Locale: faux-Uzbekistan

Rating: R.

Spoilers: None, but set way before the advent of Will

Keyword: MSR, spooning, Sequel to Miracle

Probability: Low

Archive: Anywhere, anytime

Disclaimer: Chris Carter and 1013 created Mulder and Scully. The characters seem to have some time on their hands, so I borrowed them.

Feedback: Cool.

They were stuck in Erzurum, because an earthquake had disrupted all train travel. Scully, Mulder and "Smith", the CIA operative had pooled their resources had been able to get out of Uzbekistan, but they couldn't get any further than Azerbaijan, due to a worker's strike in Georgia. Once they were in Georgia, they should be able to contact the American consulate. They were leaving through a different route than they had entered the region, and both the men were keyed up and wary. They were waiting on their money; they were waiting for the phone lines to be repaired; they were just waiting. Mulder looked as deeply unhappy as Scully had ever seen him. He had never been this long without a Coca-Cola, without a cell phone.

Scully, of course, still wore her sunglasses and thick headscarf. It had bothered her at first. Now, the sense of an alien culture permeated her very skin. Different languages flowed around them, with not even the slightest hint of a western European word. They weren't in the tourist section, but the workers' section of the city, so there weren't many traces of the global Americanization she always heard about. The clocks were the only things she could read; yet the information meant nothing to her. Time wasn't important.

It was almost like a vacation.

All her life, she thought, she had worried about the future and grieved over the past. She could barely remember a time when she could be in the moment, understand and experience the right here and right now, without trying to plan ahead or document what she had done.

She flipped open the "Ladies' Oracle" pamphlet that was in one of the books. " Intersections lack size and boundaries." Very helpful.

Mulder had found his way to a bank, and managed to get a wire transfer request of funds to his charge card , before the strikes, or the earthquakes, shut down further travel or communication. The problem was, they didn't have the money yet. So they couldn't even change their accommodations from the one room across from the railroad station. There was a large western hotel in the city center, that had a restaurant and bar and double beds and showers. But until the money came through, they couldn't go there. And they would have to buy new clothes, because they were still dressed as back-country Uzbeks.

Mulder and Smith sat out at the cafe and played chess, while they waited. Smith would periodically disappear to seek out some spy contact, and then Mulder would nap in the sun.

Scully was reading her way through a stack of Australian murder mysteries in paperbacks, left by some considerate traveler, once upon a time when there was a thriving tourist industry. She would look up, through her sunglasses, as she sat between the men and the white- washed wall of the building, to look at Mulder. The sun brought out the flecks of copper in his thick hair, and his green eyes were not uncommon here. This area had been fought over so often the ethnic make-up was quite diverse. "Your blue eyes stand out, though," Smith had said, almost teasingly. "We better not take a chance. And there's no sense in making anyone think we're western."

She wanted to have Mulder to herself; she wanted to be in a room alone with him. He had kissed her, once, but thoroughly. She still felt that kiss. He had talked about testing the miracle, and nipped her ear. Then he had turned around and gone to sleep. Scully had not slept.

Was it any wonder she was brooding about it three days later? The ear nip. That wasn't like Mulder at all. She hadn't even realized he could sound so light-hearted. That ear nip was gentle, almost not romantic at all. Mulder took everything with deadly seriousness, and covered it up with a barrage of jokes and sarcasm, and pretended interest in tabloid newspapers. This flippancy was so ingrained that she was unnerved when he didn't display it.

Maybe she had dreamed it.

Well, she told herself, he wouldn't have made love to her in a room full of strangers. He wouldn't do anything while Smith was still with them. Smith had to be with them, because he was the only one who spoke the language.

Scully realized suddenly she was staring at Mulder, one finger holding her place in the paperback. He was already tanned on his face and hands. In the stubble on his cheeks were red glints. His eyelids moved slightly, as he slept, his eyes tracking something in sleep. His chair leaning on two legs was tilted back beside her. She took a swift glance around them. Other stranded travelers were doing the same thing; killing time, waiting for the trains to resume their schedule. There was a holiday atmosphere, the other parties all going placidly about the business of drinking coffee or sunning, reading the local newspaper, smoking, or playing cards. The radio blared tinnily from inside the pub, the music sounding strangely New Age.

It's not uncivilized, she told herself, it's just not my civilization. She turned back to Mulder, who was as guarded in his sleep as he was awake.

Why had he kissed her? She was obsessing, but there wasn't anything else to think about. She looked back at the sidewalk.

Smith came up, looking compact and nondescript. Not American at all. She knew he was dangerous; she had seen him ready to put himself between her and a bullet. He was younger than Mulder, but seemed infinitely harder. He seemed like Krycek, that rat bastard. That was why Smith made her uneasy. He was playing some deeper game than he wanted to tell them, some game for which he wouldn't hesitate to abandon them. Yet he hadn't.

He sat down in the metal chair beside Mulder, and unscrewed a bottle of water.

"What have you been doing?" Mulder said, motionless.

"I found a safe house," Smith said, holding his bottle in front of his mouth.

Mulder opened his eyes and let the chair fall forward on all four legs. He yawned, and said, around his hand, "And what is the Agency doing here in Erzurum?"

Smith raised his hand to signal a waiter before replying. "Well, we're busy little bees, you know, busy all the time." With a careless gesture, he brushed his hair back and Scully saw the blond roots under the brown dye. "We can go tomorrow, so it looks like we took the bus."

"Should we take the bus?" Mulder asked. His voice was pitched so quietly Scully wanted to look at Smith to see if he could hear him.

"No. Even if the bus has three days' head start, if the train is running on the third day, it'll beat the bus to Ankara. Too many stops, too many breakdowns, and the roads won't be repaired as quickly as the railroad."

"Do you trust him?" Mulder said in her ear. She sat perched on the fence beside the canal path, watching the water flow. He was standing behind her; arms braced on the rail on either side of her, chin digging into her neck. She could feel the heat of him all along her shoulders and back. She shrugged.

"Me too," Mulder said. "I get the funny feeling something's up. He's worried about something." He was brushing her scarf with his mouth at every word. She felt it in her scalp, as if her hair follicles had suddenly regrown nerve endings. She forced herself to reply calmly. "Maybe he's worried we won't help him?"

"I don't know how we can help him. We're lost here." He nudged her with his chin. "Lost." But he didn't sound too concerned.

"He wants something from us, Mulder, or he wouldn't be here with us. Besides, I think you have a talent for this stuff."

He moved away from her. "When we get back, I'm beating the shit out of Skinner." Taking another step away, he said, "There's the little bee now. Let's go up to the room and count our honey." Scully glanced over her shoulder, and saw Smith disappearing up the stairwell of the hotel. She slid down from the fence, adjusted her headscarf, and followed Mulder across the dusty road to the inn. Scully swerved to make a visit to the hall bathroom, mercifully empty at this time of day. When she emerged, and put her hand on the doorknob, the lack of sound was odd. Her hand automatically going to a phantom holster, Scully threw open the door.

Smith and Mulder were fighting, as silently as two scorpions in a bottle, sprawled on the floorboards in the middle of the room.

She couldn't see who was winning, since they were both rolling in the red dust. A water bottle had spilled, making the dust look like blood. After a heart-stopping moment, Scully realized that Mulder had his knife held to Smith's throat. All she could hear was their ragged breathing.

"Who were you calling?" Mulder panted. Smith moved his head, but Mulder was a dead weight on him. Smith was using both hands to try to push Mulder's arm away from him, but to no avail. Mulder's knife was bearing inexorably down.

Scully looked around, and spotted a cell phone lying on the floor next to Mulder's backpack. She scooped it up and checked the screen. A D.C. number. "Washington, Mulder," she said. "He was calling Washington."

Mulder's shoulder jerked; he obviously hadn't realized she was there. Smith made a convulsive movement, but Mulder, with a hiss, jabbed at his throat. "Call the number, Scully." It came out in a breath, as Smith struggled in his grip.

"Fine," Smith gasped. "Kill us." He laid there, eyes locked with Mulder's. A bead of sweat dripped off his hairline, landing almost audibly in the dusty floor.

"Let him go, Mulder," she heard herself saying. Mulder flicked his eyes towards her, and didn't do anything she could detect, but Smith stopped struggling.

"I have to report in within a certain number of days," Smith said. "It's okay for you two, no one gives a flying fuck, but my....hive....wants to know where the worker bees are."

"It's the royal jelly," Mulder said, the knife still poised at Smith's throat. Scully couldn't see his face, but Smith could, and clenched his teeth in a grimace.

"Mulder, we may not get out of here alive without him," Scully said. "So what if his agency knows where we are? They probably knew we were with him for a week."

"Why didn't you tell me you had a cell?" Mulder said finally, and let Smith go.

The other man rolled away from Mulder. "You and I don't tell each other everything. And I just got it." He got to one knee, swiping the sweat and dirt from his face with his shirtsleeve. Scully tossed the cell phone on to Smith's bed. Mulder stood, braced, the knife held steady in his hand.

"What are we doing here?" she asked. "Stop playing the little games and just tell us. You know, we're less likely to get in your way if we know what you're doing." The men didn't seem to have heard her, standing there, ready to fight again. "Hey!" she said, clapping her hands. "Boys!"

Mulder glanced at her. "Oh, we domestics don't understand global politics," he said scornfully. He sat down abruptly on the other bed and began taking coins and crumpled paper money out of his pockets. "I do understand that we need to go to the cafe before it closes, if we want to eat cheaply."

"I'll go. One of you can come with me, if you like. It'll look peculiar if we all go to get the food, and neither of you knows the language."

"I want to go," Scully said. "I'm tired of sitting down." Mulder handed her the money, and at her look, Smith wordlessly held the door open for her. The kitchen had already closed, but other travelers were going to the Turkish version of the corner fish and chips shop, so Smith elected to follow them. Scully was almost amused how she was able to understand what was happening, even without a word of the language.

They were threading their way through the car park, headed to the shops, when Smith lunged at her and knocked her to the asphalt, clamping one hand cruelly hard on her mouth as they fell together. She heard steps coming towards them, coming, passing without a pause, moving on down the street. Smith lay on her, squeezing all the air out of her lungs, his hand jammed on her open mouth. He took a breath to speak, but before he could, Scully bit his finger. Hard.

"Bitch," he hissed, shaking his hand in pain. "Why'd you do that?"

"Why'd you do this?" she countered, and pushed him off.

"I didn't have the time to explain everything in a politically correct manner, like your partner does," Smith said, examining a tear in one knee of his pants. "Shit, I liked these."

"Which partner would that be?" Scully demanded. "Not Mul---him, upstairs."

"Oh, hell. There's a pause while he formulates everything for you. If he had seen that guy coming, he would have said, 'Don't argue, just duck, I'll explain it later,' and the local Russian agent would have seen you." He stood up, and extended a hand to help her to her feet. His knuckles were still bleeding. So he had least taken the brunt of the fall onto the pavement. "Of course, he wouldn't have known the local Russians."

"Well, you can go get the food, yourself. You'll enjoy it more without me."

She left him standing there, and went up to the room to wash her scraped palms, leaving Smith outside on guard duty. Mulder was at the basin, shirtless,and scooping up handfuls of water to rinse soap from his chest. He turned, startled, and she stopped dead in the doorway. His teeth flashed in the semi-dark. "You keep walking in on me like this, Scully, I'm gonna get ideas. Close the door."

"You keep saying that," she said, pushing it closed with one hand behind her.

"You keep leaving it open," Mulder said, and bent over the sink to rinse off the remainder of the soap. He straightened up, watching her reflection in the mirror. "What happened?" he asked, his voice changing.

She told him, and concluded by saying, "If he went to that much trouble to go alone, I figured I better let him go."

"He probably wants to check out the local international players. Chasing each other's tails, that's all these guys ever do." Mulder snorted.

"Yeah, probably none of them ever chased an alien spaceship," Scully heard herself saying. To her surprise, Mulder seemed abashed, and he quietly picked up his several layers of shirts and began pulling them on. Scully stepped around him to wash her hands. When she looked in the mirror, she was surprised at how calm, almost bored she looked, when inwardly she was shaking.

Still no money had arrived at the telegraph office, so after a very unsatisfactory meal of hot rolls filled with a spicy but undefinable meat, there were still only two beds, and she'd rather sleep with Mulder than Smith or the floor. Mulder smelled exotically of violets from his wash. She preferred not to think of what she smelled like. When she went upstairs to the washbasin, she discovered that Mulderhad reduced the soap to the size of a quarter, so she didn't bother. At any rate, Scully didn't want to risk one of them walking in on her. Smith had bought her a toothbrush and paste, again in Chinese packaging, so at least her breath was all right. She crawled wearily to bed. The mattress creaked alarmingly, but it seemed clean enough. When she got home, she was never going to complain about laundering her 330-count percale sheets again . Her nice pillow top mattress, her nightstand and lamp, thebathroom three steps away, instead of down the hall. It gave her quite a pang of homesickness.

Mulder and Smith left her alone for such a long time that she slowly realized that they had intended for her to bathe. Too late now. The door opened. "It's us."

It was Smith. With a deliberate step, he went to his bed. Mulder was right behind him, stooping to do something to the bottom of the door after he closed it.

"Wedges," Smith said. "So let one of us know if you have to get up."

"I haven't taken a pee that you two didn't know about, this entire trip," Scully said dryly.

Mulder stood beside the door, his hand on the light switch. "No more talking, campers," he said, and turned out the light. A moment later, she felt the mattress bend under his weight, his hand patting the sheet searching for her. She touched his fingers, and he immediately lay back, almost into her arms. She was too startled to respond.

"This is not the menage-a-trois I used to fantasize about in school," Mulder grumbled.

"You snore, and she grinds her teeth," came the voice from the other bed.

"Fuck you," Mulder said kindly, and turned his back to Smith, facing Scully. "I'm changing the order in which I'm kicking the shit out of people," he whispered, yanking the blanket up around them.

"Where do I come on the list?" she whispered back.

"Third, fourth..." he said. "Go to sleep."

"I'm not sleepy,"

Mulder yawned. "I am," he whispered, putting his lips to her ear. "I could sleep for a week."

"Stretch out," she managed to whisper. "There's plenty of room. I'm fine."

After a moment, Mulder lay back, at full length on the bed. Stealthily, Scully curled herself beside him, her face close to his shoulder. There was something about a bed, not a pallet, not a communal sleeping room, not a sleeping bag, that was more intimate than any way they had slept on this journey. Mulder really was a large person but he never made her feel that he loomed over her. He shifted, rolling over on his side to face the room, and leaning back against her.

She put her face and shoulder against his back, and felt him sigh.

Wakening to Smith's quiet breathing on the other side of the room, Scully knew that Mulder, for once, was awake too. Because it felt like the thing to do, she wrapped one arm around his waist. "Don't," he said into the pillow, barely breathing. She ignored him, and leaned against him. He didn't react for a moment, then, with no noise, shifted so that she was pillowing his heavy head against her breasts. It felt so good her eyes involuntarily closed. She brought her hand up to caress his hair, but he caught it and held it under his chin.

She didn't realize she was trembling, with cold? with desire? with fear? until he straightened away from her, and pulled the blankets back up around them both and over their heads. "Okay then," he breathed, before settling back, a chaste distance between them.

Then Scully realized that Smith's breathing had changed and he was awake. She had a sudden, furious longing to vocalize an orgasm.

She eventually slept, but Mulder was awake when she drifted off, and awake when she opened her eyes the next morning. He gave her a long, unsmiling look before he rolled out of bed.

She wondered how much sleep he was getting. When she had first opened her eyes, she had seen tiredness etched around his.

Western Union finally disgorged some of the money Mulder had asked for, so they were able to get train tickets for the next town. "I wish I'd bought aspirin,"Mulder sighed, rubbing his forehead. Scully slanted a glance at him through her sunglasses, but said nothing. He looked awful, but still tasty. She bit the inside of her mouth. God, Dana. Get him out of your head. They all three loaded themselves in the train, where the real tourists looked disdainfully at them and gave them a wide berth. Mulder coughed, delicately; Scully wondered if he expected her to soothe his forehead. He squinted in the glare of sunlight, and said nothing else for hours.

A long, uneventful train ride later, they were in the safe house, which was actually a second floor apartment in an old building. The windows overlooked a courtyard, but there were two bedrooms and a large kitchen. There were curtains as well as blinds on the windows, and faded, but clean, carpets on the floor. The kitchen had a television, which Mulder promptly turned on. He stood, one hip braced on the counter, and she sat at the table. There was coverage of the earthquake news, and a British comedy program, dubbed in Turkish, but Mulder wasn't actually watching. He was looking at the lights, at the electrical outlets. Bugs, Scully realized. Mulder was reminding her they were probably being monitored. He switched the television back on to the news. Smith stood, arms akimbo, concentrating. "The express railroad seems to be up from here to the capital ," he commented. "We better get to the station as soon as it's light." He had a string bag of foodstuffs that he had dumped on the tiny table. "There should be plates and stuff." Mulder disappeared down the hallway, presumably to the bathroom. Presently, Scully heard the toilet flush and the taps; Mulder emerged, wiping his mouth. Smith went down the hallway in his stead. "What I wouldn't give for a Tylenol PM," he said. "Are we eating?"

"Yeah, if we heat some water. Smith said we should find what we need," Scully replied, absently, holding packets of instant soup.

Mulder had discovered the electric kettle. "Good." But instead of filling it with water, he stood, hands flat on the counter. He started to say something else, but swallowed hard, and put his hand to his forehead. "Scully," he said in a small voice.

She turned from an idle contemplation of a box of imported English biscuits. Mulder was holding on to the counter. There were two spots of high color on his cheekbones, and his eyes were closed.

"Mulder?" she said, unbelievingly, a wizened orange falling from her hand and rolling across the table.

"I feel dizzy," he said. "I'm sick."

She stood up, and put her palm on his neck. "You're hot. Do you feel hot? You may have a fever. Oh, shit, your hand." She seized the hand that had been stabbed, and pulled off the bandage. No, it wasn't infected, it was healing well and wasn't red.

"We can't go see a doctor," Smith said, from the doorway. "We've got to get on that train tomorrow morning and get out of here." Coming inside the room, he reached for the loaf of bread and a knife.

"She's a medical doctor," Mulder said, in faint mockery, and then his knees buckled and Scully had to lower him to the floor.

To his credit, Smith left the food, and came to help Scully. Mulder's skin was hot and dry to the touch, and he lay very still. "Some local bug, I bet," Smith said. "We westerners go down like flies." He stood up, and tossing a dishcloth in the sink, turned on the tap.

"Why do we need to leave?" Scully asked, looking up at him. She accepted the wet cloth, and began patting Mulder's face. "Smith?"

"I need to recover a disk from the next town," Smith said, crouching by her. "But I just have a bad feeling about staying here very long."

"What are your orders regarding us?" she asked, not bothering to look at him. Mulder's eyelids flickered slightly, and under her fingertips, his pulse grew stronger.

"I'm to keep you two alive," Smith said, reluctantly.

"Are you really Agency?" she asked, deliberately catching Smith's gaze, so he wouldn't realize that Mulder was listening.

"Not the one you're thinking of," he said, even more reluctantly. "I have to go out, after we eat. I may not be back until morning. Let's put him to bed, and I'll leave."

"Where are you going?" Mulder said, rejoining them. His eyes were bright with fever.

"Your partner will fill you in---if she has to," Smith said, helping him to sit up. "Don't puke on my pants, please."

"Not going to," Mulder said, outraged.. Then he had to clutch at Smith for balance, as they went into the next room.

Naturally, both beds were in the same large drafty bedroom. At least there was a bathroom in the apartment. Mulder was saying something under his breath. When he saw her anxious look, he said, louder, "I came like Water and like Wind I go."

"Fitzgerald," Smith said, after a pause. "I wish I'd seen you at Oxford."

"My hair was shoulder length," Mulder said, sitting on the bed, and slapping Scully's hand away from his shirt. He began to unbutton it himself, and said, giving Smith a hard look, "Well, then, 'What, without asking, hither hurried whence? And, without asking, wither hurried hence,' Smith?"

"Did it occur to you that I don't know a lot, either?" Smith snapped, his cheekbones reddening. Scully stared at him in exaggerated surprise. He turned and left, nearly slamming the outer door.

"Go and lock it," Mulder said, pulling off his shirt. "Do you think I can take a shower?" He rubbed his forehead fretfully. "Maybe I just haven't eaten?"

After she checked the locks on the door, Scully helped Mulder into the bathroom. It could have been erotic, but it wasn't. There was a shower stall with a frosted door, and no interior light. Mulder shucked his clothes and got in the shower before Scully had finished looking for towels. "Not too cold, Mulder. Lukewarm. I'm right outside."

"Very odd safe house, Scully," he said, over the water. "Like a motel- --little soaps."

"Are you really that delirious, or is the poetry quoting part of an act?" she said, raising her chin to pitch her voice over the stall door. His sleek wet head suddenly appeared, and she didn't let herself look down through the door.

"I do feel like shit. And it's not an act. The fifth volume of the Oxford Book of English Verse running through my memory. It's leaking out." He stepped back under the stream for a moment, and then the water stopped. Without looking, she handed a towel over the top of the door, and his unseen hand pulled it out of her grasp, and a second later, the door opened. Mulder accepted her hand, and sat down on the closed lid of the toilet, bending over and drying his hair with a corner of the towel.

"Do you remember poetry when you're sick?" Scully asked, unlacing her shoes. She wished she could wash her socks, but there would be no telling when they'd have to leave. "I think I'd have noticed a weird symptom like that."

Mulder looked up, startled. " I mean, I do, but I remember it most of the time. I read so much in school that I'm on the verge of a quote all the time. I just learned not to do it when I came back home. Too gay, according to my dad, you know." He put one hand on the sink. "Or too English. Funny that parents send a son to England to be educated and act surprised that he comes back acting like an educated Englishman." A pause. "Shit. I am delirious. It was what he said about busy bees---I wondered if he was using some kind of code in Fitzgerald. He's said some things all along, like he was trying to see if I would give the counter-sign." He inhaled, and exhaled shakily. "Scully, I need you to help me stand up." She leapt to his side, and he draped one long arm over her shoulder and levered himself upright. With his free hand, he hitched the towel more securely around his waist. "So what was I quoting?" He sounded embarrassed. "I must be really losing it."

Odd for Mulder to be embarrassed about anything, she reflected, helping him negotiate the short hallway. "I don't know what it was. A poem." She knew he was ill when he crawled into one of the beds, and ignored the television blaring away in the kitchen.

"As long as it's not John Donne," Mulder said, closing his eyes. "Go get something to eat, Scully."

It was odd to sit in a Azerbaijani kitchen and watch CNN. She felt disconnected with the rest of the world. She didn't feel scared, or worried; she was disconnected with the emotions she usually felt in the field.

Because this was a straight-to-video movie, she told herself. That's why. Hard to get worried when you were living a movie. Or a fantasy. Or a miracle. Outside, the sky grew dark and starry. She was drooping with sleepiness, but Smith hadn't returned. After taking a shower, she dragged her shirt and pants back on, and crawled in bed with Mulder. He was sleeping like someone stunned, and his skin was hot to her touch.. Odd. Mulder hated being ill, and wouldn't have made up those symptoms. He always teased her about not wanting to lose control, but he was the one who was so watchful of himself.

The room was cool, but not unpleasantly so. She put on arm around Mulder's waist, and went to sleep.

Today: Satisfaction is desire embraced.

She woke up some time later. It was late, but Scully didn't have a watch. She was lying on her back, cradling Mulder's head on her shoulder. She ran her hand up his arm, and thought he felt cooler. His skin was slick with sweat under her fingertips. She touched his nape, and threaded her fingers through his damp hair.

Mulder stirred, and pinched her nipple. She jumped. He raised his head, and she could just make out his features, by the streetlight outside. His eyes looked black, but he was smiling. "What are you doing, Scully?" he asked, his fingers trailing slowly down the front of her shirt.

"Checking on you," she said. Or rather, attempted to say, because he slid his hand inside her shirt so he could stroke her breast, and she gasped. He was still lying on her, but he had shifted in their sleep so that he was lying between her legs. His fever had to have broken, because they were both drenched.

"I still have a fever, or is that you?" he asked. He was propped up on his elbows and now he was unbuttoning her blouse with one hand. She swallowed hard, and he ground his hips into hers. "Would it be both of us?" He shifted his position slightly, and at the same time, pulled her shirt open. "Kiss me, Scully," he breathed, and dipped his mouth onto hers.

Oh, yes, she had a fever. She felt the kiss to her toes. But he wasn't satisfied, because he raised his head. "No, kiss me again. You can do better than that," he said, almost laughing, and she brought her hands up to each side of his head, and held his face as she opened her mouth to him. He put one hand on the waistband of her underpants, and she arched her back so he could pull them off, and lie skin to skin.

She wanted to remember every detail, to imprint it all in her mind. Her heart was racing and breathing was too ragged. This was Mulder, who was wrapping her legs around his hips, so she could feel his erection throbbing against her; this was Mulder, who was not hesitant, or intimidated, or awkward, like her previous lovers; this was Mulder who was stroking her breast with a sure touch, as he kissed her, rolling them on their sides so he could release her breast and put one large hand between her legs and touch the slickness there.

She heard herself saying weakly, "How do you feel?" No! Shit! Turn off medical mode! Her face grew even hotter, and she was glad of the dim light.

Mulder snorted. "You tell me," he whispered, and put her hand on his erection. She couldn't think of anything at all to say, and he grinned at her, whispering, "Aren't you going to take my pulse?"

She gave a strangled laugh, almost against her will. Mulder let go of her and lay back. "Come on, Scully, it's just like riding a bicycle. Since you're worried about my health, you do all the work." He stroked her thigh, smiling lazily up at her.

Scully bent to him, touching his face. There were faint dark shadows etched around his eyes, and his cheeks were almost gaunt under the stubble. "Do you really----" she started to ask him if he felt all right, but her question died away as he palmed her breasts, caressing the nipples and stroking up to cup her shoulders lightly.

"Stop thinking," he said softly, reading her mind with ease. "This is supposed to be fun. Besides, there's no television." He was pulling her toward him as he spoke, and she lay on his chest and kissed him. She kissed his neck, and his chin, and each eyelid. He sighed, and she could feel him, hard and throbbing against her leg.

Stop thinking, Dr. Scully, she told herself. She sat back, crouched above him and guided him in with both hands. It had been so long, and she was so tight, despite how wet and ready she felt, it was a little uncomfortable.

"Take it easy," Mulder said, holding her waist. "Lean back, so I can..." and she leaned back so he could stroke her clit. She bared her teeth. "Oh, you like that? All right," he said. At the same time, she felt herself open up and take him all in, and he exhaled.

When she had fantasized about this happening, she hadn't really thought of herself on top, with herself slowly taking in Mulder deeper and deeper. Or that hecould lay back, all the smooth planes of his chest and shoulders golden in the yellow light from the streetlights, smiling up at her in such an unguarded moment. She braced herself with one palm one the wall, as Mulder bucked his hips. "Stay with me, Scully," he said, low. "Stay here." Then he smiled widely, again.

"If you...say...yee-ha...I'll kill you," she gasped, feeling a wave of sensation building up, deep in her pelvis.

"That's not..." Mulder began, but almost yelped as Scully came, bearing down on him. She felt him shudder and climax, and they both collapsed.

She lay on him, until the cold air began to chill. She was soaked in perspiration from her scalp to her feet, and so was Mulder. His fingers were tangled in her hair, and he murmured something, which sounded like a quotation.

"What?" she asked, her lips on his chest.

"Something I remembered," he said, shyly. "Nothing." She laid her cheek in the crook of his shoulder, but she was dissatisfied. Something....she put her hand flat on his belly.

Mulder's skin was dry and hot under her touch. "You still have a fever," she said accusingly, pulling up the blankets around them.

Under her head, his shoulder moved in a shrug. "I'll be all right," he said. "Go to sleep." He stroked her shoulder and back, drawing designs on her skin.

It was the chill that woke her up, the loss of Mulder's heat on her body, simultaneously with his whisper of her name. She opened her eyes to the silvery light of pre-dawn, and saw him, wearing only his trousers, flattened against the wall beside the door. Even unshaven, gaunt, and with only a water glass in his hand, Mulder looked surprisingly dangerous. Then she heard the stealthy footsteps in the next room, and her eyes darted around the room for a weapon. There was a faint, faint noise on the other side of the door. Someone was listening to them.

Scully had the hem of the blanket gripped in her fists, ready to fling it over the intruder, when Smith spoke from the other side of the door. "It's me."

"Come in," Mulder said coolly, holding his glass at the ready.

Smith did, cautiously, flinching when he saw Mulder standing there. "For Christ's sake, I'm alone."

Mulder's eyes didn't leave his. "Where were you all night, Beaver? You know that June and I worry about you and Wally."

Smith took a step into the room. "Gee, Dad. It took longer than I thought to walk to the train station and search it. Especially since no trains are running."

"So?" Mulder asked, his expression incredulous.

"So it wasn't there. So now I'm wondering if it was ever there. Why I was told to assist you."

Scully, meanwhile, had reached under the blankets and pulled on her sweatshirt. The bedding reeked of sex. Clothed now above the waist, she cleared her throat. "I have a suggestion," she said.

"Yeah?" Mulder seemed to become aware that he was barefoot and shirtless in a very cold room, and bent to look for his socks in the pile of his clothing on the floor.

"I don't think he was supposed to bring us out," she said, looking not at Mulder but at Smith. "I think we are bringing _him_ out."

For the first time, Scully thought she saw surprise on Smith's face. Mulder looked up, from pulling on a sweatsock. "It fits," he said. "The disk is just an excuse. Your bosses just didn't want you there, or thought you may be contaminated by being in contact with us, or something. But you aren't the type to just come in from the cold, so they told you to bring us back."

"Maybe they thought we'd get him killed for them?" Scully offered, primly tucking the blanket around her waist, as Mulder sat back on the bed. He was still pale under the dark stubble of beard. Absent-mindedly, he gripped her foot through the blanket, as he stared at Smith.

"No," said Smith in a pre-occupied tone. "I'm not that valuable, but _he_ is. Or so I've heard." He was standing stock still, obviously thinking furiously. Mulder bent down and scooped up the remaining clothes. With delicacy, he handed Scully, something she realized were her underpants. Smith had turned to look out through the blinds, and she whisked them under the blanket. Mulder went to the window, and they began talking in a low voice, as Scully yanked on her clothes.

"We can leave now, if you like," Mulder said, pitching his voice louder. "I'm fine."

Smith's glowered. "We have to clean up in here," he said. "Wipe it down."

Scully paused, one sock on. "Oh, come on."

["It's Agency protocol, Scully," Mulder said, sounding amused. He rubbed his eyes, hard, and when he looked over at her, he didn't look amused at all.

Halfway through the clean-up, Smith came out of the bathroom, holding a pill bottle in his hand. "Did you take one of these, Mulder?" he asked, with a peculiar expression.

Mulder glanced up from washing out the coffee cups. "Yeah, I took a couple of aspirin. Why?" Then his face hardened. "They weren't aspirin, were they."

Scully said, explosively, "There you are! I knew that one day, one day, Mulder, you would put your hand in the wrong place! God knows what was in that!"

"Well, it was---" Smith began, but Mulder threw down the dishcloth.

"This is a safe house, God damn it. It's an aspirin bottle. It even says Bayer on the side!"

Today: That which indicates nothing, introduces everything.

"Do you often taste stuff---" Smith began, but Mulder cut him off.

"No, I just---mistakenly, I see now---take aspirin for headaches." But then Mulder spoke again, and they both turned to look at him. "We're bringing you out," he said, and he was smiling unpleasantly. "Who's trying to kill you? Everyone"

"Pretty much," Smith said. He looked defiant and vulnerable at once. Scully tasted bile in the back of her throat. She'd seen that expression before, when Mulder had his back against the wall and was bluffing.

Mulder had continued. "What's all this shit about? We, of course, just went to look at a miracle shrine. One miracle being that we weren't killed there....what's your racket? And it's not to shadow us. You're sticking with us because no one would think you'd be stupid enough to saddle yourself with two other Americans. But what went wrong?"

Smith bent his head, not looking at them as he buttoned his jacket. "I can't believe you went to a spring, in the middle of oil fields. It's all about the oil, Mulder. Where have you been since 1990? Hell, since 1980?"

"Oil? You think we're after regular oil? Like in the ground?"

Scully said wearily, "Black gold. Texas T. You know, Mulder, 'The first thing you know, old Jed's a millionaire...' that kind of oil."

Smith seemed to realized his mouth was open, and shut it. "There's another?" Sneering, he added, "No, salad oil. What else?"

"How ordinary," Mulder said. Scully could tell he was almost starting to enjoy himself. He brushed past her to get a bottle of water from the table, and there was nothing in that casual contact to infer they had made love the night before.

Was it making love? Or was it just sex? He hadn't said anything last night, hadn't said he loved her. Oh God, God, God, did she say---no.

She would never understand him, never. She looked up from her hands, her eyes and mouth tragic, and saw Smith watching her. "So all those people you've been hiding us from---they're after you, and not us?" she said, sounding drier than usual.

"And here's where Dr. Scully says we should just take our passports in hand and march to the nearest Embassy and seek help," Mulder commented, tucking a small packet of biscuits in his coat pocket. "And our Mr. Smith reminds us Azerbaijan is more dangerous than Uzbekistan was, and we don't speak the language." He glanced around the room. "I'm so kicking someone's ass when I get home."

Smith shrugged. "Well, let's go catch the bus."

Scully felt her stomach clenching. "Oh, it would be a bus."

Mulder draped her scarf around her neck. "Shouldn't be too many goats this time of year." He shoved his wool cap on his head, and within a visible effort of will, straightened up.

Perhaps Mulder really had a bug, because Scully felt like she had the 'flu. Her face was hot, and her hands were cold. They were in the very back of the bus, near the second door, and she was wedged in the corner between the curved metal side of the bus and Mulder's back. He stayed in character and didn't touch or talk to her, but surely he could have whispered in her ear, touched her arm?

And I was obsessing about the earlobe bite, she told herself sourly. She ached all over, and took surreptitious sips of water from a bottle in her pocket. There was a buzz in ears that was not completely connected with her utter inability to understand any of the languages around her.

She remembered getting out of the bus, and going into the bright lights of a cafe. The people looked more Western, and wore jeans and Chicago Bulls jackets and had Walkmans, and plastic carrier bags with trendy Western chain stores; but there were enough men with the tribal head wraps, and enough women in scarves to keep her silent. She didn't need Mulder's downcast eyes and wary expression to warn her.

She couldn't eat the stew that was set before them, and sat, crumbling a roll, before they went upstairs. The rooms were tiny, and contained only a cot, but it took some time for her to realize that, at last, she had a room alone.

She threw herself on the pillow and wept bitterly, until she fell asleep.

She was awakened by a tap at the door. She got up and put her ear to the wood panels. "It's Smith," said a low voice on the other side. Because there was nothing else to do, she opened the door.

"Mulder is sound asleep," he said, "and I thought I better find the ladies' bathroom for you. All the signs---" he stopped, and looked at her. "Come on."

She went in the door he indicated, and found herself in a real bathroom. Cold and dingy, but still, it had a toilet, a sink and a tub, and large bars of yellow soap on the rim of the tub. She washed her face and hands, and when she emerged, Smith was standing outside waiting. He leaned against the wall, arms crossed and head down, staring at something on the floor. He looked up and then looked back down.

She turned her head, and seeing nothing, looked back at him.

"Sometimes there isn't anything," he said.

"You don't know a man with gray hair who chain smokes, do you?" she replied. "Because I hate riddles." She felt dizzy, and steadied herself against the wall.

"You pick a peculiar way to show it," Smith said. He took her arm and gently led her back to her room. "You are a riddle." He guided her into the tiny room, and, closing the door, pulled back the covers on the bed. "Well, the sheets are clean."

"Why are we suddenly in three rooms?" she demanded, sitting down with a thump.

The sardonic expression returned. "It seemed appropriate. Mulder was fine with it."

"Are we safe?" she asked. "I thought---you needed to watch us---"

"Are you worried?" Smith asked. "Wake up Mulder, he's snoring next door."

"I don't feel well," Scully heard herself saying. "I feel dizzy."

Smith crouched in front of her. "I'm on one side, Mulder's on the other. Just pound on the wall. I'm a light sleeper." He was efficiently pulling off her boots and socks before she knew what was happening.

"Are you a good guy or a bad guy?" Scully asked suddenly. Smith looked up at her, his face blank, before picking up her feet and tucking them under the blanket.

She slept heavily for a while, and then, getting up, stumbled and fell against the wall. In just a second, Smith opened the door, and closed it before switching on the dim overhead light. Scully, her shoulder rubbing against the wall, stared at him. "So, are you a good guy or a bad guy?" she asked, as if a moment and not an hour had passed.

"I'm a very bad guy, indeed," he said, unsmiling. His face was inches away from her. "How have you managed to stay alive so long? I could have killed you a hundred times."

"I assume you haven't because you need us. Or because you were ordered not to." She answered him in the same strained low tone he was using.

"Or because Mulder will kill me," Smith said. "Mulder would kill me, even if it meant he would be alone here."

"What..." she swallowed. "How do you know?"

Smith stared at her. "Don't you know your own partner? He's the kind that doesn't care if the sky falls, if he dies, if everyone dies, as long as he first finishes the job."

Scully shook off the fatigue and the dizziness. "I do know that about him," she said. [] 'Let the heavens fall, but let justice be done.' How do you know that?"

Smith was silent for so long, she thought he wasn't going to answer. "Everyone in----our----business knows Mulder." His lips twitched in the first genuine smile she had seen from him. "They don't really know you, though."

"Has this been some test?" she asked. "Some exam we had to pass?"

"That someone had to pass," Smith said. "Listen, the first order was to get you in to the spring. No one said anything about getting you out. Or anything else. Then, it looked like I wasn't supposed to come out. Then, I wondered if I had missed something, and because I missed it, we were all going to disappear."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Scully said, appalled.

Behind Smith, the door opened. "I do. So, you think we can all go home now?" Mulder looked completely recovered and completely homicidal as he eased inside the room.

Scully wondered if she did know her partner; but Smith was talking again. "I think you can," he said. "I'm leaving you once you're in Turkey. This is the last place we can talk. If I were you, I'd go nonstop back to D.C. and....not talk about me on the way. Turkey's the next stop on the bus route."

"Were you here about oil reserves?" Mulder asked.

Smith smiled, the usual one that just barely moved his face. "Oil makes the world go round, Mulder."

"What happens to you?" Scully asked.

"Nothing important," Smith said. He pushed past Mulder and left the room.

Mulder slewed around, facing the closed door for a moment. He turned back around and showed Scully his hand: he was holding their passports and what looked like tickets. "He put them in my hand just now," he said. "Who the hell is this guy?"

"When does the bus leave?" Scully asked. "I just want to get out of here."

"Five," Mulder said. "By the clock downstairs, it's four."

"Let's go downstairs and wait," she said, and sat down to put on her dingy socks and nasty shoes.

"I'm packed," he said. "We'll see if Smith leaves us in Turkey."

They went downstairs, and sat in the coffee room, with the other travelers who were collecting for the bus. But Smith did not appear; he had, apparently, already left them.

In Turkey, they were able to use Mulder's credit card and get on the train to Istanbul; there, they would be able to buy new clothes, and be clean, and not stay in the same room.

Scully found the prospect depressing. Mulder sat decorously in the clean train car, on the comfortable seat, and stared out the window after courteously making sure she had a bottle of water, and a sandwich. "How long have we been gone?" she asked, suddenly.

"Three weeks," he said, not looking. "My fish are probably all dead."

After an hour, she thought of something. "Why not John Donne?"

With a jerk, he turned away from the window. He didn't pretend to misunderstand her. "I was locked in a bathroom once----accidentally--- -and the only thing to read was his collected poems." He half- smiled. "So it became a party trick. I used to recite them at the drop of a hat. He's very quotable. Later, I learned a lot of Browning, and then, a lot of Whitman. But I never recited them."

After that, they didn't talk. Scully was once again just registering impressions.

No one seemed to take any notice of them in Istanbul, but Mulder decided they'd take Smith's advice and travel as nonstop as possible. They were able to use a public locker-room at the airport to shower and put on the clean clothes Mulder bought them at a duty- free shop.

Scully stared at her lank hair. She wondered if she dreamed it all, dreamed she had shared a bed with Mulder, that she had felt the heat of his mouth. Maybe it was all a hallucination. She put her hands on her waist. Mulder had got her sizes from her. Unable or unwilling to find women's underwear, had returned with a pair of men's XS boxers and a wife-beater's tee. She had sat outside, feeling unwilling to bother looking at clothes. Now, she wadded up her bra in paper towels and buried it in the trashcan. She turned away abruptly from the mirror, from her empty gaze.

"There's a flight leaving in an hour," Mulder told her. He hadn't shaved, and with the jeans and pullover, combined with the bright white new running shoes, looked like an aging yuppie trying to dress trendy. "You look like you feel better," he added.

"It's the pleasure of having a real toilet," she said grimly, knowing he would laugh; and he did.

On the flight, Scully was delighted to see Mulder had sprung for first class. He ate his meal and most of hers, and managed to keep the Diet Cokes coming from the flight attendants; he watched the second-run movie with pleased awe.

Scully tuned in the classical music, tilted back her seat, and slept. When she awoke to go to the restroom, she climbed over a Mulder who was watching another movie.

Even the chilly steel of the facilities and the roar of the engines seemed sweet after the horrors of the latrines where she had been. How unfair, she would remember those damned latrines and she was already forgetting the expression of Mulder's face when---she put her hands under the cold water and silenced the thought.

She went back to her seat and accepted a blanket from an attendant, and slept dreamlessly for most of the flight.

Scully didn't know if Mulder renewed his strength from pop culture, but he was a new man by the time they made their connection in New York. He spent the short time complaining about how sore his back was, and how he wanted to kill their Assistant Director. It was quite like they had never left; unfortunately, Scully felt jet-lagged and ready to go to bed. Alone.

Mulder must have felt tired enough, when they went to pick up his car from long-term parking, he handed her the car keys. "You drive," he groaned. "My back is spasming."

When they had to pay what Mulder bitterly characterized as extortion to cover the parking fees, he went into a tirade. Scully felt apprehensively it wasn't just to annoy her.

"I don't care a rat's ass, Scully, I'm kicking the shit out of Skinner. He may have seen an opportunity to let you have a wonderful vacation in Uzbekistan, but we both know that's bullshit. He still loves these sub-rosa intra-mural, inter-agency games. He had the money and the two idiots he could send to the other side of the world." Scully glanced over at him. So he was monologuing again. They must be back home. "I don't know if we were supposed to get Smith killed or what, but he sent us there for some little ploy that didn't work. Instead, Smith brought us out when he could have killed us or just let us be killed. Jesus knows what the hell he was doing with us, riding through every shit-hole in fucking Azerbaijan. He's probably got copies of our IDs and passports and selling them to terrorists in Berlin, now."

Scully looked sideways at him. "You know Smith's not doing that. We'd be dead if Smith wanted us dead."

Mulder was silent for a second. "Fuck him. I'm putting my foot so far up Skinner's ass that he'll taste---" he glanced down at his shoe "leather."

"Mulder, I agree completely, but listen to me, don't do it unless you want us to both quit. Because we shouldn't give away that we know he used us. We'll find out a lot more by playing dumb than by going in with guns blazing." She shrugged her shoulders. "Gosh, we must be back in the States. We're talking." Her voice was acid.

Mulder picked at the sole of his shoe for a moment. "I guess you're right," he said grumpily. He brightened. "It's only nine, so the bald bastard'll be just having his second cup of coffee."

Scully slowed the car for the downtown exit. "It's better my way."

"We'll see. I'd love to see Skinner's face if you're pregnant. He would freak to know that there was a miracle spring."

Scully was glad she had a red light. "What?" she asked, facing him.

He had his arm stretched along the seat back, and now he put his hand on her shoulder. "What do you mean, what? I don't remember using a condom back there in Azerbaijan." He raised his eyebrows slightly. "Didn't you want to get pregnant, Scully? I thought the whole point of the expedition was to---"

Her face felt hot. "I thought you didn't want to talk about it--- about having sex," she said, "That you meant for us to forget it," and had to turn away and drive through the green light.

After a long silent moment, Mulder said, in a stupefied tone, "Forget about having sex? We didn't just have sex, Scully, we had great sex."

"You were sick, and you never talked about it," she said, sneaking a look out of the corner of her eye at him. He was turned in the seat staring at her. "I thought you were sorry it happened...." she trailed off. She hadn't sounded this weak since the fire truck incident in high school.

"I could never be that sick," he said. "And holy shit, Scully, Smith was right there with us until what, twenty minutes ago? I figured it was good for you, too, since you seemed, uh, pretty happy at the time. I still have the scratches on my back. Give me a little credit."

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I haven't been thinking clearly. Of course, you couldn't have, couldn't have done anything else."

"That's better," he said in a satisfied tone. "Smith *would* have killed us both if he'd had to listen to us in bed."

"Yeah, I know. Mulder, I love you." She took another stealthy look at him. He looked unsurprised, and nodded briskly.

"I love you too, and there's a parking space."

She parked.

Mulder stalked past Kimberly, Scully right at his heels like Robin to his Batman---she was even thinking, "Holy shit, Batman" to herself. Therefore she had an excellent view of Skinner, as he rose halfway from his desk chair, turned ashen with shock, and sank back down..

"Jesus," Skinner said, one hand at his collar. "Jesus. When did you-- - we thought you were dead. We thought you had been killed."

Mulder surveyed the assistant director for a moment, hands on hips. "You're right, Scully. Your way is better."

"What about the other agent? I assume he's here, too?" The A.D. was rapidly recovering his composure.

That nearly did it. Mulder's ears turned bright red. "Agent? Agent? You need to be better informed. Who knows who that guy was working for. He could have brought us right out, but noooo, we had to take a tour through scenic fucking Uzbekistan!" He shifted his weight forward, and Skinner involuntarily flinched. "They don't like Americans in Uzbekistan. Sir."

Scully was leaning against the closed office door. "Sir, if we could have some time before we report," she began. "We have been on the road continuously for the past two days." She was trying not to grin. Mulder loves me, she thought.

Skinner was breathing heavily through his nose. "Take two more days, Agent," he said. "I'm happy to see you both are alive and well." He eyed her suspiciously. "I'm happy to see you, at least."

"Oh, stuff it, sir," Mulder said, and wheeled around. Scully opened the door and they both left in good order. "Well, that went pretty well, I thought," he hissed to her in the elevator.

"You're totally mentally incompetent," Scully said, light-headed. "I don't want to drive. Can we just go home?"

Mulder drove them to his place, and went straight to bed. Scully, having the pleasant surprise of finding the bathtub slightly dusty, but otherwise clean, dumped half a bottle of Mulder's liquid soap into water as hot as she could stand it, and soaked until the tub was cold.

She came out, wearing his bathrobe, and saw that he was asleep. When she sat down on the bed beside him, he slitted his eyes, and held out one hand. She placed hers in it, and he pulled her down beside him. He smiled once, and went back to sleep. With one hand, she pulled a rubber band from her hair, and shook it loose; then, she went to sleep herself.

It was early afternoon when she awoke. Mulder slept soundly, not moving. She realized that he had never really slept, the entire time they had been overseas. One of his hands was still loosely clasping her wrist. She went back to sleep.

At some point, it got dark, and they moved under the covers, but slept on. When Scully finally awoke, it was seven in the morning, and she could hear water running in the bathroom sink; the morning news was on the bedroom television. Scully reached for the bathrobe and got up. "Mulder?" she called.

"In here. Come on in," he said, opening the door. He was shaking a can of shaving cream and gestured at her to come in.

Feeling awkward, Scully sat on the closed toilet lid and watched Mulder prepare to shave. He still looked thin, and all at once showed the marks of his short illness.

"Mulder," she began, and hesitated. He was smoothing shaving cream on his cheeks, but he paused and looked down at her. "What was that thing you said, when we were in bed?"

"Scully, we slept together for two weeks. You'll have to narrow it down for me."

"That one night. You said it was something you remembered. It sounded like part of a poem."

Above the white foam, his face reddened. "Oh. A poet named Hafiz. I don't think he was from Azerbaijan or anything." He shook the razor under the tap, and she thought he wasn't going to tell her. Turning back to the mirror, he finally said to it, " 'Open your tunic: I would lay my head Upon your heart----ah, deep within your side Silence and shelter sweet I ever found." He took a stroke, rinsed the razor. "Like I told Smith, I spent a lot of time reading at Oxford." He frowned at the mirror. "I stopped quoting poetry a long time ago, because----well, because nobody wanted to hear it."

He turned and smiled lopsidedly at her, and she felt as if it were New Year's Day.


The end

Notes: I resisted heartily writing a sequel, but I went ahead and did a lot of it, then began three other stories, then suddenly decided to finish it for SYBIL. But MaybeAmanda midwifed it, and Sybil did do this beta.

The XFiles and all things X are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox Broadcasting.
Used without permission. No infringement intended.

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