Title: Five Years and One Night
Author: Shalimar
Edited by: BeckyD Special thanks to TallyHo the Singapore Infodiva.
Written: 1998
E-Mail: shalimar@earthling.net Rating: NC17 This story contains adult language and sexual situations that are inappropriate for those under seventeen years of age and may be inappropriate for some adults. Disclaimer: These characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013, FOX, and a whole slew of writers, Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz, Tim Minear, John Shiban...and probably a few others. No infringement intended.

This story could not have been completed without the help of quite a few people. BeckyD, Alanna B, MS, MD1016, DH Prewitt and GPA. And of course Madame C herself. And everyone who reminded me daily to keep my nose to the grindstone and finish it.

To all of you, thank you.

Author's note: Writing twenty-six parts in serial form was quite a lot more work than I ever anticipated. It is unlike writing a novel in that you can't go back and change what's happened, you just have to keep plunging ahead and let the characters take you where they may.

This starts post "Kitsunegari" and is full of spoilers including all of US 5. It deals with the events in "Emily".


1.

Washington, D.C. January 4, 1998.

"I wanted to give you this in person, Sir."

She carefully placed the letter on the desk in front of him. Her hands were barely shaking now.

Good.

"Agent Scully? I thought I told you and Mulder to head home and get some rest hours ago."

Skinner stared at her hands and she quickly hid them out of sight behind her back. He looked down at the piece of paper without touching it.

"What is this?"

"It's a request for transfer, Sir."

Skinner sat back an in his chair and regarded her steadily. He rubbed his chin.

"Do you blame yourself for what happened today with Linda Bowman?"

She looked him directly in the eye.

"Yes, Sir. I feel like I put my partner in danger by my own actions."

"What actions were those, Agent Scully?"

"Being on the case myself."

He stared at her a moment. "Does Agent Mulder know about this?" He looked down at the letter she'd placed in front of him.

"Yes, Sir. He requested my transfer."

"What!?" He sat forward abruptly and punched the button on his intercom. "Kimberly! Get Agent Mulder in here."

"NO!"

Skinner raised his eyebrows at her.

"I mean: No, Sir. He's left for the day."

"Call him at home, Kimberly."

He sat back in his chair and gave her that steady stare again. "Agent Scully, in no way, at any time, did I see you jeopardize Mulder, myself, or any of the other members of the investigation team."

"I didn't inform you of the extent to which Modell was able to influence Agent Mulder's mind--last time."

Skinner sat back and made a teepee with his fingers, resting his lower lip against their tips.

"I see."

"Linda Bowman was able to manipulate Agent Mulder's...determination to protect me."

"It's not abnormal for partners to protect each other."

"No, Sir. But in this instance Agent Mulder and I should not have been on the case."

"Scully, I experienced first hand Robert Modell's particular brand of persuasion. I find it difficult to believe that Mulder's foreknowledge of that...ability did anything but help him figure out the facts in this case--better than anyone else could have."

She stared at his hands.

"Regardless, Sir, my request stands."

The intercom buzzed. Skinner stabbed the button.

"There's no answer from Agent Mulder's cell or home phone," came Kimberly's disembodied voice.

"Keep trying," he snapped.

He sat back in his chair and looked at her for a long moment.

"Agent Scully, we both know that you once said something to make me believe you and Agent Mulder might be on more intimate terms than the normal partner- partner relationship. If this decision is a result of that. ."

"No, Sir. Our relationship is purely professional."

Suddenly the A.D. looked very tired. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "It's an understatement to say that a great deal has happened to you in the past eighteen months."

She nodded.

"I guess I should have seen this coming. I'll be very sorry to lose you. You're one of my best--if not the best--of my agents."

"Thank you, Sir."

He replaced his glasses, picked up her letter and read it. "I can take you off the X-Files. You don't have to leave D.C."

"No."

He sighed. "Have you given any thought to where you'd like to be transferred?"

"I'd like to get back to you about that. Meanwhile I'd like to take a two-week leave of absence--citing personal reasons." Skinner rose and came around the desk. He held out his hand. She stood up and took it.

"Are you sure this can't be resolved, Scully?"

She couldn't trust her voice not to break. She merely shook her head.

"Let me talk to some people I know, I'll see what I can find you."

She nodded at him again and swallowed hard.

He gave her hand a brief squeeze then let her go.

She managed to make it to her car before she burst into tears.


Two hours earlier....

Scully plunked into her desk chair and buried her face in her hands.

She shouldn't have aimed her gun at him in the warehouse.

It happened so fast, but she should have been prepared for it. She should have had a plan. They should have a code word. A secret code.

Afghanistan, Bananastan, Mulder.

It's me.

Something better than "Your mother's name is Teena!"

God.

She knew a thousand more intimate things about him than his mother and sister's names.

She should have been stronger than Modell and Bowman. She should have been smarter. She should have won. Together they both should have won.

She should have been able to get through to him.

Divide and conquer. She should have learned her lesson in that swamp.

What had she been going to do with her gun aimed at him like that? Shoot him to save herself? Right.

If she had just lowered her gun...Then he might have believed her and she might have broken through. She could still have picked off Linda Bowman. And he wouldn't be feeling like shit--and she wouldn't be feeling like she'd somehow betrayed him.

She groaned aloud.

What a mess.

The door of their office made a slight noise as he pushed it open and she raised her head, anxious to hear why Skinner had kept him.

He shook his head vaguely in her direction, crossed to his desk, and slouched into his chair. Ignoring her questioning look, he pulled a file across his desk and began examining it closely.

Uneasily she turned back to the papers on her own desk.

Ten minutes later she still hadn't been able to digest a word of the report in front of her. She glanced over at him. He was slumped over his desk, shoulders hunched, his head buried in his arms. Total despair was written in every line of his body.

"Mulder?" she asked softly.

She wasn't sure if he heard her. If he had, he was ignoring her. She looked back down at her report and tried not to watch him.

Five minutes later he raised his head and rubbed his forehead with the tips of his fingers. Then got to his feet and started shoving things around on his desk. He turned abruptly and picked up his coat.

"I'm going to head out," he said. He still hadn't looked at her directly.

"Me too, in a minute. Want to wait for me?"

He gave her a sidelong look.

"Um...sure." He ducked his head and stared at his feet. He was rubbing his head again.

"Headache?"

"No."

The disorientation and after effects of being pushed had always struck her as dangerous. She stood up and shuffled the papers into a pile, then stuffed them into her briefcase, eyeing him. He looked pale, too.

He gave a questioning nod in the direction of her briefcase.

"Oh, uh...just some. ." She had no idea what she'd just shoved inside. " . . papers. That I need for the weekend," she finished, knowing her efficient tone would fool him. It always did.

She grabbed her keys and her coat.

"Ready."

Silently he held the door for her.

"You heading home, Mulder?"

He shrugged.

"Then let's go out and get a decent dinner someplace and get shitfaced."

He didn't even smile.

All at once he turned back, blocking her exit.

"This isn't working," he said. He met her eyes directly for the first time.

She looked up at him.

"What?"

"This." His shrug included the entire basement office.

"This? What?"

"Us."

She froze.

"Us. . ? What do you mean, Mulder?"

"I mean-- I think we need to spend some time apart."

She stared at him warily. He stared warily back.

"How much time, Mulder?"

He didn't answer.

"A vacation? A leave of absence? What are you talking about here?

She jumped when he leaned forward suddenly, looming angrily over her.

"What the hell are you doing here with me, Scully? What on earth can you possibly be getting out of all this?"

"What!? Mulder, you may still be in shock from today. You need--"

"Don't Scully. 'You need. You need.' Oh, poor Mulder, I get to act like his mother again, I get to pat him on his head and fix his boo-boo and make him all better. Do you get off on acting like my mother? Well, you're not my fucking mother Scully. Not even close."

Her eyes widened.

"And I'm getting sick and tired of trying to protect you from all the shit that comes down on you when you're with me. I can't even protect you from me, Scully!"

Her astonishment gave way to alarm.

"I never asked you to protect me from anything, Mulder."

"What am I supposed to do? Sit back and watch one lousy thing after another happen to you? Why are you still here, Scully?"

"Did you ever think that maybe I have a stake in this too? Because of the things that have happened to me?"

He slammed one hand into the doorframe near her head. Then bent his head, resting it--eyes shut--against his arm. Finally he lifted his head and looked at her. His eyes bleak.

"I watched you die today, Scully."

"Mulder..."

"And then I almost put a bullet in you myself."

She stared at him, shaking her head mutely.

"I want this over with, Scully. Now."

Christ.

She raised her chin at him and narrowed her eyes. "Over? Are you formally requesting that I quit the X-Files?"

His eyes...his eyes were breaking her heart. The expression in them...half defensive, half scared shitless at what he was doing.

"Agent Mulder?"

This is where he was supposed to say, 'No, of course not' and say her name with that little catch in his voice and maybe even hug her.

"Yes," he said softly, the anger suddenly gone from his voice.

"Fine," she said, the anger sharp in hers.

He dropped his gaze. Without looking at her again, he went out and quietly shut the door.

She stood staring at the door for a full minute.

Her heart was pounding as if she'd just run the stairs in the Federal building. What the hell had just happened? Mulder had thrown her some sort of ultimatum and--heaven help them both--she'd taken the bait.

Slowly she walked over to her desk and opened her briefcase. She removed the papers she'd put in a moment before and neatly stacked them on her desk. The top paper was the police report on Modell. She stared at it impassively.

She turned and let her gaze run over their office.

His office.

Lightly she touched her fingertips to her desk. It would be gone by Monday if she had to move it herself.


2.

Venice Beach, CA Six months later

Dating was weird.

He'd wanted to sleep with her. She knew that as he paused at the door of her apartment, not quite believing she wasn't letting him in.

She did let him kiss her.

That was weird, too. Nice, but more about lips and noses and the smell of unfamiliar skin than attraction. All she found herself thinking was if that little sniffle thing he'd been doing during the movie meant he had a cold.

And that she'd probably get it.

He was perfectly nice. He just wasn't...right.

So she thanked him politely for dinner and the new Kurt Russell flick. She eyed him critically for a moment. Maybe, if she shut her eyes and pretended he was Kurt . . it would be good for her...

No.

So she said goodnight and shut the door gently in his face. And then she took a shower. Turning the handheld sprayer between her legs she leaned back against the cool tiles and shut her eyes.


There was a knock on the door just as she stepped out of the shower.

Mulder.

No.

Mulder is in Washington, where he wants to be. You are here in LA where you want to be. There will come a day--she admonished herself for the hundredth time--when every ring of the phone or knock at the door doesn't send your thoughts flying back to him.

It just hadn't happened yet.

She rubbed the nubbly towel over herself, quickly, roughly, letting her skin take the blame.

There was another knock.

It might be almost midnight, but it was probably one of her neighbors dropping by for a chat. The people in her building had a casual disregard for time. It had taken some getting used to, but now she liked it. It went both ways, there was always someone to talk to if she got too lonely.

She pulled on her white terry robe and wrapped the towel around her dripping hair.

"Who is it?" she called through the door.

There was silence.

Then, quietly, "Scully, it's me."

Oh, God.

Slowly she turned the knob and opened the door.

He needed a shave. His suit was a little crumpled. His hair was too long over his ears.

He looked wonderful...and scared to death.

She felt her throat fill with tears.

"Hi," he said softly.

She didn't trust her voice.

When she didn't say anything, he kept talking. "I was at LAX, I have a layover between flights. ."

Just a layover. Damn.

". . and Venice is so close to the airport, only ten minutes to run over here and see you, so . ." He stopped and swallowed hard. "And so I did. I . ." His gaze slid down over her, lingering on her damp robe. "I should have called."

She resisted the urge to cross her arms over her breasts.

He shifted his eyes uncomfortably--as if he'd read her mind--and stared at a point somewhere near her left ear. "But I was afraid you'd tell me to go fuck myself."

She just looked at him.

"And um, I guess it's really too late. In more ways than one, right Scully?" He glanced at his watch and wrinkled his forehead. "What time is it here anyway?"

She wasn't going to help him out.

"I-- This wasn't a good idea. I'd better go."

One of her neighbors, a sometimes body-builder, sometimes Elvis impersonator, stuck his head out of his apartment door.

He stared at Mulder. "You okay, Dana?"

She cleared her throat. "I'm fine. This is...just . ." Her eyes met Mulder's for a strained moment, ". . an old friend."

Mulder tore his gaze away from hers and glanced in the other man's direction. He and her neighbor exchanged summing-up looks. Then, apparently satisfied, Elvis went back into his apartment.

Mulder looked back at her, bemused. "And you couldn't have called and let me know the King wasn't dead?"

She hid a little smile and stepped back, holding open the door. He actually looked surprised.

As he stepped past her she could smell him. She shut her eyes.

No.

Inside her apartment, he stopped and looked around. She watched him as his gaze traveled over the white denim slipcovered furniture, the sandy sneakers by the front door, the driftwood by the fireplace.

She'd kept it simple; she liked it like that.

"It's nice. It looks like you."

"Thank you." She cleared her throat again. "Want something to drink? A beer? Wine? Coffee?"

He turned to her, the expression in his eyes pensive.

"Am I an old friend?

She nodded slightly.

He nodded slightly back. "Coffee."

"I'll make some."

She left him in the living room and went to start the coffee, then ducked into the bathroom to yank the towel off her head and brush out her damp hair.

She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She wouldn't put on make-up. She wasn't doing anything to impress him.

She looked at herself critically. Well, maybe a little eyeliner.

And some lipstick.

She should put on some clothes, too. Except she didn't know how long he had between flights.

She stuck her head into the living room. "Mul--"

He was gone.

Her breath caught in her throat. Then she spotted his bag slung over the back of one of her chairs. The french doors to her balcony stood open. He must be out there in the dark. She felt relief with an intensity that scared her and her hands were trembling as she gave the belt of her robe a tight cinch.

Forget the clothes.

Mulder was leaning on the railing, looking out at the night. Her hand went to the outside light switch, then dropped.

The dark would be easier.

It was a soft spring evening. A spray mist hung over the breakers, glowing dimly in the light from the waning moon. The smell of salt and wet sand wrapped around her. She took a deep breath and it filled her lungs. She loved it here.

As if sensing her eyes on his back, he turned. He jumped to take the tray from her and she watched him as he set it on a small iron table.

It was amazing to have him on her balcony.

"This is great." He turned back to the view. "I didn't think of you at the beach."

She joined him at the rail, stopping a little bit away from him, just outside the edge of his space. He edged slightly closer and into hers.

His presence filled her nose. His scent, no, his warmth...his aura...

If she believed in auras.

What had he just said? That he was surprised to find her living by the ocean?

Was she surprised he'd thought of her at all?

"Why?"

He turned to look at her. "I don't know." He lifted his hand. She flinched slightly and his hand stopped. Then he reached slowly toward her until the tips of his fingers just brushed the ends of her hair.

"It's so long," he said, his gaze moved to her eyes and held hers for a painful moment. He was trying to say something with his eyes, but she couldn't tell what. And she couldn't look away.

"Yes. It has. I mean--" She swallowed. "For a second I thought you said, 'It's been so long.'"

"It has been so long." They both watched as he gently lifted the ends of her hair then let them drift through his fingers, then let his hand drop. His eyes rose to meet hers again.

"Too long, Scully," he whispered.

She jerked her eyes away from his and abruptly moved out of range to pour the coffee.

"How are things in Washington?"

"Fine."

"Sugar?"

"No, thanks."

"Skinner?"

He gave a short humorless laugh. "I'm not exactly his favorite agent."

Oh...

"Cases?"

"Fine."

She glanced back at him. He was rubbing one finger idly along the wooden railing. She suddenly knew with a certainty that things weren't fine any more than they'd been fine the hundreds of times she'd said it to him.

But he didn't want mothering. So she wouldn't.

"You'll get splinters doing that."

His finger stopped.

"Milk?"

He turned to her and pinned her with another one of those intense stares.

"Scully? Don't you remember exactly how I like my coffee?"

She stared at him.

Yes. Of course.

She turned away and made it just the way he liked it, handed it to him and held out the plate of cookies.

"Did you make these?"

"Yes."

He took one and took a bite.

"They're good."

"Don't sound so surprised."

He didn't answer, merely chewed the cookie in silence.

"How's L.A.?"

"Good. I can wear shorts to work."

"You? Shorts to work?"

She shrugged.

"Wow," he said softly. "Things have changed."

"Yes, they have."

They were both quiet a few moments.

"Cases?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Run of the mill. I like it that way."

He nodded.

Actually, the cases were boring as hell. Invariably, she looked for the paranormal in everything...with a sad twinge of nostalgia.

"You needed to get back into the mainstream, Scully. You'll do great."

"Mmmnn." Her response was non-committal.

An awkward silence enveloped them, broken only by the sound of the waves crashing on the beach in front of them. Discordant notes drifted from a radio in a nearby apartment, then the sudden jangle of laughter from the coffee shop next door. A light breeze ruffled across them bringing with it the heavy sweet smell of jasmine from her neighbor's balcony. It raised the hairs on the back of her neck.

She shivered and pulled her robe closer.

"When's your flight?"

"Oh!" He spilled his coffee as he turned to look at his watch. "In twenty-five minutes-- Sorry!" He set down his cup, knelt down and began rubbing with his napkin at the coffee he'd spilled on the grass matting.

She knelt down, too, and mopped at it. It didn't matter. He looked up suddenly, his face only inches from her own. His eyes were dark in the dim light.

"I'm sorry, Scully." His voice was very soft.

"Don't worry about it. I'll rinse it with the hose tomorrow."

"Not the rug." He lifted his hand toward her again, this time she remained stock still, but he didn't touch her. His hand was shaking, her mind registered with disbelief. He drew it back. "I'm sorry," he said again. "For everything. I needed to tell you in person."

She felt the tears again, welling up from her throat to burn in the back of her nose and she bit her lip hard to stop them. She wouldn't cry in front of him.

She nodded.

"Thanks," she managed. "I was...I still . ." She shook her head and her eyes filled with tears.

Seeing them, he looked stricken.

"This wasn't a good idea, me coming here. I'd better go." But he made no move to get up.

He just knelt there looking at her.

"Scuh-lee . ." he began

She swallowed hard.

"What. . ?" Her voice was barely a whisper.

He didn't answer, he kept looking at her. Just looking. She had the odd feeling he was memorizing her face.

His eyes dropped to her mouth...

There was another knock on her front door.

Damn it.

He made a move to get up. She put out her hand, but stopped just short of touching him.

"Tell me," she said.

". . nothing," he said finally, and ducked his head. He rubbed his eyes tiredly.

A muffled, "Open up! I know you're in there!" came through the door. It was Adrianna, her other neighbor.

The spell was broken.

"You'd better get that."

"Yeah," she nodded. "And you. You'll miss your plane."

"Yeah."

In the old days he would have helped her up. Now, as they rose to their feet, she could tell he was being careful not to touch her.

Irreparable, she thought sadly. Maybe the damage was irreparable.

She bit her lip and went to open the front door.


3.

Her neighbor Adrianna was a six foot tall sometimes-stripper sometimes-actress with frankly impossible dimensions. She also had the curious habit of wearing only bikinis whatever the weather or time of day.

Tonight she was wearing a fake leopard-fur bikini covered with a lime fishnet mini.

It showed off her tattoos perfectly.

"Hey, Dane. How was the date?"

Scully shrugged.

Adrianna grinned sympathetically and propped one hip against the door-jamb. "Bum-mer. Oh-- I just wanted to tell you there was some guy hanging around watching you before."

"What? When?"

"When you were standing out here with your date. He booked into the shadows when you kissed that guy. He was sitting right on the patio chair by the pool, waiting for you, I guess. The way he was watching you, it was...creepy. He was wearing a suit. You didn't even see him--"

She stopped suddenly and looked over Scully's shoulder. "Him."

Scully turned around. Mulder was just coming out of her bathroom. He'd taken off his suit jacket, loosened his tie and sloshed water on his face. He wasn't wearing his weapon. His hair was standing up a little.

The sight of Adrianna stopped him in his tracks.

"Oh, him?" Scully stopped herself from smiling at the look on his face. "He's okay."

Adrianna's gaze trailed from Mulder's slightly disheveled state to Scully's robe. "So I see."

"He has to catch a plane."

He gave them a strained smile, pulled off his tie and started rummaging in his bag. She turned back to Adrianna, her voice low, "How long was he here?"

Adrianna shrugged. "A couple hours."

Damn.

Adrianna was watching her face closely. "So this is the one," she said. Her eyes flicked over Scully's shoulder and raked him with a glance from head to toe.

Scully gave a little grimace.

They both watched as he turned his back to them and shrugged out of his shirt.

Her eyes lingered on his backbone. He looked thin, she thought with a twinge of . . something.

"Girlfriend," Adrianna said very softly, her eyes still on Mulder's back. "Planes can be missed."

He pulled a black t-shirt, then a dark green cotton sweater over his head.

Adrianna leaned forward until her mouth was almost touching Scully's ear. "I'll tie him up for you."

"Shhh!"

Mulder turned to them.

"Adrianna. Fox Mulder."

"Fox?? Hi."

"Hi," he said, and nodded at Adrianna. "Scully? Can I flag down a cab around here or should I call one?"

"Scully?" said Adrianna.

"It's my last name."

"Oh-h." The one word left no doubt exactly what she thought about that.

"It's not that easy to get a cab this time of night." Scully said. "I'll drive you, but--" she gestured at her robe. "I don't think there's time."

Adrianna gave him an innocent little smile. "And I'd love to give you a lift, Sugar, but my Harley's got a flat."

"Uh...thanks," he said and ran one hand through his hair. He suddenly looked exhausted. "Scully, can I use your phone?"

"On my desk."

The moment he turned away Adrianna gave her a huge poke in the ribs. "Repeat after me," she said in a low voice. "You can crash here tonight, Fox. Fox," she repeated his name and laughed softly. "Do it Dane, or I tie him up. I mean it."

He was talking to Information. She took a deep breath.

"Mulder?" He covered the mouthpiece and looked up at her. "There's no way you can make your plane. Do you need to get where you're going tonight?"

He shook his head.

"Then you're welcome to, um, crash on my couch."

Are you sure? his eyes asked her.

She nodded.

Mulder set the phone back in its cradle. "Thanks, Scully." Adrianna looked from one to the other. "They call each other 'Mulder' and 'Scully.' Oh-my-Gawd." She shook her head and slipped out the front door. "If you need any help. ." she said in a stage whisper, winked at Scully and disappeared into the night.

Scully shut the door firmly behind her, and turned.

He was still standing with one hand on the phone, watching her. He shifted uncomfortably as her gaze ran over him.

"You look worn out, Mulder. Are you ready to turn in? I'll get some sheets."

He ran both hands through his hair and rolled his head, stretching his neck.

"Maybe we could just sit, unwind a little. I've had a lot of coffee...and the plane...How about your balcony? The fresh air felt great."

"Okay. Wine maybe?"

He nodded. "Sounds good."

"I'll be right out."

Kitchen drawer. Corkscrew. Two glasses. Bottle of red wine. In a minute she was back on the balcony.

He was peering into the little freestanding terracotta chimenae fireplace she'd bought in Mexico.

"Does this work?"

She nodded. "We can light it."

"Matches?"

"In that pot."

"Sit Scully, I'll do it."

So she sat and went to work with the corkscrew.

In a short time he had a little fire going. He perched on the end of her chaise and she handed him his wine. He swirled it around in the glass and stared down at it.

"Why did she look familiar?" he asked finally, and looked up at her.

She merely raised her eyebrows at him.

"Oh," Mulder looked stunned. "She's taller...standing up. Is she a friend of yours?"

"She's my next door neighbor."

"Scully, you've moved into a Fellini film. Your other neighbor looked at me like he'd never actually seen somebody wearing a suit that didn't have sequins on it before. What part do you play in all this?"

"If you say the dwarf, Mulder, I'll pull out my gun and shoot you."

They suddenly grinned at each other. It felt good. She couldn't remember the last time she'd smiled at him and he'd smiled back. Long before she'd left.

But then it made her shy, and apparently him too. They both turned away at the same time.

Maybe not irreparable. But...badly damaged.

They sipped their wine in silence and stared at the fire. The clay fireplace must have been damp, it was making little hissing noises as it heated and expanded. The wood crackled as it burned, sending the sharp smell of mesquite into the air to mix with the heavier scents of the flowers and the ocean.

Every now and then she risked a glance at him.

He was watching the flames, too. Rubbing his bottom lip.

Her eyes lingered on his lip.

"Where are you heading?" she asked finally.

"What?"

"The flight you missed."

"Oh, I was coming back. From Singapore."

"Singapore!? Why were you there?"

He paused, as if about to say something, then sighed.

"Long story."

"Were you there long?"

"Five days. I almost called you. I was at LAX on the way out." "When?"

"Sunday."

Maybe that's why she hadn't been able to get him off her mind all week.

"What time zone are you in?"

He looked at his watch. "I don't know. Tomorrow."

"You must be exhausted."

He nodded slowly.

"Scully?"

"Mmm?"

"Thanks for asking me to stay."

She nodded and they both went back to staring at the fire. It was getting cooler. The dampness was settling on her skin. He leaned forward pushed another log into the fire. For an instant the fire glowed golden around his face and hair. Silhouetting him. The line of his cheek...his mouth...

Her own mouth went suddenly dry. She took a sip of wine, pulled her gaze away from his lips and looked up at the moon. A waning crescent. Too bad it wasn't full. The ocean view from her balcony during a full moon was breathtaking. She glanced out at the ocean. You could still see the water on a night like tonight, but it was dark. Dark and mysterious. She loved it like this, too. The smell of the sea was stronger now, the tide was turning, it would be going out, leaving the sand flats bare. . .

The chaise creaked as he sat back beside her, a little closer this time, and she could feel his eyes on her face.

She wasn't sure she was ready to look back. The aura thing was happening again. . .

Finally she couldn't help herself, she turned her head. Sure enough, he was staring at her. His eyes were dark in the dim light.

He lifted his hand and touched her face, finally, his fingertips light on her cheekbone.

"Freckles," he whispered, a smile in his voice.

She smiled back, a little sheepishly.

He smoothed his fingers across the freckles on either cheekbone, then slipped his hand into her hair, cupping the nape of her neck, gently stroking her earlobe with his thumb.

She raised her hand to cover his and tilted her head into his palm.

"I should have asked this first," he whispered, pressing softly against her cheek. "How are you, Scully?"

Her cancer, of course.

"Healthy. I'm healthy."

He nodded slightly, but she could see in his eyes he didn't know quite what she meant.

"No sign of it, Mulder," she whispered. "It's gone."

She saw relief flash though his eyes. Then he closed them--just for a moment--and she had the distinct impression he was sending up thanks to some unknown deity. Then he opened them again and they stared at each other. The moment stretched. His eyes were so dark, so unreadable...

So familiar.

With the slightest pressure on the back of her neck he drew her across the space between them.

She didn't resist, just moved forward with a sigh. His fingers spread out on her scalp and he tucked her head under his chin. His other arm slipped around her, cradling her against his chest.

She slid her hands around him to rest on his back and rubbed her cheek against the rough cotton knit of his sweater. His unshaven neck was prickly against her forehead. She buried her nose against him and took a deep breath.

God.

Suddenly his arms tightened around her and he was hugging her hard. She hugged him back--just as hard. His arms were so tight she could barely breathe but she didn't care.

She felt him rub his face against her hair.

"I miss you," he whispered, very softly.

"I miss you, too," she whispered back.

She burrowed more closely into him, opening her mouth against the cotton, breathing in his warmth.

He leaned back against the cushions, drawing her with him, and settled her against his chest, holding her close.

She lay still, her cheek on his heart. She shut her eyes and let herself relax into his warmth, adjusting her breathing to the rise and fall of his chest, and let her mind empty of everything but his heart pounding under her ear and his fingers rubbing her scalp.

All her unresolved feelings...failure...hurt...anger...loss...started to dissolve as her senses filled with him. The tension was slipping out of her shoulders and back, and her bones were melting into his.

She wasn't going to think about tomorrow, or next week, or...whenever. She was just going to sit here absorbing the rhythm of his body.

After a while the gentle fingers caressing the back of her head stopped. She lay still, wondering if he'd fallen asleep. He must be exhausted. She didn't really want to move. She wanted to lie here holding him.

For awhile she didn't move, just listened to the fire as it burned down. The steady crackle finally slowing to the occasional pop. Finally, she sighed. It was too damp for him to sleep out here, she'd have to wake him up.

She tilted her head to look at his face. His eyes were still open, he was looking down, past her face.

She followed his gaze.

The neck of her robe had fallen open, exposing the curve of one creamy breast all the way to its rosy tip, nestled against the white terry cloth.

She moved to pull it shut, but he reached out and captured her hand, stopping her. His eyes lingering on her breast.

She caught her breath and held it.

As they watched, the nipple hardened.

She let out her breath with a tiny rush and looked up to meet his eyes. The expression in his was uncertain.

"Mulder...I--"

His expression became serious, his eyes dark.

"Scully," he whispered. "When I saw first you tonight. Before. You were beautiful. I've seen you--" He smiled. "--a lot of different ways. But tonight, I've never seen you so beautiful."

His gaze held hers for another long moment then dropped to her mouth. She couldn't help herself, her lips parted.

He leaned closer. Her eyes followed his mouth as it closed in. It stopped a fraction of an inch away from her own.

Oh God.

He pressed a gentle kiss on her lips. His were warm and soft. Almost...brotherly.

Almost.

She gave him a gentle kiss back.

Then he kissed her again, his lips still soft, but not quite so brotherly.

Then a third, and this one not brotherly at all.

The warmth of his mouth on hers told her more about what he'd been feeling in the last six months than everything he'd said--or hadn't said--since he'd shown up on her doorstep.

She kissed him back. And it wasn't about noses or unfamiliar skin, it was about what had been between them--was still between them. The tenderness and sweetness . . and the longing and the tension that they'd never put into words.

As his lips explored hers, gentle, soft, loving, she felt something she'd been holding tight inside her begin to melt, then break away.

She slipped her hands up into his hair and kissed him back. I missed you too. And I know why you did it. I understand, but it hurt like hell...I missed you and now...all I want to do is suck on your tongue...Mulder...

At her response his controlled gentleness exploded and he began kissing her with a quiet desperation. He rolled her sideways and pinned her against the cushions, pressing his body along hers. He cupped her head in both hands and slipped his tongue into her mouth, tracing the inside of her lips, running it over her teeth, stroking her tongue. They kissed until they were both breathless, and then his mouth left hers and wandered up her face, kissing her cheeks, her eyelids, her eyelashes. He gave her a gentle kiss on the bridge of her nose, then looked down at her, his heart in his eyes.

She tugged on his head and pulled his mouth back down to hers.

Now it was about a searing heat that started down at her toes and slid through her entire body. Exciting and new because she'd never kissed him and warm and familiar because she'd known him forever and...oh God...

His hands slid down her shoulders and over her back. She stroked his back in return and slipped her hands down to the waistband of his trousers, sliding under the sweater and t-shirt and up and over the warm skin of his back.

And then his hands were tearing at the knot at her waist. He stopped suddenly and looked around at the night, then back at her.

"No one can see," she whispered, pushing his fingers away and untying it herself. Relief flickered across his expression and she realized that that wasn't his question, but she'd answered it anyway.

He pushed the terry off her shoulders and she shrugged out of it. He raised up and looked down at her body. He was breathing hard. She lay still. Naked. Her flushed skin tingling in the cool night air.

"Scuh-lee...you're beautiful--so beautiful."

He ducked his head to kiss her breasts.

Her hands slipped into his hair. She pushed it back behind his ears.

"Mulder, you're tickling."

She knew she was grinning like a fool.

He lifted his head and grinned back. Then he drew a line with kisses from the tip of one breast to the other. And then up her neck to her lips again.

She squirmed out from under him, pushed him down on the cushions and slid on top of him.

It felt strange and wonderful and crazy to be on top of him completely naked in the cool darkness while he was still fully clothed, but seeing him again and the sudden direction the evening had taken was making her drunk with relief.

She dipped her head to meet his lips again.

He smiled against her mouth and she rubbed her body along the length of his like a cat, enjoying the feeling of his body under his clothes. But it wasn't enough.

Reluctantly she pulled her mouth away from his and sat up. Settling her crotch on the hard bulge in his pants, she pushed up his shirt and sweater and pulled them over his head.

The fire slid lovely warm fingers of light over the skin of his face and chest. He lay still, watching her as she traced their patterns with her fingertips, along his cheekbones, down his neck and chest, across his stomach to his waistband. She undid his pants and slid them down and off. Underneath he was wearing a pair of red jersey boxers that fit him like a glove. His arousal was straining at the cloth and she touched him lightly. "Scuhlee. ." He was watching her intently.

"Mmmmm?"

She dropped forward to meet his mouth, but her fingers stayed on him, caressing him lightly at first, then firmly, with long leisurely strokes. Then her hand dropped to cup his balls. They were loose and warm. She explored them gently, rolling them in her fingers and stroking the muscle beneath.

He groaned her name again, and then his hands and lips were on her. Everywhere on her. Smoothing the skin on her back, teasing the sensitive skin under her arms, sucking her fingers into his mouth, nipping kisses down the side curve of her waist. She writhed under his mouth and fingers. Her hands and mouth were everywhere on him, too. She gently scratched the skin of his back. Licked and bit his nipples, nibbled his shoulders and neck. She pushed off his boxers and kneaded the muscles of his behind, then returned again to his balls, just to hear the little gasping way he said her name when she touched them.

"Scuh-leee."

She smiled.

She had always wondered what it would be like if they ever came together this way. Would it be spontaneous combustion? Wild hot sex against the inside of the door of one of their apartments, with them both climaxing within seconds, then collapsing exhausted on the floor? Or would it be slow and sensual, gradually building until. . .

It was neither.

They settled more deeply into the cushions. His fingers combed lightly through the curls between her legs.

She couldn't help it, she moaned.

"Scuh-leee," She could hear the smile in his voice as his fingers slid over her.

She moaned again, louder. "Mmmmmh?"

"Scuh-leee?"

His tongue was in her ear. His voice rough with desire. God, forget making love. If he said her name again like that she was just going to come with a scream.

"Yes?" she answered breathlessly and shoved her pelvis against him.

"Rubber?"

"What?" She ground her hips into his hand again.

"Condom. Do you have a condom somewhere handy?"

"Why?"

He lifted his head to get a better look at her face.

"Scully, I--"

God, she was having a hard time breathing.

"...Ahh...Oh, God. Do that...again. Yes. That. Ahhh...."

"Scully, I'm HIV negative."

He'd moved his finger away and was stroking her now with his erection, rubbing the tip back and forth over her.

"I know. Me too. You wouldn't...I know. ." Her neck arched back and she lifted her hips to increase the friction.

"But you should have some."

Trust him to be preoccupied about something when all she wanted was him inside her as fast and as hard as possible. She pressed the soft skin between her legs urgently against him. At least he hadn't stopped doing what he was doing.

"Scully? If you're going to...That guy . ."

So that's what this was about. She glanced at his face. He was truly worried. She felt an ache in her chest that had nothing to do with her labored breathing.

"Mulderrr. My bedside table drawer is full of condoms. But I'm not having sex with that guy. I'm making love to you. If you'll just shut up and let--"

Before she could finish he crushed her comment with his mouth. She reached to wrap her hand around his balls again, squeezing them just enough to get his mind off her with another man. "Okay," he breathed into her mouth. "Ohhhh, God. Oh my God. Scuhleee. Scuhleeeee. Uncle!"

She smiled against his lips. Her tongue slid into his mouth and met his. She circled her hand around him, lifted her hips slightly then eased herself gently down on him. And in answer he shifted his own hips upward and buried himself in her completely.

There are a lot of things that go by and are forgotten in a life, she thought as she slid deeper into his eyes and drowned, but never the first time you make love to someone you love.

She opened her senses to the night...the cool breeze tickling her burning skin . . the slam and rush of the waves on the beach, echoing their own ebb and flow . . the sharp fragrance of the fire and the coffee and the wine, and of his body and her own...the sigh of his skin against hers...the rough cushion under her knees, the hot skin of his hips between her thighs...

She smiled to herself as it all imprinted itself indelibly on her mind.

His eyes.

He pushed up into her, slowly at first, then harder, deeper. She watched him watch her and felt something like amazement overtake her. He was here.

At last.

It was about time.

Whatever the hell had been keeping them apart all these years...and the last six months...had disappeared into the night...And she could tell by his eyes he felt it, too.

"What?" he could barely whisper and she could barely reply.

"What?" she asked.

"Your face. So serious. ."

I love you, she thought. It's as simple as that.

And he smiled as if she'd said it aloud. A once-in-a-lifetime smile that lit up his eyes, and his face and sent a wave of warmth crashing through her to her toes.

And then it was just them, just eyes and mouths and skin and hands. And all coherent thoughts left her as she lost herself in him, with him...and they slid over the edge and fell into the night.


4.

She stared up at the sky through the window over the bed. The sky was a deep grey-blue, barely lighter than night. It was at least an hour before dawn.

A warm heavy leg rested across hers and a possessive arm cradled her close. A large hand was tangled in her hair and hot breath was heating her neck, just below her ear.

She smiled.

He'd only been asleep about an hour.

For months she'd wondered if she'd ever see him again. And now--here he was, naked and curled around her. And they'd made love. Finally. Warm delicious love. Enveloped in the sated swollen afterglow, she hadn't slept. Hadn't wanted to.

She turned her head slightly and tasted his skin. Just the salt at the edge of his sideburn with the tip of her tongue.

Then she kissed his ear lightly.

"Hey," she whispered against his ear.

No answer.

"Mulder," she whispered again. Her tongue darted out to tease the line of his jaw.

Still no response.

He was dead to the world.

"I'll be back," she murmured into his ear. "Don't go anywhere. ."

Reluctantly, she slipped out from under the warmth of his body.


She had to be away from him to think, she admitted to herself as she tiptoed down the outside stairs dressed in running shoes, shorts and a sweatshirt. When her naked body was stuck to his, it seemed, she was under his spell.

She shivered a little. It was chilly for the end of May; tendrils of steam were rising from the pool. The dawn was heavy with the cold wet smell of concrete and the heady fragrance of the dew-soaked jasmine and orange-sweet natal plums.

Swatting away a spider's web, she let herself through the gate and started stretching as she headed down her walkstreet to the beach.

Suddenly she broke into run. She flashed past oleanders and bougainvilleas that loomed like misty ghosts in the near-dark, then, through the palms and she was out on the open sand.

The clear, cool air filled her lungs, and the sharp smell of salt from the ebbed tide rose to meet her with a slap against her skin. She ran over the last bit of dry sand and down, onto the flats of an unusually low tide, her ponytail streaming out behind her, her sneakers making little sploshing noises...and suddenly tears started streaming down her cheeks.

She ran and ran and ran.

Until she couldn't run any more and slowed to a walk, gasping for breath.

She'd missed him. For her first month in L.A. she'd felt ripped in two. Sheer hell.

But now...

She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her sweatshirt, walked out to the very edge of the gentle breakers and stared out to sea. At the horizon, the old moon was slipping into the sea. As she watched, dawn lightened the sky.

Her thoughts drifted to him lying asleep in her bed. She wondered what he thought about them making love--

She checked her thoughts with a snap.

This was not about him anymore. This was about her.

Her life.

Her life here.

She was happy here.

. .Wasn't she?

She hadn't just been killing time here waiting for him to show up on her doorstep. She'd been building a new life.


Her job here...it was a step in the direction she'd always wanted to go, right?

Right.

Could she really see the two of them together again? Working together again?

Her mind slid away from that question. She wasn't ready to answer it.

Her private life here...well, she'd made some friends, dated some, and--

She felt a sudden satisfied smile tug at her mouth.

Oh God.

She'd slept with Mulder.

And it had been...amazing.

She'd always wanted him. Lusted after him off and on for five years. Finally making love...it had been the fulfillment of a long-held fantasy.

She was glad it had happened. The tenderness...the forgiveness...It had gone a long way toward easing the sadness and anger she hadn't been able to forget. She loved him. Loved him despite...a lot of things. But the two of them as lovers...

She'd long since decided it wasn't the kind of love that was healthy for her. Couldn't be healthy for her. There was such a thing as loving the wrong man.

Maybe, after all these years, making love had just been inevitable. Something they'd both needed to begin to heal. But nothing more than that.

She was gradually beginning to catch her breath. She watched, her tears gone now, as the growing dawn changed the color of the waves, dark grey to pink, pink to greenish grey and finally to pale bluegreen.

A sudden gust of wind riffled the surface of the water and a young gull suddenly reeled and shrieked above her head looking for breakfast.

The new day had arrived.

In a few hours he'd be getting on a plane to go back to Washington.

And if he asked?

There was no way she was going back.


5.

He met her at her door, one of her towels slung low around his hips, his hair wet. A few drops of water sprinkled his chest.

Why was meeting someone face to face the morning after so damn awkward?

"Hey," he said, relief written all over his face.

"Hey. You're awake. I was letting you sleep in."

"Couldn't stay asleep without you." His gaze dropped to her clothes. "You went running?"

"Mmm-hmm." She toed off her wet sneakers by the door.

"I thought you might have left, hoping to come back and find me gone."

She had a feeling he was only half kidding. She tilted her head and looked up at him. "No." She shook her head slightly. "No." "I borrowed your shampoo." He tipped his head so she could smell his hair.

"Mmmmm. Suits you."

She reached up to push the hair back from his forehead. When her fingertips touched his skin the awkwardness vanished like smoke, and she lightly touched her other hand to his chest, brushing through the water droplets with the tips of her fingers.

Then his hands were on her, too. Spread wide on her rib cage. Pulling her to him. Her nose ended up smack in the middle of his still-damp chest.

Mmmmm here, too.

"Come back to bed?" he asked into the top of her head.

He didn't sound as if he thought she'd say yes.

She tilted back her head and looked up at him. He looked down at her, carefully searching her face, his expression guarded. He'd shaved and there was a tiny bit of shaving cream stuck under his chin. She had the urge to lick it away. Instead she reached up and brushed it off with her fingers.

He smiled suddenly.

She smiled back, a little wistfully--

Oh, why the hell not?

--and pulled away from him far enough to llead him back into the bedroom.

She peeled off her damp clothes and climbed in after him. He wrapped his arms around her and they snuggled down under the comforter.

Her hands drifted over his skin. He was thin, she thought as her fingers ran across his ribs. How had he been? What had he been thinking, doing, in their six months apart?

She wondered.

His hands were busy too. They slid down her back and cupped her bare bottom.

"I was wondering where you'd gotten those great muscles in your butt," he murmured.

Running off five years of you.

"Not that your butt hasn't always been great."

Oh?

"But now. . ? It's great."

She rewarded him with a kiss on his nipple.

He lightly traced the line of her spine up to the nape of her neck then pulled away the elastic band holding her pony tail. He combed his fingers through her hair, carefully arranging it over her shoulders.

"This isn't as weird as I thought it might be."

"What? Us?"

"Us. In bed together."

"You thought about it?"

"Maybe. Did you?"

"Maybe."

"You thought it would be weird?"

"That's not the right word."

"I know what you mean."

"You do?

"Yeah."

She watched him as he gently smoothed her hair.

Making love had been easy. But...she could see it in his eyes, in the way he held his mouth, he had things on his mind, too. Things she didn't think she wanted to be drawn back in to.

His hand slipped to her breast, and she bit back a sigh.


"Scully?"

She was lying on his chest.

Skin against skin. Wrapped in sunshine-yellow cotton chambray sheets. With real late morning sunshine pouring across the bed. Maybe he wasn't going to make it back to Washington today. A strand of her hair fell across his lips and she took it between her fingers, teasing his lips with the end. He opened his mouth and caught the hair, tasting it with his tongue.

There was only one thing better than fabulous linens on a bed, she thought idly, and that was fabulous linens with a man in them.

This man to be exact.

Her resolve from her early morning trip to the beach was...for the moment...on hold.

"Scully?"

"Mmmm?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"Mmm-hmmm."

She waited, tracing the muscles in his neck with one finger. "Do you ever think about her?" he asked.

Her.

She tilted her head so she could see his face. He was staring at the top of her bureau-- her pictures of her family, Matthew, Melissa, Queequeg...even one of him...

He meant the small picture of Emily. She felt a mixture of relief tinged with sadness.

Did she think about her? Only twenty times a day.

She looked back at his neck and ducked her chin, not meeting his eyes.

"Yes, Mulder. I think about her."

He was quiet for a while as his hands moved slowly over her back, stoking her skin softly, the way he'd calm a cat.

"Do you ever wonder if she was the only one?"

She shut her eyes as if that could shut out his question. She didn't want to wonder.

"Why?" she asked finally.

"What if...what if there was another child?"

"Mulder, we-- I. . . still don't have any answers about Emily."

He reached up to run a finger along the line of her forehead, tracing each of her eyebrows then her nose.

"But--hypothetically--if there was another--wouldn't you want to know?"

It took her a long time to answer.

Finally she shook her head.

"I would dread there being another child," she said slowly. "I don't think I could go through this again. Especially--" she broke off and shook her head mutely, her eyes brimming over with tears.

"Oh, Scuhleee. Still?"

Of course still.

She nodded. A tear dripped on his chin. He gave her a sad concerned smile.

"I didn't mean to make you cry. You're going to make me cry, too." He tried to rub the tears away with his thumb. That only made her cry harder.

She sucked in her lip and bit it.

Suddenly, his expression grew serious and he twisted his hands into her hair, trapping her head six inches from his own.

"I miss you."

She nodded slightly within the confines of his hands. Tears were still dripping on him, and now her nose was threatening to drip on him, too.

"Los Angeles is a long way away."

He was going to ask her to come back. And she was going to say, No. No-no-no.

She watched his eyes, they were glistening slightly with moisture, too.

"You're happy here."

It wasn't a question, but she gave a slow infinitesimal nod.

"I can tell." He nodded slightly. "I'm glad."

Oh.

"I'm glad," he repeated again, almost to himself, and he looked away from her and back at the photos again.

She dropped her head and rested it against his neck, turning to stare at the photos, too. The one of him showed him laughing. .

Gently, he stroked her hair.

They lay in silence for a long time.


"I'm going back to Singapore at the end of next month."

So maybe you can stop by for a quick fuck? She was startled by the abrupt rush of anger that swept through her. Why did the idea annoy her so much?

"Singapore? Why? A case?" she asked and tried to push herself up off him. He took hold of her shoulders and wouldn't let her, his body suddenly tense under her hands.

"It's not a case...exactly. A lead. I've been following. . " he said slowly. "...for months."

"What lead?"

"I--" he broke off. Surprising her, he gently pushed her off him and got out of bed. He padded across to her window and looked out at the beach. He seemed oblivious to the fact that if anyone on the beach was looking at her window, they'd see a very naked Mulder.

He turned and considered her for a long moment.

"Come with me."

"To Singapore?"

He nodded.

"Why Mulder? What's in Singapore?"

He turned away from her and looked out the window again.

"I need your help."

"Tell me what it's about."

He shook his head, still looking out at the beach.

"I just need you to come with me."

"Mulder? A--what is it?--twenty hour flight without any explanation? For something that's 'not exactly' a case? What can't you tell me?"

He turned and stared at her. His eyes were green, yellow and pleading.

"I don't suppose 'I need you' is good enough."

No fair, Mulder. No fair.

Trust me, his eyes asked. Please.

"Mulder. ."

Singapore. Jesus. No.

Please, Scully, his eyes...begging now. Please.

"O-kay. ." she said.

Damn. She turned away, blocking out the sight of those eyes. This was insane. She was insane.

"In a month?" At least she'd do it on her schedule. "That would be about the Fourth? How long is this going to take, Mulder? I can get a couple days off. It's the long weekend."

"That should be plenty." He nodded, satisfied. "Good."

He started looking around, presumably for his clothes.

"Scully? Can I use your phone to call the airline?"

And now he was leaving.

Oh, fuck.


6.

Singapore Airlines Somewhere over the Pacific July 2.

Morosely, she stared at the words on the page of her novel. 'The grounds of the decrepit house were immaculate,' she read. For the four hundredth time.

She hadn't heard from him for weeks. Finally, she decided if he did call she wasn't going to go.

She'd begun to think the whole night had been a figment of her imagination when he showed up on her doorstep again, tickets in hand. And looking...looking far more elegant and--

She sighed.

--sexier than usual. Expensive suit, expeensive haircut, expensive cologne.

All for her.

Or so she'd thought, her emotions tumbling wildly from flattered to embarrassed to elated to annoyed. After two hours of dancing around the issue of why they were going to Singapore, he ended up sleeping on the couch.

She still wasn't sure why.

He told her to pack elegant rather than professional. Elegant for hot and humid.

She complied, not knowing why the hell she was doing that either. And no weapon, he told her.

The fact was, going anywhere with Mulder without her weapon was a little unnerving.

The first fifteen hours of the flight from L.A. to Taipei had passed extremely slowly. This last four hour leg, from Taipei to Singapore, was excruciating.

Despite the surprisingly comfortable seats in business class and the non-stop beverage service, she was stiff, tired, cranky and dehydrated as hell.

'The grounds of the decrep--'

"Scuhlee?" He sat back down beside her.

She looked up at him.

"Yes, Mulder?"

He hesitated, then "Dana?"

Oh shit.

She tucked the book in the seat pocket in front of her, and turned to him.

"What?"

"There's something I have to tell you."

He reached out and took her hand, holding it between his both of own, his eyes apprehensive.

"There's another baby."

"What? What baby, Mulder?"

She stared at him, consternated. What the hell was he talking about and why the hell did he think it was so important that he'd called her Dana, and why was he staring at her as if he was afraid she'd scream? Unless...

Oh SHIT.

"You don't mean . ."

He nodded slowly.

"Oh no. No." She shook her head back and forth. "No. Mulder, no. How do you know?"

That wasn't really the question. He wouldn't have told her if he wasn't sure. The question was why hadn't he told her the second he knew.

"DNA."

"DNA?"

He nodded. He searched her face, his eyes worried.

A baby. Oh God.

"It's just a baby? Not a child? How did you get its DNA? How did you find it?"

The questions were tumbling from her faster than he could answer.

He nodded again. "It took a long, long time, but Frohike and I finally got a lead."

"Is it with a family? Where is it?"

He squeezed her hand tightly. "In Singapore."

She yanked her fingers out of his grasp.

"Singapore!? How on earth? Why didn't you tell me?!"

He winced slightly, reached into his inner suit pocket and pulled out an envelope. He held it out to her, watching her. The expression in his eyes...so careful . . so worried...so...pleading with her to forgive him for telling her--and to forgive him for not telling her, both at the same time.

Damn it, she was furious with him.

She reached out for the envelope, her hand unsteady.

"What is this? Mulder, where did you--? Who's got it?" Inside was one of those newborn photos. A small blurry picture of a slightly startled looking baby. Blue eyes...and just a little bit of what might be red hair.

Her heart clenched with a mixture of anxiousness and horror...and longing.

"He, not it, Scully, is with a baby broker and I'm...in negotiations to buy him."

"A baby broker? Negotiations? To buy. . ? Mulder. ." God, she didn't recognize her voice.

He was silent for a moment, watching her closely. "That picture's old. He's four months now. I was thinking-- Do you like the name Liam, Scully?"

She couldn't look away from the little face. "What?!" She felt the frustration and the despair and the shock that had overwhelmed her in San Diego slip back into her blood. Oh, God. No. Not again.

She stared down at the photo. "Is he...is he...okay?"

"He's fine."

She should have felt a little relief at that, but all she felt was terrified. Emily had been 'fine', too.

"Fine as in...fine?" God, she was a doctor. Why couldn't she come up with a better word than fine? Her mind fumbled for the right scientifically-detached questions and came up empty. "He's a normal, healthy child. As far as I know."

"Mulder." Her voice sounded strangled, felt strangled. "I needed to know about this. You needed to tell me."

"I tried, Scully." He shook his head.

She just looked at him and she knew he could see the anguish and anger she was feeling reflected in her eyes. She couldn't hide it. She was incredibly upset with him. "No, Mulder. This time you needed to tell me."

He turned away from her and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees he rubbed his face tiredly.

She looked down again in disbelief at the photo in her hands.


Changi Airport Singapore

It was boiling hot in Customs.

Not only was she exhausted and stiff and miserable from the plane, she was now furious and had a splitting headache. And she had the distinct feeling that she was starting to smell a little less than fresh.

In fact, she probably stunk.

"Passports please."

Mulder handed two to the official.

She froze with one hand deep in her purse, clasped around her own passport.

"Mr. George Hale and-- Mrs. Isobel Hale?" the man read. "For what purpose are you visiting Singapore?"

She pushed the passport down to the bottom of the bag and removed her hand very slowly.

"Vacation," Mulder answered.

"How long?"

"Four days."

"Continuing tickets?"

Mulder handed them over. Suddenly she realized she'd never looked at the tickets. Mulder had handled everything at the counter in L.A. The tickets must be under the name Hale, too. "Anything to declare?"

"No."

"Mrs. Hale?"

She felt a trickle of nervous sweat run down her back.

She plastered a glazed smile on her face and tried to look innocent.

"Nothing...Sir."

The man looked her up and down, then stared at her half-open purse.

"Just trying to find my Tylenol. Splitting headache. The heat."

"Air-conditioning's out today. Usually it's like an icebox in here. Be careful, this heats a killer if you're not used to it."

The man held out his hand, waiting for the purse. She glanced down at it and caught sight of the Tylenol bottle. Snatching it from the depths of the bag, she handed it to him.

He opened it and suspiciously eyed the contents.

"It's just over-the-counter painkiller, Sir," said Mulder. "My wife...headaches . . flying...you know."

The customs officer snapped the top back on with a click and handed it to her.

"Water fountain's over there. Safest drinking water in Asia." He handed the passports and tickets back to Mulder.

"Enjoy your stay in Singapore."


"Mulder, that was incredibly stupid," she told him in the sweltering taxicab.

He gave her a troubled grey-green stare and then ignored her. She ignored him too, turning her back to him and staring sightlessly out the window all the way to the hotel.


7.

The Raffles Hotel Singapore July 3.

She lifted her head from the unfamiliar pillow and groaned. God, she ached all over.

Thanks to the angriest sex she'd ever had in her life.

Four times? Five times in one night? Her pelvic bone must be black and blue.

The whole bed smelled like...them.

Gingerly, she sat up.

Mulder was nowhere to be seen.

She licked her lips.

They were swollen.

And tasted like him.


The Raffles Hotel Singapore Eighteen hours earlier July 2.

They sat in the cab, stuck in city traffic, for what seemed like enough time to fly back home, then, finally, they'd checked into the hotel.

The extraordinary Raffles Hotel--according to their bellhop's practiced spiel--was world famous for its British Colonial elegance and the fact that it had been the haunt of writers and celebrities from Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling to Noel Coward and Alice Faye.

He showed them into a suite the size of Mulder's and her apartments combined. What had to be fourteen foot ceilings made the rooms airy despite the humidity and dark old furnishings. Oriental carpets covered teak floors, and an intriguing doorway led to a palmy verandah, but all she saw at that moment was the huge antique bed.

The bellhop stared at the U.S. five Mulder handed him as if he'd never seen one before, but the bill vanished quickly enough. "Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Hale," he said, and glided backwards out the door. "Enjoy your stay in Singapore." The door shut silently and they were alone.

Mr. and Mrs. George Hale.

And their big bed.

Fine. They were sleeping together, weren't they? Maybe. Maybe not.

And if they weren't? Well...whatever. It was big enough for that, too.

Mulder said one word, "Shower" and disappeared into the bathroom.

Maybe a drink would relax her neck and shoulders. She kicked off her shoes and checked the mini-bar. Apparently Somerset and Noel preferred gin and Scotch. The bar was stocked full of the little bottles.

While in Singapore...Gin it would be.

She made them both drinks. After that flight he could probably use one too.

With a sigh, she relaxed back on the sofa and sipped her drink. After a few minutes she stretched her feet out in front of her on the coffee table. He seemed to be taking an abnormally long time in the shower. What she really needed was a long tall glass of water, but she was too tired to get up and get one. She finished her drink and started on his. Let him make his own damn drink. She eyed his carry-on bag. She wanted to see the picture of the baby again but it was probably still in his pocket.

The door to the bathroom opened and he came out. Completely dressed.

He looked wonderful. Great. She felt like 6000 miles of stale air turbulence.

And where the hell was he going?

He eyed her two glasses without comment then reached for the door of the wet bar fridge.

She noticed it at once.

"Mulder, you're wearing a wedding ring."

"I didn't tell you? The whole time we've known each other I've been married with five kids in Singapore."

"Oh, right. How is the family these days, Mulder? Have you told her you slept with me?"

God, she sounded just like a shrew. She felt like one, too.

He looked at her steadily for a minute. As if he couldn't figure out what rock she'd crawled out from under.

That was it. She was heading for the showers, too. The mystery of the wedding ring could wait for later.

She picked up her drink and her toiletries case and stood up.

"It's my grandfather's ring, Scully. That's the only finger it fits. I used to wear it all the time." He looked down at the ring on his finger. "Didn't you know? A wedding rings's a chick magnet." He gave her a half-hearted leer. "Makes 'em feel safe."

"Then you nail 'em?" She stopped at the bathroom door and looked back at him. The steam from his shower settled on her skin, suddenly she was warm, too warm.

His voice seemed very far away, and very very remote.

"Then I met you."

Did he just say that?

He turned away from her and poured himself a Scotch. Neat. He propped one hip against the edge of the console and took a sip. She felt like she was watching someone she'd never really met from a great distance.

"And no more need for the chick magnet, Mulder?"

"No."

"But now suddenly. . ?"

He sat the drink down suddenly and fumbled in his pocket. He brought out something. It was a little red velvet jewelry box. She stared at it.

"Scully. . ? Come back here."

She turned and slowly walked back towards him, it seemed to take a very long time to cross the fifteen feet of exquisite Persian carpet between them.

He opened the little box and held it out. In it was a pearl and ruby ring, obviously an antique, and just as obviously a match for the necklace he'd given her at Christmas.

She stared at it. All she could do was open her mouth and shut it again.

"Scully...Marry me."

She glanced at his face in shock. He was kidding, wasn't he? He had to be.

"You're kidding."

He looked at her for a moment, his expression entirely unreadable. Then, he ducked his head and looked down at the ring.

"Of course I'm kidding, Scully. We need to pretend we're married to buy this baby."

Oh.

"We? I thought you were the one buying the baby, Mulder. What do I have to do with it?"

He stared at her in disbelief. "What do you have to do with it?"

She didn't say anything, she had no idea what to say. She'd never felt so distant from him in all the time they'd been together.

Finally he lifted his shoulder in what might have been a stretch, might have been a shrug. "We're a rich American couple buying a baby."

She took a large swallow of her drink. To say Mulder had a knack for leaving things out was an understatement.

"How much is it?"

"Fifty thousand American dollars."

"Fifty thousand?!" She just about spit out her drink. "Where the hell did you get that kind of cash?"

"He could go for up to a hundred thousand if it turns into a bidding war. The last auction did."

"A bidding war! The last auction?"

God, all she could do was repeat what he said.

He shrugged. A definite shrug this time. She hated it when he shrugged.

"Isn't he worth it, Scully?"

"Mulder?! For God sakes! It's spending money for a baby!"

"We're covered up to one-twenty. And if we need it, I can--" he gave a strange little shrug of his shoulder, "--find more."

She stared into her glass. It had somehow become empty. She couldn't remember ever getting drunk on two drinks before, but she was definitely feeling a little woozy.

One hundred and twenty thousand dollars?!

She sat down hard on the couch.

"Mulder, even if buying a child isn't illegal, it's morally wrong."

"What they did to you was morally wrong. Buying your baby doesn't even come close."

"And what the hell was that with the passports? Why didn't you tell me about that?"

"Because you would have said no."

"You're damn right I would have said no. They could toss us in prison and throw away the key for that! Mulder, if you had just told me I could have arranged for us to travel under legitimate undercover passports--"

"No," he interrupted her. "Don't you see? We couldn't do this through regular channels. No one knows we're here. No one can know."

"But, legitimately--"

"Nothing going on here is legitimate, Scully! Why do you care more about breaking the law than you do about getting Liam back?!"

"Because I'm a Federal Agent, Mulder, because you're a Federal Agent. Doesn't that mean anything to you any more...?" she trailed off as he just stared at her. "Back?"

"They were your eggs," he said softly, but his underlying tone...he was frustrated with her. Well, she couldn't help it. She was frustrated with him, too. "And being a Federal Agent didn't stop them from taking you, raping you and taking them. He's yours, Scully."

"But what if . ."

She stared at him. Everything was suddenly surreal. Mulder in his expensive tropical suit and wedding ring. The two of them on the wrong side of the planet. This hotel suite with its lacquered surfaces and exotic atmosphere. Another baby out there somewhere, somehow. This couldn't be happening, could it?

"What if what?" he demanded.

"But what if the child has...what if it's sick, Mulder? How do you know it's not sick? Did you have any access to the medical records?"

"He, Scully. The child is a he. And his name is Liam. I've named him Liam. I have his health records. Everything seemed normal. But if he's sick, and we get him, then we'll deal." She could tell by the throbbing vein at the corner of his eye that Mulder was holding himself tightly in check.

She stood suddenly, then looked down at her feet. They were still down there.

Good.

She began putting one in front of the other, heading for the bathroom.

"Scully? What the hell is going on with you? I thought you'd-- Once you knew-- I thought...Christ Scully, I've been tracking him down for months. Before he was even born. I thought you'd be--

She spun on him. "I told you I didn't want to know!" she practically spat at him.

He looked completely shocked.

Suddenly she held up her hand. "Wait! You said, 'before it was born.' Shhh!" She held her hand higher. "Don't argue with me. And it's four or so months old now? Mulder, that's what you said. You knew...this...after I left? Or before I left."

She felt sudden tears clog her throat, they were burning in her chest.

"Tell me. Right. This. Minute."

She was breathing hard, her hair was in her face, her clothes were rumpled and smelly, and she knew she was probably flushed bright red. But at the moment she didn't care.

She hated him.

Mulder shifted uncomfortably. "I saw him when he was a fetus, when we were in San Diego."

"A fetus? In San Diego? How. . ?? When we were with Emily?" Was that her voice? Why did it sound like the voice of a querulous child?

"With-- Scully?"

It was too late. Everything was too late. She covered her mouth with her hands and ran for the toilet, making it just in time to throw up everything thing she'd eaten in the last month into the toilet. And the two gin and tonics.

"Scully? Scully?"

He was hovering at the door of the bathroom, watching her in horror.

"G'way Mulder."

She retched again. And then again. And then again. God, she was about to throw up the lining of her stomach.

He'd somehow seen a fetus in San Diego, and he'd somehow known it was hers and he'd somehow never bothered to say a word. Not one damn word.

Just like her eggs. He hadn't bothered to tell her about those either.

She dropped to her knees beside the bowl.

Don't do this to me, Mulder. Don't do this.

Too late, he'd already done it.

She wanted to collapse on the cool tiles of the floor, close her eyes and sink into oblivion. She stayed perfectly still for a long moment and willed her stomach to settle down. Then, somehow, she slowly pushed herself to her feet. She turned to the sink and splashed water into her mouth, rinsing out the horrible bile taste, then raised her head and looked at herself in the mirror.

Shit. She did look like hell.

She turned to the shower, flipped on the tap and began peeling off her clothes.

Mulder was still hovering at the door like some damn poodle.

"Get out."

"Scully."

"I said, 'Get out!' I'm fine," she gritted through her teeth. "I'm taking a shower. I'll talk to you when I'm done."

He left, quietly shutting the door behind him.

She stepped under the hot spray. It stung her shoulders and she bent her neck so it could pound on the top of her head.

Jesus she was pissed off. The passports. The money. The fetus- - A fetus, for Christ sakes.

The eggs.

The fact that he'd slept on her couch.

The ring.

She didn't want him for herself. Oh no. But the idea of that ring on some other woman's finger set her seething.

And it matched her necklace.

Which she now had a hunch was a family heirloom. Another fact he'd neglected to mention. She'd known it was an antique and beautiful, but...

Damn it. Damn him.

Another child. A little baby...

Oh God.

Finally, skin and hair scrubbed so hard she was amazed there was anything left to be stinging all over her, she got out.

She took a deep breath. And another. And then one more. She felt calmer. Not much--but calmer. She could deal with him. They could discuss this, they'd worked together for five years. Surely they could talk about this.

She pulled on one of the thick terry hotel robes, cracked open the door of the bathroom and peeked out.

Mulder was gone.

But the jewelry case was still sitting on the table in front of the settee.

She ignored it and looked around for the coat he'd been wearing on the plane. She went through the pockets. No picture. Damn. She turned to his carry-bag and went through it, too. No folder, no papers. Nothing. Nothing in his suitcase, either.

She looked over at the jewelry case again, slowly walked over to it, picked it up and opened it. The ruby and pearl ring was beautiful. She held it up to the light. There was an inscription inside it.

'I. Mo Ghradh L.'

That would be Gaelic. Something beautiful and profound, saying they'd love each other forever...

That would be his grandparents.

Liam. Liam and. . ?

She shoved the ring on her finger.

What kind of a jerk would ask her to marry him in jest?

Mulder.

Sudden exhaustion overwhelmed her. She dumped the wet robe on the floor and crawled into bed.


8.

She was lying on her stomach, head buried under the pillows, when he came back.

"You okay, Scully?" he asked softly.

She didn't feel like talking to him. She lay still and pretended to be asleep.

He sat down beside her on the bed and touched her shoulder. "I know you're not asleep. Come on. Open your eyes."

He stroked her bare skin very lightly and she shivered, scrunching further under the pillows away from him.

"I brought you some bread and fruit juice. There's a bakery downstairs."

She turned her head and glared at him.

He showed her the bread and ripped off a piece, holding it out temptingly.

She could smell it. It smelled delicious.

She pushed the pillow away, clutched the sheet across her breasts, and reached out for the bread. She saw him spot the ring on her finger at once. His eyes flashed to her face, but before he could catch her eye she looked away.

She ate the bread in silence, then pushed herself up into a sitting position. She was still too mad at him to speak, but she nodded toward the juice and he opened it and handed it to her.

"How's your stomach?"

She hunched her shoulder in a half shrug.

"Dana?" he asked hesitatingly.

Oh, for Chrissakes, now what?

"When I came to see you in LA, I wasn't planning for us to...I didn't mean . ."

Oh, fuck. Now this.

". . for us to . ."

She took another bite of the bread and chewed, staring at the ring on his hand, waiting for the inevitable.

". . um..." he trailed off.

The let's-be-friends speech. He'd flown her half-way around the world to buy a baby and tell her he didn't want to sleep with her.

Odd how none of her scenarios had ended even remotely like this. But this was Mulder, nothing should surprise her.

"It just...happened," he continued. She heard him swallow hard. "And maybe it shouldn't have. Maybe it was not what should have happened."

She could see him out of the corner of her eye, he was staring at her, waiting for her to say something, but she wouldn't look at him.

Did he expect her to agree?

When she didn't answer, he reached out to touch her shoulder. She tried to shrug him off, but he persisted, tracing the line of her bare shoulder with one finger.

"For all those years it didn't happen with us. We never let it. And then last month? It shouldn't have. It's. ." he sighed. "It's not what you needed to happen in your life right then."

Not what I needed? she thought. When the hell did you ever know what I needed?

"You were doing okay. I think...It seems...You were doing fine since you left. Great, in fact...And then us...making love...only complicated-- Say something, Dana." She carefully set the juice on the night stand, then brushed the crumbs from the sheet.

"Since I left?" Her voice was a little hoarse, but fairly steady. "Who--asked who--to leave?"

He was quiet for a long moment.

"You're the one who left," he said very, very softly.

She looked up at him and nodded slowly.

"Fuck you, Mulder," she said calmly. Very calmly. Too calmly.

He wasn't going to get away with this.

"The sex just happened," she continued. "And it was just sex, and not even very good sex...compared--" she shut her mouth suddenly with a snap, narrowed her eyes and watched him.

"Compared to what?!"

He was completely and utterly shocked.

"How can you compare that to anything? It was us and it was great!"

She shrugged.

He stared at her, then turned his head away and stared at his finger where it had come to a sudden halt on her arm.

She watched his averted profile. His lower lip was caught between his teeth and he was biting it hard. He closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them and stared at his finger. Very, very slowly, he started moving it again, deliberately trailing it down her upper arm, gently caressing the soft curve of her skin. She stiffened her arm, trying not to shiver.

They both watched his finger slip slowly down the length of her arm to her wrist.

He reached her inner wrist, paused for a moment on the sensitive swelling of her pulse, then trailed to her palm, stroking the swelling of the base of her thumb, then of each finger in turn.

"Well, if that's all it was to you . ." his voice was tightly in check. He was furious.

Good.

He continued, "I don't think it's such a good idea for us to do it again. It's not my style to just get together for a quick fuck now and then."

He'd used the word "fuck" deliberately to piss her off. She could see it in the slight flush on his cheekbones.

"Oh really?"

His eyes snapped to hers. "What the hell do you mean by 'Really', Scully?"

Ah, so things were back to Scully. She almost smiled.

What had been a slow angry burn in his eyes was fast becoming an open flame.

"Forget it, Mulder. So we screwed. So we had a one night stand? So what?"

"Five years and you call that just a one night stand?" His voice sounded as if he were about to choke.

She shrugged. "It was just sex."

"Just sex," he repeated in disbelief. "A one night stand."

His finger had reached the ring, it lightly rubbed the inside of the band, then left it to trace to the end of her ring finger. She watched as it trailed back across her palm to wrist. He was angry, she was angry, and yet his finger was making love to her hand as if they were in a separate suite.

"And since that's all it was, you'd better stop touching me," she said dryly.

He looked down as his finger brushed up along the muscle of her lower arm. It stopped to lightly caress the slightly ticklish crook of her elbow, then stealthily started tracing its way up the soft inside of her upper arm.

"Stop it!"

He ignored her and continued tracing the line of her arm, around the sensitive curve of her armpit and down the soft skin toward where the sheet concealed her breast.

"Get your hand off me."

He took a deep breath. "Dana, I--"

"Damn it!" She slapped his hand away and grabbed his wrist. She held it up between them, her fingernails digging hard into his skin.

They stared at each other, his face flushed, his breathing ragged, his eyes burning into hers. She didn't think she'd ever seen him with quite that expression on his face before.

Knocked completely off his complacent ass.

Perfect.

She gave a sudden hard yank on his wrist. "Just get over here, Fox . Can I call you Fox?"

He half-leaned half-fell across her and his "No!" was muffled in her suddenly-exposed breasts. He gathered them in both hands, pushed them up and together, started kissing them desperately. She buried her fingers in his hair and dragged his mouth up to hers. She kissed him hard and he kissed her back, his mouth urgent, fierce and no less angry than her own.

Completely disregarding his expensive clothes, she started ripping them off him. The tie, the shirt. She yanked his belt tight to undo it, then ripped open the fly of his pants and reached into his boxers, pulled him out. He was hard as a rock already.

Not pulling his mouth away from hers, he grabbed the covers with one hand and tossed them off the foot of the bed. The rest of the bread went flying with them.

Damn you, she cursed him silently, her tongue stroking his furiously.

She kicked his pants and shorts clear. Damn your lies to protect me. Damn your secrets and your hidden agendas.

Why couldn't we have met five years ago in the office cafeteria? Gone out on a date and been fucking our brains loose like normal people ever since?

He wove his hands into her hair and gripped it, holding her head still. He crammed his mouth on hers and kissed her hard. Someone's tooth had cut someone's lip and she tasted blood. Maybe his, maybe hers.

She grabbed his butt in both hands, opened her legs and he was against her, then in her. No preliminaries. No talk of condoms. She was going to be chafed and he was going to be chafed.

Good.

Damn it.

He pushed deep into her, and then again and again and again. She jammed her hips against his. Hard, defiant and angry. Their eyes met for a split second. His searched hers. What the hell did he want from her now? She shut her eyes and crashed herself against him.

She wanted to be stuffed, filled too full to think, until everything overflowed.

She wasn't wet--but suddenly she was, and she was coming. She screamed his name and only hoped the walls of the Raffles were discreetly thick or that no one else was in or that it was normal to hear screams of passion in the late afternoon coming from the Palm suite or...And then she didn't care and she screamed his name again.

She arched up against him and clenched her muscles around him, then felt a gush of liquid and she was there. But he wasn't. He slammed into her over and over. For a moment the friction was too much and she sunk her teeth into the muscle of his neck to bear it and then he was pushing harder and harder and then she was coming again and pushing back.


They lay silent, naked, not touching.

After that, what was there to say?

Would they ever be able to talk to each other again?

She wondered, as she stared up at the ceiling watching the idly moving shadows from the late afternoon light. Then she curled away from him and drifted to sleep, only to be wakened by his hands on her back, his teeth in her shoulder.

After the second, equally tempestuous bout, Mulder managed to think of something, "When you came, you screamed Fox over and over."

"I did not!"

"You did so. Do you think of me as Fox?"

"No. Never."


After dusk they turned off the air conditioning and opened the doors and windows to the fragrance-laden night air from the hotel gardens.

And then seconds...minutes...days...later, they slammed into each other again.

Then slunk to opposite ends of the hotel suite to lick their wounds.

At dinner-time...or was it breakfast-time? L.A.-time, they ordered dinner, but before they finished eating she was on her back on the Persian carpet with him over her, inside her, his mouth devouring her neck, burning her breasts...she pulled him into her, as if by consuming him with her body, she could take his mind into her own and understand him, finally...

Afterwards they lay there in the dark, breathing hard, hearts racing, not talking, not looking at each other.

She felt his hand touch hers, then slide to link with her fingers. When she gently squeezed back, he rolled towards her and pressed his face against her breasts. She softly stroked his hair.

. . and then once again at dawn...

Yes. That made five times.


9.

The Raffles Hotel Singapore July 3.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. Stretching her arms over her head, she arched her back.

Ouch.

She had no idea what time it was, but it was already hot. She lifted her hair where it was stuck to the back of her neck. Her skin was covered with a thin film of perspiration. She squinted out the window at the sun, late-ish early-ish morning-ish...maybe.

She closed the windows and cranked up the air-conditioner, then stumbled into the bathroom and twisted on the old fashioned tap in the tub. Blessedly hot hot water streamed forth and she dropped in a handful of bath salts, then with a grateful sigh, slid down into the steaming water.

Where had he gone? Her mind touched on him briefly then slipped to nothingness as she relaxed back and let the water rise to her chin. She shut her eyes and drifted back to a half sleep.

Finally, feeling half-human again, she sat up and sluiced herself with the fragrant water, then rose from the tub and dried her hot skin, her movements as languid as the air around her.

Naked, she walked across the hotel room and flipped open her carry-on bag. Digging down the side, she found her cushioned jewelry case.

She pulled out the necklace he'd given her for Christmas and held it beside the ring. Two European cut rubies. A perfect match. The pearls around them, nestled in their antique gold filigreed settings, glowed with their own luminescence.

She brought the necklace to her mouth and rubbed it against her lips, then bit gently on the pearls. Gritty. Of course.

She turned to the mirror over the bureau and held the necklace up to her neck. It was beautiful. She'd worn it a few times, once on a date. After that she'd kept it in her jewelry case.

She didn't know why she'd brought it along...

Of course she did.

With a sigh she dropped it on the bureau and turned to dress.

Humid but elegant, she thought, slipping her sleeveless plum silk shift over her head.

White skin, red hair, red lips, purple dress...

All she needed was a long strand of pearls and a cigarette holder. She'd be right at home tossing back a few Singapore Slings with Rudyard and Alice in the Expatriate Bar.

Nothing to show on the outside for the wildest night in her life...except...she put a hand to her overflushed cheek and leaned closer to the mirror...a little beard burn.

The rug burn didn't show.

She stared at her eyes. She was doing a very good job of not thinking about the fact that today they were going to try to buy a baby.

Her baby.

She was also not thinking that the little alcove in her study was the perfect place to put a crib.


She was lost in thought when the door to their suite opened. She didn't turn, just watched him in the mirror.

Khaki shorts and a white Polo shirt. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him in shorts. She stared at his legs. Long, lean, tanned, muscled. Where the hell had he gotten a tan?

He stopped just behind her and stared back at her reflection. His eyes slid slowly over her from head to toe. Every inch of her skin that his gaze caressed--her face, her neck, her arms--began to burn.

Their eyes met in the mirror.

She realized she was holding her breath. She let it out.

"You look very American tourist, Mulder."

He let out a low soft whistle between his teeth.

"Scuh-lee." His voice was husky on her name. He cleared his throat. "You look very . . amazing."

"Elegant enough for you, Mulder? Cool yet crazy enough to be in Singapore buying a baby?"

"I just called, we meet them at ten."

"Who's them?"

"Madame Charlotta and her band of merry baby breeders."

"This baby broker is a she?"

"The bad guys aren't always men, Scully."

"Since when?" She held the necklace up to her neck again. "Too much?"

"You brought it."

She didn't imagine the little catch in his voice. This necklace and ring meant a hell of a lot to him.

He reached out one finger and very lightly traced the line of the gold chain against her neck. She felt her nipples harden. His gaze dropped to her breasts then lifted to meet her eyes in the mirror again. The look in his eyes scared her and left her breathless at the same time.

"Fasten it for me?" she managed.

He lifted the hair at the nape of her neck he smoothed it over one shoulder.

"I love--" he said, "--your hair this long. It makes me think you've finally given into the dark side."

She tried to relax her shoulders, hoping he hadn't felt her flinch at the word love.

She could feel his fingers working on the clasp, she watched his face but she couldn't read his expression at all.

The dark side...Is that what you think you want from me, Mulder?

He ducked his head and she felt his lips on the back of her neck. He ran his mouth in a long trailing kiss that started at her nape and ended at the hollow of her throat.

And what did she want from him? At the moment she had no clear idea at all.

She arched her neck and leaned her head back against him and his arms went around her, fitting her back against his hips. One arm crossed possessively over her breasts, his warm palm cupping her shoulder.

"I had breakfast downstairs," he murmured against her ear. "I thought you might need some space."

"I took a bath," she said, still watching him in the mirror.

"I took a shower. But I can still taste you."

She stared at him, transfixed by the covetous gleam in his eye, and by the territorial way he was holding her.

"I can still feel you," she whispered.

They stared at one another's reflections.

"Just sex, Scully?" he asked softly.

She turned her head to meet his eyes, three inches from her own. This close she could see into their depths and she suddenly felt inexplicably shy. She smiled enigmatically to cover the unexpected emotion and gave him a sudden brief soft kiss on the mouth.

"Too bad we have to be there in an hour," she said.

He gave a hesitant laugh. "You're insatiable."

"Mmm-mm."

He gave her another little squeeze then reluctantly dropped his arms.

Things had changed. The rules of their world had subtly--hell--utterly shifted and she wasn't sure at all she knew what she was doing.

"I'll change my clothes," he said. "Meet you in the restaurant in twenty minutes."

"Mulder?"

He turned back, "What?"

"Do you have, um," she swallowed hard. ". . his medical records?"

"I left them for you. Right there." He nodded at a manilla envelope on the table. "You haven't looked at them yet?"

"Didn't see them. Thanks." She scooped up the records and made for the door, already digging through the envelope for the smaller envelope with the little picture. It wasn't there.

"Here." Mulder was at her elbow, handing her the other envelope. "You just had to ask me."

She gave him a weak smile and escaped out the door.


In the restaurant she pored over the medical records, the little baby picture propped against the flowers in the center of the table. Her eyes were drawn back to the photo again and again.

She was relieved to see on the DNA test the name of an independent testing lab in Maryland. She studied the page carefully, and then her eyes slid back to the photo again.

Liam.

Suddenly something made her look up. There was Mulder, staring at her from across the restaurant. Their eyes met with a click and he didn't take his gaze off her as he wove through the tables.

He paused for a moment behind her chair then leaned to brush his lips across the exposed skin of her shoulder, sending shivers right down to her toes.

"Everyone's staring at you," he said. "You're beautiful."

She shivered again.

She watched him as he pulled out a chair and dropped into it. He'd changed into a summer weight tan suit and looked pretty good himself. In fact, good enough to eat, she considered dryly. She ran her gaze over him, cataloguing his features until her conscience interrupted.

God, what was the matter with her? Every time he came near her she started to frizzle all over. There'd always been an electric charge between them, but now the voltage had skyrocketed. She could feel her breasts swelling and the dampness between her legs. Plus, she was feeling strangely shy. She was a grown woman and a doctor for Heaven's sake, not a schoolgirl with a crush.

This was...ridiculous.

"Mulder."

"What?"

"You're going to tell me everything you know about this," she told him, her tone deliberately business-like. She tapped the papers in front of her. "All of it."

He licked his lips, then looked at her and nodded slightly.

"Coffee?" asked a waiter, materializing at their table.

The both watched silently as the man filled Mulder's cup with the dark fragrant liquid, refilled hers, then vanished.

"Okay. The baby. Where the hell did you see him as a fetus, Mulder, and how?"

"Remember the nursing home?"

"Where Dectective Kresge was exposed to the toxin?"

He frowned slightly, then nodded. "The baby was in an incubator."

"Then why did you use the term fetus, Mulder? He would have been, what? Six months? Maybe he was just a premmie?"

"It was some sort of...fluid incubator. They were still somehow feeding him through his umbilical cord...I think."

She stared at him.

"A kind of artificial womb? Full of amniotic fluid?"

The look on Mulder's face became pained. He nodded.

"What made you connect him with me?"

"There were identifying records, and um...your name was on them."

The words hit her with the force of a blow. "And you didn't tell me."

"Scuhleee." He sighed again. "No. I didn't tell you. You were...You had enough going on with--"

Emily.

"Anyone else's name? A father?"

"No."

"Did you take the records?"

He shook his head. "No."

She took a deep breath.

"Were there others?"

He shifted uneasily in his seat. "I...I'm not sure."

"You're not sure?"

"The patients--elderly women--at the nursing home were being given pregnancy hormones. Progesterone, estrogen. And, I think, they were also being used as incubators, to gestate these babies, somehow. So, yes, I think there may have been others, but, no, I didn't see them." He gave her a long look. "Please believe me, Scully. I'm telling the truth."

All of it? She wondered. She shivered and folded her arms across her chest, rubbing the goose-bumps on her bare upper arms. "So how did their operation get here? For Godsakes Mulder, even chewing gum is illegal here. But some sort of international Black Market in babies?"

"On the surface it isn't illegal, Scully. It's possible they suddenly decided to find a place where young, healthy women were more than willing to bear these children full term. Then the children are all placed, as far as I can tell, with wealthy families."

"Placed? Sold, don't you mean, Mulder?"

"Arranged adoption is legal here, and so is paying a fee for medical expenses for the child and child's mother. What passes into the grey area legally are the methods used to impregnate the women."

"But, for what reason? We don't really know what the were doing to Emily. But with these children spread out all over the country, and possibly all over the world?" She shook her head. "I don't know why. . after...everything...I find this so hard to believe."

"Where do you think celebrities find all those beautiful white babies they're always adopting? Madame Fernandez is a household name in certain circles. They found an established baby trade and then tapped into it. Then, I'm assuming, the babies are tracked somehow. For some purpose."

"But not...Liam."

He smiled at her, his eyes gentle at her use of the name.

"Not Liam. He'll disappear, they'll never know what happened to him." He looked thoughtful. "Once we knew where he'd gone, the approximate birth date--"

"We?"

Mulder sat up straighter, took a sip of his coffee. "Frohike. We owe him one for this, Scully."

"How did you get the DNA test?"

"For the kind of money they're charging? Genetic testing is a prerequisite. They provide it."

"But--" she leafed through the papers in front of her for the lab results. "You're not going by their test."

"Of course not. I had my own test done."

"How did you know it was his blood?" she protested. "They could have switched--"

She bit her lip.

He stared at her. That worried look again.

He looked at her with a faintly pitying expression, then reached out to take her hand. He stroked her fingers. "He is your son Scully. Don't you know I wouldn't have brought you all this way--and put you through all this--unless I was absolutely sure?"

Her eyes prickled and she shut them hard for a second.

"Scully?"

She opened her eyes and looked at him.

"I stood there while they took the blood," he said. "They handed me the vial."

She stared at him. She felt every hair on her body suddenly stand on end.

"You've seen him?"

A slow grin spread across his face, he nodded.

"Mulder. ." she whispered.

"Wait til you see him, Scully," he said softly.

They stared at each other. She felt tears fill her eyes. Oh God.

His fingers tightened around hers.

Suddenly she remembered. "You saw them take blood, Mulder?" He nodded.

"And when they broke the skin? Nothing--?

He shook his head.

She shut her eyes again tightly. Thank you, God.

Even with her eyes shut she could tell he was watching her. And she could tell when he stopped. She opened her eyes.

He was checking his watch. "We've got to go. You ready?"

"Mulder wait. Is there something you're not telling me?"

He looked at her for a moment, his expression serious, then shook his head no.

She eyed him. There was something else, but for now he didn't want to tell her. So for now it could wait.

She nodded, gave his fingers a squeeze and stood up, gathering the medical records. She was ready.

As ready as she'd ever be.


10.

Golden Village Singapore

The address was in a beautiful old part of town. The houses were gated and fenced, with only a glimpse here and there through the greenery to hint at the money that must be behind the fences.

When Mulder pulled up at the gate of a large graceful old house, he turned to her. He gave her forced smile.

"Here goes nothing."

She just looked at him and nodded. She couldn't say anything.

At the door, a silent white-uniformed servant stared pointedly at their shoes until they suddenly realized they were supposed to take them off. They were shown through dim high-ceilinged rooms to a screened verandah beyond. The servant accompanied them, then faded away.

She could feel the tension in Mulder's fingers at the small of her back.

A woman was sitting on a shaded couch, a large white dog at her feet. She rose gracefully when she saw them.

"Mr. Hale, how delightful to see you again."

She came forward to clasp their hands. Scully hoped her hands weren't as icy as they felt.

"Madame Charlotta, my wife Isobel," said Mulder. The proud note in his voice suffused her blood with warmth.

"Mrs. Hale, how lovely to finally meet you. Your husband told me so much about you."

"Hello."

She rarely found herself looking down when she met women, especially in stocking feet, but Madame Charlotta was an inch or so shorter than herself. Petite, beautiful, she had the flawless golden complexion of the East. Her jet black hair was pulled back in a bun low on her neck, and an exotic flower was tucked behind one ear.

A long flowing gown of shimmery golden brocade completed her exotic Eastern look.

The impression was all very lovely, Scully thought, but somehow not quite real. And she seemed awfully young to be a household name in the baby selling business.

Oddly enough, the observation relaxed her.

With a graceful gesture with both hands, Madame Charlotta handed her a business card, ornately flowered and scrolled with only her name and international phone number.

Scully admired it duly then tucked it in Mulder's pocket.

"Refreshments?" Before they could answer, the woman had clapped her hands and a servant wheeled out a cart laden down with a small feast.

"Please, come sit."

They sat.

The white dog, which had been moving like a shadow at the woman's heels, settled between them and his mistress, never taking his eyes off them.

The servant served them tea.

"How is he?" asked Mulder.

"Fine." Madame Charlotta smiled. "He's doing beautifully, just beautifully. All our babies are. Are you sure you wouldn't be interested in looking at some of our other--"

"No." Mulder said rather shortly. "Thank you."

"Well of course," said Madame Charlotta, smiling a sweet conspiratorial smile at Scully.

Too sweet, thought Scully, and plastered a sugary smile on her own face in return.

"I can see why you're interested in this one now that I see your wife's lovely hair." Madame Charlotta continued. She picked up a folder from the bench beside her and pulled out an eight by ten photograph. "We have only the one red-head at the moment."

"Have you picked out a name?" she asked, handing Scully the photo.

Scully looked down.

A small serious cherub looked back at her. He was older in this picture. His hair definitely red and his eyes still blue. He was chubby and well kept and...

Beautiful...

Her heart beat hard against her ribs and her throat filled. She barely heard Mulder's voice in the background, No, he was saying, no name yet, something about not wanting to decide until things were finalized. And Madame Charlotta's lovely fluid voice replying, of course of course. "What do you think of the baby, Mrs. Hale?"

His hand found the small of her back and pressed reassuringly. She stared at the picture. Oh God...

"Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Hale?"

It wasn't until she'd said the name for the third time that Scully looked up.

"Uh. ." she looked at Mulder for help.

He gave her a little smile of encouragement and held out his hand for the picture.

"I think she likes him," he answered for her.

She watched as he took the photo and looked down at it. His teeth dug into his lower lip.

Madame Charlotta was looking at them approvingly.

"The other couple's last bid stands at $60,000. U.S. dollars, of course."

"Of course," said Mulder.

"We'll take the bidding in increments of five thousand."

"Right now?" asked Scully, her voice sounded weak, she cleared her throat. God, another couple wanted him, too.

"65,000," said Mulder, his eyes still on the photo.

Madame Charlotta nodded. "I can see, Mrs. Hale, that your husband wants this baby for you very much."

Scully watched Mulder stare down at the picture. He had that look on his face, the one he'd reserved only for...

Oh, Mulder, what are we doing? She swallowed hard.

"George," she said. "George." He didn't look up. "George!?" That got him. He looked up at her with a funny wistful little smile that tugged at her heart and made the tears in her throat threaten to spill over.

"Madame Charlotta?" she asked, turning to the woman. "Would you mind excusing us for a moment?"

"Not at all." The woman smiled. "Why don't you take a little walk in the gardens. Decisions like this need discussion."

She clapped her hands and the servant materialized carrying their shoes.

Scully stood and held out her hand to Mulder. "Come on." He took her hand and rose to his feet.

As they left, she threw a glance over her shoulder. Madame Charlotta was reaching with one perfectly manicured hand for her phone, a calculating expression on her face. Suddenly she looked more than capable enough to be world renown in the baby trade.

The dog made a sound low in its throat. Madame Charlotta looked up, suddenly all sugary smile again. Scully gave her a half-smile and escaped with Mulder down the outdoor steps and into the sunlight.


"You okay?"

She nodded. "Mul-"

"Shhhhh," he said softly, and slipped his arm around her shoulders to guide her down the walkway. The midday sun beat down on their heads as the overwhelming smell of wet fertile earth rose around them. Palms and overhanging branches closed in, cutting them off suddenly from the rest of the world. A call from an unseen bird broke the silence, and then another replied. Soon, bird conversation back and forth filled the air.

He drew her into the shade. "Mynahs," he said.

"What?"

"Mynahs. More common than pigeons here."

"Really?" She looked around vaguely, seeing nothing but green leaves and exotic flowers that she couldn't even begin to appreciate at the moment. "I can't call you George if you don't answer me," she said quietly.

He nodded. "Sorry."

"There's something suspicious about her," she said. "Something not quite right."

"I get the same vibes. Beautiful but deadly. Do we trust her? No way. I don't think all her cards are on the table, but then, neither are ours."

"Do we even know there's another couple? She could just be raising the stakes all by herself."

"I saw them. When I was here last time."

"You saw them? Do you know their name? Did you find out anything about them?"

"They are what they say they are. A rich American couple. From Seattle. He's in his forties. She's in her thirties. No children. Spent too much already on fertility treatments."

"Fertility treatments?"

He shook his head at her expression, "No connection that I could find."

"Why do they want this baby when, presumably, Charlotta's got a whole...farm full others?"

"I don't know. I wish I did."

"Mulder, this is a lot of money. Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

He didn't answer.

He was looking down at the photo again.

That expression, she hadn't seen that expression since the last time she'd seen him mulling over a photo of Samantha...And where in hell had he gotten that kind of money? She was afraid to ask. At least she could try to save him some of it.


When they returned, another couple was sitting with Madame Charlotta.

"This is them," Mulder whispered under his breath.

The woman had a knockout bustline, great hair, though impossibly blonde, and, Scully sighed, long legs, displayed to full advantage by her mini skirt and the way she was sitting. She ignored Scully and raked Mulder with a glance that would have melted a lesser man. As far as Scully could tell, Mulder remained unmelted.

Nonetheless, she felt her hackles rise.

She glanced at the husband. He looked very handsome, very rich and very bored. One finger was tapping impatiently on the bench.

"Oh, good," said Madame Charlotta when she saw them. "Mr. and Mrs. Hale, Mr. and Mrs. DaSilva."

They exchanged polite noises.

"Now, shall we get down to business? The DaSilvas have raised their bid to 70,000. Are you still interested?"

"75,000," said Mulder.

"80," purred Ms. DaSilva, lounging back in her chair and casually displaying even more.

Mulder was opening his mouth when Scully dug her fingernails sharply into his arm.

He shut his mouth.

"How old is this child exactly, Madame?" she asked.

"Four months."

Scully looked up at Mulder imploringly, "Are you sure we don't want a younger baby, George?"

Mulder got there with lightening speed. He didn't answer, just tilted his head and looked at her, his teeth nipping his lower lip.

"You know, all the Firsts?" she asked him. "First smile, first time he rolls over, first tooth, first time he reaches out for a toy. ." she trailed off and watched Mrs. DaSilva, who was listening closely, from the corner of her eye.

"It's up to you, Isobel," Mulder said.

She glanced down at the photo she was holding. "Of course, this one does have my hair. But a little blonde baby would be so adorable, too, don't you think?"

There was silence.

"Madame C.?" Ms. DaSilva said suddenly. "Do you have any blonde male babies, only a month or so old?"

Madame Charlotta clapped her hands and the servant reappeared. "The newborn file, please." He nodded and disappeared again.

"How long will this take?" said Mr. DaSilva suddenly, "I'd like to get out of here as soon as possible, I've already had to postpone my trip to London."

"We can go back that way, Sugar," cooed Ms. DaSilva. She turned to Mulder. "Ed's so busy, I've been waiting forever for him to come here with me." Her gaze seemed to linger on Mulder's lower lip. Scully had to restrain herself from digging her fingernails into his arm again. Instead, she dropped one hand to his thigh and let it rest there unmoving, the tips of her fingers pressing lightly.

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Mulder swallow, hard.

The servant reappeared with the file. Madame Charlotta looked through it for a moment and then drew out a photograph. "Green eyes or blue?"

"Green," said Ms. DaSilva.

"Blue," said Mulder. He leaned close to Scully. "How come you never call me Sugar?" he whispered in her ear.

She bit back a smile, and pressed his thigh a little harder with the tips of her fingers. She didn't need to hear his soft intake of breath to know his response.

"You can't see yet, of course," said Charlotta. "But this one will be blond. And this one."

She handed one of the pictures to Mrs. DaSilva and one to Scully. It was another little newborn, eyes scrunched up in its face and a small sprinkling of undeterminable-colored hair.

"And here are their medical files."

Scully took the file and examined it closely. By all appearances it was a healthy baby.

"Can we let you know tomorrow?" asked Ms. DaSilva.

"Rebecca, you can never make up your mind! Just bid on this baby and get it over with."

"It's not like buying a car, Ed. Besides, we'd be saving thirty thousand dollars. These blond babies are fifty, right?"

Madame Charlotta nodded. "You have the high bid right now on the first child."

"Can we retract our last bid?"

"If you decide on one of the others. Yes."

"Fine, we'll let you know."

"And you, Mr. and Mrs. Hale? Are you still interested in the older child?"

"We'll leave our bid on him at 75,000," Scully said. "I'd like to think about the younger ones, too."

She turned and looked at Mulder.

Are you sure? his eyes asked.

She hoped she was doing the right thing.

Yes. She half shut her eyes in what she knew he'd recognize as affirmative. Then nodded ever so slightly. Trust me.

He stared at her a moment then nodded slightly, too.

God. It was so important, and he was trusting her completely.

"Well then," said Madame Charlotta. "Tomorrow at noon? We'll see you then."

Scully felt a sharp stab of disappointment as the woman rose to her feet. So they wouldn't get to see Liam today.

She sighed. It was going to be a long twenty-four hours.


11.

They'd been lost in their own thoughts during the drive back to the hotel. Maybe it was the jetlag, maybe just exhaustion, but she didn't feel much like talking.

Back in their room, he tossed his jacket over a chair and sprawled on the bed. He threw one arm over his eyes and lay still.

She didn't want to sleep. She needed to sort all this out. She wandered out onto the verandah and leaned against the railing, staring out at the gardens slumbering in the shimmering midday heat. It was unbelievably hot here. She plucked the heavy silk away from where it was stuck to her skin. Her dress would never be the same, she'd been perspiring the whole time they'd been at Charlotta's.

Those babies. So beautiful, and yet...

Mulder could be so optimistic, only seeing what he wanted to. He was so sure Liam was fine, would be fine.

Her brain kept clicking through a hundred different syndromes, all undetectable by genetic testing. She hadn't lied to him. She couldn't bear to stand by and watch another child die while she was powerless to help.

He didn't understand.

He'd been there, witness to Emily's painful end, but he had no idea what it had been like watching her die...absolutely helpless.

Hospitals, too many hospitals. She hadn't been in one since-- She had a sudden vision of herself in the hospital, when she'd been so close to the end, and Mulder, watching her with scared sleepless eyes, trying to reassure her and pretend everything would be okay...and running around like a madman trying to find a cure.

She felt a sudden chill run over her scalp and down her spine. Goose bumps prickled her skin and she rubbed her arms, shivering despite the sultry heat.

Maybe he did understand.

Her hand crept to cup the slight bump of scar tissue on the back of her neck. She thought of the other women again, holding up the little vials with their implants. Had the eggs for the little blond boys come from them? From Penny?

All dead.

At least she was alive to see her child--

Children...

Why? Why out of them all was she still alive?

Mulder.

She'd had Mulder.

When she'd anguished over their separation this spring, she'd concentrated on the reasons why she'd been better off away from him. But, the truth was--

She had Mulder to thank for many things.

And...now she had him to thank for this.


She walked slowly back inside.

He lowered his arm and looked up at her.

She sat down beside him, then reached out and ran one finger down the line of his cheek, along the stubble at the edge of his beard line, then across his full bottom lip.

He watched her in silence, motionless.

She tilted her head and examined his face as she traced her finger over his cheeks . . his skin...his eyelashes...his nose...

DNA was an incredible thing. What would a little boy with Mulder's DNA look like? The thought made her sad.

"I had to tell you," he said finally.

She just looked at him.

"When you said you didn't want to know, Scully?"

She sighed.

"I still had to tell you."

They looked at each other. Finally she nodded slowly.

"You still mad?" he asked.

Still mad? No.

She shook her head.

"Scuh-lee," he said softly and looked immensely relieved.

And never when he said her name like that.

He reached up and caught her hand, pressed a kiss in her palm.

"I need to e-mail Frohike and let him know we may need to wire the money in the middle of the night DC-time. Then what do you feel like doing? Get something to eat? See Singapore?" he asked.

She smiled, and raised one eyebrow.

He laughed and groaned, then reached up and pulled her down into his arms. They went around her and held her, gentle and reassuring as she fitted her hips against his. "I don't think so. I may never recover from last night." He stared into her eyes for a moment before brushing his mouth lightly over her lips. "That must have been some kind of record."

Her body began to throb as she shifted herself against him. Her breasts tingled as her nipples brushed his chest and the vague soreness between her legs transformed suddenly into an ache to have him inside her again.

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Hale."

"Yeah, right," he said and laughed again, giving her a hug and another longer kiss. It was a nice kiss, sweet, friendly, but it didn't seem to be leading in the direction she'd hoped. She pressed her hips closer against him. Hmmm. Nothing stirring there either.

She sighed. She was becoming a little too single-minded.

She drew back reluctantly, giving his lower lip one last lingering nip.

"What?" he asked, at her expression.

"Oh. Um. I keep wondering about Charlotta," she said. "Where are the children? They weren't at that house. And where are their mothers? Who are their mothers?"

He hunched his shoulders suddenly.

"What Mulder?" Her fingers went the tightness at his shoulders and she tried to loosen the muscles.

"Just something. . deja vu." He shook his head as if to clear it. "Do you want to follow her?"

"Let's tail Charlotta," she said at exactly the same moment.

She laughed.

"See? We are meant to be together." He smiled at her. "Mrs. Hale."

She searched his face. That sounded as if he was answering a question, and she hadn't asked it. Not aloud anyway. She wasn't sure what she saw in his eyes. Hope, maybe? That she'd say what? She wondered what he saw in hers. This was the closest either of them had come to saying anything about the future. With or without Liam.

Together. How?

"I'm going to change my clothes," was all she managed. She gave him a quick apologetic kiss and pushed herself up off him.

He just nodded slightly and looked sad. She turned away from him and went to change.

What she really needed was a cold shower.


12.

Golden Village Singapore

They parked down the road from the house where they'd met Charlotta that morning. Scully could just see the front door through the lush grove of bananas and palms. They'd be able to see Charlotta when she left.

If she left.

She yawned, a huge yawn that cracked her jaw. The jet lag was catching up with her. Sitting, doing nothing, even for just twenty minutes in this tropical heat...she yawned again...she was having a hard time keeping her eyes open.

She glanced at Mulder. He was already dozing.

Their stakeout technique was definitely suffering.

"Mulder, is that her?"

A small figure darted from the front door, dressed in white jeans, a red t-shirt, dark glasses and a black baseball cap.

"Is it?"

Mulder opened his eyes and watched as the woman hurried from the front door to the Land Rover parked at the top of the long curving drive. She took what looked like a box out of the back, then quickly disappeared back into the house.

"Maybe." He shut his eyes again.

Scully turned and pulled Liam's medical records out of her bag and, between glances up at the house, began rereading each sheet carefully, checking for anything she might have missed.

Nothing.

Finally, frustrated, she stuffed the papers back into her bag.

Mulder made a slight noise in his sleep and moved his shoulders restlessly. She watched his face for a minute. He looked tired, even in his sleep.

"Mulder?" she asked softly.

"Hmmm?"

"Are we going to get him?"

He opened his eyes briefly and gave her an intense look that made her think maybe he hadn't been asleep at all.

"Yes."

He shut his eyes again.

She couldn't help but feel reassured at the firmness in his tone.

He opened his eyes and looked at her again, then sat up suddenly.

"Sorry."

"It's okay. Sleep," she told him gently. "I'm watching."

He rubbed his eyes and looked toward the house.

"Anything?"

"Not yet."

He reached into the back for the laptop and settled back with it on his lap, flipping open the lid.

She relaxed back in her seat.

This part of town was peaceful and quiet, away from the bustle of Singapore City. She idly watched the patterns the sun made as it slanted through the trees. At one point, she thought she could hear monkeys chattering somewhere, but she couldn't be sure.

"'In the thirteenth century. .'" Mulder began suddenly, reading from the screen.

"Yes?"

"'A prince from Palemburg, Indonesia was hunting here--before it became Singapore--and saw an animal in the jungle which he described as half-lion half-fish. Reported sightings of the same creature have dated since that time.'"

He looked at her expectantly.

It had been awhile, but she knew her cue.

She gave him her best exasperated-bordering-on-disgusted look. "I should have known. Are you sure *that's* not why we're here in Singapore, Mulder? There couldn't possibly be any such creature as half mammal, half fish."

She watched his lips twitch as he tried to hide a smile. She'd delivered. He'd obviously been waiting for just that response.

"'This fantastic beast with the head of a lion and the tail of a fish, is called the Merlion. The prince named the island *singa* which is Malay for *lion* and *pura* which is Malay for *city* . Hence Singapura or Singapore,'" he went on. "'The Merlion is the Singaporean national symbol.'"

"What's that from?"

"Some info I downloaded before we left." The corners of his mouth tightened slightly. "Makes you wonder, doesn't it, Scully? Anything could be in these jungles."

"Makes you wonder what he was smoking. I understand hallucinogens were widely used in those days among royalty." She looked around at the carefully maintained estates. "I don't know, Mulder. I haven't seen a jungle here wild enough to hide a Merlion."

"Hey Scully, I miss having you around to shoot me down." His tone was indulgent.

She couldn't keep up the straight face. She grinned at him. She loved the way he suddenly glowed with excitement like a child when it came to the unexplained. It was incredibly endearing.

"I miss you too, Mulder."

His expression changed, became serious. He scrutinized her face for a long moment.

"Scully, I--"

Her eyes were caught by a flicker of movement from the house. It was the woman again.

"Is that her?"

The figure walked to the Landrover and opened the door.

At that moment the white dog bounded around the corner of the house and jumped up into the SUV ahead of her.

"That's her."

"I thought that whole exotic Madame outfit was a little much."

They slouched down as the car shot out of the gate and blew by them.

"Wow, she drives like a bat out of hell." Scully sat up. "Pull out the map, Mulder. Where's she heading?"

"North."

Scully gunned the car and pulled out after her.

At the corner she braked sharply, narrowly missing a car turning in front of them. Mulder jammed his hands against the dashboard, his map and the laptop crashed to the floor.

"Get on the left side of the road! Ouch!"

"Sorry!"

She looked at him. He had one hand clutched to his head. It was very odd to look over at him from this side when she was driving.

"You okay?'

He grunted and reached for his seatbelt.

They tore north then west, then suddenly they were at the coast again and heading south. Finally the woman slowed and turned into the impressive gated entrance of what looked like a private club on the water. Just visible over the fence was a long, elegant building made of stucco, with a roof of red tile. Behind it rose the masts of sail boats.

"'Raffles Marina'," read Mulder. "Everything's named Raffles around here. It looks like members-only." They watched as Charlotta's car paused briefly at the gate, then was waved through. "Maybe there's another way in, we can go around-- Scully?"

Scully pulled their car up to the gate house. "Good afternoon," she told the guard at the gate. "We're guests at the Raffles Hotel."

The guard nodded and waved them through. "Welcome to Raffles Marina."

Mulder raised his eyebrows at her.

"I read the brochure in the room."

They followed Charlotta at a discreet distance through the parking lot, then pulled their car out of sight behind a dry- docked sloop. The woman and her dog hurried down a ramp and out onto the dock, then they climbed aboard a large cabin cruiser and went below.

"You think she's going out?"

He made a non-committal noise.

She loosened her seatbelt, turned and looked at him. He was gingerly feeling his forehead.

"Your head okay?"

"It's fine."

"Sorry. ."

"I just hope the laptop still works." He paused. "She's back on deck."

Charlotta was removing a canvas cover from the stern of the boat.

"You think we can rent a boat?"

He leaned a little closer to her and examined her face carefully.

"You still want to go after her, Scully? Out on the water?"

"Well, yes. Don't you?"

He nodded slowly. "Sure." He glanced back at Charlotta's boat again. "Sure." The woman had once again disappeared down below.

"Stay out of sight." He pulled the baseball cap low over his eyes. "I'll go see if I can rent a boat." He pushed the door of the car open and got out, then leaned back inside and grinned at her. "But only if I drive."


Maybe it was the exotic atmosphere of the foreign land, maybe it was the hot, humid wind whipping her hair off her face, or the steady thump thump thump of the boat's engine beating in her blood. Maybe it was something else altogether. Whatever it was, she felt happy and alive. More than she had in a long time.

Their small, somewhat elderly motor launch flew steadily over the waves in pursuit of Charlotta's much bigger, newer, and faster boat. Every now and then they'd hit a wave and the spray would fly up and drench her with blood-warm water. She shook her hair free in the breeze and took a deep breath. The ocean even smelled different here. Warmer. Saltier.

She'd missed this.

She'd missed the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of the chase. Wild goose or otherwise.

It was bright, burning bright, and hot, even under the Bimini shade. She'd forgotten the sunblock, but hopefully her long sleeved white cotton shirt would protect her skin from a burn.

She pushed her sunglasses up on top of her head and squinted. Charlotta's boat was a just a speck in the distance on the blue blue water, but Mulder had his eyes fixed on their quarry, and was maintaining their position a discreet distance behind her.

She dropped her sunglasses back down on her nose and turned to look at him again.

She watched him adeptly pilot the boat and thought back to his comment on the bed.

Were they meant to be together?

She hadn't thought so. She'd decided definitely they shouldn't.

But...she'd missed this.

She'd missed him. And she'd missed the two of them together.

What if she just let go? Give in to whatever it was those dark eyes of his were pleading for?

She slid her gaze down his body. He was perched on the edge of the captain's stool, his long lean legs braced in front of him. He looked right at home, baseball cap and all.

She'd never thought of him as the nautical type, but he clearly knew what he was doing.

He turned to her, suddenly, a grin lighting his face. He was feeling it too, then, she thought. This buzz, this thrill.

His grin widened into a smile...And...God. What a smile.

Alluring. Tempting. Magnetic.

She resisted...

For a split second.

She smiled back, and went to him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

He hooked one elbow around her neck and looked down at her. His sleeve was rough against her cheek and smelled faintly of detergent and distinctly of him. She looked up at him, wondering what he was feeling, but his eyes were unreadable behind his sunglasses.

"Hey you," he said.

She squeezed his waist, pulling him closer, flattening her hand against the muscles of his abdomen.

The rasp of the hair on his bare legs against her clean-shaven ones was surprisingly erotic. She rubbed one calf against his, very lightly. "Can you tell where she's headed?"

He pointed at the chart clipped under the sheet of plexiglass on the chart table.

"Maybe here?" He pointed to a group of islets quite a distance south of Singapore. "Privately owned maybe. Uninhabitable. I can't tell. Or here. ." He traced a line lower on the chart, but her eyes dropped to his leg.

He was steering with his knee, effortlessly, while with one hand he pointed out the islands, and with the fingers of the other-- his arm still wrapped around her shoulders--he stroked her bicep.

She watched the play of muscles under the skin of his upper thigh as he adjusted their course slightly, still using his knee.

Fascinating.

"What?" he looked down at her.

"What?" She looked up. "Oh...You think she can tell we're following her?"

"I doubt it. Not unless she was watching for it. And she'd have no reason to be suspicious. Her boat's a lot bigger than us, we're small profile, hard to see at this distance."

"Mulder, I don't want to jeopardize. ."

"I don't either. Here."

He pulled the baseball cap off his head and put it on hers. "Better cover up that hair, Red."

She twisted her hair into a pony tail and lifted both arms to tuck it up under the hat.

She still couldn't see his eyes but they seemed to focus first on her breasts, then on her mouth. He reached out and slowly pulled her back against him, bent his head and softly kissed her. His lips were warm and the smell of his skin mingled with the salt smell of the ocean. She kissed him back, and his lips became even gentler, his mouth softly making love to hers.

There, she thought, now that was a kiss.

"Scuh-lee. ." Her name soft as a sigh, and he pulled her between his legs and began kissing her thoroughly, one eye--she hoped--still watching the ocean.

Everything faded to pure sensation, and the burning points where his body touched hers.

Her breasts, the nipples sensitive and erect, just touching his chest. His mouth, gentle, so gentle on her own. His fingertips lightly stroking the hair at the nape of her neck. The rough shadow of his beard scraping against her chin. His thighs, on either side of hers, holding her steady against the movement of the boat. The soft, yet insistent pressure of his erection against her still-tender pubic bone.

His other hand drifted slowly down across the small of her back, and further down to cup her bottom through her shorts and adjust her more firmly against him.

She relaxed against him. He murmured something inaudible against her mouth, then his hand slid down the back of her thigh to her bare skin, then up again, pushing the lose-fitting cotton of her shorts up the back of her leg and cupping the bare skin beneath.

She was losing herself in the sensation of his hands on her skin, but it all came back to his mouth on hers. She shut her eyes and concentrated on their mouths, the feeling of the kiss...

His other hand dropped to the hem of her shirt, lifted it and stroked slowly up along her ribcage to her breast--baring her skin to the erotic caress of the hot breeze. His fingers reached her breast and slipped under her bra, his other hand, gently kneaded her bottom...

Which meant...she realized...since both his hands were occupied. . he was driving the boat with his knee again.

Hopefully...

She pulled her lips from his reluctantly and craned her head around to watch the speck they were following. Mulder was somehow managing to steer and do this at the same time.

She was impressed.

His mouth was working its way down her neck to her breast. He took the nipple into his mouth and suckled gently, then trailed kisses across her rib cage to her stomach.

She dropped her hand to the bulge in his shorts and started teasing him lightly through the khaki. He groaned and sought her mouth.

"We will crash if you keep doing that, Agent Scully," he said against her lips, his voice rough, almost breathless.

"Keep your eyes on the road, Agent Mulder." She dropped to one knee in front of him and unzipped his fly, setting his erection free.

"Scuh-leee. ." he trailed off as she wrapped her hand around him and lowered her mouth. Her other hand slid into his boxers to cup his balls...


It would probably surprise guys if they knew how much thinking you could get done while you were giving them a blow job, she contemplated as his spasms subsided. Though Mulder would probably just laugh if she told him she'd been considering the symbolism versus the intimacy of the act of swallowing a man's seed...

The hand resting on her head was heavy and slight tremors were running through his thighs as she gently tucked him back into his pants and adjusted the fly. She stood up and looked around. Their boat was dead in the water, rocking gently as it drifted.

"It's a good thing I'm propped up, or I'd fall down," he told her, an underlying thread of amazement in his voice. He gently pulled her sunglasses off and looked into her eyes. "That was wild. From you, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap--" He looked around. "--on a boat, in the 100 degree heat off the coast of Singapore."

"One of your fantasies, Mulder?"

"It is now." He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close against his chest. She could feel his heart beating hard against his rib cage.

"Wow," he said, and kissed her softly on the lips.

"I get to drive on the way back." She smiled.

"Oh." He grinned. "O-kayyy."

She kissed him back, then turned her head to look around.

"Where is she?"

He craned around and scanned the water.

"The Queen Mary could have gotten away from us, Scully. We lost her."

She reached for the binoculars and turned in his arms. Leaning back against him for support against the low rocking motion of the boat, she raised the binoculars and searched the water between the islands.

No sign.

"Good thing we don't have to report back to Skinner about this." He rested his hands her on waist and pulled her closer her against him, his body, hotter than the air around them, was burning through her shirt, and his clothes were damp against her back.

"'It was Agent Scully's fault, Sir.'" He gently nipped her earlobe. "'She just won't leave me alone.'" He ran his tongue down the side of her neck to her collarbone. "'She can't keep her hands off me. It's really getting to be a problem. . .'"

He was licking moisture from the little hollow of her collarbone. The sensation was unbelievable-- But Skinner's name brought her back to earth with a thud.

"Just think," he continued. "All those stakeouts? Opportunities missed." He kissed down the edge her low neckline and nudged his way inside, kissing the tops of her breasts.

"I think we need to go after her, Mulder." She tried to pull away and reach for the boat's controls, but he wouldn't let go of her.

"Scully." He turned her to face him, suddenly serious. "Why?"

"Because, we were tailing her, she got away."

"We let her get away."

"But--" she pulled hard to get away from him and he drew back his hands suddenly, letting her go. "We have to find her."

She walked over to the boat rail, and looked out at the dozens of tiny islets.

"It would take a week to check all these islands." He stepped up behind her, his hands on her shoulders, caressing them, pulling her against him again. "Come on. Let's just cruise around a little, enjoy the afternoon, then head back."

She shut her eyes. When their bodies were together, she couldn't think, couldn't act. His proximity was like a drug. All she wanted to do was mate with him, like some wild forest creature.

But this is what happened when she gave in to her impulses and let go. She screwed up. And everything went to hell.

She let herself enjoy exactly five more seconds of his body against hers, then pulled away and reached for her sunglasses, shoving them on her nose so he couldn't read her expression. She went back to the controls and started the engine.

She could see him out of the corner of her eye. He was watching her, his eyes hurt, his expression confused and rebuked.

She felt a twinge of compassion for him. She was running hot and cold and she knew it. Sorry, Mulder, she told him silently, didn't mean to give you a blow job and then push you away...but...

But what? The truth was her skin was burning where he'd been kissing her and her breasts were swollen and yearning for his hands and mouth. She ached with a wild longing to have him inside her. She wanted nothing more than to throw the seat cushions onto the deck and make love to him for the rest of the afternoon.

But...she also wanted to find Charlotta.

"I need to see this place, Mulder," she tried to explain. Her voice sounded more desperate than she wanted, but at the same time, strangely certain.

His mouth tightened and he nodded slowly. He crossed to look at the map, standing beside her but carefully not touching her.

"Okay, Scully. This is where we are." He pointed to an island about a half mile out on the horizon, then to its location on the chart. "She could have gone around here, here, or here. Let's go."

His voice was all business and she bit her lip. She'd hurt him. And she'd have to fix that. Soon. But right now...

She put the boat in gear, and pushed open the throttle.


13.

"Is that it?"

They were still quite a way from the small island, but she could see Charlotta's boat pulled up at a low dock. It hadn't been difficult to find. In fact, it had been laughably easy. There was absolutely no attempt to keep it hidden.

A white ramp ran up the bank to the shore. She could make out a series of white buildings through the dense foliage. It looked like a hospital compound.

She lifted the binoculars. "Duck!" She squatted down behind the gunnel. He knelt beside her.

"What?"

"It's the dog. He's looking right at us. I didn't want him to bark. Okay. He's gone. There's a sign. I can't read it all, it's behind some bushes, "'Saint Frances . . something...something...Fernandez Research Facility'." She looked at him.

"Saint Frances? Of Assisi?...Fernandez?"

She scanned the grounds again. Almost obscured by the trees were cages and pens.

"Goats."

"Goats?" Mulder was incredulous. "What?"

She turned back to him. "It's an animal research facility."

They stared at each other.

"Is that their cover?"

"I guess so."

She raised the glasses again. "There are people around. They're wearing those same white uniforms we saw at her house."

"Anyone we know?"

"No they look like locals."

"Any signs of children?" he asked.

"No. But..." She was quiet for a moment as she scanned the compound. "It seems well maintained, clean."

Mulder seemed to hesitate and she glanced at him. He was staring intently at the island.

"Let me see."

She handed him the binoculars.

He watched the activity for a few minutes without comment.

"It's well kept," he said finally. "That's a relief. I'm guessing, but it looks as if at least some of the money being paid for the babies is being spent on this operation."

"How many children do you suppose they've sold here?"

"I don't know. Fifty? A hundred? *Two* hundred? At fifty thousand or more a pop?"

"That's . ." she gave a low whistle, "ten million."

"Ten million. You have to wonder that there are that many couples in the world who can't have children."

"With that kind of money."

"I think if you're that desperate. . you find that kind of money."

They lapsed into silence. She'd just about gotten up the nerve to ask where *he'd* gotten that kind of money when he interrupted her thoughts.

"Look, there's someone who looks like a doctor," he said.

She dug her fingers into his arm. "Not Calderon is it? Where?"

He gave her a questioning look as she practically yanked the binoculars out of his hands.

"There--by that end building. He's talking to two people."

She trained the glasses on the small figures.

"Anybody we know?"

"It's Charlotta and. ."

"It is? Are we too close?"

"No, we just look like a fishing boat. I think it's. ." her voice trailed off.

"Who?"

"Mulder," she lowered the binoculars and looked at him, swallowing hard. A dozen emotions, none of which she could name, raced through her. "It's Kurt Crawford . . and Dr. Scanlon."

Wordlessly, he took the binoculars from her and raised them. She could tell by the tightening of his lips that she had been right.

"Let's get out of here, Scully." The urgency in his voice--a tone she hadn't heard from him in a long long time--made all the hairs stand up on the back of her neck.

"But Mulder, we need to find out why they're here. Kurt Crawford? Scanlon? What do they have to do with all this? We need--"

"No, we don't, Scully. We both know why they're here. Come on." He handed her the binoculars. "Let's go." Ducking low, he moved back to the wheel and started the engine.

She followed him, then turned and raised the binoculars, training them back on the compound.

"Mulder, we both don't know why they're here. Maybe you do, but I do not have even one little clue. Dr. Scanlon is an oncolgist apparently avoiding charges of malpractice by hiding out here. Kurt Crawford is what? A member of Mufon. A computer geek? If you know so much why don't you tell me?"

"I will, but let's get out of here."

"First, let's just go and check the rest of the island," she insisted.

"Scully..." His voice was tight as he quickly shifted the engine out of neutral. "The compound is probably heavily guarded. We have no weapons, no jurisdiction."

He turned the wheel back in the direction they'd come. She scanned the island quickly, looking for any evidence of children.

"I don't see any guards. Mulder, we don't even know if the babies are here."

"They're here," said Mulder.

"How can you know that?" She hated the sound of her voice.

He wrapped his hand around her elbow and pulled the binoculars down from her eyes. She looked up at him. The expression in his eyes was dead serious.

"Scully. We need to remember what's important here. The reason why we're in Singapore. Not our curiosity. Not what's going on here. One thing is important. One thing."

She just stared at him. She knew that. She knew all that.

He stared back at her, his eyes...not angry, but full of some dark emotion. He couldn't comprehend why she acting like this, she realized, and it upset him.

That made two of them.

Seconds ticked by as the boat gently putted away from the island.

Finally he bit his lip and sighed. "All right. Once around the island, Scully, and then we get the hell out of here."

He dropped her arm and turned away, he spun the wheel sharply and brought the nose back about.

She stood looking up at him, his eyes flicked to hers briefly and then away.

She let out her breath and turned back to the island, raising the binoculars to scan the trees again.


The other side of the island was wild and uninhabitable. The vegetation was thick, dense; the underbrush, tangled and impenetrable. Mangrove swamp ran right to the edge of the water, there was no telling where the land ended and the sea began. The tide was out and the shore between the spidery mangrove roots looked muddy and uninviting. Her nose wrinkled at the smell: the dark, dank smell of things decaying, baking in the burning sun, with an underlying fetidness that made her want to gag.

Primordial ooze, she thought, feeling repulsed.

Nobody was going in this way, nobody coming out.

"That wasn't our Kurt Crawford, Scully."

She jumped. He'd startled her.

"Ours?" she asked and waited, her eyes on the jungle.

"The Kurt that we met at Betsy Hagopian's? The Kurt who was helping us? He's dead, I think. There were at least a dozen other Kurts, that I saw. Maybe hundreds--all identical."

"What?" She spun around on him.

"They're clones."

Why wasn't she surprised?

"Clones," she said flatly. "Where was this?"

"At the Lombard Research Facility."

She turned back to the jungle and lifted the binoculars to her eyes, scanning the shoreline.

She heard him shift the boat into neutral. The engine made that little plopping noise that she'd heard a hundred times in her life. Such a familiar sound in such a foreign place.

Clones.

And he hadn't thought to tell her. Funny, if she'd seen a dozen Kurts, she'd have told him.

"The Lombard Research Facility is where you found Dr. Scanlon's name?"

"Yes."

"All these...Kurts, were there? Why?"

"They were growing more."

"Growing more what?"

"Hybrids. Clones." He shrugged. "More Kurts. I don't know. The Kurts are caretakers of the process. I think. I don't know definitely. Look, Scully. Can we talk about his on the way back? There's nothing to see here. Let's just go--"

"No," she said to the jungle in front of her. She could feel his eyes on her back. "Hybrids?"

"Alien-human hybrids," he said softly.

Alien-human hybrids. Why was she still not surprised?

"How?" she asked. Amazed at how reasonable her voice sounded.

He was quiet for a long moment.

"Eggs," he said softly. "Many many human eggs."

It was one of the hardest things she'd ever done to turn around and look at him. He met her eyes warily.

"Mine?" she whispered.

He reached down and cut the boat's motor. The sudden silence was intense.

"Scully, I. ."

"You never told me how you found out...Was it then? Tell me. . now."

Mulder just looked at her. She could only imagine how terrible the expression on her face must be by the way he flinched. Finally he nodded infinitesimally. Her stomach lurched and bile rose in the back of her throat.

It had been that night that he'd found out, she realized...that long hideous night...

"So that same night you found Scanlon's name--" She suddenly had to clear her throat.

. . The night she'd waited, hopeless, *helpless*, watching Penny die. Seeing her own inevitable future in every single labored breath that Penny took...

"Yes?" he waited.

"--you also saw all these Kurts?"

He nodded.

"and found out my eggs had been harvested. How? You saw records?"

. . and you never told me...even though you waited for me. .

He sighed.

. . all night...

He came to stand beside her, looking down at her.

She stared up at his face.

He was watching her carefully, as if he couldn't quite believe she was going into this now.

She couldn't believe she'd never asked him about it before.

This wasn't the time or the place--

She glanced quickly at the island. All was silent.

--but, if they were ever going to have anyy kind of future together, she had to know.

Right now.

"I saw your eggs."

She sat down suddenly on the cushioned bench.

"How did you know they were mine?"

Mulder drew in a deep breath and held it for a long moment. Then he let it out.

"They were in a drawer," he said softly, "in a cryogenic freezer, in a test tube, marked with your name. There were hundreds of drawers, thousands of test tubes," he shook his head. "Millions of eggs."

She covered her eyes with her hand. The pain was so sharp in her heart that she idly wondered if she was having a heart attack. She didn't care. She felt so brittle that if she moved she'd break.

She felt Mulder kneel down in front of her.

He touched her knee softly.

"Scullheee," he pleaded gently.

"Don't touch me." Her voice was very quiet, very savage and completely unrecognizable.

His fingers moved away.

He left her alone for about sixty seconds and then his other hand slipped up her wrist to pull her fingers away from her eyes.

"I wish you'd never met me, Scully. That none of this had ever happened."

She pulled her hand out of his.

"Too damn late," she whispered. She opened her eyes and he looked shocked at whatever he saw in them.

Suddenly she was angry. It was so much easier than the pain. She grabbed onto the anger tightly and tried to fan the flame. How typical of him, she thought. He never faced the real issue, just became maudlin about the past.

She hardened her heart against him. Mulder's sentimentality was more than she could take right now.

They stared at each other for an intermentible moment. "Did you see them use my eggs?"

He shook his head and looked away.

"Then how exactly do you know they were using the eggs to create these. . Kurts?"

He shook his head again. "Kurt told me a little about it."

He refused to look at her and she felt a twinge of remorse. She'd hurt him again. She quickly pushed it away.

He licked his lips, "Let's go, Scully. We can talk about this back at the hotel."

She ignored his words. "Then how *exactly* were they "growing" them? What did you see, Mulder?"

"Tanks. Incubating them in tanks."

"Incubators? Like Liam?"

His lashes flickered slightly at the word incubator. Would it always be like this? Would she always have to draw every bit of information painfully out of him? Always unsure if he was telling her the whole truth?

"No, these were nearly full grown...adolescents. I don't know what you'd call them. . in big tanks. Nothing like Liam."

She stared at him. Her eyes dropped to the thin sheen of perspiration covering his upper lip.

He was lying.

He saw her look and licked his upper lip.

"Don't lie to me about this, Mulder," she whispered.

He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them. Forcing him to tell her this was horrible.

"It was...something...like Liam," he quietly admitted.

"It still doesn't explain why there's a Kurt on this island," she said finally.

"They watch over the process." His tone was carefully empty of emotion.

"The process," she repeated slowly. "But that would mean they're doing it here, too." Her voice was suddenly hoarse. "Liam...Oh, my God. They're doing it here, too."

"What did you think they were doing?"

"I didn't know. I didn't think. The babies. ." she trailed off. This was too much.

"How did you think that this was your child, Scully? How did you think Emily was your child?"

They stared at one another.

"I didn't think," she whispered. "I was numb. I knew they had my eggs. I didn't know what they were doing with them."

She shook her head, and closed her eyes before the sudden tears spilled over. Liam, Emily, clones, hybrids. Who knew what. She'd thought it was something that was being done to Emily after she'd been born. Not before.

"Liam is not a hybrid, Scully. We're *sure* of that."

"How?"

"We have his PCR."

"Then is he some other kind of--?"

Clone. She couldn't say it out loud. She didn't need to.

He just shook his head.

"What else?"

"That's all, Scully. That's all I know."

That look in his eyes... He wasn't telling her something else now, and whatever it was, he thought it was for her own good.

Damn it.

She sighed suddenly and pushed her damp hair off her forehead. It was unbearably hot.

"Fine, Mulder," she said sharply. He flinched at her tone.

"Tell me when you're damn good and ready. Maybe when you get around to telling me the rest of the things you've never told me."

She turned her back on him to look at the island again.

"Sc--"

She cut him off with one sharp motion of her hand. He subsided into silence.

"Scully. ."

He stared at her, his eyes suddenly full of compassion. He reached out for her hand. But right now, she didn't need his compassion, or the distraction of even this little bit of his skin on hers. She pulled her hand away.

"Scully...I don't know."

"Muld--"

He grabbed her wrist this time and gripped it hard. He was holding himself tightly in check, she realized suddenly.

"I'm telling you the truth. I honestly *don't* know, Scully."

Her eyes narrowed, she watched him a moment, carefully.

Was he telling the truth?

Maybe. But she could tell by his eyes that she had now fully tried his patience.

"Maybe the answers are here on this island. Records of the testing. Of the process."

"Scully, we know what's going on here. It's the perfect solution. They're generating babies and they're putting the babies are in place all over the world."

"In place for what?"

He suddenly lost his composure. "How the hell should I know, Scully? Now we are getting the fuck out of here!"

She stood up and looked down at him. Her wrist was still trapped in his grasp.

He looked up at her. His fingers tightened on her wrist, squeezing hard. Too hard. He was fairly bristling with anger.

In the space of twenty minutes she had systematically destroyed this fragile thing between them, almost as if she had planned it. And, she thought sadly, she couldn't seem to stop herself.

They'd tried to rebuild their relationship without clearing away the damage--the debris underneath--and it was in serious danger of crashing down around them.

His skin under her fingertips was hot, beads of sweat clung to his skin. Her eyes dropped to his shirt. It was soaked. The heat *was* oppressive. She was sweating, too. It was trickling under her shirt and the waistband of her shorts were soaked. She lifted her other hand to gently touch his hot cheek. He started slightly but didn't shrug her away. Just stared up at her, his eyes angry and hurt.

The air felt. . wrong. What was she doing? They needed to get the hell out of here.

He frowned at her when she didn't say anything, then looked down at her wrist in his grip. Her hand had become completely white, bloodless. He let it go suddenly.

"We're leaving, Scully. Right now. I don't want to try navigating back in the dark. And. ." He looked around, the anger suddenly gone from his voice. "The air feels wrong."

She looked around, startled, as he echoed her thoughts. It was abnormally quiet. Ominous. Foreboding.

She rubbed her wrist and wriggled the fingers to get the circulation back in her hand.

A movement suddenly shook a tree in the jungle in front of them. She jumped as several mynahs flew squawking into the sky.

Out of nowhere a sharp tension filled the air.

"Your Merlion, Mulder?" She tried to cover her sudden jangle of nerves.

He was staring into the jungle. "And us without a camera. Yet again," he said wryly, his tone belied the serious expression on his face.

Gooseflesh dotted her upper arms. Anxiously, she scanned the horizon behind them.

"Look!"

An ugly purple-green mass of clouds filled the sky to the southwest.

The wind rose suddenly and rocked them. Something made her turn and look southeast around the far end of the island, the opposite of the direction they'd been watching.

Oh SHIT.

"Mulder! A boat! Oh my God, I think it's them. Stay down!" she hissed as he started to stand up. "They've only seen me. They'll recognize you. They're looking this way."

She was already at the wheel. She turned the key and the engine caught, spluttered, then caught again and roared into life. Mulder scrambled on his knees to grab the binoculars and trained them on the boat behind them.

"Go! Scully, go!"

She dragged the wheel around and steered away from the other boat. She could see them out of the corner of her eye, their boat wasn't moving, just drifting as they watched her.

Suddenly the other boat turned in their direction and started moving steadily forward.

Mulder swore. "They're coming!" He said urgently. "Go!"

Oh God.

She slammed open the throttle as far as it would go.


14.

The powerful answering roar of their boat's engine surprised her. It seemed that despite appearances, the old girl had some life in her. Thank God.

She hung on to the steering wheel, aimed dead for Singapore and began praying under her breath. They *had* to out run the other boat.

After two minutes she glanced back and with a sickening punch to the gut realized that it wasn't going to work. The other boat was gaining steadily.

She glanced anxiously around the open water. If they couldn't outrun them, they'd have to lose them.

Somehow.

Mulder crawled back beside her and pulled the chart down. "You remember the way back, Scully?" he yelled over the noise of the engine.

"Yeah! Can you see who it is?"

"No! No, but whoever it is they're chasing us. There are pirates in these waters, but I never thought they'd go after a little boat."

She glanced back. No way on earth were those pirates. The boat behind them was steadily closing ground. "I don't think we can't outrun them! I'm heading for those islands!"

She turned the wheel sharply and aimed for a group of islets not far to the west. Mulder lost his hold and slid across the floorboards, coming up hard against the side of the boat.

"You okay?!" she yelled.

He frowned and pointed.

"Scully! The storm!"

She craned her neck. Oh Jesus.

The huge angry clouds of a tropical storm were coming fast. Faster than she'd ever seen a storm build up in her life.

They were caught between the storm and the other boat.

Already, the surface of the water was rough with squalls, and the sky had darkened to an eerie greenish-yellow.

She cringed as a streak of lightning lit the ominous clouds.

Mulder peered ahead over the edge of the boat. "Can we make it?!" he called back to her.

"I don't know!" The wind snatched the words out of her mouth. "If we can get in there maybe we can lose them!"

He pinned the flapping map still with both hands against the floorboards. "Here, between these two is a narrow passage."

"How deep?" she yelled.

Her hair was coming out from under her hat and a piece was whipping her in the eyes. They'd definitely recognize her if it got free. "Grab the wheel!"

He knelt on the map and steered as she crouched and stuffed all her hair out of sight beneath the hat.

"How deep!" she yelled again.

"A meter at low tide. What's the tide now?"

"Almost out!"

She straightened and took the wheel again. The islands were coming up fast, but the storm was nearly upon them. Another flash of lightning streaked to the water and struck with a crack.

Scully felt the hairs all over her body prickle at the electrical charge. Hell. That was too close. Maybe the lightning would convince the other boat to turn back. She glanced over her shoulder. No such luck. They were coming fast.

Suddenly, rain pelted from the sky. The Bimini offered scant protection from the wind-driven drops. A hard gust hit them broadside and the boat shuddered and lolled sluggishly for a moment. The engine coughed, then caught again and the boat straightened and rolled over the rough waves. Grimly she hung on to the wheel and headed for the gap.

She felt Mulder's hand wrap around her ankle and give her a squeeze. She let go of the wheel with one hand and rested her fingers for a second on his head. Five minutes ago you and I were in tatters, but at the first threat of danger we stand shoulder to shoulder.

The words went through her head like a little benediction. He met her eyes and gave her an encouraging look and her ankle another squeeze.

United we stand. Amen.

"Hang on!" she yelled.

The island group was small. Some of the islands no more than a hundred feet across.

"Slow down!" he yelled. "The passage you want is to the left after the second inlet."

"Okay!" She nodded, but didn't decrease the speed. Suddenly they were out of the choppy water and the boat's engine screamed as it hurled across the calm in the lee of the first island.

Scully yanked back on the throttle and spun the wheel hard. The boat heeled to one side and flew across the suddenly shallow water neatly into the narrow passage and dropped flat with a plop.

"Damn it, Scully, how the hell did you do that?" Mulder's voice was loud in the relative quiet of the passageway. They were in a lull, the wind was barely blowing. The channel was only about twenty feet across and looked like it narrowed further as it snaked out of sight.

She looked down at his hand on her ankle. He had it in a death grip. His other hand was marking their position on the chart.

"Can we keep going?" she asked him

"Yeah. But it's shallow, keep all the way to the right."

She steered the boat as close to the bank as she dared. She twisted around and looked back. "I don't see them."

At that moment the other boat flashed across the end of the passageway. She heard a shout and then the sound of the other boat's motor changing as they turned, coming back.

"Damn!"

"They draw too much water. They can't follow us across that shallow part."

"All they have to do is wait til we come out."

"The channel goes all the way through." He stared, worried, at the seemingly impenetrable jungle ahead of them. "At least that's what it shows on the chart. . ."

At that moment everything became eerily silent. The jungle, the wind...She glanced up. The clouds were dark and low, hovering barely above the treetops.

The air around them sizzled. She glanced at Mulder and he was staring up at her wide-eyed. It was as if they were looking at each other underwater. Under opaque, evil, electric-green water.

She cut the motor almost to nothing. "We need to tie up to ride out this storm, Mulder. NOW!"

No sooner had she said it that the storm hit and all hell broke lose. The heavens opened and rain slashed out of the sky. The wind caught them hard, slamming the boat against the bank and ripping a corner of the canvas Bimini free.

Thunder deafened her as she tried to reach for the cover, only to have the angry wind grab the canvas and lash her cheek with it.

She put one hand up to ward it off and tried to steer with the other.

Mulder dragged at the elbow of the arm she was steering with, trying to pull her down. "The other boat!" she thought he yelled. She turned and sure enough, there was the other boat, inching into the channel behind them.

Mulder yelled again and threw himself up and hard against her, just as she saw the man in the bow lift a gun.

Lightening flashed. The gun thundered. She felt something whip across her forehead, heard Mulder desperately scream, "Sculleee!!" and then everything went black as she crumpled to the deck.


15.

...it was pitch black...the hard surface under her back rocked sickeningly . . his weight was heavy across her. . wrapped over her, his arms tight, protecting her from the night and the rain...she was soaking...and cold where his skin wasn't pressed to hers...his bare wet shoulder was against her nose...she smelled ozone and skin and sweat and fear and the blackness around them...

Over the roar of the storm and the jungle and the rain she could hear him. He was swearing.

"Shit. Shit. Shit,", and then "Scuh-lee. ." softly pleading, with a broken catch in his voice. His arms tightened. He was squeezing her so hard she could barely breathe.

She tried to open her mouth and tell him she was fine, she tried to squeeze him back and reassure him...but...before she could, she swirled back down into darkness...


...it was dark. . still dark...she was gently being lifted then dropped, lifted then dropped. A boat. That was it. A boat. She was on the family sailboat in her bunk. Melissa and Bill and Charlie were asleep in their bunks and she could hear the low voices of her mother and father up on the deck. She'd been having a bad dream-- Had she cried out? She heard her mother say, "I'll check the kids," then saw her, her shape darker than the darkness behind her as she poked her head in the hatch. Then soft steps went back across the deck. Her dad's soft, "Was it Dana?" Then her mom's softer, "Mmm-hmm."

Then softly, singing. They were singing her a lullaby of the sea...

". .Where billow meets billow, soft be thy pillow, O weary wee flipperling, curl at thine ease. The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee, asleep in the arms of the slow swinging sea. ."

Comforted, she drifted back to sleep.


. .were those tears on her face? Or was it warm rain?

She opened her eyes. It was still dark. Mulder stood above her at the wheel, his naked chest glimmering as he steered. His wet shirt must be what was tucked under her chin. Something else, smelling of fish and gasoline--a rough canvas tarp--covered the rest of her.

The steady thump thump of the engine vibrated against her back. She tried to open her mouth to say his name, but she couldn't. Those must be tears on her face because the sky was clear. He was steering them home by the light of the stars. . .


When she woke again, they were back at the Marina, and she was alone in the boat.

A soft glow from hanging electric lanterns lit the docks. Everything looked too clean, too festive and a million miles from what they'd just lived through.

She turned her head slightly. He was on the dock, tying up, his movements quick and frantic.

Her mouth worked after all. "I'm fine, Mulder," she said, as loudly as she could. He turned, jumped back into the boat and dropped to his knees beside her. Concern etched his face.

"Shhh. Stay still," he said and gently stroked her temple. "I'm getting you to a hospital."

"Was I shot?" She tried to move, she was stiff all over.

"No. A tree fell across the boat. Knocked you out cold. You've been out for nearly two hours."

"Two hours?" She frowned. "I think I'm fine."

"Stay still. I'm going to call an ambulance."

"No, no," she protested. "I'm fine." And she moved to sit up, her head swimming. For a moment he tried to hold her down, then gave up and pulled her carefully against him. Wrapping his arms around her, he rocked her softly.

"Fuck this," he whispered into her hair. Then he clutched her more tightly against him and his voice broke. "Fuck all of it."

She was horrified at the stark desperation in his voice. She slipped her hand up to touch his face. "What, Mulder? What happened?"

He lifted his head and stared down at her. "They saw me, Scully. They fucking recognized me."

Oh, God.

"Oh no. Oh no, Mulder."

He nodded, then shook his head. "Let's get out of here."

"I think I can walk."

"No."

He lifted her, cradled against his bare chest and clambered awkwardly out of the boat. "Come on. Let's get you in the car."

Her head, still pounding, was starting to clear. "What happened, Mulder? I saw them shoot at me."

"As soon as they saw it was me, they left. They just looked at me, recognized me, and left. I don't know if they made it through that storm. I don't know how we made it. I think it was a waterspout, Scully."

She nodded gingerly. Whatever had slammed into the back of her head, it couldn't have been the whole tree, but it felt like it.

"Are you okay, Mulder?"

He didn't answer, just carried her up the ramp to the parking lot. He was puffing by the time they reached the car, but he set her carefully inside, then got in himself, turned on the car and cranked up the heat.

He rummaged in the back seat and found his sweater.

"Let's get this wet stuff off you."

He gently slipped it off over her head, helped her pull on his sweater, then pulled his own wet shirt on over his head.

"Mulder," she said softly. "Are we still going to be able to get Liam?"

He turned to her, his eyes bleak. "I don't know."

"Mulder. .?"

"I don't know," he repeated and shook his head. "Will you be alright alone for a couple minutes? I've got to go give back the keys to the boat." He stared at her. "I can't believe you're okay. I was--" he broke off and cleared his throat. His gaze was soft as it ran over her face. "Are you really okay? "

"I'm really okay, Mulder," she reassured him. "What kind of damage did we do to the boat?"

"Surprisingly little." The slightest flicker of a smile came into his voice. "At least we didn't send this one to the bottom."

Thank-you God, she sent up a little prayer.

He turned away suddenly and slammed his fist against the steering wheel. She jumped.

"Enough of this! Fuck this. I did it again, didn't I, Scully? Just about killed you. And now I've screwed up our chances of getting Liam."

"Mulder, no!" she protested. Suddenly she was awake enough to realize what the trauma of driving the boat back through the unfamiliar night--with her out cold on the deck--had done to him. He was strained to the breaking point.

If the situations had been reversed...she would have been desperate. And now he was blaming it all on himself.

She reached out and touched his arm gently with her fingertips, then wrapped her fingers around his wrist. "*I* screwed up, Mulder. *I* made us follow her. *I* wouldn't leave. You were the one making sense all along, and I was ignoring you. It was my fault we were even out there."

His eyes searched hers, then he shook his head and let out a long frustrated sigh.

"I never should have brought you to Singapore, Scully. Me and my fucking brilliant ideas."

"Mulder. ."

He pulled his arm out of her grasp.

"I'll be right back. You sure you're okay?"

She nodded slightly and flinched at the pain.

"Let me look at it." He turned on the overhead light and she bent her head toward him. He gently parted her hair without touching the tender area. "The bleeding's stopped."

"Bleeding?" She reached up to probe gently around the swelling and winced again. She wished she could take a look at it herself. It hurt like hell. "Mulder that's blood on your shirt. You can't go into the office like that."

"I'll tell them we got caught in the storm. I cut myself. No big deal."

He cupped her face and ducked his head slightly to see her eyes. His thumb stroked over her cheekbone lightly. "Does this hurt?"

"What is it?"

"It looks like it's beginning to bruise. God, I'm sorry, Scully."

"Mulder, stop blaming yourself. It was my fault."

He just shook his head. "I'll be right back," he said quietly, and let himself out of the car.


On the ride back to the hotel she convinced him she didn't need to go to the hospital. Her head hurt more than she was telling him, but...even if she had a concussion there was nothing they could do about it.

So, wet and bedraggled, they snuck in the parking entrance at the hotel.

In the shower she closed her eyes and leaned against his chest. The hot water felt wonderful as it sluiced over them both, warming her chilled skin. He carefully soaped her hair and body, then rinsed her gently. She tried hard not to let him see how weak she was, but her knees buckled as he toweled her dry.

He swore and picked her up.

After he'd tucked her in bed, he slung the towel he'd used on her around his naked hips and he sat down beside her.

"Scully." He frowned, concern in his eyes. "I need to get you a doctor."

"No. I think I'm just hungry. It's been a long day."

He stared at her steadily, the slightest tinge of sorrow crept into his voice. "I wish," he said slowly. "You could just trust me enough to tell me--for once--how you really feel."

She searched his face. With everything that had happened...last night...today...

They'd reached a turning point, she realized suddenly, there was no going back. If she needed the truth from him, he needed it as much from her.

"Hungry, shaky, exhausted" she said simply, and it was easy after all. "My head's throbbing like hell...upset about Liam...I just thought he was a baby, produced by invitro fertilization and A.I. and now to find out that he's the product of a conspiracy of...experimentation. ." she trailed off. "and confused. ."

The expression that came over his face, pleased because she was telling him, yet worried because of what she was saying, was so endearingly Mulder that it made her chest tighten.

. . confused because on the one hand I feel completely alone in a world turned upside down, where a consortium from hell has taken my eggs and are creating unknown horrors with them, and confused because I'm not alone, there's you, and furious at you and frustrated with you and confused because I think I'm falling back in love with you...

She closed her eyes and wondered what would happen if she just blurted out the words.

She felt his hand lightly stroke her temple.

"Scuh-leee? Don't shut your eyes, you're scaring me."

She opened her eyes and met his worried gaze. She managed a small smile to try to reassure him. "I really think I'm okay. I don't have any dizziness or nausea, so I don't think it's a concussion." She sighed. "I'm just beat."

He looked at her long and hard, then let out his breath in a deep sigh. "Okay, if you *promise* to tell me if you think it's worse."

She forgot and nodded, wincing. He winced too, in sympathy, then stood. "I think I can do something about number one on your list."

He picked up the phone and ordered dinner. She had to smile as he ordered burgers and fries. She couldn't think of anything she'd rather eat. American food in Singapore. This entire trip grew more surreal by the minute.

He hung up the phone and smiled at her, a not quite genuine smile--but it was a noble effort. "See? It's easy. Now, how about some ice for that bump?" He adjusted her pillows and tucked the covers close around her neck. "Rest until dinner gets here."

When dinner arrived he helped her sit up against the pillows and pull a t-shirt over the tender lump on her head. Then he curled up beside her on the bed and watched her while she ate ravenously. He didn't say much, and didn't eat much either.

He caught her eying his plate.

"Here, finish mine," he said, and pushed his barely touched dinner towards her. Neither of them had eaten much all day, she realized. Why wasn't he eating?

"Aren't you hungry, Mulder?" she asked, worried.

"No," he said flatly, and swung his legs off the bed. Before dinner he'd dressed again in black jeans and a black T-shirt. Now, he paced restlessly around their suite, looking dark and dangerous.

He was planning to go somewhere. Where?

He prowled out on to the verandah and leaned against the railing. He stayed there for a long time, looking out at the night. She turned her head, settled her cheek on the soft cotton of the pillow and watched him.

She was having a hard time keeping her eyes open when he suddenly came back inside. He tossed both suitcases on the foot of the bed and began packing. Her eyes drifted shut...she'd ask him in a minute or two why he was packing tonight...and then she must have dozed off, because the next thing she heard was the snick of the door.

He was letting himself out.

"Mulder?" she called after him softly.

He came back in and closed the door. He crossed to her side of the bed and looked down at her. Then reached out and carefully brushed back the hair sticking to her damp forehead with his fingertips.

"Can't sleep?" he asked. She studied his eyes. The expression in them was...preoccupied.

"No. I'm hot." She pushed away all the covers and sat up.

"The A.C.'s cranked." He frowned and pressed his palm to her forehead. Obediently she held still while he judged her temperature.

"You feel okay, a little clammy." He slid his hand down and felt the pulse in her neck. "What about the bump? The ice helping?"

"A little. It's still throbbing."

"Want me to get you something, Scully?"

He was going through all the right motions, but his mind was elsewhere.

"No. Where were you going?"

"Oh, just. ." he trailed off and he focused on her a little more fully. She looked back at him and waited.

He licked his lips, then sighed. "I'm going to go try to buy a gun."

"No," she protested.

"I'll probably be able to find one, Scully."

"No," she said again. She reached out, linked her fingers with his and tugged. "How am I supposed to pay for Liam if you're in jail?"

He looked at her and sighed, then let her pull him down onto the bed beside her.

Her gaze fell on their suitcases, ready near the door. He followed her look. "Just in case we need to get out of here in a hurry."

"Tonight?"

"I hope not." He glanced around their room. "I think this is about as safe as it gets."

"Tomorrow?"

He nodded.

"I keep thinking about it," she said. "Do we still try to go to Charlotta's?"

He ducked his head and looked at their intertwined fingers. He rubbed the band of her ring...

His ring.

"Mulder. Maybe they'll just think we were out on the water for pleasure, and running into them was a coincidence. ." she trailed off lamely at his frown.

"No chance in hell, Scully. They recognized me as *me*."

Oh no. She'd been so groggy, she'd misunderstood. Oh no.

"I keep hoping," he went on, "that--somehow--they won't put two and two together and realize that we're the Hales. Charlotta wasn't on the boat chasing us. Just Crawford--one of them--and Calderon. She's the only one who'd recognize us as the Hales." He was quiet for a moment. "We need to outbid the DaSilvas and get the hell out of Singapore with the baby as quickly as possible."

"How long will the electronic transfer take? Mulder! Tomorrow's the Fourth. We'll never be able to transfer the money."

"The money is here, in the Bank of Singapore."

"It's here?"

He looked up at her. "You think I'd leave that to chance? 'Sorry, Madame C. Forgot the holiday in the States. Do you take Visa?'."

She gave a relieved sigh. He seemed to have every step of this under control. This time she was the loose cannon. It was an unsettling thought.

"Frohike was the one who reminded me about that. We owe him another one. Hey Scully, maybe we should name the baby after him."

She smiled. That didn't need an answer.

"Then there's a flight at 8:30 p.m. We'll leave as soon as we get him."

"If we get him. ." she whispered. His eyes were shot through suddenly with a dark emotion she wasn't sure she wanted to categorize and she trailed off, her smile gone. He was very much on the edge, she realized. Desperate, dangerous. They were the eyes of a cornered male who would protect his own or die trying.

His expression grew more intense and he squeezed her fingers hard.

"We *have* to get him, Scully."

She squeezed his back.

They stared at each other, the tension thick in the air between them, then she nodded slightly and he nodded back, and as if by making a pact...everything would come out all right...

"I'm sorry about today." she whispered.

His eyes held hers for a long moment. "Me, too."

He dropped his gaze and reached out and stroked the curve of her waist, covered with the soft cotton of his t-shirt. His hand moved down to the hem but didn't lift it. Just brushed his fingertips across her thigh.

"Me, too," he said again.

All it once he stood up and started shedding his clothes. She took a deep breath into her lungs of relief. The tension in the air dissipated abruptly as if it had never been.

He turned out the lights and crawled in beside her, wrapping his arms around her. He pulled her against him, fitting her close against his body with a sigh of his own. She could hear the worry in the sound, feel the strain in his body. Today had been too close a call. Yet again. She hugged him a little tighter.

And now...tomorrow...

Suddenly she wanted to forget--just for a little while--and make him forget--everything.

Tomorrow. Today. What she'd said to him on the boat...Did any of what he hadn't told her matter now, really? It hadn't been worth risking their lives over, that was certain. Did anything matter except the two of them still alive. . ?

And still together.

She sighed and ran her fingertips along the line of his jaw.

God.

Her hand slid down his chest, across his stomach to the waistband of his boxers, then eased inside the cotton.

He lifted his head and looked down at her. He gave a low surprised laugh as her hand trailed even lower. "You should know better; if you have a concussion. ."

She merely smiled and wrapped her hand around him. He drew in a sharp breath and dropped his head to kiss her.

And they made love. Slow and sweet and as gentle this time as it had been rough the night before. Had it only been last night? It felt like weeks. She sighed against his mouth and tried to tell him with her hands and lips what she was still completely unable to put into words.

He brushed the fingertips of one hand tenderly, gently over her body, barely touching her skin. He stroked her softly, carefully, as if she were the most fragile thing on earth and might suddenly break. But at the same time, his hold on her with his other arm never loosened. He held her close to him, as if he didn't hold on to her tightly enough, she might suddenly disappear...

And then his mouth and tongue slid slowly lower, down across her breasts, her stomach, until he was between her legs, nuzzling her. His hand was warm and gentle on her thighs as he spread them apart. The pressure of his lips increased, his tongue, his fingers dipping inside. She shuddered and shut her eyes and let the blinding lights of her orgasm explode behind her closed lids.

Then he was over her, inside her.

But as she felt his climax ride over her, it seemed that one part of her brain, still alert, was watching...watching him moan softly into her neck, watching her legs wrap around his back and press herself into him...and she knew without having to see that there was a sadness in his closed eyes that she couldn't erase.


She lay in his arms, her back nestled against him, looking out at the moonlit night. There'd been a rain squall here, too, and it had washed away the haze and humidity leaving the fresh smell of rain-bruised exotic flowers to fill the air. He adjusted her slightly, fitting her closer against him.

She turned in his arms and pressed her naked breasts against his chest, stretching her legs and tucking them between his. His hands ran down her spine, outlining every bone and molding her closer. She felt her pubic hair mingle with his and suppressed a groan. She wanted him again, but...she was far too tired to do anything about it. So instead she stretched like a cat, pressing as much of her skin against his as she could.

Only when you were this tired with someone, she thought, could you smooth your skin on theirs, stretch your muscles against theirs, rub your lips across them and have their skin belong to you.

"Scuh-leee," he whispered softly in her ear.

"Hmmm?"

"Still can't sleep?"

"No. ." She rubbed her cheek against his chest hairs. Then she sighed open-mouthed against his warm damp skin, inhaling the warmth and smell of the skin of his chest. His aura. She sucked it deeply into her lungs. It was hers now. If they had one of those aura cameras and took a picture of her right now she'd be glowing slightly from head to toe...

She smiled against him. She was so tired she was delirious.

"I'm so tired I'm beyond tired," she said aloud.

"Mmmm. Me too." His fingers were in her hair, stroking it. Carefully avoiding the lump. "How's your head?"

"It's okay."

He moved his head so he could see her face. "Cross my heart," she said. She couldn't reach her own chest, so she drew a quick X over his heart with the tip of her index finger and smiled at him.

He looked at her for a long moment, his expression unreadable in the dark. But something about his face...

That would be roughly forty-five minutes of forgetfulness, she realized ruefully.

He pulled away from her gently. She was reluctant to let go of his warmth. "Let go, Scully. I need to use the bathroom." She sighed and let go.

When he returned he settled down on the other side of the bed, away from her, and lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

He might as well have been on the opposite side of the room.

Damn.

Lord knows there was enough on her mind to keep her awake all night, too. But this was Mulder.

"Mulder?"

"Mmmmm?"

"What are you doing over there?"

"Thinking." His voice was so soft it took her a moment to figure out what he'd said.

"You can't do it over here?"

He shook his head. "No," he said softly.

"Mulder . ."

"Yeah?" He rolled on his side to face her.

"About today."

He just looked at her. His eyes were bright in the dark. He was wide awake.

"You're blaming yourself."

He still just looked at her.

"But it was me. I screwed up. I'm sorry."

He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.

She sighed.

"Mulder...what if...what if we go to the house tomorrow, and they're not there?"

He sighed and put one hand up to rub his eyes, then turned his head to look at her again.

"Come here," he said. She scootched across the bed and he pulled her to nestle against him. "Shhhhh." He stroked her forehead lightly. "How can I wake you up every couple hours to see if you have a concussion if you won't go to sleep? Don't think about it anymore, Scully. Close your eyes, you need to rest."

"You're thinking about it."

"Shhhh," he said. "I'll think for both of us."

And his fingers gently rubbed her forehead, smoothing the tension out of it. She shut her eyes and tried to relax and slow the images in her brain.

After a few minutes she felt herself finally on the verge of sleep, but she was still too conscious of the tension in his body against hers. She opened her eyes one more time to see his face.

His eyes were still wide open. Staring sightlessly into the night.

She turned her head slightly and dropped a kiss on the nearest bit of his skin, then, lips still pressed against him, she drifted off to sleep.


16.

Raffles Hotel Singapore July 4.

She dressed slowly in front of the mirror. She pulled on her panties and bra, then moved closer to the mirror to stare at herself. All her energy was gone. She looked--and felt--totally drained. Pale. Her nose sunburned. The graze on her cheek, and...a large ugly bruise marked the skin over her left lower ribs. She didn't remember how it happened or even feeling it last night. But now it was sore.

Prodding it gently with her fingertips, she carefully felt the ribs beneath the skin. They seemed okay.

And another bruise on her wrist. She turned and rummaged in her jewelry bag for a wide bracelet and clasped it over the bruise. It covered it. Sort of.

She glanced over at the bed. Mulder was still asleep, hunched under his pillows. She didn't know when he'd finally dozed off, but he'd stolen all the covers in his sleep and she'd let him, not wanting to wake him.

The clock read nine-thirty a.m. He could sleep another hour and they'd still have plenty of time to get to Charlotta's.

She rummaged in her make-up for some concealer and rubbed it over her cheek. There, she thought. With a little blush over that...no one would know.

Unless of course they'd been chasing them.

The bump on her head ached steadily, but, thank heavens, was hidden by her hair.

She sighed and turned pulled on a loose flowing skirt and a sleeveless blouse of the same shade of dark tangerine.

Orange. The color of bravery.

Or was it cowardice? Whatever...whichever one it was, they were walking into the lion's den.

She walked over to the edge of the bed. He was sound asleep and snoring slightly. She kissed her fingertips and pressed the kiss on the pillow by his cheek, then went to get some breakfast.


It turned out there wasn't enough time and they were late. They'd had to check out of the hotel, then get the luggage into the car. It took forever and the midday heat was breathless. She was soaked with perspiration by the time they'd sped through the streets and arrived at Charlotta's. And her head was aching abominably. She would have given anything for the Tylenol sitting at the bottom of her suitcase.

It was quarter past twelve, but the same silent servant met them at the door without question and waited to show them through the house.

She exchanged a relieved glance with Mulder as they leaned down to remove their shoes.

This time the verandah was filled with people.

She quickly scanned the crowd and stopped short. Mulder bumped into her from behind. Three men they'd never seen before, dressed all the same in white suits and wearing the same impassive expression, stood in strategic spots around the room. The gleam of a dark leather holster beneath ones arm caught her eye. She tried to not to stare at them and felt more nervous perspiration break out under her arms.

Armed guards.

The small of her back felt naked with out her Sig Sauer.

Suddenly Mulder's fingers pressed reassuringly in just the spot where her gun normally rested, then he gave her a little push into the room.

Two white-uniformed nurses stood beside two mosquito net-draped wicker bassinets with Madame Charlotta. Scully started toward them but Charlotta's dog stood abruptly and made a low woof in the back of his throat. At a word from Charlotta he sat back down and stared at them suspiciously.

Mr. DaSilva, his back to the crowd, was talking on his cell phone. Ms. DaSilva, looking sleek in a black sheath that probably cost more than Scully made in a month, was holding a very young baby on her lap and calmly wiping baby spit-up off the black silk.

Scully tensed for a moment until she realized the baby was too small to possibly be Liam.

Feeling far too self-conscious of the guards, she walked to the closest bassinet and looked in. In it was another very small baby. Presumably a boy, about two months old. He looked up at her with big blue eyes. This then was the other blond baby boy. Liam was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh! They're darling," Scully couldn't help herself. They *were* darling. "May I pick this one up?"

"If you wouldn't mind washing your hands first, Mrs. Hale."

"Oh, of course, I'm sorry." One of the nurses gestured at a door at the side of the porch. It was a small lavatory. Both she and Mulder crowded inside.

"Those men. Do you think--?"

"Shhhh," he whispered against her ear under the cover of the running water. "So far so good. I think we're okay. I don't think they know."

She turned to open the door.

"Sc-- Wait."

She turned back. He reached out and took her hand, turning it over to examine the bruise on her wrist she'd half-hidden with the bracelet.

He swore under his breath.

"Does it show too much?"

"Scuh-leee. ." he trailed off. She glanced up at his eyes. He was staring at her wrist, unbelieving.

He lifted her hand and gently kissed the bruise on the inside of her wrist. It was starting to turn a greenish purple, she noted, but it was nothing to make him this upset.

"It doesn't even hurt," she told him softly.

He just shook his head, his expression still agonized.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go back out." He turned abruptly away from her and pushed open the door.

She took a deep breath and followed him.


The little blond baby boy was darling. She picked him up and was handed a burp cloth by the smiling nurse.

Scully eyed the young woman, a Malay, she'd guess, "Are you his mother?" she asked, very softly.

The nurse threw a quick glance at Charlotta and the guards. The Madame was busy in conversation with Mrs. DaSilva. The guards could have been statues.

She looked back at Scully and shook her head briefly, then backed away from her to stand beside the bassinet.

Scully perched on a low couch and looked down at the baby. She rocked him gently and he made a small gurgling sound. For the first time since she'd found out she was unable to bear children she felt a sudden glimmer of hope. Even if buying Liam didn't work out...To know this place was here, with these adorable babies. . .

She felt suddenly embarrassed at the selfish direction her thoughts had taken. She of all people knew what was behind this place. All at once the baby yawned, scrunching up his face. She couldn't help but smile at him. Whatever evil had created him, this baby was innocent. She lifted him and kissed him on the forehead.

She looked up and met Mulder's eyes. He was watching her, his eyes a little sad. He'd been on the same wavelength.

"Don't get too attached to him," Ms. DaSilva said suddenly. "I'm buying both."

Mulder raised his eyebrows at Scully, then his gaze swung to Mr. DaSilva.

Scully followed his look. For a split second Ed looked mildly startled then he fished in his breast pocket and drew out a leatherbound folder and a gold pen.

"Do we need to go through a bidding process on these two, Madame Charlotta?" he asked.

"No," replied Charlotta, "We have more than enough blond babies. But just the one red head. If you want them, they're yours, Mr. and Mrs. DaSilva."

"Where do I wire the money?" he asked, and pulled a cell phone out of another pocket.

"Here's the information." Charlotta handed the servant a card to carry to Ed.

Ed was already dialing.

"That's one hundred thousand even?"

Madame Charlotta nodded.

Ms. DaSilva was smiling like a cat.

Scully looked back down at the baby in her lap.

"Isobel? Isobel? Iz...Honey?" Mulder's hand was suddenly squeezing her shoulder, but it was the breathless way his voice dropped on the endearment, identifying her fully, that made her turn.

Another nurse had entered, carrying...

It had to be Liam.

Scully stood and handed the baby she was holding to his nurse, then held out her arms for the boy.

He was heavy, a good five pounds heavier than the younger infant. The extra months had given him much better neck control. He lifted his head and stared at her, his big eyes wide and blue. His hair was quite a bit longer than in the picture Mulder had. And definitely red.

Suddenly she was shaking.

Oh, God. His face, his cheeks, his nose. . his little mouth.

Her eyes sought Mulder's. He was staring, not at Liam, but at her.

His heart in his eyes.

He was beside her in a flash and his arm went around her tightly, holding her steady.

"Here. Sit," he said softly, and helped her settle back on the couch behind her. He sat close, his arm around her waist. They looked down at the baby.

The baby was calmly looking up at them both.

"Hi, little guy." Mulder said to him and stuck out a finger. The baby swung his hand at it and on the second try grabbed it tightly. "Remember me?"

Scully touched him gently on his smooth little baby cheek, captivated.

"Hi, Tweetie," she said softly. She could barely breathe.

Liam broke into a smile.

Mulder and Scully both laughed a little sheepishly.

She turned her head and watched Mulder watch the baby. She was a breathless mass of nerves and he looked so...happy and...calm.

She pressed a kiss against Mulder's ear. "Thank you," she whispered.

He didn't look at her, but a slow smile spread over his face.

Scully looked at the others, they were all watching them with varying expressions. Madame Charlotta and the nurses were smiling. Ms. DaSilva looked half-amused, half-disgusted. Ed was still on the phone, ignoring everyone, spilling out a stream of numbers.

"Do we have any names?" Madame Charlotta asked.

"Christopher and David," said Ms. DaSilva.

Ed merely nodded and clicked the hang-up button on his phone. "Done," he said. "When can we take them?"

"So you've rescinded your final offer on the older baby, Mr. DaSilva?"

"Yes! We don't need three!"

"Tristan will call my bank to confirm the wiring of funds, and then you'll be free to take the children with you." She turned to Mulder and Scully. "Mr. and Mrs. Hale--"

Scully turned and met Mulder's eyes.

"We'll take him," she said.

"George, Jr.," said Mulder.

"Wonderful," said Madame Charlotta.

Mulder pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "Seventy-five?"

Madame Charlotta smiled and nodded.

Mulder nodded back and started punching in the numbers.

Scully felt goosebumps on her arms and looked up. All three guards were now staring at herself and Mulder. Expressions still impassive, but...she shivered.

With great effort, she pulled her gaze away from them and looked back down at the baby.

Her baby, she thought, and bit back a small sound that was half laugh, half sob.


17.

It was quiet and hot in the garden.

The sun struck down, blindingly hot on the white stones of the courtyard, its heat reflecting into the deepest reaches of the shade. The lush tropical plants and trees drooped in the heat; even the mynahs were silent, keeping their comments to themselves.

The afternoon was completely still.

Waiting.

Their electronic transfer was taking forever.

The DaSilvas were long gone, both small babies packed into carseats in the back of their chauffeur-driven limo.

She and Mulder could have waited in the screened-in verandah. At least the slow-moving ceiling fans ruffled the air, giving the illusion of coolness...but inside they would have been under the watchful eyes of the guards. Instead they'd taken Liam for a walk in the garden and found a bench, tucked out of sight in the shade of a vine-covered pavilion. And now they were waiting, too.

Liam was asleep, in blissful infant utter-relaxation on Mulder's shoulder, and . . she couldn't stop looking at his sleeping face.

Another miracle.

Meant to be this time, she hoped.

The soft color of his skin...the sweet line of his lashes on his cheek...his little baby ears...his fingers...his fingernails...

She dragged her gaze away and scrutinized the patch of gardens and buildings visible from their bench.

The guards, she was sure, were somewhere close, chaperoning from just out of sight. They'd probably appear quickly enough if they made a sudden dash for their car.

Mulder hadn't said much since he'd made the phone call setting their transfer in motion. He sat, looking relaxed, legs stretched out in front of him, eyes slightly closed, his fingers gently stroking the sleeping baby's back. Deceptively peaceful.

She wrapped her fingers around his arm, unsurprised to feel how tight his muscles were.

He was in watchdog mode.

So was she.

They were still a long way from home free.

"What did he say to you before they left?" she asked, more to distract herself than anything else.

"Who? DaSilva?" He smiled slightly. "He said he knew better than to go out and spend that thirty thousand."

She laughed softly and shook her head. "What a pair. Why do you think she wanted L- - little George, Jr. so much? She seemed happy enough with the boys she chose. "

Mulder was lazily scanning the house and grounds.

"She was a redhead last time I saw her."

"As simple as that?"

"Mmmphh."

This waiting was killing her. Her head was pounding horribly, she felt bruised all over and all she wanted to do was take a nap in a tepid bath, then sleep for about a year.

She let out a deep sigh, leaned her head against his shoulder and shut her eyes. His cotton dress shirt was damp and she rubbed her cheek against it. They'd make the perfect picture of a happy family if anyone was watching them, and she needed the touch of his body for the moment.

"What do you think they'll do with two babies?" she asked.

"Hire a nanny," Mulder answered, his voice absent.

"Hire *two* nannies."

"Me-ow."

She raised her eyebrow at him innocently, then smiled and went back to watching Liam. She couldn't decide if he looked like Bill as a baby, or Charlie. She'd have to call her Mom and get her to send some of their old pictures the minute she was back in the States.

Her Mom. She smiled against him. Her Mom was going to be ecstatic. Confused, but ecstatic.

The baby made a small noise. Happiness? Discomfort? She couldn't read him yet. His eyes were still closed and he was sleeping peacefully, but they probably shouldn't have him out in this heat much longer. She reached up and felt the back of his neck with her fingers. He seemed fine, probably more used to these temperatures than they were.

"Is it too hot for him?"

Mulder eyed her. "It's not that hot. He's fine."

"Not that hot? It's boiling."

He turned his wrist to glance at his watch.

"The transfer should be done soon and then we'll get out of here."

The baby's mouth opened in his sleep, forming a perfect O, and she suddenly wished she had a camera.

Four months. She'd already missed four months.

"No nannies," she said softly.

Mulder shifted his arm slightly. "Scuh-leee," he said very very softly, almost . . warningly.

"What?" She raised her eyes and looked at him.

He was looking at her, his expression wary.

"What?" she asked again.

He sighed and looked away.

"Mulder?" she asked softly.

He turned back to her. "I already have."

"Already have what?"

He was watching her closely. "Hired one."

She sat up suddenly. Too fast, she told herself. Too fast for the watching guards, too fast for her head. She forced herself to relax back against the seat and put one hand to her forehead. She was dizzy. She had to get out of this insane heat.

"You hired a nanny?"

He nodded.

"In D.C.?"

He nodded again, very slowly, his eyes still carefully watching her.

In D.C.

He'd hired a nanny in D.C.

"But. ."

She tried to grasp exactly what this meant. But her mind simply repeated: D.C. D.C. A nanny in D.C.

"You told me," he said slowly, his face very calm, his voice...carefully detached. "That you didn't want to know about him."

Suddenly her head was really pounding. She felt the sweat break out on her upper lip and forehead.

He was silent a moment while that sunk in. "I had a while--a month--to think about that. And I thought I'd better make plans."

"But how...Mulder...you didn't really believe me when I said that--did you?"

He looked away from her, out over the dozing gardens and narrowed his eyes slightly, his teeth digging hard into his lower lip. He was quiet for a long moment. "I didn't really believe you'd leave, either...but you did." His eyes swung to hers. The pain she saw there made her catch her breath. That much hurt? she marveled. Undimmed even after a half year apart?

And suddenly the conversation was about something entirely different.

"Mulder...I. ."

"Shhh!" he warned sharply. "George." His eyes flashed away from hers and swiftly around the grounds.

Her gaze followed his. Nothing stirring.

She shut her eyes tiredly and tried to think.

He'd asked. She'd left. She'd left because he'd asked her to...demanded she leave.

Or maybe...

No.

That was what she'd been telling herself. But maybe the truth was...

She'd left because she'd been ready to leave.

Her head was truly pounding now. They needed to talk. Badly. But not now. Not here.

She opened her eyes.

He was quiet. His eyes were shut, his head bowed forward, his lips against the baby's temple.

He was going to take Liam to D.C. That had been his plan from the start. He was buying this baby for himself. Not for her.

Anything she could possible say was stuck behind the tears clogging her throat.

How had she missed this?

Mulder began to speak, his eyes still closed, his voice so soft she had to lean toward him to hear him.

"In San Diego? That night in the nursing home? I picked up his inc--" he seemed to stumble over the word, "incubator and held it in my hands. And I thought, 'I've got it. Finally. Proof.' Proof of what they'd done to you. Of what they'd done to all those other women. The evidence that's always eluded us. I had it. I was holding it. Enough of it to demand some answers, maybe, bring some people to account. Enough to get some justice."

She nodded slowly.

"And then. ." he trailed off. "And then he kicked. Just a little, tiny kick. But all at once I knew that I wasn't holding some abstract set of statistics or evidence...I was holding a human being."

He raised his head then and looked at her fully. "Your child."

She swallowed hard.

"My first reaction was to run right out of there with him and rush him to you. But you were in the hospital with...Emily. And he was being kept alive by. ." He shifted uneasily. ". . a technology I didn't think we could duplicate. And...I couldn't do that to you. Show up in the middle of everything you were going through to bring you another--possibly dying--baby."

She stared at him, her eyes filled with tears.

"So I left him there. It just about killed me to do it, but I decided it was better to walk away than cause you any more pain. ."

He cleared his throat.

"So Frohike and I tracked Transgen; kept an eye on what was happening with them. Followed their shipping orders, medical supply orders, payroll, everything. When he found out where they'd moved the operation, when we made the connection between Madam Charlotta and Liam?" He shook his head. "You don't know, Scuh-lee. ."

His voice had become almost inaudible. She had to lean closer to hear him. "It was like finding...Like getting everything I ever wanted. Only better, because--"

She nodded, wide-eyed.

"Because he's fresh and new. Because he's got no past to haunt him. Because he's the one good thing that could come from everything that happened to you. . while you were with me."

It wasn't what she'd expected him to say. But...it was better. The intensity, and honesty...The tears were spilling down her cheeks now. She rubbed them away.

"Mulder," she whispered in relief. "I do want him. I'm so sorry that I made you think I didn't."

He looked at her, his eyes full of relief and hope.

"You won't need a nanny," she laughed a little thickly through the tears. "Of course I'll take him."

He looked at her for a moment. Waiting.

She nodded.

"I'll take a leave of absence. Don't worry, Mulder. We'll be fine."

He kept staring at her. "You'll be fine," he whispered flatly.

She nodded.

"In L.A.?"

"Of course, in L.A.," she replied softly. She reached out to stroke Liam's small fist, then glanced back at Mulder.

As she watched his eyes grew sad, then disbelieving.

He gently shifted the sleeping baby to his other shoulder, the one away from her, and spread his hand protectively across Liam's back.

"Mulder, what?" she asked a little desperately, scared by the look in his eyes.

"Seven months." He narrowed his eyes at her, and nodded as if finally understanding her. "Seven months," he repeated and gave a short bitter laugh. "--and don't forget seventy-five thousand dollars--later. And I'm still one clueless son of a bitch." He made an eloquent noise of disgust in the back of his throat.

"No deal," he said flatly.

He stood up and turned his back on her, dismissing her without another glance.

"Come on Liam," he said, and walked away.


She stared after him in shock.

No deal??

What the hell?

What had he thought--?

She bit her lip as she watched him walk across the garden, head bent over the sleeping baby.

Come off it, she told herself sharply. You knew this was coming. You knew he'd ask--something-- and that you needed to have an answer ready.

Yes or no, Scully.

Scuh-lee.

And she might as well have slapped him across the face.

She stood up quickly and felt the blood rush out of her head. She sat back down just as quickly, and willed the creeping darkness at the edges of her field of vision to fade away. Which would look less disturbing to the watching guards: her with her head between her knees, or slumped to the ground?

Knees, she chose, and leaned forward, resting her head on her palms.

When Charlotta's servant appeared at her side several minutes later with a tall glass of ice tea, she was able to sit up and reach shakily for the glass.

The young man stayed beside her while she drank, the slightest tinge of compassion in his dark eyes.

"The heat . ." she managed, by way of explanation.

"Would you like me to get your husband, Mrs. Hale?"

Her eyes went to Mulder, standing at the far side of the garden. He was in the shade of some kind of exotic willowy tree, rocking Liam slightly. He was watching her. When he saw her look he turned away.

She bit her lip.

"No, thanks. I'm fine."

"Yes ma'am." The servant nodded and went back into the house.


18.

"Mr. Hale? Congratulations."

A strong wave of exotic perfume accompanied the soft voice. Scully's eyelids fluttered open and there was Madame Charlotta shaking hands with a smiling Mulder standing a few feet away from her.

"The transfer's gone through?" Even to her ears her voice sounded weak and uncertain.

Charlotta's eyes settled on her briefly.

"Yes. Congratulations, Mrs. Hale. You're new parents. Excited?"

Scully rose slowly to her feet, one hand on the back of the bench. No rush of darkness this time. Thank God. "Yes. It's...wonderful!" she managed, a bit too brightly, and smiled as broadly as she could.

Suddenly the nurses were around them.

A young Malay girl in white held out her arms for the baby. "We'll change him before you leave, Mr. Hale," she said softly.

Scully's eyes flashed to Mulder's at the unintended double entendre, but he didn't look at her, just smiled down at the nurse and said, "Show me how." The girl giggled and led him away.

Scully, her head still pounding, swallowed once, let go of the bench and turned to Madame Charlotta. "Anything else?" she asked.

"Just a few papers to sign and you'll be on your way." They turned and started walking slowly back toward the house. "Do you plan to see any more of Singapore before you return to the States?"

"Um...maybe," Scully answered, and half-listened as Charlotta told her the various places they simply *must* visit.

Scully finally interrupted the flow of words. "Excuse me, Madame, but was George, Jr. taken care of by one...um...nurse in particular?"

The woman raised her eyebrows, then understanding flashed in her eyes. "Do you mean will he miss someone in particular?"

"Yes."

"No." Madame Charlotta patted her on the arm reassuringly. "He's been given exceptional care and attention by several very loving nurses. You can see he's a happy, healthy baby. But from now on you'll be taking care of him and I know he'll bond with you immediately. After all, Mrs. Hale." She smiled. "You're his new mama."

Scully nodded at the flurry of reassurance, then followed the woman into the house.

She skimmed the papers Charlotta set in front of her, then signed, careful to remember, for the moment, she was Isobel Hale. Then Mulder and Liam reappeared, circled by a group of laughing nurses. She plastered the smile back on her face, and let herself be swept along as they walked them to the car.

All the nurses and Charlotta had to hug and kiss the baby goodbye, then helped load him into his new carseat and put all his bags into the back seat.

Scully stood to one side, swaying slightly, and thought longingly of the car's air conditioning. Mulder was behaving like the perfect new dad. Asking about feeding and sleeping and blankies; smiling proudly down at Liam and completely ignoring her. He checked the seatbelt on Liam's carseat one final time, and reached for the passenger door handle.

She licked her lips, "I think you'd better drive, Mul--."

He looked at her then; took in her face with a quick irritated glance, took hold of her elbow and practically shoved her inside the car.

Dimly she registered Madame Charlotta and the nurses waving goodbye as he started the car, drove slowly down the long circular drive and past the uniformed guards at the gate. Scully rested her head against the headrest, eyes shut. She breathed slowly, waiting for the air conditioner to kick in. Finally, blessedly cool air streamed from the vents and she sat perfectly still letting it slide over her overheated skin.

After a few minutes she pulled down the visor and angled it like a rearview mirror at the road behind them.

Not a car in sight.

They'd made it.

She adjusted the mirror so she could watch Liam in his seat.

"We did it," she said softly. "We did it, Mulder. We got him."

He didn't answer.

She glanced over at him. He was slouched back in the seat, driving fast, his movements quick and automatic. He was frowning.

"Mulder...We have to talk."

He didn't acknowledge her words and she wondered if he'd even heard them. They drove for a few blocks in silence.

"So talk," he finally snapped out, his voice raw and edgy.

She cringed. Shit.

"Look Mulder, I can't give you back the time you spent looking for him, but I have some money--"

"Fuck the money."

"But you said. ."

"I was just making noise. It has *nothing* to do with the money."

She swallowed hard. Okay. She'd suspected that. "My life *is* in L.A. now--" she began.

"You've made that obvious."

His voice. Jesus. She'd hurt him.

"Mulder...look, whatever you thought I was saying back there. I never meant to hurt you. I thought. ." she dropped her head into her palm and rubbed her forehead. She glanced at him sideways. He was scowling at the road. "I don't know what I thought," she finished miserably.

A muscle in his jaw tightened, but there was no other change in his expression.

"Well, whatever either of us *thought*, it doesn't matter anymore," he said, his tone telling her as strongly as words that her apology had come too late. "They knew."

"What!??"

"They knew," he repeated bitterly. "They knew exactly who we were and they let us walk in and take him."

She thought back desperately. It had all gone smoothly. What. . ?

"Mulder? How do you know?"

"Calderon and two of the Crawfords were watching us from the upstairs terrace when we were out in the garden. Talking to Charlotta, and another woman--" his tone became ironic, "who could have been Charlotta's twin. "

"Oh my God," she said in disbelief. "Her, too? Did they know you saw them?"

"No."

"They recognized you from the boat? Why didn't they stop us?"

He shook his head. "Don't you get it? They've known it was us all along. This has been one big set up."

She leaned forward to look in the mirror again. Still no sign of anyone following them.

He gave a derisive laugh. "They don't need to follow us. They're at my apartment now, drinking my beer and installing a surveillance camera."

"But how could it be a set up?" she protested. "You found them, they didn't find you. And Liam's DNA? It's a match. You saw them take the blood. They can't have faked that."

His eyes rested on her face briefly and dispassionately. The expression in them chilled her. "I think Liam is the *only* thing that's real here."

She gasped shallowly, and turned away from him. Mulder hurt and angry was one thing. Mulder, deliberately cruel was something she had no defenses against.

"They wanted us to take him. Clearly, they didn't want us to find out they knew. For some reason, we're supposed to think we've beaten them at their own game."

She waited for the familiar passion to creep into his voice, for the *we're gonna make these bastards pay* determination, the way it always did when these men--whoever the hell they were--stepped in and screwed with their lives.

But there was nothing in his voice but a kind of self- recriminating bitterness . . and he'd obviously made up his mind she was no longer on his side.

He turned away from her slightly and hunched one shoulder, concentrating on the road.

"But why, Mulder? Why would they want us to have him? You said it yourself: he's evidence."

"Why did they want you to have Emily?"

She stared at his profile and frowned. "They didn't Mulder. I found--"

"You found her? Why San Diego? Your dead sister's voice on the phone? And your brother and Tara suddenly pregnant after being based there? You told me yourself they've been trying for years."

She sat stunned. "Mulder, no, not Tara--"

He moved one shoulder in a minuscule shrug.

"She's pregnant again," she told him.

He didn't look surprised.

"Tell me you don't have any evidence. ." she whispered.

He gave a frustrated sigh, then shook his head.

She took a deep breath. "If they wanted me to have her, why didn't they give me the means to keep her alive?"

For a long moment he just drove. Eyes narrowed at the glare. Then his face changed and he shut his eyes for a second.

"Oh. Shit," he said very softly under his breath.

"Mulder?"

He ignored her and frowned, apparently concentrating on the increased traffic as they drove through downtown, but she had a feeling he wasn't seeing any of it. She knew that expression. He was thinking back, trying to piece things out.

She turned and looked back at Liam. He gurgled at her, and she summoned a tiny smile for him. She turned back to Mulder.

Finally he shook his head.

"No. Everything was going fine until I came to see you. And I've screwed up every step of the way since. Me and my fucking plan." His voice was unbearably mocking.

"Mulder, don't. ."

"Mulder don't what? Don't tell you something else you don't really want to hear?"

She stared at him. "What?"

"You tell me not to protect you, that you want to know the truth. But we both know that doesn't mean the whole truth, does it?" He glanced at her, his eyes cynical. "Well, I don't know which parts I'm supposed to filter out any more."

"Mulder. . " she trailed off, shocked.

"Do you know how hard it was not to tell you about him?"

She silently shook her head.

"I planned to tell you about him--*tried* to tell you when I came to L.A. But you stood there with your happy new life and your drawer full of condoms and your 'Go fuck yourself Mulder attitude', and--" His gaze flicked over her briefly. "It was easier to sleep with you than to look in your eyes and try to figure out if you wanted to know you had a son."

She froze.

"So I dragged you here, hoping. ." He took a long ragged breath. "I thought when you found out, you'd be ecstatic. But you threw that right in my face." His eyelids flickered momentarily, then he shook his head and watched blankly as pedestrians crossed in front of them at a light. "Let's see. What else did I screw up? Slept with you when we got here, even though I swore to myself I wouldn't. Practically got you killed. Again."

He might as well have been checking off a grocery list. "And then slept with you *again*, when--look at you--" His eyes slid sideways to skim over her for a second, then away. "--you probably have a concussion. All because I can't keep my goddamn hands off you."

His fingers tightened suddenly on the wheel.

They might as well have been around her neck. She realized she wasn't breathing. She shut her eyes and focused on trying to breathe.

"I thought-- I thought he might make up for some of the shit I've caused you. Or even. ." his voice was all at once dripping with sarcasm. ". . that suddenly all would be forgiven and you'd come running back." He gave a snort. "What a fucking fool I am."

She opened her mouth, but she had no idea what she was about to say. "You thought what?" came out, but then her voice cracked. All the blood seemed to have drained out of her head. She took a deep breath and tried again. "You thought you could use Liam...to bribe me...to come back?"

He turned his head and met her eyes, challenging her. "Does that shock you? You already knew I'm an asshole, right? That's why you left."

She wanted to clap her hand over his mouth and scream, Stop! but all she could do was sit there and stare at him and let his scathing words wash through the car.

"And now...This. You. Today. Them--" He made a sharp angry gesture encompassing everything. "They figured it out. They fucking figured out what I was doing and I have no clue how. Frohike and I were *so* careful."

"But," she said. "We've got him. He's right here." She peeked at Liam, he waved his arms when he saw her. His face crinkling up in a big smile.

God.

"You just don't get it, do you? He was going to be ours. Now he's theirs."

Her brain focused on one word: "ours". She glanced back at Mulder quickly.

His eyes narrowed. "But it's not about you anymore. It's about him. Protecting him."

"Mulder. What you thought--"

"I don't know what the fuck I thought." His eyes slid to meet hers. She'd never imagined he could look at her with that expression: a sort of angry insolence. "At this point," he continued, "I doubt there was any kind of thought involved."

She felt raw all over, as if every nerve ending on her body had been flayed. And her head. God, if she didn't take something for it soon she would throw up.

"Mulder...stop," she protested. "Don't do this."

He was still staring at her, finally letting her see the disillusionment he felt for her, stark in his eyes. "I wish I'd never shown up on your--"

"Enough!" she cut him off mid-sentence. "Pull over."

"What?"

"Stop the car."

"Can't it wait till the airpor--?"

"No," she said sharply. "I said stop the car."

He pulled the car over without comment, staring straight ahead. "Open the trunk."

He released the trunk catch and sat back in his seat. He didn't look at her, just tapped his fingers slowly on the wheel.

Her suitcase, naturally, was at the bottom of the trunk. She shoved his to one side, and with sweat pouring down her face, fumbled with the combination lock and dug for her make-up bag. Gratefully her fingers closed on the small bottle. She stuffed her suitcase half-shut, slammed the trunk closed, and looked around. They'd stopped at a park on the river. And, she sighed with relief, there was a food vendor where she could buy a drink.

As she stood in line, she watched a family having their picture taken in front of a large stone fountain at the water's edge.

A mother, father and three little girls posed as another tourist took their picture. They all said 'cheers' just as the man looked down at the woman and smiled...

God.

He'd sworn to himself he wouldn't make love to her?

He regretted it?

Was it true?

They'd come full circle. Back to her listening in shock as he threw out angry words. Words meant to hurt her. Words meant to push her away.

Was this it, then? The real end of the road for the two of them? She ought to be furious with him, but...she knew self-flagellation when she saw it and she knew the insidiousness of these men...what they'd done to him--to both their lives. He'd told her how much the baby had meant to him; finding out that Liam would somehow be part of their terrible plan was a final blow...and he thought she'd deserted him--again. Two final blows.

Instead of anger, all she felt was a kind of sick commiseration...and a numb sensation, almost as if she was floating. Hot and floating, high above it all.

He was sorry they'd made love...

She closed her eyes against the shimmering heat off the pavement...she could still see his eyes.

Christ.

It had had the ring of truth. It was the truth.

She opened her eyes as the family walked away, chattering and laughing like real tourists. Her mouth twisted wistfully as she watched them, then her eyes focused on the statue squirting water from its mouth, trying to decipher what it was--

"Just this, Miss, yah?" the vendor asked pointing to juices and bottled water she'd picked.

She nodded, and then as she paid, she saw the disposable cameras on the vendor's cart and bought one, too.

Juggling bottles, she opened the car door and sank thankfully back into the coolness inside.

Mulder was leaning back against the headrest, eyes closed. She glanced back at Liam, asleep again in his seat. He'd probably be up all night on the plane. His face, so sweet, and one hand clutching his rattle, even in his sleep. Thank God he was too small to understand any of this.

Her eyes went back to Mulder, and ran over his profile; exhaustion and defeat were etched into every line of his face. With a start she noticed more than a few threads of grey hair at his temple.

Mulder getting grey.

The sight hit her harder than anything that had spilled out during his tirade.

All these years she'd been biding her time, waiting for Dr. Dana Scully's perfect life to finally begin: perfect career, perfect man, perfect house, and somehow even 2.4 perfect uber-children. She'd convinced herself the day would come and everything would fall into place and she'd be suddenly, instantly, easily, happy.

And Mulder...she'd told herself that if she fell in love with him--if she let this imperfect man into her heart--then her *real* life would get screwed up.

Somehow she'd totally ignored the fact this *was* his real life. He'd never pretended otherwise. And he'd just spent another half a year of it tracking down her child.

Oh Mulder, she thought, her eyes running over his face. What have I done?

She took in the sheen of perspiration on his forehead, the pale-grey tinge of his skin. Her eyes went to the pulse fluttering in his neck. It was difficult to read visually but. . he looked like he was in shock.

"Mulder."

He opened his eyes and looked at her. The expression in his eyes was...terrible.

"Here," she said. "I got you some juice. Drink it."

His eyelids flickered slightly. "I thought you'd left."

She raised one eyebrow.

"I thought," he said slowly. ". . you'd gotten out of the car, taken your suitcase and just left me here in the middle of Singapore."

She held up the bottle of Tylenol for him to see. His eyes slid away from her face and focused on the bottle. He watched as she shook out four and swallowed them with a grateful swig of her drink. His eyes met hers again. The terrible expression was gone, replaced with a kind of blank wariness.

He held out his hand, palm up.

She shook two pills into his hand and handed him his juice.

"I was actually admiring you for it," he went on, his voice weary. "That you had the balls to just get up and walk out on my sorry ass twice."

She chewed her lip briefly and thought about it. "And leave you alone with Liam on that flight?"

He paused a long time, then, "We'll be fine."

Oh, Mulder. Touche.

"You had my passport," she said quietly at last.

"And your ticket." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out their passports and tickets and separated hers. "Here." He held them out to her.

She didn't even look at them. "I've been waiting to hear the truth from you for a long time, Mulder," she told him, her carefully dry tone covering up the fact that her insides were not exactly steady. "I guess I can take it without walking out."

He looked at her, completely uncomprehendingly.

She finished off her first bottle of juice and opened a second one. It was already making her feel better. Mulder'd just about finished his. She tried to remember the last time she'd seen him eat anything. He hadn't been eating much since they'd arrived. Suddenly, she was hungry. Very hungry. If she could get herself and him through the next five minutes then they'd go get lunch.

"Look," he said. ". . you--"

"Shut up!" she said flatly. "I said I can take it, *not* that I want to hear any more of it today." She paused. "And NEVER in front of Liam again. Got that?"

He pursed his lips, then turned and looked over his shoulder at Liam. She watched him watch the sleeping baby. The skin around his eyes still looked bruised, but the color was coming back to his face.

"Mulder. Alright. They know. But don't forget what's important here...*One thing*. Remember? Now let's get him the hell out of Singapore."

He turned back to her and she met his eyes squarely as he searched her face. She didn't know if he'd found any answers there, but finally he looked down at the passport and ticket still in his hand as if he didn't remember how they'd gotten there.

He slipped them back in his inside coat pocket.

She gave a huge internal sigh of relief and glanced at the car clock. They still had a couple hours before the plane. Next: food.

She saw his eyes go to the camera in her lap.

"Lunch first," she said. "And then...in case anyone's watching, we're going to play happy tourist family. Because--" She picked up the camera and waved it him half-temptingly half-admonishingly. "Guess what? I know where your Merlion is, Mulder."


19.

Venice Beach

Her nose was buried comfortably in the familiar smell of her own pillow...she opened one eye...it was light out. Morning? Afternoon? Groggily, she turned her head and eyed the quality of light through the window...foggy...in July?

She lifted her head sharply. Had it been a dream?

Keeping still for a moment, she listened to the sounds of her apartment. It was so quiet.

Had they left?

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and rushed, silent and naked, to her bedroom door.

It took a fraction of a second to scan the room. The couch was empty; the sheets and blankets refolded on the end. The bathroom door stood open. He wasn't in the apartment.

But Liam was. Still curled up, sound asleep, in the nest of quilts she'd made for him in the little alcove at the edge of the study section of her living room.

And there was Mulder's carry-on bag. She exhaled: a sharp, inadvertent sound of relief.

She realized she had one hand closed tightly in a fist pressed against her heart. Her pulse had gone from zero to one-fifty in two seconds.

She watched the rise and fall of Liam's chest for a moment, then, taking a deep breath, deliberately relaxed her fist and headed for the bathroom.

The floor was wet, the air smelled like his shampoo. His dopp kit was on the counter.

He was still here. Liam was still here.

What the hell was she going to do?

She had to figure something out. Fast.

Her reflection in the bathroom mirror suddenly caught her eye. Oh, Sweet Jesus. She looked awful.

She leaned forward to critically examine her bruised cheek in the mirror. It was a lurid combination of green and yellow. And, now she could see herself in something other than the ill-lit airplane bathroom, she realized the trauma went further than she had originally believed, extending purple and black with a tinge of yellow to delicately shade the fragile skin around her eye.

No. Not a dream at all.

She stepped back and inspected her whole body. Her nude body looked too small, too thin--all angles and bruises. An ugly greenish purple splotch covered her entire side. Her rib and hip bones stuck out too prominently...her breasts were small and lonely looking...Not anyone's idea of appealing, she thought sadly. God, nothing like your own mirror to tell you the truth.

She heard a noise from the living room and tensed, then relaxed. Definitely the sound of a hungry baby.

She grabbed her robe, still hanging on the back of the bathroom door where she'd left it a million years ago and pulled it on.

When the baby saw her, he stopped crying and smiled.

"Hey Liams," she said softly. "Are you glad to be off that plane? Me too." She knelt down beside him, scooped him into a hug and kissed him on the nose. "Where's you-know-who?"

Liam just looked at her wide-eyed, without replying.

"That's your new Dad for you," she told him, her tone only half-playful. One of his little socks had fallen off and she hunted for it through the covers with her free hand. "'Liam,'" she said in her best imitation of Mulder. "'I hear they've been seeing lights in the sky in Wyoming. Gotta go. See ya in a week, liddle buddy.'"

Liam laughed.

She laughed back in delighted surprise and hugged him. "I didn't know you were big enough to laugh. That's right. Just laugh at him when he tells you that."

She held his fat little foot up to her mouth and kissed the soft instep. "Not that he ever warned me, mind you." She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Just tell him: But, Daddy, my sock disappeared! I think little grey men took it. Maybe you better stay home and investigate!"

Liam smiled at her, then began waving his arms excitedly. She ducked her head and rested her lips against his ear.

"Maybe I should just steal you," she whispered. "Make *you* disappear." She looked down at him "How would you like that?"

For about thirty seconds she contemplated it.

She sighed. Wish I could do it, she thought. Wish it were that easy.

Liam was making what she now recognized as very hungry noises and she rummaged in his bag for a bottle of ready-made formula.

"Here we go! Thank goodness we have one left."

The baby sighed contentedly as he latched on to the nipple.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The rest of the afternoon in Singapore and boarding the plane had been a blur. They'd barely exchanged ten words. Between the mind-numbing roar of the engines, their uneasy truce and the increasingly unhappy baby, there hadn't been much chance to talk on the plane, either.

Every now and then they'd slip into something like normal conversation, without mention of what they'd just been through, or what they were heading into. It was as if they were in a state of suspended reality, where what had happened before and what would happen next simply didn't exist.

By the second leg of the flight--still eight hours out of L.A.--they were both on autopilot.

Liam screamed in terror, unnerving them both, when they tried to put him in the bulkhead bassinet, so he'd been in Mulder's lap the whole time, dozing fitfully, obviously miserable.

Mulder, his head bent over the baby, hummed him a little song, and gently stroked his shoulder, trying to calm him.

"Poor little guy," she said softly.

Mulder looked up at her, his expression closed, his eyes still carefully distant. "I wonder if he misses his nurse."

"Well...Matthew knows Tara," she said, striving for a normal tone of voice. She turned her head and let her hair fall in front of her face, hiding her features from him as she dug in one of Liam's bags, looking for something, anything, inspiration.

Cloth diapers on an airplane. What a nightmare.

"Sometimes," she went on, "when he cries, he only wants her. No one else will make him happy. I asked Madame C. She said he'd been taken care of by several nurses, just for that reason. But he still doesn't know us. ." She stopped; she was babbling.

Liam struggled suddenly and arched his back.

"Want me to take him?" she asked.

"No." He rocked Liam a little harder.

She'd about given up asking Mulder to let her hold the baby. He obviously was determined to prove he could do it all himself.

"Try putting him on his tummy, Mulder. Rub his back."

He hesitated a second, then gently turned the baby over and did as she suggested. Liam seemed slightly more comfortable, and shut his eyes again.

"Look!" she said triumphantly. "A Binky."

"A what?"

"A Binky," she said, holding the pacifier out on the palm of her hand.

"That's a soother," Mulder informed her.

"Thank you, Dr. Spock."

She stuffed the Binky on her finger like a ring and leaned her head back against the seat, watching the sleeping baby. In under thirty seconds her eyelids were drooping.

Liam chose that moment to let out a sudden wail. She dipped the pacifier into her cup of Coke to rinse it, wiped it on the napkin and held it to the baby's lips. After a few grumbles he took it in his mouth, closed his eyes and started sucking hard.

"Coke? You'll ruin his teeth."

"He doesn't have teeth."

"Well he will," Mulder countered.

"Not before the end of this flight, he won't. *Hopefully.* How was I supposed to wash it?"

"You're a doctor. It should be sterilized."

"I'm also the second youngest of four. I can remember seeing Charlie's Binky washed in things a lot stranger--and a lot stronger--than Coke."

"I could have called Miss Singapore to bring us some hot water."

"And a half an hour later when she brought it he'd still be crying? Look at him."

Liam was fast asleep.

"Coke can take the rust off a carburetor."

"Mul-der." She sat back against her seat and closed her eyes, hoping that would end the discussion.

Learning to be new parents at 36,000 feet... ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A sudden gurgling noise in her lap brought her back to the present and her fingers encountered something warm, wet and gooey. "Uh-oh. What's this?" She turned him around and looked at his back. "You, Mr. Baby, have one very full di-dee. What a mess! Thank goodness we're not on the plane for this one."

Liam looked at her and smiled and gurgled happily. He reached out for the front of her robe, got a good hold and started yanking.

"Pleased with yourself, are you?" She grabbed his bag and carried him into the bathroom.

"Don't tell me," she told him, searching through his bag. "Just one clean diaper left, too?"

She undid his red jammies and peeled them back. "Oh, geez." She managed to get them off him and dropped them in the sink.

She carefully removed the cloth diaper and wrapped it in the plastic pants. "I don't ever want to see one of these again," she told him. She tossed it toward the trash. It landed, naturally, with a soggy *thunk* on the tile floor.

"Hold still, Liam, hold still. Ohhhhhh. Liams."

Instead, he wiggled with delight, and now he was covered from his heels to his elbows. She looked down at her knees. Her robe was a mess, too.

Liam had decided her hair was the best toy he'd ever seen and grabbed at it with his little fists. She should have tied it back before starting this, she realized too late. She shrugged it back with her shoulders as best she could.

"Okay, Mr. Stinky. Tub time for you."

She turned on the tap and leaned over to test the temp with her elbow. She glanced at Liam, lying almost on his side, trying to reach the hem of her robe and turn over at the same time.

She grabbed him. "Oh no you don't." She picked him up and held him awkwardly under the running water. She washed him off as best she could, while he laughed and waved his arms, splashing water into her face and down the front of her robe. It was almost impossible to hold on to him and wash him at the same time.

"You, Liam, are one slippery little pumpkin." She looked down at herself. The baby was pretty much clean but now she was a mess.

"Okay. Move over. I'm coming in."

She lifted him out of the tub, put the stopper into the drain and let it fill with clean water.

"I'll bet somebody's got what we need in his dopp kit." She reached for Mulder's bag on the bathroom shelf, it crashed to the floor, spilling its contents.

"Oh, sh-- oot, we'll have to pick that up in a minute." She pushed through his spilled toiletries, razor, shaving brush, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrush, with her toe. Shampoo. "There we go. See? I know all his secrets." She poured some baby shampoo from the travel-sized bottle under the rushing water.

Liam was smiling up at her as if she'd said something funny.

"Well," she amended gently. "I used to."

She shrugged out of her robe and tossed it in the corner.

"Okay, here we go. Back in the tub." She stepped in and sat down cross-legged with Liam on her lap. "There. Better?"

He smiled at her again and she kissed him on his fat cheek. "You are a little darling, you know. I wish . ." she trailed off with a sigh. "I just wish."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The steady drone of the plane's engines had become one with her nervous system. The smell of plane seats, baby and Mulder, her whole world. She had almost been asleep, her brain numb...

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked quietly.

She thought about it without opening her eyes. Miraculously, in the cool, dry interior of the plane, her head had finally stopped throbbing. But she was truly exhausted. Physically and mentally.

She opened her eyes.

He was watching her.

She let her gaze travel over the picture he made. The sleeping baby in his lap. His hair a mess, his jaw covered with thirty-six hours of beard. His expensive shirt loosened at the collar, rumpled and splotched with baby spit. A burpee thrown over one shoulder. His eyes tired, but, behind the aloofness, she could suddenly see it plainly--concern for her.

She felt the old familiar tug at her heart, stronger, more insistent than ever.

Instead of pushing it away, she let the feeling slide over her, through her, until it was as if what she felt for him were her very blood, being pumped from her heart, warm through her veins, arms legs, fingers, toes...head.

It's surge of power left her breathless.

She wanted to reach out and touch the stubble on his cheeks, brush her fingers against his mouth...

He was still waiting for an answer, watching her curiously.

"Um...better. Thanks." She swallowed hard. "But I think I'll get an X-ray, just in case, when we get back."

He nodded. "I should have made you go to the hospital."

"Mmmnhph," she murmured noncommittally. "How 'bout you?" she asked. "How do you feel?"

His pursed his lips and didn't say anything. She'd meant physically, but that obviously wasn't what he was considering.

He looked down at the sleeping baby, and a muscle clenched low in his cheek. "I'm okay," he murmured finally.

She didn't think so.

She had to touch him. She lifted her hand and placed it on top of his. His skin felt dry and cool and slightly dehydrated. Her fingers slid of their own accord around to his inner wrist. She pressed their tips hard against the veins. She needed to feel his blood flowing warm through him, too.

They'd been so careful not to touch each other. This was why. The contact was thrilling, electric, the current flowing from her body to his and back again. She concentrated on the sensation, absorbing it, and wondered again if it was even remotely possible that these feelings racing through her blood for him--this passion--could be one-sided. She could feel his heart beating, first in her fingers, then in her hands, then in her arms and her chest. All at once she realized their hearts were beating together. Perfectly in time. The hair on her arms stood on end as she listened with her fingers. Thump. Thump. Thump.

"Are you taking my pulse?" He sounded amused.

She glanced up at him quickly. Couldn't he feel it, too? He was looking down at their hands. He turned his hand over in hers and wrapped his fingers around her wrist, his fingers seeking her pulse, too.

Her wrist looked very small and delicate in his hand. Too delicate. And the bruise ugly. She flexed it a little, reassured by the sight of her muscles rippling under the skin. He cleared his throat.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

"For what?"

"For getting us out of there. I'd still be sitting there, I think."

She ducked her head, trying to see his face. She couldn't see his expression. "I think Liam might have had other ideas."

He shook his head slightly, his attention still on their hands. He licked his lower lip.

"And for not washing your hands of me."

Mulder...God. Was he apologizing? "It never even occurred to me," she said softly.

He looked at her sideways, considering her seriously, then nodded, "Anyway, thanks."

"You're welcome." She gave him a little tiny half-smile.

He watched her for a moment then looked away without returning the smile. He shifted uncomfortably and glanced at his watch.

"Seven more hours of purgatory," he said, obviously changing the subject. "Can you get some sleep while he's out?"

She nodded.

He looked back at her in time to catch the tail end of her nod, and nodded back.

He let go of her wrist and pulled the sleeve of her cardigan back down over her bruise, and placed her hand back on her side of the armrest.

"Then sleep," he said quietly.

"If the flight attendant comes by, get us some more bottled water, okay?"

He nodded and pressed the call button.

She shut her eyes and stuck her suddenly chilly fingers under her armpits for warmth.

She heard the flight attendant come and go, then come and go again with the water.

A few minutes later, she could still feel his gaze on her.

She opened her eyes, surprising an expression on his face of total unhappiness. It disappeared instantly.

"Drink the water," she said. "You're dehydrated."

He gave her a little sad half-nod and whispered, "Sleep."

She nodded at the water. He drank half the bottle, glanced at her still watching him and drank the rest. He tucked the empty bottle into the seat pocket, then settled his head back with a tired sigh, shutting his eyes.

Her eyes fell on his fingers, gently stroking the back of Liam's neck.

She reached out for his other hand and linked their fingers. He didn't open his eyes, just tried to pull away. She wouldn't let go; she pulled his hand into her lap. His fingers were perfectly still for a moment then tightened around hers. She squeezed back. She turned their linked hands so his rested beneath hers, palm to palm, her inner wrist pressed firmly against his pulse. She adjusted her shoulders more comfortably against the seat back, closed her eyes and fell asleep. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She'd done it on the plane and everything had seemed fine, but she couldn't help herself.

She checked the back of his neck again, then closely examined every inch of his skin. She found nothing but soft, sweet, delicious baby skin...

She leaned him back in her lap so she could dampen his hair, then poured a little baby shampoo in her hand and slathered it all over him, then rinsed.

"There. Much cleaner."

Liam suddenly reached out his hand and grabbed at her breast.

"You remember those from when you were little? Is that where you got your milk?"

Liam opened his mouth and nudged her nipple. She felt an odd thrill.

"Wasn't your bottle enough? Sorry honey, but those don't work on Aunt Dana--"

Shit.

She bit her lip hard and shut her eyes.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Slipping into Aunt Dana-Matthew mode had been too easy.

This is not Matthew, she told herself, this is your son.

*My* son.

Mine.

She took a deep breath and looked down at him.

It still seemed so unreal.

Now he was trying to push a pile of bubbles into his mouth. "You know," she told him. "I know another little boy just about your size. His name is Matthew, and he's your cousin. Maybe...you two will get to play together...sometime."

He suddenly turned back to her nipple, ducked his head and tried again. A sudden longing overtook her.

"Okay, little one," she said softly.

She lifted his open mouth a little closer to her breast and he latched on, sucking hard.

She gave a little startled laugh. It felt unbelievable. Liam snuggled into her breast, shut his eyes, and kept sucking.

She studied his profile as he sucked busily. Chubby baby cheeks, pert little nose, firm little chin. She thought she could see a resemblance to her own baby pictures around his nose and cheeks...and maybe a little resemblance to Emily...

And she wondered, not for the first time, who his biological father could be. Whoever he was, she hoped he was healthy, happy and completely unaware of any of this--

But she wished like hell she could get her hands on his medical history.

She suddenly shut her eyes.

God? Are you listening? Why couldn't I have given birth to this baby the old fashioned way? Nine months after making love to the man I'd chosen to share my life with?

Mulder. She wished Mulder could be his father more desperately than she'd wished anything in her life.

She stared hard down at Liam, deliberately memorizing his face, the way he looked snuggled against her breast, the way his mouth pulled on her nipple, his small fist pressed against her. She tucked away the moment in her mind.

Oh God.

How am I going to let him go. . ?

"I think I'm jealous."

She started and looked up. Mulder was slouched against the bathroom doorframe, watching them.

"Mulder!" She felt herself blush, a full red-hot body blush.

"How long have you been there?"

"Long enough. Couldn't find his Binky?"

She felt incredibly vulnerable sitting there naked. What a bizarre and pathetic sight she must appear to him; a beat-up and barren old maid, sitting in a bathtub, nursing a baby at her empty breast.

She felt her eyes prickle with tears.

He couldn't even let her have this?

"Jealous of what he's doing, Mulder? Or just because you'd like to breast-feed him yourself, too?" she said tartly

He looked baffled, then faintly chagrined. "I startled you." His eyes dropped away from her face to the baby. "I'm sorry."

"Um...He wanted a little snack, I think," she said quickly, to cover up her embarrassment.

He didn't meet her eyes, just nodded. She saw his eyes travel across the clothes in the sink, the mess on the floor, her robe in a heap in the corner. He knelt beside the tub and began to pick up the contents of his kit.

Surreptitiously, she tried to ease Liam away from her breast. He wouldn't let go, just sucked harder.

"He's not going to be happy when he figures out there's nothing in there." God, Dana, she thought, shut up.

He looked up at her, the tiniest hint of pity in his eyes. "Want me to get a bottle ready?"

She bit her lip; she didn't want his pity. "We're out of formula."

"Nope. I just went to the store. *Disposable* diapers. Wipes. Formula. Do you know how much that ready-made stuff costs? I bought powdered. Same brand." He paused and watched Liam. "But he looks like he's enjoying what he's doing just fine."

She looked at him. "So we're on a budget now?" She was very uncomfortable with the way he was staring at the baby at her breast.

He didn't answer, but his eyes flicked briefly to her face and away. Obviously *we're* was not the operative word.

"Can I ask where you got the money, Mulder?"

Mulder gnawed his lower lip. "The cottage."

"You sold it?" The cottage on Quonochontaug. "Wasn't it your mom's?"

"She never wanted to see it again. Me either." He lifted one shoulder. "I told you," he said, "I would have done anything to get him."

"Mulder. ." she began, then stopped, shocked at the desperation in her voice.

He shook his head and finished picking up his toiletries. He gingerly picked up the diaper and inclined his head toward the trash. She nodded. He tossed it in, then stood and put his kit back beside the sink. He paused as if was going to say something, then threw a tight look at her and went out the door. She heard the rustle of grocery bags as he carried them into the kitchen.

She bent her head over the baby.

Liam's eyes were shut, but his mouth was still suckling greedily.

She shut her eyes and concentrated hard.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ On the final decent into LA, Liam awoke screaming.

With the pacifier in his mouth he'd slept for seven hours straight. She'd slept for almost as long, her head awkwardly crooked against the seat back.

Mulder, apparently, had held the baby on his lap the entire time. She didn't know if he'd slept or not. With the one part of her brain that could still fire up a few synapses, she managed to feel a little twinge of awe and admiration for the way he was handling the baby.

The Binky was no use. She was surprised when Mulder handed him to her to sooth.

She jiggled him on her lap as Mulder hunted desperately through the bags for a bottle.

"Shhhhh, sweetie. Shhhhh. Daddy's looking for your milk." She said it before she realized it. Her eyes went to Mulder. He stopped what he was doing for a split-second, then went on looking for the bottle as if he hadn't heard.

A flight attendant appeared at Mulder's elbow. "It's his ears," she said, looking at them both as if they were from Mars. "The pressure change. Don't you have a bottle?"

She rushed off down the aisle as Mulder finally unearthed one.

He made a face at the woman's back then turned his head and smiled tiredly at Scully.

Finally.

She gave him a tired smile back. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The water in the bathtub had cooled and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee was filling the air when Liam's mouth finally relaxed.

When she looked up, Mulder was back at the door watching them. She gave him a small tentative almost-smile. "Mulder? Can you take him?"

He shoved himself away from the doorframe and pulled a towel off the rack.

She lifted the sleeping baby and Mulder wrapped him gently.

He was just fastening the diaper when she came out wrapped in a towel. He pulled a cotton swab out of Liam's bag and gently dried the baby's ears.

"There you go, buddy," he murmured soothingly.

Mulder placed the baby on the quilt on the floor and pulled a cotton blanket up over his shoulders.

"It's warm enough in here for him, for now." He glanced at his watch. "He's going to want a bottle before long."

"You're really good with him, Mulder. Really, really good," she said tiredly. "You'll be fine without . ." she trailed off.

Me. Fine without me.

He stopped what he was doing and considered her silently.

She gave him a bare smile and turned away. She went back into her bedroom, pulled on a t-shirt and undies, and sat down on the bed.

She glanced at the date on her watch. Was it really only the fifth here in the States? Her tired brain tried to figure it all out. She rubbed her forehead. Five days, six nights and two plane rides with Mulder and her carefully ordered life was in shambles. She'd known about Liam for exactly four of those days. She still had awful jetlag, her brain felt like mush, the bump still tender when she moved her head too quickly. She'd broken heavens knows how many international laws and--

Tomorrow he was just walking out again, and taking her baby with him.

They needed to talk. She needed to march out there right now and calmly and rationally make the argument why she should be the one Liam should live with. She was a doctor, she could keep a closer eye on him, make sure he stayed healthy; Mulder could see him as often as he wanted...some sort of joint custody, maybe . . and--

She shut her eyes tightly.

No.

She needed to tell him the truth. Exactly how she felt. That she wanted them both *completely* in her life, and that it would break her heart to have either of them get on that plane tomorrow.

It was so simple. She'd tell him the truth, lay it all in his lap, see how he responded. He'd listen. He'd have to.

She needed...God...she needed more sleep. She'd just put her head down on the pillow for a second...then she'd go tell him...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Lying to the Customs agent at LAX was a breeze. She couldn't believe she hadn't even thought about it, but was unsurprised when Mulder produced a passport for Liam, too.

The predawn air was tinged with the distinct smell of smoke as they left the building. Mulder paused and sniffed. "Fireworks. Was last night just the Fourth here?"

She had no idea, just shook her head and took the passports out of his hand. She looked at Liam's curiously. It was stamped as if he'd traveled into Singapore the same day they had.

Amazing.

George Ellery Hale, Jr.

Her eyes moved further down the page. Date of Birth: February 23, 1998.

She stopped short and looked up quickly at Mulder.

He was watching her. He set his suitcase and Liam's carseat down on the pavement. Liam was awake, looking around in wonder at the bustle of the airport.

"We did it," he said. "We got him."

She drew in her breath and held it.

"Dana," he said. His mouth twisted a little.

Ohhh no...

"I wanted to thank you for coming with me to Singapore," he said formally.

She wasn't sure what to say; she just nodded.

He reached out and took her left hand. His touch was cold. "I couldn't have done it without you. Couldn't have gotten him. I know that doing some of the things we had to do to get him were against your principles. I want you to know that I appreciate it."

Carefully rehearsed.

She waited.

His fingers pressed hers gently. They both looked down at their hands. The ring. His thumb gently stroked it.

He glanced up at her, his eyes wistful. "It was my grandmother's," he said.

She nodded.

"Isobel...and Liam."

She nodded again. She'd figured that out.

"I think they were the last truly happy people in my family."

She nodded one more time.

"Thank you for...pretending. ."

She tried to pull a little breath into her lungs, but she couldn't with the touch of his hand on hers. She pulled her hand out of his grasp and looked down at the ring.

Pretending.

Yup. That's what it had been.

The ruby winked like a dark drop of blood in the fluorescent lights, the pearls, nearly opalescent. The old gold gleamed richly, as it had for nearly eighty years. Oh, Christ. Tears. Again. She pinched her lips together hard to drive them back.

This was as good a time as any. She pulled at the ring. It didn't want to come off. She dug her teeth hard into her lower lip and gave the ring a vicious yank. It flew off, scraping skin with it. She held it out to him in her palm.

He stood stock still and stared down at it without touching it, his mouth tightening almost imperceptibly.

"Do you want the necklace back, too?" she asked.

She watched him swallow hard. It seemed to take his whole upper body. Neck, shoulders, torso.

Just then Liam let out a shriek of glee. They both looked down at the baby and watched as he managed to reach the teething bear toy in his lap and bring it to his mouth. Then they both looked back at the ring. Mulder carefully took it from her palm without touching her skin and put it in his pocket.

"Um...no...um..." he said and turned away from her, looking around vaguely as if realizing where they were. His eyes focused on a bus at the curbside. "The flight back to Dulles is from Delta...I guess...there's the bus over to the other terminal. So...I guess...um...you can grab a cab. ."

He trailed off and studied her, his expression troubled and slightly dazed. Her eyes had followed his to the bus. It clearly said, "Anaheim/Disneyland" on the front. They flicked back to his face and she scanned his eyes anxiously. He was ditching her, as quickly as possible.

During the entire flight she hadn't been able to admit that he was going to take the baby and go home. Without her.

But it seemed that was exactly what he was going to do.

She felt suddenly as if she'd been kicked in the stomach.

He took a deep breath then leaned down and picked the carseat by its carrying handle.

The fragile calm she'd achieved on the plane, since the car, since Charlotta's garden, suddenly deserted her.

"No!" She reached out and grabbed the handle with both hands. He looked down at her hands, then his eyes slowly rose to her face.

"Look, Mulder, at Charlotta's you said, 'No deal.' Well, what is the deal? What do you want? Tell me."

She tightened her hands around the handle and pulled slightly.

He didn't say anything. He didn't let go either, just watched her with careful eyes.

"Tell me! You have to let me see him, Mulder. You have to let me be part of his life. Do you want me back in DC? I'll come back. Do you want me to come back to work with you? I'll do it. Christ, Mulder, I'll sleep with you if that's what it takes, but you've made it clear--" His eyes flickered slightly and she broke off. "Whatever. Now you tell me EXACTLY what you want and I'll give it to you. Anything. Anything in exchange for seeing him. Deal?"

People streamed by them as they stood staring at one another, playing tug of war with a baby in a carseat smack dab in the middle of the exit to the baggage claim.

Mulder was still staring at her with that worried look in his eyes. God, it seemed all he ever did was stare at her. He didn't say anything, didn't move, just looked at her, then closed his eyes and stood there, shutting her out, breathing through his mouth.

Finally, he opened them and looked at her as if he couldn't quite remember who the hell she was or why the hell she was there.

"I don't want anything from you," he told her, his voice low and toneless. "Just . . tell me what *you* want. Tell me exactly how *you* want this to work and we'll do it."

She stared at him. Her mind floundered quickly for a reasonable answer.

What did she want? When she'd found out about the baby, what had she thought was going to happen? That she'd have Liam...and Mulder would...come to see them . . and at some point they'd all be together. Somehow.

Apparently she couldn't have that.

So, next best: for him to be with Mulder...and she'd come see them...and maybe at some point...

"I want to be able to come see him," she said, her voice sounding a lot firmer than she felt. "To spend time with him."

He gave his head a half shake.

"You can see him anytime you want. You can be Aunt Dana and breeze into town twice a year with an armful of gifts. Hell, you can live in DC and drop by every day." He shook his head again a little harder as if to clear it, looked down at Liam for a second, then pulled on the carseat handle and started to turn away. "But don't forget to call me before you decide to drop by. So you can make sure I'm out."

Shit.

She held on. "No!"

He didn't answer and they both just looked down at her white knuckles hanging on to the carseat. The baby was heavy in this position. Her arms were starting to shake with the strain. Liam looked up at them both happily, enjoying the swinging motion.

Mulder lifted the seat slightly. She tugged back.

"Mulder, please, please, please don't do this."

"I'm not doing anything," he said flatly.

"Yes, you are. Stop, please stop." And damn it, now the tears again. Angrily she blinked them back. "You're not even letting me say goodbye to him! I didn't walk out on you in Singapore. Please...don't walk out on me now."

He just looked at her.

"Mulder, I've hurt you. You've hurt me. But this isn't about you and me. This is my baby. My son. Please don't use him to punish me. Please. Please," she felt the last bit of her pride begin to slip away and she raised her chin, she could barely see him, her eyes were so full of tears. "Christ Mulder, I'm begging you. Don't take him away from me." Her voice broke and dropped to a whisper. "Please don't take him away from me, Mulder. Please."

He continued to stare at her, then bit his lip and sighed. "Okay, okay, I'm letting go. Don't drop him," he said softly. Carefully he let go of his side of the handle, making sure she wasn't going to fall over in the other direction. He half-frowned at her. "Look. This-- Not here." He paused for a long moment, considering her, then looked down at the baby. "I'll...stay tonight. Liam doesn't need another flight right now."

She dropped her head forward in a mixture of relief and despair. God, she was disgusted with herself. What had they come to that they couldn't even talk without it disintegrating into something horrible?

"Do you want me to stay at a hotel?"

"No," she whispered miserably, lifting the car seat and awkwardly wrapping her arms around it. She leaned her head against Liam's cheek. The baby reached up and grabbed her hair and yanked hard. It brought more tears to her eyes, but she didn't care. He turned away from them to hail a cab.

At her apartment, the pillows and sheets that Mulder'd used the night before they'd left for Singapore were still on the couch. She waved in their general direction and spread a quilt on the floor of the little alcove in her study area.

"Don't you want him in with you?"

"This is L.A.," she said, adamant. "He has to be away from anything that might suddenly topple in an earthquake. Besides...this . ."

"What?"

"Nothing," she gritted through her teeth. "This is the perfect spot for him. That's all."

She transferred the--thankfully--sleeping baby from his carseat to the quilt and, leaving Mulder to fend for himself, stumbled into her bedroom, peeled off the clothes she'd been wearing for two days, and fell, exhausted, into bed.


20.

She lay with her eyes shut, listening to the low moan of the fog horn.

Every now and then she could hear the far-away clang of the bell buoy off the pier in Santa Monica, and from somewhere much closer, the steady beat of bass from a stereo. She was curled up on top of her unmade bed, the familiar softness of the chenille throw from her couch tucked up under her chin. He must have covered her while she slept.

Finally she opened her eyes. It was dusk, the fog thick outside the window. She'd slept for awhile.

She'd be jumping up and running to the bedroom door in a repeat performance of earlier today--if her feet weren't snuggled cozily against the warmth of his bare calves. And she could hear the sound of Liam sucking from his bottle about two feet behind her back. She listened, she could hear Mulder's soft breathing, too.

"You awake?" he asked quietly.

She turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder. He was sitting back against the pillows, still wearing the t-shirt and shorts from this afternoon, his legs stretched out in front of him. Liam was in his lap. She didn't have any idea why he was in here with her, but she liked waking up and finding both of them there.

Liked it very much.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," he replied softly. He was watching the baby eat. He didn't look up.

She stretched her neck gingerly and pushed her hair off her face. "What time is it?"

"Seven-thirty."

"Why didn't you wake me up?"

"You needed sleep."

She let her breath out with a little sigh. "Thanks."

And not just for not waking her.

"We came in here because there's a party going on downstairs and it was too loud for Liam in your living room."

That was the music then. Her eyes fell on the delightfully comfortable over-stuffed chair and footrest in the corner of her bedroom. "Mmmhmm. That's okay, Mulder."

He was quiet for a few moments. "Your very tall, half-dressed neighbor dropped by to ask if you wanted to go."

She glanced back at him again. "Adrianna? She was *half*- dressed?"

That made him smile, just the tiniest smile, but still down at Liam, not at her.

"Maybe just an eighth-dressed?" He considered. "A sixteenth?"

"That sounds more like it."

"She took one look at Liam and--" He shook his head. "She thinks I'm bad news. . ." He trailed off.

Bad news. She wasn't going to touch that.

When she didn't comment he kept talking as if he'd never said it. "Can't remember the last time I saw a fringed purple suede bikini."

"She's wearing that one? I used to have a vest like that."

He turned and quirked his eyebrow at her.

"Don't give me that look, Mulder. I was eight. I loved that vest."

His look softened slightly.

Almost a smile. Not quite.

"Adrianna's okay," she said. "I forgot about the party this weekend, it's probably been going on since Friday."

"Don't tell me...this is a party building?"

"Famous for it."

He nodded slightly as if mentally adding up the Scully he'd known and an apartment building famous for parties and full of wacky neighbors.

She wasn't sure if he was doing it consciously or unconsciously, but she'd seen him in action so many times that she'd recognize it in her sleep: Relax the suspect first with small talk, then cut to the tough stuff. She had no problem with it, in fact she embraced the familiar rhythm.

She turned her head away from him and shut her eyes, carefully concentrating on the vibes between them. They were relaxed, peaceful. At least for the moment the tension had eased. There was an underlying current, but it wasn't a negative one. She opened her eyes and was unsurprised to find herself looking directly at her sister's picture. No phone calls this time, but . . *Tell him the truth* Melissa's eyes urged her. *You know what you feel. Tell him you love him.*

Feelings...Love.

Oh, Missy...it was always so easy for you.

She squinched her nose slightly at Missy, then rolled over to face Mulder, managing to do it without breaking the contact between her toes and his legs. Her right foot insinuated itself under his leg, the sensitive skin on the top of her foot pressing into the warm crook at the back of his knee.

Mulder was looking down at Liam with a funny little smile on his face. The baby was eating with his eyes closed, his expression content. The feeling of him tugging at her nipple came back to her with a rush.

The mommy urge was a hell of an urge.

"I was thinking about what you said," he said. "Breast feeding him myself. Imagining giving him something from my body that *fed* him." His voice was full of wonder.

"Really?"

"What did it feel like?" he asked.

"Amazing...In fact," she said slowly. "I wish I had...milk."

He nodded as if it wasn't a big deal at all, just a perfectly natural thing for her to want, and was quiet for a few more moments, looking down at the eating baby.

"Can't they stimulate lactation with hormones or something?"

"Yes. Yes, they can. You can take estrogen--to simulate the high-estrogen state of pregnancy, then stop taking it, to simulate birth. That causes the pituitary to produce prolactin and oxytocin, the milk-producing hormones. ." She paused. "Wait. Do you mean in you?"

He laughed, a soft inadvertent laugh. She shut her eyes and let the sound wash gently through her. Mulder...

"Nooo. Not me. You, of course." She opened her eyes. He was studying her. "It's not like there's anything *wrong* with you. If you wanted to there's in-vitro fertiliz--"

He stopped short.

Her face suddenly felt very stiff. Why was he talking about her having another baby? Because she couldn't have this one?

"Hypothetically," she said slowly. "But...some cancers can react to the estrogen of pregnancy. If there were any recurrence of mine in my system...it might be like gasoline feeding a flame."

He looked slightly sick. "I'm sorry," he said softly. He looked genuinely upset. "From what I've read I thought that was just breast cancer. And I thought--" He broke off and swallowed, then was quiet for a little while. "What about a surrogate?"

"What are you talking about here, Mulder? There are a lot of factors involved. Eggs. Sperm. According to you, I don't have *any* eggs." She was unwilling to break this mood, but...her gaze ran over him, concentrating on everything, his body language, his words, trying to figure out exactly what he was saying, what he'd been saying. She indicated Liam with her chin. "Besides, why would I want to have another baby? I have a baby."

He considered that, licked his lips and swallowed, but he didn't rise to her challenge or disagree. His shoulders remained relaxed.

She took a breath and tried to relax, too.

"Your face," he said. "Before. In the bath. Brothers...sisters. ."

She couldn't have been more surprised if he'd kneed her in the stomach. She felt the breath go out of her with a whoosh.

"And...I was just thinking we should have stormed the island and taken your eggs."

She barely bit back a gasp.

He bent his head over the baby again. The growing dusk in the room made it difficult to see his face. The only sound was the sturdy sucking sound of Liam's mouth on the bottle.

"So . ." he said. "You shouldn't take estrogen to induce lactation, either?"

"Well...there is a natural method. The lactation hormones can also be produced in response to nipple stimulation."

She stared at him, a sudden clear picture in her mind of Mulder over her, filling her, his mouth incredibly gentle on her breast. She felt her cheeks flush as her body responded to the thought.

He was staring at her, too. He turned away from her, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Like a baby sucking?" he asked.

She nodded. "Or a breast pump."

"And that's enough?"

"Apparently. It takes a couple weeks...but if you're lucky, yes."

He nodded thoughtfully.

Was it her imagination or was he pressing very gently on her feet with his legs?

"Mulder. . ?" she asked very softly.

He didn't say anything and they both watched Liam, his mouth just moving a little on the nipple. She gently pressed a little on his leg with her toes. Suddenly the silence was highly charged.

He swung his head around and looked at her. "You're not the only one with feelings about all this, you know." She could see his eyes clearly for the first time, the expression in them a jumble of emotions. Sadness. Distress. Anger. Grief. Need. Wistfulness. But no hope.

She nodded a little. "I know," she said softly.

His eyes moved over her face. "Do you?"

"I think so." She nodded slowly again, trying to encourage him with her eyes. "Tell me."

He scrutinized her face, his expression all at once cautious. She could feel the sudden tension in his muscles under her toes.

"I wish he were mine," he said.

She felt her heart speed up. Just his? Theirs? Oh God. What the hell was he saying? That he wanted her, too? Or just Liam? Or...With every fiber of her body she tried to read what he wanted her to say...

Shit.

"Yours?" She licked her lips. "Or ours?"

He didn't answer, just looked at her. Finally, his lips twisted wryly and he looked back down at the baby. "If you have to ask-- " He shut his mouth and shook his head.

So if she had to ask...and that meant what? Damn.

"Damn it, Mulder!" she said suddenly. His head swung around sharply to face her and the baby jumped in his sleep. "I can't read your mind. If you want me to know something, tell me. This whole trip it's as if there's been a script that you have and I don't. And if I can't guess what the hell my line is supposed to be, then I'm in trouble. Again. So--" she broke off and made a sound that sounded a hell of a lot like a frustrated growl.

He looked startled. She frowned at him, pulled her feet away from his legs and rolled abruptly away from him, curling into a fetal position. Melissa's picture on the bureau in front of her was watching her with gentle concern. *He can't read your mind either, Dana.*

*Shut up, Missy,* she thought at the picture, closed her eyes and sighed.

Mulder didn't say anything for a little while.

Suddenly, she felt him brush her shoulder with his fingertips. Just the lightest touch, then gone.

"You're hungry," he said. "Me too."

She didn't say anything. He was right. She was starving.

"Liam's dropped off, he's still exhausted from the plane. I'll put him down and then what do you say I make you dinner?"

Make her dinner? She turned her head and looked at him. Mulder had his head bent over Liam, but he was watching her out of the corner of his eye. There was something in his expression that hadn't been there before. She couldn't put her finger on it. A willingness, maybe.

"Feed your partner when she gets cranky," he said softly. "I learned that from you."

His partner. If she opened her mouth, she'd say *I'm not your partner anymore* and she didn't want to say that, so she kept her mouth shut.

The words hung in the air between them, anyway.

"Can we eat out on your balcony?"

She just looked at him stubbornly.

He studied her expression. "I stayed so we can talk," he said softly. "So...can we talk over dinner?"

She gave in and nodded. "I don't know what I have in the fridge." The last time she'd looked in there..."Maybe some eggs."

He winced. "Wait. I bought some stuff.

She looked out the window. "It's kind of foggy out there."

"I love the fog."

"Me too."

"Can we light your little fireplace?" He gave her a tiny smile.

She couldn't help herself, she gave him a tiny smile back. "Okay, sounds good," she said, her voice sounding calmer than she felt, and sat up. "Here, I'll put him to bed. Did you change him again?"

"Yes."

He handed her the baby. Liam was limp and heavy with exhaustion, adorable in a little fuzzy yellow sleeper. She took him into the other room and tucked him under his blankie in his corner, then knelt down and gave him a kiss on his temple.

She turned, Mulder hadn't moved, he was still sitting in the near darkness of her bedroom, watching her through the door. She rose slowly to her feet and walked back into the other room, suddenly conscious she was wearing only a T-shirt and panties. She sat back beside him on his side of the bed.

"He seems okay, Mulder."

He nodded. His eyes dropped to her breasts, bra-less beneath her t-shirt, then down to her bare legs.

"The blood you saw them take?" she asked. "Everything was normal when it was taken?"

"Yes. ." It seemed to take him a great effort to pull his eyes away from her legs and back to her face. "Yes."

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I can't help it."

"I know."

His eyes traveled across her face for a moment, lingering on her mouth, then he sighed and turned to her bedside table and picked up his airplane tickets.

Oh God.

"Do you have a pen?" he asked. "I need to make a quick call."

"Oh, Mulder. ."

He just looked at her.

"Tomorrow--" she said a little desperately, ". . maybe you could stay another day and we could take him to a pediatrician for tests." She tried to stop herself. They needed to talk about this calmly and rationally like adults, not with her pleading . . again.

"I need to be there, to talk to the doctor," she managed in a calmer voice. "UCLA, the doctors here, it's the best pediatric care in the country."

He considered her, his eyes glinting slightly.

"Please stay a couple days, Mulder?"

His eyes searched hers, then his gaze fell to her mouth again and rested there. He shut his eyes.

She lifted her hand and softly touched his face. He flinched slightly, but kept his eyes closed. She cupped his cheek and stroked the line his closed lashes made against his cheekbone with her thumb. Her other hand slid to his knee, then to his thigh. She leaned forward slowly and pressed her lips against his.

He remained perfectly still and let her kiss him, his mouth soft and warm beneath hers, but he didn't kiss her back. His lids opened and she pulled back a little to look into his eyes.

Her eyelids fluttered slightly at his look. His expression was full of sadness and regret.

"Don't," he whispered, then shook his head, just one small slow shake, back and forth. "This . ." His eyes dropped to her mouth, then back to her eyes. ". . Isn't us." He reached up and put his hand over hers, and gently pulled it down away from his cheek. Then lifted her other hand from his thigh and put it back in her lap.

Ohhh....

Christ. Her heart hurt, physically hurt.

This was it then, she thought as sharp sadness hit her, then shock. No adult heart to heart over dinner on the balcony was going to change the finality of that.

She shut her eyes and tried to take a deep breath. It didn't relieve the pressure in her chest. She sat back and looked at him unhappily. The expression on her face couldn't have been good, because he suddenly looked concerned. Very concerned.

"I'm sorry," he said, very, very softly. "For the things that happened. For the things I said. For everything."

She nodded, swallowed hard and leaned forward, pressing a second gentle kiss on his mouth while he remained still, letting her lips linger an extra moment. Memorizing his softness and texture. Last time, she thought, I love you...

Pulling back, she reached up to touch his lower lip with just the very tips of her fingers.

"I'm sorry, too," she said softly. Now her chest was aching and full of tears and they were forcing their way up into her throat. She swallowed them back and let her hand drop to her lap. Her gaze fell on the airline ticket, still in his other hand. "Um...pen...pens are in here." She pulled out the drawer of her bedside table, then stood abruptly. She had to escape before the tears started to overflow.

He was staring into the drawer, not moving.

"What?" she asked. He didn't answer. She leaned over him to see what he was looking at.

Tucked down under a book and a few letters, one small box of condoms, obviously never opened.

"I can't believe you even remembered that, Mulder."

He just looked at her. "Did you say it to make me jealous?"

"Jealous? Are you kidding me? No. I said it because I wanted you inside me and you wouldn't shut up." There, that was the truth. She could have laughed at the expression on his face. Instead, she felt her lips twitch into the barest of sad smiles and her sinuses start to burn with the sharpness of the impending tears. "And I never had a *fuck you* attitude, I don't know where you got that. When I opened the door and you were standing there? I was glad to see you--GLAD." She took a deep breath. "That night, Mulder?" He became very still. "That night was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me in my life."

He searched her face, frowning slightly. "But you said--"

"We both said things I think we regret about that night. But the truth is...the truth is, it was wonderful. At least for me. ." she trailed off.

Now her throat was so full of tears that she'd be hard put to say another word. At least she'd been able to tell him that.

The last light from the window was falling on his face, but she was standing with her back to the window and her face must have been in shadow, because he was looking up at her as if he couldn't see her very well. He turned and reached one hand up to switch on the bedside lamp.

The last thing she needed was for him to see her face clearly. "There should be a pen in there somewhere," she blurted out, her voice full of tears. "Help yourself." She ducked her head and turned to leave.

His hand around her wrist stopped her. He switched the light on. She didn't want to turn back. She tried to pull her wrist away from him, but he tugged.

She turned, blinking in the sudden lamp light. "Muld--" He was looking up into her lamp. One finger pressed against his lips.

She leaned over and followed his gaze.

An electronic bug.

She gasped.

A bug here?

Oh God.

Her mouth dropped open in disbelief. The tiny wire was tucked along the edge of the shade. Virtually unnoticeable.

It was true. Her apartment bugged.

Her *bedroom* bugged.

He was right. He should never have come here in May. This was how they'd found out.

Oh God.

She hadn't figured it out, but they had. And just now? What had they been talking about? Liam, UCLA, induced lactation...Some faceless person just listened to her telling him that sleeping with him was the most beautiful thing in her life . . and God, someone had been listening that morning when they'd made love.

This couldn't be happening.

Suddenly she was shaking.

At that moment, her phone began to ring. She barely heard it.

She twisted her wrist out of his grip and turned away, stumbling over her suitcase on the way to her dresser. She dragged a pair of bike shorts out of a drawer and pulled them on.

The phone was ringing insistently.

Tears were streaming down her face. Mulder was all at once next to her. "Scully?" he asked softly.

Blindly, she pushed past him and headed barefoot for the front door. She glanced at Liam, he was sleeping peacefully.

The phone had stopped ringing. The answering machine had picked up.

"This is Walter Skinner." She vaguely heard the voice, but it made her pause, midflight. "Agent Scully?? I'm sorry to have to bother you on a Sunday, but if there is ANY chance that you know the whereabouts of Agent Mulder, it's EXTREMELY URGENT that I get in touch with him." He paused. "*Dana*--it's imperative I locate him right away. Even if you have any ideas where he might be. ."

Mulder could deal with it.

"Scully!! Wait! Wait!!"

Then, a sharp "Fuck!" Then, "This is Mulder, I'm here." And she was out the door.

As soon as she was outside she ran. The apartments, palm trees, Sunday evening beach-goers, fog, everything tear-blurred together.

And then she was crying too hard to run, the tears in her throat and nose blocking her breathing. She slowed to a walk and stumbled on, fighting to catch her breath. Finally she reached the furthest end of the beach and dropped down on her stomach on the sand.

Surrounded by her own private cocoon of fog, she put her head down on her arms and sobbed.

21.

Concentrate.

Think of something--anything--else.

Dammit.

The smell of damp sand.

Breathe it in.

The wet chill of the evening air.

Feel it on your skin. Feel the gooseflesh on your arms. You're starting to shiver. Lying in cold, damp sand, in a t-shirt and bike shorts is insane--

He doesn't want you.

Oh shit...

Breathe.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

You can't have Liam.

Pain.

Sharp pain.

Red.

Fuck.

Get yourself under control, dammit.

Calm.

The fuck.

Down.

Liam's whole life is fucked up because of a bug in your apartment. You should have known you weren't out of it. You're a professional. You should have checked for bugs.

Mulder worked for six months to pull this off without a hitch and now it is all fucked up because of you.

Your fault.

Breathe. Breathe.

Get up off the sand.

You need to go back.

If Skinner needs him, he may leave tonight.

Get up. Go back.

Come on. Get up. Go back. You need to say good-bye.

. . they might already be gone.

Oh fuck.

More pain. Breathe.

She couldn't have stood up if her life depended on it.

The adrenaline that had jagged through her veins at the sight of the bug and sent her flying down the beach had deserted her, leaving her shaky and weak. She lay motionless on her stomach, tightly closed eyes pressed hard against her wrist.

. . it would be easier just to let them go without you there to make another scene...

Another tremor ran through her body at the thought.

How on God's earth did you stand right here on this beach after making love to him in May and so easily decide you wouldn't go back with him to DC?

One month ago. One month. How could you have been so incredibly naive?

You are fine.

Just...fine.

Just fucking fine--

Okay. If you can't concentrate on something else, dwell on this, wallow in being a complete idiot.

You did this to yourself. You let yourself fall foolishly, immaturely, completely in love with him. You put the power for your happiness in his hands.

You have to take it back. You can take it back.

Easy to say.

When he was here in May there wasn't any Liam.

No. He knew about Liam and he didn't tell you.

Liam...

*...we can bring this baby up as friends, Mulder. You will take him back to Washington...I will come visit...I will act like I am not in love with you . . just like I always have...and you will act like you are a little bit in love with me...just like you always have...

Only now I know better than to believe it. .*

Pain.

Again.

Breathe...

You are fine.

You will be fine. It sucks and you'll be miserable for a while...but this won't kill you. You are alive. You lived through cancer. You lived through Emily's death. You lived through Missy's death. You lived through Dad's death. You have yourself. And life will go on. Liam is alive and you will do everything in your power to keep him that way.

And what happens when Mulder becomes involved with someone else? What then? Go on, take *that* scenario to the end. Marries someone else? His eyes...looking with love at someone else? And they're a family?

Pain again.

White hot.

Concentrate. Breathe. Block it out. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. The smell of the sand. Fishy. The ocean. Fishy. The seaweed. Fishy.

Fuck!

Trying to concentrate on anything else was absurd. She gave into the pain and let it take her.

His eyes.

When he kissed her for the first time...when he told her about Liam...when . .

. . when you made furious angry love...when you gave him a blow job on the boat. . when he watched you hold Liam for the first time. .

"This isn't us."

She gritted her teeth.

Pain again. Black, this time. Fucking. Knifing. Pain. So hard, hot and blinding she gasped aloud, and bit the back of her hand, grains of sand against her mouth. In her mouth.

She hadn't understood til that second he said it, how much she'd believed that she could make it work.

GodDAMMIT.

She turned her head and spat.

Breathe dammit. Breathe.

Fuck breathing.

All she could do was feel.

She let her forehead droop back into the sand.

She could yell at herself from one end of the beach to the other, but she couldn't control this. In a few minutes she'd catch her breath and be able to get up and go back, just because she was tough guy Dana Scully. And no one would be able to tell from the outside just how hard this had hit her. She would go back and calmly tell them good-bye...She would go back to work, she would tell them her Fourth of July weekend was fucking fabulous and she'd had a great time. The bruise on her cheek? The black eye? Too much volleyball at the beach...

But, the truth was. . she took a deep breath and finally admitted it to herself:

This. All of this...the truth was...

She was seriously fucked up.


All at once she sensed him.

He didn't make a sound or touch her, but he was there.

She could feel him. Stronger than the mist's clamminess on her skin.

His aura...if she believed in auras. Oh, Hell. She believed in his aura, and the only place she wanted to be was inside it.

She pressed her forehead hard against her wrists and didn't move.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Christ. His scent was there, too, mixed with the salty smell of the fog and the clammy fishy wet sand.

"Go away," she whispered, probably not loud enough for him to hear.

She heard a little sigh and then a faint rustle as he settled down beside her in the sand. She could hear his breathing now, hard.

She wished he had just gone. She didn't want him to see her like this.

Dana Scully flat on her face in the sand.

Agent down.

"Go," she said again, barely louder, still without lifting her head.

He didn't go.

"You were right," she told him finally, her voice low and muffled by her arms. "You should never have come here to see me. *I* wish you'd never come here. I wish you'd never told me about him."

A small sob threatened to escape and she dug her fingers hard into the sand and held her breath, turned her head and pressed her gritty mouth against her arm.

He didn't say anything.

"It's how they found out," she whispered. "If you hadn't told me, he would have been safe."

She listened. He'd figured it out, too. He must have, because his breathing didn't change.

She took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry I fucked everything up. Just take him and go. I can't do this anymore."

Her eyes filled with tears and she waited. She bit down hard on her lip to keep another sob from escaping. Her tooth went right through her lip and her mouth filled with the warm salt taste of her blood. She swallowed the blood and waited.

He didn't go.

"How could I--," he stopped and she heard him swallow. His voice was raw. "How could I not tell you about him?" he said at last. A thread of despair ran through the words.

She glanced at him sideways under the cover of her hair.

He was lying on his stomach in the sand beside her, resting his chin on his hands, staring out at the few yards of grey ocean they could see in the fog. Her gaze flew quickly over his face...his lashes, his cheeks, his mouth...His forehead was furrowed. He was trying to hide it in his voice, but he was upset, too. Incredibly upset.

As if sensing her eyes on him he looked toward her, she turned her head away quickly and looked in the other direction.

No.

*Immature* is not the word for what you feel for him.

Not even close.

She struggled to remember the reasoning she'd used all spring to convince herself she'd be better off without him.

He was full of flaws and idiosyncracies and neurosis and weird fucked-up ideas that got weirder and more fucked-up as the years went by. He was lonely and intensely complicated. His cynical wise-cracking exterior hid a sentimental streak as deep as the ocean. She only agreed with him half the time...He had laugh crinkles, and a few grey hairs and a funny nose...

Except those were all the things she loved about him.

Getting information out of him was like pulling teeth. She hated that. But--Christ--she was even beginning to understand it.

And he was godforsakenly brilliant.

The only man she'd ever met who was almost as smart as she was.

What you feel for him, she told herself--a little condescendingly--is a heart-stopping lung-aching sexually charged *mature* love that would have made your fresh-faced little self with her perfect little plan blush scarlet, cross her legs and run from his office that very first day.

This kind of love would have been as far-fetched as an X-File to her...

"I couldn't find you. You scared me," he interrupted her thoughts softly, his voice still hoarse. The warm skin of his elbow just brushed hers for a second. God, she really didn't need her heart to go crashing against her ribs again.

She let out a sigh. It would be dark soon. She was freezing. She didn't have anything to say to him and she didn't have any answers. Whatever he wanted from her right now, she didn't have it left to give.

"Don't blame yourself, Scully. I should have known they were watching you." He seemed to have realized she wasn't going to answer him, he went on talking anyway. "You just realized it, didn't you?" he asked quietly. "What it could have been like if they didn't know?"

Liam.

She gave up. She had to take a peek at Liam. She turned her head and looked at Mulder again. He was lying with his eyes shut. She raised her head and looked on the other side of him. Liam wasn't there.

"Where is he?" she demanded.

"Your neighbors have him." He said without opening his eyes.

"What? Which one?"

"All of them. Didn't you see? You ran right through the party by the pool. Adrianna marched up, took him out of my arms and pointed after you. I didn't argue."

"But. ."

She judged the strength in her legs. It wasn't that she didn't trust her neighbors . . hell...he was probably safer with Adrianna than he was with her. But . . who the hell knew who was who in this world.

She pushed herself to her knees, then put one leg under her and then the other and stood up. She turned away from him, heading back up the beach. She'd run about a mile from her apartment south to the entrance of the Marina, it shouldn't take her too long to get back. After about ten seconds she realized she wasn't up to jogging all the way on the soft sand and she turned and headed for the hard-packed water's edge.

"Scully, wait!"

She ignored him and kept putting one bare foot in front of the other. Her knees were a little wobbly. And Christ if the damn crack on her head wasn't throbbing again. She really needed to get that checked tomorrow. Of course it was a concussion, she just hadn't been willing to admit that to herself either. She was a little lightheaded, but that was just her blood pressure going from flat on her stomach to standing up and running in a couple seconds. That would go away in a minute. She didn't feel great, but she'd had enough of giving in to physical weakness. She'd worked so hard to get back into good physical shape since her cancer. Five days with Mulder had stripped her of that, too.

She had to get back to Liam. She had a bad feeling about leaving him with anyone.

"They just let us walk out of Singapore with him, they're not going to take him now." He caught up with her. "Besides, they'd be no match against that cast of characters." She felt his fingers brush her elbow. "The King said he'll sing to him if he gets fussy. ."

She almost smiled at that, then a half sob slipped out of her throat. She tried to rub at her face with the shoulder of her t- shirt on the side away from him, then gave up and ducked her head and let her hair fall in front of her face.

"Shhhh, Scully."

His fingers went around her upper arm and he slowed, pulling on her. She shivered at the sound of his voice, so soft on her name. At least he was calling her Scully again.

"God, your skin is like ice. Stop a sec."

She slowed down to a walk, but kept going. She pulled against his fingers, but he wouldn't let go.

"Stop, Scully, stop. He'll be okay for a few minutes. We'll go right back."

He tugged her around to face him, but she kept walking backwards.

"Stop," he said firmly and stopped short. She had no choice but to stop, too. His fingers went under her chin and he gently tilted her face up.

She met his eyes defiantly through the shower of hair over her face.

He winced.

"Oh, Scuh-leee," he said softly. His eyes were dark and serious and intense--and filled with compassion. Her face must be a disaster.

He let go of her chin and carefully pushed the hair back out of her eyes without touching her face. Then very, very lightly, so lightly his fingertips touched only the sand, not her skin, he began brushing the grains of sand off her cheeks.

The fingers of his other hand were still wrapped around her upper arm. He was probably afraid she was going to try to pull away and run. He was right.

"He's yours," he said quietly.

She stared up at him as what he'd said sank in.

Oh...God.

His mouth twisted in a little rueful smile. "You're his mother. He needs to be with you, not me." His eyes held hers for a moment, then slid away to watch his fingers as they continued to brush her face clean. His featherlight touch was incredibly gentle.

She couldn't say a word. Just sucked in her lower lip and felt her eyes fill.

His fingers seemed to hesitate for a second, then moved to her lips and began brushing the sand from her mouth, he increased their pressure infinitesimally. The warmth of his fingers moved across her cold lips. "What'd you do to your mouth? Your mouth's bleeding."

She just shook her head fractionally.

"Scully," he said softly. "This was *never* *ever* supposed to be about hurting you."

Breathe.

It seemed to be the only thing she could still do. And not very well. She could feel her breath bounce off his hand to slide back across her lips. She shut her eyes and sent up a little prayer:

Thanks, God. Thanks...but--

She took a very deep breath and opened her eyes. He seemed completely absorbed in what he was doing. He licked his lips, his eyes still on her mouth.

"Mulder. ."

Her voice sounded very high, breathless and very unsteady. She was trembling. Reaction, cold, Mulder-induced insanity, whatever, but she was shivering. Dreadful little shivers. In a moment her teeth would be chattering. Oh, for sixty seconds of the boiling temperatures they'd left back in Singapore.

"I love you," she said.

His fingers stopped and his eyes met hers with a click. He searched her eyes for a long moment, then his expression grew thoughtful. He looked away.

"For giving you back what's yours? He wasn't mine to take." He shook his head. "No."

No.

His eyes eased back to hers, almost hesitantly, and he examined her face. "Come here, you're freezing." And before she quite realized what he was doing he'd lifted his t-shirt, pulled her close against his warm bare chest and pulled the t-shirt down over her head and back. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close, rubbing his hands over her arms and shoulders to warm her.

She put her hands against his stomach and pushed a little against him. "Mulder. . ."

"Shut up," he said. "I think you're in shock."

She hugged her arms to herself and stood stiffly in the cocoon under his t-shirt. She wasn't in shock. She would know if she were in shock. She wasn't in shock. . . Was she? When was the last time she'd had anything to eat or drink? On the plane last night? Trust Mulder to think if she told him she loved him, she was must be in shock. "Shhhhh," he said again and pulled her closer, even though she didn't think she'd said any of that out loud. Suddenly she found her cheek pressed up against the very warm skin of his chest.

She relaxed a little. She'd wanted to be inside his aura. Well, here she was. She shut her eyes and let herself relax a little more, breathing in his warmth, his smell. It *was* warmer inside his t-shirt and she was warming up.

"You warmer in there?" he asked.

She nodded against his sternum. Warm...warm.

"I was trying to figure out how to tell you," he said softly. "I was going to tell you at dinner. Apparently, I can't even tell you good news."

His hands chafed gently over her shoulders and arms, still working on chasing away her chill.

"For a little while there I pretended he was mine," he said, his voice still low, and rumbling in his chest under her ear. "But he's not. He's yours."

She was quiet. She knew him. That was twice. She took a huge gulp of musky Mulder-scented air.

"Yours, Mulder?"

His hands stopped.

Maybe this time he would answer.

She waited, concentrating on the heartbeats against her ear.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

"Or pretended he was ours?" she prompted softly.

Six.

Seven.

Eight.

Nine.

Ten.

Eleven.

Twelve.

Thirteen.

Fourteen.

Fifteen.

Sixteen.

Seventeen.

"Scuh-leee. ." he said softly, near her ear.

She was trembling again--and not from the cold. His hands started moving slowly over her back again, gently rubbing shoulder blades, her spine.

Eighteen.

Nineteen.

Twenty.

Twenty-one.

Twenty-two.

Twenty-three. His heart sped up a little. Twenty-four. Twenty- five. Twenty-six. Twenty-seven. Twenty--

He took a deep breath, so deep she could hear the air being drawn through his lungs.

Twenty-nine. Thir--

God. Did she really want to know? Never mind, Mulder. I think I'd rather not-- Oh for Chrissakes. Just tell me--

"Ours," he said softly, and she thought she felt his lips come to a rest on her head through the fabric.

She moved suddenly and reached for the hem of his shirt, pushing it up over her head and then carefully smoothed it back down over his stomach. It was chilly away from his body.

She tilted her head up and met his eyes; tear-stains, sand, blood and all. His face was apprehensive and the least bit resigned. She stared at him for a long moment. She had a sudden suspicion that he was sorry he'd said it and didn't want to know what she had to say. To him, not knowing would have the beauty of the unknown.

To her it was hell.

Too late, Mulder. You said it first.

"Me too," she told him.

His expression didn't change, he didn't move a muscle, only his pupils moved, dilating in the near darkness as he searched her face.

He let his breath out suddenly with a little gasping catch.

She suddenly felt shy. She had no clue what the hell to do next. He didn't seem to know what to do either, he tilted his head sharply and looked at the waves lapping near their feet.

"Come on." She looked down at her feet. Her toes were numb. "Let's go back and get him."

Her eyes flicked to his for a split second as he looked sideways at her and nodded.

She turned to walk away down the beach, but his hand on her shoulder stopped her. He slid his arm around her shoulders a little awkwardly, she slipped back into his warmth and tucked her arm around his waist.

They walked without talking, the only sound the muffled rush of the surf. The fog had an unreal quality to it-- Fog in July, something else to put at El Nino's doorstep. But despite the fog, dusk was lingering a very long time tonight. Had it only been a week or so since the longest day of the year? She wasn't feeling chilled any more, she was just floating along in the twilight beside him, not really thinking about what they'd just said.

And despite the fact that they were holding each other, they were not even remotely in sync.

She looked down at their feet. Funny how she'd never noticed how her stride was only a little more than half of his. She had to take an extra step for every few he took. But he was trying to shorten his stride, so every now and again she'd have to take a little extra step to catch up...

There was only one set of prints coming from the other direction, in places washed away by the tide. The stride was a lot longer than the prints they were making now. He'd been going fast.

He was looking down at their prints, too. "I went as far as the Santa Monica pier before coming back this way," he said.

That was five, maybe six miles.

She'd hadn't expected him to come after her...

"What did Skinner want?" she asked him.

"Shit!" he said, and stopped short. He let go of her to pull his cel phone out of his pocket. "I told him to call me back on my cel in ten minutes and hung up on him."

He turned on the phone and it rang instantly, startling them both. They looked down at it, then at each other.

She raised her eyebrows at him.

He shook his head, and his eyes dropped to her mouth. He raised his hand and gently stroked the side of her face. "Scuh-leee," he whispered, his eyes holding hers.

She just looked up at him. Suddenly his arms were wrapped tightly around her back, pulling her up onto her toes and close against him.

She let him hug her hard, her hands resting lightly on his waist.

He must have dropped the phone, because it was ringing in the sand at their feet.

He loosened his grip a little and raised his head to look down at her, then bent toward her. He was going to kiss her.

"No." She put up her hand, and his lips came to a stop against her fingers. She was far too fragile right now to do this. She'd kissed him good-bye already tonight, and that was enough. She wouldn't kiss him again unless...unless...

Unless it meant forever.

Dramatic, but true.

The damn phone wouldn't stop ringing.

"We have to talk," she said softly. How many times had they said that in the last two days? Too many.

He nodded and pressed a gentle kiss against her fingers, then reached up and took her hand and pushed it aside, his fingers linking with hers. His eyes were still on her lips.

She froze as he leaned in closer. He stuck out his tongue just a tiny bit and ever so lightly licked the side of her bottom lip. Oh, God...he was licking away the blood, his tongue warm and gentle. He carefully traced the curve, then sucked her bottom lip softly into his mouth, then let go.

She looked into his eyes. Gold and grey and translucent...Wild.

She caught her breath.

Oh God.

"Please. ." she breathed.

"We'll talk all night, Sweetheart," he whispered, and he leaned a little closer.

Sweetheart...She pressed her lips together so they wouldn't open on their own and shut her eyes to block out his face, his expression, his concentration her mouth.

She could feel his warm breath caressing her lips.

"Oh, Mulder," she whispered. "Please. ."

He let his mouth just brush across hers.

"Scuh-leee, look at me," he breathed.

She opened her eyes. His were half-shut, full of longing.

"Please...Please stop," she said desperately.

He stopped at that and lifted his mouth a fraction away from hers.

"Don't," she breathed. "I can't take it." His eyes searched hers. She dropped her head so he couldn't see her face, so she couldn't see his. "Don't hurt me any more," she protested softly, so softly it wasn't really even meant for him to hear.

He drew in his breath and pulled her close under his chin. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair.

The phone jangled again at their feet. She tried to step on it and turn it off with her toe, but it kept ringing, pressed down into the sand. "The phone. ."

"Fuck 'im," he said. His head dropped and he pressed his face into the side of her neck.

"If you can bear it, just hold me," he whispered. "Please."

She slipped her arms around his waist and hugged him hard. As hard as she could. He held her and rocked her back and forth.

She couldn't believe the phone was still ringing, slightly muffled in the damp sand. What the hell could Skinner possibly want?

"Just talk to him and get it over with," she whispered.

His grip tightened on her, his lips whispered something into her neck. Finally he raised his head. She was unsurprised to see that the desperation was gone from his eyes, and a kind of determination had taken its place. It was what she was feeling herself.

They would go back, hunt down any more bugs, then go out on her balcony and talk. And maybe they could resolve this. . she crossed her fingers suddenly behind her back.

Don't jinx it by thinking it.

Not pulling his eyes away from hers he leaned down and picked up the phone and brought it to his ear.


22.

"Mulder," he answered the phone. His voice sounded rough, breathless. His eyes still held hers as he muffled the mouth piece against his shoulder and dragged in a lung-full of air. He was fighting for composure, she realized, searching his eyes. He was completely shaken. The unguarded vulnerability in their depths startled her and she looked away quickly.

Look at him, she told herself. He wants you to see it or he wouldn't be looking at you like this.

His fingers gently squeezed her upper arm.

She raised her head and met his gaze and watched in surprise as his eyes filled with relief. So much relief in response to her just looking at him? She wondered. What the hell were they doing to each other? She watched him watch her as he put the phone back to his ear and listened.

She motioned with her eyes in the direction of her apartment. Liam. He nodded. She dragged her gaze away from his. Whatever he wanted from her right now, she couldn't wait while he spoke to Skinner. She had to get back to Liam.

She turned and slipped away from his grasp. He made a grab for her and caught her by the hand. He linked his fingers with hers, and let her draw him along with her as she began walking. She glanced up at him. She could tell his focus was on her and not what Skinner was saying.

Then he winced. "Yessir. Sorry, Sir."

She gave his fingers a little squeeze. Skinner had to be chewing him out. She tugged on his hand and moved a little closer to him as they walked.

He frowned. "My car?" His voice was worried. "Yes, Sir...He's just a kid. Details it every couple weekends." His voice rose. "What happened, did he take it for a ride and get in a wreck?"

She slowed to a stop and motioned with her head. He leaned down, holding the phone to her ear so she could hear, too. She put her other hand on his chest; his heart was racing. Patting him lightly on the chest, she tried to sooth him.

"No." The sharpness of Skinner's tone startled her. Her eyes widened and her own breathing quickened. Mulder nodded slightly at her expression. "He found a little surprise under the hood this afternoon," Skinner continued. "Luckily he knew what the hell he was looking at. He called Alexandria PD. They called me. Plastic explosives wired to the accelerator."

Her eyes met his in disbelief and her fingers tightened convulsively on fabric of his shirt. The blood pounded in her ears as she craned her head closer to the phone to hear better. Mulder bent down a little more.

She was glad she wasn't the one talking to Skinner. She didn't think she could have managed anything coherent.

"It didn't detonate? He's okay?" Mulder asked.

"You'd better be Goddamn thankful he's fine," Skinner said. "What I want to know is who the hell have you ticked off now?"

Shit, he mouthed at her. "I don't know, Sir."

She was all at once uncomfortably aware that neither one of them had their weapon. She pulled her gaze away from his and turned to scan the beach behind them. They were alone, but anyone could be out of sight in the fog and gathering darkness.

Liam. They had to get back to him, ASAP. She started pulling on him a little in the direction of her apartment.

"Are you taking the red-eye back tonight?" Skinner's words cut sharply across her thoughts.

Her fingers tightened on Mulder's at the same moment his squeezed hers. He looked down at their clasped hands, then shut his eyes, raised her hand and pressed her wrist against his cheek. He took a deep breath.

"I'm not due back 'til Tuesday, Sir.."

"Cut it short and head back tonight."

He opened his eyes, five inches from her own and pinned her with a look, so full of a complicated mix of emotions, of anxiousness, and yearning, and heat and...

God...

How had he kept this from her?

And *why*?

His eyes...

Apprehensive...but filled with intense gentle love.

She stared into them solemnly. She should have known.

Whatever he'd been doing to hold himself in check, for whatever reason, it was gone, the careful distance was like it had never been.

She unclenched her fingers from his T-shirt and let her hand creep around his waist. She gave him a little half-protective half-annoyed squeeze, and then found herself hugging him tightly as relief melted through her from the top of her head to her toes.

"No," he said firmly. "I can't, Sir." At his words her blood gave a quick electric surge, leaving her heart aching harder than it had when he'd pushed her away back in the apartment. "I'm in the middle of something. Important."

"What's more important than an attempt on your life, Agent Mulder?"

He didn't respond, just tilted his head forward a little until his forehead came to rest against hers, the tip of his nose touching hers.

She stood still against him and shut her eyes. Her blood felt like it had rushed through her one way, and then turned around and was sizzling back through her veins the other way. Every place her skin touched his, clothed or unclothed, felt simultaneously singed and caressed...

Foreheads, hands, noses, breasts, thighs. Their tightly clasped hands. Even her toes against his bare feet.

"Agent Mulder?" demanded Skinner. "Did you hear me?"

"Mmmm-hmmm," murmured Mulder, and just rubbed the tip of her nose gently with his own.

Skinner was silent a moment, apparently still waiting for an answer. Then, surprisingly, gave in without question, the anger lessening in his voice. "Okay, first thing Tuesday morning, in my office, we'll figure out who the hell's behind this. Call me if you think of anything. Oh-- and tell her hello."

"Yessir. Wait. Sir? Why did you call Agent Scully looking for me?"

Skinner made a muffled noise. "The way you were acting around here last week. And Mulder? I don't know what this is all about, but watch your back. Better yet, have her watch your back."

Click.

She stayed where she was, one arm around him, the other squeezing his hand, pressed against him, breathing him into her lungs, absorbing the heat and strength of his body, her eyes still closed.

She couldn't move.

"So much for thinking I'd covered my tracks," he said softly. She felt the phone fall away from her ear and then the roughness of his cheek as he lightly rubbed hers. His breath moved warm across her mouth. Then she felt his lips press the gentlest, softest kiss imaginable on the inner corner of her closed eyelid.

"You okay?" he whispered.

She gave a tiny little nod.

She could feel him waiting. She would move in a second. She had to get to Liam, but...

"Open your eyes," he said softly. "Skinner says you have to watch my back." She opened them. "Are you okay?"

She shook her head.

"A bomb, Mulder."

Not to mention a bombshell.

She wasn't processing anything yet, just waiting for her blood and heart to start working correctly. And maybe she'd start breathing again then, too...

Her voice had been very weak. She could fix that. She cleared her throat.

"I know," he said softly. As his eyes searched her face they became more concerned. "Come on. Let's get back there and make sure he's--" He paused. "He's fine. Come on. Let's get you warm."

Mulder shoved the phone back into his pocket then wrapped his arm around her shoulders and turned her toward dry land.

"Oh, Christ. Mulder."

He sighed in agreement, then swore, "Fuck. FUCK!" He stopped short, startling her. "ENOUGH!! " he suddenly yelled into the foggy night. "LEAVE US THE FUCK ALONE!!

She turned and wrapped both arms tightly around him again. He was trembling. "Shit. Shit. Shit," she said into his chest. His arms went around her just as tightly.

"I know. Fuck," he swore again into her hair, and they stood for a moment, holding each other, then turned as one and cut up away from the water's edge and began trudging across the dry sand. Even though it was a hard walking, their bodies were no longer awkward against each other. She was tucked perfectly close against his side. His hand cupping her shoulder softly, his head bent near hers. And though they were hurrying, their steps now in sync.

"Fucking plastics," he said incredulously. "Talk about a signature."

"But why? Why now?"

"Maybe they've finally just had it with me. Repay me for finding their island. Leave you and Liam alone."

"But you would have had Liam. Why would they want to hurt him?"

He sighed and glanced down at her, his face drawn. "I think they know me better than you do," he said slowly.

"What are you talking about, Mulder?"

"I would never have taken him."

She frowned up at him.

"At the airport, I was handing him to you when--"

She was astonished. "You *were* taking him."

"No. Not at first."

"You WERE."

He shook his head slowly.

She couldn't believe it. "You let me beg," she accused him, and waited for him to deny it. When he didn't, she shrugged her arm away from him and backed out of his grasp.

He shot her an *I'm fucked* look, that made her heart clench. She turned her head away.

"Scully, I'd just put you through the trip from hell--the whole point of which was supposed to have been to get your son *for you*--and you stood there, beautiful and proud, looking at me with fire in your eyes like a mother tiger...and I thought, God, what kind of asshole am I? You weren't begging, you were demanding I get a fucking clue. ."

The emotion in his voice twisted through her chest, squeezing it harder and she shook her head in disbelief. She didn't want to stop to consider that whatever hell she'd been going through, it seemed he'd been going through it, too. He trailed after her for a little way in silence.

"I thought if you got angry enough, I might get angry enough to be able to walk away. And when you immediately assumed I was a big enough asshole to take him? For about five seconds I thought, hell, why not? But even if I could have left you right then, I couldn't put him through another plane ride. I would have just ended up at a hotel or something and then brought him over to your place."

He touched her arm, just the barest of light gentle strokes with his fingertips. "And the whole time we were arguing? I knew that if I walked away from you right then, it would be something I'd regret the rest of my life."

"You let me beg," she said again, without looking at him, but held out her hand. His fingers slipped around hers and she let him pull her back close against his side.


The smell of barbeque hit her before she opened the gate, making her mouth water. She stopped short. Liam will be here, he will be fine, she told herself firmly. She could hear Elvis and another neighbor, they were singing a quiet blues guitar duet.

"Across the distance...all the times...I've reached for you. . in my mind. ."

She pulled open the gate.

All the occupants of her apartment building were sitting around a smoking barbeque by the pool, talking quietly or listening to the singing. Everything glowed eerily in the aqua underwater light from the pool. Everyone seemed more subdued than normal. Maybe the influence of the fog.

Her eyes quickly sought Adrianna. She was sitting by the pool. Liam in her lap, happily sucking a bottle, his head pillowed comfortably against one of her breasts. She had her head bent over him and was rocking him gently back and forth in time to the music.

Scully gave a sharp sigh of relief. Mulder squeezed her shoulder, and she heard him give a quick relieved intake of breath, too.

"Venice Madonna," he whispered in her ear as they made their way around the pool.

A couple of her neighbors looked up and nodded to her, curiously checking out Mulder. But mostly everyone ignored them. She was glad, she ducked her head and let her hair fall in front of her face, thankful for the low light.

She stopped in front of Adrianna.

"Thanks for taking care of him, A." Scully bent and scooped Liam up a little too quickly, startling him. The bottle dropped out of his mouth and rolled toward the pool. Liam let out a loud howl of anger. Every head in the place turned and looked at them. Mulder quickly retrieved the bottle, wiped the nipple and stuck it back in the baby's mouth. The baby sucked hard, making a few fussy complaining noises with his mouth full. After a moment he settled back down into Scully's arms. Mulder shrugged at the crowd and they went back to their own business.

"Never disturb a comfortable baby," Adrianna observed dryly. "I had to go into your apartment and fix him a din-din bottle. Hope it's okay. Some guy with a seriously sexy voice called your machine about five times while I was in there. He was looking for you." Her eyes rested on Mulder. He merely nodded. She looked back at Scully, who merely shrugged and nodded, too. "You two look like hell. You hungry? There's tons of food. Go get Dane a plate," she ordered Mulder. "There's grilled Ahi, Yellowtail and rosemary shish-ka-bob, hot-dogs, corn."

Mulder raised his eyebrows at Scully.

Her stomach tightened a little at the thought of food. But he'd been going to make them both dinner...

He was watching her closely. "Tomorrow night." he said.

Before he had to take the red-eye back to DC. Damn. Just letting her mind touch it for a split second hurt. They needed to make every minute count of the time left before he went back.

She licked her lips; she was dehydrated and hungry, she needed to eat and so did he. This would be fastest. "Okay. Ahi, corn," she said. "Smells good."

"You'll have to throw some more fish on the grill," said Adrianna. "It's in that cooler."

"Why don't you go upstairs," he said.

"I'll wait for you." She didn't want to go up there alone.

"You're warm enough to wait a few minutes while I cook some?" he asked, surprised, his hand slid up her forearm, feeling it. She steeled herself not to shiver.

She nodded.

"I'll hurry. Thanks, Adrianna." he said. He turned away and headed for the table of food.

"I see he found you. You okay?"

Scully nodded tiredly. Adrenaline again, and Mulder, had gotten her home, but now she was drained. She might as well go up there and face her apartment.

"You don't look okay." Adrianna stood up and looked down at Liam. "So this is his kid. What is it with men? Always complications. He looks more like you than him, with this red hair." She chucked the baby lightly under his chin. "I guess he looks a little like Dad around the mouth." She shook her head. "What's the man got? A thing for redheads?"

Scully gave a sad laugh in spite of herself.

"Poor Dane," Adrianna said sympathetically.

Scully's eyes sought Mulder. He was putting a couple pieces of fish on the grill, but he was watching her and saw her glance. She gestured with her head upstairs at her apartment. He nodded.

"Thanks for taking care of Liam," Scully said. "He looked so comfortable."

"It starts young," Adrianna said dryly.

Liam was looking up at her seriously with his big blue eyes. When she looked down at him, he smiled with the nipple still in his mouth, then went back to his bottle. She cuddled him a little closer.

"If you want, I'll hold him while you eat, I like holding him."

"Thanks, but I think we'll go eat upstairs."

Adrianna scanned Scully's face. "I don't know what he's been putting you through, but you're looking too thin again. Like you did when you moved in." Her eyes widened. "Shit."

Scully put a hand up to her black eye. It was still vaguely tender when she pressed it. "Is it bad?"

"Is that why you've been laying low all weekend?" Her voice was shocked.

"No, I was out of town."

"With the Fox?"

Scully nodded again. She shifted her bare feet impatiently on the cold cement. How long was cooking this fish going to take? The hot bundle of Liam in her arms was the only thing keeping her from shivering visibly.

"Dane. ." Adrianna said gently, her expression concerned, her eyes still on the bruise.

It took her a moment to realize what Adrianna was implying. "No! He didn't do this. No. It was a boat accident."

"Or that?" Adrianna was looking at her wrist.

Scully lowered her wrist and looked at the bruise. The *No* stuck in her throat. A vivid memory rushed through her. The heat...his eyes...his fingers angry on her wrist.

"Is that why you left DC?"

"No, no."

Adrianna sighed, then shook her head slowly.

"No, Adrianna, really," she protested. "He would NEVER hurt me." She paused as her own words sunk in.

She turned her head and looked over at Mulder, he was staring at her, concern written in every line of his body.

All at once the chill damp night air on her skin, the noise of the party and the music subsided. She was unaware of anything but Liam's warm little body in her arms and Mulder's eyes across the distance of the pool.

*You broke my heart,* she told him with her eyes. *Why? I need to know.*

He started toward her suddenly and she shook her head infinitesimally. *Don't come until you're ready to tell me,* she willed him. And she thought he understood, because he stopped and stood staring at her, his eyes burning into hers. He gave a short nod.

It took all the energy she had left to drag her eyes away from his, then turned back to Adrianna. "Never," she repeated quietly.

Adrianna looked completely unconvinced. She examined Scully's face. "I'm right next door," she said finally. "Some night this week, you and I'll drink a few beers and I'll teach you a few tricks no girlfriend should be without." She patted Liam's sock- clad foot. "Night-night, Fox, Jr."

Scully could feel both Mulder's and Adrianna's eyes follow her as she slowly climbed the stairs to her apartment.


23.

She scanned her living room. Everything looked the same: the cool white walls, the gossamer white curtains at the French doors, the clean, comfortably empty space. But it was no longer her sanctuary, her place of peace. In fact, it was setting her teeth on edge. Her gaze traveled over the furnishings more closely, then fixed on the one piece of art on her walls: a watercolor painting of a beach. It was hanging too straight. It hadn't hung correctly since she'd fastened an earthquake tether- wire on it after a tremor the first week she was here.

"Here you go, Sweetie," she said. She gave the baby a little hug and set him in his carseat, propping his bottle so he could finish it. She turned to the painting, then pulled it a little away from the wall and examined the frame. A small electronic device, barely bigger than the end of a pencil, was fastened to the lower edge of the painting.

If she moved the wire, it was possible they'd know immediately she'd found it.

"I don't know, Liam," she said directly into the bug. "I think I'm *sick* of this painting here." Savagely she yanked the painting off the wall, breaking the earthquake tether. "Let's redecorate." She pulled the bug away from the frame and carefully set it on her coffee table, then looked around. "What else?"

Furiously and systematically she searched the living room, study and kitchen. Four bugs later and a running commentary to Liam worthy of an SNL sketch, she stopped and looked around, breathing hard. She'd trashed the place in ten minutes flat. No bigger than ticks, in all the spots she'd sit to work or talk on the phone. No video--thank God. At least not out here. She avoided looking at the bedroom door. She couldn't go in there yet.

The delicious smell of grilled fish filled her nose and made her stomach growl. She spun around.

Mulder stood at the door taking in the complete disarray, hands full of plates heaped high with food. She saw him spot the little pile of bugs on the coffee table. He raised his eyebrows sharply at her. "Four?" he mouthed.

She jerked her head toward the bedroom and held up five fingers, then shrugged.

He set the plates down and picked up the bugs, examining them closely. He dropped them to the floor and was about to smash them when she stopped him. She scooped them up and took them to the kitchen, opened the freezer door and shut them inside.

When she turned around Mulder was kneeling on the floor beside the baby. "Hey, buddy," he said. "How you doin'?"

She knelt slowly beside them. She had no idea from his face if he'd understood what she'd been trying to tell him downstairs.

He stroked Liam's cheek with one finger as the baby finished his bottle. When Liam discovered he was sucking on air, he shoved the nipple away from his mouth and grabbed Mulder's finger.

"You got me," Mulder said, and tugged gently on the little fingers wrapped around his much larger one. The baby held on tightly, staring wide-eyed back up at him.

"Da-da-da-da," Liam said clearly, then tried to pull Mulder's finger into his mouth.

Her eyes flashed to Mulder's. He looked stunned for a half second then grinned, a huge grin, first down at the baby, then sideways at her.

She had to smile, too.

"Lee-ums," he said softly. "Come 'ere." He picked him up and nestled him against his chest. "You don't know how glad I am you're okay." He kissed him softly on top of his head. "Love you, buddy."

God.

She didn't just love him--*them*--she was head over heels. She felt her own smile grow so wide it hurt.

He looked up at her, taking in her expression. His own became a little disconcerted. His smile drooped. "He should have said Ma- ma first."

"No," she protested. "That was great. That was perfect." She swallowed hard, her voice sounded far too full of emotion.

He looked back down at the baby. "Liam. Say, Ma-ma-ma."

"Da-da-da-da," Liam said again.

Mulder tilted back his head and laughed.

All the hairs on her body stood on end. She had a sudden vibrant picture of what he'd be like--happy--without the weight of the world on his shoulders. And what he would be like to be with. She felt the focus of what she wanted from life shift with a click.

She didn't just want him. She wanted him like this.

Her smile became contemplative as she considered the two of them. She wanted both of them. They had to get there from here.

He turned to her, the laughter gone, but traces of it lingering in his eyes. He examined her face. She suddenly wished she'd washed it and combed her hair.

"You need to eat," he said in a normal voice then leaned close to her. She wasn't sure what he was doing until the warmth of his breath tickled her ear. "Just moving those bugs may have alerted them."

She nodded and his lips brushed her ear, making her shiver.

"I can't believe you found *four* in the time it took me to cook that fish." His voice was appreciative. "I would have stopped at two."

She tilted her head a to see him better. His eyes were full of admiration and gentle amusement.

"Seems like too many for this square footage," she whispered.

He nodded. Liam made a grab at her hair and caught it, tangling one hand in the ends, he tried to pull a strand into his mouth.

"Ooops," said Mulder softy. "Let go, Liam." She bent her head forward while Mulder gently untangled it.

"I haven't done the bedroom," she told him.

"What about the bath?"

She winced. "I'll do it, now."

He finished freeing her hair from Liam's chubby paw and she raised her head. He carefully tucked the strands behind her ears, first on one side then the other. Then brushed the skin of her forehead lightly. "More sand. ." he said softly, his gaze dropped to rest on her bitten lip but he didn't comment on it. Her tongue darted out and she licked it. It had stopped bleeding.

His eyes rose to meet hers. "The food'll get cold. I'll take a quick look, then we can both give the whole place another going over after we eat."

She nodded. It felt good to be doing something active against these people. Together.

"Okay."

"Come on. Food," he said aloud. He stood up then held out his hand to help her. She took it and stood up.

"I'll take him," she said in a normal register, too.

"It's okay, he can help me."

She ducked in and gave Liam a quick kiss, then turned toward the kitchen. "Wine? I think I just have red."

He didn't let go of her hand. She turned around. He looked like he wanted a kiss, too. But all he said was, "I bought white. It's in the fridge."

She quirked an eyebrow at him. So he had planned this before she'd even woken up. "Great. I'll get it."

"Come on Liams," he told the baby. "We've got a job to do." He squeezed her fingers then let them go. "Meet you." He tilted his head, indicating the balcony.

She nodded, and went to wash her face.


She started a fire in the little terracotta chimenea fireplace, then contemplated her balcony. When she had company over she'd usually drag a table and chairs out from inside. Instead, she pulled the low iron and Mexican tile table in front of the chaise. They could sit beside each other. Less formal, it might be less awkward than talking face to face.

She didn't think there were any bugs out here. It wasn't giving her that creepy feeling between her shoulder blades that the inside of her apartment had.

But...she tipped the chaise on it's side and gave a quick search underneath, then knelt to look under the table. Nothing.

She laid out the silverware and glasses, lit a couple candles for the table, then went to open the bottle of wine.

Mulder arrived with Liam and his carseat as she was pouring the Sauvignon Blanc. He'd turned on her stereo and the sound of the jazz station from Long Beach wafted out through the open door. He gave her a enigmatic look at the sight of the lit chimenea. She merely raised her eyebrows.

He held up one finger and nodded toward her bedroom.

"The bath?" she mouthed.

He shook his head and she breathed a sigh of relief.

He scanned the balcony, then turned on the outside light. They gave a quick but thorough look around the windows and railings. Finally he looked at her and shrugged and she shrugged back. He flipped off the overhead lighting. Liam was watching curiously from his seat, trying to stuff his whole fist into his mouth.

"Enjoying the show tonight, Liam?" Mulder asked him, handing him a small bear. "Are you going to sit there so contentedly watching us eat?"

Liam merely smiled up at him.

"I'll hold him if he gets fussy," she said.

"Where's his Binky?"

"Down beside him in his seat, I think. But don't give it to him unless he's fussing for it."

"Don't worry. Don't encourage his oral fixation. I should know." He smiled at her expression. "Do you want me to heat up the food in the microwave?"

"Let's just eat it. I'm starving."

Scully tore into her dinner with pleasure. The fish was delicious, so were the pot-luck side-dishes he'd heaped on her plate. She threw a tiny glance at him; he was eating as ravenously as she was. Good.

But now that they were sitting down beside each other she was self-conscious. She was overly aware that each time he reached to pick up his wine, his elbow would touch hers. The low table was comfortable for her, but Mulder didn't seem to know where to put his feet and the few inches of distance between his thigh and her own seemed to lessen slightly every time he shifted restlessly.

She could smell him, she realized. The lingering masculine aroma of his hard run on the beach in the evening air. It mingled with the fragrance of the mesquite from the fire, the smell of grilled fish and the slight cinnamon smell of the burning candles.

For a few moments she let her eyes half-close as she watched him out of the corner of her eye. She contemplated giving into the pull and sliding closer to see if he was willing to let their bodies decide this...

She took another sip of wine, pulled her eyes away from the fascinating play of the firelight on the golden hairs on his wrist and tried to concentrate on Liam.

The baby, blithely unaware of the electric charge crackling through the air between his two adults, was happily waving his arms and legs and making little cooing noises.

She threw a surreptitious glance back at Mulder. He seemed to be keeping his attention on the baby, too, and was looking at him now with a slight crease between his eyebrows. She saw him open his mouth to say something, then hesitate.

"What?" she asked softly.

"I don't want to think it's something wrong, but is he too...easy-going?" he asked.

She considered the baby. "You're not forgetting the plane so soon are you, Mulder?" They exchanged a tiny grin. "Calm for a first baby, compared to Matthew, anyway. Probably because of the way he was cared for. Don't worry, we'll spoil him quickly enough."

We. She'd said it deliberately. He gave her a sideways look. She didn't say anything, just let her eyes hold his as she took a sip of her wine, then looked back down at her plate.

She poked at a big dark object under a lettuce leaf with her fork. A brownie, she discovered. She glanced back him. He was still watching her. She gestured at the brownie with her fork. He nodded. She was glad she'd lit the candles, otherwise she wouldn't be able to see the expression in his eyes at all. A little self-conscious, but tender...and worried.

They hadn't mentioned Skinner's call, but awareness of it was in every glance between them. She was worried, too.

"I just want him to be safe and you to be safe," she told him softly.

They looked at each other for a long moment. "And you too," he said, his eyes serious. Then he sighed and pushed back his near- empty plate. "I wish I knew what the threat was to you in this."

To her? She shook her head. "I'm the last thing I'm worried about. What do you think they're going to do?"

He rubbed the back of his neck and wriggled his shoulders tiredly. "I thought it would be something like it was with...Emily." His voice hesitated on her name, bringing the fullness of tears to the back of her throat. ". . I thought it could be years, but it could start tomorrow."

"It's already started," she said sadly.

"We'll protect him," he said, his voice determined. "We'll keep him safe."

We. Now he'd said it.

She nodded. He nodded, confirming the promise, and turned away to take a sip of his wine, then sat back on the chaise and wrapped his hands around one knee, looking out at the ocean.

Liam. Between one coo and the next, Mr. Easy-Going had dozed off. She bent down and tucked his blankie up around his neck. A little life. Such a responsibility. She still couldn't believe it.

Safe, she thought with sudden fierce determination. The most important thing was to keep Liam safe. She swore the same promise to herself with vehemence.

She sat up and picked up her fork. Her hand was trembling slightly and she put the fork down again, unable to eat another bite. She pushed her plate away and sat back with her glass of wine.

It was a while before she trusted her voice. "That was delicious, Mulder. Thanks."

"Mmmph. Thank your neighbors." He went back to looking out at the night. Her eyes were drawn back to the sleeping baby.

"Scully," he interrupted her thoughts, his voice quiet. "How would you feel...about me...moving out here?" She turned her head quickly and looked at him. "I mean," he went on, "I could find an apartment around here somewhere. Help you with him."

She stared at him, a hundred different questions and objections tumbling through her mind. But behind all of them was a flutter of excitement. To have him out here. . but for him to give up his work?

"You love him that much?" she asked softly.

He looked wary. "Is that going to be a problem?"

Her eyebrows raised sharply. "No!" she protested.

The relief in his expression shook her.

"Really?" he asked.

"Mulder. ." she trailed off and shut her eyes. Were things really this screwed up between them? She opened her eyes and looked at him seriously. "We wouldn't have him if it wasn't for you." She paused. "Liam seems to think you're his Dad. Is that what you want him to think?"

He stared at her for a long moment, then gave one slow nod.

"Me too," she agreed. "Then that's how we'll raise him." She tried a tentative smile, but he just stared at her. Then his eyes half closed and he opened his mouth and shut it again without saying anything.

He turned abruptly back to the ocean.

Her smile faded.

Five minutes of quiet, uncomfortable, silence later and her wine was finished. Talking was a hell of an idea, she thought, too bad they were both so damn bad at it. She didn't have the foggiest notion where to start up the conversation again or what he felt about what she'd just said. She glanced at him. He was still watching the ocean, apparently lost in his own thoughts. She turned and looked out towards the water, too.

The beach was empty. The fog had lifted...

It was suddenly clear.

She took a deep breath.

"Mulder?" she asked without turning, glad to hear her voice was reasonably steady.

"Yes?"

"Are you really sorry we made love?"

She heard him let out his breath sharply. She could feel his eyes on her face and she turned and looked at him. Was that embarrassment in his expression? Not a good sign.

"Tell me," she said. "If it was the truth, then we never have to mention it again. But I need to know."

"I wish I could take back every word of that."

She waited.

He shifted uncomfortably, but didn't look away. "When I came here--that night--when I saw you...I wanted to make love to you more than anything else in the whole world."

She felt warmth slide through her blood at the timber in his voice. It was a lot more reassuring than the expression on his face. "Really?"

"Yeah, really."

"You're not sorry?"

He paused fractionally.

"You are," she said unhappily. God. "You are. You really did only sleep with me because it was easier than telling me."

"Scully, there was a lot more going on in my head than that, believe me--" He leaned toward her slightly and gave her an earnest look. "I'd only just gotten the sample of his blood. I hadn't had the final DNA test done. If I'd told you and it turned out not to be true. ."

It would have been a nightmare.

". .so it *was* easier," he admitted, "but . ." he trailed off and sighed.

She cleared her throat. "You should have told me."

He nodded. "I know."

"When did you get the final results?"

"The night before I came back out. I was afraid I wasn't going to get them in time, and that I'd--and maybe we'd--end up in Singapore, bidding on a baby that might or might not be yours. Then I got the results." He twisted his mouth ruefully. "I sat with the phone in my lap for hours. Finally I packed and took the next plane out here." He looked down into his wineglass.

She sat quiet, thinking back. Every now and then this spring she'd stop and wonder if he ever spared her a thought. And then the month after he'd visited her and she hadn't heard from him...she'd wondered the same. She should have known something was going on. The few hints he'd given her when they'd lain in each other's arms that morning had been enough to tip off the consortium. Why hadn't she figured it out? He'd been completely focused--obsessed even--she admitted reluctantly, on getting this baby. For her. She should have known. She should have guessed. She should have called him. She had no idea now why she hadn't. Was he right? Had she really not wanted to know? Was she that selfish? Was it selfishness? Was that what it was?

She considered his averted eyes, then her gaze dropped to his long fingers, restlessly twirling the stem of his wine glass.

What on earth did he see when he looked at her? How was it that she'd never stopped and taken a good hard look at herself from his perspective before? Selfish. Argumentative. Hardheaded. Impossible to tell things to...What else?

Someone he regretted sleeping with...

She sighed deeply.

"Scully, I'm trying. You have to believe I'm trying." He took a long drink, draining his glass of his wine. He picked up the bottle and held it over her empty glass.

She nodded.

The liquid sparkled amber in the light from the candles and fire as he poured. She was feeling just the slightest effects of the wine. Everything was heightened, sharpened. She could see the thread of smoke from the candles, the refracting quality of the heat vapor, bending the dark of the night behind it. The sound of the flames as they eagerly crackled and snapped away at the mesquite logs. Flickering waves of light rippled from the fireplace, interspersed with waves of darkness as alive as the light. The waves eddied over the table, touching their glasses with brilliance. Over Mulder, leaving his face in shadow, over Liam's face, lighting it innocent in the fire's luminous glow. .

She would always remember this moment. The three of them, like this.

"Scuh-leee. . ?" he said very softly, "I'm not sorry we made love." He gave her a lightning-quick shy sideways glance. "It's just," he continued before she could say anything, "I think the sex added a dimension that we couldn't deal with right then. *I* couldn't deal with it. It was too soon."

Too soon.

"I don't know what your reasons were that night," he continued slowly, "but it wasn't because you...were making a commitment to me."

She couldn't protest. He was right. There had been a lot going on in her head that night, too.

"What else?" she asked softly.

He looked at her questioningly.

"You said a lot was going on in your head."

"I'd been working--" he stopped,

"Working yourself sick trying to get this baby," she supplied.

He nodded then turned his head away and gazed into the flames.

"I was thinking about you the whole time I was in Singapore. When I first saw him. I was scared to come see you. Scared, yet excited to tell you. I kept hoping when you knew you'd forgive me, hoping somehow you'd--" he broke off.

". .come back. ."

He nodded again.

"And when I showed up here--unannounced--the first sight of you I'd had in six months, there you were: stunningly beautiful, flushed, healthy, happy, laughing." He paused, his voice had grown rueful. "Kissing another guy. I'd never...I've never..." He closed his eyes briefly then shook his head as if to clear it. "I left. But while I was standing on the curb downstairs wondering where the hell the cabs were, I saw the guy come out and get into his car. You hadn't let him in. And somehow I ended up back at your door." A touch of wryness came into his tone. "You were dating a guy with a Maserati convertible for chrissakes, Scully."

She felt a little warm feeling in the pit of her stomach. He thought she was beautiful and he'd slept with her because he was jealous?

"What guy?" she asked innocently.

He gave her a look.

She merely shrugged.

He noticed the bottle still in his hand and refilled his own glass.

She licked her lips. "You were jealous?"

"Jealous doesn't even being to describe it."

"You could drive a Maz, too, Mulder if you didn't go around buying babies," she said lightly, trying to erase the look on his face. It was starting to scare her. Sadness, an old familiar intense sadness. He was distancing himself.

He ignored her attempt to distract him. "And so, we made love, for all the wrong reasons on both sides--"

"But, you don't know my reasons--"

"Shhhh," he said. "I know you. When you came back that next morning--your face--" he broke off and nodded slightly. "I knew then...It was suddenly clear I'd been kidding myself waiting for something that--" He stopped short.

She held her breath and sat perfectly still.

He was quiet, then looked down into his wine glass as if it held the answers. "I broke a rule I'd had with myself," he said finally. "One I'd had for a very very long time" He turned and met her eyes. The expression in his was too complicated for her to label. A little defensive, a little resigned and still full of that incredible sadness. "That I would never make love to you unless it meant to you what it did to me."

She stared into his eyes, transfixed.

She'd always dreaded the moments in life where everything changed in one split second and there was no going back. Learning about her Dad...Missy.

But this. . in one split second...

Enlightenment.

Sudden. Beautiful. Exquisite. Squeezing her heart and throat like a big fist.

She couldn't open her mouth. She didn't know if she had the words to tell him what he'd just given her, to give the same thing back to him.

And did he still want to hear it? *I love you* hadn't worked. An echo of the words *this isn't us* went through her mind. It still broke her heart.

He was rushing on, "You had a new life. One where a new baby might not be welcome. And I realized he might end up with me."

Before she could form a coherent response to any of it, his eyes filled with chagrin and dropped away from hers and he continued, his voice thick. "But, you set me straight on that at Charlotta's." He shut his eyes tightly and stopped talking.

Finally he said her name very softly. "Scully?"

"Yes?" she managed. Her voice was high and nervous. She tried to clear her throat.

"I think...I went a little crazy when you said that."

Her eyes traveled over his bent profile. "Don't try to pull the insanity defense with *me*," she said, relieved to hear her voice had lowered to it's normal register. "I don't think I've ever heard you more frighteningly sane in your life. Horribly, frighteningly sane."

He opened his eyes and turned to face her.

"You hurt me, Mulder."

Pain replaced the guilt in his eyes. "I'm sorry. You hurt me, too."

"I know, and I'm sorry," she said softly. "It still hurts like hell." Her eyes filled with tears.

He winced. "It wasn't deliberate. Everything fell apart. And I took it all out on you."

"No kidding," she said under her breath, and he winced again.

She refused to cry, she blinked stubbornly at the tears and got them under control.

"Can you ever forgive me, Scully?"

She licked her dry bottom lip. "Maybe it wasn't deliberate at first, but ever since you've been pushing me away. I need to know why."

He nodded, the barest of nods, but he didn't say anything.

"Mulder...I need to hear the truth from you. Whatever you're holding back. Whatever you wouldn't tell me in Singapore. And I need to hear it right now. Or . . however we feel about each other, I don't think we can salvage anything of this."

She hadn't realized she was going to give him an ultimatum until it was out of her mouth, but he looked as if he'd expected it.

"There are some things you're better off not knowing, Scully." His voice was final.

"For you or for me?" she demanded.

He didn't answer, just leaned forward and rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, then turned his head sideways and met her eyes.

They had a stare down for nearly a minute.

He was trying to say something to her with his eyes, but she wasn't getting it, whatever it was.

Finally she let him win, and turned her back on him stiffly. She needed to regroup without him watching her face. Why didn't she keep a bottle of Sodium Pentothal on hand? Or maybe she'd could get him drunk enough to tell her. He'd already had two glasses. How much would it take to get him drunk? What the hell could it be that he thought would hurt her so much? Something he'd done?

Or maybe she was supposed to figure it out herself.

He cleared his throat. "So...I guess Liam's future is what we should be talking about tonight, right? You said, 'No nannies'."

Liam. It had to be something about Liam. He'd almost squeezed her wrist in two when she'd questioned him about the possibility that Liam was a clone. He'd said he hadn't known, and she'd believed him, but--

"Are you still going to take some time off?" he asked, and now he'd retreated to careful wryness. "Some sort of instant-baby- from-nowhere leave?"

She nodded slowly, cautiously. She'd deal with that.

She let her mind slip into Mulder-overdrive mode to follow his thoughts. Baby leave. No nannies...in the garden...all at once it had been about everything. But still too soon. He'd asked her--something, and she'd--

She turned and looked back at his face. Despite his light tone, his eyes were still filled with that dark resigned sadness.

She hadn't told him everything either.

"You," she said. "I want you."

His eyes widened and he sat up.

"In Charlotta's garden, Mulder? How could I just want Liam? I want you, too."

Complicated was mild to describe what was going on in his eyes now.

"You were right," she hurried on, suddenly feeling ridiculously nervous. "Not about what I said--or didn't say--in the garden. You were wrong about that, but you were right, I didn't understand what I wanted when you first came to see me, but I do now. And whether or not I was ready to make a commitment when we made love, it certainly meant as much to me as it did to you. Not just that night, but being with you again--this whole trip."

He was concentrating on her so intently, his face, his whole body as if he was memorizing every word. Which was good, because she wasn't sure she was making sense.

"And because...I love you," she said. "I made love to you because I love you." It was easier to say it this time and she felt a huge rush of relief that it was finally out in the open. Not telling him this *was* as awful as anything he hadn't told her. He deserved to know. Whatever he still felt, the relief of him knowing was overwhelming.

"I love you both. Him, a lot. But you. ." Her heart melted as she watched the expression on his face as he took in the mad rush of her confession. "God, Mulder. Don't you have any idea how much I love you?"

The sudden light in his eyes shook her right down to her toes.

"Scuh-leee. . " he said softly, unbelievingly.

She nodded and tried to form her lips into a smile, but she had a feeling she was staring at him with desperately hopeful eyes. God. She'd laid *all* her cards on the table.

He looked stunned. Completely and utterly stunned. But his eyes. . dark with flecks of gold from the firelight, but lit from within with their own desperate glowing fire. And suddenly she was stunned, too. She'd guessed he loved her, but now she knew with certainty that she didn't know the half of it. But she wanted to. And she never wanted to look away from his eyes again.

Maybe everything was going to be okay. Somehow. Whatever else happened, she'd told him and had him look at her like this.

"Really?" he asked.

"*Yes*, *really*." She basked in the heat from his eyes, then reached out and touched the smile crinkle at the corner of his eye. "So . ." she took a deep, shaken breath. "Whatever you're not telling *me*, spill it now," she finished with a little rush. "I'm not taking no for an answer."

He reached out and took her hand very gently, rubbing the back of it with his thumb.

"You can tell me anything, Mulder. It's not going to change how I feel about you."

He looked at her seriously, consideringly, then frowned. "Won't it?"

She bit her lip. "It's about Liam, isn't it? There something wrong with him you're not telling me--"

"No," Mulder shook his head. "Not exactly."

She wasn't reassured. She gripped his hand hard.

"Tell me," she said tersely.

"Okay. Okay." He gave in with a frustrated sigh. "I don't know where to start."

"At the beginning."

He let out a breath. "On September 10, 1993, Dana Katherine Scully walked into my life--"

She gave his hand a sharp squeeze.

"Can't I just make love to you instead of telling you this?" he asked.

She caught her breath then gave him an even sharper squeeze. "Stop it. I'm completely serious about this."

"I'm being serious. I'm absolutely, absolutely serious." He was, she realized.

"I meant what I said. You need to tell me the truth...first."

He raised his eyebrows slightly, then his expression became serious and he took a deep breath. "Three things. Number one. The night I found Liam. The amniotic fluid in his incubator was green."

He said it so quickly that at first she wasn't even sure he wasn't fooling around. Then her heart started beating crazily against her ribs.

"What?" She stared at him. His face was intensely worried. His fingers had found her cheek and were stroking it lightly. She'd probably gone dead white, she thought with a tiny part of her brain, while the rest of it floundered for possible explanations. "Could it have been myconeum, or--"

"No, clear, bright green."

He didn't have to say any more. They'd both seen it before.

"Can you remember anything from the chart?"

He shook his head.

"It might not mean anything. ." she whispered.

"There were vials, there too, of the same green color. I have no way of knowing if it was the same fluid." He paused and guilt filled his eyes.

She waited.

"I took one."

"You did!? What was it?"

"It was undeterminable what caused the green color, and the tests," he sighed, "were inconclusive." She felt sharp disappointment. "But it contained a high concentration of stem cells."

"*Stem* cells," she repeated slowly.

"Liam's stem cells."

Her fingers were suddenly wrapped around his wrist. "Did you save it?"

"Yes. It's in a cryogenic facility in--"

"How much is there?"

"About four ounces."

"Mulder, having Liam's hematopoietic stem cells is *good* news. It's incredible news. Any number of diseases or treatments compromising his immune system can be treated with stem cells. So can blood disorders."

Mulder didn't look happy. He nodded. "I know. That part is wonderful. He must have been in the incubator to allow them to easily harvest these stem cells from his umbilical cord. But the question is why?"

"He was engineered for a purpose. We know that."

He said very carefully, watching her closely, "I think he was created to save Emily."

It made sense. It was probable that whatever they'd done to Emily to make her sick, Calderon had been trying to save her. Or...she felt a chill...prolong her life until they were done with their tests.

But it didn't explain the look of complete desolation that was now on Mulder's face. She wasn't putting this together, whatever it was.

She reached out and took his other hand. He was trembling slightly. She searched his eyes in concern. THIS was it. "Just tell me."

"I think someone helped you find Emily so you could save her. I had that vial in my pocket when I saw you in the hospital. The night she died. If I'd given it to you, you might have figured out a way to save her." His eyes suddenly filled with tears and he stared at her, eyes dark and haunted. The tears in them suddenly overflowed and he shut them tightly. He pulled his hands out of her grip and covered his face.

"Oh, Mulder." She reached for his upper arms and gently pulled him to her. He dropped his face into her shoulder and she hugged him close. He was holding himself too tensely to really hug, but she held him anyway.

He'd been holding this in so long. It must have been tearing him apart inside. No wonder he'd been getting grey hairs. She slipped one hand up into his hair and stroked it.

"Shh," she told him. "Shhhh." Her own tears overflowed.

She rocked him a little, but he didn't relax against her, just held himself more stiffly. She leaned her cheek against his hair and thought about it. "You'd come right from the nursing home to the hospital when you saw me that night, hadn't you?"

He nodded his head against her.

"Mulder," she went on. "I would have had to analyze it. Even if I could have identified everything that was in it, there's no way we could have determined Emily's histocompatabilty to the cells. I wouldn't have given it to her without knowing. I think it's possible that's what Calderon came to the hospital to give her. And it didn't work. She was too far gone for anything to work." She tried to tilt his head back so she could see his face, but he wouldn't let her. "She *was* gone just a few hours later. So, you see? It couldn't have saved her. All it would have done would have made me spend the last hours rushing around trying to figure out what the hell it was. Instead I spent it holding her."

His shoulders shook. "Shhh," she told him. "Shhh. Did you even realize it might be a treatment until you had it analyzed?"

He shook his head. "But I should have," he whispered against her, his voice broken. She rubbed the muscles in the back of his neck with her fingers.

"Mulder, you make inexplicable leaps sometimes, but guessing the contents of an unmarked vial of liquid? It would be impossible. It could have been anything. It could have been the hormones being given to the women at the home. It could have been ANYTHING. So how can you blame yourself?"

He just shook his head against her again.

"Besides, I told you that I wouldn't treat her if I could."

"But you didn't really mean that."

She sighed deeply. "Mulder, look at me." He raised his head. His face was bleak. At the same moment they both reached up to wipe at each others tears.

"How are you forgiving me for this?" he whispered.

"Oh, Mulder. Because I understand," she whispered back. "And," she went on. "Because. ." she trailed off. She kept saying it and he didn't seem to be saying it back. "I love you."

Before she could finish the sentence he'd pulled her against him and wrapped both arms around her hard. He rested his chin on the top of her head. They were quiet, holding each other.

Green amniotic fluid. Stem cells. She tried to think about what he'd said, but suddenly she was exhausted. She'd figure this all out in the morning. Meanwhile. . she nestled her cheek into the front of his shirt and held him. Here he is, she thought. At last. She pulled him closer, listening to his breathing and feeling his heart beating against hers.

She wanted it to be like this. Just them, alone in the night. With nothing to disturb them but the possibility of a hungry baby. No bugs, no threats of bombs or diseases, no future full of worry. . not the worry of a baby who's amniotic fluid had been green...oh...she couldn't not think of it. She'd be up all night worrying about it. She'd have to send for a sample of the fluid first thing in the morning, she could take to it a woman she knew at UCLA--

Stop, she told herself. Tomorrow is soon enough.

"I hate them," she whispered.

His fingers found her head and started stroking her softly. As softly as she'd been stroking him a moment ago.

"If only they hadn't found out." The sound of desperation in her voice made her realize just how close she was to the edge. He must have heard it too because his arms tightened around her. "I just want him to have nothing to do with all this. I want him out of it. I want him safe."

He rubbed his cheek on her hair.

"Scuh-leee?" he asked gently. She raised her head and looked at him. The expression on his face was very, very sad. Still? She caught her breath. "We could do it," he said at last.

She raised her eyebrows at him.

"Keep him safe."

She looked at him even more questioningly.

"I've been trying not to think this, but... We could take him and go," he said softly and looked over at Liam again. "Go somewhere safe. It's the opposite of how it was supposed to happen with George and Isobel, but--"

"Somewhere safe? Where?"

He just looked at her.

Disappear.

Oh, God.

"Don't be ridiculous, Mulder."

He still just looked at her. Was he serious?

"Oh God...Mulder. ."

"Think about it."

It made perfect sense, but. .

He was right. The best way to keep him safe. The only way--to keep him perfectly safe.

But disappear?

She couldn't.

Could she?

Even as she asked herself she felt a sad desperation coming over her. Her job, her mom, her family...

"Where?"

"Somewhere. Anywhere. Normal. Safe."

"Mulder. ." She tilted her head and met his eyes.

He dug his teeth into his lower lip. "We have to do what's right for him first."

Oh God, he was absolutely serious.

She tried to swallow the large lump that wedged itself in her throat.

Oh God.

"We can't just disappear. Where would we go? What would we do?"

"Live," he said simply.

"We could get jobs, but in a year or two we would be out there doing what? We have careers, Mulder. We wouldn't have credentials, or a background. Or family or. . ."

"Frohike could easily get our backgrounds faked. It's done all the time."

"But not in my field, Mulder. I may not be well known, but I'm known in my field. I can't just show up as someone else. And you, you could never get away with it."

"Well . .has there ever been anything else you wanted to do?" he asked. "Maybe you could go back to school?"

She looked at him in dismay.

"Back to school?" she asked in shock. "Give up my career?"

"We're talking about his *life*, Scully."

And hers...Her life versus Liam's. As soon as she thought it she felt sick to her stomach and disgusted with herself. It was hardly her versus Liam. It was to save him...

But. . but.

"Wait. Wait. Wait," she protested. "You've obviously been thinking about this, I haven't. I can't believe you're considering this seriously. It's impossible."

"Think of it as a chance to start over. You could go back to school, follow a better happier path. Wouldn't you rather have lived life without the F.B.I. and autopsies and . ." he swallowed, ". . and everything that's happened to us?"

She stared at him. His expression was bleak. He actually meant it. How could he possibly, possibly think that?

"I could do it," he said finally.

She stared at him in disbelief.

This was horrible.

"I can't. I just can't," she said desperately.

"Your family?" he asked sadly. The expression in his eyes was breaking her heart. It was as if he was saying, of course her family was more important than he was. It just wasn't true.

He gave her one last imploring look. She shook her head. "I can't go," she said desperately at his expression.

"Do you want me to?"

"You? To what? What are you saying?"

Oh God, she knew exactly what he meant. This was worse.

"I mean I'll do it if that's what you want."

"You take him? And disappear?"

Now she really was shaking.

No. Her fingers closed tightly on the skin under his t-shirt, as if she could hold on to him that way.

"Mulder, no, I don't want this. Please don't even consider it."

He face was very weary. "We need to consider it."

"Do you think the threat is that immediate?"

"Scully," he said gently. He sat back from her and reached for her hands, he held them both and their fingers tangled tightly. "There was a bomb in my car. I would have gone home and driven my car to the liquor store to buy a bottle of Scotch. But I wouldn't have gotten there. I would be dead."

They stared at their linked hands. The bruise on her wrist looked like a shadow in this light.

"Am I doing it again? Being stupid about just how much danger you and Liam are in?"

He looked at her levelly. "Yes."

She shut her eyes. "Mulder, if you'd gone back to D.C. and . ." she swallowed hard. ". . it would have killed me."

She felt his hand on her face, his fingers sliding into her hair, his fingertips gentle...and she turned her face into his palm.

"Scully, if you want me to do it, ask me and I will. Yes or no."

She opened her eyes stared into his eyes. The expression in them made her heart sink further.

One moment ago, it looked like their future as a family was a distinct possibility, the next, he was talking about taking him away from her again. She was having to decide between her mother and Mulder and Liam.

This was insane. Mulder was insane to be forcing this decision on her.

Mulder and Liam safe? How could that be insane, she told herself angrily. It would be the best thing in the world. It would be the right thing to do. It would keep them both safe.

She tried to open her mouth and answer him.

She swallowed hard. It was the most difficult thing she'd ever had to say in her life.

She couldn't say it. She just nodded, begging him with her eyes to tell her to forget it.

His eyes squinted a little, wincing, and then he nodded. Suddenly he was untangling his hands from her hair and pulling away from her. He gave her cheek one last caress and dropped his hand.

He stood up and walked a little bit away from her to the rail and looked out to sea.

He turned and looked back down at her.

"Look, um...I'll be back in a while. I need to think about this. I...think ..." His eyes again full of unshed tears. Her heart clenched. "I know I offered . . but, I don't think I can do this."

He leaned down and placed his hand on Liam's blankie for just a moment, looking at the baby, then he straightened and walked into her apartment and to the front door. She heard it close behind him with a soft thud.

She sat in shock. Then stood up slowly and walked to the rail. She watched him as he walked down the street. He paused, and turned and looking back at her, eyes bruised and boring into hers as if they were inches from each other, not twenty yards. She stood and watched his lonely figure as he pushed his hands into his pockets, hunched his shoulders slightly against the night air, and then turned away and walked out of sight.

Disappeared.

Something else he'd obviously been thinking about for a while that he hadn't bothered to share with her. If he had maybe it wouldn't have been such a shock.

She rested her forehead on her arms on the railing, realizing she was shivering slightly. She was freezing, her skin covered with goosebumps.

All at once she understood what she'd asked.

And that he would, in fact, do anything in the world for her.

She walked back into the apartment, picked up Liam's quilt and carried it back outside. She tucked it carefully around him. She cleared away their plates, then pulled the chaise closer to the fireplace and sat down in its warmth, hugging her arms against her chest.

She didn't think, didn't do anything, just watched the flames eat the small pieces of wood that were left, turn them to ash and die.


24.

Her knees creaked as she rose from the chaise. She was stiff from sitting in the damp air and she rubbed her neck to loosen the tight muscles. She scanned the beach. Still no sign of him.

It had been two hours.

The moon was rising. It was nearly full, hanging big, bright and heavy in the southeast. She took a deep breath and gripped the railing hard, the cool salty air filling her lungs and clearing her head. She couldn't just sit in a numb stupor. She had to think this through.

She searched the beach again. No lone figures. No one stirring at all. She turned and looked at Liam. He was sleeping peacefully, swaddled to his nose. She bent down and tucked in a corner of his blanket, then felt his temple with the back of her fingers. His skin was warm, but she should take him in out of the damp. One of his eyebrows twitched slightly as she lifted the carseat and carried him in through the french doors. She set him down gently out of the draft.

The sound of the party downstairs was loud inside the apartment, drowning out the music from her radio. She flipped off the stereo and went to the front door, opened it, and looked down at the courtyard. Things were getting boisterous. More people had arrived. They were milling around the pool, talking and laughing. Elvis and a couple others were jamming, and a few people she didn't recognize were swimming in the steaming pool with their clothes on.

She went back to Liam and settled down beside him cross-legged. She rested her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, and sat, watching him sleep.

Should she put him down on his quilt? It seemed wrong to leave him in his seat, but he looked so comfortable--

Her face crumpled slightly, looking at his serene face.

Liam...

The baby merely yawned in his sleep, then made a little mew and adjusted his head against the cushioned cover. His skin was so pink, so healthy--

So normal...

He wasn't normal.

He wasn't fine.

*Green* amniotic fluid.

The moment she heard it she knew. She'd been trying not to think that he was part of their twisted scheme. Whatever it was. And they wouldn't leave him alone, or let him have a normal life.

Ever.

What was so shocking was how right it felt that he should disappear.

She wanted to pull him out of his seat and wrap her arms around him and never let him go.

Go with them, she told herself.

I can't.

Go.

I *can't*.

Why not? Your mother? Your career? Your life? What life?

People don't just disappear, she argued with herself.

You aren't just people. Not any more.

She tried to summon up more arguments why she couldn't go with them and came up blank.

The fact was, she wanted to find Mulder and run as far and as fast as they could with Liam right now.

Where was he?

Maybe she'd been wrong thinking he'd do anything for her. Maybe he hadn't been able to do it. He wouldn't just leave like this, would he? He couldn't. He'd just needed some time. Hadn't he?

He might, she admitted. If he'd decided he couldn't do it, he might have just left.

Come back, she willed. Please Mulder. Please.

Please God.

What if he didn't come back?

She was unsurprised at how fast her thoughts found an answer. Then *she* would take Liam and go.

Finally she glanced at her clock. It had been another hour.

It was getting so late...

The party had quieted down again downstairs...and now she could hear Elvis singing alone, a plaintive ballad, accompanying himself with his guitar. She'd heard him practice this song a hundred times. She knew it by heart.

... Hold me baby in the heat of your arms...Love me til we're one...Wrap me baby in the heat of your love...Stroke me til I come...Hold me baby with the heat in your eyes Kiss me til I cry... . Hold me close... Hold me safe Love me...til I die...

The music trailed away and she picked Liam up out of his seat and pulled him onto her lap. She tucked the blankets all around him. He made a little peeping sound in his sleep and she rocked him gently.

After a while her legs went to sleep, but she didn't move. Her arms and shoulders grew stiff as she sat hunched over him. Finally she tilted her head slightly so she could read the clock on the VCR.

It was nearly one.

After the emotional rollercoaster of the past few days, it was too much to think about this. She was shutting down. She recognized the signs and didn't fight it. Numbness was creeping through her brain. She welcomed it. She buried her face against the baby's neck, smelling his warm baby smell. Today had been too long. Too much. The past few days had been too much. She'd felt too much.

If all the cells in a person's body were completely replaced every seven years with brand new cells, she pondered with detachment, then it felt as if the process in her had sped up to five days. She felt like a different person, right down to the cellular level. Maybe she was a different person.

She would never be the same.

She rubbed the back of her neck tiredly. Her fingers touched the scar and she listlessly dropped her hand. Of course she would never be the same. She had a fucking chip in her neck, doing who knew what to her at a cellular level, and possibly other things she couldn't even begin to imagine. How could she even think her life could have any semblance of normalcy with an electronic device in her neck like a goddamn--

She clapped her hand back to her neck and sat perfectly still.

Oh God.


The door creaked a little and she turned.

He paused at the door. His eyes were tired and red-rimmed. He looked like he'd aged five years. She had a feeling she did too.

She set Liam down gently and tucked him in, then rose slowly to her feet. Her legs were asleep, she winced as the pins and needles shot through them. Leaning over she rubbed them, trying to get the circulation going.

He brushed by her and stood, looking down at the sleeping baby. All at once he turned away and picked up one of Liam's toys. She watched him, unsure what to say, as he stood quietly, his head bent over the toy.

"Tell him good-bye," he said softly.

Her heart started hammering in her chest.

She went to the front door and shut it, then slid the chain in place, turned and stood with her back against it. Her hands were trembling, she flattened them against the door behind her to stop the shaking.

He must have heard the chain, but he didn't look up. She couldn't see his face.

She turned off the light.

He still didn't look at her.

She crossed to the baby, knelt back beside him, and tucked his blanket and the soft throw closer around him. "Good night little one, sleep tight," she whispered to him. "I love you." She leaned down and rested her lips on his hair. She looked up at Mulder, he was watching her, his eyes unreadable in the darkness.

She gave the baby another gentle caress, then stood and took the toy out of Mulder's unresisting fingers and put it on the couch. She took him by the hand and tugged; his fingers were like ice and he didn't move.

She tugged again.

After a moment's hesitation he let her pull him. Relief filled her and she led him into the bedroom and sat him down on the edge of her bed. He watched her as she started to pull her t-shirt over her head.

"Scuh-leee. ." he whispered, the sound of agonized protest in his voice.

She paused for a second, then pulled it off anyway. She heard him take a sudden sharp intake of breath.

He was staring at her ribs.

She looked down. The bruised skin was a mottled ugly purple- green. "You didn't see this when I was in the tub?"

He shook his head.

"It's better," she said softly, then her hands went to the waist- band of her shorts to push them off.

She watched his eyes go to her breasts. He closed them tightly.

"I can't do this," he whispered. She left her shorts on for the moment and took his face in her hands, kissing him on the top of his head. His hair was chilly and smelled like salt and the night air. She pulled the cool skin of his face against her breasts, and held him there.

"Please," she whispered.

She jumped a little as she felt his cold hands on the warm skin of her waist, then his arms went around her and he pressed his face against her stomach. She held him, stroking his hair.

At last she felt his lips softly touch her bruised ribs.

He pushed her gently away, stood up, and reached for the light, but she stopped him with a hand on his wrist. "I want to see you," she whispered.

He turned to look at her then, his gaze sliding over her face, lingering gently for a moment on the bruise on her cheek, moving to her mouth, then returning to her eyes. His face was carefully schooled, but the expression in his eyes was desolate. He closed his eyes and gathered her into his arms, letting out his breath, warm into her hair. She slid her arms around his back and leaned her ear against his chest. His heart was beating hard.

Her hands slid over his back under his damp shirt. Her fingertips registered the cool, clammy skin of his back, the thinness of his ribs.

She pressed herself closer against him.

He slipped the fingers of one hand into her hair and rubbed the base of her scalp. She dropped her head back into his palm and looked up at him.

His eyes closed slightly as he considered her.

She reached up and wove her fingers into his hair, looking at him for a long moment, then stood on her toes and gripped his hair hard by the roots. She pulled his head down and crushed her lips against his. He responded instantly, his lips, hot, burning, and electric, moved hard on hers.

Everything she'd been holding in check went into the kiss, but she couldn't get close enough to him. She made a little sound of frustration against his mouth.

He groaned too and his fingers tightened in her hair, holding her head still as he kissed her.

However they'd kissed before, this was different. Desperate, anxious, loving.

She wanted his skin against hers. Her hands went to the hem of his shirt and she lifted it, tugging her lips away from his for just a moment to slip it over his head.

He winced.

She pulled back a little away from him and gave a tiny gasp. The skin of his shoulder was as ugly, purple and green as her ribs. Christ. He must have taken the brunt of the tree across his shoulder. "Oh, Mulder," she said softly and turned him around, examining it. She probed as gently as she could through the swollen skin at the bones beneath.

He craned his neck to look at it. "It's better," he said, though she could see he was trying not to flinch as she pressed along the line of his clavicle. They should probably both get x-rays.

The tree would have killed her, she realized in sudden certainty. She raised her eyes to his, but he made no comment, just looked at her.

Her eyes dropped to the angry skin of his shoulder again, then fell lower. She examined the skin of his back and turned him to check his ribs and stomach. She pulled at the waistband of his shorts, pushing them down and off and checking his back again. That seemed to be the only injury, thank heaven.

And then his hands were on her upper arms, pulling her around to him and his mouth was on hers.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered softly against his mouth.

"Why didn't you tell *me*?" he whispered back and then his hands were at the waistband of her shorts, pushing them down and off.

Suddenly they were on the bed with him over her, his full weight resting on top of her.

He traced her face with his fingertips and then followed their trail with his lips, slowly and thoroughly. He pushed the hair back from her face and kissed along her hair line, her forehead, her eyebrows, her ears, her jaw, the bruise on her cheekbone, her chin and neck and finally back to her mouth.

She opened her lips and nipped his fingers, drawing them into her mouth one at a time. He ran his fingertips lightly over her teeth and inner lips as she sucked then raked each finger with her teeth, and then his thumb. She gently bit them, licked the salt from between them, then sucked hard on the fleshy pad at the base of his thumb.

He pulled his fingers out of her mouth and pushed them into her hair. He kissed her hard, licking her lips, her teeth and tongue.

"Too heavy?" he whispered.

He *was* too heavy and his weight was pressing her hard into the bed, but it felt wonderful.

She shook her head, and bit his upper lip, dragging it into her mouth.

He shifted slightly and put a little of his weight on his elbows as he pulled his mouth away from hers, ducked his head and trailed kisses down her neck, across her breastbone to her breasts.

Pushing herself up a little on her elbows, she watched as he licked between her breasts. "Ptuth," he made a little spitting sound, and she raised her eyebrows.

"Sand."

He lifted his head and caught her eye. She looked at him a little sheepishly. "I should take a shower."

He leaned his head to the side and contemplated her. "I love the way you taste." He dipped his head and pressed his nose into her breast. "I love the way you smell."

But you're not saying you love me, are you Mulder? I wonder why not.

He pulled one nipple into his mouth and sucked. He closed his eyes and nuzzled his face against her breast. With his lashes closed and that look of concentration he reminded her sharply of Liam.

"Harder," she whispered. "It was harder."

He increased the pressure and she felt the sudden answering jolt between her legs. The feeling of mothering him and loving him strangely tangled. She gently stroked his cheek. He was so incredibly dear to her. He released her breast, his face suddenly very sad.

She bent her head and took his nipple into her mouth. It had the sharp salty taste of a male nipple and she sucked hard. He exhaled and she glanced up to see him shut his eyes and tilt his head back. She began soothing his chest with her palms, then reached with her tongue for his other nipple. Her hand smoothed across the hair on his chest and over his stomach. She let her mouth trail lower. Briefly dipping her tongue in his belly button then down to trace the edge of his springy pubic hair.

Her hands slid to cup his buttocks and she squeezed them slightly as she buried her nose in the hair above his penis. She rubbed her cheeks, first one then the other along his erection, nuzzling it briefly before sliding her mouth further down to his balls. She took first one then the other into her mouth, tasting them.

"I love the way you taste, too," she murmured against him.

"Scuh-lee." Her name was a groan. He took hold of her waist and pulled her around so he could reach her with his mouth, too. He buried his face into the curls and she could feel his tongue, exploring her soft folds.

She ran her tongue along the underside of his erection, tracing the bulging veins up to the tip. She took the head into her mouth and sucked it lightly, tasting him there, too. "Scuh-lee," he groaned again, his breath hot against her moistness. She felt his tongue find her clitoris. He flicked it lightly, then pulled it into his mouth and sucked on it.

"Mmmmmmphhh," she gasped softly, her mouth full.

His hand cupped her shoulder and pulled gently. She gave the tip a little kiss, then let him pull her around and up beside him. His face was sad as he wrapped his arms around her. "We were going to talk all night," he whispered.

"We are talking." She brushed her mouth against his and kissed him. He kissed her back, their tastes mingling.

"I want to taste every inch of your skin."

He rolled her over on her stomach and pushed the hair off her nape. Holding his weight off her he knelt across her and kissed down along her neck and beneath her ear. She couldn't help but flinch as his lips crossed softly over the scar at the back of her neck to reach her nape. He paused. "Does it hurt?" She shook her head.

She could feel the heavy and insistent weight of his erection on her bottom as he traced the curves of her back.

He kissed her back and her shoulder blades and her ribs. The shadow of his beard tickled and she caught her breath with each kiss as he made his way down her back.

He paused maddeningly. She turned her head to one side and watched him in the reflection in the mirror on her wall. He was looking at her tattoo. He traced it with his tongue, then sucked on it, then left it alone without comment and his mouth moved to the middle of the small of her back. Then trailed lower, over the globes of her bottom. He was concentrating on her skin as if he'd never seen skin before. She couldn't help but smile watching him.

He moved up and against her back, pulling her buttocks against him, he leaned forward and pressed his mouth behind her ear.

"Why there?" He whispered. His hips were moving against her. She wanted to face him to make love, but she wanted this too. She shifted subtly under him. Opening herself to him.

"Why what?"

The tip of his penis was pressed against her.

"Not yet," he whispered.

"Yes, a little," she murmured. She turned slightly on her side and bent one leg, giving him better access.

He pushed and she felt him slide into her. He felt different this way. Harder, longer. She pushed her bottom back against him.

"Why where?" she asked in a breathless voice.

He rocked his hips against her. He slid one hand under her, outspread on her stomach to press her firmly up against him. He was moving faster. One. Two. Three. Four. Five times he pushed into her. Hard. She gasped out loud. Suddenly he pulled out and flipped her over on her back.

He pulled her into his arms, breathing hard.

"That felt too good. I was going to come. Just like that." He grinned and suddenly and their mood lifted slightly.

She smiled. "Me too."

"That's okay." His hand slid between them and found her curls, brushing through them, then parting them. His fingers began a leisurely exploration. "Just not me yet."

His other hand slid down to caress the small of her back.

She cupped his buttocks and cradled him closer against her.

He was breathing hard. She could feel his pulse beating in his penis pressed against her thigh.

She rocked her hips slightly brushing harder against his hand and rubbing her breasts against his chest. "No? You did pretty well in Singapore."

"That wasn't me, that was..."

"That was what?"

"That was me."

"I thought so."

They smiled at each other, his was poignant and sad. He closed his eyes and dropped his head to the pillow.

She watched him as he gradually caught his breath.

"Your tattoo."

"My tattoo?"

"Why there?"

"Why not there?"

His fingers were still rubbing her lightly. She shifted a little more to increase the pressure. She was becoming as breathless as he was.

"There's room for my initials in the middle of that snake, Scully."

She laughed softly. "That tattoo was not about you."

"No?"

"No."

His palm slid from between her legs. She bit back a tiny sound of regret. His hand traveled across her hip to cover the tattoo. He pressed on it gently.

"No?" he asked again.

She didn't answer.

His breathing was slowing slightly. "Okay, okay," he said, still breathless. "I think I can do it now. How 'bout you?"

"Now," she said.

He moved over her, intently watching her face, then pushed inside her with one long smooth motion.

The sensation as he filled her made her gasp as she felt all the air leave her chest. She wrapped her legs around him and rocked her hips against his. Their rhythm increased, and now she could barely catch her breath. His fingers had brought her close to orgasm and it would only be a moment before she came.

"You'll let me know," she whispered breathlessly. "Won't you? When you get somewhere. When you're settled."

His expression broke. Instantly she wished she could take the words back. He'd been waiting for her to tell him not to go, she realized. His forehead creased in despair and he dropped his face into the side of her neck.

"I can't, I can't," he whispered against her.

"Mulder?" she breathed his name and pushed back a little away from him, trying to see his face.

"I can't leave you. I can't. When I'm inside you I can't even think about leaving you." He pushed into her harder.

"Shhhh. Shhh," she wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted her hips to meet his.

"They'll be watching you. You won't be able to come see us."

"I know. But I'll need to know you're okay."

He didn't answer.

She stilled her hips and swallowed hard. "Mulder stay."

He lifted his head and looked at her.

"Just a while. A few more days. A week."

He gave a little frustrated sigh. "I want to. But--" His mouth ducked to catch hers again, rubbing her lips lightly. "If I do I won't be able to leave." As if emphasizing his words, he ground hard into her. Her lips opened and she gasped into his mouth.

"Please," she whispered.

"He's got to disappear, Scully." he said, his voice suddenly savage. "You know it and I know it."

He reached between them and pressed the throbbing bundle of nerve-endings her clit had become and she came suddenly and sharply. Everything faded to black for a moment and left her breathing shakily, her heart pounding in her ears. He said her name and she could barely hear him.

"Scuhlee," he whispered again softly, then was still. He slid out of her and let go of her. He rolled off her and turned away from her. "Don't try to make me into someone I'm not, Scully."

"What?" She reached out a tentative hand. "Mulder?"

"I said I can't do this. I meant it."

She placed a hand on his arm and pulled. He wouldn't roll back to face her.

She crawled over him and straddled him, pressing him back on the mattress. "No." She told him again. "You can't what? Can't leave? Can let me make love to you? Can't tell me you love me?" He was still hard, he hadn't come when she did. She sought him with her hips and he slid back inside her. She dropped forward onto him and kissed him. "I'm not trying to make you into someone else. *You*," she said. "I love *you*."

His eyes squeezed shut and he groaned and pressed up into her. He rammed himself home into her again and again. Then he was coming. She fell forward on top of him and he gritted his teeth against her shoulder. She had just enough energy to reach one hand into his hair and pull his face against her as he came, and then lay still.

After awhile his arms went around her and hers went around him and they held each other tightly. He wasn't going to answer her, she decided. She didn't think it was possible she could fall asleep but she did, almost instantly, him still inside her, one of her legs still wrapped around him.


She wasn't sure what had woken her. It was dark, he must have turned out the light. He was still here, she realized anxiously, but he'd rolled away from her again and was on the other side of the bed, back turned to her. She didn't know if he was asleep. The bed was moving slightly. She turned to look at him. Was he shaking?

He was crying, silently and hard.

She lay still, not knowing what to do. At last, she reached out and stroked his shoulder.

"But you don't love me enough to come with me, do you?" His voice was very quiet and nearly unrecognizable. "Say you're coming with me...or don't touch me."

He waited.

She didn't say anything but she didn't move her hand away, either.

"How can you let me take him?" he demanded quietly. "Just this morning you were begging me for him."

"Because, Mulder," she said softly, the tears suddenly thick in her throat. "I think *I'm* bugged."

She stared at the back of his head until shocked understanding showed itself in the set of his shoulders. He rolled over to face her. Her fingers crept inadvertently the back of her neck. Suddenly she was up and off the bed and running for the bathroom.

"Scully, wait!"

She yanked out a small drawer and it flew free of the cabinet scattering toiletries everywhere. She dropped the drawer and snatched up a small leather case that had fallen to the tiles, opened it quickly and selected a small razor-sharp scalpel. Tilting her head and shoving her hair off her neck she leaned forward and tried to see the small scar in the mirror.

"Scully, no!" Mulder was suddenly behind her, he grabbed her raised wrist and she yanked her hand away. He wrapped one arm around her from behind and tried to pin her right hand. She wrenched herself out of his grasp.

"Let me go, Mulder. I'm going to cut it out."

"No Scully! You can't! You can't! It saved you. Please, please, don't."

"We don't know it saved me! Maybe it's killing me."

She shoved his hands away and raised her hand with the scalpel. She couldn't really see the scar and her hands were trembling. She pressed the scalpel against the skin and a bright trail of blood suddenly flowed down her shoulder.

"No! Damn it!"

He lunged for her hand, grabbed her wrist and twisted it. She didn't drop the scalpel.

He yanked her against him. She twisted free.

He made another grab to stop her and she stepped on a bottle of something and lost her footing, falling against him. They both fell backwards in a heap on the floor. She landed on top of him. He held her tightly, breathing hard. "Don't take it out," he gasped into her hair. "Don't."

She struggled against his arms, trying to get free. "Shit," he swore and stuck his hand in his mouth. She'd inadvertently sliced him.

He held her tightly with his other arm.

"Drop the scalpel."

"No! I'm taking it out."

"No. You can't."

"I am."

"Promise me you won't take it out." His voice was hoarse.

He twisted her wrist. Hard. It hurt like hell.

"Promise me."

"Mulder, let go of me, you're hurting me. I'm going to do it."

"No! Why, Scully? Why? Why do you think it's a bug?"

He yanked her a little and pinned her half under him. The tiles were freezing against her naked skin and a hairbrush was digging into her hip. She gasped for breath. "All those bugs. All in places where I sit, none of them more than a couple feet from the back of my neck. Maybe it's listening to me think. Maybe it's making me think." She stopped. She was a hair's breadth from bursting into tears. "I've found myself places and I don't know how I've gotten there."

"Why didn't you call me? Why didn't you tell me?"

Tears started streaming down her face and she opened her hand, dropping the scalpel to the floor. He dropped her wrist, picked up the scalpel and flung it into the corner.

She dropped her forehead against the cold tiles. "I don't know," she sobbed. "I don't know."

"Oh Scully," he whispered and half sat up, pulling her up and into his lap.

"This spring. I woke up in my car in the Angeles National Forest. I had a flat tire and a splitting headache. I had no idea how I'd gotten there."

He dropped his lips to her neck and rocked her silently. She didn't have to look at him to feel him thinking.

She turned her head. His temple was by her mouth and she kissed the strands of grey.

"Why me?" she asked. "Why my eggs? Why any of this?"

He lifted one hand and gently smoothed the perspiration from her forehead.

"I used to think it was me," he said softly. "All about me. That they were doing things to you to get to me. But now...I'm not so sure."

"Then what?"

He tapped lightly against her forehead with his fingertips. "I think it's about what's in here. They want you for the same reason I do. For what's in here."

She shut her eyes and pressed her forehead against his.

He was quiet a moment.

"If it wasn't for the chip, would you come with us?"

She nodded against him.

His arms tightened suddenly and painfully around her.

"Promise me," he said finally, very softly. "You won't take it out."

She nodded again. He lifted his wounded hand then deliberately pressed the bleeding cut against the cut on her shoulder.

She raised her head sharply. "Mulder, who knows what's in my blood!"

"Shh," was all he said, and they both watched as their blood mingled. She raised her eyes to his and he stared down at her. She shut her eyes and pressed her face into his chest.

After a moment he pulled away from her and stood up awkwardly. He helped her to feet and led her back into the bedroom.

He looked down at her, his face a blur in the darkness. Then his fingers loosened from her hand and he turned and walked out of the bedroom.

She sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed, listening for the click of her front door. There was absolute silence for a very long time.

That wasn't good-bye, was it?

Then she heard him talking very quietly. She strained her ears. He was on the phone to the airline.

After a little while she heard Liam fussing. She heard Mulder's voice soothing him, then a door. She tensed then relaxed. It was the sound of the door to her balcony.

She stood and pulled on the closest thing to hand. His t-shirt. She tiptoed to the door, hugging it around her in the chilly air.

She paused at the balcony door, the smell of wet sand and salt...the sound of the breakers...the fog was completely gone...and the moon...almost full. But even as her senses absorbed the night, all she focused on was Mulder. He stood at the railing, rocking Liam, looking out at the night.

He was dressed.

God, he even had on his shoes.

Pain shot through her. He was humming to the baby softly, she could barely make out the tune, but...He was humming a lullaby her father and mother had sung to her when she was a little girl.

She couldn't help herself, she felt pulled by him as if he were a magnet. She slowly walked up behind them and put her hand on his arm. He didn't flinch. Liam's eyes were shut, his head against Mulder's chest, his mouth open in his sleep, snoring softly. She slid her arms around the two of them and pressed her nose against the baby. She shut her eyes and let Mulder rock them both.

Did he believe in auras? Did being inside her aura feed his soul the way being inside his fed hers? And now Liam was here, too. She concentrated. She thought she could feel it. Something a little more than a warmth emanating from the baby's back against her face. She pressed a little closer, absorbing it. And hoping somehow in his sleep, he'd absorb a little of hers.

At last she summoned up the energy to pull back. She undid the cross from around her neck and reached up to fasten it around Mulder's. "When he's big enough," she whispered.

She pressed her face against Liam, "Love you," then gently again just for a moment against Mulder, "Love you," she whispered without looking at his face. She turned, and went back into her bedroom.

She sat up against the pillows and stared at the moonlight as it moved across the floor of her bedroom, listening, hearing nothing. And then she must have dropped off sitting up.

When she woke again they were gone.


25.

She didn't remember how she'd gotten here, but she was on the balcony, clutching Liam's quilt.

She was empty. Hollow. Fragile as a blown-out Easter egg. Her chest hollow, her head hollow.

Emptiness.

Nothingness.

She crumpled into a heap on the chaise, her nose in the quilt as she gathered it to her chest and curled herself into a ball around it. She lay there, not feeling, not hearing, not crying.

Eventually, she became aware the early morning sun was burning the bare skin on the backs of her legs. She raised her head slowly, then pushed herself up off the cushions and walked inside. At the door she stopped.

Her apartment was empty.

White. Hollow.

She stroked the smooth cotton of Liam's quilt between her fingers, then carefully folded it, carried it to the closet and put it away.

She walked into the bathroom. She had to step over the toiletries strewn across floor. Drops of blood still splattered the white tiles. Her eyes went to the scalpel in the corner and she leaned down to pick it up. She ran her finger over the dried crimson on the blade and met her eyes in the mirror. Her skin was dead white. Her eyes big, the pupils huge, the surrounding skin marred by dark circles, and the black eye seemed to be just getting worse instead of better.

She was so conscious of the chip in her neck that she could feel it ache.

The metal of the scalpel felt cool pressed against her skin. The blade was so sharp it wouldn't hurt. Just a little more pressure and the blood would run down...red...warm. . into a pool in the sink.

She looked down.

In the sink, in a wet red heap, were Liam's jammies.

Her numb fingers uncurled and the scalpel dropped with a dull clink onto the sink top.

She leaned forward and dug her fingers into the jammies, leaning on them, absorbing the feeling of the wet fuzzy material.

Finally she turned on the faucet and slowly and methodically rinsed and squeezed them out, then turned and gently spread them to dry over a towel on the rack. She turned away from them and went back to the closet, pulled out the quilt and carried it into the bedroom. Dropping down onto the bed she reached for Mulder's pillow and buried her face against both the pillow and quilt. The pillow was still damp from his tears; it smelled like him. The quilt smelled like Liam.

She lay there, eyes shut, for a long time.

What the hell are you doing, Dana?

She turned her head sharply. The photograph of Melissa watched her from the bureau top. She slid her gaze away from her sister's accusing expression and automatically her eyes sought the picture of Mulder, then Emily.

She gasped shallowly. She didn't even have a picture of Liam. The envelope with everything had been in Mulder's bag. The medical records. The newborn picture. The camera. Everything.

The grief that she'd so far managed not to feel scalded through her.

What the hell was she doing? She was sitting here, unable to believe he'd left.

Is this what it was like when I left you in January?

No wonder you never forgave me.

She pressed her face back into his pillow.

What the hell was she doing? She was...she was going to sit here until she worked up to calling Skinner and somehow explain what had happened to Mulder. Then she was going to ask him for the X-Files. Go back. Hunt down these fuckers and blow them all away.

Except--

She didn't want to go back to DC. She wanted to go after Mulder and Liam.

So go after them, said Melissa's voice in her head.

I can't. The chip.

Cut it out.

I can't. If the cancer came back-- I wouldn't do that to Mulder. I can't cut out the chip.

Stop saying I can't and get off your ass and figure out how the hell to stop it. You know what you want, Dana. FINALLY. Go for it.

She looked back at Melissa's photo. "Oh, Missy I miss you," she said aloud.

God.

How far had she come in five days?

Five short days, and she was ready to drop everything to follow them-- Ready to drop everything and follow--

Him.

Her eyes moved to the picture of her family. Her mom and dad smiled at each other over the heads of their four children.

Is this what it was like, Mom? Is this why you followed Dad all over the world?

She'd never breathe it to her mother, but she'd always quietly equated that kind of love with weakness. Too much emotion was weakness. Strong, independent, successful women didn't give in to love. She'd always thought loving someone this much was a weakness.

Loving you this much gives me strength.

Yes, there is Liam, and yes, I love him with every cell in my body, and yes, the most important thing to us both is to keep him safe, but the truth is...I want you. Pretending for a second that I'm just going to go on with life without you is insane. You are my life, and Liam is my life, and we all belong together.

Except they weren't going to be together, unless she could think of something to do about this damn chip.

She walked into the kitchen and stood in front of the door of the freezer. It took a moment to steal herself to yank open the door.

The bugs were gone.

She gave a little shiver and felt all the hairs raise on the back of her neck. She had the sudden sensation that if she turned around quickly Missy would be standing behind her. She whipped her head around and gasped.

On her desk was the disposable camera and on top of it, the ring. underneath was the envelope containing the medical records.

She dumped the papers out on the desk, grabbed the ring as it started to roll away and slipped it on her finger. The newborn picture of Liam was there, too. She kissed it then propped it up against her lamp.

The two transparent PCR sheets, hers and Liam's, were on top. Automatically she slid one on top of the other and held them up to the light. Of course Mulder knew she'd want them. Of course he left them. He thought she was staying here like the efficient little scientist she'd always been and would do the research. Check the stem cell sample. Figure it all out. So, if at some point he needed to contact her, she'd have all the answers.

Not this time. The last thing I'm going to do is sit in the lab while you run off to the ends of the earth with Liam.

To hell with the chip. Wait for me, I'm coming, too.

She picked up the phone and dialed his cel number, praying under her breath that the number hadn't changed.

Between the two of them they'd be able to figure out what to do. If they both put their minds to it they'd think of something. Meanwhile, she had to catch up with them quickly. How long had they been gone? An hour? Two?

Her fingers lingered on the transparencies. Mulder hadn't just left them for her to study; he knew that they meant as much to her as a photograph. In fact just looking at them now, the sight of the matching DNA made her throat clog as her eyes quickly scanned each one--

What? Why hadn't she seen that one before?? It was definitely not a match-- What?

Her eyes flew to the top of the second sheet. Fox William Mulder. Male. Caucasian. Age 36.

Ohhh, Mulder.

Oh my God.

For a split second she felt almost light-headed. But then as read down the page. .

Some of the markers matched.

Some didn't.

A recording from the cellular company came on in her ear and she hung up the phone.

She dumped the rest of the papers back out of the envelope and scrambled quickly through them until his name popped out at her again.

It was a Parental Analysis Conclusion from the same lab:

"The alleged father, Fox William Mulder," she read, "is excluded as the biological father of the child named Liam Scully. The alleged father lacks the genetic markers that must be contributed to the child by the biological father. Based on the insufficient number of matches in the testing results obtained from analysis of 21 different DNA probes, inclusion cannot be positively determined, therefore probability of paternity is 0.0%. The high percentage of matched markers indicate a family member may be the biological father. Genetic testing of the subject's father or siblings is recommended."

The pages dropped from her fingers. She felt all the blood drain out of her head and she gripped the edge of the desk hard to stay standing.

"A family member."

Oh God.

Oh dear God.

She drew in a long shaky breath.

Oh Mulder...you knew this the whole time.

Shock, disbelief and disappointment hit her hard. She would give anything-- ANYTHING--if the paper in front of her said something else.

Related somehow to Sam. . ? Okay. But that Liam could be Mulder's brother? She should think it wonderful they were related, but instead she was appalled.

Thank God Mulder wasn't here to see her face. This was why he hadn't shown it to her in person, she realized. Her reaction would have hurt him. Badly. He'd guessed what she'd feel.

She looked back down at the pages and tried to get her queasiness ness under control.

17 matches out of 21 probes? It was the four that didn't match that had excluded his paternity. Those were the four that the lab had based their results on.

She'd get on the phone to his mom, make up some excuse and get a blood sample. If any of the DNA matched Teena Mulder's, then Liam couldn't be Mulder's brother.

And she'd go to the Vineyard. Surely there was some trace evidence from his dad, a strand of hair caught in a bathroom drawer crack or something. She'd figure this out. Figure this out exactly...

Suddenly the information in front of her blurred as she blinked away tears.


Damn it. Why on earth would they do this? Dangle a baby in front of you that was mine and almost--but not quite--yours?

Her eyes fixed again on the paternal obligate markers, the ones that didn't match. She quickly scanned the other page.

What the hell?

She picked up the phone and dialed the number of the lab.

"This is Dr. Dana Scully, I need some further information on the results of a paternity test performed by your lab. I need to get this info *immediately*."

It only took a few minutes to get through to someone who could help her. And, thankfully, Mulder had named her for access to the records.

"I see, yes," she said, after listening to the explanation. "It didn't make sense the four non-matching markers were identical. What are the chances of that occurring randomly?" She listened then swallowed hard. "Thank you," her voice refused to work correctly and she swallowed again. "Thank you," she managed, "for verifying the numerical lengths. No, not at the moment. I'll be in touch. Thank you."

She gently replaced the phone in its cradle. And stood with her hand on the receiver for a full minute.

Suddenly her mind was leaping forward so quickly she could barely breathe at all.

Oh God.

Surely the two emotions of elation and horror couldn't coexist in one person's body at one time? But both were slamming through her veins right now.

She ran into her bedroom. Bike shorts. Sandals. Back to her study. Records. Envelope. Pictures. Camera. Handbag. And she was out the door.

A brightly colored object on the doormat outside caught her eye. Liam's Binky. She snatched it up and ran for her car.

At the driver's side she stopped short with her hand an eighth inch from the handle. With Mulder and Liam somewhere in this world she was not going to chance being blown to smithereens. She swung around. The only other car in the carport was The King's vintage turquoise Caddy convertible. In a second she was pounding on his door.

He appeared to be seriously hung over.

"I need your car. I'll bring it right back," she ordered him breathlessly. Her sleepy neighbor merely clutched his faux zebra robe closer around him, yawned, winced and nodded at his keys on the table beside the door. She snatched them up and ran.

She tore out of the alley, pulled around six cars waiting at the light, then took the corner fast, her lycra-clad bottom sliding on the slippery white leather seat. She hung onto the wheel and sped toward the airport, the V*8 eating up the pavement. Airline? Airline? Delta. Eight minutes later she was pulling into LAX. She squealed to a stop in the red zone, flashed her badge at a surprised cop and ran into the terminal, scanning the crowds. She stopped short in front of a monitor.

Flight 1025. The only flight this early to Dulles. Boarding. Gate 42A.

She tore the length of the terminal, flashing her ID. She was checked momentarily at security. "A man with a baby?" she demanded, breathless. The security guard shrugged.

It seemed about a mile to the end and when she reached the gate it was closed.

The plane was just being backed out from its position.

Damn.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

She pressed her face against the glass and watched as the huge plane was turned around by the tiny jeep, then watched until it was out of sight.

Slowly she walked to the bank of phones. She punched out his number. She hadn't dialed this number in six months either, but she did it without thinking.

"Call me." Her voice was breathless. She took a deep breath to steady it. "Call me. . . Call me." She hung up.

The fact was he probably wasn't going back to Washington. He was probably leaving directly from here. His phone was probably bugged. Her phone was probably bugged, too. He'd guess that. He probably wasn't even on that plane.

They were gone.

She drove out of the airport on autopilot. Stopped at the first hour photo lab she saw and waited in the parking lot until it opened. She watched every move the technician made like a hawk. Once, a single tear escaped and ran down her face. The woman looked at her sympathetically as she paid.

In the car she slowly looked through the photos. She felt almost sick with relief. Two perfect ones of Liam. And--it had come out--one of the three of them, standing in front of the stone statue of the Merlion fountain at the edge of the river in Singapore. They'd both managed somehow to smile at the tourist who'd taken their picture. And they looked--she bit back a small sob--like a family.

Slowly she went through them again. Most were of her with Liam or her alone. She hadn't known he was taking all of them.

He'd taken these pictures for himself.

She started the car and drove slowly back to her apartment. Adrianna was in the carport working on the motor of her Harley, wearing a black rubber thong and halter, and matching platform sandals. Her long blond hair was piled on her head in a sparkling I Dream of Jeannie band.

"Hey Dane," she looked up from the pristine chrome.

Scully got out of the car a little stiffly. "Hey."

"You missed all the excitement." Her smile went away as she took in Scully's face.

"What excitement?"

"FBI bomb squad was here checking out your car. The whole block had to evacuate."

Scully swung around and looked at her car.

It was gone.

"It was clean, but they took it."

Scully swallowed back a sob and pressed the back of her hand against her mouth.

"Oh, no. Last straw?" Adrianna said sympathetically. "More trouble with the Fox?

Scully nodded.

"You two getting back together?"

Scully merely hunched her shoulders.

"Who's dumping who?" Adrianna looked sympathetic.

Scully shook her head again.

"You're better off without him."

Scully shook her head harder.

Adrianna sighed. "Well, if you really want to keep him, my offer still stands. I'll tie him up for you til you get things worked out. ."

Scully's lips twisted sadly. "They left--for good--a couple hours ago."

Adrianna raised one dramatically pencilled eyebrow. "He was the one supervising the bomb squad. He's sitting outside your front door. I figured you'd locked him out-- Dane? Dane!"

Scully took the steps to the upper level three at a time.

She stopped short at the top of the stairs. Sure enough. There he was. Liam wriggling and fussing on his lap. He stood abruptly.

"Hey," she said breathlessly. Tears started burning in the back of her nose and she bit her lip. God, hadn't she cried enough already?

"Hey," Mulder replied softly, his eyes on her face as he handed the baby to her. Liam gave a satisfied sigh and settled against her. She ducked her head and let her hair swing forward to hide her face.

"Hey, Liams," she murmured and hugged him tightly.

The baby looked up at her crinkling his eyes. "Da-da da-da-da," he announced contentedly and smiled. A huge beautiful smile. Oh my God, she thought, her gaze traveling quickly over the shape of his eyes, his eyebrows, the line of his cheeks. The truth had been staring her in the face and she'd ignored it. She cuddled Liam a little closer and hazarded a glance up at Mulder. He was looking her up and down, still wary. She could see him taking in his T-shirt, the package of photographs in her hand. His gaze lingered on the medical records envelope then moved up to meet her eyes.

"My car?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Nothing?"

He shook his head.

"But you had them take it in?"

"I wanted them to check it out. Also to check your head rest for electronic devices."

She nodded.

He nodded.

They didn't say anything for an awkward couple of moments.

"We forgot the Binky," he finally said, his expression sheepish.

She nodded, juggled Liam to one arm and produced it from her purse. She held it out to Mulder.

"No way am I dumb enough to go on a plane without the Binky," he said, and took it, his fingers brushing hers for an electric split second. She slipped her fingers back around Liam's warm tummy to hide the fact they weren't quite steady.

"I need to wash this," he said.

She nodded again.

He snagged the keys from her fingers, the quick touch giving her skin another jolt and his eyes held hers for a brief brilliant second, then he turned away from her quickly to unlock the front door.


26.

He disappeared into the kitchen and she sat down with a thud on the couch with Liam in her lap. She stuck her nose in his hair and drew in a deep breath of baby-scented air.

"Hi, tweetums," she whispered against him. "Miss me?" Liam grabbed at her hair and tried to drag it into his mouth.

"Da-da-da," he said, delighted with her hair.

She laughed softly. "I'm Mommy," she said. "Ma-ma-ma. You're going to have to learn how to say it sooner or later. Ma-ma. Ma-ma-ma."

Mulder squatted down beside them and held out the clean pacifier.

"Here buddy," he told the baby, and rested his other hand warm on her knee, just very lightly, but she had a feeling he was reassuring himself that she was really there.

Liam let out a happy laugh when he saw the pacifier, grabbed it neatly out of Mulder's hand and tried to put it into his mouth. It dropped and his face crumpled in preparation to scream.

Scully picked it up and popped it in his mouth. "There you go."

He started sucking vigorously, his eyes shutting slightly in obvious enjoyment and he relaxed back in her arms. She turned to Mulder.

He was watching her, not the baby.

"Look at him, Mulder. He's addicted to that thing."

Mulder nodded, still without looking at the baby.

"They didn't sell Binkies at the airport?"

He tilted his head slightly. "Not the one we needed." He took a deep breath. "Scully...I've come back to beg."

She waited.

"Me taking Liam and going somewhere without you? It's just not going to happen." He leaned a little closer to her and dropped his voice to a whisper. "I wish I could say I knew what to do about the chip. I don't. It's possible the bugs had something to do with it, that they're transmitters or receivers or something and they have to be within a few feet of your neck. That's why I got them the hell out of here. "I FedExed them to the lab in D.C. and we'll have them analyzed and find out exactly what they are. Frohike could have done it faster, but Langley was too paranoid to have them sent to their place."

They exchanged a brief grin, and he stroked the bare skin on the inside of her knee a little with his fingertips, making her shiver. She had to touch him, too. Her fingers went to his jaw. She felt the stubble of his beard, then slowly began tracing the line of his unshaven cheek. He pressed his face very lightly against her fingers.

"If it's localized radio wave technology, we can outrun it. But it's more likely that the chip is monitored by satellite. In which case we're nailed. But, I can't leave--I can't disappear- -I can't take him--somewhere--without you.. You have to come with us. Chip and all." He paused. "Say you're coming with us, or I've already arranged for your tall friend downstairs to help me tie you up."

Her finger finished following the line of his chin, then moved up to trace his upper lip. "You heard that?"

His lips turned up a little, and her finger traced the curve. He pressed his lips against her finger. "Super-hearing. Either you come with us, or we're staying." She gave a last lingering caress to his lip, then dropped her hand away from his mouth to link fingers with his hand on her leg.

"I'm coming," she said softly.

He breathed out sharply. The tense look on his face was wiped away by an expression of relief and hope. He leaned closer. "You figured out something about the chip?"

Of course he thought she'd come up with some evidence proving it would be safe.

She gave him a rueful look and her head a tiny shake and her fingers went to cover the scar on her neck.

His eyes moved with a click to follow her hand. He stood up and brushed her hair back from the shoulder of her shirt, then pulled her hand aside. He made a soft sound of disbelief.

She craned her neck to look. There was blood staining the cotton of the t-shirt. "Scuh-leee," he barely breathed her name, his voice full of dread. He pulled back the neck of her t-shirt revealing only the small wound she'd made the night before.

"I thought about it," she said, her voice low.

He frowned, his thumb gently stroking along the scab.

She rubbed her cheek against the back of his hand. "I promised you," she told him.

He looked like he was about to say something, but then his eyelashes fluttered and he checked himself. He looked relieved, but still upset as he sat on the edge of the couch beside her. "Scully...You knew I couldn't walk away from you, didn't you?"

She dug her teeth into her lip. His eyes lingered on her mouth then moved to her eyes. He raised his eyebrows questioningly when she didn't answer.

She shook her head, then nodded.

One second they were sitting three feet apart and the next they were pressed tightly against each other. That's it, she thought. I'm never letting go of either one of you again.

"Don't squash him, Scully."

"I'm not."

"We never even made it to the airport, did we Liam?" The baby made a cheerful burbling noise as Mulder settled the three of them more comfortably back on the couch.

"Hear that? He said, *Nope,*" Mulder said proudly. "We just walked around here trying to figure out what the hell to do." He was quiet for a moment as he searched her eyes, then he gave her a small smile. "Did you know there's a twenty-four hour tattoo parlor just down the beach?"

"Mulder, you didn't," she protested, on cue. Trust Mulder to try to cheer her up. They both knew the chances of them getting away completely with the chip in her neck were a long shot. An extremely long shot.

"Liam and I thought about it. He was going to get a big *I love Mom* right on his bottom. And I was in a really sentimental mood...there was this one with hearts and cupids. ." he trailed off and his expression grew serious. "Scully. I haven't been able to think about anything else since you told me about it."

And she knew he didn't mean the tattoo.

"I've been thinking," he went on slowly, his expression suddenly incredibly serious. "If you really want to remove it--if you think you have to--we have Liam's stem cells. There's a strong possibility you're compatible to receive them. If you are, and your cancer comes back, is it possible we can treat it using the stem cells?"

The apprehension in his voice made it so low and rough that she swallowed hard to clear her throat. She found his hand. His fingers wrapped around hers and squeezed hard. She wouldn't do it to him. "Mulder," she said softly, then shook her head. "For now, we leave it in."

He nodded. The sheer relief on his face made her realize that her tears still weren't very far from the surface. He ducked his head suddenly and pressed his face into the side of her neck.

"I'm glad you came back," she whispered into his ear and shut her eyes, breathing in the smell of his skin. Her heart was starting to beat a little too quickly. She was having an extremely hard time bringing up this subject--

"I um-- I read the test results," she said softly.

He turned his head and met her eyes.

"I thought you had." He nodded, his expression wistful. "Close. Hmm?"

Thank you, God, she sent up a little prayer, for letting me see the records without him there to see me...but something must have shown in her expression anyway because he suddenly pulled his hand from hers, shut his eyes and rubbed them hard.

"We have *nothing* of Samantha's that could be genetically tested. Or my dad's." She heard him swallow hard.

"I know I can find something trace in his house," she told him. "And I bet your mom's got something of Samantha's you haven't thought of."

"Maybe," he agreed, and pulling away from her, he stood up abruptly. He crossed to the fireplace and leaned one hand against the mantle, turning his face away.

She looked down at Liam for inspiration. His eyes were slowly shutting as he happily worked on the Binky. He was comfortably nestled in the crook of her arm; he'd be asleep in a minute.

"Maybe a baby tooth tucked in her jewelry box? With a little bit of dried blood or tissue on it?"

Mulder was staring out the window, unhappiness in every line of his body. Mulder didn't want Liam to be his brother any more than she had, she realized.

"Mulder," she said gently. "I don't think we're going to need their DNA."

"Why not?"

She didn't answer directly. "Was this the third thing you weren't telling me?"

"I hoped you weren't counting." He gave her a look then sighed. "Why not their DNA? You don't want to know? I don't think I want to know, either."

"This is why the DNA test took a whole month when it should have taken ten days?"

He gave her another look.

"Just because I don't call you on it, doesn't mean I don't know *exactly* when you're not telling me something, Mulder."

He nodded, his expression wry. "It took so long because they couldn't figure out why the results were inconclusive. On the first four comparisons I was excluded twice, and matched twice. Fifty-fifty. So they tested again and I matched in all instances. And then again, and I didn't. Believe me, Scully, I've gone through all the possibilities. Sam could easily have male children mature enough to-- contribute. And then there are cousins, uncles; even Great Uncle Moe from Staten Island. He's a real ladies man." He sighed. "But it was most likely my father. We know he was in it deep."

He ran his hands through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck.

"So...he's not mine. I regret that," he said calmly, but he blinked and lowered his lids, hiding his eyes from her. "But, he *is* related to me. And I love him like he was mine. I wouldn't care if wasn't even related. He's yours. And I've loved him for that since the moment...since the moment I realized I loved him," he finished a little lamely.

"Why did you run your DNA against his, Mulder?"

He didn't look at her. "Wishful thinking," he said softly, then raised his eyes and held hers. "And, the first time I saw him, Charlotta looked me in the eye and told me he looked just like me. And I thought: Why not?"

She raised her eyebrows. Charlotta had given him a major clue and he didn't even realize it.

Why was this so damn hard? She wanted to just blurt out what she'd figured out, but . . all at once it didn't seem like such a good idea. The theory that had made sense as she'd worked through it in the car on her mad dash to the airport now seemed a leap at best. And leaps were not her normal territory. But...she watched unhappiness flicker through the depths of his eyes...she would do anything to erase the expression on his face.

She adjusted Liam on her lap. "Liam's almost asleep. What do you say we. ." She gave him a suggestive look and nodded at the bedroom.

He gave her a surprised look, then narrowed his eyes a little and smiled a sad little smile.

"Scully. Why do I suddenly have the suspicion *you've* got something to tell me and you can't spit it out." She gave a little half nod. "Go on. Tell me."

She opened her mouth then shut it again. "Here. Hand me his seat. I'm going to put him down."

He brought her the seat, helped her adjust Liam in it, then searched her eyes. "You figured it out, didn't you? From what we have there, you figured out who his father is." His voice was full of reluctant amazement. He licked his lower lip and all at once looked very uncertain. "Where? The bedroom or right here on the couch?" She gave him a tiny smile and patted the couch beside her.

He sighed and perched beside her on the edge of the couch. "I'm ready. Just tell me. What did you find in the records?"

The records. They'd back her up.

"Mulder," she said and pulled the transparent sheets out of the envelope. She smiled, a little nervously, and took a deep breath. "This was specifically a paternity test. The lab was looking for one thing. For your DNA to match Liam's in all probes. Four out of twenty-one did not match."

"Right-- and that means--"

She held up one hand. "Hear me out."

He nodded slowly.

Looking down at the page all at once she felt a little more sure.

"What if. ." she paused. "What if their--the consortium's-- whoever's--first experiments with--" she stumbled a little on the word, "--hybrids--had disastrous results? What if fifty percent human cellular material and fifty percent . ." she waved her hand vaguely at the sky, "--didn't work?"

He nodded, his forehead wrinkling.

"Remember the men I told you I saw in the Hansen's research facility? They were physically deformed."

He nodded again, a slow frown covering his face.

"Mulder, what if...it can't be fifty-fifty in the hybrids, what if...the percentage of human genetic material has to be higher? Say...eighty-twenty? Or even ninety percent to ten percent--or higher--to retain normal human characteristics?"

He was still frowning at her.

She held out the page. "Look at these DNA fragments that don't match yours. See how they're all the same? I called the lab. This number represents their exact length. They're all 3.17 in length." Her finger slid down the page. "All 3.17s." She looked up at him. "I can't believe the lab didn't catch this. They couldn't either."

"But--"

"Don't argue with me Mulder. It makes perfect sense."

"I'm not arguing. I think I see-- I just don't...What?"

"If this were normal DNA, these four gene fragments would be all different sizes. Instead, they're all the same size. Identical. The probability of that happening in nature is about nil. And see--" She pointed to the chart. "We have more info on Liam than we have on you. Here," she pointed. "And here. And here? See? All the same size strands."

He looked at the markers she was pointing to, concentrating hard.

"What if . ." she went on, "these markers not only aren't your DNA. They're not *human* DNA? And, maybe--" she gave a shrug that ended up turning into a shiver "--maybe not DNA at all."

"Is that possible?"

"Well...theoretically."

"And to have the cell grow into a human being?"

Her eyes went to Liam. He *was* a miracle. Part human. Part. . She hadn't quite come to grips with that part of it yet.

Mulder looked slightly sick as he took it in. "So. . ?" He sat forward suddenly and pulled the sheet out of her hands. "This is it? I'm looking at it? Extraterrestrial DNA?" He stared at the sheet.

"So I was right that day in San Diego," he said slowly. " He is a hybrid. I was so sure because of the Mulder family DNA results that he wasn't." Mulder shut his eyes, his face turned dead white and he swayed slightly.

"Mulder? Mulder!" She grabbed his arms to steady him. "I didn't say that. I believe it must be some sort of engineered DNA-like material that can be slotted into the chain and work like human DNA."

He opened his eyes and looked at her. "You know what this is, Scully. You just won't admit it." He shook his head a little as if to clear it, but he still looked sick. This was hitting him hard.

Finally he focused on her. "And the DNA was somehow combined with your egg? Oh, Scully. Are you okay with this?"

His expression turned full of concern for her, but still a little perplexed. He'd gotten the gist of what she was telling him, but not the main thing.

"Answer me, Scully. Are you okay?"

She took a long deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Truthfully, Mulder? It hasn't quite sunk in yet. DNA? It's building blocks. But not ours to build with."

He nodded. He understood.

Her eyes slid to Liam. She couldn't do this. She tilted her head and gestured with her eyes toward the bedroom. "Last chance."

He didn't even smile. "There's more?"

He grabbed her hand and held it hard.

She nodded.

"See?" he asked softly. "This is hard stuff." They stared at each other and finally she nodded again. He rewarded her with the tiniest little smile of commiseration.

"Now tell me," he ordered.

"According to this," she began, not taking her eyes off his, "only the genetic material of the paternal cell has been affected. Probably a sperm cell, that would be easiest. Because the chromosomes would already be divided." He nodded, his eyes still questioning. "And since the rest of the markers match yours exactly. . it would have to be yours. Yours," she repeated gently. "Your sperm cell. This is only a small sample, but--"

He didn't say anything, just stared at her, his eyes wide, his face growing paler by the second. She trailed off at his expression.

"So," he said, his eyes holding hers as if she were some sort of lifeline. "Let me tell you what I'm getting from you: The DNA in my sperm . ?" -- she nodded -- ". . has had some sort of other material that you're refusing to call alien . ." -- she nodded again -- ". . artificially combined with it. And along with an egg of yours...created Liam. You're sure?"

Was she absolutely, positively sure?

She drew in a deep breath. Maybe...

"Yes," she said.

Mulder made a sharp noise of disbelief.

She merely nodded, shaken, blinked back a sudden urge to cry at the look on his face, took a deep breath and plunged forward with her explanation. "I can't say I know what this material is. I know what you think it is. *That* will have to be proven." She paused and took another gulp of air.

Mulder was leaning towards her, listening hard with his whole body, his fingers gripping the hell out of hers.

"So, although by *this* test you can't be legally proven to be the father--legally isn't even really a word we can use here. These results are only going to make sense to us. But, they've only checked a relatively small number of markers--come to think of it we *do* need to do a complete PCR on you and your mother and anything we can find of your dad's and Sam's. I think I could prove--well--raise the probability to 80%--possibly 90%--"

He looked stunned, but still followed her somewhat garbled explanation.

"I don't know what these specific genes are for that they've tampered with. Deletions and additions on genes are. ."

Extremely dangerous, she thought, but she didn't say it aloud. Oh God. Birth defects. Emily. Her eyes were pulled to Liam. He was sweetly snoozing, oblivious to the truth they'd just learned about him. She shut her eyes tightly. Please God. . . Let him be okay. And if something goes wrong, let me know how to fix it. Please.

Her eyes flew open.

"Mulder, we have to find out EXACTLY what these genes are for. Not all genes have been identified, of course, but a lot are, and we can find out--" she broke off, her thoughts stumbling over each other as they raced through her head.

He was looking down at the ring on her hand, turning the band around her finger.

"And all male-linked traits," she went on. "I wonder what on earth these people are up to--"

He looked up and met her gaze.

Her headlong rush of thoughts was abruptly stopped by the expression in his eyes.

She looked down at their linked hands. At the ring.

She'd stuffed the ring back on the same finger of her left hand without thinking about it. But now it was there. Silently proclaiming her commitment to him. She'd assumed that's why he left it for her, but looking up at his face, she had no idea what he was thinking about seeing it back on her finger. Did he realize that her commitment had been there long before this? Quietly and steadily established over the last five years as they searched for what she was now holding in her hand. His eyes were asking her a question. She waited, but he didn't say anything aloud. She turned her hand over and gently took his fingers

"Mulder, it's proof," she said softly.

"It is?" he asked a little distractedly.

"*He* is. *This*. She raised the results and waved them.

"Oh. That, too," he said softly, and looked back down at the ring. "*Mo Ghradh. My Love*."

"What?" she asked sharply.

"The inscription. It's Gaelic."

"Oh-hh." She knew it had to be something so simple and beautiful and wonderful. "So that's how you pronounce it." And it had tied the original Isobel and Liam together forever. Meanwhile they had the DNA results in front of them doing the same thing.

"The ring is beautiful, Mulder. I love it. I missed wearing it. Thank you."

He looked up and met her eyes and she felt a little scared by the expression in his. He was in the grip of a very strong emotion. Wonder, excitement, love...She nodded a little, uncertain at the direction he was suddenly heading in.

"I know, Scully. I know he's probably the answer to all the questions I've been chasing for the last however-many years."

"The answers *we've* been looking for, Mulder."

He searched her eyes for a very long moment. "Not for the last six months," he said.

"No, and from what it sounds like, not you either," she said, annoyed that the tiniest hint of defensiveness had crept into her voice.

"I meant me," he said.

They stared at each other.

"This was *never* why I was looking for him. He was for you, pure and simple."

"Mulder," she said a little breathlessly. "You've lived and breathed this search for so long...hated these men, been determined to get the best of them. And now we have something, I'm not sure what, but something. What are you saying?"

"This isn't about proof, this is about *us*." He raised their linked hands. He was still wearing his ring, too.

"No," she said softly, still pinned by the expression in his eyes. He gave her hand a little tug and pulled her closer to him.

"What do you mean, *No.* Scully?" he asked softly, a warning note in his voice.

"I didn't mean *No.*"

"You said *No.*"

"I didn't mean *No.* I meant it's not just about that part of us- - I mean if we study these genes, concenntrate on them, maybe we can finally prove what we've been looking for all along. This is it, Mulder, we've found it."

"Just because I have the physical DNA evidence in my hand doesn't mean I'm going to do anymore about it now than I was then. I've known that since I picked up his incubator way back in San Diego."

"Why? We can take this information back, we can figure it out. Exactly what they're doing. Exactly what these traits are they're manipulating--"

"Why, Scully? And have Liam splashed all over the front page of the Enquirer and the Weekly World News. *FBI Agents Have Test Tube Alien Baby*? Is that what you want? It would follow him his whole life. And no one would believe it. You said yourself that all it looks like is manufactured DNA. It's proof to me Scully. Me alone. Not for the world. And not even for you. I can't believe you're calling it proof, because a minute ago you weren't admitting it."

"Mulder, it *is* evidence. I can't believe you're saying it's proof to you alone."

He gave her an exasperated look. "Stop looking at me like that and frowning and come here." He pulled her close and she settled her head against his chest with a small sigh. "Scuh-lee," he said quietly. His breath warmed her forehead. "He's not evidence. He's a baby. Yours and mine. How wonderful is that? How wonderful is what you just told me? *Ours.* Let's just think of him as that. A baby. Our baby." He stroked her shoulder.

Finally he said very softly, "Scully, ask yourself this. Why would they have given us this baby if he's proof to use against them? I've been thinking about this a lot since we walked out of there with him."

She tucked her fingers under the back of his shirt and stroked his lower back. "I've been thinking about that too, Mulder."

"What if they gave him to us *because* he's proof?"

She tilted her head so she could see him. His eyes were full of an emotion she couldn't pinpoint. Excitement was there, and hope, and a little bit of worry.

His eyes dropped to her mouth. "Hey, Scully," he breathed. "I missed you."

She gave a little gasp as his hands slid suddenly up her shoulders and slipped into her hair. He tilted her head back, bent his head and gave her a long slow deep kiss.

"Mulder," she said a little breathlessly when his mouth left hers and moved slowly across her cheek to her ear, "what are you doing?" He didn't answer, just nibbled her earlobe.

"I meant it when I said I couldn't keep my hands off of you. You'll just have to put up with it." He ducked his head and kissed the notch of her throat. She tried to block out the sensation of his mouth tasting her neck and concentrate on his last words.

"But we have to figure this out," she protested. "We have to talk about this."

He slanted a look up at her and grinned. "We are talking."

She gave in and ducked to kiss him. "I can't keep my hands off you either," she murmured.

"At first," he said between kisses. "I thought it was because he would be a roadblock in our path. A threat to hold over our heads if we get too close. Tying us together. Tying us down."

"Mmmph." She tilted her head back even further to give him better access. But he stopped and raised his head to meet her eyes.

"But then I realized they gave him to us to bring all our searching to a screeching halt. Scully, don't you see? They win. They finally proved it to me. They're smarter. They can engineer alien DNA into a child. *My* child. *Our* child. And say, *Here you are. Just what you wanted: Proof. Proof on a silver platter.* Proof of extraterrestrial existence. Proof of these men's involvement. But wrapped up in a bundle designed to change our lives--BOTH our lives--forever. I thought they were pretty smart to realize I'd fall in love with your child as hard as I'd fall for my own. They know we won't jeopardize him. They know we'll stop. Well?" he asked at her expression. "Am I right?"

"You think they WON? And we're taking him as some kind of bribe to stop?" Her voice was incredulous.

"A bribe or a consolation prize or something-- Whatever. I'll take it."

"And now we take him and disappear? Then we're doing JUST what they want us to do, Mulder. Cancerman and his cronies must be laughing up their sleeves at us. I don't think we have to disappear. I think we're safe. I think he's safe."

"One thing matters here. One thing." He cupped her cheek for a moment. "Well, two things," he amended, and lowered his voice to a tiny whisper. "And keeping both of you safe. We should hear any minute about your car, and then we'll get it and get out of here. Meanwhile, if they're keeping an eye on us somehow, they'll think we don't have a care in the world."

"Mulder, I--" His hand had slid under her t-shirt and was kneading the soft flesh of her breast. His mouth trailed down across the t-shirt to capture the nipple through the cloth. She had no idea what she had been about to say.

"Mulder," she murmured. "Stop. How am I supposed to think while you're doing this? I was on a roll figuring this out. The pieces are falling into place. I'm going to forget...And..."

He raised his head to press a kiss on her lips, his eyes were slightly closed as he murmured, "You? Forget? Never. Just let your subconscious work on it for a minute," against her lips, then he dropped his mouth back to her ribs.

She ran her fingertips over his back, feeling the thinness of his ribs, and tried to concentrate. "Mulder I don't buy this theory of yours, I think you're wrong. A threat? Maybe. But a consolation prize?? He's a gift. A miracle. I think. ."

His lips slid lower on her rib cage and she bit off a tiny moan.

"Stop it," she said and clenched her fingers tightly in his hair until his mouth stopped. She spoke close against his ear, very softly. "Listen to me. I think someone in the consortium has got to be on our side. Or at least want us back together. We're a formidable team against them together--but not apart. Apart neither of us were doing anything. Yes, someone wants us to have proof. Someone wants us to figure out what's going on. I think someone on the inside wants us to expose them. They put the baby out there for us to find, *you* to find. And to bring to me to get me to come back to you."

His mouth started moving again. "Maybe," he murmured. His tone sounded as if he was mildly interested and at least willing to entertain her theory but he was more interested in teasing the sensitive flesh of her tummy. All at once he seemed to register what she said and his hands and mouth paused.

"Scully," he said softly. "Are you saying we wouldn't be back together if it weren't for Liam?"

She didn't answer.

He stopped, and raised his head.

One hand was on her breast under the shirt, the fingers of the other were tucked under the waistband of her bike shorts. His mouth was open as he dragged in a breath. The look in his eyes should have been as dazed as the expression she was sure was in her own.

Instead his eyes were as lucid as she'd ever seen them.

She didn't have an answer.

"Do I really want to know the answer to that?" he asked softly and dropped his gaze to her mouth. He licked his lips. She licked hers, too.

Suddenly both his hands were in her hair and hers were in his and he was kissing the hell out of her.

She gave a little moan against his lips and pushed him backwards down onto the couch. She slid one knee across him so she was kneeling over him, pinning him down on the couch. She was breathing hard by the time she finally pulled away from his mouth and looked him in the eye. She held his head, her fingers tangled in his hair. Her breasts were pressing against his chest, the nipples hard. One of her legs was between his, her thigh was comfortably fitted against the insistent bulge of his erection. Her skin was burning hot where it touched his and she wanted to push off all their clothes and revel in the feeling of his skin against hers. But--

"Don't you realize finding this matters to me, too?" she asked a little desperately. "It's impossible to separate it from it being in our baby, but we have to. We can keep it a secret. But we have to work on it. Not just to figure out whatever we can do to blow these men out of the water, but we need to do it for Liam. We need to figure out everything about him so we can protect him if something happens."

"Scully, I'm not saying you shouldn't figure out what the hell is going on in his genetic makeup, but there are other labs, other resources besides the Bureau where you can research this."

"I don't understand you, Mulder. I can't believe I'm hearing this. Are you saying you don't want to go after them now we have evidence? How can you be giving this up?" She searched his eyes. This close she could see the threads of color in the green. Brown and gold and grey. She watched his pupils contract then dilate ever so slightly as he stared at her warily.

All at once she thought she understood.

"You're not doing this for me are you?"

He didn't answer, just watched her.

"You think it's what I want," she said, convinced. "You're giving up because of me." When he didn't say anything she went on. "You think I was happy out of it. And that I wouldn't want to go back." She stared at him for another long moment and he still didn't reply. "Didn't you hear anything I've been saying?"

He gave a tiny nod.

"And now you're convinced that I wouldn't be back with you if it wasn't for Liam. You think if you had shown up on my doorstep without him I wouldn't lying here on top of you right now."

His fingers, which had been gently stroking her scalp, went completely still.

"Honestly? I don't have an answer to that, Mulder. Would I have gone to you. Would you have come to me? Maybe. We'll never know. But I can tell you this. This spring, while I was okay, and sort-of happy, and was getting my head straight, and was rebuilding being healthy, I was lonely as hell for you. Because there's no one else out there who even comes close to filling up that empty place in me that you fill up with one smile, one flippant remark, one more exuberantly delivered far-fetched theory. AND I missed our work, because while it's frustrating and dangerous and sometimes downright ridiculous, it's challenging and it's never dull and I love it. I love working together. I love being partners. So maybe instead of giving it up for me, you should be asking if I would give it up for you."

He took a long time to answer. Finally he licked his lips and said a little hoarsely, "Would you?"

She stared at him for a long moment while she thought it out. "I will walk away from it all, just like that, if that's what you really believe we should do...because...we've got something here that's equally as important as chasing down these men. And we could potentially waste a lot of time--years--that could be spent with him." Tears suddenly filled her eyes. "Especially if -- and I don't even want to think this -- but we have to -- especially if we've only got four of five years to spend with him...like Emily."

His eyes were suddenly moist, too. "Oh God, Mulder. Emily. Have you stopped to think that Emily might have been yours, too?"

He nodded infinitesimally. He'd already thought of it, she could see it in his eyes.

"I've got her records here. ." She saw the muscles in his throat clench as he swallowed. "Oh, Mulder."

She was quiet a moment as she gently stroked his ear with her fingertip. "Plus?" she asked, very softly. "Because there's no one else in the world who looks at me like...the way you're looking at me right now."

His eyes...the colors had changed as he listened to her and now they were a clear coppery green, the pupils big and deep, a single tear escaped and flowed down the side of his face. She watched, mesmerized.

"I love you," he said. His voice was rough with emotion and his face so serious . . and then he smiled at her, suddenly, brightly, hopefully.

He cleared his throat a little. "I love you, Scully," he repeated, his voice still raw, his eyes just the tiniest bit shy.

She ducked forward and kissed him hard. His arms went around her and she slid her hands under his back and kissed him harder.

God he was frustrating.

"Ouch!" he said. She'd dug her fingernails a little too hard into into his lower back.

"You need to tell me these things," she told him fiercely, their faces only about a quarter inch apart. "Otherwise you're going to really piss me off."

He looked at her solemnly.

"Things like everything I just said-- and those." She gestured sharply with her head at the medical records which had floated to the floor beside the couch. "And Liam. And that you love me. And EVERYTHING! Dammit Mulder! If you'd showed me these results on the plane on the way out I could have made this same conclusion. You obviously already were sure Liam was--a product of their methods--something." She couldn't even say it to herself. "You've seen so much more than I have, dammit. If only you'd told me these things, or if I'd seen them too...I could help figure them out. We could probably have had the whole consortium behind bars years ago if you'd just told me all the facts right from the start."

The final words were muffled against his neck as he hugged her tightly against him.

"If you want to stay, Scully, we stay. We'll figure it all out. We'll do whatever you want."

"Is it safe?"

"I don't know if it's safe. Is it safe to leave with that thing in your neck? I've thought about the bomb. It seems like it was too easy to find it. If they wanted to blow me away they've had a thousand opportunities."

"The one thread in all of this is that they never actually kill you, Mulder."

"Us. They never actually kill us."

"So what was the bomb supposed to do? Scare us into leaving?"

He nodded. "I think so. We weren't behaving as they'd expected and they sent it as a reminder."

"We were splitting up again," she said slowly. "See? And the bomb got us back together. They're manipulating us every step of the way."

"No! We got us back together, you did. You made me tell you the truth. I think," he went on slowly, "they want us to leave. So, you're right. We shouldn't do it."

"No," she protested. "We're going. We're taking him and we're going to get as far away from them as fast as we can."

He pulled back a little so he could see her eyes. "Is this reverse psychology, Scully?"

He smiled a little at her expression.

"Ouch!" he said. "What is it with those nails?"

"What is it with those ribs?" She poked him again to make her point. "Wherever we go, I'm going to fatten you up." She smiled at him. "I'm not sure you just didn't manipulate me into saying we're going."

"Me? I didn't say a word."

Frustrating or not, she loved him. "I was coming after you, you know, I went to the airport," she told him and arched a little against him. One of his hands was moving in long strokes over the skin of her back under the shirt. It felt amazing.

"I think you would have found us," he said.

"Of course I would have. The hardest part would have been getting Frohike's unlisted phone number. You tell *him* everything."

"All you had to do was walk outside and we'd have been sitting on your doorstep," he said dryly.

Both his hands were under her shirt now. He pushed the soft cloth up and over her head, then lowered his mouth to her breast. He suckled for a moment then looked up at her.

"You're going to get to try it, Scully."

"I know," she said and gave a little gasp as he sucked her nipple hard into his mouth again.

She gave up trying to remember what else she was going to tell him about Liam and the DNA. He was right, she'd remember later. She glanced at Liam. Still sound asleep.

Mulder suddenly rolled her underneath him, he pressed her down on the couch under his weight. With him on top it was easier for her to undo his jeans and push them off him. Next went his shirt. Her clothes came off next.

"So what are we doing?"

"We're going."

"We don't seem to be going."

"I mean when we're done doing this."

"Where?"

"I don't know."

"What's best? What's safest?"

"I don't know."

All their clothes were now on the floor. He adjusted himself a little and was in.

She gasped and arched against him.

"What do you need from here?"

"Nothing," she said breathlessly

"Nothing?"

"Okay, maybe a couple things."

"Thought so."

"Do I have to get 'em now? I'll get 'em in a second."

"Okay," he answered just as breathlessly as she her fingers slid over his stomach, his chest, his lower back, his buttocks.

"Photos. Laptop. Jewelry. Anything else you can think of?"

"Liam and I got what we came back for."

She kissed him. "I know."

"I like that painting of the beach."

"You do? Me too. I love it. Okay. Anything else?"

"The fireplace on your balcony."

"Mulder and Scully on the lam with their baby and their fireplace." She grinned. "I'll get Mom to get Bill to come by and pack it up with the rest of my stuff. We'll get it sometime."

Mulder winced. "Bill's gonna kill me. I think I'm more afraid of him than of the consortium."

She nodded. "He'll have to find us first. We have to go see Mom before we go anywhere. Show her Liam. Give her photos."

"Okay." He paused for a second, not looking at her. "And Emily's records."

She took a hold of his chin and tilted his face so she could give him a brief soft kiss. "Oh Mulder," she said softly and kissed him again. She let out a deep sigh.

"You really think there's someone on our side, Scully? Someone who tried to get us back together?"

He began teasing her nipple with his teeth, then his teeth close on it and tugged.

"It seems like there must be." She gave a tiny gasp at the sensation.

"But who?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe you're right."

"Mulder?"

It took him a moment, but he finally let go of her nipple and looked up at her.

"What if it's both?"

"What?"

"What if we're both right?"

He nodded slowly. "You're saying they have factions? They're divided? Some on our side? Some against?"

She nodded.

"Divided," he repeated softly. "But not us. We're together." He held her eyes for a moment then grinned. "Then fuck 'em. Let's do what we want." His grin was infectious. She grinned back and he nodded.

"Seems like if they're divided they'd be a lot easier to take down, Mulder," she said temptingly.

"Fuck 'em," he said again. His eyes slid away from hers toward Liam. "Sorry Liams." Mulder gave her a little squeeze. "Liam's awake. Hey buddy."

She froze under him and turned her head. Liam was watching them with a round-eyed, serious blue stare.

"Oops. Mulder!"

"Is he going to tell his shrink about this when he's sixteen, Scully?" he asked her under his breath.

"I don't know. I hope he doesn't need a shrink when he's sixteen because of this."

"I still can't believe he's ours, Scully."

"I know," she said softly. "Me either."

They stared at him frozen and he stared back at them, unblinking.

"Hey, Liams," he said softly.

Liam stared hard at them for another five seconds, then his lids drooped and closed. She watched his lips rhythmically begin to suck on the Binky as he dozed off again. His golden lashes fluttered briefly for a second then were quiet against his cheeks. She looked up and met Mulder's eyes.

They both smiled at each other.

He reached out and gently turned the sleeping baby around so he was facing the other direction.

He settled back into her arms. "Scully, next time you seduce me, make sure Liam's in the other room."

"I thought this was your idea."

"You said you couldn't keep your hands off me."

"You said it first."

"True," he said. "And it is true." He slid his fingertips over her face neck, gently outlining the shape. His fingers brushed the scar on her neck.

She watched his eyes follow his fingers. "You think they're listening to all this?"

He leaned close and spoke directly into the chip, "Testing. I love Dana Scully." He looked up at her.

"We know what surveillance is like. Some poor schmuck in a dark room with headphones. Drinking cold coffee, eating stale donuts and snoozing. How interesting can it be listening to your neck day in and day out?" She smiled and he pulled her a little closer and lay his ear against her neck.

"We can always make it interesting," she said.

He met her eyes.

"Deliberately confuse them," she mouthed.

He nodded. "And sex, lots of sex."

"Loud sex."

He nodded again. "Constantly. They'll get so bored they'll stop listening."

"Either that or it'll become the hottest detail in the consortium."

"They'll be too busy listening to try to wreck the world."

They laughed.

And maybe, she thought, just maybe, things will work out alright.

Fin

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