back, her expression as cool and professional as ever, giving nothing away. Scully wasn't really interested in carrying on a conversation, but found herself shrugging in response.

"Seven years," she said briefly, keeping her tone carefully neutral.

The other woman laughed softly. "I know it's hard to believe, Agent Scully, but I'm not your enemy. In fact, we have more in common than you realize."

Scully shook her head, her lips compressed. "You worked for them," she said flatly.

"Yes, I did," Covarrubias acknowledged calmly. "And I still am, despite everything they've done. But we're not monolithic, Agent Scully. I agreed with the basic premise of the organization, but I belonged to a group that was attempting to moderate the excesses that were being committed. You've met some of the others. That Englishman.

The man Agent Mulder called Deep Throat. The one you knew as Mr. X. Even Bill Mulder. And there were - and are -- others."

"And Krycek," Scully added.

A sigh issued from the woman in the passenger seat. "Alex Krycek is a necessary evil at this point," she answered. "I'm working with him not because I want to, but because I must - the alternatives were all worse, believe me." Pause. "We disposed of Spender. He was one of the worse alternatives."

Scully nodded, but didn't say anything. She had no intention of being taken in by this woman - especially not after having been suckered by Spender only a few weeks earlier. Once burned, twice shy.

They rounded a bend in the highway, and Scully was surprised to see a small group of people and vehicles, about two miles farther down the road. As they approached the group, she saw that a barricade had been erected across the road, and that the people manning it were wearing military garb. Mulder and Krycek's car faltered momentarily, then resumed its previous speed, and Scully knew she had no choice but to follow.

A little less than two minutes later, Mulder's car was pulling to a halt along the shoulder; a few seconds after that Scully followed suit, stopping the Mercedes immediately behind the Chrysler.

Half a dozen men in fatigues were rapidly approaching, and Mulder had to force himself to sit quietly and watch, suppressing the feeling of deja vu that was sweeping over him. It was only two days ago, on the drive from North Dakota to Washington, that he and Scully had encountered a series of similar roadblocks. They'd passed through them on the strength of Skinner's word, and a pass issued by a local unit commander in central Ohio. Mulder still had the pass tucked away in his wallet, but it might as well have been wastepaper, since it didn't include authorization for a trip to New York.

"Get out of the car. Slowly."

Mulder nodded, and carefully leaned across to unbuckle Kyle's seatbelt. As he helped the boy slide across the seat and out of the car, he was aware of Krycek climbing from the back. A moment or two later, having been relieved of their weapons, the three of them, plus Scully and Covarrubias, who'd been forced from the Mercedes, were being herded -- there was no other word for it - towards a wire enclosure about a hundred yards from the highway. An enclosure that already held twenty or so hapless-looking people.

It was all happening so fast that there was little time to react. This was very different from the roadblocks they'd encountered on Wednesday. The troops they dealt with on those occasions had been brisk and impersonal, but basically polite; these men seemed much more remote and uncaring.

"You people don't have any idea who you're fucking with."

Mulder glanced at Krycek, who was being hustled along next to him. The younger man's face was contorted with anger, and he was twisting in his captors' grasp, trying to address his words to the officer who strode briskly along behind them. Mulder wanted to tell him to shut up; he wanted to warn Krycek that he was only making it worse. The irony of casting himself as a voice of moderation in this situation was not lost on Mulder - but even as the thought crossed his mind, it was too late.

Krycek jerked one arm free and spun about. Mulder didn't wait to see what the response would be, but reacted instinctively, yanking free of his own attendant, grabbing Kyle and pulling him to the ground, covering the boy's body with his own. He was aware of scuffling noises, a few harsh grunts ... and then something heavy hit the ground next to him. Carefully, not moving any other part of his body, Mulder turned his head, and saw Alex Krycek lying face down next to him. The officer who'd first approached the car was grinding his knee into Krycek's lower spine, and his 9mm sidearm nestled firmly against the base of the younger man's neck.

For an endless time of perhaps five seconds, nobody moved. At last, the officer carefully stood up and reholstered his weapon. The other troops moved in, quickly yanking Krycek to a standing position, and Mulder felt rough hands pulling him to his feet, as well. He quickly scanned the immediate area, and saw Scully and Covarrubias standing a few feet away, hands raised, being held at gunpoint by two other soldiers.

"Everyone gets one chance," the officer said curtly. He glared angrily at each of the four adults in turn. "That was yours." He jerked his head towards the makeshift prison, and within two minutes the group had been locked inside.

"Mulder? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Scully. I'm fine." He looked down at his partner, standing directly in front of him, an expression of worry on her face. "Really," he added, forcing a smile. He reached out to Kyle, waiting awkwardly a couple of feet away, and drew him in against his side. "We're both okay."

Scully hesitated, then nodded. Suddenly looking a little self-conscious, she glanced briefly over her shoulder at the other detainees, then stepped a little closer, slipping her arms around Mulder's waist and resting her head lightly against his chest.

Mulder caught sight of Covarrubias eying the three of them as they embraced. The former U.N. official was standing a short distance away, watching their every move, her face a cool, professional mask. Krycek was a few yards beyond her, his back turned, looking out through the wire, to all appearances oblivious to anything inside the enclosure. His shoulders seemed stiff, tense, and Mulder couldn't help but wonder what was going on inside the younger man's head.

"They didn't get my holdout." Scully's voice was so low he almost didn't hear her, and it was only by the barest of margins that he managed to keep himself from looking down at her sharply.

"You're kidding," he murmured. "Do I dare ask where it is?"

She chuckled softly. "Someplace safe," she replied. "And it's going to stay there until we figure out a good use for it." She released him, and took a step back. "You really are okay."

It wasn't quite a question, but he answered it anyway. "Really." He looked around the enclosure, taking in their fellow detainees. "What do you say we try to find out what the new neighbors know about all this."

It took about twenty minutes to discover that those who shared their confinement knew as little as Mulder and Scully did. Their stories were essentially identical: each of them had somehow survived the first few days of the invasion, and in ones and twos and threes, over the past twenty-four hours or so, they'd stumbled into the roadblock and been summarily confined. No one had explained to them why they were being detained, and all questions and protests were reported to have fallen on deaf ears. Occasionally there'd been violence, on the order of what had happened to Krycek, but most people had surrendered peacefully.

Covarrubias had assisted with the interviews, while Krycek held himself aloof. Now Scully stood discussing the situation with Mulder and Covarrubias in one corner of the enclosure, while Krycek wandered restlessly back and forth along the wire, and Kyle stood next to Scully, leaning up against her.

"I don't know who these troops belong to," Covarrubias was saying. "This-" she waved her hand so as to encompass the enclosure and the roadblock " --isn't part of any contingency plan I ever saw. I suppose they could just be remnants of the troops who were enforcing travel restrictions-"

"But why would they be detaining people?" Scully asked, absently running her fingers through Kyle's hair. The other woman's voice and expression were still calm and collected, giving Scully cause to wonder what it would take to evoke a display of passion from her. "At the checkpoints we encountered on Wednesday afternoon, people were being directed to emergency shelters, and were not allowed to continue. But we didn't see anything like this."

"I don't know," Covarrubias replied. She fell silent for a moment, then repeated, "I don't know."

Scully nodded uncomfortably, then shifted position slightly so that her hip bumped against Mulder, as she touched Kyle's hair once again. She could think of a number of scenarios that involved arbitrary detention of travelers, and none of them had happy outcomes for the people detained. If only they could figure out what the purpose of all this was, perhaps they could work out a counter for it. But as things were --

"I think something's happening," Mulder said suddenly.

Scully turned her head, and saw an olive drab military truck approaching from the east, a dark blue Lincoln Continental in close attendance. As she watched, the vehicles came to a stop just short of the roadblock. She detected motion out of the corner of her eye, and realized that Krycek had moved up to stand next to her, on the side away from Mulder and Covarrubias. Then she turned her attention back to the scene on the highway --

And Scully's jaw dropped open in shock. Two passengers had disembarked from the Continental, and received a salute from the commander of the blockade. He was now leading them briskly towards the enclosure, shortening his stride to accommodate the inhumanly short legs of one of his visitors.

A few seconds later they came to a halt, about ten feet away ... and Scully found herself looking square in the face of a gray alien.

Chapter Five

U.S. Highway 22
Near Altoona, Pennsylvania
Friday, June 2, 2000
8:11 a.m.

For a few seconds Scully stood frozen in place, trying to get her mind to accept what her eyes were reporting. She had seen so much during the past week, and she had thought herself beyond being shocked. And yet, she discovered, the inner core of her belief system remained intact, and had been quietly insisting that everything she'd seen -- including the virus and the resulting monsters - was the result of human science run amok.

But now she felt all of that crumbling away, much as it had threatened to do as she stood on the coast of Africa a year earlier. The monsters she and Mulder had encountered during the past few days had been just that: monsters. They'd been horrifying to be sure, and supremely dangerous, but they'd seemed to lack any sign of higher intelligence, being driven instead by instinct - at least, so Scully had convinced herself.

The creature standing in front of her, however, was obviously different. Scully couldn't quite put her finger on what that difference was, but there was an undeniable aura of intelligence surrounding it - and the deference with which it was treated by the humans around it was unmistakable. Clearly, these men knew that they were not dealing with an animal, or even a member of an artificially created subject race, such as Kurt Crawford and his fellow hybrids had been.

Even as the thought was flitting through Scully's mind, the gray alien gestured to the officer in charge of the roadblock. The man bent lower as the alien spoke to him, then nodded and straightened up again.

"Okay," the roadblock commander said, clapping his hands together sharply and stepping towards the wire enclosure. "Let's have everybody up against the wire, single row, facing front. Now!"

Shuffling and murmuring, the small crowd started to obey. Scully hesitated briefly, and glanced at Mulder. He shrugged eloquently and nodded towards the fence, then bent to scoop Kyle up in his arms. A moment later, the three of them had joined the rest of the people at the wire, along with Covarrubias and - finally, with obvious reluctance and after a pointed hesitation - Krycek.

The alien moved briskly to the end of the row, with his human companion, a nondescript man in a business suit, trailing along behind. The two reached their goal, then turned, and began walking slowly along the rank of assembled detainees, the gray apparently studying the individual people as it went. In most cases, it only glanced briefly at the human in front of it; in a few instances, however, it stopped and stared pointedly for several seconds before moving on.

Mulder felt his unease building rapidly as the gray alien moved slowly but steadily along the assembled rank of detainees. Instinctively, he shifted Kyle to his other side, putting his own body between the child and the alien. He reached out with his free hand, found Scully's and squeezed it, wondering even as he did so whether he was offering comfort to her, or seeking it for himself. A little of each, he supposed. A simple need for human contact in the face of something unutterably inhuman.

His hackles rose as the creature and its escort stopped directly in front of Scully. The alien stood perfectly still, regarding Scully with its overly large, penetrating eyes, and Mulder quelled an almost overwhelming urge to step in front of her. Somehow she must have sensed his reaction, because her grip on his hand tightened, signaling him to remain where he was.

After an endless time, the alien turned its attention on Kyle, still nestled in Mulder's arms. Mulder managed to tear his eyes away from the creature in front of him and looked down, to see that the boy's face was frozen, expressionless, his eyes dark pools of horror. Horror, and recognition. Mulder felt as if he were sinking into the child's eyes; he could almost see the *things* reflected in his gaze. Terrible things --

He caught motion out of the corner of his own eyes. Looking up, he saw that the gray was now staring at Covarrubias, who stood on Scully's far side. At last, its gaze flicked briefly across Krycek, and then it turned and walked on down the line.

"Jesus," Mulder murmured. Throughout this silent confrontation, he'd maintained his hold on Scully's hand. "Scully-"

"I know," his partner replied, softly but sharply. Her face appeared calm, but her tone of voice belied that impression, and Mulder knew beyond any possibility of error that she was thinking the same thing he was. He didn't know why other people in the lineup had been singled out for attention, but in their group the gray alien had focused on Scully and Covarrubias, both of whom had received the stronger version of the vaccine, and on Kyle, who was a human-alien hybrid. Krycek, and Mulder himself, had also both been infected, but Mulder had received the weak strain of the vaccine, while Krycek had received none at all.

It looked very much as if their group, at least, was being sorted on that basis.

And indeed, it was less than five minutes later that the alien and its human escort came back down the row, this time walking quickly and accompanied by two soldiers armed with assault weapons. Another soldier stepped forward and opened the gate to the enclosure; in the next instant, he and the other two had stepped inside, and were briskly herding those selected by the gray out of the detention area.

Mulder had precious little opportunity to object, much less intervene. He barely had time to hand Kyle over to Scully as she was pulled away from him. Covarrubias followed, stepping quickly so that the men wouldn't have to drag her. All around them the scene was being repeated. In all, six people were separated from the crowd, and forced out through the open gate. Mulder felt helpless, impotent, but there was absolutely nothing he could do. One man had protested as his wife was taken from him; he now lay on the ground, moaning in pain after having a rifle butt slammed into the side of his head.

Mulder was so focused on Scully and Kyle that he hadn't noticed what the other three soldiers were doing. Now he felt his eyes widening in surprise as he saw them walking back to the enclosure from the direction of the recently arrived truck, under the watchful eye of their commander and the gray alien. They wore large glass containers on their backs - containers that sloshed as they moved. Containers that were nearly full of thick, black oil.

Scully spotted the canisters of black oil at the same instant that Mulder did. Immediately, she knew that time had run out.

She'd been temporizing ever since they reached the blockade, thanking her lucky stars that the soldiers had failed to find her second weapon, and playing the waiting game while she looked for the opportunity to use it. Clearly, she'd thought, they were in a tight spot, but things had not seemed desperate, and she'd delayed action in hopes that she'd find just the right moment to drop her ace onto the table. Being separated from Mulder had alarmed her, and it had been a struggle to suppress the incipient panic brought on by fragments of memory of her previous abductions, but somehow she'd managed it. Her chance would come, she told herself. She just had to be patient.

But now, for better or worse, the moment was here. The soldiers had already come to a stop, about ten feet from the enclosure, and were flourishing the attached hoses with practiced efficiency. A few of the detainees, Mulder and Krycek among them, clearly knew what was about to happen and had backed to the farthest corner of their makeshift prison.

Others, either unaware of the implications of what was in front of them, or still focused on their loved ones beyond the wire, remained pressed up against the fence.

A quick glance at the men guarding Scully and Covarrubias showed that they, too, had been distracted by the activity at the rim of enclosure. With no time for subterfuge, Scully placed Kyle on the ground, catching Covarrubias' eye as she did so. She then dived for the feet of the guard standing nearest to her, just as the three soldiers with the canisters starting spraying black oil over the detainees.

The man was taken completely be surprise, and Scully felt exultation surging through her as he stumbled and hopped a step or two before landing on his back with a breath paralyzing thud. Even as he hit the ground, she was levering herself to a sitting position, reaching out with a leg sweep and hooking her feet around the ankles of the roadblock commander, bringing him down, as well. She was peripherally aware of sudden, violent activity coming from Covarrubias' direction, but most of her attention was focused on her own opponents.

Her immediate obstacles clear, Scully rolled onto her belly, pulling her weapon from its hiding place in one smooth motion. Time seemed to slow almost to a stop as she took aim. The ground was cool and yielding beneath her and a light breeze ruffled her hair as she lined up the sights on her targets. The three men with the canisters, still oblivious to what was happening behind them, continued to spray black oil over the detainees, the streams of deadly, alien virus arcing out through the wire in search of victims.

And Dana Scully opened fire, coolly and methodically pulling the trigger again and again and again. There was none of the dissociation and loss of control that had pervaded her as she killed Donnie Pfaster; this time, she was in full possession of her faculties, squeezing off rounds like the consummate professional that she was.

And her efforts were quickly rewarded, as first one man and then a second jerked and spun around before crashing heavily to the ground. Behind her she heard the chatter of a trooper's assault weapon, but she had no time for that, and turned her attention on the last soldier. He'd been thrown off balance by a collision with one of his comrades, and now was frantically windmilling his arms as he tried to stay on his feet.

Scully showed no mercy, however, and quickly fired two shots at her remaining antagonist. The first struck him in the chest, spinning him about. The second impacted directly on the container that was strapped to his back.

The canister shattered, almost as if a bomb had gone off inside it. Glass and black oil flew everywhere, and Scully instinctively ducked and covered her head. A few seconds later she cautiously raised it again, then scrambled around to a crouch, looking for more targets.

But there were none. The rest of the soldiers were also down, including their commander, and so was the civilian who'd accompanied the gray alien - all victims of a liberated assault weapon that Marita Covarrubias had somehow acquired in the course of the short, vicious firefight, and which she was now brandishing in the direction of the alien.

"Don't shoot it," Scully warned, rising to her feet and checking the clip in her SIG. She well remembered the effect that Emily's green blood had had on the humans around her.

"I'm not an idiot," the other woman replied briefly. Scully, having discovered that she had three rounds left, looked back up - just in time to see Covarrubias reach around behind the gray and jam a plam into the base of its neck. The creature's body jerked sharply, then collapsed in a heap, with green fluid oozing from the wound as the corpse begin rapidly disintegrating.

Scully shook her head and looked away; they might have learned something from the alien, but it was too late now.

Her gaze fell on Kyle, who was lying on the ground, curled up in a ball. Scully hurried over and knelt down next to him. A cursory examination revealed that he was not physically injured; just scared, and Scully found that a few words and a gentle hand were enough to coax him out of it, giving hope that the boy was slowly starting to adjust to the grim new world that they all now inhabited. At last, she was able to help him back to his feet - and it was then, and only then, that she allowed her thoughts to turn to Mulder.

She had been deliberately suppressing such concerns since the firefight began, knowing that she could ill afford the distraction. Now, however, her fear for her partner came rushing to the forefront, pushing all other thoughts aside, and in the next instant she had turned and was running towards the compound.

Her heart plummeted as her gaze took in the scene before her. Where moments before there had been more than a dozen people lined up against the wire, there now were only two or three on their feet, with the rest lying sprawled on the ground, silent and unmoving.

Mulder was not among those still standing.

With no memory of how she'd got there, Scully found herself on her knees, bending over her partner's body. His chest moved slowly up and down, but beyond that there was no sign of life. She hesitated, then fumbled in her pocket for a pair of latex gloves, hastily pulling them on. At last, she reached out and carefully peeled back his eyelid - only to see the black oil swirling and coruscating across the surface of his eye.

Scully closed her own eyes, and for a moment she held perfectly still as she struggled to keep her world from shattering. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening. Not to Mulder; not to her partner. He'd had the vaccine; he was supposed to be immune. For a few frantic seconds she teetered on the brink - but then, somehow, she managed to pull herself back. She would not allow herself to fall apart. Mulder needed her now, more than ever before, and she would by God find some way --

"Let's get the fuck out of here."

Scully shook herself, and looked up, to see Krycek standing over her. She'd been so focused on her partner that she hadn't noticed that this man was among those who'd apparently escaped the oil. Instantly, her pent up rage found an outlet, and she was scrambling to her feet, her SIG once more in her hand.

"We're not leaving him," she said flatly.

Krycek laughed. "Don't be stupid, Scully," he said, waving at Mulder's body on the ground before them. "He's finished.

We've both seen this, and we know where it ends. If we try to take him with us, it'll just-"

"I said no!" Scully fought to keep control of her anger, simultaneously suppressing a memory of what had happened to Frohike the morning before.

//We agreed.// Langly's voice echoed in her mind, despite her best effort to ignore it. //None of us wanted to die like this. So we made a pact.// A suicide pact it had been. A promise made by men who cared deeply about one another, that they would not allow this thing to happen. An agreement that a quick death, no matter how painful and horrible, was better than waiting while a monster from the stars grew within their bodies. Anything, they'd thought, was better than that.

And yet, as tough-minded as Scully had always thought herself to be, she could not make that decision for Mulder. In all the years she'd known him, he had never given up on her. Even when her mother and Missy had given her up for dead, and had her life support disconnected, he'd stayed by her side and fought for her life. He believed in her and loved her, unselfishly and unstintingly; he had followed her literally to the end of the earth because he was unwilling to let her go, under any circumstances. And she could not do less for him.

"Come on, Scully." There was immense weariness in Krycek's voice. "Give it up. We have to get the hell out of here before someone notices that they haven't arrived wherever it was they were going." He jerked his head at Mulder's still form. "We don't need him, anyway. We've still got you and Marita."

Scully's hand tightened on the grip of her SIG, and her eyes narrowed, but then she forced herself to relax. It wasn't worth it, she told herself, kneeling down once more. She had to focus on Mulder. He was the only thing that mattered; he was all she had left. But the thought had barely formed in her mind before she was interrupted once again.

"Come *on*," Krycek insisted, through gritted teeth, as he pulled her to her feet and tried to drag her away. Something inside Scully snapped. She was distantly aware of Covarrubias, standing a few feet away and saying something conciliatory, but she didn't care. All she really knew in that instant was that Mulder needed her, and someone was trying to prevent her from helping him.

She lashed out with her fist, catching Krycek square in the jaw, hitting him so hard that he staggered slightly as she followed up with a knee to the groin. Scully felt a quick rush of triumph as the man doubled over, and she smashed the the barrel of her SIG down across the back of his head.

She had little chance to enjoy her victory, however. As Krycek fell to the ground, one of his arms snaked out, capturing her ankle, and it took a single, solid yank to cause Scully to lose her balance and go crashing downwards as well.

As quickly as that, Krycek was upon her, rolling her onto her back and pinning her in place. Scully tried to fight back, but his superior position and advantage in weight gave her few options, and his skill in hand-to-hand combat gave her even fewer openings. She shifted her position as best she could, trying to get in another blow with her one of her knees, but to no avail. She was losing the fight, and there was nothing she could do.

And then, suddenly, she received her deliverance. Her right hand - the hand holding her SIG - was pinned between her body and Krycek's. As the man raised his upper body slightly, drawing back his fist to deliver the coup de grace, Scully's hand was freed. She turned her gun on him and fired three rounds into the center of his chest.

Chapter Six

U.S. Highway 22
Near Altoona, Pennsylvania
Friday, June 2, 2000
8:39 a.m.

For a few moments, after Covarrubias helped her push Krycek off of her, Scully stood over her assailant's body, looking down at him. His face was frozen in shock and pain, his eyes staring sightlessly up at the sky, and his upper body was drenched with blood. Her own clothes were also soaked, of course, but Scully didn't care. Not as long as the bastard was finally dead.

As last she turned away, casting a brief glance at Covarrubias, who stood nearby with her hands at her sides, and at Kyle, who was now sitting quietly in the passenger seat of the Mercedes, before kneeling down next to Mulder once more. His breathing continued, slow and steady, and his body did not appear to have moved.

A confused jumble of images flashed through Scully's mind. She was standing in a motel room in Oregon during a power failure in her underwear, in front of a man she'd barely met. She was waking up in a hospital bed with three months of her life gone, to find Mulder waiting patiently by her bedside. She was ruthlessly suppressing the first flutterings of something stronger than friendship, as Mulder allowed her to trade the DAT tape for the chance to say goodbye to Missy. She was waking up again, this time alone in the middle of the night, staring at a spot of blood on her pillow. She was holding Mulder, trying to comfort him amidst the ashes of his life's work. She was holding him again, this time seeking comfort, as she tried to comprehend that a man who did not exist had nearly torn her heart from her chest. She was walking slowly down the hall towards his bedroom, shedding her clothes as she went, finally ready to allow some joy into her life once again.

She was kneeling on the ground, near Altoona, Pennsylvania, stroking Mulder's forehead with gloved fingertips, as tears of grief dripped silently down her face.

And a slow, hot flame began to burn in Dana Scully's heart, a flame composed of equal parts anger and defiance. She had lost so much over the years, she'd suffered so much, and she'd taken it all stoically, her back straight, her eyes clear, always bouncing back and ready to continue, heedless of the cost. The truth she and Mulder had sought was beyond price, and after a while her own personal concerns had seemed petty and irrelevant. But this ... this was too much. It was more than she was willing to bear.

It could not end like this. She would not allow it.

Scully shook herself, forcing the memories away, and moved around so that she was crouching at Mulder's head. She then hooked her hands under her partner's armpits, and slowly, with great difficulty, began dragging him in the direction of the cars.

She might not have made it, had Covarrubias not lent a hand -- although it took Scully a moment to reaalize that that was happening. She was so absorbed in her own exertions, and so overwhelmed by her concern for Mulder's welfare, that she did not even notice when the other woman took hold of Mulder's feet, and began to help - and when it did come to her attention she spared Covarrubias only a brief glance, before turning her focus back on her partner.

He seemed to be completely oblivious to what was happening to him, staring sightlessly up at the sky as the two women pushed and pulled him out of the enclosure and towards the cars. The ditch that ran next to the highway proved to be a difficult obstacle, and Scully couldn't keep from wincing at the scrapes and bruises she knew they were inflicting on him, but she couldn't decide whether to pray that he couldn't feel anything, or that he could. Both answers seemed wrong to her.

At last they reached the Mercedes. Scully hesitated, looking at Kyle as he sat in the passenger seat, then gently asked the boy to climb in the rear storage compartment. Then she and Covarrubias wrestled Mulder into the car.

"Where are you going to go?" the other woman asked, finally breaking the silence that had reigned between them ever since Scully had killed Krycek.

"I don't know," Scully replied, her voice very low. She walked around the front of the car and slid into the driver's seat, then made more of a production than necessary out of fastening her seatbelt.

"You could still come with me," Covarrubias said quietly, not moving from her place, standing on the shoulder on the passenger side of the Mercedes.

Scully glanced at the other woman. "If I did, could they save him?"

There was a moment's silence, as the former U.N. official seemed to consider her answer. Scully wondered if the woman was thinking about lying - but at last she shook her head. "No," she said. "There's no cure. You know that."

"Then I think ... I think we'd rather be alone," Scully replied, forcing the words out past the lump that was lodged in her throat.

"I understand," Covarrubias said. Her gaze shifted to Kyle.

"The boy-"

"No!" Scully shook her head violently. She would not turn the Kyle over to be used as a lab animal. It was true that she was placing him in danger by taking him along - but he would be in danger wherever he was. She carefully avoided thinking about the deadly peril that she and Kyle would both face as soon as the thing inside Mulder's body finished gestating. That was in the future, and somehow seemed unreal to her. Right now, Mulder needed her, and she needed to be with him.

Covarrubias sighed, but she nodded again. "Okay. Can I at least have some blood samples? It's not the same, but it might be of at least some help."

Scully hesitated, then reluctantly nodded. She sat quietly in the car, staring straight ahead, while Covarrubias retrieved a medical kit from the trunk of her car, opened it and assembled a needle, syringe and vaccutainer. She remained equally stoic as the sample was taken. As Covarrubias withdrew the needle her gaze flicked briefly at Kyle, but Scully shook her head, minutely but sharply. Enough was enough. The boy simply watched impassively, obviously a veteran of many needle sticks.

Then Scully started the car, threw it in gear, and maneuvered back onto the highway. She pulled a u-turn to avoid the blockade, then pressed down on the accelerator.

At first Scully didn't pay much attention to where she was going. She drove west because it was easier than maneuvering around the barriers, and also because it took her away from New York and the Consortium lab. Not that it really mattered. Not anymore.

A niggle of guilt was also building in the back of her mind, as she drove away from the rising sun. It had been her choice, after all, to go with Krycek and Covarrubias. She could have said no. Mulder would have accepted that decision. She could have said no, and they could have gone elsewhere, and if they had, maybe ....

But they hadn't. On her say-so, they'd put their trust in the two Consortium agents, and now Scully was wondering why.

She remembered the argument at her uncle's home, and she remembered how she'd reached that conclusion. But now, in retrospect, it seemed clear that she'd been wrong. And because of her bad judgment, Mulder was dying.

She hastily thrust that last thought away from her; she wasn't ready to deal with that reality quite yet. And she tried to turn her mind to other matters.

The day was clear, and the sky a deep, deep blue, and that seemed wrong to Scully, as well. She remembered the weeks leading up the invasion, with their chronic rain, and thunderstorms that seemed to follow the two of them no matter where they went. But since Monday night, since the onset of Colonization, the weather had cleared, and the clouds had vanished, with each spring day seeming a little more perfect and crystal clear than the one before. It was a coincidence, she thought. It had to be a coincidence.

It didn't feel like a coincidence.

She stayed on back roads that morning, avoiding the main highways for fear that she would encounter another blockade manned by human collaborators. She turned aimlessly, randomly, her direction tending south and west largely because that's where the roads happened to go. Kyle was silent through much of the drive, but Scully was not. She found herself talking to the boy, telling him stories about Mulder, almost as if Mulder and Kyle were father and son. She wanted someone else to know about Mulder, to understand the things that she knew about him. She wanted someone else to care, and Kyle was the only one available - and indeed, she became so wrapped up in her narrative that she didn't notice at first that the boy had leaned forward over the seat and started asking questions. When she did realize what was happening she brought the car to an abrupt halt, pulling off on the side of the road out of habit, despite the complete lack of traffic. She levered herself around until she was kneeling in her seat, facing backwards.

"Kyle?" she asked. The boy looked frightened, as if he were afraid he'd done something wrong, and Scully reached out and gently touched his cheek. "It's okay," she whispered. "Everything's fine. I just ... I just ...." Her voice trailed off, as she struggled to find words that could bridge the gap between her and the severely traumatized five-year-old. "You surprised me," she said at last. "That's all. You just surprised me."

"I'm sorry." His voice was rough, and very, very low.

"You don't have to be sorry," Scully said firmly, shaking her head. She touched his cheek again. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I've been talking your ear off all morning."

The boy nodded, but he didn't reply directly. Instead, his gaze flicked to Mulder, still sprawled silently in the front seat. "How come he doesn't wake up?"

"He's very sick, honey," Scully answered. She swallowed, struggling to keep the tremor out of her voice. "He's sleeping because he's sick."

"The bugs got him," Kyle said. His eyes were big and round, but his voice was steady. "The bugs got him. I can tell."

"Yes," Scully said quietly. "The bugs got him." She still didn't know what, exactly, Kyle had seen while he was in captivity in the faceless aliens' lab, but clearly it had been enough for him to put the pieces together.

"The bugs go inside you," the boy went on, as if he hadn't heard. "They go inside you and they eat you all up." He cocked his head, and now he seemed to be studying the back of Mulder's head. "But they're not eating him up - not like the others." He looked back at Scully. "Why aren't they eating him up?"

"I don't know," Scully replied. She felt a brief shiver of hope at Kyle's words, but she quickly suppressed it. The boy was just talking, she told herself. He had no special knowledge, and there was no reason to expect that Mulder's infection wouldn't follow the same course as it did in everyone else. There was no reason at all to hope.

"They're not," Kyle said firmly, nodding his head. His face softened, and Scully had the sudden feeling that he was looking straight down into her soul. "You shouldn't be afraid," he asserted. "They're not eating him up." And then, as abruptly as it had started, the conversation was over. Kyle closed his eyes, settled down and went to sleep, and after a moment, Scully turned back to the front, restarted the car, and pulled back onto the highway.

She passed by the exit for her uncle's home without giving it much real thought - there was too much death there for her to want to stop again - and by late morning they'd reached Somerset. At some point during the drive Scully remembered that Pittsburgh had been one of several cities destroyed by nuclear weapons by Operation Cautery, and she subsequently turned south, trying to minimize their exposure to radioactive fallout. The dosimeters they'd acquired the day before still showed no significant exposure, but Scully was not inclined to take any chances.

As they approached the Maryland border, Scully came to discover that she wasn't driving quite so aimlessly as she'd thought. The Gunmen's cabin was nearby, somewhere west of Cumberland, and she now realized that she'd been unconsciously heading in that direction. She'd never been there before, but the directions Mulder had given her were still in her pants pocket, and Scully felt an irrational sense of relief as she thought about it. It seemed like it would be a safe place, someplace she and Mulder could be alone together for as much time as he had left - and someplace where she had at least some chance of keeping Kyle safe afterwards. It was an irrational feeling, and she knew it. There wasn't anyplace that was safe; not really. But she no longer had the strength to fight it.

The rest of the drive, to her vague surprise, passed without incident. Sticking to county roads and, when absolutely necessary, state highways, seemed to be paying off, and she saw no one - no refugees and no military vehicles. The cabin itself was hard to find - deliberately so, Mulder had said - and Scully had to stop and consult maps and Mulder's directions several times. But at length they were driving slowly up a badly rutted mountain road on the edge of Savage River State Forest. The road twisted and turned beneath the canopy of trees, and Scully drove at a snail's pace, trying to avoid the worst ruts and potholes. More than once she had to back up and try a slightly different angle to make it between two trees, or up a particularly steep grade. At last, however, she rounded a final curve, and the cabin came into view. Scully breathed a sigh of relief as she eased the car past the tree line and into the small clearing. As she braked gently to a stop and reached for the ignition key, John Byers stepped out onto the porch. Susanne Modeski was right behind him.

Chapter Seven

Savage River State Forest
Near Cumberland, Maryland
Friday, June 2, 2000
3:01 p.m.

"Agent Scully, we need to talk."

With great reluctance, Scully tore her attention from Mulder, where he lay motionless on the bed in what had once been Frohike's room. Susanne Modeski stood in the doorway, her hands in her jacket pockets, while Byers shifted his weight uncomfortably behind her.

The three of them had exchanged only a handful of words as they carefully lifted Mulder from the car and carried him into the cabin. Byers and Modeski had then withdrawn to the cabin's common area, leaving her alone with Mulder while they got Kyle settled and found him something to eat. But now they were back, as Scully had known they would be. And yes, they had to talk. The only problem was, Scully wasn't sure what she wanted to say.

Her thoughts had been jumbled and confused for days - ever since the initial encounter with Kurt Crawford, nearly a week before. Each subsequent development had sent her further into turmoil, and seeing Mulder infected by the black oil had driven her very close to madness. The drive through Pennsylvania and Maryland had done nothing to relieve her mind, and she was now holding on to her poise and equilibrium by the barest of margins.

Scully gave her partner's hand one more squeeze, silently raging against the latex glove she had to wear. Then she let go, rose from her seat, and followed Byers and Modeski out to the common area.

"We put the boy to bed," Byers said softly, as he settled into the sofa next to Modeski. He waited while Scully sat down in an armchair, then added, "We also gave him a shot out of that kit you brought with you. I hope that was okay.

Susanne said he was showing early symptoms."

Scully nodded, but didn't say anything. Kyle may as well have the medicine, she thought, for as long as it lasted. Certainly Mulder had paid a high enough price for it.

"Susanne also believes it may be possible for us to synthesize the medication." He took Modeski's hand and squeezed it. "She did not work directly on that project," he went on. "But she does know a lot of the background, and she was involved in some of the basic research back in the early nineties."

"What about Mulder?" Scully cringed inwardly even as she was speaking the words, but she had to ask. She had to know.

"There's nothing we can do for him," Modeski said quietly. "I'm sorry. If we had more time-"

"If we had more time, it wouldn't make any difference," Scully interrupted sharply. She knew she shouldn't be lashing out at these two; none of this was their fault, and they were doing their best. But she couldn't seem to help herself.

"No, it probably wouldn't," Modeski agreed with a sigh. She glanced at Byers, and then back at Scully. "Agent Scully, we need to talk about this, and we need to do it right now. In his current condition, Agent Mulder is a threat to all of us - not to mention anyone else who might still be alive in the immediate area. I'm sure you're familiar with the virus' developmental cycle-"


"Then you know that there's very little time," Modeski continued. "Agent Mulder was infected approximately seven hours ago. That means that he has no more than three to five hours to live."

"I won't accept that," Scully said flatly, lowering her gaze to stare at her fingers, clenched together on the table in front of her, and once again thinking of all the times that Mulder had refused to give up on her. "I won't accept that."

"Agent Scully-" Modeski began, but Byers squeezed her hand again, then stood up and stepped over to Scully's chair, crouching down in front of her.

"Agent Scully," he said. "Dana." Unwillingly, Scully found herself meeting his gaze, and saw that his eyes were full of pain. "You know that I would never give up on Mulder if I thought there was any hope at all. But there's none." His voice quavered slightly, and he added, "Frohike and Langly and I talked this over ... before. You know that. And you know what we decided."

"Yes, I know." Images flashed through her mind: Frohike's body engulfed in flame, and Langly sprawled on the ground, the barrel of his pistol still in his mouth. She felt a burning in her eyes, but somehow she managed to maintain eye contact with Byers.

"You know why we made that decision," Byers continued, his voice firmer now. "And you know what's waiting for Mulder if we don't ... don't take action."

"I know." Scully shuddered, and closed her eyes - then quickly opened them again, as her imagination assaulted her with visions of an alien monster ripping its way out of Mulder's body.

"He wouldn't want that, Scully," Byers said firmly. "You know that - you know him better than anyone. Do you honestly think he'd want to die like that?"

"No," she whispered. There were tears on her cheeks now, but she barely noticed. "But he wouldn't give up, either. *You* know that. And I can't ... I can't ...." Her voice trailed off. It would be so easy to let it go. It would be so easy just to let Byers and Modeski do what they wanted to do. It was going to end soon, anyway - in a matter of hours. What difference did it make if they brought things to a close just a little sooner? She had accepted this decision for Frohike, after all. It had hurt, it had hurt terribly, but it had seemed like the right thing to do, and she had never really questioned it. So why was it so hard now?

Her own words from a few weeks before suddenly came back to haunt her:

//You know, Mulder, I would've made the same call. As a doctor, if I was certain that I couldn't save her life and she was in that much pain, I would've done what Wieder did.//

She'd spoken those words at the conclusion of the Peattie case, and Mulder had agreed that the matter seemed clear cut. When someone was beyond saving, sometimes the only thing you could do was put an end to the pain. She knew that. She *knew* it.

But even then, as she spoke those words, there'd been a niggling doubt in the back of her mind. She'd witnessed Oral Peattie's powers first hand, and she'd been unable to keep herself from wondering if he might have been able to save his daughter's life. In years past she would have dismissed the possibility, but her belief system had been under assault ever since they returned from Antarctica, and she could no longer ignore extreme possibilities.

The fact of the matter was, she could no longer reject the possibility of magic.

But there was no magic here, she told herself firmly. There was no spell, no miracle waiting to save Mulder's life. The future was short, brutal and certain, and there would be no escape --

But Mulder had not given up on her. Not once. Not when she was dying after being returned from her first abduction. Not when she was dying of cancer. Not when she was abducted again, infected with this very same virus, and taken literally to the ends of the earth. Through all of that, Mulder had never lost hope. He had fought for her, and he had won, despite all the odds, because she'd had the strength of his beliefs.

//You were my friend, and you told me the truth. Even when the world was falling apart, you were my constant. My touchstone.//

//And you are mine.//

And now the world really had fallen apart, and it was time for Scully to fish or cut bait. It was time to show that those had been more than just pretty words. "The bugs aren't eating him all up inside."

Scully almost jumped out of her chair in surprise; she'd been so wrapped up in her confusion and grief that she hadn't noticed Kyle enter the room. Now she saw the boy standing in a doorway, presumably to Langly's room. He looked half asleep, but he was looking directly at her.

"I told you," the boy repeated, walking slowly towards her. "I told you the bugs aren't gonna eat him all up inside. I *told* you."

"I know you did, honey." Was that her voice? Kyle came to a stop next to Byers, and Scully reached out and gently ran her fingers through his hair. She suddenly felt trapped, with Byers and Modeski on one side, and Kyle and her own heart on the other. She desperately wanted to believe Kyle, and because of that very desire to accept what he was saying, she found herself almost reflexively pushing it away, and forcing herself to examine the situation objectively.

And objectively, there was very little justification on her side of the argument. Not only was the situation hopeless, based on all the knowledge and experience she possessed, but she was actually putting the others in peril by her stubborn insistence They were all trapped together in a lifeboat, and her intransigent refusal to put Mulder over the side was going to cost all of them their lives. As soon as the creature inside of him stirred to life ....

But she couldn't give up on Mulder. She couldn't. Not after everything they'd been through together.

"We have to leave."

The words were out of Scully's mouth before she realized she was going to say them, but already her heart felt lighter. This was the right decision. It was the only decision. She'd been right, earlier, when she'd decided that she and Mulder needed someplace where they could be alone. So much of their life together had been spent in isolation, physically, spiritually and socially. It had been years since she trusted or confided in anyone but him. She'd thought this place might offer refuge, but she'd been wrong.

The only refuge available for either of them was each other.

She looked at Byers, and saw tears in his eyes. She tensed, waiting for his objection, but he simply forced a smile, and nodded. Scully rose to her feet and took Kyle's hand.

"Let me put him back to bed," she said, forcing her voice to stay low and steady. "Then, if you don't mind helping ...."

Her voice trailed off, and her gaze flicked to the door leading to Mulder's room.

"Of course," Byers replied.

She led the boy back to his room, and tucked him into bed. For a moment she knelt down next to him, and gently ran her fingers through his hair, one last time. She'd become very fond of him in only a few days, just as she'd grown attached to Emily. But this was the right decision, the only one that had a chance of keeping him safe. She wished there were some way to make him understand.

"I'm sorry, sweetie," she said at last. "But Mulder and I have to go. John and Susanne will be here to take care of you, and everything will be fine, okay?"

"The bugs aren't gonna eat him all up inside," Kyle replied through a yawn. "The bugs aren't gonna eat him all up. You'll see."

"I hope you're right."

"Agent Scully!"

Scully spun around, startled, to see Susanne Modeski standing in the doorway, a look of controlled panic on her face. Scully's heart leapt to her throat as she interpreted the other woman's expression. Not so soon; it couldn't be so soon. She was supposed to have several hours left. It couldn't be happening now.

In the next instant, she was on her feet and running to her partner's bedside, with Modeski close on her heels. As she'd feared, Mulder was writhing and convulsing on the bed, while Byers stood close at hand, a hopeless look on his face.

"We've got to get out of here," Modeski said sharply. Byers hesitated, then nodded.

"I'll get the boy," he said. "You go start the car."

Scully barely heard them, as she sank down to sit on the bed next to Mulder. His body continued to jerk and heave, and after the barest hesitation, she reached out and firmly gripped his shoulders.

"Mulder," she said, forcing the words out past the lump in her throat. "Mulder, it's me. Scully. Can you hear me?" She tried to force him to lie still, leaning down to press her cheek against his. "Mulder," she breathed. "Mulder, I'm here, and I love you. I'm sorry it took me so long to say that, and I'm sorry I didn't say it more often. But I do love you. I'll love you forever."

Abruptly, her partner's body stilled. Despite herself, Scully felt a tremor of fear race through her system, but it took less willpower than she'd expected not to pull away from what she knew was about to happen. It was all happening so fast, she thought distantly. It was happening so very fast, and she didn't even have a rosary --

Mulder's chest and shoulders heaved, and Scully wrapped her arms around him as he lay on his side, holding him as tightly as she could, as his body continued to convulse. Please, God, let it be over. Please, he's suffered so much --

Mulder doubled over and vomited, spewing the contents of his stomach over her and the bed. It was black and oily, and reeked of death and decay. Still Scully held on, silent tears running down her face, trying to envelope him with her body and provide such comfort as she could, as he vomited again, and again ....

And as quickly as that, it was over. Mulder's body heaved one more time, delivered one more gout of vomit ... and then he collapsed, his muscles going slack as he sank face down on the bed. His breathing slowed and steadied, and a series of light tremors passed through him. Finally, his head turned slowly towards her, and his eyelids flickered open, revealing eyes that were clear and hazel, and free of any sign of infection. And he smiled.


Chapter Eight

Savage River State Forest
Near Cumberland, Maryland
Friday, June 2, 2000
7:14 p.m.

He found her deep in the woods that surrounded the cabin, several hours after he regained consciousness. Byers and Modeski had persuaded him not to go after her when she first ran, arguing that he needed to rest from his ordeal. Byers had even spent more than an hour outside looking, as a quid pro quo for Mulder's acquiescence, but Byers had not found her. Mulder had known that he wouldn't.

At last, Mulder overrode the objections of his hosts, and left the cabin in search of his partner.

It wasn't easy, nor was it particularly safe, but Mulder didn't care. The sun had not yet set, but the tightly packed evergreens blocked out the sun by the time he'd penetrated a few yards into the tree line. The footing was uneven, and Mulder's legs were rubbery and his throat still burned from the bout of vomiting. He flinched every time a branch moved, fearing it might be one of the alien monsters, and he had to pause frequently to rest and catch his breath, but he never doubted that he would find her.

She was sitting on a fallen tree by the side of the trail, about half a mile from the cabin. He hesitated briefly, then walked slowly up to her, and sat down next to her. He felt her stiffen slightly, but she did not move away. But neither did she speak.

Mulder sat quietly next to his partner, waiting for his breathing to return to normal. He really was tired, worn out from his ordeal, but it was clear that Scully needed him. Why, he didn't understand, but that was unimportant. She needed him, and he was determined to do whatever he could.

"So what's going on?" he asked at last, softly. Still she didn't say anything, and after a moment he added, "Scully? What's wrong?"

"I betrayed you."

Her voice was sharp and bitter, and Mulder blinked in surprise. "Betrayed me?" He shook his head. "What are you talking about? Scully, you *saved* me. Again."

"No, I didn't." She shook her head violently. "Mulder, you don't understand. I'd given up on you. I was going to let you die. I was even seriously considering ...." Her voice trailed off, as she apparently couldn't force herself to finish the sentence.

"Scully," he said softly. "Scully, it's okay. You did the best you could, and-"

"No, I didn't!" she interrupted, her voice cracking as the words came tumbling out. "That's the point, Mulder. I ... I gave up. And you would never give up on me. You never have - not even when the world ... the whole world was f-falling apart ...."

"You were my constant," he whispered in response. He slid one arm around Scully's shaking shoulders, and leaned over and brushed his lips across the crown of her head. "My touchstone." He paused for a few seconds, but she didn't say anything. At last, he went on, "Scully ... what do you think you could have done?"

"You would have thought of something," she said bitterly. More softly: "You'd have thought of something."

Mulder chuckled involuntarily, but that quickly turned into a cough, as his lungs and esophagus continued to protest the abuse they'd recently suffered. At last he got it under control, and said, "It sounds like you have me on a bit of a pedestal."

Scully shrugged, and something flickered briefly at the corners of her mouth that might have been a smile. "Maybe I do." Her expression grew solemn again, and at last she turned to look at him. "Mulder, I love you. I have for a long time, and it took me-" she had to pause to catch her breath "-- it took me far too long to admit that, to myself and to you. And then today I thought I'd lost you, and I'd already lost everything else ...."

For a third time, Scully's voice trailed off, and Mulder felt as if his heart was being ripped from his chest as he saw the naked pain in her eyes. This wasn't just about him, he realized; this was about all the losses she'd suffered -- and not even just in these past few days, but over the entire seven years she'd been working with him on the X-Files. He felt the old, familiar stab of guilt as the knowledge sunk in, but he ruthlessly suppressed it. There was no time for that now. Scully needed him.

"Look, Scully," he said. "You know I love you, too, right?"

He waited for her slow, reluctant nod. "Well, that should tell you all you need to know - but just in case it doesn't, let make this clear. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you. You have saved my sorry ass so many times I've lost count. You saved it again today, whether you want to admit it or not. I-"

"I gave up on you."

"No, you didn't!" Mulder had to struggle to keep the frustration out of his voice. "Damn it, Scully, you saved me! You - you got me out of there and brought me someplace safe, at no small risk to yourself. Do you think Krycek and Marita would have done that?"

"Krycek wanted to leave you behind."

"You see?" Mulder nodded sharply. "Scully, I know you never like to admit I'm right about anything-" a ghost of a smile once again touched her lips "-- but this is one of those times. Give it up." He took another labored breath, and finished, in a lower tone of voice, "Look, I don't think you did anything wrong, but if you feel you need my forgiveness, you've got it. Now can we set this all aside and think about what we're going to do next?"

"What we're going to do next?" Scully bowed her head. "What is there to do?"

"We need to save the world." Once again, Mulder waited, wanting to make sure he had his partner's full attention. "We need to save the world," he repeated. "And we do it one person at a time, starting with Kyle."

Scully shook her head. "There isn't enough of the serum," she objected. "We checked, remember? He'll be dead in four months - five at the outside." But it was clear that she was really listening at last.

"No, he won't," Mulder insisted. "I've been talking to Susanne, and she's almost certain she can synthesize it, especially if she has help from you and Byers. She was involved with the development of one of the early versions, and she says it was surprisingly simple." He pulled her a little closer, and lifted her chin so that he could see directly into her eyes. "We can save him, Scully. We can keep him alive. And that's just for starters."

She wanted to believe him; he could see that she wanted to believe him. But her strict scientific mind, along with her tendency to devalue her own strengths, was making it difficult for her. He pressed his forehead against hers, and whispered, "Scully, what's the most important thing in the world to you?"

No hesitation. "You are. What we mean to each other."

"All right then," Mulder said. "We've got that to build on, then." He pulled back a little, and allowed himself to grin. "Hell, Scully - we're gonna kick ass and take names.

There's two of us, and there can't be more than, oh, eleventy gazillion of them. They haven't got a chance!"

"You almost sound like you believe that."

Suddenly serious again: "I'm trying to believe it. I admit it's hard, and I admit we've got a tough road ahead. But what choice do we have?"

"I don't see that we have any choices at all." But still there was a note of hope in her voice.

"We do have a choice," Mulder insisted firmly. "Look, I've been talking to Susanne and Byers about this, too. They think the mortality rate for the virus is around ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent."

"That's almost everybody," Scully murmured.

"Yes, but the operative word is 'almost'. There are going to be survivors, Scully - maybe as many as twenty million, just in North America. We just need to find each other, and we can start to build again. We can save the world," he finished, repeating the words with which he'd begun the conversation. "One person at a time, and starting with each other."

"Mulder," she said, hope now openly warring with doubt, both in her tone and in her expression. "Mulder, I want to believe-"

"That's half the battle," he interjected, once more allowing humor to tinge his voice.

"I want to believe," she repeated softly. Her eyes suddenly seemed to focus on something far away, something that only she could see. "I wonder when that happened?"

"Probably around the time I learned to value evidence and scientific rigor," Mulder offered. He stood up from the fallen tree, moving carefully so as not to lose his balance, taking his partner's hand and drawing her to her feet as well. "Now I'd like to suggest that we move this conference someplace a little more secure. Maybe we can even find something to eat. I'm ravenous."

Slowly they began to make their way back up the trail. The gloom had deepened as the sun sank lower in the sky, and more than once one or the other of them stumbled over a root or an uneven patch of ground. The shadows were still dark and mysterious, but somehow Mulder no longer found them to be menacing. He was just out for a walk with his partner, as he'd done countless times in the past. His hand had even found its way to the small of her back. Everything was -- well, not normal, but at least familiar. A new normal, he decided. That was what they were working towards for now. A new normal.

Mulder did not kid himself that they were through the worst of it. A lot of pain and heartache still lay ahead, and the most likely conclusion was a brutal, agonizing death. But he could face that, as long as he had Scully by his side.

"Hey, Mulder?"

"Yeah, Scully?" He looked down at her in the darkness, and saw once again that ghost of a smile on her lips.

"You promised me that we'd laugh again. I want you to know that I'm holding you to that."

Mulder chuckled. "Okay, we'll see what we can do about that. Did you ever hear the one about Janet Reno and the one-legged jockey?"

There was a distant rumble of thunder in the distance, as in challenge to his words - but through the trees, Mulder could just make out the lights of the cabin.


Sunday, November 5, 2000

//Speak to me, baby, in the middle of the night.//

The words are echoing inside her head as she awakens. For a few seconds she is confused, disoriented; this place, this hospital room, this bed - they're familiar, but not what she was expecting. But rapidly it all comes back to her, rushing through her and rising to the surface, even as her heart sinks into deep despair.

He is gone.

She knew it, almost the instant that it happened. She realizes this in retrospect, although she denied herself the knowledge at the time. But the yawning emptiness that suddenly opened within her mind last night could have no other meaning. The phone call from Skinner, relayed to her by Frohike, was merely confirmation of something that had already struck like a knife at the very core of her being.

He is gone.

She weeps for a while, silently, but with great racking sobs, letting the grief roll over her and claim her. She knows that later she will have to be strong; later she will have to face Skinner and the Gunmen, and perhaps Krycek and Covarrubias as well. But these few moments are hers, and she will not deny them to herself.

Eventually the storm of emotions passes, and she is calm again. Slowly, and with wonder, her hand passes gently across her belly. It is still flat and unchanged; just from looking at her, no one would guess at the miracle that lays within. But the doctor told her last night, and showed her the test results ....

//Speak to me, baby, in the middle of the night.//

Again she hears the words, and somehow they comfort her. She associates them with Mulder, of course, and as she closes her eyes she can almost feel his presence in the room. She holds her breath and listens, straining to catch the words, and now she fancies that she can hear him breathing, can feel his warmth next to her, can feel the weight of his body as he shifts slightly on the mattress. It is a fantasy, a lie, and she knows it, but for the moment she cannot force the illusion away.

God, she misses him.

She sinks further into the waking dream, and imagines her lover moving closer, his hand touching and caressing her through the thin material of her hospital gown. Slowly his hand moves upward along her torso, leaving a trail of heat as it goes, until finally, gently, oh, so gently, he cups her breast, the pad of his thumb brushing lightly across her nipple.

She gasps, and arches her back in ecstasy, and since this is a dream - albeit a waking one - abruptly her hospital gown and underclothes are gone, and she is naked to Mulder's touch. Both his hands are on her now, touching and stroking her in the most intimate way imaginable, making her feel as if her entire body is on fire. And then he adds his mouth to the equation, drawing one of her nipples between his lips and gently suckling and licking, even as one hand slides downward to explore her hot, eager wetness. She lifts her hips in frantic encouragement and wraps her arms around his head, trying to hold it tightly in place, not wanting the slightest scrap of pleasure to escape.

This is how things should be, she thinks, the errant thought flying through her mind as her lover's fingers enter her with slow deliberation. Soon they are plunging in and out of her, each time at a slightly different angle, and she cannot stop the constant moans of pleasure as she imagines what soon will take the place of those fingers.

He releases her nipple and moves slightly away, and she cries out in disappointment. She wants it all, she wants everything, and her mind is so fogged with arousal that all she can think is that this has been taken from her. She clutches frantically at his head, trying to guide him back to her breast, but he chuckles and somehow manages to evade her.

Seconds later, she finds out why. His lips touch her again, this time on the abdomen, his tongue flicking out to sample the flavor of her skin, then gently probing at her navel. It would tickle if she weren't so aroused, but in her current state all it does is stoke the fires of her passion, driving her ever higher on the bright, golden spiral towards orgasm.

His mouth moves lower, browsing across her skin, tasting here, kissing there, nipping gently in still a third place. All the while his fingers keep pumping into her, probing and exploring, plumbing the depths of her most private place, sending waves of pleasure and arousal coursing through her.

At last his mouth reaches its destination, and she nearly shrieks from the wonderful agony as his tongue pushes its way between her delicate folds. God, this feels good. Dear, sweet Jesus. She humps her hips, rotating them and angling them, trying desperately for more contact. The tip of his tongue lightly strokes her clit once, twice, then moves away; an instant later, he's sucking her labia gently into his mouth.

This is a dream. Fuzzily, distantly, she tries to remind herself of that. Just a dream; only a dream. Mulder is gone, and this man who is loving her, ravaging her, laying waste to her senses - he is only a phantom, a figment of her desperate imagination. The real man, the true Mulder, disappeared last night in the woods of Oregon, taken by their enemies for reasons with which she, of all people, is all too familiar --

But God, what a dream. His mouth is now conducting an all-out assault on her, licking and suckling in just the right combination, never quite creating a pattern that she can anticipate, leaving her in a continuous state of delirious, joyous anticipation. And the pumping of his fingers continues unabated ....

It hits her suddenly, like a brilliant burst of light, exploding outwards from her belly and washing through her with such force that for an instant she thinks she might fly apart from sheer ecstasy. The rest of the world shatters and drops away, shrinking to insignificance, until finally there's nothing in the universe at all, nothing but she and her lover and the bond that they share. And for several long moments her entire being is nothing but sensation.

Slowly, so very, very slowly, her breathing and pulse return to normal, and she gradually settles back into her body. With that reintegration the sadness returns, the certain knowledge that he is gone, and that she is alone. She tries to take comfort from the fact that for a few more seconds she can still feel his presence, that she can feel the warmth of his body covering her, his weight pressing her down into the mattress. It may be an illusion, a dream, but it's all she's got now, and she desperately clings to it, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him closer, cradling him between her thighs for one more moment before she lets him go, and returns to the real world. Slowly, reluctantly, her eyes flicker open --

"Good morning, sunshine."

For a few seconds, Scully stared up at Mulder as he hovered above her. His eyes were clear and bright as he looked back down at her, probing deeply into her soul as always. As she watched he raised an eyebrow and smirked, then leaned down and brushed his mouth against hers, and she tasted her own arousal on his lips.

He was here. He was alive.

"M-mulder," she stammered, her mind frantically scrambling as she tried to make sense of it all. "What - what ...."

"I hope you didn't mind the wake up call," he said, mischief still dancing in his eyes. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time." He leaned down for another kiss, this one longer, deeper, and automatically, she felt her body begin to respond.

"Mulder," she gasped as he finally pulled away again. Her gaze flickered past him, expecting to see the drab, institutional walls of her hospital room, but they were nowhere to be found. In their place ... in their place ....

Jesus. It was the Gunmen's cabin. She was in the room ... in the room that she and Mulder had shared for the past five months. Ever since they arrived here. Ever since the end of the world. Ever since the miracle that gave him back to her when she'd given him up for dead. He was here, and he was alive, and Kyle and Modeski and Byers were in the next room, and they were alive, too --

"Scully? You okay?"

She forced her gaze back to her partner's, locking eyes with him and letting the sheer joy of being in his arms suffuse through her. It had been a dream. Nothing but a dream. Mulder was here, with her, and he always would be. They would always be together.

Just a dream.

Even as she thought the words, she felt a twinge, deep down in her abdomen - almost as if something had moved. Instantly, she felt her eyes widening, and a sense of wonder and disbelief went racing through her. It was not possible.

That had been a dream, too. Hadn't it?

Hadn't it?

"Scully?" Mulder's voice was more insistent now, and perhaps a little worried, and Scully forced her attention back to him. He was looking down at her, concern written in his features, and immediately she reached up and stroked his cheek, smiling widely as she did so.

"Everything's fine, Mulder," she whispered, slipping one hand behind his head and drawing his face down to hers for another deep, soulful kiss. "Everything's wonderful." Her other hand slid between their bodies, pausing briefly, wondrously, to caress her own belly and the miracle that she somehow knew lay within, before moving lower, firmly grasping his erection and guiding it to her waiting entrance. Their bodies seemed to leap towards one another, uniting into a single entity all in an instant, as Scully gathered her lover into a four-limbed embrace. They were, by God, still alive, after five, long months, and they were going to stay alive, or Dana Scully would know the reason why. Slowly, their hips began to move, thrusting against each other with profound joy.

And defiance.

The End of The Whole Story

Thanks and CREDITS: To Paulette and April - thank you ladies! I couldn't have done it without you!

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