I've been working intermittently on this story, my first X-Files
fanfic, ever since I started watching the show on a regular basis--
just over a year ago now. The original concept I had was of a
villain who took over people's minds and forced them to commit
murders on his behalf, but then "Pusher" aired and I didn't want to
seem derivative, so I put the story on a back burner. Then I came up
with this alternative story and started working on it, only to
discover that "Demons" incorporated at least one of the same central
plot elements. *sigh* Seems I can't win... but I hope that readers
will enjoy this story nonetheless.
Rating: PG (for some violence, mature themes)
Classification: X/S, R, A
Minor spoilers for "Fire", "Memento Mori", "Small Potatoes"
Summary: When Mulder loses all his personal recollections to a woman
who feeds off her victims' memories, he is forced to re-evaluate his
life, his beliefs, and his relationship with Scully.
Assume all usual disclaimers.
Comments and criticisms gratefully accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
by Rebecca J. Anderson 1997
As he surfaced from the oily darkness, he heard voices,
whispering. Close, but elusive; hollow as the sound of a seashell
held to the ear. Perhaps it was the pain that made it hard to focus
-- that searing, piercing agony like a skewer thrust into one temple
and out through the other. He would have groaned if he hadn't been
sure it would only make the pain worse.
Light hammered at his eyelids, cold and merciless, demanding
entry. He winced and turned his head away in protest.
The voices became agitated. No longer whispering, they called
out to him, repeating a word that made no sense. Did they even speak
his language? Was it some sort of code? A name?
Of course, why should he think they were speaking to him at all?
The message, whatever it was, must be meant for someone else.
Someone who understood it. Not for him, whose mind was an echoing
gallery, stripped bare of whatever treasures it might once have
contained; whose thoughts and memories were a thousand jumbled puzzle
pieces, all painted black.
He wanted them to go away, to leave him in peace. He could
sleep here, maybe forever, if only they would turn off the light, if
only they would stop shouting.
His dry, cracked lips moved, his leaden tongue slurring the
words: "Stop it. My head's killing me."
At first the only answer was an incoherent noise. Then the
voices spoke again, rapidly, urgently, in unison:
"Mulder, I was just about to check your pulse. The way you went
down-- I thought you were dead."
Not voices. One voice. The roaring in his ears had made it
hard to tell. If only the pain would subside, he might be able to
tell whether it was a man or a woman speaking. But right now even
that much was impossible.
Well, at least he now knew that whoever it was, they were
talking to him. And they spoke English, so that strange, unfamiliar
word, "Mulder", must have some meaning in his language. It sounded
like a name.
For the first time since he had awakened, he felt afraid --
worse than afraid. Panic scrabbled beneath his ribcage, clawing at
his stomach. How could he not know his own last name? Maybe even
his first name -- there was no way to tell. Parents had been known
to come up with some crazy ideas, and he did feel certain that there
was something he didn't like about--
A small, red-furred canine renowned for stealth and cunning,
once widely hunted for sport. He remembered that: he remembered a
lot of other things, too, simple things, like the colour of the sky
and the boiling temperature of water and the tune of Beethoven's
Fifth. But somewhere, somehow, he had lost himself.
He swallowed down the sickness of his terror, forced himself to
speak calmly. "Where?"
"Where? What do you mean, where?"
Finally, the pain was beginning to subside. His companion's
voice still grated on his too-sensitive ears, but now it was coming
into focus. A girl's voice, or a small woman's, husky with anxiety.
"Mulder, what are you talking about?"
"I can't see," he told her patiently. "What about a fox?"
There was a long pause. Then she spoke in a whisper: "Mulder,
who am I?"
"You don't know either?" The sarcasm came naturally to his
lips, a familiar weapon brandished in the face of the unbearable.
"Boy, are we in trouble."
He heard a rustle of clothing as she shifted position, then a
long indrawn breath, as though she hoped to draw strength from the
air around them. He waited for her to speak, but she did not.
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
Sunlight stabbed at him, and he winced. But the worst of his
headache had gone, and it was really no worse than getting up in the
middle of the night and thoughtlessly flicking on a switch.
Squinting and blinking, he forced himself to focus on his
surroundings, to search for meaning and memory in the objects about
An unshaded light fixture, its bulb furred grey with dust,
dangled from the cracked plaster ceiling some ten feet above.
Instinctively he shifted his body away from it -- the thing looked
about to drop on his head any minute. Turning his head to one side,
he swept his gaze along the wall to his right, where an enormous,
characterless painting of an autumnal landscape teetered drunkenly on
its nail. The cracked-gilt frame was warped with age, the wallpaper
behind it faded and peeling. A beaded macrame sling, suspended from
a hook in the room's far corner, cradled the yellowed skeletons of
three spider plants; immediately beneath it squatted a television set
at least thirty years old, all its knobs missing.
"You know," he murmured, "I could be wrong, but I was kind of
expecting more from the afterlife than this."
"Mulder." Her tone was flat. "You don't seriously--"
"No." He pushed himself up to a sitting position, rubbing the
back of his hand across his eyes. "Not unless Satan does all his
shopping at bad garage sales. So where are we?"
"You really don't remember." There was a tremulous note in her
voice. "Mulder, look at me."
The sunlight which had once seemed so cruel was, in reality,
barely enough to see by. Heavy with dust motes, it filtered through
a pair of semi-sheer yellow curtains, painting the room in sepia
tones. He gazed at it a moment, letting his eyes adjust to its scant
radiance, then turned to regard his companion.
She was kneeling beside him, a slender figure in a tailored
jacket and dress slacks liberally streaked with dust. Hair bright as
molten copper curved about delicate yet individual features, a smooth
oval face with wide-set eyes and an aquiline curve to the nose.
"Fox Mulder," she said, with deliberate emphasis. "My name is
"Is it? Well, what do you know. Hello, Dana Scully. I have
two ridiculous-sounding names and you only have one. Did my parents
actually hate me, or were they just too stoned to know better?"
Even as he said it he knew he was speaking too quickly, his
voice riding the ragged edge of hysteria. He clenched his jaw,
willing himself calm.
"We are FBI agents," Scully went on, ignoring the quip.
"Partners, assigned to investigate cases involving unexplained
phenomena. We are currently at 49 Parkland Avenue, Bellemere, New
Jersey. The house belongs--"
He would have listened longer, but his gaze had focused on
something over her left shoulder. Breath hissing out of him, he
struggled to his feet.
Lying on the floor less than four feet away was the motionless
form of an enormous woman. She was dressed in a garishly patterned
caftan, her greying hair done up in curlers and her feet shoved into
dollar-store flip-flops. Her face, relaxed in unconsciousness,
looked as vulgar and harmless as the rest of her, except for the
blood oozing from her nose, pooling in the lines around her mouth.
Mulder turned an incredulous gaze to his partner. "She's--"
"Suffering from trauma to the occipital lobe, as a result of
being assaulted from behind with a blunt instrument. She has lost
consciousness and may be slipping into a coma." She spoke calmly,
not looking back at the woman. "I've done everything I can for her
at the moment; the ambulance is on its way."
"Who is she?"
"Her name is Leta Vicker. She's lived here for the past twenty-
"Who attacked her?"
Scully got to her feet, brushing the dust off her slacks with
brisk, economical strokes. "I did." She reached down beside the
woman's body, picked up a formidable-looking stoneware jug. Blood
and hair matted the rim, and there was a large chip missing from one
Mulder was silent.
"Aren't you going to ask why?" she said. "Or -- do you remember
"No. I don't. But I'm sure--" He hesitated. How was he sure?
Why was he sure? _Was_ he sure?
"--I'm sure you had a good reason."
Her jaw tightened, the soft lips firming into a determined line.
"Oh, believe me," she said. "I did."
Distantly, he heard the sound of sirens: one ambulance, two or
more police. He shut his eyes, suddenly exhausted by knowing so
much, and yet so little.
"Enough, Mulder." Scully's hand was on his arm, small and light
but surprisingly forceful. She led him to the sofa, made him sit
down, sat down beside him, close without touching. He was still
stunned by what she had done to the woman Leta Vicker, couldn't help
wondering how and why she had struck with such violence; yet he found
himself oddly comforted by her nearness, the faint fragrance of her
hair. He forced himself to relax, leaning back and closing his eyes.
"It'll come back to you," said Scully. "Within the next twenty-
four hours, forty-eight at most."
"Sure," he said.
But he knew neither of them believed it.
* * *
"How long has he been like this?"
The voice was deep, husky, coming from the broad chest of a
balding, bespectacled man with an air of military authority. The
sign on his desk read WALTER S. SKINNER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, but as
far as Mulder was concerned it might as well have been in Chinese.
He'd never seen the man before in his life.
Dana Scully answered after a moment's hesitation. "Since
yesterday afternoon, sir. The doctors at the hospital looked him
over, but they only confirmed my own findings: there is nothing
physically wrong with Agent Mulder. Whatever's caused this amnesia
is a purely psychological phenomenon."
"And you think the Vicker woman had something to do with this?"
She drew a long breath. "Yes, sir, I do. She appeared to have
some sort of -- hold over Agent Mulder, which I was only able to
break by knocking her unconscious. But when I did so, Mulder also
lost consciousness, and when he recovered he could remember nothing
about himself or me. At first I thought the memory loss to be merely
a form of hypnotic suggestion, but attempts at treatment by hypnosis
have so far proved unsuccessful."
"Go on," said Skinner, folding his muscular arms and looking at
her over the bridge of his glasses.
"Mulder's amnesia appears to be peculiarly selective. He
remembers general experiences -- what one might call common sense --
and also retains all the factual knowledge he gained through
education and training. I've quizzed him on everything from calculus
to Jungian psychology and he's passed the tests with ease. But he
doesn't remember anything about his personal identity or history,
including the X-Files he's worked on. It's as though everything that
made him Fox Mulder has been erased--"
"--resulting," said Mulder dryly, "in an annoying tendency by
those around him to refer to him in the third person. But otherwise
he feels fine, thanks."
Skinner's mouth twitched. He raised his eyebrows at Scully.
"Well," she admitted, "almost everything."
The Assistant Director leaned back against the desk and regarded
them a moment, his blunt face expressionless. At last he said,
"Agent Mulder, I am giving you a week's leave of absence."
Mulder looked over at Scully. "Is that good or bad?"
"Depends on how you feel about the X-Files," she replied
abstractedly. "But right now I'd say it's good. The more time you
can spend in a familiar environment -- your own apartment, with your
own belongings -- the more likely it is that you'll regain some of
your lost memories."
"I'm also assigning you, Agent Scully, to work with Agent Mulder
on this project." Skinner walked around the corner of his desk and
sat down in the tall leather-backed chair. "If his memory hasn't
returned by the end of the week, I'll consider reassigning you both."
"Sir--" began Scully in protest, but the Assistant Director held
up a warning hand.
"That will be all, Agent Scully."
"Yes, sir." She spoke quietly, but the tone was anything but
meek. She turned on her heel and walked out of the office. Mulder
glanced back at Skinner, but the A.D. had swivelled his chair around
dismissively. End of discussion, Agent Mulder. Run along home.
Fine, thought Mulder. I will.
If only he knew where 'home' was.
* * *
"Apartment 42? This is mine?"
"I'm afraid so," said Scully calmly. She unlocked the door and
pushed it open, motioning to him to precede her inside. Mulder did
so, barely glancing at the clutter of furniture and papers within.
After seeing the mess in his office, it was pretty much what he'd
"So..." He stopped in the entryway, turned to look at her,
willing her to see nothing in his face but honest puzzlement. "Why
do you have a key?"
"Because you gave it to me." An unhelpful answer on the
surface, but it told him everything he really needed to know. Fox
Mulder and Dana Scully were not, it seemed, romantically involved.
But they looked out for each other, and perhaps that was enough.
Suddenly uncomfortable with Dana's steady, blue-eyed gaze, he
turned and crossed the room to stand before the bookshelf. Tilting
his head for a better view, he read the titles aloud:
"The Great UFO Cover-Up. Aliens Over America. 50 True
Abduction Stories. Watchers from the Stars. What the Government
Doesn't Want You to Know About Extraterrestrials. Secrets of the
His fingers wandered over the volumes as he spoke. Most of the
spines were softened and creased, some even broken: they'd obviously
been consulted on a regular basis.
"Anything familiar?" said Scully from behind him.
"Nothing. I don't remember any of this."
She let out a barely audible sigh. "Well, keep trying."
"Scully, doesn't this stuff about aliens and conspiracies strike
"No." He shook his head. "I was going to say freaky."
The corners of her mouth turned up. She reached past him,
pulled _From Outer Space_ off the shelf and handed it to him. "That
too," she said. "But you might as well refresh your memory on this
one. Then you'll know what kind of 'freaky' things we have to work
with-- and at least it's an entertaining read."
He turned the book over in his hands, not looking at it,
watching her. "You don't believe in this."
Her expression was resigned. "Mulder, I'm not sure what I
believe. I've seen..." She paused, measuring her words. "...a few
things I can't explain."
"But you don't believe in these--" He waved a hand at the
bookshelf. "Little green men?"
"Gray," corrected Scully automatically, then seemed to realize
what they'd both just said. "Mulder, could you really have forgotten
"What?" He was bemused. "Were we abducted or something?"
"No. At least... no. Just that-- never mind." For a moment
her composure was shaken, and he'd have given anything to know why,
but he suspected she wouldn't tell him even if he asked. His eyes
followed her as she walked about the room, running her fingers across
the back of the sofa, pausing by the fish tank to shake a few flakes
into the water, not looking at him.
"Take some time, Mulder," she said at last. "Look around. See
if anything seems familiar, triggers any associations for you." She
turned toward the door, pushing her small hands into the pockets of
her trenchcoat. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."
"Where are you going?" His voice cracked on the last word, and
he felt a surge of anger at his own weakness. But if anyone knew Fox
Mulder, this woman did: he knew that instinctively. And he didn't
want her to leave him alone, in this unfamiliar place, a stranger
even to himself.
If she sensed his panic, she gave no sign of it. "I've just got
a few errands to run." She pulled open the door and walked out into
the hall, her movements easy and purposeful, and there was nothing he
could do but watch her go.
For all the clutter, the apartment seemed too big and too empty
once she had left. Mulder climbed over the back of the sofa and sat
down in front of the darkened TV set, pushing his hands through his
hair. Any moment, he told himself, the memories would start to come
back. Little flashes of recollection: words, images, feelings, the
million minor details of thought and impression that make up a human
life. Mulder's life.
Whoever Mulder was.
He closed his eyes, forced himself to concentrate. Okay, Fox--
your name is Fox, remember that-- let's play a game. Pick a year,
any year. 1968. Day? Christmas. Everybody remembers Christmas,
right? So where were you, what were you doing, on December 25th,
I was with my family?
Good, that's a start.
No, he told himself bitterly, that was a guess. I have no
memories of 1968. I don't remember Christmas, any Christmas. And
for all I know, I could be an orphan.
Exasperated, he flung himself back to his feet and stalked off
to the kitchen. Did he like coffee? He wasn't sure, but there was
some in the cupboard, and he at least remembered how to make it.
A cup and a half later he made his way back to the sofa, pushed
a stack of papers off the arm, and stretched his long legs out across
the cushions. Enough, he told himself, leaning back and closing his
eyes. You've been tense all day. Just relax, unwind, let yourself
drift. You never know what might come...
What came, eventually, was sleep: but it was a thin, troubled
sleep, full of incoherent dreams, and he took no pleasure in it.
When he woke, bleary-eyed and yawning, his eyes focused first on
Scully, who seemed to have made an eerily noiseless re-entry to his
apartment-- or perhaps he'd just slept more deeply than he'd thought.
She was seated with her usual cool composure in the chair beside the
sofa, sorting through the documents he'd carelessly left lying all
over the floor. She cast him only the briefest glance as he swung
his legs around and sat up, rubbing his eyes with the back of his
"You didn't look at these, I take it," she said.
"No. What are they?"
"As it happens, this file contains what little information we
have on this case-- your case, Mulder."
He quirked his eyebrows at her. "Care to give me the details in
three thousand words or less?"
Dana arched one of her brows in reply, a gesture so elegant as
to be almost condescending-- as though she were showing him how it
was done. It ought to have annoyed him, but instead he felt a rush
of warmth through his body, a tide of amusement and affection that
surprised him with its intensity. "Come on, Scully," he said. "Tell
me a story. I'd rather listen to you than read."
Something flickered across her face, and was gone: surprise, or
pleasure, or pain, he couldn't tell. "All right," she said at last.
"We started this case two weeks ago, with the sudden and unexplained
death of a man named Gregory Hatchett..."
* * *
"Let me be sure I've got this straight," said Mulder. "Eleven
deaths over the course of twenty-five years, all of them linked only
by general geographical area and the state of the victims when found-
- brain-dead but otherwise in perfect or near-perfect physical
health. Death attributable to no evident external cause; poison or
viral infection ruled out. Victims apparently unconnected to each
other, or to the suspect, by acquaintance or any detail of
appearance, age, or background. So how, exactly, did we settle on
Leta Vicker as our suspect?"
"We hadn't settled on anything, Mulder. In fact, I didn't agree
that the deaths were necessarily connected. However, you insisted
you had a lead and were going to check it out. You left me just
after breakfast this morning and went to interview a possible witness
you'd just learned about, a woman whose twin sister had died under
similar mysterious circumstances a long time ago. You'd been warned
that she was an eccentric and a recluse, but you thought she might
know something useful, so you went to her house."
"So what were you doing during all this?"
"I was over at the county hospital. I looked up the data from
Ilona Vicker's postmortem, and found out that she had been in
excellent physical health but was found brain-dead like the others; I
also found out that a police report had been filed regarding her
death, so I went over to the station to look through their archives.
Apparently Leta had been found sobbing over her sister's dead body
and repeating, 'I killed her, I killed her,' but since there was no
evidence of foul play and Leta refused to elaborate on how she had
supposedly murdered her twin, she was merely sent for a brief period
of psychiatric treatment before being released."
"And that sent you rushing off to save me from the Evil Brain-
Eating Woman?" said Mulder, with a mixture of admiration and
"No, I tried to call you on your cell phone and you didn't
answer. _That_ was what made me decide to track you down and see
what was going on."
"And when you reached the house--"
"You know the rest." She gave a little shrug. "Which is more
than I can say, to be quite honest. I still don't understand what
she did-- was doing-- to you. Or why."
Mulder nodded slowly, letting his gaze drop from hers to the
hands that lay loosely folded in her lap. Small, slender fingers,
smooth nails glimmering with faint pearlescence; there was a
delicate, understated beauty to the shape of those hands, a subtle
grace that suited Dana Scully perfectly. Michaelangelo might have
carved them from alabaster-- might have carved her entire, with her
classical profile and her luminous skin. He had seen a statue of
Athena once with that serenity in her face, those level eyes...
"The Metropolitan Museum!" he burst out, and Scully's brows shot
"Mulder, I thought I was getting used to your leaps in logic,
but that's the most bizarre nonsequitur--"
"No, no, listen." Excitement surging through him, he sat
forward on the couch, leaned toward her, willing her to pay
attention. "I went on a school trip, when I was eleven, and we
toured the Museum. I was fascinated by the statues: I kept wanting
to touch them, feel what the sculptor felt, the form within the
stone. I remember the room, I remember the statues, I remember
waiting until the guard's back was turned and reaching out-- Scully,
Light sparked in the blue eyes that met his, and he could tell
that she, too, shared his exhilaration. "Mulder, think. What else
do you remember about that trip? Your schoolmates? The teacher?"
"I--" For a moment his face was alive with memory and hope:
then the light died, and he sank back against the cushions. "It's
gone, Da-- Scully. I've lost it." He clenched his fists in
frustration. "Where did it come from? Where did it go?"
"Mulder--" she began, but whatever she had been about to say was
cut off by the shrilling of her cell phone. She pulled the slim
receiver from her pocket, held it to her ear: "Scully."
A pause. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" Another pause.
"I see. And how is she now? Good. What? No, not at all. Keep me
posted if there's anything more. Thank you. Goodbye."
"Leta Vicker, I take it," said Mulder.
"Yes." Scully flicked the phone closed, returned it to its
place. "Her heart stopped for a minute. They thought they'd lost
her. But she's recovering now-- though she still hasn't come out of
His eyes went wide. "Scully..."
"I know what you're going to say, Mulder. Don't say it.
There's no reason to believe--"
"Isn't there? Look at the evidence. Are you really going to
tell me it's pure chance that my flash of recollection-- the first
I've had all day-- would coincide exactly with Leta Vicker's heart
failure? You saw what happened in that house, Scully: you know
better than I do. That woman has my memories. That woman has _me_."
He started to his feet, his mouth hardening in determination. "I'm
going to see her."
"Mulder, don't do this. You're in no condition--" Abruptly she
stopped, closed her eyes, took a deep breath. "If you're going, I'm
coming with you."
"Well, sure," said Mulder, surprised. "Why shouldn't you?" He
held out his hand to her.
Scully looked at him a moment, evidently taken aback by the
gesture; then her face cleared, and she reached out in return. She
squeezed his hand briefly, reassuringly, before letting it drop.
"All right, then," she said. "Let's go."
* * *
"I had no idea," said Mulder with mingled interest and
revulsion, "that hospital gowns came in extra-extra-large."
They stood by Leta Vicker's bedside, gazing down at the
enormous, shapeless mass of her body, so still within its tangle of
tubes and wires. Her eyes were closed, the slack features void of
expression: only the blip of her heart monitor and the slow rise and
fall of her broad chest beneath the blankets gave any sign that she
was alive at all.
"Mulder," said Scully. "She may be able to hear you."
"I certainly hope so." He moved around to the other side of the
bed, his eyes still fixed on Leta's face. "I wouldn't have come here
otherwise." Slowly he reached behind him, pulled up a chair, sat
down by the bedside.
"Good evening, Ms. Vicker," he said.
Silence. He licked his lips, wondering what to say next,
feeling suddenly foolish to be talking to someone who couldn't
possibly respond. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw Dana slip
back through the curtains, heading silently for the door. Yeah,
you're right, he thought. Good call, Scully. Once more the feeling
of gratitude, of admiration, ran through him; he wondered if the
other Fox Mulder-- the real one-- had ever felt that way about his
partner. If he had, he probably hadn't told her. Everything he'd
learned about the man so far suggested that he liked to play his
emotional cards very close to his chest.
Maybe too close.
Mulder's hand closed hard around the bed rail. He leaned
forward in the seat, spoke in a low voice: "I know you can hear me,
Ms. Vicker. And I'm fairly sure you can guess why I'm here."
Beep, said the heart monitor. Beep. Beep. Beep.
"I don't know what you saw in me when I walked into your house.
I don't know if you were afraid or angry or just curious. All I know
is that you grabbed my mind and you wouldn't let go. Was that how
you killed the others, Ms. Vicker? Did you peel away their thoughts,
their memories, layer by layer, until there was nothing left?"
Beep-- beep-- beep-- beep-- beep--
Mulder gave her a grim twist of a smile. "So we're
communicating. All right, then, listen to me. I don't know why you
took my memories or what you planned to do with them, but they're no
good to you now. I'm alive, and your little secret is out. We even
know about Ilona--"
The door banged open and two nurses rushed in, one young and
plump, the other tall and grey-haired, and both quite obviously
furious. "What are you doing here? How did you get in?"
Automatically he reached for his badge, flipped it open to show
them. The movement was so smooth, so unconscious, it had to be sheer
reflex: he couldn't remember ever having done it before. "Agent Fox
Mulder, FBI. This woman is a suspect in a case we're investigating."
"This woman," said the taller nurse with barely concealed
irritation, "is in critical condition, and has nothing to say to you,
Agent Mulder. I suggest you leave the room now."
He rose to his feet, opened his mouth to retort-- and a wave of
pain smashed through his temples. A tidal surge of jumbled emotions
and impressions, of agony and confusion and fear and betrayal and
loss, flooded into his mind, leaving him blank-faced and gasping. He
spun toward the bed, staring at the woman lying there: at that
moment, he could have sworn, her mouth twitched in a little,
"This guy's wacked out," he heard the young nurse exclaim from
her place beside the bed. "How'd he get in here?"
All at once Scully was beside him, her hands gripping his
forearms, her face alive with concern. "Mulder, what happened?"
"Who are you?" demanded the older nurse.
"Agent Dana Scully with the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
We had special clearance to visit the suspect-- apparently you
weren't informed. However, it seems my partner has been taken ill,
so we'll be leaving now." Expertly, and with surprising strength for
a woman so small, she guided Mulder toward the door. "Good night."
They were in the elevator, halfway to the ground floor, before
the pain in Mulder's mind began to clear and he was able to speak
again. "Leta Vicker," he rasped, pinching the bridge of his nose
where the last of the headache still lingered. "She did this to me,
"Mulder, _what_ did she do?"
He swallowed back the sickness in his throat, forced himself to
look at her, though the light still made him wince. "Metaphorically
speaking, she punched me in the head. I've got about a hundred nasty
images running around my brain at the moment, and I don't think any
of them belong to me. Unless I've had ovarian cysts, or watched my
wife sneaking out of my fortieth birthday party with my best friend--
"No." She frowned. "But if these memories aren't yours--"
"The woman's a vampire, Scully." He spoke with deliberate
emphasis. "She feeds off of other people's memories. Other people's
lives. And I just got served the bone and gristle from Leta Vicker's
"Twelve," said Scully.
He gave a short laugh. "No. I don't count. She didn't even
give me that."
"I meant Ilona."
"You..." He looked down at her, surprised. "So you believe
She shook her head. "I don't know what to believe. But it's
the only hypothesis we've got at the moment, and frankly, I'm too
tired to try and come up with anything better."
It was an admission, and an important one: he could sense that
much, even if he couldn't quite tell why. It seemed only natural,
only right, that he should put an arm around her, a wordless gesture
of appreciation for giving him the benefit of her scientific doubt.
He felt her stiffen as his fingers closed around her shoulder, and
realized belatedly that Fox Mulder was probably not in the habit of
hugging his partner-- or at least not very often. But before he
could pull away, she relaxed and leaned against him, and everything
was all right again.
"Sleep on it, Mulder," she said, slipping out of his grasp as
the elevator doors opened on the lobby. "I'll see you in the
* * *
He was exhausted, but he couldn't sleep. Lying on an unfamiliar
bed, staring into the shadows of a room as empty as his mind, he
wondered if Fox Mulder usually had trouble with insomnia, and if so,
what he did about it. At last, in frustration, he flung the covers
aside, pulled on a pair of worn grey track pants, and padded barefoot
out into the living room. Switching on the desk lamp, he gazed
around him at the dimly lit apartment, cluttered with books and
papers and badly in need of a dusting. Well, he thought, if you
can't sleep, you can at least do something useful. Methodically he
began sorting through the papers on the desk, stacking them into neat
"Mulder," he said to himself a short time later, "you are a man
in serious need of a life." The news clippings and articles that
littered the desk ranged from the latest analysis of the Zapruder
film to a photograph of a mutilated cow, but all of them were either
bizarre or paranoid or some combination of both. This was not
normal: he was sure of it. What could make a healthy, young, not
entirely unattractive Oxford graduate, with a master's degree in
psychology and a successful FBI career, obsessed with this sort of
tabloid insanity? Even granted that there were people in the world
like Leta Vicker, it was a long leap from a guarded belief in certain
paranormal phenomena here on Earth to a wholesale acceptance of
little green men-- or grey ones, for that matter-- from outer space.
And then there was Scully. For all her reserved and efficient
manner, he'd sensed a warmth in her today, a concern and a care for
his welfare that had touched him deeply. There was no pity in her
manner, no condescension, and yet it was clear that she was
accustomed to looking out for her partner's welfare in an infinite
variety of ways. It was equally obvious, to his self-disgust, that
she was accustomed to being taken for granted.
Was the man blind, or stupid, or just an insensitive jerk? It
hadn't taken him long to see that Dana Scully was a remarkable woman.
Beautiful, intelligent, compassionate yet firmly in control of her
emotions, there were depths to her character that put most other
women to shame. Even without his memories of the time they had
worked together, he could tell that much. Had Fox Mulder never
noticed, never tried to explore those depths? From Dana's reactions
to his few small gestures of kindness and appreciation-- surprise
followed by ready acceptance-- it seemed that he had not. For
whatever reason, the "real" Mulder was keeping his distance.
He had to be an idealist, he decided. Too busy tilting at
windmills and dreaming of Dulcinea to appreciate a real woman when he
met her. Or maybe he was threatened by Dana's resourcefulness and
intellect-- preferred a woman who would gaze at him in cow-eyed
admiration and never threaten his ego.
If so, he was more of a fool than he'd thought.
By the time he finished tidying the desk, his limbs felt heavy,
and he could feel his eyelids beginning to droop. He straightened
the framed picture beside the desk lamp-- a photograph of a little
girl he didn't recognize, but he presumed she must be a relative,
with that dark hair and those soulful eyes-- and flopped onto the
couch, grabbing a blanket from the floor and pulling it over him.
For some reason the sofa felt better than his bed had done, the
pillows more comfortable and familiar. Within a few minutes he was
* * *
"Mulder, it's me."
The voice on the other end of the line was Scully's. Cradling
the phone receiver against his ear, Mulder managed to raise his head
and uncross his eyes long enough to look at the clock on the desk.
To his surprise, the glowing letters read 10:13. He must have been
more tired than he realized.
"Hey there," he drawled sleepily. "Sorry I didn't catch you on
the first ring. Just call me Little Mulder in Slumberland. How's it
going? You okay?"
"I'm fine," she replied after a fractional pause, sounding
faintly perplexed. Somehow he'd managed to surprise her again,
although he couldn't think how or why. "I just called to make sure
everything was all right with you. I'm afraid something's come up
with Charles, and I've--"
Mulder was instantly and unpleasantly awake, as though someone
had thrown a bucket of ice water over his head. "Charles?"
"Oh, sorry. My brother."
The relief was intense, but he managed to keep it out of his
voice. "Right. What's the problem?"
"Well, his wife's mother just fell and broke her hip-- they've
got to go with her to the hospital. And I seem to be the only
babysitter they could get on short notice, so I'll be looking after
my nephew for a few hours. I know we'd planned to go over those case
files today, but--"
"Don't worry about it." He spoke with all the reassurance and
affirmation he could muster, determined not to betray the
disappointment he really felt. "I'll be fine. Go ahead and be with
She made a little noise in her throat, halfway between a chuckle
and a groan. "And wind up watching _Babe_ for the thirty-eighth
time, no doubt."
The remark sounded cynical, but the fondness in her voice gave
her away, and Mulder found himself grinning into the phone. "You
love the kid, Scully. Confess."
Another startled pause. Then, her voice husky: "Yeah. Yeah,
Mulder, I do." She drew a deep breath. "Thanks for understanding.
I'll see you later. 'Bye."
"Bye," he said, and hung up.
For a long time after the conversation ended he simply sat
there, staring at nothing. Part of him wished he'd volunteered to go
with Scully, keep her company. Meet the kid, even-- if Dana liked
her nephew that much, he couldn't be too bad. But the more sensible
part of him felt sure that this was not the sort of thing a
professional partner would normally do, and definitely not something
that would have occurred to Fox Mulder.
Of course, cleaning his apartment didn't seem to have occurred
to Fox Mulder either, and yet that was exactly how he intended to
spend the day. Poking through old belongings might trigger some of
his lost memories, as Scully had suggested: and even if it didn't
work in quite that way, the exercise would tell him more about the
man he once had been. At the very least, tidying up would make him
feel as though he'd achieved something, instead of sitting around
No, he wasn't going to think about that. An unpleasant (well,
okay, maybe it wasn't that unpleasant, just potentially embarrassing)
realization was stealing up on him, ready to sneak into his awareness
at any unguarded moment, and he was determined to keep those
treacherous thoughts at bay. What he was going to think about now
was breakfast, and then he'd roll up his sleeves-- as soon as he had
some sleeves to roll-- and get to work.
Half an hour later he was on his hands and knees in the hall
closet, discovering just how many pairs of old, broken-down athletic
shoes one man could own. Mulder seemed to be into running (go fast,
go hard, test your limits, feel the adrenalin surge) and basketball
(compete, outmaneuver, leap high, grab the glory). He had a stack of
old LP's ranging from Elvis to Joy Division and, judging from the
seductive scrawl across the back of one dusty Fleetwood Mac album, an
ex-girlfriend named Phoebe Green. There was a box of back issues of
something called _The Lone Gunman_ which, when he flipped idly
through the most recent copy, merely confirmed the paranoia and
cynicism he'd sensed in Fox Mulder while clearing up his desk last
night. He also found a few copies of _Omni_, containing articles by
one M. F. Luder.
Very cute, he thought wryly. He gave the "Luder" articles his
full attention, and found them both articulately worded and
intelligently reasoned, which was reassuring. Still, something about
the logic eluded him, and he couldn't understand the passion behind
the arguments. Maybe there was extraterrestrial life and maybe there
wasn't-- was it really that important? No wonder Scully kept a firm
grip on her skepticism: without it, her partner could spend his
whole life with his head in the clouds-- or, perhaps more accurately,
By eleven-thirty he'd finished the closet and moved on to the
kitchen. There wasn't a lot in the cupboards or the refrigerator:
it seemed he wasn't into gourmet cooking. In fact, the wrappers and
cartons stuffed into the overflowing garbage can argued convincingly
that Mulder's four major food groups were subs, pizza, McDonald's and
Chinese. He looked in the freezer and discovered only a bag of ice,
a half-eaten container of Rocky Road and...
Frowning, he reached into the back of the freezer and pulled out
a slim tube of frosted glass, so cold it burned his palm. The vial
was tightly stoppered: he couldn't tell what substance it contained.
A chemical compound of some sort, perhaps, or a biological sample
from some long-forgotten case. It was dated 10/94.
He held it in his hand for some time, puzzling over its
significance, when he realized that the warmth of his skin would thaw
the sample, probably ruin it. He was about to replace it in the
freezer when he realized that the tube was just as cold as it had
been when he first touched it. Bringing it up to eye level for a
closer examination, he observed with surprise that the stopper itself
seemed to be a miniature refrigeration unit. Whoever had put this
sample together wasn't taking any chances of it going to waste-- but
that still didn't tell him what was in it.
In the end, no wiser than he had been in the beginning, he put
the vial back in the freezer, made himself a generous sandwich and
wandered back out to the living room. Idly he switched on the TV,
found out that the Knicks were playing the Raptors, and sat down to
watch. He wasn't expecting to feel much enthusiasm-- after all, he
couldn't even remember the last game he'd seen, or the current stats,
or even what teams he liked. But within minutes his reservations
were forgotten, and he found himself on the edge of his seat, leaning
forward, urging the players on. By the end of the game he was on his
feet with the television crowd, punching a victorious fist into the
air as the Knicks nailed an effortless three-pointer with two seconds
to go and the Raptors limped off the court, defeated.
Maybe Fox Mulder wasn't such a bad guy after all.
Switching off the TV, he headed into the bedroom, considerably
cheered. Okay, so he was a bit eccentric, but so were a lot of
people. Maybe chasing flying saucers was just a geeky kind of hobby,
like trainspotting or going to Star Trek conventions. It didn't make
you dangerous, it didn't mean you were completely out of touch with
reality, it just meant that you had a bit more imagination than you
knew what to do with. Humming the "Twilight Zone" theme to himself,
he crouched down and stuck an arm under the bed, bracing himself for
the inevitable fistful of dust bunnies, old socks, and chocolate bar
He found all of those things, but he also found something more.
A sliding drift of magazines, their glossy paper crinkling beneath
his fingertips. _Sports Illustrated_? _Starlog_? _Fangoria_?
It absolutely can't be, tell me it isn't, there's no way any man
with Dana Scully for a partner could, please don't let it--
He closed his hand around a fistful of magazines and pulled them
into the light. "Celebrity Skin," he read aloud, woodenly. "Adult
Video News." Sweet mercy, there wasn't even a copy of _Playboy_ in
the lot: nothing that would let him believe he'd bought it for the
articles. He flipped through a few issues in a sort of horrified
fascination, feeling his stomach roil, the blood pound through his
body, at the mindless exposure of so much female flesh.
He pushed the magazines away from him violently, feeling like a
traitor. Worse than that: an adulterer. And he wasn't even
married. He glanced back down at the heap of magazines, his mouth
twisting in revulsion. Well, he knew what to do with _these_--
_Adult *Video* News._
He pushed himself up to his feet, stalked out into the living
room, and crouched down beside the entertainment unit. Pulling open
the drawer below the TV, he gazed with loathing at the provocatively
labelled spines of nearly thirty bought-and-paid-for movies. Beside
them were a row of unmarked tapes, probably recordings off some
"Fox Mulder," he breathed, "you are slime."
Even so, for just a moment, his hand wavered over the videos:
part of him could _feel_ the pull, the curiosity. But at the same
time, he couldn't shake the feeling that Dana Scully was in the room
with him, standing just out of sight, watching him. Not saying
anything, either to encourage or rebuke: just quietly, patiently,
He clenched his teeth and started pulling the tapes out of the
* * *
The fire hissed and licked at the inside of the garbage can,
eager for more. Mulder stood over it, methodically feeding it page
after page, issue after issue. Languid eyes and parted lips curled
and twisted in the heat, forms and features shading irrevocably into
blackness. Every cruel month of the past five years, gone forever.
Like the rest of his life.
Only this felt good.
He flung his arms wide over the flaming can, relinquishing the
last few magazines. They fluttered into the blaze, opening to its
heat like so many pink roses. For a moment they were beautiful,
their pages limned with glory. Then they were gone.
"Mulder, what are you doing?"
He turned. The fire, as though grateful, stroked his back,
kneaded warmth into his chilled and cramping muscles. He didn't
resist it. "It's all right. Go on inside. I'll be up in a minute."
Scully shook her head, a little frown creasing her brows.
Wrapping her arms about herself to hold in what little heat her
trench coat had to give, she walked up to him, glanced into the trash
can. The last of the firelight reached out to her with trembling
golden fingers, touched her hair, her face. Then it collapsed and
died, leaving them to the mercy of the shadows and the bitter
At the bottom of the can, beneath a drift of black ash, lay a
pile of warped and shattered videotapes. She gazed down at them, her
"Well," she said finally. "This is a change."
"Scully, how do you stand him?"
Her head jerked up. Her eyes searched his face, incredulous.
"You mean-- Mulder?"
"I can't think of him as me," he said. He jammed his hands into
the pockets of his coat, hunched his shoulders. "I mean, I know he
is, but... the more I know about him the more I wish I'd been
"He's my partner," said Scully quietly. "We've been through a
"You're a very loyal person, Dana Scully."
"He doesn't deserve you."
A smile touched one corner of her mouth. "Mulder, this is the
FBI. Not the Lonely Hearts Dating Service."
He felt blood warming his face, like the memory of fire. "No.
But I thought-- you were friends."
"Of course we are." The pale oval of her face waned to a
crescent as she turned her head away from him, toward the lighted
street. "Mulder, it's cold. Are you finished?"
"Yeah." He took the empty matchbook out of his pocket, tossed
it in the can. "Come on up. I'll make us some coffee."
They walked up the stairs to his apartment in silence. He took
her coat, shrugged off his own, hung them up together in a closet now
scrupulously clean. When he turned to look at Scully, her face was
blank with wonder.
"Mulder, you-- I don't even recognize this place."
"Good," he said shortly, and went to put on the coffee. Dana
walked slowly about the room, running her hands up and down her arms
to ward off the last of the chill. She was dressed more casually
than he had ever seen her before, in jeans and a sage-green cashmere
sweater. He glanced at her surreptitiously as he worked, stealing
glimpses of that serene, yet somehow incredibly vital, beauty.
"I'm just-- amazed," she said at last, turning toward him with a
"Yeah, well, there's a lot to be said for boredom." Mulder
flashed a grin at her, was glad to see her smile broaden in return.
"Hey, how'd it go with the nephew?"
Her face relaxed into wistfulness. "He's such a sweet kid.
"And cute as all-get-out, I'll bet."
"Yeah, that too." She shook her head ruefully. "I let him get
away with far too much. No wonder he's always asking when Auntie
Dana's going to come back."
Mulder feigned astonishment. "Dana Scully, are you telling me
you're a soft touch?"
She gave a little, embarrassed laugh. "Well, I try not to be,
"I'm so disillusioned."
"Hey," she said, with mock indignation. "I keep you in line,
He gave her the Groucho eyebrows, waved an imaginary cigar.
"And I love every minute of it."
Her laughter was all the reward he needed. He brought her her
coffee, motioned her to a seat, and sat down on the opposite end of
the couch, close but not too close. He didn't want her to feel
threatened; he suspected she had a strong concept of personal space,
and he respected that.
"This is good coffee," said Scully after a moment. "Thanks."
"Yeah, well, apparently the ability to make coffee isn't
intimately linked to my persona, so I got away with that much. I can
tell you, though, I'm having absolutely no luck with the violin."
"To the best of my knowledge, Mulder, you don't even own a
"You see the problem."
She smiled again. "Leta Vicker may have walked off with your
memories, Mulder, but it's obvious not even she could cope with your
sense of humor."
He clapped a hand to his heart. "Ouch."
"Seriously, though--" She shifted around to look at him, her
gaze intent-- "you went like a tornado through this whole apartment:
did you discover anything?"
"Aside from the fact that I'm a lousy housekeeper and have no
taste in entertainment, you mean?" he began lightly, then caught the
look in her eye and relented. "No," he said more quietly. "The
things that belonged to Fox Mulder mean nothing to me. I haven't
experienced any more memory flashes since last night: nothing seems
to trigger any associations. There's still so much missing, so much
I don't understand--" He shook his head, looked down into the black
depths of his coffee. "I don't even know where to begin."
For a moment Scully was silent, her expression pensive. At last
she began, softly, to speak:
"Your full name is Fox William Mulder. You were born on October
13, 1961 in Chilmark, Massachusetts..."
* * *
"Well," said Mulder when she had finished. His voice sounded
rough: self-consciously he cleared his throat before going on.
"That's... more than I expected."
Scully arched an eyebrow at him. "What did you expect?"
"I don't know. I can understand now, a little, why he turned
out that way... where the obsessions come from. But to be honest,
Dana, I don't share them." He shifted a little closer to her on the
couch, wanting her to sense his earnestness. "Don't get me wrong--
if I believed Samantha was still alive somewhere, waiting to be
found, I'd go after her in a second. But from everything you've told
me, it doesn't sound that likely. It's one thing to chase down a
genuine lead: another to pull leads out of thin air, which if you
ask me is more like what Mulder was doing."
"Why do you do that?" asked Scully flatly.
He was taken aback. "What?"
"You're talking about yourself, Mulder. The person you are.
Not some other person. If you insist on divorcing yourself from--"
"But I do insist." He shook his head. "Dana, I feel sorry for
the man. I really do. But the more I think about what Leta Vicker
took from me, the more inclined I am to let her keep it."
He had barely finished the sentence before he saw her shifting
back on the couch, folding her arms and crossing one leg over the
other. Defensive posture, he thought with a flash of irritation.
Don't do this to me, Scully. You haven't heard me out. Still, she
made no attempt to interrupt, so he went on with renewed urgency:
"What you've told me about your work together over the past four
years-- I know you're onto something here, something important. The
truth is worth searching for, worth any risk: I still believe that.
But without Fox Mulder's memories, I can't share his... bizarre
obsessions." He raised his head, meeting her gaze. "I can't help
that, Dana. I'm sorry."
"No," she said. "No, I... appreciate your honesty." She looked
away from him, toward the darkened window. "But you'll have to
forgive me if I'm not inclined to give up on my partner so readily."
"You wouldn't be his friend if you were," he said gently.
She was silent a moment, gazing down at the pillow she'd pulled
onto her lap: then she gave a short, mirthless laugh. "I can't get
used to this," she said.
"This. Just... I don't know." With an abrupt motion she pushed
herself off the couch, walked over to stand by the fish tank, letting
her hand trail lightly over the surface of the water. Drawn to the
rippling movement, one bold guppy drifted to the top of the tank,
mouth moving in eager anticipation, all but kissing her fingertips.
Yeah, thought Mulder. You and me both.
Scully spoke again, her voice distant: "You probably don't
realize it, but you've just called me 'Dana' more times in five
minutes than you have in the last three years."
Mulder's eyebrows shot up. "You're serious?"
"I see." He paused cautiously. "Does it bother you?"
"No. It's just... different."
Still, he could sense her discomfort. "Call me Fox, then," he
said. "Make it even."
She turned toward him, incredulous. "The one time I tried to do
that, you told me you made even your parents call you 'Mulder'."
"Maybe he felt that way. I don't." He shrugged. "There are
worse names. And frankly, the more I hear about this 'Mulder'
guy..." He let the sentence trail off, looked down at his hands.
"Not that it matters. It's up to you."
Dana gazed at him a moment. Then she walked over to him,
deliberately pulled the pillow he'd been clutching out of his grasp.
"No offense," she said, "but I was starting to get flashbacks to
Eddie Van Blundht."
He looked at her blankly.
"Never mind." She wrapped her own arms around the pillow, sat
down once more at the far end of the couch, tucking her legs beneath
her with a catlike economy of movement. Mulder was almost certain
she'd been teasing him: but when she raised her blue eyes to his,
they were serious. "We will get through this, Mulder," she said
"I want to believe that," he replied with equal quietness.
They looked at each other, steadily, without speaking; the
silence between them seemed somehow louder and more potent than
words. In the end it was Scully who looked away, a tinge of colour
creeping into her cheeks. "I'd better go," she said. "We're both
too tired to get any real work done tonight anyway." Without waiting
for his reply she uncurled herself from the couch, moved briskly
toward the closet where he had hung her coat.
He followed her, reaching the door a stride before she did,
taking the trenchcoat off the hanger and holding it for her. It
occurred to him belatedly that she might find the gesture
chauvinistic, even condescending; but before he could even complete
that thought, she had slipped into the coat, turned back to look up
at him. There was a question in her eyes, but he couldn't be quite
sure what that question was, let alone how to answer it.
"Good night, Scully," he said.
"Good night--" she began, then stopped short, her lips half-
parted, obviously troubled by whatever she had been about to say.
"Good night," she repeated at last, gave him a thin smile and slipped
out the door, closing it gently behind her.
Mulder stood motionless, listening to her footsteps until they
died away. Then, slowly, almost automatically, he walked back over
to the couch where she had been sitting and lowered himself down.
The cushions were still warm from her body, and the merest whisper of
her delicate, elusive scent seemed to hover in the air. He leaned
back, breathing in deeply, closing his eyes.
But he didn't let himself think about what he was doing.
* * *
"I've brought the case files," said Scully crisply when he
opened the door the next morning. She was dressed in a sombre shade
of blue, the lines of her blouse and slacks clean and precise, almost
as though she were on duty. Before he could even wish her good
morning, she had brushed past him-- not quite rudely, but
purposefully-- and sat down at his kitchen table, spreading a series
of manila folders out across the glossy surface. If she had stamped
BUSINESS NOT PLEASURE across her forehead her intentions could not
have been more obvious.
"Good morning to you too," muttered Mulder, pushing his hand
through the sleeve of the sweatshirt he'd just donned and walking
resignedly over to join her.
"Don't let me stop you from having breakfast," Scully told him,
not looking up as she sorted through papers and photographs,
organizing them into neat piles.
Silently Mulder poured himself a bowl of Rice Chex, put the
coffee on, and sat down, gazing down the length of the table at his
partner. She still refused to look directly at him, he noticed:
something about last night had troubled her, put her on her guard.
Or maybe-- just maybe-- it was something else. Not everything
was about him, after all...
"Did you hear anything from your brother?" he asked quietly.
Dana's head snapped up, startled blue eyes focusing on his.
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, you seemed a little distracted. I thought perhaps you'd
had some bad news."
"No. No, it's... nothing like that." She looked down at her
files again, paused, and added more softly, "But thanks for asking."
He gave an uncomfortable shrug. "Just wondered. So, what have
we got here?"
"I was looking over these cases again last night after I got
home, and I think I've noticed a pattern." She pushed a set of
folders across the table toward him. "See if you come to the same
For several minutes he did not reply, his eyes fixed on the
documents he was reading, the photographs that accompanied them: the
stories and pictures of twelve people of varying ages, genders and
social backgrounds, seemingly unconnected by any details. Except...
He looked up. "I've got it, Scully. This one--" He held up
the picture of Marcia Dexter, a smiling blonde woman in her mid-
thirties-- "was married with three children. And this man--" He
pulled out a second picture, an elderly man with a lined but pleasant
face-- "had spent his life travelling around the world."
Dana nodded. "Go on."
"Relationships, successful careers, popularity, money, talent,
beauty--" Mulder slapped the pictures down onto the table. "All
these people had at least one thing in their lives that Leta Vicker
"It began with Ilona," said Scully quietly. "The girl everybody
liked. Bright, popular, active in her school and community, while
Leta was overweight, withdrawn, and struggling for a C average. The
jealousy must have become too much for her--"
"So she killed her sister? And she's been killing people she
was jealous of ever since?" He shook his head. "Pardon my
embarkation on one of the legendary Fox Mulder flights of fancy, but
there's more to this case than that."
"Well, yes. For one thing, we're still missing a murder
"You've got to be kidding." He shook his head in reproach.
"Scully, two nights ago you were too tired to argue with my theories.
For your sake I'm glad you've been catching up on your sleep since
then, but frankly, I like you better exhausted." Ignoring the sharp
look she cast him, he went on patiently, "Leta Vicker didn't need a
murder weapon: all she needed was her mind. She sucked these people
He cut her off, not brusquely, but firmly. "Admittedly I can't
explain what unique physiological or biochemical properties allowed
her to pull this little stunt: that's your department, and I'm more
than willing for you to pursue that avenue of investigation if and
when we have opportunity. But in the meantime, I'm telling you what
I know. And I do know, Scully. I'm part of this case too, don't
forget. If you hadn't come through that door when you did, I've no
doubt that you'd be looking at my autopsy report right now.
Caucasian male, 38 years of age, in excellent physical health-- and
That last remark hit home, if nothing else did: her hands
whitened where they gripped the files, and an almost imperceptible
shudder ran through her body. "All right, Mulder," she said at last.
"But if the theory holds, why did she choose you?"
He pushed back his chair abruptly. "That was a low blow,
"Mulder, you know that's not what I meant."
He knew, but it still rankled. Because deep down, he'd wondered
the same thing-- and was no closer to an answer. "Fear," he hazarded
at last. "The others were deliberate, premeditated attacks motivated
by her own greed, but this was self-protection-- she was afraid I'd
find out the truth."
"Why? She must have known you couldn't have any evidence
against her, and when you went to interview her you weren't even
thinking of her as a suspect-- at least not yet. What would have
made her feel threatened enough to attack you?"
"I don't know." He leaned forward, elbows on the table, pushing
his hands across his face. "Don't you think I want to remember? But
I can't, Scully. I've tried and I can't. It's no good."
"We have to solve this case, Mulder." Her voice was flat.
"Why? Professional pride?"
It was a nasty crack and he knew it, and he instantly regretted
his words when, after a moment of frozen silence, he looked up and
saw that the light had gone out of her eyes.
"No, Mulder," she said at last, her voice thin with some barely
restrained emotion-- sorrow or anger, he couldn't tell which.
"Because if we can't make progress on this investigation, and your
memory hasn't returned by tomorrow, Skinner may very well reassign us
both. And if that happens, you can say goodbye to the X-Files, and
goodbye to the truth."
"You forgot something."
"What?" She was almost snapping now, her patience gone.
"Goodbye to us."
He'd kept his voice sober, looked at her with as much gentleness
as he could muster, wanting her to see the apology in his face: but
if she noticed it, she paid it no heed. She shoved her chair back,
rose to her feet.
"What 'us', Mulder? There is no 'us'. We had four years of
partnership, but you don't remember any of it. And as far as I can
tell from what you've said, you don't _want_ to remember it." With
brusque movements she gathered up the files she'd brought, shoved
them back into her briefcase and snapped it closed. "Well, maybe
He was on his feet as she turned to walk away; in two strides he
had closed the distance between them, caught her wrist. "Dana,
"Let me go, Mulder." She pulled against his grasp. "And stop
calling me that."
For a moment he gazed into her furious, beautiful face; then,
moved by a dangerous but irresistable impulse, he reached out and let
his fingers trace the curve of her cheek. "Scully. I need you to
listen to me. Please."
She had stopped struggling at the touch, her eyes widening. But
she made no reply. Quietly Mulder went on:
"I won't lie to you, Scully. It's true I'm not sure I want Fox
Mulder's memories back. I can live without his obsessions, his
vices, his... emptiness. But one of the main reasons I find that old
self so hard to bear is because of the way he treated you." He
stroked her hair back from her face, letting the soft strands run
between his fingers. "If I could keep his memories of the time you
spent together, the moments of friendship and trust that you shared,
and throw everything else away, I would. But I don't think I have
"The way... he treated me?" Her reply was barely more than a
whisper. "You think he..."
"How else am I supposed to read you, Dana? You always seem so
surprised to be treated like a human being, instead of an accessory.
You react as though Sir Galahad just postponed the quest for the Holy
Grail to have a beer and talk shop with his squire."
"It's not like that." Her voice shook. "Mulder and I... we
just don't talk... about personal things that often. It's not his
way. But I know he... I know he trusts me. And I... I've relied on
him so much--" Unexpectedly her eyes filled up, and he felt a hot
tear sliding across his fingers. "I don't want to lose him."
He bowed his head closer, let his forehead rest against hers.
With his thumb he gently brushed the moisture from her cheek. "I
didn't realize. I'm sorry."
She gave a shaky laugh. "You've apologized more in the past
"Yeah, well, that Mulder guy left me a mother of an I.O.U."
A smile pulled at her mouth: he watched her fight it, then let
it go. "Just when I think he's gone, you make one of those jokes--"
"I want to keep everything you valued in him," he said softly.
"I just want to get rid of the part that couldn't appreciate you as
That did it. Something broke in him then: he slid a hand
around the back of her neck, tilted her head up and kissed her. It
was a gentle kiss, brief, in fact almost fraternal: he didn't dare
ask her, or himself, for more. But he could feel the shock of what
he had just done travel through her whole body, and when he released
her she stumbled back like a woman drunk, or dazed.
"Go home, Dana," he told her very gently. "Take some time for
yourself. I'll call you tonight."
She stared at him a moment, unwilling or unable to speak. Then
she turned, picked up her briefcase, and walked out of the apartment.
As he watched the door close behind her, he silently blessed her for
not looking back: if she'd hesitated, even for a moment, he had no
idea what he would have done.
It occurred to him belatedly that what he'd already done might
well have been just as foolish, and no less disastrous, than the
other: but there was no turning back now. A line had been crossed
between them, and there was no telling what might happen next.
He could only hope that whatever damage he'd done wasn't
* * *
"So what you're telling me," said Skinner dryly, "is that you
have no good reason to believe that Agent Mulder will ever recover
his lost memories."
Mulder watched the Assistant Director through the crack in the
half-open office door, his eyes narrowed in speculation. How
sympathetic was this man to what the X-Files-- or perhaps more
importantly, to what Mulder and Scully themselves-- represented?
Could he be trusted to make a fair decision?
"Sir," Scully's voice protested from the other side of the door,
out of Mulder's line of sight, "that was not the point I came here to
"Maybe not, Agent Scully, but that's what it amounts to." He
gave her a level look. "Isn't it?"
A brief, fragile pause. Then: "There is a possibility that
Leta Vicker will recover. She may be persuaded to--"
"What I want to know," said Mulder, pushing through the half-
open door, "is why any of it matters." Ignoring the astonished
stares of both his co-workers, he walked over to the chair where
Scully sat, touched her shoulder briefly in greeting.
She stiffened, leaning away from him. Uh-oh, thought Mulder.
He let his hand drop, turned to face Skinner instead. "Agent Scully
has already attested," he said, willing his voice and expression to
communicate more confidence than he felt, "that I haven't forgotten
any of my academic or professional training. I know what the X-Files
are, and I am quite capable of pursuing the investigations I started
before my loss of memory occurred. And unless you order me not to, I
_will_ pursue those lines of investigation. Wherever they may lead."
"Unless I order you not to?" Skinner's mouth quirked: not a
smile, but the shadow of one. "That's a first."
"Yeah, well, meet the new improved Mulder with lemon-fresh
scent." He paused fractionally, wondering if he had pushed too far,
but Skinner's expression had not changed. "Sir, might I have a word
with my partner?"
"I'll give you better than that," the A.D. told him. "Both of
you-- this meeting is over. You are still assigned to the X-Files
division until further notice. Agent Mulder, your leave of absence
is over as of Monday. Now get out."
"Sir?" Scully frowned, obviously nonplussed.
"I have work to do, Agent Scully. We'll continue this
discussion some other time." Skinner put his pen down on the desk
with an audible click, reached for a stack of manila folders on the
filing cabinet beside him. "Until then, good day."
Scully rose from her chair, turned toward the door, her face
expressionless. Mulder stepped aside to let her pass, then followed
her out. As if by some unspoken agreement, they turned in the same
direction, walking down the long hallway to the elevator that would
take them to their basement office. But not until they were in the
elevator and the doors had closed did she speak:
"You are not supposed to be here." Her voice was low with
contained fury. "I arranged a private meeting with Assistant
Director Skinner, and you--"
"I know what you were trying to do, Scully. But that was my
battle, not yours. You could have spent the whole day presenting
brilliant arguments in my defense, and Skinner still wouldn't have
been convinced. He had to hear it from me."
Scully's lips tightened mutinously, but she said nothing, only
stared straight ahead. The doors opened with a chime and she stalked
out into the hall, heels clicking on the tiled floor. When they
reached the office door, she sidestepped away from it, leaned against
the doorframe, looking up at him with aloof expectation.
"What?" asked Mulder.
"We locked it when we left on Monday," she told him. "You've
got the key."
"And you don't?"
"Mulder, I don't even have a desk. It's your office.
No, Scully, I don't, he thought bitterly. And you know that as
well as I do. He dug into his pocket, brought out a jingling ring of
keys, stuck one in the lock at random and twisted. Nothing happened.
Gritting his teeth, he tried another. Still no luck. He could feel
the blood rising in his face, his frustration building, and most of
all Dana's gaze on the back of his neck as he bent to fit yet another
key to the lock-- and failed.
A barely audible oath escaped his lips; he pressed his forehead
against the door, closed his eyes, said thickly, "All right. So I
pushed my way in where I wasn't wanted. Again. But you could have
told me what you were doing, Scully. Do you know what it was like,
walking past Skinner's door and hearing your voice?" His hand closed
hard around the ring of keys, feeling the metal bite into his palm.
"I thought we were going to do this together."
"Mulder, why are you here?" There was no anger in her voice,
not any more: there was no emotion at all. The question was naked,
giving him no clues, and he couldn't tell what she thought the right
answer would be-- or even if there was one.
"I called your apartment this morning and you didn't pick up.
Then I tried your cell phone and you didn't answer that either. Call
me crazy, Scully-- I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time-- but my
Mulder-sense started tingling. There were only a couple of places I
could think of where you might go and not want me to know about it.
I came here first."
She was silent.
"Is that what he always did to you, Scully? Took off at a
moment's notice, without telling you where he was going or why-- even
when it was your interests he had in mind?"
"That wasn't why I came here." Her voice was flat. "I needed
to talk to Skinner alone. I knew you wouldn't let me. I didn't want
to argue with you. I didn't want to be--"
"No." She paused, not moving, barely even breathing. He waited
for her to finish the sentence, but she did not; after a moment he
began to wonder if he should give up. But then he heard her shift
against the doorframe, and her answer came out in a whisper:
A shiver ran through his body, hot, electric: with sudden
certainty he knew what she meant. He pushed himself back from the
door, turned to look at her.
"What are you afraid of, Dana?" he asked softly. Their faces
were close together, their shadows meeting, intertwining on the floor
between their feet.
Her throat moved convulsively. "Losing my objectivity."
"Is it that important to you?"
"It's important to Mulder." She closed her eyes. "He needs it
to stay sane. He needs it to stay alive."
"I know," he said. "But you're forgetting something."
"What?" Her lips barely shaped the word.
"I'm not Mulder."
She lowered her head. "I know. That's... what I'm afraid of."
He wanted to reach out to her, take her hand; but he could feel
her tension, her reserve, and he was loath to make another mistake.
"You're still waiting for him to come back," he said.
"You know how to deal with him."
"He's not a threat."
"Dana, he's--" He made a vague, frustrated gesture. "The man
is messed up. You know that."
"I said it before-- he doesn't deserve you."
Her head snapped up, anger flaring once more in the depths of
her eyes. "How do you know? You don't even know him. You don't even
know yourself. All you know is what you've seen on the surface--
what everybody else sees. 'Spooky' Mulder, the psychologist turned
patient, obsessed with the irrational and the bizarre." She took a
deep breath. "Well, you're wrong."
"If you could look in the mirror and see beyond the nose on your
face, if you could get your mind past the last few days of playing
the long-lost offspring of Prince Charming and Molly Maid, you'd know
that I have a bit more intelligence and better judgment than to waste
my professional and personal time on some pathetic loser. Yes,
Mulder has his problems; yes, our partnership is what you might call
high-maintenance. But there are things you don't know. Things you
haven't seen. Things that words can barely begin to describe, like
integrity, and understanding, and commitment, and trust. I shot you
once, Mulder. Right _there_--" and she poked him in the shoulder, so
hard it rocked him back on his heels-- "and yet, once the crisis was
over, you understood, and you forgave me for it.
"We've fought together for things we both believed in. You've
saved my life, and I yours, more times than I can count. In the
darkness, when there seemed no hope, we've found strength in each
other, brought each other back from the edge. You drive me
absolutely up the wall with your wild theories and sometimes I'd like
to strangle you with one of your own repulsive ties-- but I wouldn't
want to work with anyone else. I _don't_ want to work with anyone
else." She bent her head, hands clenching and unclenching around her
arms. "Not even you."
"I see." His voice sounded very strange, thin and far away.
Something in it made Scully look up, her face softening to penitence.
"I don't mean it the way it sounds. You're-- you have a lot of
good qualities now. Perhaps you're what Fox Mulder could, or should,
have been all along. But you put me off-balance. Part of me is sure
that I know you as well as I ever did, and the rest of me thinks I
don't know you at all. You've been... thoughtful, and shown
attention to me in unexpected ways, and I admit I've responded to
that. It's flattering, and yes, it's exciting. But--" She gave an
uncomfortable shrug. "It's not real. You don't know me. Not
He wasn't going to say it. He didn't dare say it. So help him,
he _was_ saying it, the words were forming on his lips and it was
already too late to stop them--
"--I'm in love with you."
Her eyes widened, her lips parting in amazement at the words.
For a moment he thought she would strike him, or rush into his
embrace, or both: but then she smiled, and shook her head. "No,
you're not. You just think you are." She touched his arm, lightly,
comforting. "But I'm honored, just the same."
Was he going mad? Five minutes ago there had been no doubt in
his mind that Dana Scully felt everything for him that he was feeling
for her, and that she, too, was struggling to hold herself back. But
now that he had gone and blurted out his emotions at the worst
possible moment, she seemed perfectly at ease.
"Mulder would never have said that," he said at last, slowly.
"No." Another smile, more genuine than before. "At least not
in so many words."
He looked at her sidelong. "I burned his video collection."
"More than okay."
"Yeah, well, I just hope he agrees with you when he comes back.
Otherwise I'm in for some serious trouble."
Her head came up sharply. "_Is_ he coming back?"
There was no lying to those clear, searching eyes. "For a
while, I'd thought he wasn't. But now..." He looked down at the
ring of keys he still held. "I might not like Fox Mulder very much,
but let's just say I'm willing to give him another chance."
Scully was silent a moment. Then she reached up and touched his
face, her fingers tracing the line of his jaw, brushing across his
lips. "So am I," she said. Her voice sounded husky: she cleared
her throat, let her hand drop, continued in a brisker tone, "Now give
me the keys. We've got work to do."
* * *
The phone beside Mulder's bed rang shrilly at 6:37 a.m., jolting
him out of REM sleep, making his stomach lurch with nausea. He
fumbled for the receiver, pulled it off the hook and groaned, "Who--
"It's me, Mulder. The hospital just called, and I thought you
"Don't tell me." He pinched the bridge of his nose, wincing.
"No. Quite the opposite, in fact. Around one o'clock last
night, she came out of the coma and asked for a drink of water."
He was instantly awake, the blood thumping through his ears.
"How soon can I-- can we see her?"
"I don't think they'll allow any visitors for the next couple of
days at least. Her heart rate's still erratic: they've got her
under close observation."
A sigh escaped him; he turned over, dragging his forearm across
his eyes. "Scully, I have to talk to her. I have to know."
"I know, Mulder. But she's not going anywhere, and neither are
you. Take the weekend off, try to relax. I'm going to be at my
mother's place until Sunday afternoon; I'll keep you posted if I hear
anything more from the hospital, and you can always call my cell
phone if anything comes up. Okay?"
"Okay." He paused. "Thanks, Mom."
"Mulder," she said, her tone half amusement, half warning. "I
think Freud would have a few things to say about you."
"Yeah, well, I can think of a few things I'd like to say to him
as well. Have a good weekend, Scully."
Mulder lay unmoving for several minutes, the phone still cradled
between neck and shoulder, staring at a crack in the ceiling. Then,
with sudden determination, he slammed the receiver back onto the hook
and sat up, reaching for his clothes.
"Sorry, Scully," he muttered as he pulled on his socks, "but
your Prince wanna-be Charming just ran out of patience."
* * *
This is crazy, thought Mulder as he pulled the baggy trousers up
around his waist, pulled the drawstring tight. Raiding the hospital
laundry had all the dubious wit of a frat-house prank, and medical
green was definitely not his colour. Scully would have kittens if
she knew what he was doing, and if he were caught--
He decided not to think about that part. He tugged the cap down
over his dark hair, slung the mask casually around his neck. Just
another intern on his way to, or from, the emergency room. It was a
big hospital. No worries.
Heart pounding at his ribcage, he walked to the laundry room
door, pulled it open, and cast a quick glance both ways down the
hall. All clear.
"Paging Dr. Fox Mulder," he muttered. "Please report to Amateur
It was a long ride up to the eighth floor-- especially because
there were two giggling fourteen-year-olds in the elevator with him,
looking at him through their eyelashes and stage-whispering to each
other whenever they thought he wasn't listening. Exasperated, he
pushed his way through the doors as soon as they opened and strode
off down the hall.
To his relief, no one challenged him: he must have looked like
a man who knew where he was going and, more importantly, had the
right to be there. He made his way to Room 816, listened a moment,
then slipped through the door and closed it silently behind him.
The first time he'd been in this room, he'd had the strangest
impression that something was wrong, or missing. He hadn't been able
to place it at the time, but now he realized what it was: there was
nothing in the room that hadn't already been there when Leta Vicker
arrived. No cards, no flowers, not even a solitary balloon.
Whatever scant happiness this woman had in life, she had to steal
from others. There were no relatives, no friends, not even a few
acquaintances, that she could call her own.
He felt a sudden surge of pity for her. Had she ever _meant_ to
kill? Or was there still a frightened young girl within that
enormous frame, driven by a desperate thirst for meaning and
fulfillment that only the exercise of her unique mental powers could
abate? Did she regret the fatal consequences of her actions, yet
find herself helpless to resist the temptation to sample a happiness
otherwise forever beyond her reach?
"Good morning, Ms. Vicker," he said.
She didn't answer, or even turn her head. But her eyelashes
flickered, and the dark, deep-set eyes shifted over to meet his. He
continued quietly, "You know who I am, don't you?"
"I beg your pardon?" Thin and quavering, almost childlike in
its pitch, her voice shocked him with its unexpected weakness: it
was like hearing Michael Jackson's voice coming out of James Earl
Jones. "I don't believe we've met, Dr.--?"
She didn't remember him. Her face was blank, innocent of either
fear or malice, and when he stared at her all she did was blink. The
heart monitor beside her bed described a ragged pattern, and the
pallor of her skin was undeniably real: his enemy was nothing more
than a sick, aging woman struggling to recover from a blow that could
have killed her.
He could hear Scully's voice in his mind, as clearly as if she
were standing beside him: _Mulder, have you considered the
possibility that this might not be what you think? You've had
seizures before, experienced missing time-- minutes, hours, even
days. What if this woman didn't have anything to do with your loss
of memory? What if we both misinterpreted what happened in Leta
Vicker's house, and it was only shock and fear that kept her staring
at you when you froze mid-conversation and went into a catatonic
state? Isn't it possible that we've both been looking in the wrong
place, and the person or agency responsible for those twelve deaths
is still out there?_
It _was_ possible, he realized, a sick feeling uncoiling in his
stomach. It was even plausible. He must have worked for weeks
investigating this case, formed his own theories about how and why
the murders had been committed-- what if Leta Vicker's profile just
happened to fit the bill? What if he'd been a victim not of her
malevolent mental powers, but of his own presuppositions? What if
the power of suggestion had triggered in him a reaction so powerful
it seemed-- but _only_ seemed-- to prove her guilt?
If so, then the only one to blame for his missing memory was
himself. His earlier, violent experience of inheriting the bad
memories of twelve dead people-- imagined, fabricated. Or the
hallucinary by-product of another mental seizure, a recurring and
potentially serious problem he'd better start looking into.
Why was he even here? Surely that in itself was evidence enough
that he wasn't thinking straight-- if Leta Vicker really did have
power to crawl into people's minds and steal their most cherished and
intimate memories, the last place on earth he should want to be would
be here, alone and defenseless in her hospital room, unable even to
call for help for fear of giving himself away.
"Fox Mulder," he whispered to himself, "you are a basket case."
"Do you have anything to give me, doctor?" asked Leta faintly.
"My back aches. These pillows are so thin..." She shifted a little
in the bed, plucking at the covers. "It's hard to sleep."
Guilt, or curiosity, made him approach her, bend to crank the
bed down a notch. "Is that better?" he asked.
She sighed. "A little. But I'd like another pillow."
"I'll see what I can do," he lied, giving her a halfhearted
smile. "Tell me, do you remember what happened to you?" With a
gesture he indicated the bandages that swathed her head, all but
covering the mousy, grey-threaded hair. "Did you fall?"
"I don't know." She sounded troubled. "I can't remember. They
told me some people-- from the IRS, I think-- came to talk to me, and
they found me lying on the floor. Someone must have broken into the
house and attacked me. I hope they didn't take anything."
He remembered that pathetic, tumbledown place she called home,
with its peeling paint and crippled furniture, containing nothing of
value to anyone but herself-- and possibly not even that. Having
wrenched her back working on an assembly line some twenty-five years
ago, she lived on her disability pension and a pitifully small trust
from her parents' estate. Her groceries were delivered to her door;
she bought her clothes from Goodwill. Her biggest monthly
expenditure was on calls to Madam Maria's Psychic Hotline, and every
Friday night she played Bingo in the basement of a Catholic church
less than one block away, where she sat alone in the corner, dabbing
laboriously at her card, until somebody else won.
"I'm sorry to have disturbed you," he said, meaning those words
more deeply than she could ever have guessed. "I'll be going now."
He turned toward the door.
He looked back, saw her wide mouth bending into an insipid,
childlike smile. "Thank you for coming to see me," she said.
Their eyes met, locked--
And Mulder's brain exploded. He doubled over and dropped to his
knees, shoving his fingers into his mouth to suppress a scream.
Memories flashed across his mind, too many, too jumbled, too vividly
horrible to be borne. Monstrous eyes in the darkness, glowing with
bloodlust; Samantha's small, flailing body floating away from him,
surrounded by eerie light; the stench of cigarette smoke and a
rasping, malicious laugh; Scully lying pale and unmoving in a
hospital bed; a bullet burrowing hotly into his flesh; fire leaping
up around him, crackling, insatiable; crawling through a black, slimy
tunnel with a snarling mutant five feet behind him; Scully's voice,
quiet, emotionless, telling him she was dying of cancer...
And there was more, less shocking and yet, in their own way,
almost worse: the memories of his own failure. Paralyzed by the
light, too afraid to run after his sister, to save her before it was
too late. Harbouring bitterness against his father for years after
those grievances had ceased to matter, letting the old man die
uncomforted, unforgiven. Accusing his own mother of adultery,
watching her face whiten in horror and rage before she slapped him
across the face and fled the room in tears. Abandoning Scully time
and time again, too consumed with his own obsessions to recognize her
needs. Taking for granted everyone who had ever loved him, and yet
forever demanding that they give him more.
Four years spent chasing freaks and mutants, vanquishing terrors
the ordinary American citizen could not bear to face. Yet how could
any of his enemies be worse than the monster he had made of himself?
When the darkness receded he found himself curled into a fetal
position beside the bed, shaking uncontrollably, his breath coming in
"Have a nice day, doctor," said Leta sweetly.
* * *
I'm writing you this letter and I'm not sure why. It may be a
confession; it may be an exorcism; it may even be a suicide note.
Though if it's the latter, it's probably going to set a new world
record for verbosity. I don't think I'm going to kill myself
tonight-- even though part of me wants to, more passionately than you
can begin to imagine.
You see, as soon as I came home I put my gun in the desk drawer
and locked it, but even then I could feel its weight, its shape, in
my hand, and it was three hours before my index finger stopped
twitching. When I went into the kitchen and pulled open the cutlery
drawer, the knives sang to me, their voices tremulous and piercingly
sweet. I took out the sharpest knife and laid it lengthwise against
my wrist, feeling the cool edge of the metal on my skin, my eyes
closed in something disturbingly close to ecstasy. I must have stood
there for five minutes before I put it down and closed the drawer
I wish I could tell you that my commitment to the truth, my zeal
for fulfilling my high and lonely destiny (if you'll forgive the
sarcasm) makes me feel responsible to finish what I've started, and
choosing my own death would betray those principles. That's true, I
suppose, but it's not the reason I'm sitting here with a pen in my
hand instead of a gun. I wish I could say that it's compassion that
keeps me alive, the thought of the pain that my suicide would cause
to those who, like yourself, have chosen to care for me. But it
Truth be told, Scully, it's cowardice. "For in that sleep of
death what dreams may come / when we have shuffled off this mortal
coil, must give us pause..." And it does give me pause-- more than
I've ever allowed you to believe. I'd like to be able to view death,
as some do, as the passage into another state of being, a challenge
to be met, a great and fascinating mystery to be explored. Perhaps
even more than that, I'd like to think that life just stops: the
credits roll, the curtain comes down, and that's the end of it. But
if I've learned anything over the last few years, it's that very
little in this life turns out as we would like, no matter how hard we
wish-- or even sincerely believe. So in the end I can't help but
feel, with a strange, cold conviction, that ultimately my death would
not be a solution or a relief to anybody, least of all me.
It's a lousy excuse for living, I know. But for tonight at
least, it's enough.
I do have to thank you for one thing, Scully. If it weren't for
the friendship you've shown me over this past week, the loyalty, the
support, I wouldn't be writing these words right now: I'd be huddled
in a nice soft corner someplace, wearing a jacket with no sleeves.
Thinking of you, reminding myself that there is at least one person
in the world who trusts me, cares about me, believes in me, is about
the only thing keeping me sane.
It's the memories I can't stand: they won't let me sleep. I've
been pacing all day, unable to relax for more than a minute at a
time. Thirty-eight years' worth of recollections, and every one of
them is bad. I remember reading a science fiction novel once in
which it was said that telepaths have only two emotions: love and
hate. You can't be noncommittal about a person once you've looked
into their soul. So I don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to guess-- or
rather, deduce-- how Leta Vicker feels about me. Nor do I need to
If you were reading this, you'd argue with me, I know. You'd
tell me I'm not seeing clearly, that my reaction is unbalanced. If I
could have the positive memories along with the negative ones, if
Leta hadn't chosen to keep the best parts for herself, I'd realize
I'm not so terrible a person after all: that I have a lot to offer,
a lot to live for. Well, maybe you're right. Or maybe you're just
more sympathetic, more loyal, more committed to my welfare, than I've
ever deserved, and in the end your perspective is just as biased as
Did I do this to you, Scully? Have I manipulated you without
realizing it, maneuvered you into co-dependency? Are we now so
inextricably linked by our shared experiences and traumas that you
could no more abandon me than you could cut off your own right arm?
Time and again I've given you every reason to walk out on me, and yet
you keep coming back. The selfish part of me would like to believe
there's something I give you that you can't get from anyone else--
but the rational part knows better. So why are you so stubbornly
determined to stand by me? Is it just that the guilt of stepping
back and watching me crumble without you would be too great?
It scares me to think that I might have that kind of power over
you-- that somehow, without realizing it, I've kidnapped your soul
and held you for emotional ransom. If that's what I'm guilty of,
Scully, I want you to know it stops here. You have a right to choose
what _you_ really want, what you truly believe in, not to be a slave
to my expectations or live at the mercy of my every whim. I know you
have a powerful sense of duty, and your loyalties run deep: when you
make a pledge, even to yourself, you'll honor it. I don't think you
realize how rare, how precious, such integrity really is-- how much I
admire, and envy, that quality in you. And yet it's that very
loyalty that can make you a victim of someone like me.
I disliked myself before when I learned how I'd treated you over
the years-- not that you ever accused me of callousness or neglect,
but it was all too easy to read between the lines. Now, witnessing
all those moments firsthand, recalling them with the clarity of
yesterday, I realize more than ever that I was right. I'm sure there
have been times when I supported you, comforted you-- there must have
been, if you're still here. But those moments of compassion and
understanding don't erase, don't even make up for, the times when I
I'm not asking for your forgiveness, Scully, or even just your
pity. I'm not fishing for consolation or reassurance. I'm simply
being honest with you-- I owe you that much. And I'm telling you
that when I've finally come to terms with who I am, which I trust
won't be long now, things between us are going to change.
You don't need to worry about what I might mean by that. You
were right yesterday, when you said that the "real" Fox Mulder
wouldn't have said he was in love with you, and that the Mulder who
did say those words didn't really know you-- or himself. I'm not "in
love" with you, Scully, any more than you are with me. What we have,
or at least what I have with you, goes far beyond that.
Why am I not infatuated with you? Let me count the ways.
Firstly, no offense, but you're not my type. I've always been
partial to tall, smoky-eyed brunettes with a touch of vulnerability.
A self-contained 5'3" redhead with a penchant for challenging my
theories wouldn't ordinarily be on my romantic agenda. Secondly, you
know me far too well. My faults are an open book to you, even if you
may choose to be charitable about them. I can't dazzle you with my
charms or surprise you with hidden depths of character-- the most I
can do is add a few minor details to your store of information. As
such, our relationship is not exactly the stuff of which romantic
dreams are made, although you could probably get a fairly decent
novel out of it: one of those sober, insightful reflections on
character that get nominated for the Booker Prize but only a few
people actually bother to read.
What I've begun to realize, however, is that those things are
superficial: no, more than that, they're irrelevant. I know all too
well that sex has nothing to do with intimacy-- my video collection
alone could prove that. (Sorry, make that 'could have proved,' past
tense. Frohike's going to kill me when he finds out-- I hate to
lower your elevated opinion of him, but some of those tapes were
his.) Desire, or even need, is not love. Neither is romance, for
all its dizzying power. What I have for you is something bigger,
something deeper, than any of those things, and the only word that
comes close to describing it is respect.
Even that sounds lame. But I think you understand what I mean.
There's nothing I need to say to you, Scully, or you to me, about how
we "really" feel. You are part of me, an integral element of my
world, my life: for all our disagreements, sometimes I could swear
our hearts beat the same rhythm, and we breathe in unison even when
we're apart. No one understands me as you do. No one believes in me
the way you do. There is no one else who could take your place in my
life, and if anyone tried, believe me, they'd be sorry. Krycek, in
his own twisted way, is evidence of that.
There's a void in me, Scully, a gaping hole I've struggled with
all my life. And I'd be lying to you if I said that your friendship,
or even your love, is enough to fill that chasm. Frankly, I don't
know what it would take to make me complete, or if what I need even
exists in this world. For all I know every other human being alive
might feel the same way, and simply be more skilled at hiding it--
wasn't it Thoreau who said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet
desperation? But since you came into my life, and we began working
together, I've felt closer to being whole than ever before. It
frightens me to realize how much I've come to need you, and yet it's
incredibly freeing at the same time, to know that I don't have to
search for the truth alone. And I'm profoundly grateful for it.
I've spent three hours writing this letter, and as I look back
over what I've written, it strikes me as a lot of incoherent
rambling, not good for much more than stoking the fireplace. Only
thing is, I'd have to go over to your apartment to burn the thing,
and then you might actually get a chance to read it. Part of me is
tempted; but the greater part is simply exhausted. It's been a long
day, Scully, and talking to you-- even knowing you can't hear these
words and perhaps never will-- has been the one thing that made it
bearable. But now I can feel a measure of calmness, of equilibrium,
return; and I realize this letter was written not for you, but for
myself. I'll fold it up and put it in a drawer, and maybe, one day,
you'll get to read it. But not today.
One more thing before I go. As I was leaving the hospital this
morning, still half-crazed with what Leta Vicker had just done to me,
I saw a young woman standing on the corner, handing out leaflets. At
first, from a distance, I thought she might be you, with her pale
skin and coppery hair. But then she turned her head to speak to a
passer-by and I realized that her hair was long, nearly to her waist.
And she was far too tall, although built so lightly she seemed
fragile, almost unearthly. By that time I was nearly beside her, and
she must have seen me out of the corner of her eye, because she
looked over at me. And then she did remind me of you, Scully,
because her eyes were pale blue and her gaze so clear, so level, it
was as though she could see right through me. I'm describing her in
all this detail because the incident is still weirdly vivid in my
mind, more so than even my eidetic memory can explain. She didn't
say anything, just looked at me seriously and held out a piece of
paper. And I was so dazed that I took the thing, shoved it in my
pocket and kept going.
It was a few hours before I actually looked at what she'd given
me. It was a religious tract, just a few simple verses on a page.
Since I don't believe in God, there seemed no point in reading it,
and I started crumpling it up to throw out. But then one line caught
"What good is it to a man, if he gains the whole world, yet
loses his own soul?"
It's a fair question-- and almost painfully appropriate under
the circumstances. I'm not sure how to answer it. I'm not even sure
I understand it. But it got me thinking about what really matters to
me. And what doesn't.
I know it may not always seem this way, Scully, but you're
pretty close to number one on my list of Things That Matter. And
soon, I hope, I'll get a chance to prove it.
* * *
"Mulder, wake up."
He stirred, mumbling a protest, and buried his head deeper into
the pillow. Then the realization seeped into his mind that Dana
Scully was sitting on the edge of his bed, her hand on his shoulder,
shaking him awake. At once the fog dissipated: he bolted upright,
staring at her. "Scully. What? What's wrong?"
She let go of him and sat back, looking sober and, for the first
time he could remember, a little self-conscious. "You turned off
your phone, Mulder. I couldn't get through to you. I--" A delicate
pause. "I thought you might be in trouble."
He knew she deserved an explanation, but an honest answer would
have been less than reassuring: _Oh, no trouble at all, Scully. I
just cut my communication to the outside world so nobody would
interrupt me until I'd finished deciding whether or not to kill
myself._ And after that he'd simply forgotten to plug the phone back
"I'm okay," he said. "I'm fine. I just didn't realize you'd be
calling. Weren't you supposed to be at your mother's until--" The
words trailed off as he saw, over her shoulder, the luminous numbers
of the clock: 4:28 p.m. He'd been up so late, and the emotional
struggle had exhausted him so completely, that he'd slept for nearly
"I just needed to know you were okay, Mulder," she said quietly.
"I'll go now."
Her face was averted, her fingers curling and uncurling the belt
of her trenchcoat as she spoke. She shifted away from him as though
to rise, to leave, but he stopped her with a touch. "Scully. Talk
For just a second, her lips trembled: then she drew in a
breath, and regained control. "It's okay, Mulder. Just-- a family
thing, that's all. I won't bore you with the details."
"Details, Scully." He let his hand slide down to hers. "I'm
here. I'm listening. I want to know."
She heaved a sigh, of resignation or relief. "It's Charles's
mother-in-law. My nephew's grandmother. Her health was so frail,
the trauma of her accident took such a toll on her strength-- she
didn't make it through surgery."
"I'm sorry," he said. "Did you know her well?"
"No. Not at all, in fact. We met each other once, at
Thanksgiving. She seemed like a fine person, very gentle, very
understanding; but that's all I could say. It's just--" She looked
down at their linked hands. "My nephew. He was very close to her,
and she's the first person he's ever really known who--"
"Yeah," said Mulder softly. "That's really hard on a kid."
"It's his first experience with death, with that kind of
irrevocable loss. I wanted to comfort him, we all did. I tried
everything I could think of to help him take his mind off the pain--
stories, games, his favorite videos-- but nothing worked." She
closed her eyes. "He was so scared. Just a little boy facing a
terrible black unknown, desperate for reassurance. He asked me to
tell him if what the priest said was really true-- that his grandma
was in heaven, that she was happy, that he'd see her again some day.
So of course I said yes, it was true. But then he turned to me with
those huge, haunted eyes, and asked me if I was _sure_. And I opened
my mouth, but the words would not come out. Because I'm not sure,
Mulder, for all that I've been taught, for all that I want to
Silently he reached out with his free hand, pulled her toward
him. For a few heartbeats she sat stiff and unyielding in his
embrace; then the resistance went out of her and she turned to him,
burying her face against his chest. He stroked her hair, rested his
chin lightly on the top of her head, feeling her breath warming his
skin through the fabric of his t-shirt as he held her close.
"I know, Scully," he murmured. "I know."
"All day I've needed this," he heard her whisper. "All day
sitting in that house, with this dark cloud of grief and confusion
hanging over everyone. My mother was exhausted trying to comfort
Charles and his family; I couldn't bring myself to add to her burden,
even for a moment. But there was no one else I could talk to. And
when I couldn't get through to you on the phone-- I know it was
illogical, but I felt so sick inside, so suddenly convinced that
something terrible had happened to you--"
"Shhh." He moved his lips against her hair. "Scully. Dana.
It's all right."
"I know." She drew back from the loosening circle of his arms,
gave him a shaky smile. "I'll be fine. Just-- thank you."
He shook his head. "Don't. I'm the one who should be grateful-
- before you showed up, all I had to look forward to was the sound of
my alarm going off. Believe me, when it comes to wake-up calls, I'll
take a Scully-hug any day of the week."
One eyebrow arched. "Is that a request, Mulder?"
"Is that an offer, Scully?"
He spoke lightly, teasing her, inviting the usual scathing
rebuke, or deft change of subject. To his surprise, she gave him
neither. A troubled line formed between her brows, and she dropped
her gaze from his. "Don't," she said softly, almost pleading. "Not
He relented. "Hey, listen. I'm famished, and I'll bet you
haven't eaten much today either. So here's my idea: why don't we go
out and get something to eat, and then we can come back here and
just--" He gestured vaguely. "Hang out."
"Hang out?" She shot him a quizzical look. "Mulder, we don't
'just hang out'."
"So you're not interested?"
"No! I mean yes, it sounds fine, but--" She flushed, shifting
uncomfortably on the bed. "What would we do?"
"Scully, have we _never_ discovered any kind of middle ground
between professional detachment and crying on each other's
shoulders?" He shook his head reproachfully. "Look, I'd rather not
go into it now, but I didn't exactly have the best weekend myself,
and I think we could both use a chance to unwind. Let's go grab a
pizza, to start: then we can rent a movie if you want-- your pick--
and eat off paper towels and get grease all over my sofa, which, if
you ask me, can only improve the leather. And then, I don't know, we
can talk, or you can devastate me with your skill at verbal tennis.
She regarded him a moment in silence, clearly amazed by the
offer. At last she said, slowly, "That sounds... nice, Mulder. I'd
"Good! It's a--" He paused fractionally, chose a less
dangerous word-- "deal. Now, if you'll pardon my rudeness, Scully,
could you get off my bed and out of my room before you're forced to
look at me in a somewhat less than professional state?"
He had barely finished the sentence before she was up and
moving. Her parting quip floated back to him through the fast-
closing crack in the door: "It wouldn't be the first time, Mulder."
"Or the last," he murmured, pushing the covers aside.
* * *
"...so I look up, ready to snap at you for interrupting my
research, and there you are, kneeling on your desk with a pencil up
each nostril, singing 'I am the Walrus, goo goo ga joob--'"
"You're not serious," breathed Mulder.
"Believe me, I am. And just as I'm trying to decide whether to
have hysterics or throw a paperweight at your head, the office door
"Scully, don't tell me..."
"--and Skinner walks in."
Mulder collapsed into the armchair, his hand over his eyes.
"Oh, yes." Scully's eyes were sparkling, her face alive with
merriment. "And I never told you this, Mulder, because I was afraid
you'd start behaving like an idiot every time I was in a bad mood,
but it was one of the most utterly wonderful moments of my entire
He looked at her through his fingers. "What did Skinner do?"
"He stood there for about fifteen seconds, just staring. Then
he cleared his throat, walked out of the office and walked back in,
and by that time you were back in your chair looking like a poster
boy for young urban professionalism, and the pencils were nowhere in
sight. I do not know how I managed to keep a straight face for the
next ten minutes, but I did. And Skinner never said a word."
Mulder shook his head, disbelieving. "The man's a saint.
Scully, do you want this last piece? It's cold and rubbery and kind
"Sounds like my last autopsy," said Scully. "No, go ahead."
"Thanks," he said, reaching for the pizza box.
The movie they'd rented sat forgotten on the kitchen table,
still in its plastic bag; the hands of the clock they were both
studiously ignoring had long ago passed midnight. He'd asked Scully
to tell him all the good memories she had of their partnership, and
she'd responded reluctantly at first, then with growing enthusiasm
and finally, to his amazement, an almost childlike delight. It was
as though his ignorance of their shared past had freed her to relive,
and savour, all those moments in a way she had never done before.
And watching her, listening to her voice, he found himself comforted,
reassured that for all his faults and flaws-- grievous as some of
them might be-- Fox Mulder had not always been oblivious to his
partner's emotional needs, nor wholly ignorant of what it took to be
Still, he had to wonder at his own inconsistency. Was it
caution or mere self-centredness that had kept him from opening up to
Dana Scully, or giving her the chance to do the same to him? Leta
Vicker might have given him back a few hundred pieces of the puzzle,
but by no means all of them. All the memories that might help him
understand, or sympathize with, his former self were still missing:
as long as the old woman stayed alive, the key to Fox Mulder's soul
would remain in her gloating, malicious possession.
His only revenge, if it could be called one, was to go on
living. Scully knew the truth: he could depend on her to tell him
what he needed to know. Let Leta keep her dubious treasure-- there
were plenty of new memories to be made, as the past week alone had
proved. He would start his life over again, beginning with tonight.
"Scully," he said.
"I have a confession to make."
She gave him a pained look. "Mulder, nothing good ever begins
with those words."
"I know. But I think you should know about this. I went to see
Leta Vicker yesterday."
That got her attention: she sat up sharply. "What? How did
you get in?"
"Trust me, that part isn't important. What happened in that
hospital room was. Scully, she looked so old, so frail-- you would
have been proud of how quickly I managed to convince myself that this
whole crazy business was a figment of my tortured imagination, or
worse, a symptom of some dire neurological disease. Didn't you tell
me my mother once said I used to have seizures?"
"Well, in a matter of about thirty seconds I came up with a neat
little scientific explanation to cover all those things and more.
Leta wasn't alarmed to see me-- didn't even seem to know who I was.
There was nothing in our conversation to which any court of law could
not have listened with pleasure. I was just about to leave-- and
that's when she hit me. Nearly every painful, terrifying, or just
plain unflattering memory I'd ever had, all at once, wham."
Dana sucked in her breath, eyes widening. But she didn't
interrupt-- for which he was profoundly grateful. He went on:
"I know all that could be rationalized away as well; believe me,
for about three hours afterward I tried to do just that. It was very
tempting to convince myself that none of those memories were actually
mine, or at least that they were unreliable. But all along I knew
the things I had seen, was seeing, from my past were true. And that
Leta Vicker knew exactly what she was doing."
"You unplugged your phone." Her voice was a whisper. For a
moment he was puzzled by the apparent nonsequitur: then he realized
how very well she knew him, and what her words had meant. He nodded.
"I wanted to do it, Scully. I came close-- not as close as I've
ever been, but close enough. But then... I thought about you. Every
good thing that you'd told me, done for me, that I could remember
from the past week. And that helped, more than anything else, to
give me the strength I needed to live."
She watched him for a long moment, expressionless. Then she
said, in an equally neutral tone, "Come here, Mulder."
Unhesitatingly he rose from the chair and walked over to where
she sat, knelt down beside her so that their faces were level. She
reached out, stroked his hair back from his forehead. Then she put
her arms around his shoulders and hugged him.
"I take it," he said, muffled against her sweater, "you're glad
She jerked back, and now he could see the spark of anger in her
eyes. "Mulder, if I'd known before today that you'd sneaked into
Leta Vicker's room without me, I'd have killed you myself."
He gave her a wry, sheepish smile. "All I can say is that it
seemed like a good idea at the time."
Fiercely she pulled him once more into her embrace. "Mulder,
you're an idiot."
"And you're right. You don't deserve me."
Helplessly, he started to laugh. He wrapped his arms around her
waist, buried his face against her neck, his hilarity shaking them
both until she, too, surrendered and laughed with him. They ended on
a simultaneous whoop of breath, let go of each other and sat back
side by side, wiping away tears of mirth.
"That was really good," said Mulder, when he could speak. "I
"Mulder." Her voice was suddenly serious, making him look over
at her. "Will you do something for me?"
"Tell me you're not in love with me."
"I'm not in love with you."
"Is it true?"
"Technically, as I understand it, yes."
"Good. Then you won't misunderstand this." She leaned forward,
brushed her lips across his cheek. He gazed back at her in blank
astonishment, feeling his nerves tingling with the awareness of where
she had kissed him, and said, "What was that for?"
"For being a friend." She unfolded herself from the couch,
stood up, not looking at him. "It's late. If we're going to get any
work done tomorrow, I'd better go."
"Yeah," he said, reluctant to see her go, but knowing she was
right. "Good night, Scully."
"Good night, Mulder. See you at eight."
He groaned. "That early?"
She gave him a quirk of a smile. "Welcome to the FBI, Agent
"Yeah, well, if you're passing Skinner's office, drop off my
"Not a chance," she told him, and walked out the door.
* * *
Mulder sat alone, staring down at the photographs and documents
scattered across his desk. He'd dealt with murder cases before: in
fact the lurid details of his past investigations for the Violent
Crimes division were chief among the memories Leta Vicker had seen
fit to return to him. But there was something especially grotesque
about this one. For the past three weeks he and his partner had been
investigating the case of a killer who dispatched his victims--
invariably young, white, upper-class males-- in a manner so precise,
systematic, and tortuous that even Scully, who had done thousands of
autopsies, was nauseated.
What had made the case an X-File was the eerily complete absence
of any fingerprints, hair, skin samples, bodily fluids or any other
clues that might pinpoint the murderer's identity-- except for the
word "Nemesis" mysteriously etched into the right femur of each
victim. That, plus the testimony of one hysterical young woman who
claimed to have been watching a movie with one of the victims at his
apartment when he was attacked, and swore that the killer had been
totally invisible to her even as the gruesome murder was taking
Mulder saw no reason not to believe the girl, and since then he
had been wondering whether the criminal they were hunting would turn
out to be spectral, alien, or just a human with unusually formidable
telekinetic abilities. In order to retain some semblance of
credibility, he'd been concentrating on the latter, building up a
rough psychological profile of the murderer and interviewing the
families and friends of the deceased to see if they had any
acquaintances who might fit the description.
True to form, Scully had not been impressed by any of Mulder's
hypotheses. He still remembered the acid skepticism in her voice as
she pointed out that at the time of Josh Madden's murder, his
girlfriend had been so spaced out on cocaine that to call her
testimony suspect would be a gesture of extravagant charity. When
challenged to present an alternative, her retort was that the
murderer was just uncommonly skilled at cleaning up the scene of the
crime, possibly as the result of a background in criminal
investigation; and that he must have injected his victims with some
muscle-paralyzing agent to ensure their silence and immobility as he
worked. The fact that six autopsies had failed to yield any trace of
this mysterious chemical did not seem to have undermined her
confidence. If Mulder ever met anyone with half as much faith in God
as Dana Scully placed in science, he suspected he'd be tempted to
He bent his head closer to the photographs, studying the elegant
script in which the word "Nemesis" had been written in each case.
Where was Scully, anyway? Just when he finally had something new and
potentially useful to tell her...
As though on cue, the door opened and Scully walked in, cradling
an overstuffed paper bag in the crook of each arm, like a mother with
six-month twins. She dropped one of the bags down on the desk in
front of Mulder and let out an exasperated sigh. "What I'd really
like to know is, what's the point of phoning ahead if they're going
to make you wait in line for ten minutes when you get there?"
Curious to see what she'd brought, Mulder opened the top of the
bag and stuck his head in. Even through the layers of cardboard and
styrofoam, the exotic fragrance of Indian food undulated
provocatively about his nostrils, and he drew a blissful inhalation.
"Scully, have I told you lately that you're wonderful?" He pulled a
piece of Nan out of the bag, tore a piece off the soft bread and
popped it into his mouth. "It's been ages since I ate this stuff."
Retrieving a container, he popped the top off and looked inside with
growing admiration. "Onion bhaji. Wow."
"I didn't know you liked it so much," she said, sitting down at
the other desk and plopping her own bag down just behind the gleaming
brass sign engraved _Dana Scully, MD_. "I didn't even know whether
_I'd_ like it. I just thought it was time to try something
"Feeling adventurous, Scully?" He grinned. "I could think of a
few other suggestions."
"I'll bet," she said, but without rancor. "So, did that graphic
designer ever get back to you?"
"Oh-- yeah!" He leaped to his feet, snatching up a handful of
photographs, and moved quickly to stand behind her, spreading the
photos out across her desk. "Look at the word 'Nemesis'."
"Mulder, I've been looking at that word for two weeks," she said
patiently. "So what?"
He shook his head in mock reproach. "You see, Watson, but you
do not observe." Leaning over her shoulder, he reached around her to
trace the familiar letters with his finger. "That's no handwriting:
it's perfectly regular in every case, and the flourishes are far too
elaborate. As it happens, the typeface is called Nuptial, and if
you'll pardon me for stating the obvious, it's most commonly used on
"That's interesting," admitted Scully. "But hardly conclusive."
"Ah, but it gets better. The letters are kerned."
"Manually spaced to give the most aesthetically pleasing effect.
"So our murderer used to typeset wedding invitations?" She
paused. "Or, perhaps... still does?"
"It's a possibility."
"I'm also hungry, Mulder, so if you've quite finished breathing
in my ear--"
"You're lucky I'm not nibbling it. I was already starving
before you got here, and the smell of tandoori chicken is driving me
"Then go eat your own. Because this--" She ripped open the bag
with a theatrical flourish-- "is mine."
Feigning a wounded look, he backed away. "Didn't your mommy
teach you to share?"
"No. But I'm sure you'll get over it."
Mulder walked back to his desk, pushed the case files aside, and
began pulling cartons out of the bag, eyes gleaming with anticipatory
relish. "Believe me, I intend to."
The telephone rang, startling them both. They traded glances
across the aisle as Scully picked it up, said, "X-Files Division.
Dana Scully speaking."
A pause. "She has? When is she being discharged? ... Oh,
really? Alone? ... I see. No, that's fine. I appreciate your
letting me know. Good night."
She put down the receiver quietly, turned to look at Mulder, her
eyes serious. "Leta Vicker is out of the hospital. They've sent her
"Without pressing any charges, I take it."
"What is there to charge her with? I'm lucky not to have been
slapped with an assault charge myself." She shook her head. "I
can't tell you how many times I've asked myself whether I was really
sure what I was doing when I brought that jug down on her head. But
I always come back to the feeling I had that there was something
_wrong_ with the way she was staring at you, and you at her, when I
came in." Sighing, she picked up her fork, peeled open another
container. "I know what you believe, Mulder-- and this once, I can't
find it in myself to contradict you. Leta Vicker is our murderer,
and chances are good she'll kill again. But at this point, there's
nothing we can do to stop her."
"Except," said Mulder, "to catch her in the act."
She dropped the fork and swivelled around in the chair, her eyes
narrowed dangerously. "Mulder, I don't care what else we have to do,
but you are _not_ going to play sacrificial lamb."
"No! And anyway, you couldn't get away with it. She's got a
home care nurse coming in daily for the next two weeks."
"Well, then," said Mulder tightly, "we'd better hope that Ms.
Florence Nightingale doesn't have anything that Leta might decide she
wants. Because otherwise, Scully, I don't give much for her
That shook her: he could see it. But she pretended not to have
heard him, and reached for a piece of bread.
* * *
"Come on, Scully," muttered Mulder, jabbing at the buttons on
his desk phone. "Don't do this to me. I know you're smarter than
this. Just pick up, say something-- anything-- and all is forgiven."
"I told you to pick up, Scully."
He tapped his foot impatiently. "You aren't listening to me."
"Scully, where are you? Answer the phone!"
"This is Dana Scully. I can't come to the phone right now, but
if you'll leave your name and number at the--"
Mulder swore bitterly, and slammed down the receiver.
It was 9:15 on a Thursday morning, and Scully still hadn't come
into the office. That would have been unusual for him; for her, it
was virtually unthinkable. Over the past half hour he'd thought of
every reasonable excuse for her lateness-- her alarm hadn't gone off,
traffic was slow, she'd had to pick something up on the way.
Unfortunately, those theories weren't at all persuasive. If the
reason for her absence was that mundane, she'd have called to let him
know. And if she had nothing to hide, she'd be answering her phone,
either at home or on the road.
Which could mean only one thing: she'd gone to visit Leta
Of course she'd known he'd guess where she was. Probably she'd
counted on it, in case anything went wrong with the interview. But
by now she must have at least a forty-five-minute lead, and she knew
the highways as well as he did. He hadn't a hope of catching up to
her before she reached Leta's house.
Grabbing his jacket and coat, he raced out of the office, his
keys rattling furiously in his hand. He might not be able to stop
Scully from walking off this particular cliff, but he prayed he'd at
least be there to catch her before she hit.
* * *
His hands were aching where they gripped the steering wheel; his
eyes itched and burned from three and a half hours of staring at the
road. To his frustration, a thin but unyielding layer of ice had
coated the highways overnight; he was driving as fast as he could
without losing even more time on a messy accident, but it wasn't
nearly fast enough.
How could Scully have been so stupid? Did she really think that
it was only his memories Leta Vicker was interested in? Had she
never stopped to think that seeing her through Mulder's eyes could
only have whetted Leta's appetite for the other half of the story?
Maybe she did realize the danger, but with her usual misplaced
nobility, had determined to ignore it-- chosen instead to plead with
Leta, woman to woman, to give back what she had stolen. Although
that would demand a degree of naivete on Scully's part that he
couldn't quite believe she still possessed. Not after all the things
they'd seen, the horrors faced, the shocks and the betrayals; not now
that she'd learned, as he had done before her, to trust no one.
No, Scully must have a plan. Her mind was too systematic, her
judgment too sound, to act on the kind of foolish impulse that so
often drove him into danger. The thought made him relax a little,
the tension in his shoulders loosening as he turned at last onto
Parkland Avenue and stopped the car beneath an old maple tree
silvered with frost.
A chill wind snatched at his coat, stung his face and hands as
he slammed the door shut, crossed the road and hurried down the
sidewalk toward number 49. Dead leaves crackled beneath his feet as
he ran, and his footprints showed dark against the snow. Crossing
Leta's lawn, he leaped the railing onto her front step, chanting
silently: Scully. Scully. Scully...
The front door, unlocked, creaked open at his touch. Fighting a
sudden, atavistic desire to tear it off its hinges and throw it down
the hall, he pushed his way through, kicked it shut behind him.
There was no answer, only the thick, musty silence. He slipped
his gun out of the holster beneath his jacket, curled his finger
around the trigger, and moved forward.
"I'm here, Scully," he called as he paced down the hall,
glancing first into the washroom, then the kitchen. "Talk to me."
Still no reply. He doubled back into the living room. Like the
rest of the house's ground floor, it appeared to be empty, but the
olive-drab polyester sofa bore the signs of recent occupation, and
the rim of the half-full coffee cup on the end table was marked with
a small, feathery crescent of lipstick. He touched the cup, found it
still warm, and a flutter of hope beat against his ribcage.
Dashing back into the front hall, he grabbed the railing, took
the stairs two at a time, and arrived, breathing hard, on the house's
top level. The corridor before him was a web of shadows and dust,
the passage half-blocked on one side by a set of shelves filled with
broken-backed Harlequins and Reader's Digest Condensed Books. He
wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, edged his way around
Leta's pathetic excuse for a library, and set off down the hall.
The first door he found opened onto another washroom, with a
rusty claw-footed bathtub and tiles black with mildew. A little
further down, on the left, he discovered an impenetrable maze of
boxes, old clothes, and broken appliances that had probably once been
a guest room. Which meant--
He broke into a run, hurled himself at the last, closed door.
The doorknob would not turn, and the keyhole appeared to be blocked
from the inside, probably by the key. He hammered at the unyielding
"Federal agent! Open up!"
Silence. He gritted his teeth, backed up a couple of steps, and
lashed out at the door with his best karate kick. It groaned, but
did not yield. Again, and now the paint was cracking, a few
splinters of wood falling to the floor. Three kicks. Four--
The door flew open.
Leta Vicker was sitting up in bed, surrounded by pillows, the
picture of domestic comfort. She did not even spare him a glance as
he burst into her room: her gaze was fixed on the woman who stood
unmoving at the foot of the bed, her pistol dangling from limp
"Scully," whispered Mulder.
Leta giggled. "Well, hello there. I thought you might turn up
sooner or later-- _Fox_."
Swallowing back his revulsion, he released the safety, levelled
the gun at her. "Let her go. Now."
"Oh, but I'm having far too much fun to do that. So many lovely
secrets..." She bared her teeth in an insipid mockery of a smile.
"If only you knew."
"I'm going to count to three, Leta."
"Don't bore me with cliches, Agent Mulder. If you shoot me,
what happens to your partner? Maybe she lives and maybe she doesn't.
Maybe she gets her mind back, and maybe--" One meaty hand curled
into a fist, clutching the blankets closer-- "I take her with me."
"I'll take that chance," said Mulder grimly, and fired.
The bullet whizzed past Leta's ear, plowed into the opposite
wall. Her head snapped around toward him, her eyes wide, startled--
and Scully crumpled, the connection broken. Mulder shoved his gun
back into the holster and flung himself down beside his partner,
gathering her up into his arms.
"Come on, Scully," he breathed. "Fight her. You're strong, you
can do it--"
"Yeah." He ran the back of his hand down her cheek, caressing,
feeling the coldness in his stomach beginning to melt. "Yeah,
Scully, it's me."
Her eyelids fluttered, opened: she gazed up at him blankly.
"Mulder, I remember you, I remember who I am, but-- I can't remember
how I got here."
"I called you, stupid," snapped Leta, flinging the covers aside
and heaving herself out of the bed. "All it took was one of your
partner's memories, so sweet, so tempting, slipped into your mind as
you were drinking your coffee-- and you surrendered without a
struggle, came crawling up here to beg for more. I knew it wouldn't
be hard to bait you, but I'd no idea it would be _that_ easy."
Scully put a hand to her forehead, wincing. "No. No, that's
not true... I came to talk to you... came to ask you to give Mulder
back his memories... I..."
"Do you know what memory it was, Fox?" Leta inched her way
toward them, leaning heavily on the mattress, panting with the effort
of movement. "Wouldn't you like to know? Look at me."
He closed his eyes. "Forget it. You've got nothing I want."
"You think that will help? You think you can just turn away?"
She chuckled mirthlessly. "Maybe once, but not now. You might find
it hard to believe, but Agent Scully actually did me a favor when she
brought Aunt Elsie's milk-jug down on my head: I can do things now
that I never could before. Like this--"
Mulder gasped, back arching in shock and ecstasy as a vivid,
unfamiliar recollection leaped into his mind: being enfolded by a
welcome pair of arms, cradled close; feeling two strong hands cupping
his face, turning it upward; listening to a deep, husky voice
speaking words of comfort and reassurance; feeling lips brushing his
forehead, so tenderly, sending a thrill through him in spite of his
And the face he looked at, the face that smiled down at him from
what seemed a weirdly great height, was his own.
"I gave her your half of that memory, Agent Mulder," said Leta
with relish, looming over him. "Is it any wonder she wanted more?
Would have done anything to know how it felt to be you, how you felt
when you looked at her? No more guessing, no more confusion; no more
games of verbal hide-and-seek. Of course you want that too. Who
"Yeah, and knowing everything about me has sure made you a
sympathetic, caring friend, hasn't it?" Mulder snapped back. "You
don't fool me, Leta. You hated the people you killed-- every one of
them. First you hated them for being happy, so you tried to steal
their happiness. And afterward you hated them for being so ordinary,
so tragically flawed. Sharing my memories must have been your
biggest letdown in years-- so you'll have to pardon me if I don't buy
into the Fairy Godmother act." With his free hand-- which happened
to be his left, unfortunately-- he snatched up Scully's fallen
pistol. "Now back off."
"You're a terrible shot, Agent Mulder," said Leta with contempt.
"We both know that."
"He is," agreed Scully, her voice husky. She leaned against
Mulder, slipped a hand inside his jacket. Then with a single swift
movement she pulled his gun out of its holster, levelled it at Leta.
"But I'm not."
Leta straightened up, raising her hands in mock surrender.
"Ooh, another gun. Is this where you read me my rights? I'll look
forward to hearing them-- once you tell me what you plan to charge me
with." Her mouth curled in a sneer. "And who you think will believe
Mulder looked down at Scully, still half-cradled in his arms.
"She does appear to have a point."
"True-- but you know what they say about appearances," said
Scully. She put down her gun, reached into the pocket of her
trenchcoat. "And besides, there's at least one thing in this room
that can't possibly lie." And she held up a slim microcassette
Leta stared at the machine, her face reddening. Mulder thrust
Scully behind him, spread out his arms to block the inevitable
attack, but it never came. The old woman took a single step toward
them, her powerful arms outstretched; then she choked, staggered, and
clutched at her chest. "My--" she gasped. "Can't--"
"Mulder, she's having a heart attack!" Scully leaped to her
feet, darted forward to catch the other woman's elbow, her slight
frame absurdly dwarfed by Leta's bulk. "Call the ambulance!"
"You--" Leta wheezed, grabbing Scully and pulling her around.
With burning eyes she stared into the smaller woman's face, trying,
for one last time, to make contact. Furious, desperate, Mulder
scrambled to his feet, hit Leta with a flying tackle, and brought
them both crashing to the floor.
"Mulder!" shouted Scully.
Leta's hands were around his neck, squeezing inexorably:
through blue-tinged lips she spat out a curse, and her eyes locked
onto his. He could feel her pulling at his thoughts, fat mental
fingers pawing for a hold--
There was a sudden, deafening explosion. From beneath Leta's
left shoulder, a dark stain crept out across the floor; blood bubbled
up from between her lips, and the hands that clutched Mulder fell
He could feel the room spinning, blackness fraying the edges of
his vision as he staggered upright, then fell sideways against the
bed. He was only dimly aware of pulling the covers with him as he
slid to the floor, his mind a churning whirlpool of thoughts,
Samantha, laughing as he pushed her on the playground swing, her
dark braids fluttering in the wind. His mother, tender and worried,
bending over to give him a goodnight kiss. Professor Challoner
commending him for his first-year essay on Jungian archetypes--
"Insightful... remarkable". Phoebe in one of her rare sentimental
moments, laughing and dropping a daisy chain around his neck.
Skinner telling him the X-Files had been re-opened, the firmness of
his handshake confirming his personal commitment to keep it that way.
Scully. Walking into his basement office, defusing his
resentment with her simple, candid admiration. Her voice in the
semi-darkness: "Mulder, I wouldn't put myself on the line for
anybody but you." Holding him while he wrestled with his private
demons, sharing with him burdens too great for him to bear alone.
Standing in the sunlight, half-turned to look back at him, her smile
sending an ache through his whole body--
He opened his eyes, saw her bent over him, clutching his hand in
both of hers, against her heart. "Hi, Scully," he murmured. "What
did I miss?"
Relief suffused her face, bringing colour back into the
whiteness of her cheeks. "Nothing, Mulder," she said. "You were
only out for about thirty seconds."
"And Leta, is she--"
She bowed her head. "Yes."
"Come here, Scully." He pulled himself into a sitting position.
She hesitated, then sat down beside him, letting him drape an arm
around her shoulders.
"Now," he continued, "let's go through this one step at a time.
You planned the bit with the cassette recorder all along?"
"So you drove here, and-- who made you the coffee? The nurse?"
She nodded. "We chatted for a few minutes, and then she had to
leave-- she had another client waiting. She told me just to make
myself at home, that Leta knew I was here, and was getting ready to
come downstairs and to talk to me."
"But she lured you upstairs instead."
He put a finger to her lips. "Don't explain. And definitely
don't apologize. I would have done the same thing you did, and
probably for the same reason."
"I don't know about that." Her voice shook. "Mulder, a lot has
happened over the past few weeks--"
"--which is why we're not going to talk about it now," he
finished, reluctant to cut her off, yet knowing it was for the best.
"We're going to call the police, we're going to give our statements,
then we're going to go home. Unless you have a better plan."
She smiled wearily. "No... no, Mulder, I don't."
"All right, then." He squeezed her shoulder lightly, then
released her and pushed himself back up to his feet. "By the way,"
he added as an afterthought, "I don't suppose you've got any
"Yeah." He nodded his head toward Leta. "You'll have to pardon
my macabre sense of humour, but-- this killer's a headache."
* * *
Mulder sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, gazing out over
the icy mirror of the reflecting pool to the familiar obelisk looming
on the horizon. Behind the Washington Monument the sky was deep
indigo, streaked with sienna; the white-gold coin of the winter sun
hung low over the distant trees, stretching shadows out across the
withered grass. Couples old and young strolled arm in arm along the
walkway, some conversing in low voices, others companionably silent.
>From behind him came snatches of faint, tinny music from the skating
rink, and the sound of children's laughter.
"It's a beautiful night." Scully's voice was soft, meditative.
He turned, saw her descending the last few steps toward him, and gave
a wry smile.
"Yeah, but I sure could do with a pair of gloves." He rubbed
his hands together, blew on them, and stuffed them into his armpits
in a fruitless attempt to restore their warmth. "Didn't think
Skinner would keep you so long."
She sat down beside him, sighing. "It wasn't a pleasant
interview, believe me. I'm beginning to suspect-- just beginning,
mind you-- that it doesn't look good for the Bureau when we go around
shooting our suspects before they're convicted."
He feigned astonishment. "Wow, really?"
"Hard to believe, I know." She brushed a loose thread from her
coat. "And of course, I could have been wrong-- you know how subtle
Skinner is about these things."
Mulder chuckled and leaned back against the steps, folding his
arms behind his head. High above, the evening's first star gleamed
against the darkness, inviting a wish-- or a telescope. "Thanks,
Scully," he said.
"For coming. I know it's been a long day."
She said nothing. Taking off her gloves finger by finger, she
laid them neatly in her lap, looked out across the snow-dusted lawn.
"Scully--" He sat up, leaning into the corner of her vision.
"Do I need to say it? We both know why we're here."
"Look, Mulder, you don't have to do this. I'm glad you have
your memory back; I'm glad you're back to normal. We've just gone
through a very stressful and uncertain time in our partnership, but
it's over now. So please, can we both just relax and forget about--"
"As it happens, no, we can't. Forgetting is the last thing I
want to do-- now or ever." He reached across to put a hand on her
arm, silently pleading for her to listen, to understand. "For nearly
a month I saw myself through a stranger's eyes, Scully-- do you
realize what that meant, still means, to me? Objectivity doesn't
come easily where I'm concerned, never has; I struggle every day to
achieve the dispassionate self-appraisal you take for granted. But
while Leta had my memories, I had a chance to step back, to re-
evaluate. And I did."
"Well--" She shrugged uncomfortably, her eyes still avoiding
his. "That's good. I'm glad for you."
He gave her a pained look. "Scully, I'm not telling you I've
just made some sort of early New Year's resolution to be a good boy
and eat my vegetables. It's more than that."
"No more empty self-possession?"
Now she did turn toward him, her smile a little sheepish.
"Sorry. For a minute there I thought I was talking to Neil Finn."
_No more empty self-possession / feelings swept under the mat /
it's no New Year's resolution / it's more than that..._ He
remembered the tune even as she spoke, and found himself smiling in
return. "'Message to My Girl'. You have no idea how apropos that
really is, Scully. I wrote you a letter about three weeks ago."
She frowned. "Did you? I never got it."
"I never mailed it."
"Oh." She paused, considering his words. Then she said, "I
suppose that _is_ apropos-- except that I'm not your girl, Mulder.
And you didn't call me out here to ask on bended knee whether I would
be, either. Did you."
"Yes. Well." She picked up her gloves, turned them over in her
hands. "I suppose that's my cue to ask what you _did_ call me here
For all her attempts at nonchalance, even indifference, she was
nervous. He could feel the tension in the arm that lay a little too
still beneath his touch; hear the hint of vibrato when she spoke.
"Dana," he said, dropping his voice an octave, and watched her close
her eyes and swallow in an automatic, unmistakeable response.
He wanted to laugh, to weep, to stand up and shout at the sheer
absurdity of the whole situation. So much felt, so much understood
between them, and yet still they stood on opposite sides of a wall of
impenetrable words. For a while he had watched that facade, so much
of it his own careless doing, beginning to crumble; but now the
barrier was being rebuilt, stronger than ever. And this time Scully
was the one with the bricks and the mortar.
"No," he said, "_you_ don't. And I need to know why. There's
something I've done, something I've said--"
"Stop it." Her voice was tight. "We are not having this
"You're scared, Scully. What are you frightened of?"
She shook her head mutely.
Mulder gave an exasperated sigh, turned away to look out into
the night. As he did so, a coltish-looking girl walked past the foot
of the Memorial, holding the hand of a boy who seemed too old to be
her son, yet whose features bore the same ethereal, otherworldly
stamp as her own. Her reddish hair, paler and much longer than
Scully's, fluttered in the wind, and her clear voice drifted up to
"Where did you say he'd be waiting?"
"Right here," replied the boy, with a confidence weirdly at odds
with the treble voice and the red rubber boots. Then he lifted his
small face and looked up the steps, straight at Mulder. "See," he
said, "I told you."
The young woman raised her head, and he realized with a shock
that it was the girl who had handed him the leaflet, out on the
street in front of the hospital. But what were the chances of seeing
her again, especially here, miles and weeks away from the place
they'd first met?
Scully must have noticed his stare: she touched his shoulder.
"Mulder, what's the matter?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but the girl didn't give him the
chance. She walked up the stairs toward him, stopped about three
steps down, and said calmly,
"I came to tell you that the Nemesis case is closed. There will
be no more deaths, because the person responsible for them committed
suicide five hours ago. You'll find him in his apartment tomorrow
morning, along with the evidence you need to link him to the murders.
But you will never know how or why those six young men were killed.
I'm sorry to have to tell you that, but it's the truth."
"Mulder..." Scully's voice was thick with astonishment. "How
does she know--?"
But he was already on his feet, reaching for his badge.
"Federal Agent," he said. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to need more of
an explanation than that."
The girl gave him a pitying look, turned, and walked back down
the stairs. Startled by her indifference, Mulder clattered down
after her. "Hey! You can't just--"
She took the little boy's hand, turned to look at him with those
pale, tranquil eyes. "Agent Mulder," she said, "I'm only here
because you told me I would be. And I'm very sorry, but I won't see
you again. So don't make this difficult for both of us. Goodbye."
And with that, she was gone. It wasn't as though she vanished,
or even faded slowly away: it was simply that he suddenly couldn't
remember where she'd been standing when she last talked to him, and
he found himself looking around in confusion.
"Mesmerism," said Scully resignedly from her perch some feet
above. "Though I admit not very many people are that good at it."
He shook his head, trudged back up the steps to join her.
"Whatever it was, we're not going to find her again, obviously."
"How do you know?"
"I don't. But I do." He sat down, frowning. "Couldn't you
hear the truth in her voice? It was like watching a polygraph test.
She had nothing to do with the murders-- she was just reporting."
"Well," said Scully after a brief, throat-clearing pause that
spoke eloquently of her scepticism, "if she's right, we'll solve the
case tomorrow. Anyway, we can always look her, or the boy, up in the
"Her accent was Canadian. The boy's was closer to British. I
don't think we're going to have much luck there, Scully."
She shivered. "That whole encounter was just-- weird."
"Yeah. That kid's rubber boots especially. I'm not used to my
X-Files wearing galoshes: it kind of spoils the whole transcendental
cachet of the thing, don't you think?"
Unexpectedly, she began to laugh. He watched her, a little grin
bending the corners of his mouth, until she found the breath and
strength to gasp out her reply: "Mulder, you may have a graduate
degree in psychology, but I swear, sometimes you're the biggest
"I know. But you love me anyway."
Scully wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, chuckled a
little, and let out a sigh. "Yeah." Then she seemed to realize what
she'd said, and straightened up again. "Look, Mulder," she said, her
voice suddenly serious. "I'm sorry about what happened tonight.
It's just-- I don't want to ruin a good thing by overanalyzing it."
"A good thing." He bent forward, resting his chin on his knees
and gazing out into the darkness. "I want it to be, Scully, but I
think we both know that things haven't always worked out that way,
for either of us. I can be pretty selfish, and you... well, I like
to think of it as determination, but sometimes, I have to admit,
you're just plain stubborn. And between us, we seem to have
discovered the knack of making each other miserable."
"Yes, but that happens to everybody," said Scully. "The more
you know about a person, the closer you are to them, the easier it is
to hurt them-- and be hurt by them. Growing up with Missy and Bill
and Charlie, I learned that from Day One. The only way to avoid it
is to stop caring, and close the door."
"Like Leta." He frowned thoughtfully. "I never considered it
in quite this way before, but I think that's what those murders were
really all about. She wanted all the benefits of friendship-- that
intimacy, that sharing of thoughts and experiences-- without the
risk. None of her victims could hurt her, because she didn't give
them the chance. They couldn't lie to her, or refuse her, or keep
secrets from her."
"And that's what she offered to us."
There was an odd note in her voice. He looked over at her, his
eyebrows lifting: she flushed and looked down at her lap.
"Yeah," he said finally. "I was tempted, too. But we both know
that would have been cheating. Our friendship-- let's call it that
for the time being, although I think both of us know there's more to
it than that-- may not always be everything it ought to be, but it's
real, and it's strong, and Scully--"
She lifted her head, her eyes questioning. He put his cold
hands over both of hers, met her gaze with his own dark, serious one.
"--it's the best thing I've ever had."
Scully was silent a moment. Then she turned her hands over,
clasping his in return, and gave him a small but genuine smile.
"Thank you," she said. "I needed to hear that."
"I do requests, too, you know."
"You don't believe me. What do you want to hear? Go ahead, try
He could see her fighting with temptation, the gleam in her eye
warning him she wanted to ask him for something dangerous or
embarrassing or both: but then her natural discretion won out, and
she said, "Oh, I don't know. Recite a poem."
"Anything you like. Except for limericks. I can't stand
Mulder considered this. At last he said, "Have you ever heard
of a poet named Thomas Lovell Beddoes?"
"I'm not surprised. He's pretty obscure. But I discovered him
at Oxford, and for a while I was fascinated with his poetry. There's
an excerpt from one of his poems, or actually a play, and it goes--"
He cleared his throat, raised his head toward the glimmering sky, and
"...Love? Do I love? I walk
Within the brilliance of another's thought,
As in a glory. I was dark before,
As Venus' chapel in the black of night;
But there was something holy in the darkness,
Softer and not so thick as other where;
And as rich moonlight may be to the blind,
Unconsciously consoling. Then love came,
Like the outbursting of a trodden star."
He finished the excerpt a little self-consciously, and looked
back down at Scully. She sat unmoving, lips parted in wonder. "That
was... quite the choice, Mulder," she said finally.
"You liked it?"
"So do I. Except for the last line-- I have a bit of trouble
with that one."
"The trodden star? I thought that was the best part."
"So do I. It's just that I haven't stepped on any lately." He
lowered his voice. "But the rest is true, Scully: believe me. And
I'm not sure it's such a great idea to go around treading on stars
anyway. I felt that way about Phoebe, and you know what came-- or
rather, didn't-- of that."
She touched his face. "I understand."
"You're not hurt?"
He sighed his relief. "Good."
"Just tell me one thing, Mulder."
"Are you going to replace your... collection?"
"What, you mean all those videos that aren't mine?" He grinned
at her. "No. I think I may try something new and radical instead."
"Like what?" she asked, with evident trepidation.
"Oh, I don't know... getting a life. Hanging around with my
partner, now and then... if she'd like me to."
She relaxed. "I think," she said, "that might be arranged."
"Glad to hear it." He pushed himself to his feet, turned to
pull her up beside him. "So. Walk you to your car?"
"If you like."
He offered her his arm. She stared at it a moment, as though it
were some sort of supernatural apparition; then, slowly and somewhat
suspiciously, took it.
"Breathe, Scully," said Mulder. "I'm not going to bite you."
She struggled against a smile. "Mulder, that was a straight
line if I ever heard one."
He laughed, squeezed her arm, and they walked down the steps