THE X-FILES: "Penetrating the Shadows"

by Abbie Anderson (
Originally completed 5/11/96; last revision 7/29/99

Summary: Mulder's mother has an accident while preparing to share with him some significant photographs and papers that his father had saved, and Mulder calls Scully to Martha's Vineyard to help him face the Truth. A Relationship (kissing) story with some gratuitous plot thrown in. The author's first non-teleplay fanfic, and it shows: watch out! We can go inside their heads now!

Disclaimer: The universe of The X-Files and the characters therein are the intellectual property of Chris Carter, Fox Television, and Ten-Thirteen Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended; I'm just having a good time. If you like what I've done, feel free to share it, but of course do give me credit for it and provide the sharees with my e-mail address. If it provokes a reaction, positive or negative, please let me know. Constructive criticism especially welcome.

Note: When I originally wrote this story, Mulder's mother had not yet been named (she had also not yet had her stroke). Since that time she has been identified as "Tina" on the show (definite confirmation in the episode "Kitsunegari", unless Scully is making a mistake). True to the spirit of The X-Files, I refuse to accept this. I repressed it (wink). I choose to leave my Mrs. Mulder as Catherine, after Chris Carter's mother (seeing how he named both Mulder's and Scully's fathers after his father William--and killed both of those fathers off, too, I might add). I am also ignoring the insinuation that the Cigarette Smoking Man ("Cancer Man") may be Mulder's and/or Samantha's biological father. This rather nasty suggestion wasn't made on the show until after I finished this story, and it would complicate things too much to try to include it now.

Catherine Mulder had had just about enough. Enough sherry, and a single shot of bourbon, to do what needed to be done with sufficient numbness and detachment. Her son's face still haunted her, her own voice ringing in her ears: "I don't remember!" Of course she remembered. There would be no forgetting, and no forgiving: not then, not now, not until the grave had swallowed them all and the secrets could no longer breed in the corners of their lives. God forgive her, how she hated the man she had married! And for a long time, she had hated that man's son. The sight of him, even the thought of him, summoned all the ghosts of loss and outrage--her daughter, her marriage, both trampled by the horned animal who commanded her one night to choose, and she could not. Of course he had chosen the boy, the heir, the firstborn. More words came back to her, words thrown at their son, the one left behind, who was never told, never to know. "In his grave I hate him still!" That, at least, was the truth.

She didn't know why the man who had been her husband had kept the photographs, the letters. She had found a whole suitcase full of them, after he died, among his things. Without mentioning it to anyone (what business was it, what interest was it to anyone outside the family?) she had taken it home. Now it was her treasure, her burden. The contents fascinated her. Why would he keep such things close to him, this personal documentation of the evils he had been a part of? Poring over them late at night she felt a furious desire to confront him, perhaps to force a confession, to make him say it: "These are the men I worked for. This is what I did. This is how I sold my conscience and my family and my soul. This was my price." Her first impulse after examining them for herself had been to tear them all up one by one, to burn them, to enact her paltry vengeance and watch them be destroyed as she wished she could destroy the reality they represented.

But that was why she had saved them, finally. Perhaps it was William Mulder's reason, as well. They were the reality, they were the truth, and whatever distance she had placed between herself and her son, she too wanted a piece of the truth. This was one thing she still owned from her life, one thing she could still control. She was glad she had kept them.

She knew now that Fox deserved at least this much. If she had nothing else left to give him, if she had never given him anything strong enough to stand on, she could at least give him this piece of the truth.

The thought of his name made her smile as she climbed the stairs to the attic, her joints protesting along with the wood beneath her feet. He had never liked his given name. "I'm not an animal, Mom," he had protested in High School, perhaps a shade too defensively. "Call me Mulder." Somehow she had never been able to comply with even that request, no matter what he liked to tell his friends. Mulder was his father's name. No, she thought at him across time, you're not an animal. You have no idea what you are. It was a relief when he had gone away to school--so good of him to go so far away, and then on without a pause to his career with the FBI. No wonder he was drawn to morbid things, to death and destruction, mystery and absence. No wonder he was so good at it: it was what his father had weaned him on.

All black thoughts were washed downstream by the rush of unsought euphoria that came as she uncovered the battered suitcase. Before tonight she had opened it only to count the hoard, to meditate on the possession of it and feed the coals of her bitterness. These are the men who did it, she would think. These are the men who took my life away, for if I cannot keep my family, I cannot keep myself. But now, but now...she would give the burden away. It was the right thing to do, and that thought nearly overwhelmed her with a flood of emotion she could no longer label but once might have known as joy, or freedom.

She got up from her knees, wiping at her wet face and feeling the dampness of the night in her bones, bones which seemed to feel compelled at this moment to give a speech concerning the exact number of decades they had held her rigid and erect. She lifted the suitcase, and on impulse reached for the box of long-neglected photo albums that lay next to it: wedding pictures, baby pictures, pictures taken on holidays when there had been four of them.... Perhaps she could look again at those, now.

Her load left her a little off balance, and in order to get down the attic steps she had to disregard a giddy wave of alcohol and high feeling that lapped at her brain. She crossed the hallway and wouldn't let herself pause as she headed down the steps to the living room, and the phone, where she would call him. She didn't want to alarm him; she would have to preface it, "I have good news, son...." It wouldn't matter that it was nearly midnight now, he never slept.

Catherine wasn't watching her feet, and hardly noticed when she half-missed the next step. Suddenly she was on the way down more rapidly than she had planned, and she didn't really mind the impact as she tumbled earthward with her burdens. For a moment she felt as if she were flying.

Scully couldn't begin to think what Mulder was going through right now. The message on her machine had simply said, "My Mom had an accident, I'm going up to the Vineyard." Then a pause, and the unexpected request: "I'd appreciate it if you could be there." Normally he wasn't willing to open this part of his life to her; he would have gone without saying anything and left her to figure it out. Again to her surprise he had actually answered his cellular phone when she tried to reach him, and given her the directions she'd need to the hospital where Mrs. Mulder was under observation.

Mulder rarely talked about his parents, and then mostly about his father; and then, only to say how little connection he felt to his genetic source. She could understand his bitterness about his family, considering the traumas of his sister's disappearance, his parents' divorce, and their apparent coldness toward him. But on a personal level she had a hard time grasping this absence of family for her partner, and the ease with which he seemed to shrug off that absence. Coming from a warm and noisy family of six, Dana's life had a context that provided its meaning, its sense: a context of people who laugh and argue and tease and disagree but never stop caring about each other. She knew Mulder didn't have that context. The universe Scully had grown up in always had its comforts, its refuges, its certainties. Not so for Mulder. She was aware that this could well be the root of their all-too-regular arguments over how to interpret evidence, how to pursue a case. Of course he reaches for the fantastic: he doesn't know what real is. The world he was raised in gave him no reason to trust it or take it at face value. Until she started working in the X-Files, Scully had been given no reason not to trust it.

She had to admit that his enthusiasm for the unlikely had helped her, though. When you're too grounded in reality you can get dug in, and the worst thing a scientist can do is limit her thinking only to expected results. It is a truism in science that the best, most important discoveries almost always come from the unexpected (that, and a lot of hard work). With that in mind, she knew her skills, her strengths, would never be tested anywhere else the way they were in the X-Files. She liked that, even if in the light of day the challenges she so savored often seemed nonsensical at best. She wondered if Mulder was aware of this particular reason for her sticking around. It was purely selfish: she loved the work. That might not make much sense, knowing how hard she fought against the very things--paranormal possibilities--that drew her partner to each case, but it was true. Was that a secret?

Scully had only met Mrs. Mulder once, at the funeral for Mulder's father, when Mulder himself had been missing and presumed dead. She had tried to discern something of her partner in this gray, not-quite-present woman, but met only a blankness, an ache that was all too appropriate given the circumstances. Now Catherine Mulder had fallen down the stairs, and something else was going on that Mulder didn't want to talk about over the phone. Scully sighed as she found a spot in the hospital parking garage, then paused wearily a moment before getting out of the car. It would be about his father. Or Samantha. Or both, probably. It was hardly likely that Mulder would call her to Massachusetts just for moral support. He was as careful about that kind of thing as she was herself. It had to be about the Truth.

Scully hated watching Mulder wrestle with those old demons, hated the fact that they wouldn't let him go--that he wouldn't let them go. It still made her angry sometimes, made her want to shake him and force him to come to his senses: "It's not your fault, Mulder! You're not responsible for this, can't you see that?" No, he couldn't see that. And nothing she said or did would change how he felt about it. Besides, it wasn't her job to try.

Mulder had asked her to be here, so she had come. Why was it that she always came when he called? The question irritated her. She had told Mulder once that the line had to be drawn somewhere, but that rarely seemed to stop her from following him into oblivion and beyond. What bothered her was that he seemed to expect it. Considering how hard she worked at her job, and how much it had cost her, she didn't like being assigned the trusty sidekick position. Her father had instilled in her the value of commitment to principle: that didn't make her a Tonto. Her earliest lessons, constantly reinforced in her Navy household, had been those of loyalty, honor, duty. So she respected Mulder's passionate commitment, and added her own commitment to it. That response was as much a part of her character and of her view of the world as her equally vehement commitment to science. If the Bureau had understood this about her, they never would have assigned her to the X-Files--or at least they wouldn't have been so surprised when she didn't do their dirty work for them and bring Mulder crashing down.

Not that she didn't want to bring him down herself, sometimes. Like when he insisted on taking the most harebrained risks to go after the shadow of a shred of evidence. Or when he made the umpteenth sly, self-congratulatory reference to his porn habit, or some stupid sex joke that would have seemed cheesy in junior high. As if this was supposed to impress somebody. One of these days, Mulder, one of these days.... Pow. Right on the kisser. Now isn't that a thought? She chuckled to herself. No way. This Special Agent was not given to self-destruction! That angst-ridden partner of hers was fully capable of sucking her dry and casting her empty husk aside before he'd even known he'd done it. No way. But it was still an interesting thought. Not that either of them would ever do anything about it.

Scully found the reception desk and got Mrs. Mulder's room number, then made her way to the private room on a quiet floor. The door was shut, and she hesitated to interrupt. She knocked gently on the door, then a little harder when she got no response.

Mulder opened the door. He was glad to see Scully there, and too tired to care whether it showed. "Thanks for coming," he said, and put a hand on her shoulder to usher her in. "She's asleep. They've got her medicated for the pain." Scully looked at him and went wordlessly to the chart at the bottom of his mother's bed. Always the professional.

"At least it's just her wrist and some severe bruising. We'll have to give her extra credit for toughness, getting to the phone and calling 911 after a fall like that. It'll be an uncomfortable recovery, but it could have been worse. It's almost a surprise she didn't break a hip."

"It helped that she was pretty plastered at the time."


He always enjoyed getting that reaction out of her. Sucker. He felt better already. He had been too long without a kid sister to tease and torture. He could rarely resist the temptation to pull a fast one on Scully: she was such a good straight man. "She told me she drank most of a bottle of sherry and a shot of bourbon before going up to the attic to get out some things of my father's that she wanted to share with me. Things I'd asked about before."

"I see." He could almost see the hatches battening down: she was bracing herself. She knew him too well. "How are you doing?"

"I'm still standing. I'm glad you could come; I think I'm going to need your help with this."

"I was surprised to get your call, Mulder. Judging by past experience I wouldn't have expected to hear from you when you had a family crisis."

"Older and wiser, Scully. I'm learning my limits. I screwed up when I came by myself last time, and you were the only one to stick with me in the aftermath. I just wanted to keep my bases covered." He hadn't really answered the question implicit in her last statement ("so why did you call me?"), and he knew it. He just didn't want to chase ghosts by himself on this one, and he knew he'd need Scully's scientific clarity (and skills at fighting him) as soon as he started looking at what his mother had promised. It wasn't exactly fair to force Scully to be his wrangler, but he didn't know anyone better for the job, and he honestly didn't want to make mistakes with this, didn't want to end up running off like a desperado and losing any evidence his mother was trying to offer him.

"I see," she said again, and he could tell she knew exactly what he was trying to do by having her there. He was grateful that she didn't seem to resent it any more than usual. She moved to look into his mother's face, a look of gentle concern spreading softly over her features. He wondered briefly if she had ever looked at him like that, and then remembered that she had; they both had looked pretty awful then, though, doing their best impressions of George Burns. There may have been other times, too, but he wouldn't have been conscious. He wished he hadn't missed it. Even if it wasn't something he could claim, it was nice to know it was there. He would never forget her smile when he had finally come to, after chasing some particularly deadly ghosts onto the ice, and complained of freezer burn--and proclaimed a renewed faith in the chase. For such a serious person, she had a pretty goofy smile. He wanted to live long enough to see it a few more times. There have been too many close calls, he thought, with a pang of familiar guilt.

"She's lost so much," Dana murmured, and reached to smooth the older woman's hair. "The bruises must not feel like much on top of that." Mulder stepped next to Scully and took his mother's hand, caressing the back of it a little with his thumb, glad that his partner was close. It shouldn't surprise him by now that Scully could come into this room and see exactly what was the most important thing.

Catherine's eyes fluttered open, and she saw her son standing over her with a petite auburn-headed woman who looked vaguely familiar. Her mind was too clouded, she couldn't put a name to the face....

"Mom, this is my partner at work, Dana Scully. I asked her to come and help us."

Catherine tried to sit up, realized that was a bad idea, then lifted her right arm and re-discovered that it was in a cast. She had to settle for a nod at the young woman. Her son still held her left hand, and she didn't want to pull it away. "Yes, we've met. At your father's funeral, Fox. It's good to see you again, Miss Scully, although I must apologize for the circumstances."

The young woman smiled, a warm smile that seemed genuine. "No apologies necessary. I understand you were carrying quite a burden when you fell."

Strange that she would use that word, Catherine's own personal code for the contents of that suitcase. She felt herself returning Dana Scully's smile. It appeared that Fox had better people to trust than his father had, and the thought reassured her. Perhaps there was hope of defeating the evil that had plagued her family after all.

The door opened, and a pretty young nurse stepped in. "Excuse me, Mr. Mulder? The doctor would like to have a word with you, please. There will be some paperwork to fill out, too, I'm afraid."

He obviously didn't want to go; it was touching. He looked between Catherine and his partner, then let his mother's hand go with a gentle squeeze. "I'll be right back." He went out.

"Please sit down," Catherine told her companion, and Dana drew a chair up next to the bed. "I'm sorry you had to come all this way just because I embarrassed myself negotiating a stairway."

"It wasn't any trouble. I've followed Mulder into much more inconvenient situations, believe me."

Catherine could believe that was true. She still felt fuzzy from the medication, and her next words slipped out before she could edit herself for tact. "He won't let you call him Fox, will he?"

The question obviously startled her son's partner. "He told me not to, once, and I've always respected that. Sometimes it seems as if everyone can use his first name but me."

"Maybe you should try again."

"I don't think so, Mrs. Mulder. Once was enough."

"Please, call me Catherine. It's been a long time since I associated myself with my husband's name."

"I'm sorry."

Catherine could see that Dana truly was sorry, sorry for the grief attached to the request. She didn't want the young woman to be uncomfortable, and her drug-loosened mind suddenly fastened on an old memory, a memory of her son, so clear it was almost like walking into the room to watch herself, more than thirty years ago.

"Fox was a very sensitive boy, you know."

"That's not too surprising."

"It was as if he could feel my moods with me, like a little walking barometer for my internal weather. He had a very happy temperament as a baby; everything seemed to engage him and require a response. He would laugh at anything, a butterfly, a piece of lint on his shirt, his father's voice on the phone in the next room...."

"I'm glad to hear that. His sense of humor now is more wicked than happy, I'd say."

"But before long there wasn't much to laugh at in our house any more, not even for an innocent little boy. His father and I...well, let's just say our lines began to be drawn. I didn't approve of some choices Fox's father had made, and he didn't want to listen to my reasons. I think he felt he couldn't afford to. He refused to explain himself to me, as if it were none of my affair. Fox knew it somehow, he knew something was wrong. He wasn't innocent any more, we had corrupted him. And neither of us cared, we were too involved in our own warfare."

Dana didn't have anything to say in response to that. Catherine was surprised to hear such harsh words actually come out of her mouth, when she had kept them secret so long. The memory still tugged at her, and she continued retelling it. It was easy somehow to say these things to this quiet, deeply listening woman.

"My mother passed away shortly after Samantha was born, and it felt to me that something fundamentally decent had gone out of the universe with her. She had always been my rock, my compass. I had a very hard time. They call it post-partum depression, but it felt like more than that at the time; it just seemed as if the walls were closing in. I had nowhere to turn. Perhaps now I would be able to get help, but in those days I was just being weak and irrational and irresponsible. I loved my daughter, I loved her desperately, but it became clear that in my present state of mind I couldn't care for her by myself. So Bill took the baby, he took the baby away to his parents for a while, and he went away, too, on business, he said. I didn't care where he went. It was just Fox and me alone together, with the occasional call or visit from a friend or a neighbor, checking on us, bringing us meals. There weren't many who knew. It wasn't something you would want anyone to know. They thought I wouldn't feed him.

"I would wander aimlessly from room to room, trying to remember why I had come there, and Fox would follow me like a little puppy, not saying a word, not moving from my side. I would step on him, I was so lost inside my own thoughts, and he didn't cry; he never made a sound. On the day Bill was supposed to come home, I spent most of the morning cleaning the house in fits and starts, never satisfied with the appearances we had so carefully maintained. I was angry, but I felt helpless. I wanted to take all of Bill's papers and strew them through the hallways, empty every bottle in the kitchen onto the floor, run a knife through all the wallpaper. But I didn't do it. I cleaned. I did what I thought I was supposed to do so I could have my daughter back. And Fox followed me, helping a little the way little children like to do.

"Finally I sat down on the sofa, I just sat and stared into nothing. And Fox, who hadn't said a word to me for days, he crawled up into my lap, and he laid his head on my shoulder, and he gave a little sigh, and he said, 'It's going to be all right, Mommy. We just have to feel bad for a while, then we'll find out what it is, and then we'll be all right.'

"Ever since my mother died, I hadn't been able to cry. But sitting there, holding my sweet, tender-hearted son who knew we had to find out what the matter was before we'd feel better, I started to cry. And he cried with me, I don't know for how long but it seemed a very long time. We both fell asleep like that, finally, and that was how Bill found us when he came home with the baby." She fell silent, treasuring the touch of that time in her mind.

"Have you told Mulder that story?" Dana Scully's face was somber, thoughtful.

"I don't know if he'd remember it. He wasn't even four years old yet. I hadn't remembered it myself until just now, the way he was looking at me as I woke up. And things changed after that. I could carry on, then, but there was no compromise between Bill and me. No room for negotiation. It wasn't long before we slept in separate rooms. Fox knew it, and he hated it. He was very sophisticated for a small child, he would talk back to us like an adult before he was even eight years old.

"I never gave him back the tenderness he offered me that afternoon. We gave him nothing, we only turned on each other. So he retreated. He made his bedroom his secret hideaway; he would be furious if either of us ever came in without his permission. And he became a consummate smart-aleck."

"Now that's the Mulder I know."

Catherine's sadness overcame her again. She suddenly realized how much she missed that happy baby, that tender three-year-old. "And then Samantha was gone, and none of us could talk to each other any more. I wanted as little contact with either of them as they'd permit me. Fox battered at our silence with his fury, but still we gave him nothing, no explanations, nothing of what we knew. I knew, Dana, I knew what was happening. I hadn't been told directly, but I could guess. I knew those men, I heard how they talked and what human lives meant for them: opportunities. Merchandise. They took her from us, those devils he worked for. Her father let them. He authorized it! He chose for her to go, going to God only knows what! But I didn't want to know. I refused to acknowledge it, I didn't want to give it official recognition. And Fox got nothing from us. We gave him nothing. William Mulder went to his grave with nothing in his hands or his heart for his only son."

Dana Scully was brave enough to respond to this muted tirade with something reasonable. "Mulder was convinced his father was trying to tell him something before he died, that he had called him to the Vineyard to make a confession of some kind. You did not give your son nothing, Catherine. And neither did his father. The man I work with decidedly does not have an inheritance of nothing. Even if you did not give him warmth and sunshine, you played a part in shaping the gifts my partner uses every day to try to make sense out of nothing. He would not be doing the important work he does now if it weren't for that 'nothing' you gave him."

Catherine was impressed, and pleased, that her son had such support, that he had earned the trust and respect his partner displayed. It was a good sign. "Do you really think his work is so important?"

The answer was resolute. "Yes, Catherine, I do. If I may say so, I think our work is important."

Catherine smiled. She hoped the doctors would let her go home so she could see these two in action. It seemed that Fox had a formidable ally. She didn't dare to hope for anything more.

Mulder knocked to let them know he was back and then let himself in, and was surprised at the mood he found in the previously somber hospital room. His mother was smiling, in a way he hadn't seen her smile since...probably since he was a kid. Dana looked ready to laugh at something, but sobered when she saw him. "Am I interrupting something?" he asked, wondering if he'd ever really find out.

"Not at all, Fox, we were just talking," came his mother's response. "I'm glad you asked Dana to come."

True to form, Scully got right to business. "What did the doctor say?"

"It looks like we can take Mom home in the morning. They just want to be sure that there will be no internal bleeding, and that her blood pressure settles down after the shock of the fall."

"I'll be glad to be in my own bed, and in my own nightgown," his mother said, and he was surprised at her informality, talking about bedclothes in front of company. She was usually pretty stiff about things like that. Maybe it was the medication.

"Can we bring you anything from home?" Scully asked. "You're entitled, even for just one night." Damn. He wouldn't have thought of that.

"No, dear, I'll be fine. I'm just complaining, like an old woman who craves attention."

"My mother likes to say that until you're eighty you're not entitled to feel old. Everything up until then is young."

"Well, give me another decade or two, then, and I won't have to apologize for complaining."

The two women smiled at each other again, and Mulder felt like he needed to be let in on the secret. Leave the room for two minutes, and everything happens without you....

His mother turned her head to address him. "I assume you'll be taking Dana back to the house for the night. There should be something in the kitchen you can put together for supper, if you want, and you know where I keep the linens."

Whoa, take Dana back to the house? Don't get any funny ideas, Mom, unless you clear them with "Dana" first. "I thought I'd stay here with you, Mom."

"Don't be silly, not when there's a perfectly good house that you don't even have to pay to stay in. You'd be helping me if you'd go there, son, I don't want to leave my home unattended. Besides, if you go there's a chance you'll get some rest. You can come back for me in the morning. The nurses will take good care of me until then."

Mulder looked to Scully to help him out, but she was on his Mom's side. "We won't argue with you, Catherine. You're the one who needs to rest. We should go and let the nurses do their work." She was calling her "Catherine"...? He really had missed something.

Mulder shut up, knowing when he'd been beaten. His mother spoke again. "You should take the suitcase with you." Then she turned to Dana in explanation. "What I was carrying when I fell. I made them pack it up and bring it with me." A shadow crossed Scully's face, and she looked up at Mulder before re-composing her expression and giving his mother a nod. She stood up, and squeezed the older woman's hand in farewell.

"All right then, Catherine. We'll see you in the morning."

Mulder went over and leaned down to kiss his mother on the cheek. "Rest well, Mom. Don't give the nurses any trouble."

"Good night, Fox. Try to get some sleep." She looked up at Scully, who had not yet left her side. "You'll see to it, won't you?"

"I can't make you any promises. You may have noticed that your son has a mind of his own."

No more words. Fox picked up his mother's burden, and Catherine noted with some satisfaction that her son's hand went comfortably to his partner's shoulder as the two of them went out together.

Mulder drove to his mother's house, Scully following him in her own car. He kept glancing back to be sure she was there, pricked in the darkness by an irrational fear that she would disappear, her headlights would wink out and she'd be gone. He wanted to talk with her--hell, he just wanted her there next to him in the car, a silent, solid presence he'd grown so used to on their long drives and stakeouts together. A sudden flash of Rex Harrison sing-speaking something about being accustomed to her face made Mulder disgustedly push that thought aside. That's all it is, anyway, he told himself: I'm just used to her.

It was a miracle they hadn't scratched each other's eyes out by now, considering all the time they spent together in such close quarters with so many pretty striking differences of opinion. Almost literally "striking", sometimes. The tug-of-war between them could get pretty old. There were days when the last thing he needed was Scully's arthritic insistence on scientific "reality", a reality she should know by now was too limited to describe the "impossible" things they typically went up against in the X-Files. But then, he knew he could get too self-absorbed, and too easily misled by his feelings, when he was working on a case he cared about. And he cared about most of them. Maybe that's what she was reacting to, not the theories. Pull him back from the brink one more time. He'd come to rely on that power of hers to bring him back. And he couldn't deny that her "scientific reality" had gotten him a lot more evidence than he could have hoped for on his own.

He never claimed he was easy to live with. After all the crap he'd pulled on Scully, crap they both knew he'd pull again given half an opportunity, he didn't understand her loyalty to him. Sometimes he wondered if he wasn't trying to drive her away, trying to prove that he was incapable of forming a lasting connection with anyone. It would be the worst thing that could happen to him now if she did leave, and he knew it. He was lucky she was so bull-headed. A glutton for punishment.

He parked on the street and let Scully pull into the driveway, not caring if it was too "chivalrous" a thing to do. She got out of her car, reached into the back seat for her travelling bag and waited for him, her eyes falling to the old suitcase he was carrying along with his own things. "It's hard to believe your father had that all these years and they never did anything about it. Do you think it's possible they didn't know?"

"I can't explain those people to you, Scully. Even if they did know, it's not likely they'd have traced it to my mom. No one came to her asking about Dad's papers after he died, no one gave even an appearance of a debriefing. Believe me, I asked. I expected some kind of search, something, but either they trusted him or they believed the clock had already been cleaned. To tell you the truth, I don't think any one ever considered my mom a real part of all this; I know I didn't. Chauvinistic, I guess." He paused, feeling his stomach tighten as they came up to the door. The house suddenly seemed menacing in the weak moonlight; he was half afraid he would open the door and find the place turned upside down by those who wanted all evidence controlled, or destroyed. He shook off the thought. "Besides, we don't even know what's in it yet."

"You wouldn't have called me up here if you thought it was just baby pictures, Mulder."

"You never know, Scully. I was pretty hot in my swimming trunks when I was five."

She said something under her breath that he didn't catch as he got the key into the lock and opened the door.

Mulder stepped inside and switched on the lights. Everything appeared to be in order, there was no sign of any intruder. Scully came in past him, scanning her surroundings: stairs facing them on the right, living room off to the left that opened onto the dining room, and behind the dining room the door to the kitchen; ahead of them the hallway going to the back of the house and the side door to the kitchen. "Looks like the coast is clear," she said, echoing his thoughts.

"The guest bedroom is through here," he said, leading her down the hall past the downstairs bathroom. "It used to be Dad's study. My room is upstairs," he added for no particular reason, his voice sounding strange in his ears. He always felt too tall in this house. He opened the door for Scully and she went in, laid her bag next to the bed and came back out, heading back down the hallway towards the living room.

"Your mom lives in this big house all by herself?"

"Yeah. I'm not sure why she stayed here after Dad left. Her sister lived with her for a long time, but she had a stroke two years ago. She's in a nursing home now." The words were automatic. He hoped Scully wouldn't ask too many more questions, he had a feeling he wouldn't be able to control what came out of his mouth tonight. Did she have any idea how vulnerable he was right now?

"I'm sorry, Mulder." Her voice had that low, throaty tone she got when she was trying not to trespass on his secrets, and she put a hand briefly on his arm: yes, she knew. "Are you going to open that suitcase up tonight?"

"No. No, Mom wanted to be with me when I looked at it." A silence fell, and he noticed how Scully was looking at him, assessing him. He couldn't hide how tired he was. He wanted to sit down right there on the stairs and lean his head on the railing. "I guess I'll go up and put this away." No promises of coming back down immediately, either.

Scully watched Mulder trudge up the stairs. She couldn't stand it when he got that Little Boy Lost look. Tomboy or no tomboy, tough Bureau agent and forensic scientist or no, she had always had maternal impulses that could be stifling, impulses she'd learned the hard way not to exercise on her male friends. There were too many misunderstandings. And her own feelings got confused. It was how she had gotten involved with Jack, a thoroughly inappropriate relationship since he'd been her instructor at the Academy. She had admired him, and felt sorry for the lonely dedication that left him so absorbed in--and so good at--his job, and he had been grateful for the distractions she'd offered. It hadn't been destructive in itself, but it was a bad idea, both of them going in for all the wrong reasons. Finally, it had just dissolved under its own weight. She had vowed not to let something like that happen again. It wasn't worth it. If she ever ended up with anybody, it would have to be someone who met her as an equal, not someone she wanted to take care of or be taken care of by. You just remember that, Dana.

Mulder wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep when he woke to the smells and sounds of cooking coming from the kitchen below. He didn't even remember lying down, but that's where he was now, on his side on top of the covers. This room had been his Aunt Esther's almost as long as it had been his, but his aunt was a no-nonsense kind of woman and the room reflected her character. Mom must not have changed it much. No frills, no flowers, no dainty knick-knacks, just clean and functional. He'd always liked his aunt, not that they'd been close. Not that anyone in his family had been particularly close. He had a couple cousins somewhere, on his father's side, but he'd be hard pressed to remember their names.

The smells from downstairs became more imperative, and Mulder's stomach growled fretfully to remind him how long it had been since he'd given it something to do other than talk to itself. He ran a hand through his hair and went downstairs.

Scully hadn't heard him come down, and he leaned in the doorway a moment, watching her clean up at the sink with her back to him. One of his earliest memories was of watching his mother bake bread in this kitchen, kneading steadily at the mass of dough that moved with her hands like an inchoate dancer, her face focused in a clear line of distant concentration.

He must have made a sound, or maybe his body changed the airflow in the room enough to let Scully know he was there, because she turned, only mildly startled, and gave him a little smile.

"Hi. I was hungry and wanted real food, so I thought I'd take your Mom up on her offer. 10:00 is a little late for dinner, but that's what happens when you do unexpected travelling." She finished what she was doing, dried her hands on a towel and started getting dishes out of a cupboard.

He went over to look at what she had going on the stove, lifting the lids off the pots and a big skillet: herbed chicken with mushrooms, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes. "Smells great. I'm starving."

"Who said I was cooking for you?"

He looked at the kitchen table, where she had finished arranging two quick place settings. "You can't fool me, there are two plates on that table."

"Who said I was cooking for you?" she repeated, with one of her small wicked smiles, leaving unspoken any reference to the secret lover he almost wished she really did have. She never took that kind of thing very far. He wondered what would happen if one day she decided to really let it rip. She was so careful around him, always ready to drop a subject or just clam up if it got too close to something intimate. She wouldn't even joke about it. She must hate his sense of humor. There was a lot he would never know about his partner, not unless something pretty radical happened.

Surprise: she changed the subject. "I wasn't sure I'd see you again 'til morning. You looked pretty wiped out when we got here."

"I guess my stomach had other ideas. I don't think I ate before I left Washington." He picked up a plate and went eagerly back to the stove. "Is it ready?"

"Sure, help yourself." She got in line behind him, reaching around him to turn off the burners. He sat down with a satisfyingly full plate.

"You seem to have found your way around the place pretty well."

She sat down, giving him one of her looks that said: don't start. "There's a certain logic to most kitchens. I just had to look around a bit before I got started."

"We've been set up, you know," he said, after getting down enough mouthfuls to make his stomach happy.

"What do you mean?"

"My mom. She wanted you to cook in her kitchen."

"I had the impression she was talking to you when she said something about fixing dinner."

"Uh-huh. That's what I mean. Didn't you hear her? 'I assume you'll be taking Dana back to the house'. That was a distinct Mom maneuver."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. She was just being nice, hospitable. It used to be a tradition."

"Uh-uh. Not my Mom. She has designs on you, Dana Scully, I could see it in her eyes." He didn't know why he was talking like this. Maybe it was the domestic setting, all the too-silent skirmishes he'd witnessed in this room, making him feel dangerous.

"Designs? Does she know any nice young doctors?"

"She has a son who works for the Department of Justice."

"Oh, please. You're not serious."

"Dead serious. Doesn't your mom give you a hard time about your marital status?"

He was making her mad, now. "I'm tempted to say it's none of your business, Mulder. You know my mom. She respects my decisions."

"Decisions? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I think I liked you better when you were exhausted."

Something in him had the sense to shut up and pay attention to his dinner.

"This is really good, Scully, thanks," he said as he got up for seconds.

"I told you, I was hungry, too. I figured I'd better fix enough for both of us or you'd probably come down and eat everything and ask me what was for dessert. Besides, I'm not doing this for free: you get to wash all the dishes."

"Anything you say." She seemed appeased by his tone.

Her eyes went around the room, her face a little uneasy. "It's hard to imagine living in the same house for so long. We were always moving when I was a kid--one of the side effects of being Navy."

"This was the only house I knew 'til I went away to college," he said as he sat down. "We tried having me stay with Dad once, over the holidays, but that idea suffered a pretty rapid demise."

Scully put her fork down, fixing him with that assessing gaze again. "Mulder, whenever you talk about your parents you sound like a military strategist diagramming old battles. But that's not what I saw on your face at the hospital today."

He shrugged. "All of us have ambivalent feelings about family, right? It's the age-old struggle, control and independence and the establishment of identity. That doesn't mean I enjoy seeing my mom in pain." He wasn't fooling her, and he knew it.

"Admit it, Mulder, you love that woman. And you need her love as much as she needs yours."

The flash of anger took him by surprise, and his voice came out in a snarl. "What do you know about it?! You didn't live in this house." He scraped his chair back from the table, wanting distance from her serious eyes.

"No, I didn't live here, Mulder." The words had that edge of impatience that always meant she didn't like his attitude. "Apparently you didn't, either. You weren't the only one in this house in pain."

"Do you think I don't know that?"

"Sometimes I have to wonder if you don't think you're the only one in the world who knows what pain really is." She said it so matter-of-factly, so wearily, that her voice stopped him short. How many times had her voice done that to him? Her face was like the surface of a pond with fish at the bottom that you couldn't see, unreadably balanced between what should have been either accusation or a wry smile. She got up, took her plate to the sink and started automatically reaching for the faucet and the dishcloth.

"Don't you even think about washing that--I still have to pay for my dinner." It was the best he could do for a peace offering when he was still angry.

She leaned on the counter and hung her head, and he thought he did hear her laugh a little. "That's right, you do." She wiped her hands and came back to the table, but didn't sit down again. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I shouldn't push you like that, especially not now."

"Don't worry about it. I probably deserved it."

Now it was her flash of anger that surprised him. "Jesus, Mulder, you don't 'deserve' any of this! Any of it, do you hear me?!" She made a violently dismissive gesture with her hands and a growl of frustration, and stormed out.

He found the courage to follow her into the bedroom. "Scully...."

She was sitting on the bed with her knees pulled up to her chin, her head turned away. He sat down next to her, and she seemed to shrink further into herself. I'm not going away 'til you talk to me, he thought at her, putting a hand to her shoulder. "Dana," he tried again.

She wiped roughly at her cheek, then turned to face him. She was crying...? He took his hand away. "I can't think what it was like in this house, for any of you, for you, for your Mom, for your Dad. For Samantha, too, before she was taken. I know it's none of my business, but you asked me to come here and now I can't just ignore it. I'm sorry."

"Don't you be sorry. I'm the lunatic with the sick family history who's putting you through this."

"Oh, no, you don't! You don't get responsibility for me, too. It's not your fault, Mulder, OK?"

She usually reserved this kind of vehemence for telling him off about his more marginal theories. He must have really struck a nerve. He had no idea what to say. He got up. "I guess I'll just leave you alone, then."

"Don't worry about me. Sometimes you just have to feel bad for a while, then you figure out what it is and you're all right."

He was half-way up the stairs before the strange words sank in, striking right into his bone marrow. He flung open the door to her room. "What was that?! What did you just say to me?!?"

Scully froze where she stood, reaching for her suitcase on the floor. She straightened up. "It was something your Mom told me today, something you said to her when you were a little boy, after Samantha was born." She was so quiet, so still.

"Tell me! I don't remember!"

She sat down carefully on the edge of the bed, eyeing him as he paced into the room, plunging a hand into his hair as if to get at the brain beneath and force the shadowed memory out into the open.

"Catherine's mother died after Samantha was born, and it hit her pretty hard. Apparently she was having problems taking care of the baby. If it happened today she'd probably get therapy and anti-depressants, but in 1964 your father's solution was to take Samantha to his parents and go away on business. It was just you and your Mom left here. She says you seemed to know how sad she was; you followed her around like a shadow, never saying a word. Then one day you helped her clean the whole house--"

"--I remember that, the ammonia smell on the rags...."

"She sat down on the sofa, and you got up in her lap and told her that it would be all right. 'We just have to feel bad for a while, then we'll find out what it is, and then we'll be all right,' you told her. She hadn't been able to grieve for her mother, but when you said that she started to cry, and you cried with her, until you both fell asleep." She paused, her face tight with sympathetic pain, her voice breaking to a whisper. "Mulder, I'm so sorry."

Mulder rubbed at his face, eyes stinging with unwanted tears at the shock of the memory. He made it to the bed, dropped down on it and turned his face to his partner, finding her eyes like an anchor. "I remember it, Scully. I remember how much she was hurting, how much I wanted to help. I thought...." The words choked off, sobs coming up from his gut with the force of more than three decades behind them.

Dana couldn't just watch this. She thought briefly of simply leaving him alone (he might not want her to see this, after all), but didn't have the heart. Her arms went around him, and he leaned against her, a hand reaching blindly for her waist. "You did help her, Mulder. She told me so. It's all right." She found herself blinking back a few slow tears herself, and decided to just let them fall. It's not like Mulder would know. Slowly he quieted down, and let out a big sigh. She was wondering why he hadn't pulled away from her yet when she suddenly realized from his slow breathing that he'd fallen asleep, slumped against her shoulder. Reliving it...? Good thing he didn't try to get in my lap. She eased him carefully back on the bed; he stirred a little, but didn't wake up. He couldn't have slept much more than two hours before coming down to eat, she reflected. He still had some catching up to do.

She debated undressing him and getting him properly into bed, as she'd done more than once before when he'd been sick or injured. But she wasn't a doctor right now, she was Dana, whose heart was aching for her friend, and who was pretty exhausted herself. If Dana put Fox to bed right now, she'd probably go to bed with him, if only to be sure he was OK and wouldn't wake up alone and hurting. Yeah, right, you just keep telling yourself that, she told herself drily. You're no more innocent where he's concerned than he is with you. Besides, if he woke up in bed with you next to him he'd probably hurt himself with the shock. And so would you.

She settled for pulling off his shoes, left him to figure the covers out for himself, picked up her bag and went looking for a place to sleep.

Mulder found her on the sofa the next morning, huddled under covers that looked like they'd been taken from his room upstairs. Why didn't she just sleep up there? he wondered, impatient at the inconvenience she'd put herself to. Then of course it hit him: she'd never sleep in his bed, even if it hadn't been his for more than fifteen years. He noticed that she'd brought his father's suitcase down with her as well. Always careful.

He left her alone and went into the kitchen. She'd put the food away, but the dishes she'd left in the sink: good, that was his job. Banging around in the kitchen now probably wasn't a good idea if she needed to sleep longer, but it was time for her to get up anyway, if they were going to have enough time for proper breakfast and showers before leaving for the hospital. Better to do the deed in person: he crossed back into the living room and stood over the sofa, hesitating.

She looked so little, curled up like that. He never thought of her as little. Her feet, maybe, but not her. He allowed himself a full minute of watching her eyes move in a dream before leaning over to trace the line of her cheek with a finger.

She practically jumped out of her skin. It took her a long moment to figure out where she was. "Oh, God, Mulder! I was dreaming."

"You OK?" He wasn't sure whether to laugh or feel guilty. He wanted to laugh.

"It's not funny. What time is it?"

"7:30." He sat down at the end of the sofa, and she drew herself further up into her corner. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't laugh at you after what you did for me last night. Thank you, Scully."

"I didn't do anything. I just made you cry."

"I think I needed a good cry."

"This is starting to get maudlin, Mulder. When do we need to be at the hospital?"

"They said we could come for her after 9:00."

"All I need is enough time to get these covers back the way they belong. I wouldn't want to try to explain to your Mom how I tore up your bed last night."

"I woke up in your bed, Scully; we must have been pretty busy." He was willing to take this as far as she was.

"I don't think that was what Catherine had in mind. Now get out of here, I want to go take a shower."

"Aw, come on, I've seen you in your p.j.'s before."

"This is different. I'm in your mother's house."

She was sure in a strange mood. Must have been some dream she was having. One minute she's indulging in double entendres, the next she's going all modest on him. She hadn't accepted his thanks yet, either, and he wasn't going to let that slide. He reached for her hand over the covers. "I mean it, Scully, thank you for helping me."

"Helping you? Mulder, I yelled at you, and I stomped off, and I told you a story about yourself that I had no right to know in the first place, and then I didn't even leave you alone to react to it in peace. That doesn't sound very helpful to me." She looked like she meant it, but she didn't take her hand away.

He looked completely serious, gentle even, not kidding around any more. He obviously wasn't going to let her brush it off. Then he stood up, looking down at her. "You helped me remember, Scully. And I'm glad you didn't leave me alone." Then he bent down and kissed her lightly on the cheek, his voice touching her ear with the words, "Thank you," before he stood up and let go of her hand.

"Go away, Mulder," she told him, and she couldn't help it if her voice came out like Bacall telling Bogie how to whistle. Go away before I pull you down with me on this couch and we forget all about your mother, maybe even your father and your sister, too. No, that will never happen, she thought. I'm not that good. Nothing's that good. It's not worth it.

"I'm going," he said quietly, not a bit like Bogart. She waited 'til he was all the way up the stairs before uncovering herself and getting up.

Catherine waited as patiently as she could, sitting up in the wheelchair the nurses had gently bundled her into not half an hour ago. She was anxious to be with her son, to be brave and tell him everything. She wondered if there would be anything left after that, if this one deed would empty her out and be the end. She couldn't imagine, couldn't think of herself with the burden gone.

Ah, there they were. It suddenly struck her with an irrational and unfamiliar mother's pride that she had a strong, handsome son, and she allowed herself the similarly irrational pleasure of observing how naturally he and his impressive partner seemed to fit each other as they moved together into the room.

"Good morning, Mom," he said as he kissed her cheek. She was beginning to like this new habit of his. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, I did, thank you. Dana, I hope my son was a decent host to you."

"Above and beyond the call of duty, Catherine." What did that look mean? "He even washed the dishes."

"Let's get you home, Mom."

Scully found herself dozing off, curled up in an easy chair at the far end of the living room, turned away from the dining table where Mulder and his mother were turning over photographs and pages and speaking in hushed, restrained voices. Not wanting to listen, she tuned their activity in the next room into background noise, quiet rustling and buzzing sounds that became instantly soporific. Not even a trusty Jose Chung novel could save her now. She gave in and settled more comfortably in the chair, hugging herself a little. She really hadn't slept well last night, a night full of restless, incoherent dreams. If Mulder startled her awake again when they were finished she would simply have to kill him, and make her apologies to Catherine later.

Catherine had invited her to join them, and the older woman had seemed genuinely disappointed when Scully had turned her down. The invitation was generous, but Dana didn't feel it was her place to witness these revelations. Mulder hadn't said anything. She felt she'd already intruded on him enough, no matter what he said (or did) about thanks. If he wanted her to know any of it he could tell her later, in his own time, which was how it should be. Besides, she could use a nap.

Mulder fingered one of the photographs on the table, trying to see more in it than the guarded faces of these men, trying to remember his father as he appeared here: young, forward-looking, if a little haunted already around the eyes. His father had always seemed frozen to him, too far away to be reached even when standing in the same room.

"They came to the house many times when you were small," his mother said. "I knew the names they used here, and that your father worked with them, but I wasn't expected to be concerned with the details of their work. I was their hostess," she said bitterly, "I killed the fatted calf for them. This one," she said, pointing to the man Mulder had once known as Deep Throat, "was always very complimentary toward my cooking. Your father called him Morse."

"I knew him," Mulder said softly. "He approached me about my work. He saved my life, once. Maybe more than once. He died trying to help me."

"Hmp. Perhaps it was his penance." She showed no trace of pity. She dismissed the man and his picture without effort. "This was all when you were very young, Fox," she stressed. "I wouldn't expect you to remember these men. You were often in bed before they arrived, or soon after."

"I do remember. I would lie awake, sometimes, listening to their voices coming through the floor. Men's voices, full of secrets. I would go to sleep pretending I was on a pirate ship. I remember that."

"It was worse than a pirate ship. I listened to those voices, too." She paused, and Mulder watched her face. Her anger seemed as fresh as if what they were talking about had happened last week, but the bitterness, the tang of it, was old. "They stopped coming by the time Samantha was talking. I wondered if your father had told them how things were between us, or if my good breeding had failed and they had seen what I really thought of them."

Another picture suddenly caught her attention, and she drew it out to tap a finger on one of the faces. He was looking into the camera with a cool, ironic smile, and Mulder recognized him, remembered standing in a greenhouse, demanding answers. "This man, Willy, they called him. I particularly disliked him. He enjoyed playing with the baby when he arrived early enough; he liked to give her coins. That kind of thing is very dangerous for a small child. She would put them in her mouth, I always had to snatch them away before she choked. I wondered later if he knew, even then, what they would do to her, if he was rendering payment with those coins. I had to see him at your father's funeral, the devil. Devils, all of them." Her voice was quiet, measured, despite the poisonous feeling behind the words: almost like speaking a litany, which of course it had to be.

"This man, Mom. Who is he?" Even in the old photograph, standing next to "Willy" and looking at something off-camera, the man was smoking, eyes hooded, gaze insolent.

His mother shook her head. "They only called him Jack. He didn't say much, he mostly listened. He would look at people as if he wanted to eat them."

"He has eaten people, Mom. He thought he ate me. He ate Dad. He gave Scully back, I still don't know why. I had him once, I should have taken him out, but I couldn't--I couldn't...." His voice broke, the rest of the sentence fleeing back into the shadows it had come from. He had never told anyone about that night--nothing specific, anyway. It still felt like his most inexcusable failure not to have pulled that trigger, even though he knew what it would have cost him to "succeed". He would have become what the man his mother had called Jack had challenged him to be: a Player. One of Them. No. That would have been the real defeat. But the knowledge that he had saved his soul didn't make it taste any better, still didn't make it feel like much of an accomplishment. He wasn't sure he had really said those words at all until his mother's hand came over his, and when he looked up he saw her eyes glisten with grieved understanding.

"They haven't left us alone, have they?"

"No, Mom, they haven't. And they took Dad away from us before he could...." His mother shook her head and looked away, her mouth set in a firm line against any suggestion of forgiveness.

"Too late, Fox. Too late." She turned to face him again, and a tear traced her cheek. "I am so sorry for what we did to you. We were no mother and father to you. You deserved so much better."

Mulder didn't know what to say. He'd thought it and even said it himself often enough: these weren't his parents, these were temporary custodial domestic associates who made sure he had food and clothes and hygiene and manners and education. A bad joke. "Don't say that, Mom."

"It's true, son. You know it as well as I do. Better, I'm sure."

Mulder didn't want to argue with her. "Maybe we should stop this for a while. The doctor said you should rest as much as possible."

She looked down at the scattered testimonies on the table, and was about to protest that she wasn't finished, she didn't want to stop now, when she felt her shoulders sag. "You're right. I am tired. How long have we been at this?"

Mulder looked at his watch and was startled by the answer. "Almost four hours."

"Oh my goodness! I wonder what Dana has been doing all this time?"

Mulder realized with a shock that he had completely forgotten his partner was even in the house.

"Well, I'll at least say hello to her before I go lie down," his mother said.

They found her still asleep in the easy chair, a book closed beside her. Catherine felt her heart warm, watching Dana sleep, seeing what could have been a daughter and might, she hoped, be a friend. "Oh.... Well, I guess we can talk later." She backed away from the chair, not wanting to disturb her. "I like her, Fox."

Mulder didn't look up. "I like her, too, Mom. She's a terrific partner, probably the sharpest agent I've ever worked with."

"Is there something you're not telling me, son?"

"What do you mean? About Dana...?"

The panic in his eyes made her want to smile; but this was serious, now. "Why is she here, Fox? Your work together has been dangerous on more than one occasion. Do I need to be afraid? Have I opened more than a suitcase in bringing this to you?"

He blew out his breath. "I don't know, Mom. I just wanted to be on the safe side. And I didn't want to go off half-cocked. Scully is very good at fighting me, and sometimes I need that more than I like to admit. Are you satisfied?"

"For now. Would you mind helping me upstairs?"

"Of course not. But don't start dreaming about grandchildren, Mom. I mean it. We work together. Period. There are rules against that kind of thing."

"I've never known you to be very friendly with anyone's rules but your own, Fox."

"Like I said, there are rules. Scully would tell you the same thing. There are good reasons for it. The FBI isn't always stupid."

"Mm." She leaned on him gratefully as they slowly mounted the stairs, appreciating his accommodation to her pace. Even when she was annoying him. Or scaring him silly.

"I mean it, Mom."

"I know you do, son. It's all right."

Scully came slowly awake and stretched all over to get the kinks out from having slept in the chair: the Cat Stretch, her Mom liked to call it. The Dana Katherine Cat Stretch. As she got older it had started embarrassing her Dad, and she had learned not to do it in front of people. Then she remembered where she was, and realized that even if in her own head she was invisible and inaudible relative to Mulder and his mom, and they to her, reality might have other ideas. She turned and saw Mulder sitting quietly on the couch. Watching her. Thankfully, he looked a little distant, holding a picture in his hand.

"That was quite a performance. Do you always do that when you wake up, and I've just missed it every time?"

"Only when I fall asleep in a chair and I don't know I'm being watched. How long have you been there?"

"I don't know, maybe half an hour, maybe longer. Mom's upstairs, she needed to rest."

"Why didn't you wake me up? Look what time it is."

"Mom didn't want to bother you."

"Ah." She looked at him, trying to see what affect his session with Catherine had had on him. She didn't want to seem as if she were pressing for details. "Are you getting what you need from this?"

He tossed the picture on the coffee table and leaned back against the sofa empty-handed. "I don't know. She knows these men, or knew them, anyway. They used to come to the house when I was little; I'm starting to remember that. She has some names, at least the names they used when they visited my father here. I don't think she knows anything specific about the work they did, but she got an idea.

The letters Dad kept don't go into any detail. It's mostly coded communications and informal correspondence. The Lone Gunman guys might be able to do something with it. I didn't see anything that's explicitly incriminating, anything you could take to court. It's almost scrapbook material. I don't know why or how he kept this stuff; maybe it was considered too trivial. Or he was considered too trivial. I still don't know the extent or duration of his involvement. Enough to get him killed for talking to me, I guess." He paused, trying to weigh it all in his mind, and found what was lacking in his assessment. "Mostly, what I've learned is that my mother hates these men. She hates them so much it scares me."

"Are you OK?"

"I think so. I will be. Do that stretch again."

She could feel herself blushing. She hated that. "Like hell, Mulder. Go get one of your magazines, and leave me alone. I wouldn't have done it if I'd known you were there."

"Ignorance is bliss, then." He got up. "Do you want some lunch?"

Scully looked at him warily, not sure whether he had stopped the game yet. If it was a game. It had a better be a game. She knew he liked teasing her; it had become a recreational sport and an occupational hazard. "Sure." He waited for her to go past him towards the kitchen.

Mulder had to stop himself from putting his hands on her hips and burying his face in her hair. He would have to ask her some time what shampoo she used, what made her smell so good without being perfume. Get a grip, Mulder, he told himself sharply. She's right; it's too bad I didn't bring anything with me to keep me occupied. This has nothing to do with Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully, M.D.: you just want something else to think about after what you've had to deal with this morning.

Liar, he answered himself back. Coward. This has everything to do with Dana. You're never going to find out the truth about the soul moving inside those hips if you keep an attitude like that. He cut his second self off with the final argument: I don't have anything to offer her but more grief. Listen to the lady and leave her alone.

Scully decided the most practical course was to ignore Mulder's mood and hope it went away quickly, for her own sake as much as his. She was all too aware of him walking behind her, part of her anticipating his hand touching her shoulder as they went through the door. This time it didn't happen. She shrugged off the unwanted disappointment, irritated with herself. Those maternal impulses were moaning in a corner about how much they'd like to comfort him, to help him confront the ghosts that had to be haunting him after these hours with his father's papers and his mother's memories shared for the first time. But in the corner those impulses were going to stay, behind bars if necessary.

She didn't like intruding on someone else's kitchen. "I feel bad just coming in here and helping myself. Your mom wasn't planning on having houseguests."

Mulder opened up the breadbox on the counter and got out the bread, then reached into a cupboard for some plates. "She wants you to feel at home. She likes you, she told me so."

"That's right, I forgot: we were set up." She opened the fridge and started hunting sandwich fixings, hoping he'd just drop it.

No such luck. "I didn't think my Mom knew me that well. One conversation with you, and as far as she's concerned we're a matched set."

Scully deliberately deflected again: this is about our job, nothing more. "That's not such a difficult observation. We've worked together long enough now, it ought to show that we're pretty used to each other. She's probably just desperate to get rid of you."

"She got rid of me a long time ago, Scully. The funny thing is, I think she wants me back. I think that's what this whole suitcase thing is about. Part of it, anyway." His face went a little strange. "You should have seen her watching you sleep. Now she's getting greedy and she wants you into the bargain."

Scully chose to firmly ignore any appeal Mulder might be making. He wasn't, he couldn't be: it was just teasing, like always, plus his own unsettled feelings after the morning he'd spent. She could understand that.

She set the sandwich things on the counter. "I like Catherine, too, Mulder. And I'd like to get to know her better. But this is not the proper time or place. This is about family--private things I don't have a right to intrude on. I feel like I shouldn't be here."

"My Mom will be really disappointed if you go."

OK, that wasn't working; try getting to business. "You said the home health aide starts coming tomorrow. How long are you planning on staying here?"

"There's still more to do with that suitcase. I shouldn't push her too hard--and I don't want her to wear herself out with it. She wouldn't have stopped today, even though she was tired. And she was so let down that you were asleep. She wanted to talk with you."

"All right, Mulder, I give up. Why am I here?"

He wasn't done giving her a hard time: she knew that ginsu-knife smile. "Because I asked you to come, and you came."


"Because you couldn't stand not knowing what was going on."

"Mulder, I thought you were in trouble."

"I thought I might be, too. I told you, I don't want to go off like a crazy man. I didn't know how this would affect me. I still don't."

"And our old friends still might show up, I suppose. It wouldn't be too surprising if we were being watched, or listened to." The thought chilled her, but it was a practical one. She blew out a tense breath and leaned back against the counter beside her. "All right. How long do you want me to stay?"

He shrugged. "As long as you can stand it." He looked around the kitchen, eyes clouding with memory. "This house always made me want to leave, too." Something through the kitchen window distracted him. "Hey, the weather's not too bad. Do you want to take our sandwiches outside?"

Catherine woke as the afternoon sun slanted through her bedroom window. She got up carefully, stiff from her bruises and from her nap, and went to the window. Spring was beginning to show its face in Massachusetts, and the day had turned bright and almost warm. A good time for new beginnings, she thought, and the thought pleased her. Her window looked out over the back yard, which boasted two old fruit trees, an apple and a pear, carefully tended flower beds, and her modest vegetable patch. She'd already begun preparing for her summer gardening.

Then she saw them. Her son was lying sprawled out on the grass, his partner sitting with her knees pulled up a little away from him. Dana had her sandwich plate balanced on her knees, Fox kept his plate on the ground and lifted the sandwich as he wanted it. A breeze was blowing, and it toyed fitfully with Dana's hair like an invisible hand making mischief, pushing strands into her face as she tried to eat. Then Fox did a strange thing. He sat up, and he brushed Dana's hair out of her mouth. He left his hand against her cheek. Dana didn't move away, and then--oh, my goodness. Catherine wasn't sure who had started it, but this sweetly hesitant contact looked for all the world like a first kiss. Catherine knew better than to stand and watch, but in a perverse way she felt this was a significant occasion that ought to have a witness. In case there were to be denials later. And she had so rarely seen her son do something she knew to be good for him.

What was the cliche? It all happened so fast? We couldn't stop ourselves? It just happened? Dana thought vaguely that the time between Mulder touching her cheek and her lips touching his must have taken at least as long as half her life, the remainder being taken up by what they were doing now. Infinite opportunity to push away, to scream, to stop him with a sarcastic comment or frightened or angry look, to stop herself. But she had done and was doing none of those things. Her mother's voice rang faintly somewhere in the back of her head. What do you think you're doing, Dana Katherine?

I'm kissing Fox Mulder, she replied calmly.

She wasn't pulling away, she wasn't protesting, she wasn't tense or defensive--she was soft and sweet and.... It took a moment for it to sink in that she was kissing him, too; he wasn't just imposing his feelings or his mood on her. It hadn't occurred to him yet to question the feelings.

Somehow their faces came apart, and it was as if a bell had been sounding and suddenly stopped. He found his hand now in her hair at the back of her neck, his thumb moving against the side of her throat. He didn't know where the words came from, but they were true: "How is it possible that you taste like roses?"

"It isn't," she breathed, contradicting him almost by reflex, and her eyes reclaimed his mouth before her lips did. This was definitely her doing now as much as his: he wasn't making it up. She shifted closer to him, and he felt his skin twitch under his shirt when her hand met his side. It occurred to him that he didn't know what had happened to her sandwich that had been on her knee a moment ago, and he decided he didn't care. His hand found her back, and he was happy.

You know this isn't right, the voice in the back of her head said, and it was getting louder. It wasn't her Mom now, it was herself. It may be nice and sweet and powerful and good, it continued, and it may feel right at the moment, but I shouldn't have to list for you all the reasons why neither of you can afford to be doing this, or at least not to put any credence in it. She told the voice very firmly to go away as she became better acquainted with Mulder's ear and his breath warmed her shoulder, but it ignored her. If you do this, it went on, you can't work together. And if you do this, and it doesn't work, then you lose not only your partner but your best friend. But what if it works? she demanded. Why can't it work? You know why. You've been rehearsing all the reasons why ever since you started this trip. Don't make me spell it out, this is going to be hard enough as it is. It's not worth it, remember? You can't trust these feelings, his or yours. I don't believe you, she answered back. I don't care. Oh, yes you do. But she had stopped listening.

She wasn't ready for him to stop when he did, but apparently he had something to say. "We've seen a lot of impossible things. I'm telling you, Scully, you taste like roses."

She started to say something, then her eyes went up to the house, drawn by a motion at a window, and her mouth fell open, all the blood leaving her face. "Oh my God, Mulder...your Mom was at the window! She saw us."

"Are you sure? Oh, no." He fell back on the grass with a groan. "You know as soon as we go in there she's going to be setting a date and asking you what your colors will be."

See, whispered the voice as she tried to ignore her now-burning cheeks and reminded herself to breathe. It's not what he wants. Don't forget how vulnerable he is right now, how distracting he'd like you to be. I don't like being vulnerable, either, dammit. "She'll probably pretend nothing happened, and we'll have to pretend we didn't see her. I believe they call it politeness. I highly doubt she'll be asking me what my intentions are toward her son." I'm not sure what I'd tell her if she did, either.

Mulder wanted to know. "Which are?"

She gave him the straightest, safest answer she could manage. "I don't know yet. It depends on how her son feels about it in the morning, and how it looks when we're back in D.C. and have to explain ourselves to our boss."

Mulder's face got serious as he remembered something he'd said about rules. "Dana...." He reached for her hand. Her hand.... He almost twitched again.

She stood up, pulling him up with her. "Come on, let's go in. We don't want to make her check on us." He was glad she didn't let his hand go right away. It was interesting to walk hand in hand with Dana Scully. He definitely felt too tall.

Dana maneuvered an arm-load of groceries out of the car in a light rain. She was glad she had thought of the errand; it got her out of the house and gave her something to do while Mulder and his mother got back to that suitcase (as opposed to sitting indoors trying not to think about Mulder and the taste of roses). And it made her feel better about being Catherine's unexpected guest.

As Scully had predicted, Catherine had acted as if nothing had happened, and Dana could only hope she'd done as well herself. Mulder had just been quiet. With the power of wishful thinking Scully began to doubt having seen Catherine at the window, and to hope that what hadn't been witnessed might not have to be true.

What she really wanted was to go for a run. Run away bravely, she chided herself wryly. But she hadn't brought her running gear, and Mulder would probably have tried to come with her, anyway. That would be the last thing she needed when she was trying to clear her head, spend some of that energy safely, and get some things straight. What had possessed her? Why hadn't she kept it from happening? An involuntary shudder almost made her drop a grocery bag. Under normal circumstances, it never would have happened. But then, what did "normal" mean where Mulder was concerned?

She had forgotten to ask for a key, and had to knock to be let in. Mulder opened the door, of course, stealing a deep look into her eyes as he came close to take a bag from her. Gulp. "Here, let me help you with that." Dana had to stop herself from running immediately back to the car; it would be rude not to come in and say hello to Catherine first. Oh, this is great, she thought, reluctantly following Mulder into the dining room, each with a load of groceries: the perfect image of the domestic partnership. She really will be setting a date.

"Goodness, Dana, I thought you were only going to get a few things!" Catherine exclaimed.

"There's just one more bag in the car. I wanted to make up for the damage we've been doing to your larder." Her voice sounded cheery enough in her ears; that was good.

"Don't argue with her, Mom. It's never done me any good." She felt like kicking him.

They made their way into the kitchen and set the bags down. She was turning to go right back out when Mulder stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Thanks for coming back," he said.

She couldn't help smiling at that. "I did give the matter serious thought. Let's not give your Mom any time to wonder about us in here, OK?"

Mulder volunteered to get the other bag, and Scully asked Catherine to come into the kitchen and show her where to put things. "I tried to match the brands you already had," she told her hostess. "I hope I've done all right."

"I'm sure you've done beautifully, dear. I'm overwhelmed. Here, I like to keep those in the top cupboard." Under Catherine's direction Scully refilled a sugar canister on the counter and placed the half-empty bag in its accustomed place.

Mulder came back in, setting the last bag on the kitchen table. "Look what Scully brought you, Mom: fresh flowers." Scully had taken special care with that, noting the colors in the dining room and the arrangement there on the sideboard that had started getting old.

"Oh, Dana, you shouldn't have. How lovely!"

Scully hadn't been looking for brownie points from Catherine, she had just wanted to brighten things up a little. Under the appreciative gaze of her partner's mother, Dana felt a sudden need to leave the room. "I'll go get the vase."

"What a remarkable thing to do," Catherine said to her son. "Does she always do things like that?"

"Well, she's never brought me flowers, if that's what you're asking," he replied drily, hiding his face in the refrigerator as he put a few things away. So defensive. Perhaps he's only protecting her. Catherine hadn't meant to pry, but she couldn't help wondering about this partner her son had brought home to meet his mother. Maybe more accurately, to guard himself against his mother, and against the ghost of his father. Would this mother and this son ever stop speaking daggers to each other? Catherine sighed.

Dana came back in with the vase, and Fox and Catherine had all the groceries taken care of by the time the new bouquet was settled.

"Did you find that lotion I told you about?" Dana asked Catherine as she turned around. "I was able to pick up a tube while I was out. My Mom swears by it for soothing tired muscles and joints. I could help you with it, if you like."

Mulder had just set it on the counter, to be taken to the medicine chest later. "It's right here," he said, handing it to Scully.

Catherine once again could feel her weariness, and the aches that accompanied it. "It's probably time to start thinking about dinner, isn't it?" Catherine asked, wishing she could be a better hostess. With a cast on her arm and the stiffness she felt, she was certainly in no condition to cook for guests. The pain was bearable, but to be unable to do her duty here....

"Let me do that, Mom," her son answered. "While I'm at it you can go upstairs and let the good doctor here take care of you."

Catherine decided it would be foolish to pretend she wasn't in need of help, and gave in. She had to admit the prospect of some relief to her joints was tempting; and she had been waiting for time alone with Dana. "All right, then. Can I trust you in my kitchen?"

"I'll just do spaghetti and salad, Mom, nothing adventurous."

Catherine tried not to notice the look that passed between Fox and his partner as she and Dana left the room together.

"How's that? Am I rubbing too hard?" Scully asked Catherine as she applied the lotion to the older woman's shoulders. Catherine had changed into a sleeveless nightgown, and sat now in the chair pulled out from her vanity dresser while Scully stood behind her.

"No, Dana, that's just right. Maybe just a little less. It feels wonderful; please thank your mother for me. How did you get to be so good at this?"

Scully decided not to be nervous about the possible "intentions toward my son" subtext of this conversation. It helped that she had something to do. This kind of work always relaxed her, let her mind go free. She liked being able to make a difference for someone's discomfort, not with drugs or a scalpel but with her own hands. She was used to doing this for her mother, who was someone she missed pretty badly right at the moment. There was no one she could talk to so easily as her mother, about most things. And she did want to get to know Catherine better.

"I do it for my mother sometimes. I first got into practice working as a therapy aide in a nursing home when I was in college. It was what decided me on medical school, actually, even though my degree was in Physics. My father was so proud. It took him a long time to forgive me for signing up with the Bureau instead of pursuing a medical career."

"Was your father a doctor, too?"

"No, he was a Navy man. A captain by the time he was forty. My Mom was pretty traditional; she kept her hands full with us kids. I'm the third of four, two girls and two boys. A good Catholic family." She thought she might as well give Catherine all the statistics up front.

"It must have been a boisterous household. Very different from what Fox knew."

"We moved around fairly often while I was growing up, so family has always been pretty much a bottom line for me, sort of like a gravitational constant." Scully kneeled down to apply the lotion to Catherine's left elbow and hand.

"That's becoming all too rare these days, isn't it?"

"I suppose so. I think I took it for granted for a long time." She paused. "I don't any more. I mean, it's not like we always get along or always agree. Probably no collection of human beings could be expected to be perfectly harmonious all the time. But it's always been a place I know I can go back to. Not the house--the house can change--but the people. My mom, especially."

"I envy your mother, Dana."

Scully looked up into Catherine's eyes, taken aback. The last thing she wanted to do was to pain Catherine by reminding her of her own lost daughter, who would have been Scully's own age (something else that had occurred to her concerning her partnership with Mulder and his tendency to treat her like a kid sister, something else she had added to her list of reasons why any erosion of the neutral zone between herself and Mulder was Not a Good Idea). "I'm sorry, Catherine, I didn't mean...."

Catherine smiled, but it didn't take the sadness from her eyes. "Of course not. I'm not taking offense, Dana. I'm thinking of Fox. I envy your mother that she has such a strong daughter who trusts her so well. I would like to build that kind of trust again with my son, if that's possible."

"I think it is, Catherine. I think he wants that, too." They shared a smile. "Would you like me to work on your knees?"

"Yes, please. You know, Dana, if Fox can spare you I might have to hire you to come do this for me on a regular basis. You have a gift."

Dana hesitated a moment, spreading lotion on her palm, and chose to accept both the compliment and the offer. "Thank you, Catherine. I'd like that, actually. Does Mulder have to come along?"

"Not if you don't want him to. I do hope he can come to visit more often, though. We fell out of that habit a long time ago."

"I spend so much time with him sometimes I think he's the only person I know." Dana fell comfortably into the rhythm of her fingers' activity. "Even so, it's strange to be here with him now. I mean, what we do is work. This is family. I told him I feel I shouldn't be here, Catherine: this is between the two of you."

"Oh, but I'm so glad you came." Catherine let herself lay a hand on the russet head now bent over her feet. Dana looked up and gave her a quick, warm smile.

"I'm glad, too. I'm not complaining. It just feels strange, that's all."


Perhaps because Catherine had shared so much with her in their first talk, Dana felt comfortable speaking more freely now than she normally would. For the moment, it was a relief to speak her mind. "Well, being somebody's partner means that you have to be pretty close, to rely on each other a lot. But there are places where it stops, where you disengage and go home at the end of the day. Things you don't know about each other and don't need to know. Now I'm in his mother's house and it isn't really for work, and it's more ambiguous, I guess."

"I'm not such a monster, am I?"

"Oh, Catherine, no. Of course not. But this is a family matter."

"I'm glad Fox has someone like you to turn to when he needs family, Dana. He never learned that kind of thing from his father and me. It's always been difficult for him to form close attachments."

Dana was silent, wondering if this weren't some kind of warning. Paying attention to what her fingers were doing, she felt Catherine's hand caressing her hair again, and almost wanted to cry. Why were tears so easy this weekend? She had just gotten too close to all of it. Autopsied cadavers of the most gruesome description never fazed her, but two conversations with her partner's mother and Dana Scully felt like a marshmallow. She managed a response, keeping her eyes on her hands. "I don't know if I'd call our work together an 'attachment'. We're partners, Catherine."

"Of course. But it's a good partnership, isn't it? He told me he doesn't like to admit how much he needs you to fight him."

Dana looked up to see whether Catherine were serious and met a soft smile, which she was able to return. "Well, that's interesting.. I'll keep fighting him, then. We've always been good at arguing. I spend a lot of my time contradicting him. Sometimes I wonder why he keeps me around."

"That would just be his side of the story, though, wouldn't it?"

"Well, yes, it does go both ways. There are days when I wish I could hit him over the head with a blunt instrument and make him stop pursuing things the way he does. But if he stopped, he wouldn't be Mulder, would he?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Besides, it would be pretty pointless to even try. I don't think anything could possibly hold his attention the way his Mission does. He'd just add me to his list of persecutors and obstructors and keep going."

"Oh, Dana, I doubt he'd do that. He couldn't possibly think that of you."

"You have no idea, Catherine."

"You're right, I suppose I haven't. You probably do know my son better than I do, at least where his work is concerned. But I can tell you one thing." Catherine reached out her hand again and turned the young woman's face toward her with a touch on the cheek. Dana flinched but didn't move away, luminous blue-green eyes flooding Catherine's own. "My son is a fool if he thinks he can do any of this without you. Mothers can be irrational about these things, but in my opinion, my son is a fool if he is not in love with you heart and soul. You are a remarkable person, Dana Scully."

Dana's face went completely white, and for a moment Catherine thought she might faint, or strike out. It was a good thing she was already sitting on the floor. " l-l...?" she stammered. "No, Catherine, you don't understand, it's not possible, not Mulder...."

Catherine laid her hand back in her lap. "I'm sorry, dear. I shouldn't have said anything. I'm just meeting my son again, perhaps for the first time, really, and his happiness is important to me. Forgive an old woman's foolishness."

Dana hung her head, fighting the urge to confide in Catherine the way she would in her own mother. She felt in desperate need of good advice. There had been few times when she felt as much like Margaret Scully's "baby girl" than right now. What could Catherine possibly be thinking? Had she said anything to Mulder? Oh, God. "There's nothing to forgive, Catherine. Excuse me." She got up and fled.

"Goodness gracious," Catherine said into the empty air. "What have I done?"

In the upstairs bathroom Scully splashed cold water on her face, striving to fend off a rising tide of panic. This is ridiculous, she told herself. After all the things we've seen, I find out that my worst fear is...Mulder. Or Mulder's mom. But I like her. I like him. Oh, Jesus. This is ridiculous. Is there any way I can gracefully leave before dinner? The thought made her laugh, which helped. OK. I'm going to be OK. Nothing serious has happened here. Nothing we can't handle. Nothing unexplainable.

She got herself together in short order, and went bravely, sensibly back to Catherine's room. Catherine was brushing her hair in front of the mirror at the vanity dresser. "I'm sorry to run out on you like that, Catherine." No explanation offered: Catherine probably wouldn't probe for one.

"No, dear, I'm sorry. I should never say such things. It's all right for a mother to think them, but to say them to anyone involved is, well, putting the cart before the horse, I think. I'm just very grateful that Fox asked you to be here. I suppose the two of you will be leaving tomorrow...?"

"I don't know yet. I might leave in the morning. Mulder has his reasons to stay longer. We do operate independently, on occasion."

"Of course. Do you think Fox will mind if I come to dinner in a bathrobe? It's so much trouble changing clothes with this cast, and I'll probably want to go to bed early tonight."

"It's your house, Catherine. You should do whatever makes you comfortable."

"When I was a girl, ladies advanced in years still made themselves presentable. My grandmother was more distressed over the fact that she couldn't dust and polish everything in the house every day than she was over the fact of her cancer. I suppose a lot of the rules have changed since then."

"I wouldn't have my job if they hadn't." She would never have known Mulder if they hadn't. Maybe change isn't always good.

"An excellent point. We'll have to make a toast to changing rules then, won't we?"

Dana didn't answer, helping Catherine into her robe.

Mulder enjoyed waiting on the two women at dinner. He couldn't help being glad they were getting along so well. He just wished it didn't seem like they knew something he didn't. He had never known his mother very well, really, and couldn't remember ever having seen her at her ease. He associated her with formal occasions, stuffy places you had to go to, uncomfortable clothes you had to wear, boring people you had to be polite to. And here she was sitting at the dinner table in her bathrobe, laughing with his partner about something her neighbor's dog had done. And that was another thing: seeing Scully laugh. He realized that no matter how important his partner was to him, he only knew her as his partner. He didn't know what she looked like when she relaxed, what she did for fun (other than read Jose Chung novels, a literary taste that made Mulder roll his eyes). He'd have to call her Mom and find out. Turnabout's fair play, right? Besides, he liked her Mom.

Scully cleaned up in the kitchen afterwards and then came out to read, while Mulder and his mother tackled the suitcase again. He found he had a hard time concentrating, and was relieved when his mother confessed how tired she was, helped him pack away the documentation of his father's professional life, said goodnight to Dana, and let him help her up the stairs. The suitcase would stay in his room for the night, just in case. He hesitated to go back down right away, to be alone with Scully, knowing his Mom would probably be curious and paying attention to how long it took him to come back up. She hadn't said anything to him about what she may or may not have seen from her window, exhibiting remarkable self-restraint if she had been a witness. He had been trying not to think about it, himself, without much success. Roses: he could swear that's what she tasted like. Wierd.

What the hell. Let his Mom think whatever she wanted to. He went downstairs.

"Hi," he said, and sat down on the sofa.

"Hi," she said back, and put down her book.

"How's the book?"

"It's pretty good. I can't seem to keep my mind on it, though."

"You and my Mom sure seem to have hit it off."

"I told you I liked her. She's sweet."

"Sweet?" He gave that thought an assessing downpull of the mouth. "That's a word I never really associated with my mother before."

"Well, you should. She wants me to come up and give her rub-downs on a regular basis. She says I have a gift for it."

"Do I have to fall down a flight of stairs to find out for myself?"

Forget the joking, Mulder: here comes the spooky part. "She gave me quite a scare up there, though."

"What do you mean?"

"She didn't ask me about setting a date, but she did tell me she thinks you're a fool if you're not in love with me."

"She said that?!"

"M-hm. I wouldn't make it up."

"And that scared you?"

"Yup. I almost ran right out the door, never to be seen or heard from again."

"In love with you."

"Heart and soul. I quote."

"Well, I wouldn't want my Mom to think I'm a fool...."

"Please, Mulder, don't joke about this. It's not funny."

"I wasn't joking."

"I don't think I can take much more of this. How can you be so calm?"

"Calm? You think this is calm? This isn't calm, this is shock."

She looked at him a second, trying to remember how this got started. "Mulder, what are we talking about?"

"Me being in love with you, I think."

"That's what I was afraid of."

"Why aren't we talking about you being in love with me?"

"Because nobody's brought it up yet. I almost fainted when Catherine said the first part, and she didn't push the issue after that."


"So, what?"

"Are you in love with me?"

"Oh God, Mulder, I don't know."

"What kind of an answer is that?"

"The only one I have for you right now. Mulder, I'm so scared of getting close to you I don't know what I'm feeling. I know I've had a whole long list of reasons why it can never happen, why it would never happen, why neither of us would ever want it to happen, why it could only end in disaster. You've certainly kept your distance, you've got to have your lists, too. And now we're talking about it."

"This isn't helping my self-esteem very much, Scully."

"It's not doing much for mine, either. Look, do you think we can just call a time-out on this 'til we get back to Washington? I don't think either of us can really trust our states of mind right now. I don't want to do anything stupid."

"I guess this means our chances of making out in front of the fire tonight are pretty slim."

"Don't tempt me. Why do you think I'm still sitting over here? If I was on that sofa with you I wouldn't vouch for either of us still having clothes on ten minutes later, Catherine upstairs or no Catherine."

"Now I'm feeling better."

"Jesus, Mulder, don't make this harder than it is. We could maybe make our hormones happy for a while, but what happens after that? What are we risking?"

"I know. I'm sorry. You're right, I shouldn't joke. I just can't help feeling happy about it. You really do taste like roses, Scully."

"That's sweet, Mulder, but you haven't answered my question. What happens after that? My Mom likes you a lot, but she'd still want to know what your intentions are."

"Right again. I haven't had a chance to think about that. I keep getting stuck at the roses part."

"You'd better get un-stuck if you want to keep having this conversation. Hasn't it occurred to you that we might well end up hating each other pretty fast if we got any closer than we already are? I mean, we have a hard enough time refraining from strangling each other over our differences as it is, without making it personal."

"You've got a point there. But I don't know anybody else I could ever be that close to."

"Close enough to want to strangle?"

"Close enough to get under my skin so completely. Close enough to be so indispensable."

"As crazy as this may sound, Mulder, I don't want to imagine my life without you in it, either."

He looked at her a moment, not yet completely un-stuck. "What are we talking about, Scully?"

"About being in love, I think."


"I guess so."


"That's the tricky part, isn't it? It's not like people haven't talked about us already, but this would be different."

Mulder suddenly felt giddily philosophical. "I don't know if I like the phrasing, 'in love'. That always sounds too ominous to me, like being 'in trouble'. It's also something you can get out of. I think I like the verb form better: something you're doing, a mutual endeavor. We're used to that; we've been working together a long time. It shouldn't be so hard."

Scully didn't like his mood. Hello in there...? "Then why can't you say it?"

"What? I love you?"

"Bingo. I love you, too." A brief silence hovered over the furniture.

"Well, now we've got that settled," Mulder said, not really believing this was happening. "What happens if we get back to Washington and one or the other of us decides it's not such a good idea after all?"

"Maybe nothing too terrible: you can love a person and not be involved with him or her, like caring about a friend. We've both been doing that already, I think. Technically, this doesn't have to really change anything."

"I like the way you think, Scully."

"I'm not sure I do. The reason I'm so scared is a big chunk of me doesn't want to settle for that, doesn't want to be reasonable any more. A big chunk of me is screaming something about all or nothing."

"Sounds like a dangerous chunk. Maybe your chunk and my chunk should get together and write songs or something."

"You, too, huh?"

"Me, too. But we could still just be friends who love each other. You never know." They couldn't possibly be talking like this. He had fallen asleep upstairs again, that was it. You can say anything you want to in a dream.

"I just don't want the Bureau to split us up," she answered back. If this was a dream, it was too realistic: she was fighting him with her version of Reality, like always. "I mean, there's no point if we're not working together, is there? And I sure as hell wouldn't want someone else to get all the fun being your partner in the X-Files."

"I'd resign before I'd let them give me another partner. Look what happened with the last one."

"Mulder, if you resign, you lose all your work. Those files are the property of the Department of Justice."

"We're starting to argue about things that haven't happened yet. Can't we just make out in front of the fire and call it a night? We can argue some more tomorrow."

"Mulder, there's not even any wood in this fireplace."

"I'll go outside and chop down a tree. The neighbors won't mind, it's for a good cause."

"Could you please be serious?! This isn't a joke!"

"No. No, it's not a joke. It just still seems pretty surreal, that's all. I mean, we're talking about loving each other from across the room. If the memory weren't burned into my brain I would have a hard time believing we did anything in the back yard today but eat lunch. We're basing this whole declaration on what couldn't have been more than five minutes' activity."

"And four years of partnership, and watching each other almost die more times than I'd care to count, and being ready to die for each other and each other's beliefs. This afternoon wouldn't have happened if all of that hadn't happened first."

"Would you please come over here and say that to me again?"

"All right." She set her book aside, came to the couch, and sat down next to him. She carefully picked up his hand and held it palm up in her lap, studying it. "What happened this afternoon was not just about five minutes' activity," she told his hand. Then she looked up at him. "You mean a lot to me, Mulder." She let herself reach up and touch his face, not caring for the moment if it was too risky. It seemed the only decent thing to do.

She cupped his cheek with her palm, running her thumb across his cheekbone. He closed his eyes and rolled his face into her hand, just breathing in for a moment. Un-stuck. Then he took her hand away from his face and held it in his. "I don't ever want to lose you, Dana. Not to the Bureau, not to the bad guys, not to my own mistakes."

"Mulder, you're not liable for me. You can't be responsible for everything."

"No, but I can be responsible for what I do to you. I don't want to drag you down with me."

"I'm not about to let you. I make my own choices."

No denying that. "I'm not good at being close to people, Scully. Basically, I'm a selfish jerk. You might have noticed that before now."

"You're not a jerk, you just get so full of your need for things to be a certain way that you won't listen to anybody else's interpretation."

"Case in point. I know what I want right now, but probably the main reason I'm reaching out for it is because I want some relief from what I'm doing here with my Mom." From the pained look on her face he could guess that thought had crossed her mind as well. "This isn't fair to you, Scully. I suppose it's not fair to me, either. It's not honest, no matter what we just said. Not completely."

"But what about what I want? This isn't just about you and your pain and your needs. That's what scares me so much, Mulder. I could fend you off, I could tell you it's a bad idea and you should just leave me alone, but what do I do with myself? What do I do with how much I want you?" She brought her hand to his face again, and drew him down to meet her mouth still holding the word "you".

My God. Roses. It was like eating roses, like licking out a bowl of roses, like being swallowed by a bed of roses that had come for your soul.

She wanted him inside her, all the way inside her. Not sex, him. She wanted him so bad she could feel sounds welling up in her throat that she shouldn't let out in his mother's house with his mother upstairs. Melissa was right, this is what you get for repressing your feelings: you don't know what they'll do when they come out.

Somebody had better stop this, they both thought at almost the same time. Scully wasn't sure whether she had pulled Mulder down on top of her or if he had laid her down on her back. With their height difference it would have made more sense to go the other way 'round, but what they were doing didn't make much sense in general.... Maybe they'd have other chances to work it out. He made his way back to her face, and pulled back enough to focus on her eyes, as she drew her hands out from under his shirt. They both knew. She unwrapped her leg from his, and he started to sit up. "What was that somebody said about a time out?" he said. He stroked her hair spread out on the sofa, and brought the back of his hand to her cheek.

"That was me, wasn't it?" He nodded at her, smiling a little. She sat up. "Do you think your mom would get suspicious if I took a cold shower at this hour?" He laughed. She liked hearing it, it made her smile.

There was that smile again. He could die a happy man, now. Well, no. There were some other things he'd still like to see. He touched the corner of that smile with a finger, then kissed the whole thing. They both burst out laughing.

"Now she's really going to wonder." He didn't think he'd ever heard Scully giggle before. This was getting more interesting all the time.

"Maybe we can be friends who make out in front of the fire every now and then," he said.

"Maybe. We'll have to find a different fireplace, though."

"I'll build one."


"I promise you, Dana Scully."

Somehow they had ended up holding hands, a union of fingers resting on Scully's knee. "I wish I could promise you something other than the fact that I'm almost guaranteed to freak out about this later. I might not want you anywhere near me for a few days while I try to figure myself out on this." Hard words, but sensible. Typical. He was glad he could count on that part of her even now.

"Do you mind if I call your mom, then?"

"My mom? Why?"

"It occurred to me today that I only know you from work, essentially. Maybe she could tell me a few stories that'll make you cry."

"You'd better be prepared for her to start buying stuff with our initials on it if you do talk to her. She already considers you a part of the family, you know."

"I like her, too." They sat and looked at each other a moment, the dikes starting to crumble again. "Come on, Scully, let me walk you to your room and we'll call it a night."

At her door she surprised him by encircling him in a gentle hug. "Good night, Mulder," she said against his chest, and seemed content to keep standing in his arms a while. He wasn't about to complain.



"You called me 'Fox' back there."

She pulled back, looking mortified. "I did?! I'm sorry...."

He grinned at her. "Don't be sorry. I llliiked it." He rolled the word to be sure she knew just how much, and in what way, he liked it. "Just save it for special occasions, OK?"

Her eyes had gone all huge. If he wasn't careful he'd go swimming. "OK, Fox," she answered, the name seeming to come from the base of her throat, and she reached up to kiss him on the cheek. "See you tomorrow," she softly told his ear. Then she moved carefully away, gave him a shadowed smile, went into her room and closed the door.

Mulder blew out his breath, made sure his body was still in the same place he left it, and made himself take it upstairs as quietly as possible and put it to bed.

Scully wasn't sure what had woken her up. Some instinct told her not to turn on any lights. She thought she could hear something moving in the living room. Maybe Mulder couldn't sleep...maybe not. She got out of bed, found her gun in her bag, and went silently down the hall.

The man in the dining room was dressed in dark colors, probably under six feet tall, wiry. From behind he looked too much like a man who was supposed to have killed himself in a jail cell, a man who had killed her sister and nearly killed a man she worked for and respected, a man she had had in her gunsights and knew now she should have sent straight to Hell when she had the chance. No, it couldn't be him.

He didn't know she was there yet. In the dark room, moonlight faintly coming around the drapes, he held a flashlight in gloved hands to aid in a search of the room, opening drawers in the sideboard. She could see the bulge of a pistol under his jacket.

She stepped carefully, barefoot, directly into the living room to get a clear line of fire, braced herself, took aim, and cocked the gun. "Federal agent, I'm armed!" she said loudly, hoping Mulder was not a sound sleeper tonight. "Don't turn around yet. Put your flashlight on the table. Slowly. Remove your weapon and put it on the table, too. Keep your hands where I can see them and put them in the air when you're done. I have excellent night vision." The man complied, with an ease that made her nervous. He must have known from her voice that she was a woman, and from the angle of sound he would know her height. If he knew anything at all about what he was looking for, he probably knew who she was. Why had they sent him here with them all in the house? Were they looking for a confrontation? What was the game now?

Keeping her eyes and her aim firm, she used peripheral vision to step to a lamp and switch it on. Come on, Mulder, help me out here.... "Now step away from the table," she told the man. "Turn around slowly, and tell me what you're doing here."

He turned, took in the sight of her ,small and disheveled in her pajamas, and his mouth twisted in a nasty imitation of a smile. "Some federal agent," he said.

"I'm the one with the gun," she reminded him, and adjusted her aim from his shoulder to his lower abdomen. "Who told you to come here?"

The icy smile became flint. "Your mother." He twisted sideways as he came forward more quickly than should have been possible, reaching into a pocket as he came. A knife suddenly gleamed in his hand as her first shot went where he no longer stood, and her second grazed his shoulder. He slashed across her belly, knocking the gun from her hand with the same motion and keeping his momentum as his attack knocked her to the floor, the lamp crashing down with her. No time yet for the pain: she grabbed at his ankles and he kicked hard at her face as he fell forward onto his hands and quickly recovered. His heel just missed her eye, glancing off her temple, and the explosion in her head blocked her sight.

Scully was on the ground and a man was scrambling toward the half-open door as Mulder slammed on the hall light and thundered down the stairs. He fired at the man just as he saw something bright flash out of the intruder's hand, and felt something cut past his ear with a whistle as he ducked. There was no time to aim precisely as he fired again at the retreating figure and saw it go down. Then he saw the blood on the floor where Scully was. Too much blood. "Scully!"

She was curled in on herself, and wouldn't let him see the wound. "Don't lose him!" she gasped.

"Scully, you're hurt!"

"It's not as bad as it looks. He wasn't trying to kill me, he just wanted me out of his way. Go!"

Scully's attacker lay sprawled face forward on the porch. Mulder's second shot had hit the man in the lower back, to the left of the spine. There was still a pulse. If he was going to live, if he was going to give them any answers, there would have to be an ambulance.

"He's not going anywhere, Scully. Hang on." Please, hang on. He went to the phone to call 911.

"Fox? Dana? What in Heaven's name...?" Catherine's panicked voice came from the top of the stairs. She saw the man on the porch, heard her son's furious voice giving her address over the phone, saw Dana curled up on the floor, saw the blood. "My God, Dana! What has happened here?"

"It's all right, Catherine, don't come down. We're OK. Please, go back to bed."

"But you're hurt!" Catherine started to come down the stairs.

"I'll be all right. The ambulance will be here soon. Please...." Dana's voice faded out.

Then Catherine's son was at her side, and she was transfixed by the sight of the gun in his hand. His face was grim, but his hand on her arm was gentle. "Mom. Go back to bed. Let's not have any more accidents tonight." Catherine moved with numb obedience back toward her room as Fox returned to Dana's side.

Scully had nearly passed out. An ugly welt flared over her right eye; he'd have to keep her awake 'til the ambulance came. "Come on, Scully, stay with me. Say the alphabet for me, anything." She got stuck in a few places, and so did he, but they got all the way to Z. His heart was in his mouth as he examined the gash that angled from above her left hip across the ribs of her right side. Breathe, he told himself, you'll be no help if you pass out, too. "This was not how I planned to get my hands on you, Dana," he joked lamely, which got a smile. A few hours earlier, and he would have given a year of his life to be this close to her skin. Now he didn't want to look where her torn pajama top gave way, didn't want this to be the first way he saw and touched the body under the clothes. His hands were shaking as he pulled off his T-shirt to staunch the bleeding. Let that bastard die, I don't care. He picked Dana up and cradled her against his chest, wishing he knew how to pray.

Dana had been right: the knife hadn't caused any serious damage beyond knicking a rib, although she'd lost a fair amount of blood. The stitches shouldn't leave much of a scar. The blow to her head had left her concussed, which in combination with the blood loss was more of a concern, but allowing for some time off in bed she should be fine in a few days. Kissing was fine, but anything more would have to wait. She discovered that she was not freaking out after all. Maybe that would come later.

Her assailant was not so lucky. Mulder was not allowed to question him. Local police were calling it a breaking-and-entering, and federal (or personal) interference would not be tolerated. The intruder was identified as migrant worker Jose Dies, no family in the U.S.--a convenient cover, but one they wouldn't be able to crack. His gloved hands had left no prints. He died in the hospital the next day after a visit from a priest not known to the hospital staff.

With apologies to Catherine, Dana went home to spend her recovery with her mother. Mulder took the suitcase with him when he took Dana back to D.C., telling his mother he knew people they could trust who would know what to do with it.

At Margaret Scully's house, Mulder sat with Scully on the bed they'd tucked her into. A timely phone call had taken Scully's mother out of the room. "All this really isn't necessary, you know, I'm not an invalid," she protested. "It's just a glorified cut."

"The doctor said you needed to rest as much as possible for the next few days, let yourself heal. Isn't your mother's house the best place for that?"

"Where will you be?" she asked.

He took her hand and smiled. "Not far, you can count on it. Your Mom likes me, I've got an in."

"I like you, too. Is Catherine going to be OK?"

"She'll be fine. They know I have the suitcase. Don't change the subject."

"Which is?"

"How you feel about me."

"I like you fine. We have to get out of our mother's houses if we're ever going to finish this discussion."

"Give it a few days. I still have to build that fireplace."

Scully smiled, but shook her head. "What about Reality, Mulder? What about the Truth?"

"Let's burn that bridge when we come to it. We haven't figured each other out yet; I think that ought to come first. Even 'Spooky' Mulder can take a vacation sometimes. The truth isn't going to go away."

"I'm surprised to hear you treat it so casually. We're talking about your life's work, here."

"I'd rather be talking about my life. Certain things became very clear to me when you were bleeding all over my Mom's floor the other night. Get better quick, OK?"

"OK." She brought her other hand to join the two already settled in the space between them.

Margaret came in, saw the hands on top of the covers and tried not to react. They didn't seem to want to hide it or move apart. When did this happen? The last time she and her daughter had talked about her partner, Dana had seemed to be a pretty solidly closed book on the subject. "That was your brother Charles on the phone; he'll be coming by tonight to see how you are. Fox, I have to thank you for bringing Dana home. Will you join us for dinner?"

Mulder stood up, letting Dana's hands go. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Scully, I have some loose ends I need to take care of tonight. I'll come back tomorrow, if that's all right with you."

"You know you're always welcome here, Fox."

Mulder turned back to Scully. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow then." And he bent down and kissed her. On the lips. As if this were the most natural and appropriate thing to do. And Dana seemed to have no objection. Even in front of her mother.

"Tomorrow," Dana said back to him.

Her daughter's partner gave Margaret the smile of a happy man as he turned to go. Although Fox had many fine qualities, she wouldn't have described him as "happy" before. "Fox...?" Margaret was too surprised to articulate the question further.

"Goodnight, Mrs. Scully."

Dana didn't look at Margaret 'til after he'd gone. Dana, the tomboy, the doctor with nerves of steel, the Starbuck of this family, was blushing. Dumbfounded, Margaret had to ask. She sat down on her daughter's bed, eyes still wide at what she'd just seen. "Do you have something to tell me, Dana?" She couldn't help but smile, expecting happy news.

"Don't start planning anything, Mom. We don't know how we're going to handle this, yet. There could be a lot of complications. But it looks like...." She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence. She didn't have to. Margaret Scully wrapped her baby girl in a celebratory embrace.


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