TITLE: Blood Ties(1/2)
Blood Ties (1/2)
The X-Files Office
"Scully, you're avoiding the question," Mulder said, leaning back into his chair at an even more precarious angle and twirling a pencil between his fingers.
Scully looked up reluctantly from the expense report she was hunched over and rolled her eyes. "Mulder, I realize this is a foreign concept for you, but I'm trying to get some work done on this report. If you keep initiating these ridiculous discussions I'm never going to finish."
"Ridiculous! Scully you wound me! I'm just trying to broaden your mind, give you some penetrating questions to challenge your thinking and stretch your world view."
"Mulder, I hardly think determining whether Batman or the Green Hornet had the coolest car is going to stretch my world view."
He pouted. There really was no other word for the way his lip stuck out just a bit and his hazel eyes turned reproachful. Scully knew, of course, that it was all an act. Mulder was bored, and a bored Mulder could be the equivalent of an extremely irritating little boy. Still, as much as his constant interruptions annoyed her, she had to admit it was fascinating sometimes the way his brain worked.
"Mulder, don't you have some files to go over? Some new report of lights in the sky or swamp monsters or something to occupy your mind? Skinner is going to wonder what's wrong if you don't bring him some sort of preposterous 302 soon."
The pout turned into a scowl. "There isn't anything. Even the tabloids have been lacking in inspiration. If we still had the files I could be looking through some of the old cases, but we both know that's pretty hard to do with a pile of ash."
Scully was about to respond but the phone rang and she scooped it up instead. "Scully."
"Agent Scully, this is Kim. Assistant Director Skinner would like to come down to see you and Agent Mulder. He just wanted me to be certain you would both be available."
"Sure, Kim, we'll be here," Scully answered, her mind already working furiously on the issue of why Skinner was coming to them instead of the reverse.
"Thanks Agent Scully. He's on his way."
Scully hung up the phone, a frown on her face. "All right, Mulder. What did you do?"
Mulder had discarded the pencil in favor of a paperclip that he was in the process of shaping into some new art form.
"Huh? What's wrong, Scully?"
His face looked innocent, but there was still the matter of Skinner leaving the sanctity of his large, comfortable office for the relative squalor of the basement. Something was going on, and she would much rather be prepared for it before her boss walked through that door. Which left her about three minutes.
"Skinner is on his way down here to see us, Mulder." She raised one eyebrow and shot a pointed stare in his direction. "Why don't *you* tell me?"
"Scully!" Mulder feigned wide-eyed innocence. "How can you even suggest I might have something to do with this?" When she continued to stare, unamused, he sobered. "Scully, honest. Getting myself into trouble with Skinner would require that something interesting had happened in my life recently. I only wish that I had done something exciting enough to piss Skinner off."
"Please, Mulder, I was just beginning to relax and enjoy the respite."
Make that two and a half minutes, Scully thought ruefully, trying not to smirk when her partner nearly tipped over.
Mulder pulled his feet from his desk and tried to assume a more professional demeanor. "What brings you to no man's land, sir?"
Skinner glanced from Mulder to Scully and then away. A muscle jumped near his jawline and he slipped both hands into his pockets.
"I needed to speak with you about something, Mulder, and I thought your office might prove to be the better location."
Mulder studied Skinner's face, not liking what he saw written in the grim set to his mouth and the lines of tension around his eyes. Once again he mentally reviewed his activities of late to determine what could possibly have landed him in the doghouse with his boss. He came up empty.
"Agent Scully, maybe you should wait outside for a moment..."
"No. Scully, don't go anywhere," Mulder raised his hand. "Sir, I don't know what this is about but I'd like you to stop beating around the bush and come to the point. If I'm in some sort of trouble..."
Skinner cut him off before he could continue. "You aren't in any trouble, Mulder. I'm sorry -- I never meant to give that impression." He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. When he continued, his voice was oddly gentle. "This isn't easy for me to say. I'm here to talk to you about a personal matter that has nothing to do with the Bureau."
Mulder's forehead creased in a puzzled frown. "Personal?"
Skinner took a deep breath. "I received a call about ten minutes ago from a hospital in Connecticut. Your mother was brought there this morning. A neighbor who was supposed to meet her for brunch became concerned when she never showed up. She went to check on her and found her collapsed in her living room. The neighbor called 911 and they rushed your mother to the hospital. The doctor there determined she'd had another stroke."
Mulder, his face abruptly drained of all animation, had practically leaped to his feet at Skinner's mention of his mother. Now he was stuffing a few file folders into his briefcase. His eyes roamed the interior of the office as if searching for something, yet his gaze was blank and unseeing. Scully glanced at Skinner, and her stomach clenched. Her boss's face was grave, but with an additional measure of what could only be termed compassion. It was obvious he was more than a little concerned about her partner. Mulder evidently hadn't heard all Skinner needed to say.
The compassion Scully had detected in Skinner's face was even more pronounced in the utterance of that single word. Mulder continued to pack up his things as if he hadn't heard, but when he reached for his suitcoat, his hands shook.
The voice was stronger, more authoritative, yet no less sympathetic. Skinner laid one large hand on Mulder's shoulder with a gentleness that caused Scully to blink in surprise. At his touch the burst of adrenaline seemed to abandon Mulder as quickly as it had come. He let the briefcase in his hand fall to the desktop, his eyes slowly rising to Skinner's. Scully could see that he knew -- maybe he had known instinctively from the moment Skinner began speaking. She could read everything in his wide-eyed stare.
*Don't say it. Once you say the words it will all be real...*
"The stroke was massive. She was already gone before the paramedics arrived. They tried everything they could to revive her but..."
Mulder dropped into his chair, his legs folding as if suddenly incapable of supporting his lanky frame. He licked dry lips and swallowed thickly, his eyes glassy and unfocused. Skinner, obviously at a loss for what to say, plunged on.
"The doctor told me it looked as if she'd died instantly, Mulder. He assured me she didn't suffer."
Mulder swallowed again and brought his gaze back to Skinner with what looked to be an enormous amount of effort. Skinner winced at what he saw there. Shock, yes, but something far deeper and more disturbing. It was as if a terrible void had opened up inside his agent, threatening to suck him down until his very soul imploded from the force of it. He looked over at Scully and saw that she shared his disquiet.
"I've already asked Kim to initiate the paperwork for your leave, Mulder," he said. "Don't worry about anything here. Take all the time you need."
Realizing that he wasn't going to get an answer, Skinner moved toward the door, sending Scully an intent glance as he passed her. His meaning was clear: Take care of him. She nodded almost imperceptibly to let him know the message was received. Skinner paused in the doorway, struggling for the right words. In the end, he just sighed deeply.
"I'm very sorry, Mulder. Please let me know if there's anything I can do."
Scully waited, listening to the sound of Skinner's footsteps echo down the hallway, the rattle of elevator doors opening and shutting, and then the deep silence. Mulder didn't move, didn't speak, barely seemed to breathe. She struggled with her own overwhelming need to fill the silence with words, however trite and meaningless. Just when she thought she could bear it no longer, Mulder spoke. His voice was husky with a multitude of repressed feelings but his eyes remained dry.
"Guess I'd better book a flight."
The words were spoken woodenly, with little or no inflection, and despite them Mulder didn't move. He continued to stare off into space, gone somewhere Scully didn't recognize and was sure she'd never want to visit. After only a moment's hesitation she reached for her phone and dialed the airline.
"Yes, I need information on flights from Washington, D.C to JFK International." She listened, noticing that Mulder appeared to be paying little or no attention, still lost in his own thoughts. "Five-thirty sounds good. Yes, coach. Two."
Ahh. Good. THAT got his attention. His eyes abruptly snapped back into focus and searched her face. His own expression was a mixture of bewilderment, annoyance, and hope. Scully ignored him for the moment, pulling out her own credit card and reading the number and expiration date, patiently repeating herself several times for the slow-witted clerk. When she finally hung up she just raised an eyebrow at his sharp look, daring him to comment. As always, Mulder didn't disappoint.
"Mulder, your mother handled everything when your father died. I, on the other hand, was by my mom's side while she made the arrangements for Ahab."
She faltered just slightly. Even after five years the wound was still tender. The emotion in her own face must have threatened to pierce Mulder's shell, for he looked quickly away, blinking. Scully pretended not to notice, but filed it away for future reference.
She got to her feet and walked over to perch on his desk, forcing him to look at her. She wanted to touch him, to slip her hand into his for comfort, but knew that it might provoke a display of emotion he was currently unwilling or perhaps even incapable of handling. Instead, she poured the comfort into her gaze, doing everything she could to open the conduit between them. So often they communicated without speaking a single word, and she fervently hoped that ability would serve her now.
"I want to be there for you, Mulder. Please, let me."
It nearly undid him. His hazel eyes flooded with tears and he closed them quickly before any could escape, biting savagely at his lower lip. When he finally managed to regain the upper hand on his emotions, Mulder pushed himself to his feet and grabbed the briefcase. His eyes skittered away from hers but his voice, when he spoke, was rough with emotion.
"I'll pick you up at four."
She watched him leave, quelling the words that wanted to
tumble from her lips. He had no business behind the wheel of a
car right now, still reeling from the news of his mother's death.
She wanted to protest, to urge him to leave his car at the Bureau
and allow her to drive him home to pack. Instead, she held her tongue
and thought about the trust Mulder had shown by allowing her to
remain at his side for what could prove to be his most vulnerable hour.
He'd given her a gift, and she vowed not to let him down.
Lincoln Memorial Cemetery
It rained the day of the funeral. A steady, icy downpour that was bone-chilling in combination with the barely-above-freezing temperature. Scully stood close to her partner throughout the brief graveside service, her arm linked in his so that she could shelter them both with the large umbrella. So often Mulder had kept this same umbrella suspended carefully over her when they were in the field and investigating under less than optimal conditions. It felt a little odd to be returning the favor.
Not that Mulder appeared to notice. He stood rigidly at her side, staring mutely at the coffin decked with various floral arrangements. She could feel how desperately he was holding the pieces together, fighting against the splintering of his soul that had begun when Skinner entered their office just forty-eight hours earlier. Scully knew the time was fast approaching when his sheer force of determination would no longer be sufficient and the inevitable meltdown would occur. She wondered how much more he could take.
She watched him now, talking quietly with an elderly woman whom she'd gathered was a former neighbor. The rain had let up for the moment, and she'd moved away to allow Mulder some privacy as he accepted the condolences of the few people who had come to pay Teena Mulder their final respects. On the surface he looked fine -- a son experiencing grief over the death of his mother, but coping with it. Scully knew better. His eyes were dark and shadowed with weariness, his shoulders held stiffly, the smile brittle and forced.
*Sooner or later, Mulder, you'll have to let it out.*
She was shaken from her reverie by the approach of Skinner. He'd stopped to lay a bouquet of flowers on the casket, and gave Mulder's shoulder a small squeeze as he passed. Scully smiled warmly at her boss, still touched by the fact that he'd shown up at all. She knew it wasn't easy for Skinner to break away from the day-to-day grind at the Bureau, and it must have taken some effort for him to rearrange his schedule. Even Mulder's impassive mask had slipped a little when Skinner entered the church.
"Scully," Skinner joined her where she waited next to the rental car.
"Thank you for coming, sir. I know Mulder appreciates the support."
Skinner followed her gaze to the man in question, before returning to study her face. "How is he?"
Scully sighed, wondering whether Skinner should have the edited or uncut version of the truth. After only slight consideration she decided he'd earned the latter.
"He's not good. He puts up an admirable front, but that's exactly what it is. He's not eating, and from the circles under his eyes, I'd guess he isn't sleeping either. I'm not sure why he feels he has to hide the fact that he's hurting."
Skinner raised both eyebrows and his mouth quirked a little with something that looked suspiciously like a smirk. "Keeps telling you he's fine?"
Caught without a leg to stand on, Scully could only wince. "I see your point." She decided a change of subject was in order. "Did you fly up, sir?"
Skinner nodded. "I had some trouble with the return flight, though. I settled on one first thing tomorrow morning, so I'm going to need a motel room tonight. I was hoping Mulder could recommend something."
Scully rolled her eyes. "Obviously you've never had to endure Mulder's choice of motels or you'd never suggest that." Her expression turned thoughtful. "We've been staying at a motel until now, but we're going to be at Mrs. Mulder's house tonight. He needs to begin going through her things. I'm sure Mulder wouldn't object to you using the couch. It would save you at least one expense."
A small frown line creased Skinner's brow. "I don't know if that's such a good idea, Scully. I wouldn't want to intrude."
"Intrude on what?" Mulder's voice and sudden appearance startled them both. He extended his hand to Skinner. "Thank you."
"The A.D. can't catch a flight back until the morning, Mulder," Scully said. "I told him I didn't think you'd mind if he slept on the couch at your mom's house."
"Mulder, a hotel would be just fine, if you can recommend one," Skinner protested.
Mulder raised one hand to cut him off. "No, sir. Scully's right. It's the least I can offer after you making the trip. There's plenty of room, so it's no imposition." When he saw Skinner still looked doubtful, he managed a little grin. "If it will ease your conscience, you can help me haul some of the boxes out of the basement."
"You've got yourself a deal, Mulder." Skinner looked at Scully. "Actually, I'm relieved. According to your partner, you're not exactly the most reliable source for recommending accommodations."
Mulder turned an exaggeratedly soulful gaze on Scully. "Scully, how could you possibly say that after all the nights we've spent in exotic locations?"
"I'd hardly call places like Bert's Sleep 'N Eat an exotic location, Mulder."
He ignored her jibe and turned to his boss instead. "You can follow us, sir. It's only about ten minutes from here."
Skinner did just that, following Mulder's blue Taurus while musing on the man inside, thinking that Mulder had endured more hardship than any ten men. No one should wind up the only remaining member of his family at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. His sister had been abducted from before his very eyes and never returned. His father was murdered as he was about to finally reveal the truth regarding that loss. And now his mother was dead, ending any chance to reconcile the bitterness and anger that had sprung up between them.
He watched Mulder and Scully as they drove, noting the way Scully's head kept turning to regard her partner. Skinner knew she was worried about Mulder, and rightfully so. All his casual banter at the cemetery, Skinner suspected, was only a thin veneer of normalcy that Mulder had carefully applied to conceal the turbulent emotions that lay just beneath.
They reached Mrs. Mulder's two-story Cape Cod home and Skinner retrieved his overnight bag from the trunk before joining Mulder and Scully on the large front porch. Mulder pulled a keyring from his pocket and fumbled to locate the correct one. When he reached out with an unsteady hand to slip it into the lock, Skinner saw Scully regarding her partner with the same troubled frown she'd worn at the cemetery.
They stepped into dim hallway, oppressively silent except for the faint ticking of a clock. Mulder, his face impassive, examined a grouping of family pictures mounted on the wall. Skinner shifted uneasily. In the shadowy stillness, the house felt frozen in time, patiently waiting for Teena Mulder to return. Scully turned to Skinner.
"I can take that upstairs for you, sir. We'll put it in one of the bedrooms until tonight," she said, indicating the duffel in his hand.
Skinner shook his head and reached out to lift Mulder's bag from the slack grip of his fingers. "Don't be silly, Scully. Just show me the way."
Mulder seemed to shake himself free of the daze he'd been in. "First door on the right, Scully. That's the guest room."
Torn between allowing Mulder some privacy and her own hesitancy to leave him alone, Scully nodded and proceeded Skinner up the long narrow staircase. Mulder listened to the creak of old wood as they ascended before walking into the living room.
He pulled the door shut behind him and shed his trenchcoat, dropping it onto one of the wingback chairs. He drifted toward the overturned coffee table that marked the spot where his mother had breathed her last breath. A smaller end table and an ottoman had been shoved unceremoniously into a corner, probably by the EMTs who had tried to resuscitate her. Mulder stared at the large open space and crouched beside it. He placed one hand on the smooth nap of the Oriental rug, irrationally hoping to feel some trace of warmth. All that met his fingers was cold emptiness, and something in his gut twisted painfully.
He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed both hands to his ears, unable to shut out the voices that echoed harshly in his mind.
*You betrayed your husband, my father.*
*How far back did it go?*
*How dare you? How dare you come here and accuse me?*
*Who is my father?*
*What do you want -- to kill him again?*
*Just answer the question, Mom!*
*I am your mother and I will not tolerate any more of your questions!*
The sob that had remained clenched inside his throat broke free -- ragged, tearing, and surfacing from a primal place that was buried too deeply to name. Another immediately followed, and another -- linked together in an endless chain of grief. He folded over until his face was pressed to the floor, perhaps to the very spot where she had crumpled, gasping for breath.
The walls pressed in upon him and he panted for air.
Robbed of all logic, one thought took command of his brain
and subsequently his body -- he had to get out, get away from
the ghosts that hovered around him as a tangible presence.
Functioning on autopilot, Mulder stood, flung open the French
doors, and staggered out into the frigid rain without a
Teena Mulder's House
Scully descended the stairs, leaving Skinner in the guest room where he was changing clothes. She'd already switched from her black suit to faded jeans and an old Georgetown sweatshirt, anticipating the messy job that lay ahead. She was certain that she'd find Mulder in the back portion of the house, which contained a roomy kitchen and a small family room complete with fireplace. She walked down the long hallway and through the door, already speaking to him as she went.
"Better get out of that suit, Mulder. Armani isn't exactly the proper attire for cleaning out a basement..."
She trailed off when she realized that both rooms were empty. In fact, it didn't appear that anyone had entered this part of the house since before Teena Mulder's death. A half-consumed mug of tea lay next to a folded newspaper bearing Tuesday's date. The sink was filled with cold, congealed water and several dishes still resided in the drainer. Her heart constricted at the small, handwritten note on the refrigerator.
*Pick up dry cleaning on Thursday*
Time had moved on and left Teena Mulder behind.
Scully tore her eyes away from the note and retraced her footsteps to the bottom of the stairs where she nearly bumped into Skinner coming down. He'd also changed into blue jeans along with a dark green Henley. Scully did a double take. She was accustomed to Skinner in his "power" clothes, and seeing him dressed so casually was a little disconcerting.
"Mulder isn't upstairs, is he?" she asked, unable to stop the worry from creeping into her voice.
Skinner frowned and shook his head. "I didn't see him, no."
Scully peered through the glass door that led into the living room, hoping to catch a glimpse of her partner. She hesitently entered, her eyes following the same path that Mulder's had moments earlier. She took note of the black trenchcoat carelessly tossed onto a chair and the large open area in the middle of the floor. She'd examined enough crime scenes to put together what had transpired in that painfully empty space.
"Mulder?" She called his name even though the room was clearly deserted.
Skinner moved past her, his eyes scanning every nook and cranny of the dim interior. "Well, we know he was here. The coat makes that clear."
A current of cold air wrapped around Scully's ankles and her sharp ears detected a soft rattling sound. She abruptly remembered the day that now seemed very long ago, when she'd driven an agitated and slightly confused Mulder to this house to speak with his mother. She'd stood awkwardly in the hallway while Mulder had ushered his mother into this very room, the closed door unable to disguise the angry voices and the sharp crack of a slap. After Teena had stormed up the stairs, Scully had entered an empty room to find that her partner had executed one in a string of infamous "ditches."
Her sense of disquiet increasing with the memory, Scully strode rapidly to the French doors that led directly outside. Even as she reached for one of the knobs she could see that the door was ajar.
"Scully?" Skinner asked.
"It's open. He must have gone outside." She tried to keep her voice calm and steady, but her eyes were pulled to the abandoned coat. Skinner made the connection.
"Wait. Let me get our coats." It was an order, and she couldn't help reflecting wryly that Skinner lapsed into command mode in a crisis.
He was back an instant later and Scully silently accepted his offering even as she stepped out into the rain. The showers had picked up once again, and drops pelted her exposed skin like tiny needles. A gust of wind whipped her hair into a red cloud until she impatiently tucked the strands behind her ears.
"I'll go around front," Skinner said, his glasses already speckled with moisture.
Scully nodded and turned toward the backyard. "Mulder!" She shouted against the wind that tried to blow the words back at her.
Her ears, attuned for the sound of his voice, heard only the pattering of the rain on the roof and the gurgling of the water in the gutters. She rounded the corner of the house, her heart pounding more frantically with each step and her knees weak. The spacious backyard sloped gradually down to a rock wall, bordered on each side with lilac bushes. She almost didn't see him at first, his still form shrouded by the steady curtain of rain. He was sitting on a lawn swing facing the wall, rocking.
Scully caught her lower lip between her teeth and just stood for a moment, trying to calm her rapid breathing. The last thing she wanted was to startle him. Moving slowly across the soggy grass, she circled until she faced him.
He was weeping, silent tears mixing with the rain on his cheeks. Despite the gentle motion of the swing, his body was tightly coiled with tension. His hands curled into fists, and he gnawed at his lip until Scully was certain he would draw blood.
She slipped onto the swing beside him, falling into the unbroken rhythm. When he didn't acknowledge her presence, she placed her hand over his, shocked by the icy flesh.
"Mulder, you have to come inside." She lifted his hand and rubbed it briskly between her own, then cupped his cheek. Even his tears chilled the pad of her thumb.
Mulder's eyes wandered slowly over to hers, alarming her further with his apparent disconnection. Though he was shivering, his hair and clothing plastered to his skin, he appeared oblivious.
"I destroyed it, Scully," he whispered. "I destroyed it."
A sudden pressure on her shoulder wrenched a startled gasp from Scully. She looked up into Skinner's eyes with relief. He indicated Mulder with a slight tilt of his head.
"We've got to get him inside and warmed up. He's hypothermic," she said tersely.
Without waiting for further instruction, Skinner slipped one hand under Mulder's arm and tugged. "Let's go, Mulder."
Mulder didn't move or acknowledge him. Skinner glanced over at Scully, then inspiration struck.
"Scully's cold and she's going to get sick if we stay out here. Let's go inside."
It worked. At the mention of his partner Mulder's eyes lost their blankness and darted to her face before fixing on Skinner. He nodded slightly and allowed Skinner to pull him to his feet and lead him back to the house. Scully directed them to the family room, where Skinner deposited his charge onto the sofa and hastened to build a fire in the fireplace. Scully pulled an afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped her now violently shaking partner in it after stripping off his tie and soaking dress shirt.
"I'll be right back, Mulder." She smoothed his wet hair back from his eyes. "I'm just going to get you some dry clothes."
Skinner paused in the middle of stacking wood to catch her eye, nodding. By the time Scully returned with several large towels and a pair of sweats her boss had ignited a small blaze that was already driving the chill from the room. She dropped the clothing into Mulder's lap, shooting Skinner a pleading look before heading for the kitchen to make tea.
Ten minutes later she was seated next to Mulder, an untouched mug of tea cooling on the table in front of him. Skinner had retreated to sit near the hearth where he absently stirred the fire with a poker whenever it seemed to be dying down. The tremors had ceased, and Mulder's skin was warm when Scully slipped her hand into his, but he hadn't uttered a word since speaking to her on the swing.
"Talk to me, Mulder." Scully tightened her grip on his hand.
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut. Leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. His reply, when it came, was very soft.
"I can't. Hurts too much."
Her heart twisted. "You can't keep burying this. It won't go away. I know what you're feeling. When Ahab died..."
But Mulder had raised his head and was shaking it before she could say any more. His face bore an odd mixture of sorrow and anger. "You *don't* know, Scully. You don't have any idea what I'm feeling, so don't pretend that you do."
Scully's expression darkened.
"How can you say that to me? You think it didn't hurt when my father died? I was close to him; you were barely on speaking terms with your mother."
Skinner's quiet rebuke quenched her anger. Scully closed her eyes and drew in a calming breath.
"Mulder, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
He shook his head. "Forget it, Scully." The simple planes and angles of his face seemed transformed by the emotions contained within, so that she momentarily felt she was looking at different man. Then, with an unpleasant jolt, she realized what it was in his expression that had provoked that thought. It was resignation.
Scully had weathered the gamut of human experiences with Mulder and all the feelings that accompanied them. She'd seen him furious, curious, determined, heartbroken, delighted, sarcastic and even drunk. She'd watched as the powers that be had attempted to break his spirit, not once but twice. But never had she seen Fox Mulder resign himself to anything. Her Mulder was many things, but foremost a fighter. This was a stranger.
"You don't have to apologize," he said roughly. "Never apologize for the truth. You're right, I'm grieving for a mother I haven't spoken with in almost two years. What was your last visit with your father like? Did you share a meal? Did he ask how things were going in your life? Did he kiss you goodbye? The last words my mother and I exchanged were nothing but bitter accusations and angry denials. The last time my mother touched me..." His voice caught and his hand crept up to touch his left cheek.
Scully's eyes flooded with tears. "Mulder..."
"There's nothing left now." He tried to smile but it came out as a grimace. "Not that there was much to begin with. My family is gone, and I had a key role in its destruction."
The words he'd spoken on the lawn swing began to make sense. Scully opened her mouth to argue, but Skinner, nearly forgotten by them both as he sat silently by the fire, beat her to it.
"You're wrong, Mulder."
Mulder turned dead eyes to his boss. If Skinner witnessing his loss of control disturbed him, he didn't show it. "Am I, sir? What would you know about it?"
"I've worked with you for over five years and I've seen the price you've paid in this quest for the truth. You take the burdens of the world on your shoulders, Mulder, but this one isn't yours to bear."
"I stood by while my sister was taken from me, an event that drove my father to alcoholism and ultimately ended my parents' marriage. Despite my promises, I've never found her -- or if I have, she has become a woman who doesn't need or want me in her life. I was sleeping on my father's couch when he was murdered in the next room, and I've never brought the rat bastard who did it to justice. And I accused my own mother of betraying my father by sleeping with another man, causing a rift in our relationship that I never bothered to repair. Now you tell me, sir -- if that's not destroying your family then what the hell would you call it?"
"I call it a man who tried desperately from a very young age to hold together the pieces of something that was shattered beyond repair. Through no fault of his own. If anything destroyed your family, Mulder, it was choices made by misguided men -- probably before you were even born."
Skinner's eyes had locked onto Mulder's and refused to release them. "Have you ever considered that after losing Samantha, you may have been the only reason your parents had for going on, even as broken as you say? That without you the grief might have consumed them completely?"
Mulder's face crumpled at his words, and Scully pulled him into an embrace.
"It's okay, Mulder." She rubbed her hand soothingly over the rigid planes of his back. "It's going to be all right."
"I should have told her, Scully. I should have told her that I loved her in spite of everything. Now, it's too late."
Her own painful regrets after the death of her father flashed before her eyes, still bringing with them a dull ache. Scully rested her cheek on the top of his head.
"She knew, Mulder."
"How? How can you be sure?"
Scully smiled, glancing upward. "She was your mother."
Teena Mulder's Home
Scully padded down the long hallway to the kitchen, the chill from ceramic tile penetrating even her thick socks. Though it was past dawn, deep shadows still lingered, broken occasionally by a bright flare of lightening and the bass rumbling of thunder. She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand while pushing open the door to the kitchen, squinting at the sudden increase in illumination.
Skinner sat with elbows propped on the small table and a cup of coffee in his hands, staring gloomily at the storm through the large bay window. He took one look at Scully and hooked at thumb over his shoulder.
"Coffee's fresh, I just made it."
Scully closed her eyes and sniffed the heavenly aroma appreciatively before opening the cupboard to locate a mug. She filled it to the brim and took a long sip, sighing as the little caffeine molecules raced through her sleep-addled brain. After two more swallows she turned her gaze to Skinner, only to find him watching her with a slight curve to the corners of his mouth.
"Not much of a morning person, are we?"
Scully raised an eyebrow at the wry humor--not something she expected from Skinner. The surreal feeling of the past few days intensified, but she pushed aside her discomfort. They were off the clock now. Besides, she'd stopped thinking of Skinner as just a boss when he'd shown up at the funeral.
"You're beginning to know a little too much about me, sir. Mulder's learned to check his conspiracies at the door until I've had at least one cup." She glanced into the adjacent room. "Speaking of which..."
"Still out like a light," Skinner said. "See for yourself."
Scully set her cup on the counter and walked quietly through the darkened family room until she reached the couch. Though the fire had burned itself out hours ago, she could still smell the smoky scent of ashes. Mulder was sprawled bonelessly on his side, one arm hanging off the cushion so that his hand was suspended in midair, palm up, and his legs were hopelessly entangled in the afghan. With his brow unmarred by lines and his lashes soft against his cheeks, the overall affect was that of a small boy worn out from a long day at play, not an FBI agent. She resisted the urge to smooth back the lock of hair that insisted on falling over his right eye, and returned to the kitchen instead. Collecting her coffee, she took a seat across from Skinner.
"Well?" Skinner asked, scanning her face.
Skinner frowned in irritation as if she were deliberately being obtuse. "He's been asleep for fourteen hours, Scully. I rattled around here making coffee and I don't think he so much as twitched. You're not concerned about that?"
Scully buried the smile that wanted to surface. Skinner was justifiably concerned; he simply didn't know the way Mulder operated.
"I'm sorry, sir. I forgot that you've never had to work with Mulder when he's on a tear. He immerses himself to the exclusion of all else -- doesn't eat, doesn't sleep for days. Then when the killer's been caught and the horror is over, he crashes. It's like his body just shuts down for repairs."
"And what about this time? Is the horror over?"
Scully took another drink from her cup, the action giving her time to think about what he was really asking.
"If you're wondering whether Mulder is done haring out, then my answer is yes. Yesterday was a necessary catharsis for him. He hadn't slept or eaten since finding out about his mother. I knew eventually he'd reach thebreaking point, I just wasn't sure when."
She sighed heavily, pulling her eyes from Skinner's to gaze out the window. "But if you're asking whether he's come to terms with his mother's death... You said it yourself, sir. Mulder collects burdens the way some people collect spoons. He hasn't made his peace with this. Yet."
Skinner pondered her words, swirling his coffee while staring into its depths. For a moment he looked as if he was going to reply to Scully's assessment, but changed his mind.
"Looks like I'll be able to give you and Mulder a hand after all. I called the airport. All flights have been delayed due to the weather. Hopefully, I can catch one later this afternoon. I already left a message warning Kim I'd be out another day."
"I'm sure we can still put you to work, sir," Scully said, eyes crinkling with amusement. Mulder had fallen into a deep sleep not long after his ill-advised trek outdoors, so the plans for cleaning had been temporarily shelved. "Just remember, rank holds no privileges here."
Skinner snorted. "Then I'll feel right at home, Scully. It doesn't afford me any at the Bureau either."
"Damn. You just shot down my ambition to climb the corporate ladder." Mulder leaned in the doorway, a serious case of bedhead and bleary eyes. "Scully, please tell me there's more coffee or just put me out of my misery right now."
Scully, having reaped the benefits of her own caffeine fix, grinned smugly and got up to pour him a cup. Mulder leaned against the counter, sighing contentedly when she placed it in his hand.
"How do you two function in that little office first thing in the morning?" Skinner shook his head.
"The same way porcupines make love," Mulder answered, smirking at his partner.
Seeing Skinner's blank look, Scully took pity on him. "Very carefully."
Skinner rolled his eyes. "Maybe I could rent a car. It's
only a four hour drive to D.C."
Two hours later, all three were covered with a fine layer of dust and grime, but virtually half the basement offerings had been sifted, sorted, and tagged for either storage, charity, or the trash. Mulder's mood was subdued -- a step back from his early morning banter but a far cry from the emotional wreckage of the previous day. Scully closed up a box of old clothing destined for the Salvation Army and sat back on her heels to search out her partner.
He sat near the alcove that ran beneath the stairs, an open box before him and some sort of book cradled in his hands. After a moment Scully realized he hadn't moved to open it. Her eyes scanned his features, but his face remained an enigma. She stood slowly, taking time to brush the grit from her knees and stretch the kinks from her neck before weaving through the clutter to his side.
"Mulder? You okay?"
He tore his eyes away from their contemplation and raised them reluctantly to her face. "I'm fine, Scully."
That was their catch phrase, used and abused by them both to duck a painful issue rather than confront it. Scully would have been irritated by the response if she were not as equally guilty of employing it. *People who live in glass houses...* she thought ruefully.
She leaned closer to scrutinize the object that had Mulder so bemused. Its pages were slightly yellowed with age, the cover made of red leather with a single word embossed in gold: *Memories.*
"Whatcha got there, partner?" she asked.
Mulder's smile was brittle. "It's my scrapbook, Scully. You know, full of keepsakes to remind me of my happy childhood."
Scully winced at the acid tone. She had a similar book filled with photos, school papers, and small treasures. It hadn't been easy, but despite raising four children with her husband frequently away at sea, her mother had doggedly completed one for each of them.
"Can I see?"
With a small shrug, he handed it over. Scully seated herself on the floor beside him so that he could look over her shoulder. She carefully folded back the cover to expose the first page. A wrinkled newborn face sporting a shock of dark hair gazed back at her. A tiny hospital I.D. bracelet was affixed beneath the photo and someone had carefully recorded Mulder's vital statistics: the date and time of birth, his weight and length.
Scully looked over her shoulder. "Hey, Mulder. I can tell it's you in there."
"Yeah. And you thought this nose was big on a man."
"Actually it's the expression. That's the same look you get whenever you come across an X-File."
She was gratified when he chuckled, and proceeded to turn the page. A photo of Mulder in a high chair with birthday cake smeared all over his face along with a toothy grin.
"I see your table manners haven't changed much either."
"Ha, ha. Just wait until the next time we're at your mom's and I ask to see *your* shining moments captured on film."
Each progressive page held more of the same. A lock of baby fine dark hair from his first haircut. A scrap of paper with "Fox Mulder" written in straggling letters. Four-year-old Fox sitting on a sofa with newborn Samantha in his arms, eyeing the camera solemnly. A second grade report on dinosaurs, far beyond the average seven-year-old's ability.
She flipped through each slowly, savoring the glimpse into Mulder's childhood and treasuring the return of his wry sense of humor. Until the memorabilia ended abruptly, leaving a full third of the book blank. Mulder turned away to resume rummaging in the box, withdrawing from her.
"She stopped after Samantha was taken."
Scully narrowed her eyes, a familiar spike of anger piercing her. She could see by the tense set of his shoulders that Mulder had no wish to discuss the meaning of those blank pages, and she grudgingly honored that desire. Still, she continued to leaf through the book, thinking that the empty pages represented the pivotal moments in Mulder's childhood much more accurately than those Teena Mulder had filled. She wondered what her partner would be like today if all those pages had been completed.
An object slipped into her lap, startling her out of her musings. It was an envelope -- sealed and inscribed in the same flowing cursive that had recorded Mulder's birth weight.
*Fox: to be opened in the event of my death*
Scully's stomach did a slow roll. Though it was irrational, her initial impulse was to slip the envelope back into the book and pretend she'd never seen it. Logic won out, and she reached over to tap Mulder lightly on the shoulder.
"Found something you need to see, Mulder."
His open and curious expression vanished at the sight of the envelope. She watched as he read the inscription not once, but twice. His brow furrowed in distrust and he pursed his lips. "That's my mother's handwriting."
"Well, go ahead and open it." Scully tried to keep her voice light, but failed miserably. She could tell from the way her partner began chewing his lip that he was just as apprehensive of the contents as she. "It's not going to bite you, Mulder."
"How do you know?" He slid his finger under the flap and removed two hand written sheets of paper.
Rather than begin reading, he closed his eyes and swallowed thickly. Scully reached over to twine her fingers with his, giving his hand a brief squeeze but remaining silent. He opened his eyes at the gesture, and she could see excitement warring with fear.
"My mother refused to talk about anything that mattered for over twenty-five years. What could she possibly have to say to me now?"
He bent his head to the letter and began to read. Scully watched his eyes dart rapidly back and forth until they froze, the pupils dilating until they'd nearly swallowed up the gray. Every ounce of color leeched from his face, and the paper shook wildly in his grip.
He didn't reply, and seemed nearly as oblivious as he had on the swing, swearing softly under his breath. Though he certainly wasn't above using profanity when angry, he uttered words she'd never before heard pass his lips.
"Mulder, what is it?"
Skinner, who had been working at the opposite end of the basement, was suddenly beside her, alerted by the panic in her tone. Before he could speak, Mulder broke off his diatribe. Scully inhaled sharply at the intense fury and sorrow on his face. When he spoke, his voice was like granite.
"Congratulate me, Scully. I have a brother."
If you are reading this letter I can make two assumptions: first, that I've died; and second, that I have successfully prevented this letter from falling into the wrong hands. I've recently been reminded of my own mortality, and the temporary reprieve granted to me brought with it certain responsibilities. Hence, this letter.
Our relationship has never been what either of us would have hoped. I know you have questions about your father's work and your sister's disappearance which I've refused to answer. Yes, I did say refused. If you cannot find it in your heart to forgive me for that refusal, please try to accept that I had your best interests in mind. The silence I kept I will continue to keep -- in all areas save one. You always loved a good story, didn't you, Fox?
In 1955 your father's work with the State Department assumed a direction that was unexpected and unwelcome. I won't go into detail -- suffice it to say that he recognized an increasing manipulation of not only his work, but also our personal life. It was during this critical time that I accidentally became pregnant. Bill panicked. He feared the baby would be a pawn, a tool that his colleagues would use to increase their already substantial control over him. Or worse yet, that they'd want to use our child for their own agenda.
After countless arguments and tears, we agreed upon a plan. For six months we carefully concealed my condition -- not as difficult as you might think, in those days. I never went to an obstetrician, a risk we felt justified in taking. Finally, when the signs could no longer be camouflaged, we took an extended vacation to Europe.
When it was time for the baby to be born, our closest and oldest friends, Linda and Doug Mackenzie, joined us. Doug and your father had known each other since grade school, and he was the best man at our wedding. We'd spent much of our free time together until they'd moved to North Carolina three years earlier. Linda was a registered nurse.
Linda delivered our baby in a hotel room in England. Yes, Fox, you have a brother. I held him for five minutes before Linda took him from my arms and from my life. We didn't see him again for over two years. The McKenzies raised him as their own, and the only right I asked them to grant me was to name him. I chose Grey, after my grandfather.
By the time you and Samantha came along, our lives were no longer our own. Even your conceptions occurred outside our control. It's ironic that not one of my three pregnancies was planned. After Grey, Bill and I were determined to remain childless, yet I conceived again -- not once, but twice. I've always had my suspicions about that.
Why tell you this now, after all these years? I'm not sure myself. There were so many times when I wanted you to know, but never more than when I watched you aching over the loss of your sister. Yet I remained silent, even as our family slowly disintegrated. Perhaps you've thought me cold and aloof all these years; but you see, I'd lost two children. One I gave up voluntarily, a sacrifice you may never understand. The other was taken despite my attempts to keep her safe. Maybe you can comprehend now why the risk of emotionally investing myself a third time terrified me.
As for Grey, he knows only pieces of the truth -- parts of the whole. He realizes he is adopted, and that Bill and I are his biological parents. He knows we gave him to Doug and Linda to protect him, but no more. He knows that he has a sister who disappeared and a brother who lives in Washington D.C. Most importantly, he understands that exposing the truth about his parentage could endanger his life.
That's the end of my story. Grey lives in Eagle Rock, a suburb of Raleigh. How you use this information is completely your decision. I'd like to think you would at the very least inform him of my death. Should you choose to contact him, you must do so with the utmost caution. There are those who watch you carefully, Fox, continually seeking the leverage necessary to control you. You know who I mean.
I won't ask for your forgiveness, though I know I've hurt you -- first by withholding information and then by imparting it so abruptly. I can only say that I tried to make the right choices in an impossible situation. I stand by those choices.
Scully handed the page to Skinner, who was still reading over her shoulder. Her jaw ached, and she realized she'd been clenching her teeth as she absorbed the impact of Teena Mulder's words to her son. Her own thoughts were reeling. What must Mulder be feeling right now?
Scully searched the basement for her partner, only to find that he'd disappeared. She'd been so riveted by the letter that she'd missed the creaking of the wooden steps. Skinner finished reading and sighed, removing his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. Scully accepted the pages as he handed them back.
"What do you think?" he asked quietly, after he'd scanned the basement.
"I think the Mulders give the word dysfunctional a whole new meaning." Scully didn't try to keep the venom from her voice.
"That goes without saying. What I meant was how do you think he's going to handle this?"
Scully folded the letter and slipped it into her pocket. "The way he's handled all the lousy cards that life has dealt him. Mulder has an amazing set of coping mechanisms, sir."
"Even granite can crumble if asked to bear too much weight, Scully."
"I think that's where we come in."
"I think I heard the back door." Skinner gestured to the boxes he'd been filling. "I'll be down here if you need me."
Scully climbed the stairs slowly, desperately attempting to formulate some kind of response to Teena Mulder's devastating revelation. It was a daunting task. She and Mulder shared a connection, an ability to intuitively know just what each other was thinking and feeling. Scully had to admit that right now she had absolutely no clue what might be going on in Mulder's head. That scared her.
The thunderstorm had passed and the rain ceased. Mulder stood on the back porch, leaning on the railing with his hands clasped. She mirrored his position, turning her head to gaze up at his face. So many emotions were written there, shifting in predominance even as she watched. Yet the one that seemed to surface most was not the one she would have expected -- anger.
Mulder didn't acknowledge her presence at first, but simply continued to stare out across the lawn. Scully waited, the shred of insight that remained telling her to keep silent until he chose to speak. Five long minutes ticked by, each agonizingly painful in the charged silence. She could see physical manifestations of his pain -- shoulders stiffly hunched, hands twisting and clenching, jaw clamped tightly shut. Even his respiration was rapid and shallow, as if he had just returned from a long run.
His blood pressure must be through the roof, she thought, then cursed the doctor in her for the clinical nature of the observation.
"I ought to be hurt." His voice was husky but carefully controlled. "My mother basically admitted that she kept herself from loving me. Hell, that she never wanted me in the first place! Not to mention the fact that she kept a little secret from me."
He fell silent, leaving Scully to wonder whether he would continue or if he expected a response. Going on gut instinct, she remained mute.
"I suppose the hurt will come, eventually. But all I feel right now is anger, Scully." He chuckled, but there was nothing humorous about the jagged sound that passed his lips. "That's a serious understatement. I think I may never have known what anger was before today. I want to hit something. To grab a baseball bat and just swing. To crush the things around me the way she crushed the things inside of me. God help me, Scully, but I think...I think I hate her."
His voice, which had risen steadily as he spoke, cracked and then broke. Scully pulled his head down onto her shoulder, one hand at his waist and the other cupping the back of his neck. Eventually, he pulled away, swiping at his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Mulder, the anger you're expressing isn't only justified, it's healthy. You need to be able to let it out, whether that means crying, swearing, or throwing something." She nudged his arm. "Just don't punch Skinner this time."
Mulder exhaled a small puff of air and his mouth curved slightly. Encouraged by this small victory, Scully continued.
"As for your mother... Don't try to define or label your feelings right now. And don't feel guilt over them."
Mulder nodded grudgingly, then seemed to notice for the first time that she was shivering from the cold. Without speaking, he took her by the elbow and steered her back into the house. He'd seated her at the kitchen table and poured her a cup of the leftover coffee when Skinner entered, a box of trash in his hands. He paused, leaning against the door to the garage.
"You going to be all right?"
The fact that he'd said "going to be" didn't escape Mulder's attention. Skinner remained a bit of a mystery to him. Every time he thought he had the man pegged, he did or said something to surprise Mulder. It was almost...spooky. That thought actually brought a faint smile to Mulder's face.
"What are you going to do about your brother?"
Leave it to Skinner to cut to the chase, the man always expected a plan of action. Once a marine, always a marine.
"You don't shy away from the tough questions, do you, sir?" Mulder took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "I've searched for my sister for over twenty-five years with little or no luck. Now I'm suddenly handed a brother. I know it's irrational, but I'm mad at him for not being who I wanted. For not being Samantha. Warped, huh?"
"Not really," Scully murmured.
Mulder shot her a grateful look. "Right now he means nothing to me -- nothing except further evidence of my parents' deceit and betrayal. Maybe he never will. But I have to see him, to meet him. Otherwise, I'll always wonder."
Skinner nodded. "I've managed to get on a four o'clock flight back to D.C. I'll make sure you're granted some additional time off." His tone was gruff, but his eyes were full of compassion. "I meant what I said, Mulder. You need anything, you call."
"You could see that Scully's time off is extended as well," Mulder said. He looked at his partner uncertainly. "That is, if..."
Pleased by his rare admission of need, Scully smiled at him without reservation. "Try and stop me."
Mulder, however, remained grim. "You may wish I had, Scully. I can't promise I'll be very good company on this trip."
Scully stretched her hand out to lace her fingers with his. "I'll take it under advisement, Mulder. But after six years, I think I know what I'm getting into, and it's never stopped me yet."
She couldn't have chosen a better response. Some of the
tension seeped out of Mulder's face and he smiled a real smile.
"I rely on that, partner. More than you know."
127 S. Cambridge
Scully pulled the rental car smoothly to the curb and turned off the ignition. Mulder sat woodenly in the passenger seat, one hand picking at the frayed edge of the shoulder belt while the fingers of the other drummed nervously on his knee. His eyes drifted over to Scully's window, taking in the small, two-story house, and he pressed his lips tightly together. With the cessation of the engine, the silence in the car was deafening.
"You can do this" Scully plucked his hand from his knee and surrounded it with hers.
Mulder let his head plop onto the seatback. "You sure about that, Scully?"
"Mulder, you've survived flukemen and liver-eating mutants. One long-lost brother will be a piece of cake."
"This is much scarier, Scully."
"What are you most afraid of?" she asked gently.
A wry twist of his lips, and he stared at the house. "You mean besides another sibling rejecting me?"
Over a year, and the wound was still raw. Scully remembered vividly when Mulder haltingly recounted his experience in the diner with his alleged sister. Though recent events indicated she may have been a fraud, the rebuff had cut Mulder more deeply than a knife.
*No wonder you hesitate to share yourself, Mulder. How many times has what you've offered been thrown back in your face?*
She stroked the palm of his hand with her thumb, saying nothing. She'd learned through time that nurturing Mulder's silences, not filling them with her own words, encouraged him to continue. Sure enough, his eyes left the building to fasten on her face..
"I've always been somewhat of a disappointment to my parents, Scully. Never quite what they hoped for or needed. Maybe I'm afraid he's everything I'm not - and never will be."
The courage of his admission coupled with his heartbreaking sincerity robbed Scully of the ability to respond for several seconds. When she did, her voice was thick with emotion.
"Mulder, this partnership and your friendship have been more than I ever hoped for or needed. You've pulled me back from the edge more times than I care to count. Don't discount everything that you are. Don't sell yourself short."
Mulder brought their joined hands to his lips and pressed a brief kiss to her knuckles. Then he took a deep breath, held it a moment, and let in out in a rush. When he released her hand his vulnerability had vanished, replaced with stoic determination.
"Let's get this show on the road."
Scully got out of the car and waited for him to walk around. Though they'd only traveled a few hundred miles from Teena Mulder's house, Eagle Rock was far enough south that spring had established a foothold. The air, while still cool, felt downright balmy after the Connecticut chill, and the sun shone brilliantly. Scully folded her arms across her chest, an appraising glint in her eye as she watched Mulder approach.
"What?" Mulder flung his arms wide and gave himself a quick once-over before looking up with a puzzled frown. "I've got ketchup on my shirt? Something stuck in my teeth? What?"
"Just... behave yourself, Mulder. Play nice." Her tone was stern but her lips twitched with repressed amusement.
Mulder adopted the look he'd perfected -- that of a wide-eyed innocent. "Me? Surely you're not suggesting I'd mess with his head?"
"All I'm saying is give the man half a chance." She cocked an eyebrow. "And don't call me Shirley."
He caught the reference immediately, of course. His unbridled grin of delight banished the gloom of the past few days and bolstered her spirits for whatever lay ahead. Mulder smiled, he smirked, he leered -- but a full-fledged grin was a rare occurrence, and she cherished each one.
They walked slowly up to the door past a neatly trimmed hedge and three rose bushes. The neighborhood appeared to be populated by families with young children. Yards were littered with bikes, balls and other toys, and a group of kids were playing a boisterous game of baseball in an empty lot down the street. Scully observed that Grey's house lacked any such paraphernalia, and wondered idly if Mulder had a sister-in-law and nieces or nephews. She attempted to picture Mulder as a doting uncle, and to her surprise found that it wasn't that difficult.
Mulder paused on the front step, seemed to steel himself against the consequences of his next action, and rang the doorbell. Scully felt her own heart begin to pound as they waited, and looked over to catch Mulder wiping a few beads of sweat from his upper lip with the back of one hand. He tried to smile reassuringly, but it came out merely as gritted teeth.
No one came to the door.
After several minutes and two more presses on the button, Mulder sighed and dropped down to sit on the step. He leaned back, bracing his palms on the rough concrete, and turned his face up into the warm sunshine with eyes squinted shut. Scully sank down and nudged him with her shoulder.
"Guess we should've phoned first."
"Hindsight," he muttered without opening his eyes.
A moment later he sat sharply forward, face intent. "What if he's out back and can't hear us?"
Scully shrugged. "So go check."
Mulder stood and looked down at her, deliberately blocking the sun until she opened her eyes and glared at him in annoyance. "Don't get up, Scully. I'll go."
She watched him amble around the side of the building, his shoulders too stiff to pull off the casual attitude he tried to project. He'd barely disappeared when a black SUV rounded the corner and pulled into the driveway. Scully sprang to her feet, her emotions a blend of excitement, apprehension, and curiosity. She dusted off the seat of her jeans and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear.
The man behind the wheel eyed her curiously as he got out of the car, a briefcase clutched in one hand. He was easily as tall as Mulder, though heavier and more muscular where Mulder was lean and rangy. He was casually dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, dark hair partially concealed by a baseball cap turned backwards. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, which he removed when he'd drawn near enough to speak to her.
"Can I help you?" He spoke the words with a slight drawl, but she barely noticed.
For just a moment time ground to a halt while Scully stared, knowing she must look like a complete idiot but unable to stop her jaw from dropping slightly and her eyes from widening. The face before her was a stranger's -- and yet beloved. From the generous lower lip, to the larger than average nose, to hazel eyes, her gaze shifted and compared only to repeat the process. True, there were obvious differences -- no mole on the cheek, a little more silver in hair that was longer and slightly wavy, the hazel orbs closer to brown than her partner's conglomeration of color. But the family resemblance was unmistakable.
Scully snapped her mouth shut, feeling the blush spreading over her cheeks and cursing her fair skin. *Snap out of it, Dana, before he calls for the men in the white coats.*
"Are you Grey McKenzie?" she asked, knowing the question was unnecessary but buying another few seconds to compose herself.
"Last time I checked."
She opened her mouth, her brain still working furiously to come up with just the right words when any response was rendered moot by Mulder's reappearance from the backyard.
"No luck, Scully, I..."
Seeing them together was even more unnerving, and Scully found her head bouncing back and forth between the two faces like someone watching a particularly fascinating tennis match. Mulder's words evaporated at the sight of his brother, and Scully was both amused and gratified to see Grey exhibit the same graceless astonishment she'd shown not two minutes earlier.
"I'm Dana Scully," she said, not offended when Grey continued to stare at Mulder rather than turn his attention to her. "And this is..."
"Fox," Grey finished, but there was some uncertainty to his statement.
Mulder nodded, closing the gap between them and stopping at Scully's side. "Fox Mulder. Nothing like a little impromptu family reunion to spice up your day, huh?"
"Good thing I wore clean underwear." Grey missed Mulder's startled, then appreciative, grin as he moved to the front door and unlocked it. He stepped aside and gestured for them to precede him.
The small foyer opened into a cozy living room on the left and a staircase to the right. Grey passed both as he continued down a hallway to a great room that featured a kitchen, dining area and family room. Tossing the briefcase onto the kitchen table, Grey removed the baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair in a manner so familiar that Scully struggled not to gape again.
"I think I could use a drink." Grey opened the refrigerator. "You two care to join me?"
Five minutes and some small talk later, Mulder and Scully were seated on a large couch in the family room with Grey in the chair opposite, each holding a cold bottle of beer. They'd reached the point where niceties like "please" and "thanks" were no longer required and the ensuing silence was awkward and tense. Mulder sighed heavily.
"I guess there's only one way to start this," he said, staring out the patio door rather than meeting Grey's questioning gaze. "I'm sure you're wondering what I'm doing here. My -- our mother is dead. She had a stroke on Tuesday. She left me a letter that explained about you and where I could find you. It was important to her that I let you know."
He finally pulled his eyes from the view and looked over to gauge Grey's reaction. His brother's face held only regret.
"I'm sorry. I know she had a stroke once before and was worried it might happen again."
Grey's calm acceptance of an event that had rocked his world made Mulder's stomach churn. The rational psychologist in him understood his brother's reaction. Teena Mulder was a mother to Grey in genetics only -- not the one who had dried his tears and tucked him into bed at night. But reason couldn't stop his knee jerk reaction of anger toward the man.
"I can see you're really broken up about it." The urge to break something returned with a vengeance.
Grey narrowed his eyes, his relaxed posture turning rigid as he leaned forward. "She wasn't *my* mother. *My* mother lives in Bailey, less than thirty minutes from here. I visit her every couple of weeks. Teena was a nice lady who brought me presents when I was little and took me to lunch when I got older. Nothing more."
Mulder slapped his half-full bottle onto the coffee table with a resounding thunk and stood. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides and his face was pale and still.
"Well, you meant a hell of a lot more to her. Pity she didn't have your detachment." He stalked from the room, muttering something about meeting Scully at the car, and a moment later the front door slammed.
Scully looked over at Grey. "That could have gone better."
Grey sighed and slumped back into the chair, rubbing his hand across his jaw. "What did you say your name was? Dana?"
"And you two are..."
"Partners." Scully wondered how many times in her life she would have to cover this territory. "We work together."
Grey's eyes sparked with interest. "Are you cops?"
Grey nodded, assimilating the information. "This is kind of above and beyond the call of duty, isn't it?"
"He's my best friend," Scully said, an edge creeping into her voice. "He's dealing with a lot right now."
Seeing Mulder's pout on a stranger's face was unnerving.
"I only saw Teena and Bill about once a year. I can't pretend to feel something that I don't."
"No. But you don't have to be an ass about it either."
His face went blank with shock for a moment before a grin slowly took over. Scully's heart fluttered a little at the sight. The expression that so rarely graced Mulder's features seemed to come easily for Grey. This was going to take some getting used to.
"I like you, Dana Scully. If you're Fox's best friend, then I guess he can't be all bad."
"He's worth the effort," Scully stood and Grey followed suit. "You hold all the cards, Grey. You already knew about him. He's still scrambling to catch up while grieving over the death of what was, up until twenty-four hours ago, his only remaining family. You may have a mother in Bailey, but you're all he has left."
"I'd like to get to know him," Grey admitted quietly. "I always tried to get Teena and Bill to talk about him. I've got two sisters, but no brothers. I used to picture what it would be like to play catch or shoot baskets together."
"Don't tell *me.*" Scully tipped her head toward the door.
Grey snorted at her tenacity. "Were you two planning on staying in town a few days?"
Scully pursed her lips. "That all depended on how things went. We came prepared."
This time it was Grey's turn to gesture toward the front door, and Scully followed him back into sunshine that felt twice as bright after being inside. They walked to the car where Mulder sat staring fixedly ahead, hands clamped tightly on the steering wheel. Grey opened the door for Scully, then shut it and leaned in her window. His jaw tightened when Mulder ignored him, but he blew out a small puff of air and plunged on.
"Fox, I'm sorry things got off on the wrong foot between us. If you're willing to try again, I'd be glad to give you both dinner tonight. I'm no gourmet, but I promise it'll be edible."
Scully held her breath, relieved when her partner's shoulders slumped and he finally looked over at Grey. "What time?"
"How about six? That should give me enough time to order the pizza."
The tension broke, and Mulder actually smirked. "Sounds like we went to the same cooking school. We'll be here."
"Six it is, then."
Grey stepped back as Mulder pulled away from the curb. He was still watching when Mulder turned the corner that removed him from sight.
Scully leaned back into her seat, suddenly exhausted.
"See, what did I tell you, Mulder?" she said,
closing her eyes. "Piece of cake."
127 S. Cambridge
The "pizza" turned out to be homemade lasagna. At Scully's suggestion, they'd stopped for a bottle of wine which they now sipped while leaning against the counter and watching Grey prepare some garlic bread and a salad. The aroma of tomato sauce and herbs filled the kitchen, and to Scully's relief the earlier animosity between Mulder and his brother had faded to simple wariness.
Mulder had been a bear that afternoon, the combination of sleeplessness, tension, and raw emotion manifested in sharp mood swings. On the way to the motel he'd been distant and unresponsive to her attempts at drawing him out, then he'd turned irritable and snappish once they'd checked in. Scully had held her own temper only so long before showing him the door -- the connecting one anyway -- and announcing she was taking a shower. He'd evidently gone for a long run and then passed out on his bed where she found him two hours later, dead to the world with his sneaker-clad feet hanging off the end.
Realizing she'd been drifting, Scully gave herself a mental shake. Grey was laughing softly while spreading a mixture of garlic powder and butter onto two long slices of bread. Mulder's expression was somewhere between petulant and amused.
"No, I will *not* call you Mulder," Grey said in mock outrage. "Why the last names? You call her Scully, she calls you Mulder -- what's up with that?"
Mulder shrugged, glancing briefly at Scully before replying. "We're partners. We work for the FBI."
Grey didn't respond at first, just continued smoothing butter onto the bread. "So?"
Grey looked up and pointed the knife at each of them for emphasis. "Look, anyone can see you two are more than just work partners. You're obviously very good friends, or Dana wouldn't be here. I don't call my partner 'Preston' when we're shooting hoops. Are you telling me you *never* use first names?"
Scully just raised an eyebrow at Mulder's silent plea for help. Realizing he was on his own, he fiddled with his wineglass as he fumbled for an answer.
"I hate the name Fox. And Scully...she's...I don't know. She's Dana to her family, to her friends, but she's Scully to me." His disconcertion turned abruptly to irritation. "Are you telling me you *like* the name Grey?"
His brother shrugged. "It has the virtue of originality. I never had to put my last initial on my papers in elementary school."
He popped the bread into the oven and took a swig from his own glass. "I'll admit there were times I wanted to be a Michael or a David. I guess I've made my peace with it. So I'm not calling you Mulder. If I have to put up with Grey, you can deal with Fox."
"You said something about a partner," Scully said. "What do *you* do?"
Grey grinned. "I was wondering if you were going to pick up on that. I guess law enforcement runs in the family. I'm a detective with the Raleigh PD -- homicide."
He gestured toward a sliding glass door and led them outside onto a spacious deck. The evening was cool but clear, and the view revealed a yard that was small but impeccably landscaped.
"I've had contact with the Bureau now and then. What division do you work for?" Grey sank into a lawn chair.
Scully perched on a bench but Mulder remained standing, gazing at a bed of crocuses and daffodils with his hands stuffed into his pockets. She waited for him to field the question, sensing the tension in him ratchet up a notch.
"It's called the X-Files. They're cases the Bureau was unable to close through standard investigative techniques. Cases that usually have a paranormal slant." Mulder's voice was deceptively casual, and he left off his contemplation of the flowers to study Grey's face.
Both eyebrows climbed until they'd disappeared under the sweep of Grey's dark hair. "Paranormal? You mean like ghosts and psychics and Stephen King kind of stuff?"
Mulder's lips thinned and his eyes glinted dangerously. "You left out aliens. Saving the world from alien colonization makes up a major portion of our job description."
Oblivious to the hidden bitterness, Grey chuckled. "Very funny. If you'd rather not talk shop just say so. I'm going to check on dinner." He was still shaking his head and muttering "aliens!" as he disappeared inside.
"You aren't being fair, Mulder," Scully said quietly. She got up and moved to her partner's side, not touching him but standing very close. "How did you think he'd react? Other than the circumstances of his birth, his life has been the epitome of normalcy. Shadow conspiracies and little gray men aren't exactly within his frame of reference."
"Unlike his brother, the monster boy -- Spooky to his friends."
"Dinner's ready," Grey called cheerfully from the doorway, oblivious to the strain.
And that was the problem, Scully mused as they sat around the small kitchen table to eat. Grey had existed in a bubble of blissful oblivion, while Mulder was left to bear the brunt of his father's choices.
"This is delicious," she said around a bite of pasta. "Do you cook like this often?"
"Not much opportunity when you live alone," Grey admitted, helping himself to more salad. "But I like to cook. Mom always let me help her when I was little. I used to love cracking eggs." He smiled at the memory. "My sisters and I used to eat the cookies almost as fast as she could bake them. Anyway, I guess she was the one who taught me to feel at ease in the kitchen. She rarely used a recipe, but she'd come up with some great concoctions."
"I know what you mean about baking cookies," Scully said when Mulder continued to dissect a noodle, head lowered. "Except in our family, my mom was lucky if they made it to the oven. We'd snitch the dough whenever she turned her back."
An expectant silence, until finally Mulder lifted his head.
"I'm more of a take-out kind of guy," he said, deadpan. "Ask Scully."
"Teena wasn't much of a cook?"
A look of profound sadness coupled with bitterness crossed Mulder's face and his eyes darkened.
"Not even before Samantha was taken. After... Well, let's just say her favorite meal was a couple of Valium. It worked out all right, though, since Dad's was a bottle of Chivas."
The animation left Grey's face and he put down his fork to lean across the table, eyes locked with his brother's. "I'm sorry, Fox. I didn't know."
Something passed between them in that moment -- a tangible, if tenuous, bond that linked them as brothers for the first time. Then Mulder looked away.
"No, you had no idea. You still don't."
Scully knew her partner well enough to discern the deep pain behind the sarcasm that dripped from his words. Grey, unfortunately, did not.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"No, I want to hear it," Grey demanded, brow furrowed in anger.
"Look, I can't talk to you about any of this, okay? I never should have brought it up."
"But you did. You can't drop a bomb like that and walk away, pretending it won't go off."
Mulder ripped the napkin from his lap and tossed it onto the table, pushing himself to his feet. "You don't get it! You could never understand what it was like growing up in that house. You and your perfect little world with all the sharp corners padded. While you were eating cookies with your sisters, mine was abducted right in front of me. While you were dabbling in the kitchen with your mom, mine was so hazed on pills I was lucky if there was any food in the house. Sometimes I was actually grateful. At least if she was passed out, they couldn't fight."
Grey shot to his feet, ignoring the fact that the movement toppled his chair. "You think I enjoyed knowing that I was given up like some puppy no one wanted?" He stabbed his index finger at Mulder's chest. "How do you think it felt to be told my own mother and father couldn't raise me for reasons they wouldn't explain? Danger? What a crock! I notice they kept *you* in spite of this supposed threat. You think it was easy to sit there and hear Bill -- my real father -- brag about how smart you were, what a great athlete you'd become, how Oxford was falling all over you? Think those corners didn't draw blood? Guess again, little brother."
Scully had been watching the exchange, forcing herself to keep silent. She recalled more than one verbal sparring match between her own brothers that had degenerated into physical blows, and hoped she wasn't about to witness a similar occurrence. Instead she saw Mulder grab for the back of his chair to steady himself, his face pale and shocked. The peculiar reaction caught Grey's attention as well, and some of the fire faded from his eyes.
"Mulder, what is it?" Scully asked quietly.
He didn't acknowledge the question, didn't even seem to hear it. His eyes riveted to Grey's face, he licked dry lips.
"What did you say about Dad?"
The words were barely a whisper, a sharp contrast to the shouting. Grey looked perplexed, confusion diffusing his anger. He squinted at Mulder as if trying to decipher a particularly difficult puzzle.
"About Dad? How he was always telling me how great you were? Anyone would have thought you were the world's most perfect kid, the way he went on about you."
Mulder bit his lip and turned away, but not before both Scully and Grey observed the sheen of tears. He clenched his eyes shut to conceal them, gripping the chair until his knuckles turned white. Grey opened his mouth to speak, but a sharp glare from Scully stopped him.
"He never... I tried so hard to please him, to make up for Sam. Nothing was ever enough for him. The only time he came close to saying he was proud of me was the night he died."
Grey reached out hesitantly to lay a hand on his brother's shoulder, clearly afraid of being rebuffed. Mulder didn't show anger or gratitude at the action, simply swiped the back of his hand across his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Then let me. I don't know why he could tell me but not you, Fox. But I do know that he was proud of you. Never doubt that."
Mulder gave Scully a look of reassurance. The compassion and love in her deep blue eyes sparked a returning prickle of tears behind his own, and he tore his gaze away quickly to maintain his fragile composure. He realized with something akin to wonder that he actually liked Grey, this brother who both terrified and intrigued him.
"Then you have to take my word on this. Mom and Dad would never have given you up unless it was the only way to keep you safe. The danger they spoke of is real, Grey. You may not like the truth, but I think it's time you heard it." Mulder looked to Scully for confirmation, and after only a moment's indecision she nodded.
"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to believe this?" Grey said dryly, motioning them to the deck.
Mulder grinned. "Sorry, that's Scully's job."
127 S. Cambridge
Silence. Like a heavy blanket on a summer day it was oppressive, smothering. Mulder, his voice rough after speaking for almost two hours, leaned back in the cushioned deck chair and stared up into the sky. The stars glittered brilliantly and a crescent moon peeked through the branches of an old oak tree. As always when contemplating the heavens, Mulder wondered if Sam was out there somewhere in the vast expanse. The all too familiar ache squeezed his chest, and he sighed.
They'd told Grey everything. Scully let Mulder do most of the talking, occasionally interjecting a comment or taking over to add specific information. Grey had listened, silent but for an occasional question. His face revealed nothing, and Scully thought wryly that Mulder's trademark deadpan was just one more thing the brothers held in common.
"Aliens, abductions, genetically-engineered cancer, smallpox-carrying bees, clones, black oil and a sinister group of old men intent on running the world. Have I left anything out?"
"You have a gift for simplification," Mulder said sardonically.
Grey groaned and ran his fingers through his hair. "Either you are *both* certifiable, or *I* am for considering that even a portion of what I just heard could be true. I don't suppose you have any proof? Something concrete?"
Scully and Mulder exchanged a look. "Evidence has a way of...disappearing," Scully admitted.
"With a little help," Mulder said.
Grey leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees, and looked searchingly at Scully's face. "How much of what Fox has told me do you accept?"
Mulder abruptly ceased his stargazing and scowled at his brother. "What are you trying to say? Why ask her that?"
"Because she's a scientist," Grey replied with a calm that stoked Mulder's anger. "You said so yourself. By your own account she was partnered with you to debunk your work. She's been trained to collect and analyze data. And..." He hesitated as if unwilling to finish.
"I don't have to be psychic to see how emotionally invested you are in this, Fox. I'm not saying that Dana isn't. God knows, she's suffered her own losses. But this has taken up over twenty-five years of your life. It's become inextricably linked with who you are."
"You don't think I can be objective."
So much lay within those simple words -- fury, cynicism, frustration, disappointment. Grey waited for him to stop mangling a plastic cup and meet his eyes.
"I don't think *I* could be objective." He turned to Scully. "Well?"
She pursed her lips, feeling the weight of Mulder's stare. "I believe there is a conspiracy against the American people. I know there have been abductions for the purpose of performing tests on unwilling subjects. I've been a part of that agenda." She paused and unconsciously touched the back of her neck. "As for the existence of extraterrestrial life... I guess you could say that the jury is still out on that one."
"So you think it's conceivable."
Scully looked over at Mulder, her lips curving slightly. "I like to think I'm open to extreme possibilities."
Mulder's eyes twinkled. "Scully, I just got very turned on." He stood and stretched before moving toward the door. "I need a drink of water."
"Help yourself." Grey waited until he'd disappeared into the darkened kitchen before turning back to Scully.
"Now's your chance," she said, amusement coloring her voice.
"To ask what you didn't want to ask in front of your brother. I know something else is on your mind, and so does Mulder. Why do you think he gave you the perfect opening?"
Grey darted an uneasy look at the house and licked his lips. "Dana, I know he's grieving over Teena and shaken by my existence. But... Are you sure you can trust his judgement about any of this? I'm sorry, but he doesn't impress me as being the most stable person. Are you sure you haven't been sucked into a delusion?"
An enigmatic smile graced her face. "Folie a deux?" When he looked baffled, she added, "A madness shared by two?"
Grey nodded, looking a little embarrassed.
"Be clear on this, Grey. Any pride your dad had in Mulder's intellect was deserved. He's hands down the most brilliant mind I've ever encountered. The FBI recruited him straight out of Oxford -- no small honor. He became a top profiler for VICAP and from what I hear, they're still using some of his cases for instruction at the academy. He can sift through an unbelievable amount of data and piece together a cogent solution to a case that's left everyone else spinning their wheels. Add to that the kind of courage that has risked death to save me on more than one occasion.
"Is he emotionally sound? Grey, *nothing* in that man's life has ever been stable. But he's remained standing through circumstances that would bring most people to their knees. He'll never be a poster boy for emotional health. But I trust him. I trust him with my life. I may not believe in everything he does, but I believe in *him*."
Mulder came back while Grey was mulling over Scully's words. He tried to appear nonchalant, but she could sense the wariness beneath his glib exterior. His hands moved restlessly, first fiddling with the zipper on his leather jacket, then toying with the potted plant in one corner of the deck. Her partner's fidgeting coupled with Grey's reticence spurred Scully to yawn exaggeratedly.
"Ready to hit the road, Mulder? I'm tired."
"Yeah." Mulder stole a look at his brother. "Me too."
Scully took in the lines of weariness around his mouth and the shadows under his eyes, realizing that Mulder at least was not feigning fatigue. The stress of opening himself to Grey so completely had taken its toll, and Grey looked more than a little shell-shocked himself. Best they all had some time to process the day's revelations.
Grey stood and followed them into the house, where Scully collected her purse. He remained silent until they'd reached the front door, startling Mulder by putting a restraining hand on his arm.
"It took a lot of guts to do what you did tonight. I wouldn't want you to think I don't appreciate it. I just need a chance to think it all through. Hope you can understand that."
"There's a park down the street with some basketball courts. I go there most weekends when the weather's nice to shoot baskets, sometimes join a pick-up game. You interested?"
Mulder was too startled by the offer to notice Scully's small smirk. *Wonder which gene is responsible for the love of basketball?*
"Sure." Her partner was too off-balance for a witty remark. "What time?"
"Come by after lunch -- about one o'clock or so." Grey suddenly seemed to remember Scully's presence. "Dana, you're welcome too, of course."
She smiled brilliantly at the obligatory invite, noticing Grey's appreciative stare and the way Mulder bristled in reaction. "Thanks, but I'll pass. I think I'll drop Mulder off and do a little exploring in Raleigh."
"All right. But if you change your mind..."
"We'll see you tomorrow." She took Mulder's arm and steered him out the door.
She recognized the signs of Mulder becoming territorial and was in no mood for his alpha male routine. No sense ending what had basically been a congenial evening on a sour note. Mulder mumbled his own goodbye, eyes still narrowed in irritation, and followed her to the car.
"I think it's remotely plausible he finds you hot, Scully," he said once he slipped behind the wheel.
Scully rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, Mulder. You're more than enough man for me."
She was rewarded for playing by a leer. "Care to test that theory once we get back to the motel?"
Reducing her laughter to a mere curve of the lips, she pointed straight ahead. "Just drive, Mulder."
Scully glanced at her partner out of the corner of her eye as she drove, trying to take his emotional temperature. She'd heard the television droning and sounds of movement well into the wee hours of the morning, so it was a good bet he still wasn't sleeping. They hadn't talked much after leaving Grey's house, and at the motel, Mulder had retreated immediately to his own room -- though he'd left the connecting door slightly ajar as was their custom.
It was hard not to press him about his feelings. Scully wanted desperately for Mulder to open up to her and share what was on his heart. She could see how heavily he was burdened, both by the death of his mother and the discovery of a brother who was little more than a stranger. But as much as she longed to comfort him, she respected his need for space. She could only hope that when the time was right he would turn to her.
Scully thought about Grey, about the many subtle similarities
to Mulder she'd already glimpsed -- his dry sense of humor, the
way he ran his fingers through his hair when frustrated, the
quick temper that was oddly coupled with gentleness and empathy.
Yet for all the shared traits, for all the physical similarities,
there were glaring differences. He smiled easily and often. His
life was frighteningly normal -- a standard (though admittedly
dangerous) job, a house in a quiet neighborhood, and pick-up
games in the park down the street. He exuded an aura of peace
that was completely at odds with Mulder's edgy restlessness.
Looking at Grey gave Scully a hint of what her partner might have
been without Samantha's abduction and his father's betrayals.
"Sure you don't want to stay, Scully?" Mulder spoke up suddenly, his tone deceptively light as he gazed out the window.
Knowing what was bothering him, Scully smiled. "I'm not exactly dressed for basketball, Mulder," she reminded him, referring to her black slacks and emerald green silk blouse.
"I didn't mean you had to play, that's for us manly men. You could be the cheerleader," Mulder said in his best he-man voice, looking at her slyly from beneath dark lashes.
"Pass," Scully said, refusing to rise to the bait. "You're talking about more excitement than my little heart could stand."
She pulled up in front of Grey's house and turned to face her partner. "I'm here for you, Mulder. You know that. But you and Grey need some time alone."
"Hope we're both still standing when you come back," Mulder muttered sarcastically.
"Me too. I'm not sure how I'd get you back to the motel."
Mulder pouted, his lip stuck out belligerently. "Why do you assume *I* would be the one down? Are you insinuating he could kick my ass?"
"You're stalling," Scully said, neatly sidestepping his question. She sobered. "Are you handling this okay, Mulder? You haven't said much, and I promised myself I wouldn't pry."
Mulder sighed and leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. "I don't know, Scully. I'm not sure I'm handling it at all. My feelings are all tangled up, and I can't seem to separate them. I loved my mother, and it hurts to know that she's gone. But those emotions are so entwined with anger and betrayal that I can't decide how to react. Why didn't she tell me, Scully? I was her *son.* I deserved that much. Why did she leave me a damn letter like some casual acquaintance? Couldn't she just once have let me in?"
Scully's throat felt tight. "I guess she loved you to the best of her ability, Mulder -- maybe the only way she knew how."
Mulder blinked rapidly. "I know it isn't his fault," he continued in a husky voice, indicating Grey's house with a tilt of his head. "But it bugs the hell out of me that he knew. He knew about me and about Sam, and I knew *nothing*. And yet side by side with that anger is the desire to know him, to be able to call him brother and have the word mean something -- to not be alone." He blew out a small puff of air. "Pathetic, huh?"
Scully slid her hand across the leather seat and twined her fingers with his. "It isn't pathetic. And you aren't alone."
He gave her hand a grateful squeeze just as Grey loped out to the car, dressed in sweats with a basketball tucked under one arm. Mulder opened the car door and got out only to have Grey lean in the window and smile at his partner.
"Hey, Dana. You look nice today."
"Thanks, Grey. You two behave yourselves, okay? No rough stuff." She smiled warmly at him, then shot Mulder a "be nice" look. He rolled his eyes, obviously irritated with his brother's attentiveness.
"Rough stuff? Now why would you say that?" Grey asked, his drawl becoming slightly more pronounced as he raised an eyebrow.
Scully locked eyes with Mulder and gave him a full grin. "Well, I've seen Mulder play basketball. Let's just say he can get a little...intense. I don't suppose that runs in the family, though."
"Not a chance," Grey assured her. "This is the South, after all. We're civilized down here."
"Come on, Rhett. You're keeping Scarlet from power shopping," Mulder said dryly.
They watched as Scully drove off, then Grey turned to head in the opposite direction. Mulder fell into step beside him.
"She's something else, Fox," he said admiringly. "If she's half as good an agent as she is beautiful, she must be a great partner."
"She's all that, and more," Mulder murmured, then seemed to catch himself as if he'd said more than intended.
He could feel Grey looking intently at him but chose to ignore it. He really didn't want to discuss Scully, especially since in his opinion his brother was entirely too friendly toward his partner.
"So what's your relationship with Dana?" Grey asked, evidently not put off by Mulder's attempts to avoid the topic. He fiddled with the basketball as they walked, spinning it on his finger one moment, bouncing it the next.
"We're partners. And we're friends," Mulder said, lips thinned with annoyance.
"Best friends." Mulder glowered at the skeptical look his brother gave him. "What?"
"Look, you don't owe me any explanations," Grey said breezily. "If you'd rather not talk about her, that's okay. Just don't try to snow me."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? I'm telling you the truth."
Grey's skepticism turned into disbelief. "You mean things between you are strictly platonic?"
Mulder looked away, unable to answer. Images of the dim hallway outside his apartment flickered through his mind -- her tearstained face, a long overdue declaration from someplace deep in his soul, eyes locked, her face cradled in his hands as he leaned slowly in to...
He hated bees.
"I don't know how things are at the Raleigh P.D., but the FBI frowns on partners becoming romantically involved," he said instead, hating the defensive quality of his voice. "I'm not about to screw up the best partnership I've ever had."
Grey raised his hand, palm up. "Don't get your panties in a twist! I'm sorry I brought it up. It's just... seeing you together I kind of assumed something more between you. You have this whole unspoken communication thing going that's a little spooky."
Mulder shrugged, letting go of his anger as they approached the courts. "We've been together for six years. It's only natural, I guess." He neatly stole the ball from Grey and went for a lay-up, sending it through the hoop with a satisfying swish.
"Yeah. And denial's just a river in Egypt," Grey muttered under his breath before getting the rebound and making his own shot.
Despite the beautiful weather, they were the only two on the courts. They took turns for a while, the shots becoming more and more exotic. Mulder performed his trademark "reverse lay-up with a twist" and Grey actually managed to sink one while lying on the asphalt, using only his feet.
"One on one," Grey finally suggested. "Fifty points."
"You're on -- if you're sure you've got the stamina. After all, you do have five years on me."
Grey grinned wolfishly. "Don't worry about me, little brother. I think I can keep up."
Three quarters into the game, with Grey trailing by a mere four points, their random conversation hit rocky ground. Mulder had the ball and was bouncing it slowly while Grey leaned forward with his hands braced just above his knees. Both were breathing heavily and drenched in sweat.
"You really believe everything you told me last night?" Grey asked panting.
Mulder feinted left, then dodged right, driving hard to the basket. His shoulder caught his brother sharply in the ribs, knocking him backwards. He sank the basket and turned to Grey with his face carefully neutral. "Forty-four, thirty-eight. And the answer is yes."
"These men, the Consortium, in league with aliens?" Grey twisted his body back and forth, keeping it between Mulder and the ball. "Responsible for Dana's kidnapping? For giving her cancer?" He punctuated his words by spinning around, delivering a brutal check to Mulder's side with his elbow before making a jump shot. "Forty-four, forty."
Mulder's eyes darkened in anger, but he accepted the ball. "Yes. All of it. They've tried to make a deal with the devil, regardless of who they had to sacrifice."
He charged for the basket, plowing through Grey and sending him to the ground. "Forty-six, forty." He rubbed his side and watched his brother climb to his feet.
Grey curled his lip. "If any of it is true, what makes you think you can stop it? What makes Fox Mulder the world's only hope?"
He moved the ball down the court, this time blatantly using an elbow when Mulder attempted to steal. Mulder staggered but kept his feet when Grey's arm slammed full force into his face. He wiped a trickle of blood from his lip as he watched the ball hit its mark.
They faced off gasping for air, the game forgotten.
"Because someone has to stop them." Mulder's voice rose. "Because I won't let them win. I've lost too much, and Scully... They've nearly succeeded in killing her more than once. You think I can just let that go? Do you know what it was like, seeing her in the hospital, kept alive by machines? Enduring nosebleeds so severe that she needed transfusions? Watching her slowly eaten away by a cancer *they* gave her, unable to do a damn thing to stop it? Do you have the slightest idea what that felt like?"
"Yes!" Grey's face contorted with fury. "My wife died of cancer two years ago. It was slow, and it was painful, and by the time it finished with her I barely recognized the woman I'd fallen in love with. And there was no miracle chip to cure it."
The stricken look on Mulder's face defused Grey's anger. "You aren't the only one in this world who's suffered, Fox," he said, his voice weary. "Even we ordinary, everyday shmucks can lose what we treasure most."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Grey picked up the basketball and began walking back toward the house. "Now, you do."