TITLE: Blood Ties 6: Strange Bedfellows
EMAIL: sunrise83@comcast.net
ARCHIVE: MTA, Xemplary, Gossamer - others are fine, just let me know
SPOILERS: Through season 6
RATING: PG-13 - for violence
SUMMARY: What happens when the person you despise becomes your only hope for saving someone that you love? Grey McKenzie and Bill Scully are about to find out.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully, and their merry band belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. Grey McKenzie is all mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is the latest installment in the Blood Ties series. You can find the others, as well as this story in its entirety on my Web page, thanks to the terrific talents of Shirley Smiley. The URL is: https://members.tripod.com/~dawnsunrise/index.html
More notes at the end of the story.
FEEDBACK: Always treasured, always answered

Blood Ties 6: Strange Bedfellows (1 of 2)
By Dawn

3:42 p.m.

"Set one foot outside that door and I will shoot you where you stand."


Mulder pasted on a toothy grin. "Hey, Scully. I didn't expect you back so soon."

"I can see that." Scully couched her response in a flat tone, her blazing eyes making up for the lack of expression.

She lay her palm flat against his chest and pushed, none too gently maneuvering him back into her apartment so that she and the bag of groceries could slip past. Basketball still tucked under one arm and resting on his hip like a beloved child, Mulder silently watched her furious back as it disappeared into the kitchen. Only Scully could have a furious back, he thought ruefully, but there it was. Exasperation in the unnaturally straight set of her spine, irritation in the rigid set of her shoulders. Six years, and he could write a book on all the subtle and not so subtle nuances of Scully's body language -- one of the reasons she was incapable of lying to him. The logical extension of that thought broadsided him, his head swiveling to regard his reflection in the mirror to his left. Shifty eyes, flared nostrils, teeth embedded in his lower lip... In short, guilty as hell even without the damning evidence of the basketball.

Mirror Mulder glowered and stabbed his finger, muttering,
"You have seriously lost your edge. Better start groveling."

Scully was putting away several cans of soup -- with a vengeance. Mulder winced as first garden vegetable and then chicken and rice met the wooden shelf with an earsplitting crack. He leaned in the doorway, the offending ball tucked safely out of sight in the hall, and searched for a mood-lightening quip.

"Mulder, so help me, if you dredge up one of those smart remarks of yours I won't be held responsible for my actions."

And then again, maybe this called for the direct approach.

"Scully, it's not what you think."

"You know, I'm really glad to hear that, Mulder. Because what I think is that you were headed out into the frigid air with barely healed lungs to shoot baskets at the park around the corner. And taking into consideration the fact you're only five days out of the hospital, that would make you either monumentally stupid or in need of committal at the nearest psychiatric facility."

The latter half of that rant stung, a little too close to some of the snide whispers of the Bureau rumor mill and way too painful after his recent first-hand experience in five-point restraints courtesy of Greg Pincus.

"You're really on a roll, aren't you?" he snapped, his good intentions flying out the window to join her temper.

"I haven't even begun," Scully spat, wrapping her arms tightly across her chest and narrowing her eyes. "Have you actually forgotten the condition you were in a week ago? You nearly died, Mulder! You promised Nick Brewer you would follow his instructions to the letter, and unless I'm mistaken, basketball was not on the list of approved activities during convalescence!"

It was hard -- no, make that impossible -- to argue with that one, but Mulder gave it the old college try. "Sculleee! The walls were closing in on me, to say nothing of the fact that I'm bored stiff. You and Skinner won't even let me *look* at a case file, and have you seen the crap they put on TV during the day? I just wanted to shoot a few baskets, nothing strenuous! It's not like I was going to play a game."

Mulder anticipated any one of several reactions to his protest. Another, more extensive diatribe on his lack of common sense and self-destructive tendencies, sarcasm for his pitiful attempt at gaining her sympathy, even acidic humor at his inability to entertain himself. Scully spinning on her heel and leaving the room was perhaps the very last thing he would have expected, and Mulder stared at the now vacant spot where she'd been standing and gaped like a fish for several minutes before tracking her to the living room.

She'd ensconced herself in the far corner of the sofa, curled into a ball and gazing out the window. Body language again, telling him louder than words that this time he'd done more than just piss her off. Suddenly Mulder felt the proximity of his brush with death, every cell in his body weary. He slumped down onto the cushions, close but not touching, and caressed her face with his gaze.

"Scully, I..."

"It's not really that you hold yourself in such low esteem," Scully said, tearing her eyes from their contemplation of a black Ford pickup and meeting his with a level stare. "Though I'd be lying if I said that didn't bother me, didn't hurt me to some degree. I love you, and when I see how little value you place on your own life and well-being it can't help but cause me pain. But that's not the real issue here, Mulder. The crux of the matter is that you deceived me. You assured me that you'd be fine on your own, that I could go to the store and not worry about you, and then you deliberately set about breaking that promise. So much for your precious trust."

Her words, the edges honed sharp by their truth, penetrated every chink in his formidable armor. Mulder's mouth worked impotently for an eternity before managing to vocalize a token rebuttal that sounded weak even to his own ears.

"Scully, I didn't plan it. I just didn't think..."

"Then let me give you a little something to ruminate on, Mulder. You aren't the only one with an investment in your recovery. I paid for the cure that enabled you to be sitting here next to me right now. Don't you dare presume to cheapen that by reducing it to a game."

Scully's voice dropped in pitch and her eyes grew distant, haunted. Mulder could almost see the memories play across her face -- memories that she had resolutely refused to share with him. He'd recognized the fresh scars that could only be attributed to her experience with Cancerman, agonized over each with morbid fascination. In the absence of actual facts, his mind insisted on conjuring up its own horror show. He tried not to think about it, to accept that whatever Scully had endured was now behind them and must be put to rest. But the forced inactivity left him with few methods of distraction, and his thoughts insistently returned to the worries the way a child cannot seem to refrain from picking a scab. It was just such traitorous musings, rebuffing his efforts to squash them, which had driven him to pick up that damn basketball and head for the front door.

That Scully would think he belittled her sacrifice decimated him.

Without conscious thought, he dropped to his knees and buried his face in her lap. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was, explain that the chief response her actions provoked was not indifference, or even regret, but fear. Fear that she could possibly feel for him the equivalent of the love he felt for her. It was all right for Fox Mulder to put his life on the line, travel halfway across the word, or bargain with the devil to save Dana Scully. But the realization, the incontrovertible proof that Dana Scully would willingly walk through fire for Fox Mulder... The nagging whisper in his head, the one with his father's voice, insisted she was a fool. That Fox Mulder had never been worthy of that kind of love and never would be.

So he knelt on the floor with his forehead pressed to her thighs and the words clogging his throat, not even realizing he was weeping until he felt Scully's fingers sift through his hair and heard her gently shushing him.

"Mulder. Mulder, don't. This isn't what I wanted from you, love," she murmured. "Can't you understand?"

He scrabbled for control, turning to lean his back against the couch but leaving one arm draped over her legs. His head ached, he desperately craved a cup of cold water, and his muscles were beginning to thrum with exhaustion. "I want to, Scully. Can't you see that any reality is preferable to my imagination? Do you honestly believe I haven't considered the price you paid for that serum? It's all I can think about! We need to talk about this -- for your sake as well as mine."

Scully glanced away from his upturned face. "I know. I just need some more time."

Mulder sighed wearily, leaning his head against her knee. "You've got it, babe. God knows you've cut me enough slack over the last six years."

"Just for the record, Mulder -- cutting me some slack includes refraining from behaving like an idiot, doesn't it?" Scully's tone communicated a trace of humor as her small hand tangled affectionately in his hair again, this time punctuating the sentence with a gentle tug.

"I resemble that remark," Mulder muttered, allowing himself to be drawn up onto the cushions beside her and trying in vain to stifle an enormous yawn. After several minutes of companionable silence, Mulder pulled back a little so he could see Scully's face.

"Hey, babe, you know by now that I'm used to running or playing basketball when I need a distraction. If you're going to keep me out of trouble, you'll just have to dream up an alternate method of diverting my attention." He wriggled his eyebrows and grinned lecherously.

A slow, seductive smile spread across Scully's face. "I don't know, Mulder. Are you sure you're ready for that? It's a lot for one man to handle."

"Oooh, Scully! Trust me when I assure you that I can manage anything you choose to send my way!" Mulder said, pitching his voice in the husky timbre he knew got under her skin.

Scully leaned over and caught his lips in a kiss that instantly tripled his heartrate and eradicated all traces of exhaustion, breaking it only after reducing him to a panting mound of gelatin. Her eyes glinted wickedly, and her Cheshire cat grin actually widened.

"That's wonderful to hear, love. I have that stack of expense reports in my briefcase, would you like them now?"

She was still snickering, inordinately pleased with herself, when Mulder finally picked his jaw up off the floor. "You are a cruel woman, Scully," he growled, flopping back onto a throw pillow in a gesture of defeat. "A very cruel woman."

6:30 p.m.

The brisk rap on her door startled Scully, wrenching her from immersion in the successful usage of Thalidomide with AIDS patients. She set the journal on the coffee table and stole a quick look at Mulder, still unconscious, before standing. She indulged in a brief, feline stretch, vertebra popping agreeably, before padding across the room. She couldn't suppress the prickle of irritation at the second knock, more insistent than the first, which beat her to the door.

Obviously patience was not one of her visitor's virtues.

Scully peered through the peephole, took in the fish-eye view of red hair and broad shoulders, and flung open the door. Before she could draw breath to speak his name, Bill pulled her into a bear hug that literally swept her off her feet.

"Hey, Short Stuff. How have you been?" he asked, grinning as he returned her to earth.

"I'm good! Bill, what are you doing here? Mom said you wouldn't be in town until Wednesday night," Scully replied, the animation in her voice revealing her pleasure at the discrepancy.

"I managed to extend my leave a little, so we flew in this afternoon. Tara's back at Mom's with Matty. He was worn out from the flight."

Casting a quick glance over her shoulder at the couch, Scully half expected to see Mulder performing his "Night of the Living Dead" imitation. Since his illness, he tended to sleep so deeply that his normally hair trigger awakening had degenerated to a gradual process consisting of several minutes spent in a dazed, zombie-like condition. Contrary to her prediction, however, he was still sleeping soundly and in the same position -- one leg trailing off the side of the couch and the remote control still loosely gripped in one hand.

Scully wasn't aware that her eyes softened and the corners of her mouth curved at the sight. Nor did she perceive her brother's jaw clench in response.

"Come into the kitchen," she said quietly, pulling him inside so that she could shut the door. "We can sit at the table."

"Sure," Bill muttered, jerking down the zipper on his jacket as he followed her. "Wouldn't want to wake sleeping beauty, now would we?"

Scully paused, spinning around and nailing him with a warning glare. "Don't start, Bill. You don't understand, Mulder's been very sick and..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard. He had pneumonia and some other weird condition that almost killed him. Mom told me." Bill sank into one of the wooden chairs with a blank expression of indifference. "So that's the excuse this time?"

Scully's lips thinned. "What are you talking about? What excuse?"

Bill thrust his chin forward, brows lowered in a scowl. "The reason why you aren't spending Thanksgiving with your family. It's because of him, right? Your partner." He pronounced the word as if it only contained four letters.

Scully bristled. "First of all, Bill, this was *my* idea -- not Mulder's. We planned this trip two months ago, before I knew you'd be in town."

"Plans can be changed, Dana."

The little line between Scully's brows deepened. "Perhaps so. But I'm not changing these. Now, can I get you something to drink? Coffee or a soda?"

"You can try to give me a reasonable explanation for why this little getaway with him can't be postponed in deference to spending the holiday with your nephew -- who, I might add, barely knows you."


Scully dropped into a chair, reflecting that Bill's aim was as true as ever. Of course, he'd learned from the best. Ahab had been able to play her emotions with the skill of a virtuoso. Guilt and remorse vied with anger for control, and only the genuine hurt submerged in Bill's scowl prevented her sharp retort.

"Look, I don't owe you justification for my decisions, Bill, but I also don't want you to think I make them lightly. This is a difficult time of year for Mulder under normal circumstances. Add to that the fact that it's his first Thanksgiving since his mother's death and he's recuperating from a life-threatening illness and maybe you can begin to appreciate why we felt the need to let our plans stand. Not to mention the fact that we've had very little opportunity to be alone together."

"Just another in the long string of bad choices you've made over the last seven years," Bill growled.

"DON'T! Why can't we have one pleasant visit where we catch up on each other's lives? Why must you always resort to undermining everything I value?" Scully, realizing her voice had crept higher in pitch and volume, clamped her mouth shut.

"Do you expect me to just sit back and say nothing? Dad tried to tell you that joining the FBI was a mistake, but you wouldn't listen, and the consequences have impacted our entire family! Mom's already lost one daughter -- how many times do you think she can withstand nearly losing the other? Kidnapped, given cancer, shot, drugged -- hell, you can't even have children! Are you going to tell me it's worth it? That *he's* worth it? He's done nothing but tear this family apart since the day he stepped into your life!"

Rather than further inflaming her, Bill's tirade prompted only calm resolution. Scully deliberately pushed her chair back and stood, leaning over to brace her palms on the smooth oak of the tabletop.

"You have no say in my life, Bill. You don't know me, you never have. You thought just because I didn't dye my hair purple and wear crystals around my neck that meant I'd conform to your expectations for the perfect little sister, the dutiful daughter. But I choose my own path just as much as Missy did. Mulder is not accountable for my decision to do the work I do, and he certainly isn't accountable for the fallout from that choice. He is, however, responsible for giving me something you never have -- love without strings. Now, I think you'd better go."

It was gratifying to watch Bill's eyes widen and his chin drop. He lurched to his feet and stalked across the kitchen, pausing in the doorway.

"One of the reasons I stopped by tonight was to invite you to dinner at Mom's tomorrow," he said stiffly. "She figured you'd be busy packing and wouldn't have much food in the house."

Scully sighed and shook her head. "I don't know, Bill. That might not be such a good idea."

Bill pursed his lips and blew a puff of air out of his nose. "Tara and Matty would really like to see you. I promise I'll be civil."

She elevated one eyebrow, tilting her head forward as if she hadn't caught his words. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Just don't expect me to be involved in a group hug." Bill dug his hands into the pockets of his coat and hunched his shoulders. "Truce, okay, Short Stuff?"

One corner of Scully's mouth quirked in spite of herself. "I'd like to see Tara and Matty. Tell Mom we'll be there about 5:30."

She accompanied Bill to the door and suffered a kiss on her cheek. Shutting the door firmly behind him, she rested her forehead against the wood, feeling bruised inside. Abruptly remembering Mulder, she turned, her eyes darting to the couch.


"Mulder? Did you finally decide to join the living?" she called, moving down the hall and into the bedroom. No sign of him there, either, though he'd evidently pulled on a sweatshirt, since that drawer lay open. One of Mulder's annoying bachelor habits was to open drawers but not close them. She bumped the drawer closed with her hip and checked the bathroom before completing the circuit and returning to the kitchen.

No Mulder.

Scully bit her lip, trying to quell the panicky voice that said he'd gone running. A stupid thing to do. A self-destructive thing to do. Something not even Mulder would resort to in his current condition, unless...

*He's done nothing but tear this family apart since the day he stepped into your life!*

Unless he was hurting so badly that he'd try anything to keep from thinking.

Scully grabbed her coat and keys and headed out the door.

7:15 p.m.

Scully yanked open the door and barreled full speed into an immovable object. Immovable, but not silent. Mulder grunted, flinging both hands out to clutch the jamb, dropping something with a loud thunk. Within a split second his weakened lungs protested the sudden whoosh of air by tipping him into a vigorous, but blessedly brief, bout of coughing.

"Hey, Scully," he gasped, tears trickling down his flushed cheeks. "Going somewhere?"


Scully eagerly mapped his frame from head to toe, taking in the slightly disheveled hair, clean sweats, and sneakered feet. Her hand darted out of its own accord to cup his jaw, the skin warm and rough with stubble. The coil of fear in her belly loosened -- he'd obviously not been outside -- even as annoyance rushed in to take its place.

"Where have you been? You had me worried sick!"

Mulder's blank incomprehension, however, rapidly left her feeling foolish. "The laundry room. I ran out of clean sweats so I thought I'd better wash some." He reached to the side and retrieved the item he'd dropped -- an empty basket.

Rather than risk digging the hole any deeper, Scully spun on her heel and stripped off her coat, taking longer than necessary to hang it in the closet. She felt Mulder brush by and move down the hallway to the bedroom, returning a moment later sans basket. His steps faltered just a bit as he hovered at her shoulder, then turned toward the kitchen. She listened to sounds of rummaging through the refrigerator for several minutes before sighing and following them.

Mulder had poured himself a glass of juice and was in the process of removing the cap from a prescription bottle.

"Better eat something," Scully admonished, moving over to pull out a loaf of bread. "You know how that tears up your stomach if you don't."

Mulder made a face, but returned to the refrigerator for a package of deli meat, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. Scully laid out bread for two sandwiches and began layering turkey and lettuce while he sliced the tomato. Finally, she could take the pregnant silence no longer.

"How much did you hear?"

The smooth even swish of the blade never varied. "I went back to get the laundry basket while he berated you for neglecting your nephew and walked out just as the destruction of your family was laid in my lap."

The words were cool, emotionless save for a dry twist of humor, but Scully's eyes caught the barest quiver of the hand that gathered tomato slices, and her ear detected the acceleration of breathing. Not for the first time, she mentally cursed her brother.

"Mulder, he's an ass. He's always taken it upon himself to run my life without understanding what I really need," she said. She placed one of the sandwiches on a plate and handed it to him, deliberately snagging his fingers in the process.

"You and I both know he's got a point, Scully," Mulder replied quietly, sitting down at the table and playing with the top slice of bread. "The X-Files have changed your life, changed you irrevocably. I'd be lying if I said there aren't times I'd give anything to turn back time so that I could do what I should have done that day you walked into my office."

Scully knew where he was going, and didn't want to hear it. "And eliminate six years of foreplay?" she said, doing her best to imitate his trademark leer. "Mulder, you're no fun."

He couldn't block the slight puff of laughter in spite of a heroic effort to remain sober. "Scully! You know what I'm talking about! Your life would be very different right now if I'd kept you out of this damn quest of mine! I'm just saying that Bill has good reason not to be president of the Fox Mulder fan club."

"Especially since that position is already filled," Scully agreed, propping her chin on her hand. When he refused to allow a smile to be coaxed onto his face, she humphed. "This is a tired conversation, Mulder. I stand behind the choices I've made in my life, whether that means sticking with the X-Files or loving you. It's bad enough I have to defend myself to Bill, I certainly don't need to do the same with you."

Mulder grinned a little. "Point taken. I'll try to curb my overdeveloped sense of guilt."

"Good. And while you're curbing things, G-man, add doing laundry to the list. You aren't supposed to be engaging in any strenuous activity."

Mulder's eyes rolled skyward. "*Strenuous*? Scully, I carried a plastic basket down two flights of stairs and plugged some quarters in the machine! Now unless you're concerned I might break a nail..."

"Very funny. All I'm saying is that you're supposed to be resting, Mulder. If everything looks good when Nick checks you out on Tuesday we'll be extending that to include sunning yourself on a tropical beach and maybe a few moonlit strolls." She took a bite of her sandwich, sensuously licking a blob of mayonnaise off the tip of her thumb and gazing at him from beneath her lashes. "I want you in good shape, love."

Mulder's hand snaked out to clamp around her wrist, eliciting a startled gasp as he leaned over to draw the digit between his own lips. He slowly swirled his tongue around the pad as if helping to remove the already non-existent condiment, finally releasing it with a wet smack and smirking at Scully's suddenly flushed cheeks.

"Trust me, babe. All the important equipment is in perfect working order."

Never one to be thrown off balance for long, Scully rallied. "That calls for an expert opinion, Mulder. I'll have to judge for myself."

3:12 p.m.

This time the knock caught Scully in the midst of folding a pile of clothes she'd retrieved from the dryer. She stared at the front door, a pair of shorts in one hand and a crease marring the pale skin of her brow. The middle of the afternoon on what would normally be a workday. The list of possible callers was short, and the prime candidate not someone she cared to cope with right now. With a grimace of resignation, she laid the shorts to one side, squared her shoulders, and pulled open the door...

To reveal a tall figure, dark hair tucked under a reversed baseball cap and hazel eyes glittering with mischief.

"Good afternoon, ma'am, I'm selling magazine subscriptions and..."

His little speech cut off with a grunt as Scully wrapped her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug. Softness replaced the teasing edge to Grey's voice.

"Glad to see you too, darlin'."

Scully released him and stepped back, tilting her head up to give him a saucy grin. "I'm just relieved it wasn't my brother at the door. I'd have hugged even the pizza guy."

Grey snorted and moved past her, shaking his head. "Ahh, yes. I presume you mean the warm and ever supportive Bill Scully that I've heard Fox mention a time or two."

Scully pursed her lips to hide the smile. "That's the one."

"I thought he lived in California. In town for a little holiday cheer?" Grey asked, his eyes panning the room before he dropped down onto the couch.

Scully resumed her own seat by the laundry basket and pulled out one of Mulder's gray tee shirts. "An unexpected visit," she confirmed, arching a brow. "As is yours. I thought you'd be back in Raleigh, busy nabbing bad guys and keeping the city safe."

Grey wrinkled his nose. "Yeah. So did I. Unfortunately, my back hasn't exactly cooperated. My doctor has me riding a desk for the next week before he'll declare me fit for duty. So, I thought I'd check up on you and Fox."

Scully sucked in her bottom lip and concentrated on folding. "That's nice. So you came all the way up here just to see *us*. I'm flattered."

Grey's head swung sharply in her direction and he studied her carefully controlled expression for a moment before breaking into an embarrassed grin. "All right, all right. So I also drove up to see Kristen. I'm bringing her back with me to spend Thanksgiving and meet my family."

Scully's mouth turned up. "Thought maybe she was on the agenda somewhere."

"I'll bet you did. She's got to work late tonight and all day tomorrow so we can't drive home until Wednesday. I was hoping I could stay at Fox's place."

"I'm sure he wouldn't care, but why not just stay here?" Scully suggested. "The extra bed is all made up and, unlike
Mulder's, I can guarantee the sheets are clean."

"Well, if you're sure you don't mind..." Grey said a little dubiously.

"Not at all. If everything goes as planned, Mulder and I will be on a flight to Cancun tomorrow afternoon and you'll have the place all to yourself tomorrow night."

Grey stripped the cap from his head and finger combed his hair. "Speaking of which... Where *is* Fox?"

Scully placed the last shirt into the basket and set it aside, glancing down the hallway toward the closed bedroom door. "Sleeping. He's been out for nearly two hours so I imagine he'll be surfacing soon."

All traces of humor left Grey's face and he leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees. "How's he doing, Dana? Really."

Scully leaned back and sighed. "I guess that depends on the perspective. *I* think he's doing amazingly well. When you consider how close he came, that less than a week ago he was still in the hospital, his progress has been phenomenal. His lungs are weak, and he still has an occasional round of coughing, but all traces of the pneumonia are gone. He's even managed to pick up a little of the weight he lost."

Grey, who had been listening carefully and nodding at her assessment, lifted his head. "I take it my brother is less satisfied with his progress than you are."

Scully blew a harsh puff of air out her nose and shook her head. "To put it mildly. From Mulder's viewpoint, if the pneumonia is gone he should immediately bounce back to normal. He doesn't want to acknowledge the fact that the virus severely weakened him and he's going to require time to heal. His stamina is virtually non-existent right now -- even the slightest activity like reading or using the computer wears him out. But he refuses to give in and rest until his body finally makes the decision for him and he crashes."

"Which just serves to frustrate the hell out of him," Grey observed.

"Couldn't have put it better myself," Scully said wryly. "I'm hoping the change in scenery and a lot of sunshine will lift his spirits." She glanced at her watch. "I've got one more load of clothes in the dryer, Grey. I'll be right back."

Grey watched her gather an empty basket and scoot out the door. He sank back into the cushions, staring up at the ceiling and drinking in silence so deep he could hear the faint tick of the wall clock marking time. After several minutes he stood and wandered over to a bookshelf, smiling a little at the mishmash of medical reference and psychology texts with books on the paranormal and pulp romances. His eye lit on a photo framed in silver, and his hand gently lifted it for closer inspection.

Fox and Dana, seated on a porch swing, his arms loosely cradling her against his chest, her head tipped back on his shoulder. Dana's sapphire eyes bore an almost sleepy contentment, the corners of her mouth a gentle curve. Fox's expression was...incandescent. The countenance of someone granted his fondest wish, the deepest desire of his heart. The face of a child.

Grey swallowed the inexplicable lump in his throat and gently replaced the photo. He wandered across the room and padded quietly down the hall to the bedroom, door slightly ajar. He carefully pressed his palm to the wood so that it swung a little wider on silent hinges. Fox sprawled across the bed, lips slightly parted and his deep, rhythmic breathing loud in the stillness. Grey grinned. Sure didn't look like he'd be waking anytime soon.

He'd just shut the door when Dana's phone rang. Grey hesitated, then moved quickly to scoop it from its cradle, hoping the noise wouldn't disturb his brother.


Silence, then a hesitant female voice. "Fox?"

"Ahh, no, this isn't Fox," Grey said uncomfortably. "It's his brother, Grey. Can I take a message?"

"Well, it's about time I had the pleasure of talking with you! This is Maggie Scully, Grey. Dana's mom."

Grey relaxed at the warmth in her tone. "Hello, Mrs. Scully. It's nice to finally meet you -- so to speak."

"Please, Grey, call me Maggie. In some ways I feel I already know you. I didn't realize you were coming up for a visit."

"It was kind of spontaneous. I just got here a few minutes ago."

"Are you there alone? Where are Dana and Fox?" Maggie's question communicated a frission of worry.

"No, they're here," Grey reassured her. "Fox is sleeping and Dana's downstairs doing laundry. She should be back any minute, if you'd like her to call you."

"That's not necessary, you can just give her a message. Tell her to come by at 5 instead of 5:30. The baby goes to bed by seven and I know she'll want time with him." Maggie paused only a moment before plunging on. "Are you free for dinner tonight, Grey? I'd love it if you would join us."

"Well..." Grey fumbled uneasily for an excuse, came up with none.

"Please, I'd love to meet you. Fox has become a part of our family, and I know how important you are to him," Maggie coaxed. She laughed. "And as Fox will tell you, I make a mean pot roast."

Grey chuckled, once again put at ease by her kindness. "How could I possibly refuse?"

"Wonderful. We'll see you at 5."

Grey bent over to replace the phone, nearly dropping it when Fox's sleepy voice startled him.

"I like to sneak up behind Scully when she's on the phone and give her a kiss. Glad I controlled that impulse."

"Sorry to disappoint," Grey replied, grinning. "C'mere."

He pulled Mulder into a quick hug, then watched him flop onto the couch, stifling a yawn. His brother's eyes still had the slightly glassy, unfocused cast of someone not quite awake and his hair gave the appearance of being run through an eggbeater.

"Sorry if the phone woke you," Grey said, taking the chair Dana had vacated.

Mulder scowled. "I'm glad it did. Feels like all I do is sleep these days. And *don't* (he held up a warning hand) tell me that my body needs lots of rest to recover. I get enough of that from my personal physician." He squinted at Grey. "What brings you up for a visit? You seeing Kristen?"

"Why is it so improbable that I could be up here to visit you and Dana?" Grey asked petulantly.

"I'll give you three words -- smart, blonde and beautiful. While Scully and I may fit two of those, the third leaves us out."

"Scully and *you*? Which one is supposed to apply to you, little brother?" Grey asked, deadpan.

"Nice! Where's Scully and who was on the phone?"

A rattle of keys and Scully nudged open the door, the now full basket balanced on her hip. Mulder, obviously more awake, popped up and relieved her of her burden, depositing it back in the bedroom and then joining her on the couch.

"I was just about to tell Fox that your mom called," Grey told Scully. "She was a bit startled to have me answer the phone, but I explained."

Mulder's lips twitched. "If I know Maggie, she wasted no time making you feel welcome. She's been pumping me for information ever since I told her about you."

"Well she's about to get it straight from the source," Grey replied mildly. "She insisted I join y'all for dinner tonight. Hope you don't mind."

Scully smiled at his reserve. "Of course we don't mind!"

Mulder's eyebrows drew together. "Speak for yourself! Personally, I was hoping to talk my way out of this dinner on the grounds that my brother was in town."

Scully dug her elbow into his side. "Mulder! Knowing my mother, she's probably cooking a pot roast just for you!"

Mulder ignored Grey's snuffle of amusement. "It's not your mother I'm trying to avoid, babe."

Several disjointed pieces snapped together in Grey's mind with a nearly audible click. "Bill -- your brother... He's staying at your mom's house? He'll be there tonight?" he asked, both eyebrows climbing up to hide beneath the sweep of his hair.

"Yes. Bill, his wife, Tara, and my nephew, Matthew are staying at Mom's while they're in town for Thanksgiving," Scully confirmed.

"It's not too late for you," Mulder intoned gloomily. "You can still back out. I'm sure Jerry Springer is on -- you could enjoy plenty of verbal abuse without ever having to leave this couch."

"Mulder." Scully gave him what Grey knew he termed "the Scully Death Stare" and another small jab to the ribs.

Grey's smile widened to show more teeth, looking far more like a shark circling its prey than a man expressing good humor. "A chance to finally meet Bill? Oh, no, little brother, I wouldn't miss this. Not for the world."

5:03 p.m.

When Maggie Scully opened the door, golden light, a rush of warm air, and delicious smells spilled onto the front porch.

"Hi, honey! Glad you could make it," she greeted, giving her daughter a buss on the cheek as Scully stepped across the threshold.

She then examined Mulder from head to toe, the crinkling of her forehead indicating dissatisfaction. "Fox! It's wonderful to see you, but you look a bit like death warmed over! How are you feeling, sweetheart?"

"I'm actually feeling much better, Maggie - especially if I'm smelling what I suspect I am," Mulder replied.

Grey tipped his chin down to conceal a smile as Maggie tugged his brother into a hug and kiss. No wonder Fox spoke of Dana's mother with a reverence that was practically spiritual - her brand of easy affection made quite a contrast to Teena Mulder's cool distance. Before he could complete the thought, she had his hand sandwiched between her own and was guiding him inside.

"I don't need an introduction to you, Grey! You and Fox certainly bear a strong resemblance," she said warmly.

"If you become confused, ma'am, just remember I'm the good-looking one," Grey replied, giving his brother a sidelong smirk.

"Definitely not the funny one," Mulder retorted as Maggie chuckled.

"Hang up your coats, you three, and go into the living room. Tara and Matty are already there, and I'll see if I can find Bill."

Scully led the way into a large, brightly-lit room dominated by a stone fireplace. A blonde woman reclined in an overstuffed chair, watching a tow-headed toddler surrounded by toy cars and trucks. She sprang to her feet, smiling.


Mulder looked on as the two embraced, but a moment later Tara released Scully and drew him into a quick hug.

"How are you, Fox? We heard you've been pretty sick."

"I'm doing well, thanks, Tara," Mulder replied, accepting the gesture with minimal discomfort. "I'd like you to meet my brother, Grey. Grey, this is Tara."

Mulder turned, Grey and Tara's polite exchange receding to an unintelligible buzz when his gaze landed on Scully, sprawled on a thick Oriental rug with Matthew on her lap. The little boy was babbling enthusiastically as he demonstrated a miniature semi truck. Scully listened with rapt attention, one hand curled around his chubby tummy and the other dutifully manipulating a jeep.

The upward twist of his lips belied the sharp pain that blindsided him. Mulder watched dumbly, reminding himself that Scully's infertility was an established fact, a crisis they'd somehow weathered. Though it would always be a part of her, Scully refused to let it define her. As for himself, he'd made peace with the stark reality that she would never have her own children.

He'd just failed to consider that she'd never have *his* children.

Scully, sensing his gaze, brought her eyes up and Mulder saw immediately that she knew -- that their highly attuned nonverbal communication laid bare his morose thoughts. For what seemed an eternity, blue eyes remained fused with hazel and he could feel her sorrow as keenly as his own.

Scully's smile was the brilliance of sunshine in the wake of a storm. She dropped the toy and reached out, capturing his hand and pulling him down beside her.

"Hey, Matty. This is my best friend, Fox."

Grey sat down on a chair across from Tara, looking on as his brother and Scully submitted to Matthew's garbled instructions for play. Of course, Fox immersed himself in short order, delighting the child by fashioning a crude tunnel from several picture books and some "off road" terrain with two throw pillows. Scully eventually lost track of the game, which seemed perfectly comprehensible to Mulder and Matthew, and scooted over to prop her back against the couch, content to observe.

Grey leaned over. "Now I know what to get him for Christmas," he laughed quietly.

Matthew chortled as Mulder engineered an earthquake, causing the tunnel to collapse on a hapless Ferrari.

Scully tilted her head back, smiling wistfully. "He's great with kids."

So much left unspoken, but Grey understood. Even Tara dragged her eyes from the activity on the floor, shooting Scully a look of sympathy before they skittered uncomfortably away.

"Bill!" she exclaimed, a kernel of relief in the name. "There you are!"

Grey saw his brother's relaxed slouch turn rigid. Mulder abandoned the truck he'd sent careening off a throw pillow cliff and struggled to his feet, dusting off his jeans. Grey's eyes darted over to the doorway, eager for a glimpse of the man he'd only heard about. For a split second, he caught an unguarded expression - eyes narrowed, lip curled - before Bill assumed a bland smile of welcome.

"Hey, Short Stuff. Long time no see."

Mulder extended his hand and Bill shook it firmly, raking his gaze up and down his form before speaking.

"Hi, Mulder. Geez, Mom was right. You do look like shit."

A light tone, meant to sound like good natured ribbing. But Grey clearly detected the maliciousness beneath the fašade. So that's how Bill operated, hmm? Grey rose slowly to his feet, pasting on his own smile.

"Thanks, Bill. Actually, looking like shit is an improvement," Mulder replied mildly.

Scully slipped her arm around Mulder's waist and glared at her brother. "You promised, Bill," she growled.

Bill's eyes widened. "What'd I say?"

Grey stepped forward, bringing himself to Bill's attention. Tara, who'd stood to the side, her focus fluttering nervously between the other three, leaped at the diversion.

"Bill, this is Grey, Fox's brother."

Grey shook hands politely, inwardly amused by Bill's appraising stare and his own burst of testosterone in response.

*This town ain't big enough for the both of us* he thought crazily, and bit the inside of his cheek to abort a snicker.

"Nice to meet you," Bill said neutrally, giving Grey's hand an obligatory three pumps before releasing it. Grey found himself watching to see if Bill would wipe that hand off on his pants, almost disappointed when he merely reached around to cup his wife's shoulder.

"You too. Fox has told me so much about you, I've been anxious to put a face with the name." Grey kept his tone conversational, his face guileless. Bill wasn't the only one who knew how to use doublespeak - let him interpret *that* as he may.

Bill's jaw dropped and he appeared speechless for a moment before his brows plunged. Any reply was cut short by Maggie's cheerful call to come to the table, though Grey sensed the proverbial line had been drawn in the sand.

The dining table was laden - pot roast with all the trimmings, a huge bowl of salad, and fresh bread. Everyday dishes instead of fine china, food served family style, and Matthew jabbering from his booster seat all encouraged relaxed dinner conversation. Mulder accepted Maggie's efforts to reverse his weight loss with amused tolerance and Grey patiently fielded questions about his life and family in North Carolina. Bill contributed little to the dialogue, though he displayed more than a casual interest in Grey's answers.

"It's wonderful you and Fox found each other after all this time," Tara remarked, retrieving the carrot slices that Matthew had attempted to hide under a napkin and placing them back on his plate.

"God works in mysterious ways," Maggie agreed, reaching over to give Mulder's hand a squeeze. "To lose a sister and then gain a brother."

"Except he doesn't believe in God," Bill pointed out. "Do you, Mulder?"

Mulder's face remained calm but Grey saw the fingers of the hand Mrs. Scully had touched curl into a fist. "No, I don't." He smiled at Scully and then Maggie. "But I respect that faith in others."

Maggie's pursed lips didn't hide their upward tilt. "You know what they say, Fox. It doesn't matter if you don't believe in God. He believes in you."

"Guess that makes God the ultimate believer in extreme possibilities," Scully murmured, looking at him slyly through her lashes.

Mulder's eyes danced and his shoulders lost their rigidity. Bill, on the other hand, looked as if he'd bitten into a lemon - just a step up from Matthew, who took exception to Tara's third repositioning of his carrots and dissolved into tears.

"Sorry! He refused to nap today," Tara apologized, struggling to be heard over tearful repetitions of "Yucky!" and "No!" as she scooped the kicking toddler out of his seat.

"Here, honey, let me take him," Maggie said, standing. "I'll put him to bed. You go ahead and finish your dinner."

Tara hesitated only long enough for Matthew to lean willingly toward Maggie's outstretched arms, then surrendered him with a grateful smile. "Thanks, Mom."

"He's usually very happy and content," she sighed, sinking back into her own chair and picking up her fork. "He's just a bear to be around when he hasn't gotten enough sleep."

"Must be genetic - OW!" Mulder bent over to rub his shin. "That's going to leave a bruise, Scully."

"Serves you right. You're not exactly Mr. Congeniality in the morning yourself, Mulder," she said pointedly.

Tara grinned at their banter, while Bill's jaw clenched.

"So, where is it you two are headed?" he asked, shoving aside his empty plate and propping his folded arms on the table. "Just so I at least know where my little sister is on Thanksgiving."

Scully's lips compressed to a thin line. "Bill."

The innocent look again, and Bill held up both hands in defense. "What? I'm not supposed to ask where you're going? Is it a big secret?"

Her brows drew together. "No! I just..."

"Cancun," Mulder answered quietly.

"Oh, that sounds wonderful," Tara said enthusiastically. "I could do with a little sunshine myself right about now! I'm sure you two will have a great time."

Bill huffed and muttered something under his breath. Mulder's gaze darted to his face and he opened his mouth as if to speak, then just clamped his lips shut and glanced away. Scully showed less restraint.

"What did you say?"

Bill met her challenge defiantly. "I said it better be a damn paradise, considering it's taking you away from your family on a holiday."

Scully shoved back her chair and pushed herself upright, leaning across the table. "You can't do it, can you? Can't put aside your own stubbornness for one night and be civil."

Mulder lay his hand on her shoulder. "Scully."

She ignored him. "Why can't you see..."

"*You're* the blind person here, Dana," Bill retorted, mimicking her posture from across the table and thrusting his face mere inches from hers. "I just keep hoping that eventually you'll wipe the stardust out of your eyes and start seeing the facts."

"Bill, you wouldn't know the facts if they bit you in the ass," Scully snapped. "Did you ever stop to consider that the idea of spending Thanksgiving with *you* might have spurred me to leave town?"

"Scully, DON'T!"

The anguish pulled her up short, quenching the fury that had momentarily severed the connection between her brain and her mouth. Mulder, white-faced, slowly shook his head.

"I don't expect to change what HE thinks of me," he said softly, taking the napkin from his lap and laying it on the table. "But I'd certainly appreciate it if you refrained from proving him right."

Scully gaped, speechless, as he got up and walked out of the room. "Mulder, I..." When he didn't turn back she cast one more venomous glare at Bill and hurried after him.

Tara's eyes lifted from the contemplation of her plate to skim Grey's before dropping back down again. "I'm going to start the dishes," she murmured, collecting several serving platters and fleeing to the kitchen.

Grey looked around at the empty chairs. "Well, I'll say one thing for you, Bill," he drawled. "You sure know how to clear a room."

Bill sat down and glowered. "Spare me. You came on the scene six months ago - I've been here for six *years*. You don't have the slightest idea what your brother has done to this family."

Grey snorted. "Fox was wrong. You aren't pig-headed, just plain self-absorbed! If you'd stop for a minute and look at the complete picture instead of filtering it through your own petty concerns you just might learn something - about Fox *and* your sister."

"I've learned enough! I've watched him drag Dana through hell and back again, sacrificing Melissa along the way. Is it self-absorbed to want to spare my mother the constant worry and heartache? To want my sister in a profession that doesn't involve taking lives and risking her own? If he were any kind of a man, he'd have insisted she abandon his meaningless quest years ago!"

Grey laughed. "How well do you know your sister? Because I've got news for you, buddy. No one drags that woman anywhere she doesn't want to go -- at least if they want to live to see another day! If your head wasn't stuck in the sand you might have noticed that his so-called meaningless quest has become hers." Grey's voice dropped, softened. "And that the kind of love they share comes along once in a lifetime, if you're lucky."

Bill grunted. "If you call that luck, count me out."

Grey's eyes glinted dangerously. "But that's the problem, isn't it? You won't allow them to count you out. Or didn't your mother ever teach you that if you can't say something nice, you should shut the hell up?"

Bill appeared stunned, then infuriated. "There's a family resemblance, all right," he sneered. "You're just like him."

Grey slouched back and grinned. "Why, thank you, Bill. I believe that's the nicest thing you've said to me."

Bill's hands twitched as if longing to wrap themselves around Grey's neck, but he pressed them to his sides. "I'm going to check on Matty," he muttered, stomping out of the room.

Grey folded his arms, a smile still lingering on his lips. "Round one goes to the good ole boy from Carolina," he murmured. "And the crowd goes wild..."

En Route to Georgetown
7:48 p.m.

"Are you warm enough?"

"I'm fine, thanks."

Shrouded in the shadows of the back seat, Grey winced. He numbered that the fourth painfully polite exchange since leaving Maggie Scully's house, and he was beginning to wish for a good, old fashioned knock down, drag out brawl to ease the tension. Dana's fingers had a choke hold on the steering wheel, her eyes periodically shifting from the road to Fox and back again. Even in the dim glow of passing streetlights, Grey could read exhaustion in the lines and planes of his brother's face. But Fox maintained his ramrod straight posture, refusing even to rest his head on the seatback.

By the time Grey wandered into the living room, Maggie had returned from tucking in Matthew, interrupting a rather heated discussion between Mulder and Scully. They'd passed the remainder of the evening in courteous, if somewhat stilted conversation. Bill's shifting facial expressions occasionally betrayed his animosity, but in Maggie's presence he held his tongue. Mulder's flagging energy and drooping eyelids provided a convenient excuse to cut the visit short.

"Mulder, I said I was sorry. I certainly didn't mean to upset you," Scully finally said, more impatience than contrition in her voice.

"Scully, I'm tired, and I really don't want to talk about this now," he replied, his own tone heavy with fatigue but retaining a sharp edge.

"You may not want to discuss it, but I'm tired of feeling your anger."

Mulder sighed. "It's not you, Scully. I'm mad at myself."

"Mulder, my brother acted like a complete jerk! Why on earth would you be mad at yourself?"

Mulder scrubbed his face with both palms, then ran one hand through his hair. "I should never have gone tonight, Scully. It had disaster written all over it from the beginning, and I *knew* it. If I hadn't been there you might have been able to spend a relatively conflict-free evening with your family. Bringing me into contact with Bill is like waving a piece of raw meat in front of a lion and telling it not to pounce. He's incapable of accepting me as anything but the devil incarnate, and that's not going to change." He tipped his head to rest against the cool window glass. "Better to count me out of any family get-togethers if he's present."

"So what are you saying here, Mulder?" Scully asked tightly. "That because of Bill's tunnel vision I can never share a holiday with you *and* my family?""

"That's an unreasonable line to draw," Grey spoke up quietly from the back, knowing he should opt out of the argument but unable to keep silent.

"Stay out of this, Grey," Mulder snapped, turning to glare at his brother. "You didn't exactly help matters tonight. I don't know what you said to him after I left the table, but he looked ready to chew tacks."

"He's right, Mulder," Scully said. "I refuse to let Bill dictate my life. I'm tired of the constant guilt trips."

"So you're going to kill the relationship?" Mulder demanded. "Just like that?"

"I'm not..."

"You *are*, Scully! You were in the process of digging the grave at dinner! All you did was lend credence to Bill's claims that I'm a home wrecker!"

Scully pulled into a parking space across from her building and shut off the engine, then turned deliberately to face him. "Some relationships aren't worth the heartache, Mulder. Bill makes my decision for me when he insists on behaving like a pig-headed fool."

Mulder tossed his head in frustration, staring out the window in a blatant evasion of Scully's eyes. "It isn't all Bill's fault, you know. He's not the only one to disapprove of your lifestyle -- just the only one left to vocalize it."

Scully's eyes narrowed. "What the hell does that mean?"

Mulder reached for the door handle. "Forget it."

Her fingers buried themselves in an iron grip on his leather jacket. "What. Did. You. Mean?"

Mulder shrugged off her grip, scowling. "Your father never approved or supported your choice to enter the Bureau, Scully. I'd say it's more than likely he heard about your crazy partner who hunts aliens. I'm sure he made his feelings abundantly clear. You've as much as admitted that his disapproval caused you to doubt his love."

"Shut up, Mulder."

Mulder heard the warning, but exhaustion and his own guilt precluded him from heeding it. "All I'm saying is that you're convicting Bill of the same crime that you absolved your father of."

"You have no right to judge my father," Scully replied icily. "At least my father didn't knowingly allow..." She bit off the words before they could tumble from her lips, horrified.

Mulder went very still. "Finish it, Scully."

"Fox, let's go inside. The car is starting to get cold," Grey inserted, his stomach churning at the sight of Scully's expression.

Mulder ignored him -- or perhaps never heard. His eyes bore into Scully with desperate intensity. "What did my father allow, Scully? I know you've been keeping something from me, something you learned when you were with Cancerman. Tell me."

Scully's eyes flooded with tears. "Please, Mulder. I don't want... It shouldn't be this way."

"What way should it be? When is it going to be any less painful? I'm not going to beg you. TELL ME."

"He said... He said your father knew about the genetic manipulations performed on you and Samantha. That he was convinced to allow the experiment, and participated willingly."

Mulder recoiled as if struck. Even in the muted lighting they could see the color drain from his face. He licked his lips. "He knew? He *knew*? No, that's a lie! He wouldn't..."

His voice seemed to dry up, becoming wispy and insubstantial before evaporating entirely. He stared blankly at Scully, then abruptly flung open his door and lunged out. Grey and Scully watched him stumble over to lean against a tree, head bowed and shoulders curled. She pressed the backs of her fingers against her lips, her eyes never leaving Mulder. Submerged in her own misery, Grey's gentle utterance might as well have been a scream.

"It's done, Dana. Stop beating yourself up and go do some damage control."

His hand descended on her shoulder, thumb rubbing soothingly through the bulk of her coat. Scully leaned her cheek against the warmth, blinking rapidly as she fought for composure.

"I've been trying to find the right time, the right way to tell him ever since he came home from the hospital. I knew how much this would hurt him, and he's been so weak. I can't believe I just unloaded it on him like that."

"Dana, I learned early on during my marriage that loving someone also means knowing all the right buttons to push. Unless I'm mistaken, you weren't the only one to hit a few tonight." He ducked his head so that she was forced to see his face. "I'm going for a little walk. Give me a key so I can get in later."

Scully pulled her keys from the ignition, but juggled them in her palm so that they jingled rhythmically. "Maybe I'm the one that should be taking that walk," she said ruefully. "Seems a bit like sending the arsonist to put out the fire."

Grey filched the keys from her hand and got out of the car. A moment later he'd opened her door and was leaning inside. "Darlin' we both know the real arsonist smokes Morleys. And I think you may just be the only one with the expertise to handle this blaze."

Leaving her no chance to protest, he cast a final, troubled look at his brother and walked off in the opposite direction.

Mulder was shivering, his entire body vibrating, though whether from cold or emotion Scully wasn't sure. She lay a cautious hand on his shoulder, keeping her voice low and soothing as if she were calming a wild animal.

"Mulder, it's freezing. Come inside and we'll talk."

He reacted like a wild animal -- injured, cornered, and dangerous. "So now you're ready to talk? Don't do me any damn favors!"

Scully clutched at her temper, which squirmed to break free. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you until now. You were so sick, I just wanted to give you some time to heal."

Mulder's face twisted into a barely recognizable mask. "I had a right to know! How could you have kept something like this from me?"

Scully mentally opened her fingers and let loose. "Does the word *Tunguska* mean anything to you, Mulder? Or are you the only one allowed to withhold information in the name of protection?" she snapped.

"That was different!"

"How? How is it any different?"

"That was the job, this is personal! My father..." The word transformed, breaking midway into a sob. The shivering became shudders, frightening Scully with their severity. She mutely reached out to pluck one chilled hand from the tree and tugged. His fury spent, Mulder followed her complacently across the street and into the building, not even mustering a lewd remark when she reached into his pocket for keys. Once she'd deposited him on the couch, Scully reluctantly left long enough to make some tea.

He sat poised on the edge of the cushions, the cup cradled in his hands and an afghan draped across his shoulders. Scully took her place by his side, waiting. She knew that although he gave the appearance of a man contemplating the deeper mysteries of his Doc Martens, Mulder's brain and soul were struggling heroically to comprehend the scope of his father's betrayal.

"How would he have done it, Scully?" he asked without meeting her eyes. "This...this dabbling with my DNA. How did the bastard pull it off?"

Scully selected her words carefully. "I can only speculate, Mulder. But I'd guess something was done to your father's sperm, some kind of drug or procedure that modified the chromosomes and changed the genetic code." She shook her head. "Five years ago I'd have sworn it was impossible, that we don't possess that kind of technology. But now, after what we've seen..."

"It makes a terrible kind of sense," Mulder replied woodenly, rotating the mug in tiny circles so that the liquid swirled and steamed. "Remember my mother's letter? She couldn't figure out how she kept getting pregnant in spite of using birth control. Guess dear old dad was sabotaging the contraception."

Scully ran her hand up and down the taut muscles of his back, aching at the bitterness in his voice. Mulder set the barely touched mug on the coffee table and buried his face in his hands.

"How could he do it, Scully? He let people experiment on his own children! No wonder he looked at me as if I were a leper."

Scully closed her eyes against tears as Spender's oddly empathetic words floated through her mind.

*Pity that Bill could never reconcile his fatherly pride with the guilt over his capitulation.*

"I can't pretend to understand it, Mulder," she murmured, pressing harder against a particularly large knot near the base of his neck. "I can only say I'm sorry. Not just for what your father did, but for telling you like that. Please believe that I would never willingly hurt you."

Mulder turned huge, shell-shocked eyes on her, teeth tearing viscously at his lower lip. "They took Samantha -- the experiment must have been a success. What..." He faltered, swallowing hard. "What else has been done to me? I don't think I know who...*what* I am."

Scully guided him backward and he folded against her, his head tucked into the curve of her shoulder. "You're just what you've always been, love," she said, trailing her fingers through his hair. "The same honorable, brilliant, passionate, exasperating man I loved yesterday, and will still love tomorrow. I don't give a damn about the process. Just the end result."

Whether it was the power of her declaration, or simply that the numbness wore off, he began to weep hot, silent tears. They seared her skin like fire, and she cursed Bill Mulder for each and every one.

"Let it go, love," she murmured, her own voice unsteady. "Let it all go."

9:56 p.m.

Grey eased the door open, flinching at the high pitched creak. He stepped inside and eased it shut, sighing appreciatively as warmth penetrated the bubble of cold air that still clung to his skin. Stripping off his coat, he peered into the living room, squinting against the dim illumination. Fox was curled pretzel-like on the couch, and though Grey couldn't make out the details of his face, his deep, uniform breaths testified that he was asleep.

"Grey? I'm in the kitchen."

He followed the hushed voice and the rich smell of chocolate to the source, finding Dana at the kitchen table. Her head was propped on one hand and a half-filled mug of cocoa rested near the other. Grey attempted to analyze her features for a clue, but gave up when confronted by a tangle of emotions too complex to unravel.

"There's more in the pan," she said, inclining her head toward the stove. "Probably still warm."

Grey searched for a mug, finding the correct cupboard on the second try, and poured himself the remainder of the hot chocolate. He took a long swallow, grateful for the tendrils of warmth that seemed to spread throughout his chilled limbs. Sinking into a chair across from Dana, he curbed the impulse to browbeat her for information.

"I notice the smoke detectors are quiet," he said, taking another sip.

She looked at him blankly for a moment before understanding, and then amusement seeped onto her face. "True. But that doesn't mean there aren't still a few smoldering piles of ash to contend with."

Grey ran one hand over his brow, massaging his temples. "The whole time I was walking, worrying about Fox and his ability to cope with this nightmare, I couldn't help feeling relief as well. Like the guy that misses the plane and then finds out it crashed. Some brother, huh?"

"You're only human, Grey. Do you know how many times I've looked at Mulder's childhood and thanked God for my own? Believe me, I understand."

"And what about you? How are you holding up?" Grey asked, stretching his hand across the table to lay it over hers.

Scully hissed at the contact of his frigid flesh. "You're half frozen! You didn't have to leave, Grey. You know he doesn't have any secrets from you."

Grey lifted one shoulder. "I realize that. But no one needs an audience when dealing with news like that. I hoped that if it were just the two of you he wouldn't hold back." He leaned closer. "And you never answered my question."

Scully smiled weakly. "I'm not the one who just found out his father used him as a guinea pig."

"No. You're the one who had to break the news. Not a big step up, if you ask me. So I repeat -- how are you?"

Scully closed her eyes against the sudden rush of tears. "It hurts to see him hurt," she said softly. "I could cheerfully kill Bill Mulder and I resent the hell out of him for already being dead."

"Well said," Grey replied, his fingers tightening over hers before he withdrew his hand. "I don't think I'll ever understand the man. I see Fox's scars -- the guilt, the lack of self-esteem -- and I know Bill is directly responsible. And yet, I can't shake the memory of the way his face would light up whenever he talked about Fox."

"Pride is useless if it's never expressed to the one who matters," Scully said darkly. She took a deep breath and blew it out, rotating her head until her neck gave a satisfying crack. "He's completely exhausted. Tonight pushed him way past his reserves. I'd worried that this vacation might be too much for him, but I'm beginning to think it's just what we both need."

"Speaking of which, I'd be glad to give y'all a lift tomorrow. That way you don't have to leave a car at the airport."

"You'd have to take us to the doctor first," Scully cautioned. "We were planning to go straight to the airport after Mulder's check-up."

"My services are entirely at your disposal, ma'am," Grey replied, adding with a sly smile, "At least as long as Kristen is tied up at work."

Scully grinned, her spirits lifting. "Don't worry. We know our place in the grand scheme of things." The grin receded to a smile. "Thanks, Grey. You seem to have a knack for cheering me up."

"No problem, darlin'. Now what do you say I help you get him out of my bed and into yours?" He waggled his eyebrows, purposely imitating his brother's patented leer.

Scully snickered at his theatrics. "*That* is an offer I can't refuse."

8:47 a.m.

Bill stood at the French doors, sipping coffee while watching Tara push Matthew on the old tire swing hanging from the maple tree. Matty's blond head tipped backward, his sparkling eyes and open mouth attesting to the delighted squeals muted by panes of glass. Entranced by the sight, his mother's voice nearly made Bill jump.

"Penny for your thoughts, sweetheart," she said, slipping an arm around his waist and turning her gaze from her grandson to her son.

Bill shook his head, mouth curving. "Just can't believe how big he's getting. Seems like just yesterday I could hold him on one arm. Now he's walking, talking, and becoming his own little person."

"Time has an uncanny way of speeding up as you age," Maggie mused, rubbing little circles on the small of his back. "When you're a child the days seem to pass as slow as molasses, each one its own lifetime. But by the time you reach my age..." She chuckled softly. "The days just slip by like water through a sieve. Useless to try and clutch at them --if you're wise you just learn to let them flow."

She gave him a final pat and pulled back to capture his eyes. "As for becoming his own person, well, children have a way of doing that early on. After a frustrating time of trying to fit you into Missy's mold I came to see that you each had to follow your own path, and not one of my choosing. My job was to love and support each of you kids no matter where that path might lead." Maggie huffed, a rueful twist to her lips. "Your father struggled with that part."

Bill's brows angled downward. "What are you trying to say, Mom?"

To his confusion, she collected his empty mug, walked over to the sink, and began washing breakfast dishes. "I need to ask a favor, Billy. I've got an errand for you to run."

Shaking his head a little, scrambling to make sense of the abrupt change of subject, Bill walked over and picked up a towel.

"Sure, Mom. You need something from the store?"

"Dana had asked me if she could borrow that old straw hat of mine. The Mexican sun is awfully strong for her fair complexion and she's likely to need all the protection she can get. I forgot to give it to her last night."

He was already shaking his head, but she ignored the motion and the accompanying scowl. "You should be able to catch them at Georgetown Medical. Fox had a 10 a.m. appointment and they planned to go straight to the airport after that."

"Mom, you know I'd do anything for you. But in this case..."

"It'll also give you a chance to apologize," Maggie interrupted, her placid expression transforming to iron determination.

Bill reddened. "APOLOGIZE? What in God's name would I have to apologize for?"

Amazingly, she ignored his irreverent usage of the Lord's name, choosing merely to dry her hands while pinning him with a cool stare.

"I've raised four children, William. I'm not blind, nor am I stupid. If what went on at the dinner table last night was any indication of what occurred after I'd left the room, it would certainly explain why they cut their visit short. Did you honestly think I wouldn't notice?"

Bill grit his teeth. "Fox Mulder has ruined Dana's life. He's repeatedly endangered her with his ridiculous quest and he's alienated her from our family. I can't help trying to make Dana come to her senses."

Maggie slapped the towel down on the counter and stepped forward, infringing on his personal space. Bill unconsciously backtracked, startled by the intense anger in his mother's brown eyes.

"You'll help it when you're in *my* home, William Scully. Fox was my guest, and I expected you to treat him as such. Dana's *job* has put her life in jeopardy, a job that she chose before ever meeting Fox. On the other hand, he's saved her more times than I care to think about. And for the *record*, the only one alienating Dana from this family is *you*."

Bill started to scuff his toe into the ceramic tile, realized he must look like a recalcitrant 10-year-old, and folded his arms instead. "I don't see how you can defend him, Mom. The guy is a loser, plain and simple."

Maggie sighed, her wrath obviously spent. "It's worse than that, Billy. I love him. But what's more important is that Dana loves him. And if you love her -- real love, and not just lip service -- you'll accept Fox Mulder as an integral part of her life and move on."

When he continued to stare sullenly at the floor, Maggie sighed again and returned to the dishes. Sometimes it was painfully evident her children had inherited more of the Irish in Bill than just his red hair -- mulishness and a quick temper, for instance. She was pulled from her reverie by her son's muttered words.

"I'll take the hat. I can't promise anything more."

She let her eyes drift closed and bobbed her head, listening to him stomp up the stairs. A small concession, but sometimes you had to take what you could get.

Georgetown Medical
10:38 a.m.

"Looking good, Mulder. Looking very, very good."

Nick Brewer rapidly flipped through the chart's pages, then placed it on the table and pulled out a penlight. Mulder submitted to the examination of his pupils and opened his mouth obediently, grimacing when Brewer removed the tongue depressor.

"Can't they give those things a better flavor?" he complained. "It's like licking a tree."

Brewer raised an eyebrow, slipping the ends of his stethoscope into his ears and warming the metal with his palm. "And you've licked a lot of trees in your lifetime? Breathe."

Mulder rolled his eyes but inhaled, coughing once or twice after a particularly deep breath. Brewer's casual demeanor switched to grave concentration as he touched the scope to various points on Mulder's chest and back. Nodding in satisfaction, he pulled out the earpieces and looped the instrument around his neck, the ends brushing his psychedelic tie.

"Still some crackles but you've made tremendous progress. The CAT scan was clear, and though still very low, your white count is recovering. Dana must be doing a good job of sitting on you."

Scully, seated on a chair in the corner, inclined her head with a small grin. Mulder resisted the urge to stick out his tongue.

"That's what the tests say," Brewer continued, leaning against the foot of the gurney and studying Mulder's face. "How do you *feel*?"

"Sick and tired of being sick and tired," Mulder growled, his lip thrust out petulantly. "I'm good for virtually nothing right now, and it's making me crazy."

Brewer snorted. "Hate to tell you, dude, but you'd better get used to it -- for a while, anyway. I know you've probably heard this a million times, but your body took an incredible beating. Only time and lots of rest will get you back to where you want to be." He shook his head, open amazement on his face. "Though I gotta say that your progress so far is way beyond my wildest expectations. You have an unusual capacity for healing."

Brewer had turned to retrieve the chart, missing when Mulder flinched visibly. Scully, eagle-eyed as always, stood and walked to Mulder's side, tangling her fingers with his.

"So, are we cleared for take off?" she asked lightly. "Our flight leaves in a couple hours."

"I give you my blessing," Brewer replied as he scribbled furiously on the chart. He paused and pointed the pen at Mulder. "With all the obvious restrictions. I think a change of scenery will do you good, but your most strenuous activity should be lying on the beach and soaking up some rays. And be careful to only eat or drink food at the resort -- your immune system can't handle a bad tamale at this stage of the game."

Mulder slid off the gurney and offered up a mock salute.
Brewer walked them down to the waiting room where Grey was perusing the sports section of a relatively intact newspaper.

"Did you pass?" he asked Mulder, standing and stretching gingerly with one hand pressed to the small of his back.

"Beam 'em up, Scotty," Brewer said with a little grin. He turned to shake Mulder's hand. "I want to see you back here in a week. Make sure you don't undo all the progress."

"I promise to explicitly follow the instructions of my personal physician," Mulder replied, raising his hand. He leaned over to add in Scully's ear, "Or should I say follow the *explicit* instructions of my personal physician?"

Scully bit the inside of her cheek to hide the smirk. "Be a good boy, Mulder, and maybe I'll let *you* play doctor," she murmured wickedly.

His smile widened -- became slightly lascivious. "Promises, promises, babe."

Brewer was already headed back down the hall when Scully dragged her attention from Mulder and called after him.

"Nick! Do you happen to know if Elena is working today?
I'd like to say hello."

He glanced back over his shoulder. "Don't know, but I can find out. Hang on."

Grey shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'd like to see her myself." He thought for a moment. "Do you know if Walt ever made his move?"

Scully's smile could have rivaled the Mona Lisa. "I couldn't say. But I think it's a question worth pursuing."

Mulder's jaw dropped. "What are you talking about? Elena...and *Skinner*?"

"Oh come on! Are you saying you didn't notice?" Grey asked incredulously. "I thought it was pretty apparent."

"Mulder can be a bit dense about these things," Scully said dryly.

"I am not... I was sick!" Mulder whined, folding his arms. "And since when is "Walt's" sex life any of my business?"

"Gotta hand it to you, little brother," Grey said, slapping him on the back. "You give the term 'oblivious' a whole new meaning."

Mulder was still groping for a retort for that when Brewer called to them.

"You're in luck! She's working Cardiology -- three floors up. Ask at the desk if you don't see her."

As they waited for the elevator, Mulder cleared his throat. "Scully? What Brewer said about my ability to heal so quickly... Do you suppose...? I mean, could that be part of..." As he fumbled for words that wouldn't seem to come, Mulder jabbed viciously at the call button.

Scully caught his hand in both of her own, her thumbs rubbing over the knuckles. "Are you asking if I think that it could be a product of genetic manipulation?" she asked gently.

Mulder glanced away, his teeth clenched. "It crossed my mind, yeah."

Scully considered carefully, mindful of the nearly imperceptible tremor in his hand. "I won't lie to you, love. I had the same thought, and it's certainly possible. On the other hand, we have no basis for proving it. Everybody heals at his or her own rate. Yours just may be exceptionally rapid."

"And I don't think you should start jumping at shadows,"
Grey put in quietly. "If you look for this in every slightly extreme possibility you'll only make yourself nuts."

"Easy to say," Mulder said darkly. "When birth order assignments were handed out you drew the lucky number."

Grey's face collapsed. "I know that. And I'm sorry, Fox."

The elevator doors opened but Mulder put a restraining hand on Grey's arm before he could enter. "I'm the one who's sorry. You didn't deserve that."

One corner of Grey's mouth lifted in an insubstantial smile. "Yeah. And *you* don't deserve any of this. So do me a favor and don't think about it -- at least for the next five days, okay?"

Mulder stepped into the elevator and draped himself against the back wall. "I'm trying, Grey. I'm trying."

The fourth floor was oddly silent, lacking the usual bustle of activity typical to a busy hospital. Influenced by the stillness, they followed the signs toward the nurses' station without speaking. Grey let his eyes wander, noting the presence of patients in the passing rooms but the absence of staff. He realized he'd fallen quite a bit behind, and had quickened his steps to catch up, when he saw his brother round a corner -- and jerk to a halt.

Mulder had just taken Scully's hand, raising his eyes to scan the hallway for Elena, when an angry voice shattered the quiet. The next several seconds slowed to a snail's pace as his senses recorded a deluge of information and instinct kicked into high gear.

* Sharp odor of alcohol, sparkle of broken glass, and an ever widening slick of clear liquid. *

*Group of nurses with Elena on the fringe, huddled together and clutching each other for support, soft frightened sobbing not quite muffled by trembling hands.*

*Middle-aged man, disheveled and wild-eyed, pressing a gun to the head of a white-coated, whiter-faced doctor, muscular arm curled tightly around the pale skin of the physician's throat.*

*Closed door to the stairwell not ten paces beyond the gunman, blood red EXIT sign above flickering on and off from a light bulb past its prime. *

*Steady blip of a heart monitor through an open door to the right, hooked to a snoring and blessedly oblivious elderly man.*

*Sharp intake of Scully's breath. *

* Pad of Grey's sneakered feet approaching rapidly at his back.*

Mulder slammed on the brakes, trying frantically to back up before the gunman could spot them. Even as his feet reversed their motion, the crazed eyes locked onto his own and the gun swung outward until he could feel the sights boring into his brain.

"You two! Hold it right there!"

Purely on reflex, Mulder extended his left arm, still shielded by the wall, backward with the palm facing out. He heard Grey's footsteps cease, felt him standing just behind his left shoulder where the corner protected him from the gunman's view. A nearly giddy sense of relief washed over him and left his legs rubbery.

"Put your hands up where I can see them!" the man shrieked, tightening his elbow around the doctor's neck and waving the pistol back and forth. "NOW!"

Mulder complied, keeping their gazes linked but sensing Scully's capitulation. Grey's voice was little more than a puff of air.

"What do you want me to do?"

Mulder swallowed, the dry click of his throat sounding abnormally loud to his hyper-attuned ears. "Skinner," he growled, never moving numb lips. "Hurry."

"Get over here and join the party. You too, Red. And keep
those hands up!"

Making his movements slow and deliberate, Mulder nodded. "Take it easy. You're the boss," he said with as much calm as he could muster. Jumbled images of a bank left him feeling disoriented for a moment, and he gave his head a sharp snap to clear it.

"Just shut up and MOVE!"

Clamping his lips together, Mulder moved. The brush of Scully's body against his own was torment rather than comfort. He sensed her fear -- knew it mirrored his own. Fear for her like a bad taste on his tongue, obliterating fear for himself. Only Grey's stealthily receding footfalls gave him a crumb of hope.

Georgetown Memorial
11:03 a.m.

"You armed?" Mulder muttered as they neared the fidgeting gunman.

Scully snorted, and without looking he could sense her eyes roll. "I thought I was bound for six days of fun and sun in Mexico, Mulder. No, I am *not* armed."

"I want everyone to sit down against the wall, hands where I can see 'em," the gunman ordered, his gaze jumping nervously from doorway to doorway. "Hurry up!"

Mulder backed up as directed and studied the man peripherally, carefully masking his interest. Large in both stature and weight, hands rough and callused, clad in faded jeans, a flannel shirt and heavy workboots. Thinning blond hair wreathing his head and skin still bearing the bronze of a summer tan. Facial features amazingly delicate in comparison to the bulky form, and brown eyes...

Mulder's stomach did a slow roll, plunging to take up residence somewhere in the vicinity of his toes. The eyes, behind the bluster of lowered brows, were wide and terrified. Not the eyes of a career criminal or a fanatic consumed by a cause. The eyes of a man driven by desperation past the point of all rational thought. A very bad sign.

Mulder's shoulders connected sharply with the wall, jarring him from his reflection. He slid down to a crouch, folded hands braced on bent knees, and let his eyes track down the hallway. Four rooms to his left, split evenly between both sides of the corridor. When he rotated his head to check in the opposite direction, Elena's presence at his side startled him. She sent him a tight-lipped smile, keeping her own alarm in check. "Good to see you, Mulder, but you picked a heck of a time to visit."

"What's going on?" he hissed, part of his focus still trained on the gunman, who was berating a whimpering nurse for not reacting quickly enough.

"His name is Daniel Rynne. His wife is dying from advanced heart disease and unfortunately was rejected as a candidate for transplant. I guess he figures this is the way to change Dr. Lawrence's mind," Elena said, sotto voice.

"Somehow I don't think a Smith and Wesson is going to put
Dr. Lawrence in the mood to operate," Scully murmured, listening in from Mulder's right shoulder.

"It's worse than that," Elena replied. "He claims he's got a bomb."

"Now how 'bout you explain to me one more time why you refuse to save my Theresa's life," Rynne snarled at the doctor, still in a chokehold. "And try it without all the fancy doctor doubletalk."

Mulder watched Dr. Lawrence vainly try to speak through the constriction of his throat, the words thready and unintelligible amidst his frantic gulps for air. His quivering hands flew up to clutch at Rynne's sleeve but the gunman leaned backward until the physician's feet kicked impotently in midair. Mulder tilted his head sharply forward, losing Elena's hushed description of Rynne's threats as his focus narrowed to a pinpoint.

Rynne's shirt had worked its way loose from his pants on one side, revealing not just the caramel skin of his belly, but the slate gray of plastic explosives. Then Rynne dropped Dr. Lawrence back onto the tile and the bomb winked neatly out of sight.

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut and tapped his head rhythmically against the wall. "Scully, he's wired," he muttered, cracking open one eye to absorb her reaction.

"You mean he's *wearing* it?"

"Two words, Scully. Cradock Marine."

Her breath caught in her throat, and she laid her small hand over his. "Mulder, I know what you're thinking, but you're not up for this," she hissed. "We need to sit this one out and wait for Skinner."

Mulder registered her plea with only half his brain. Rynne was screaming again, pummeling Dr. Lawrence with the butt of his weapon until the man lolled limply in his grasp. A flicker of movement caught Mulder's eye and he snapped his head to the right, observing several heads cautiously poking out through open doors. He closed his eyes, trying to ignore Rynne's ranting, Scully's hushed entreaties, and the oppressive smell of panic as he marshaled his thoughts.

"Where's the most vacant section of this hospital?" he asked Elena roughly. "A wing or floor where there aren't many patients? Are there any sections not currently in use?"

Elena's eyes slid over to Scully's distraught face before she answered. "The southwest wing on the fourth floor is under construction. There are no patients right now."

Mulder grimaced, his mind conjuring up the image of three floors beneath them, should the worst come to pass. "What about the first three levels under that wing? Are they heavily populated?"

Elena, sensing where he was headed, frowned in thought. "The cafeteria. And most of the diagnostic equipment - the labs, X-ray, and so forth. A few rooms with patients but not many."

Scully's nails pierced the cotton of Mulder's shirt, digging into the soft flesh of his upper arm. "Mulder, what are you thinking?"

"Scully, we can't just sit around and wait for Skinner! Sooner or later some unsuspecting patient is going to come blundering out of his room and Rynne is going to overreact by blowing us all to bits!"

"Red! I said hands where I can see 'em, not on loverboy there! And no talking!"

Two quick strides and Rynne towered over them, the doctor a giant rag doll in his arms. Scully released her death's grip on Mulder's bicep, hastily lifting her hands in a show of submission. Mulder considered her flared nostrils, quickened respiration, and compressed lips, recognizing the anger that Rynne misinterpreted as fright.

"That's better. Just do as you're told, Red, and you won't get hurt," he snarled, brandishing the weapon and tightening his iron hold on Dr. Lawrence until the man whimpered.

"What about your wife?" Mulder asked quietly.

Rynne, who had been about to walk away, spun on his heel to glare down at Mulder. "What did you say?"

"I said, what about your wife? She's the reason you're doing this, right? The reason we're all here? Are you so sure *she* won't get hurt?" Mulder's voice was low, conversational, and he met Rynne's gaze without flinching.

"SHUT UP! What the hell would you know about it?"

"I know that your wife is very sick. And that you're desperate enough to resort to anything, even violence, to help her. But this isn't the way."

"And I bet you have all the answers, don't you, professor?" Rynne sneered.

He shoved Lawrence aside, ignoring the fact that the physician collapsed into a white puddle, in order to grab a fistful of Mulder's shirt and haul him to his feet. Jamming the gun snugly under Mulder's chin, he slammed him up against the wall and proceeded to examine first one hand and then the other before his lip curled and he jerked his head dismissively.

"Just like I thought. You're just like the high and mighty Doc Lawrence over there -- never done a day of hard labor but you look down on those of us that do. Think you're smarter than we are, just because you can put a few letters after your name." Rynne thrust his face so close to Mulder's he could feel the flecks of spittle that sprayed from the gunman's lips. "Well, I ain't gonna fall for a load of overeducated bullshit! Theresa deserves a chance same as anyone, and by God, she's gonna get it!"

Rynne emphasized his words by yanking Mulder forward and then ramming him back against the wall. His head connected with an audible crack, and bright sparks of light and pain obliterated his vision. He heard Scully's gasp, sensed her restless movement, and fought to regain his equilibrium.

"Then you'd better take this party of yours somewhere else," he said quickly, before Rynne could turn his attention on her. "Hasn't it occurred to you that when the police show up your wife could be caught in the crossfire? Or that if you really do have a bomb, as you claim, she'll be blown up with the rest of us?"

Rynne's mouth hung open for a moment as he considered Mulder's words, then it snapped shut and his eyes narrowed. "Oh, there's a bomb all right, professor. Take a look for yourself."

He hiked up his shirt to reveal a makeshift vest fashioned of plastic explosives and webbed with wires. Far from an expert in such matters, even Mulder could see that the bomb was large enough to do serious damage to both property and lives. Schooling his expression to hide his panic face, Mulder calmly looked from the bomb to Rynne's overbright eyes.

"I can see you're serious. But that doesn't change the fact that if you set that thing off she'll be one of the first to go. Is that what you want?"

"You know it's not! What are you trying to say?" Rynne growled.

"That no one is going to take your threats seriously when they endanger the very woman you want to save. If you move up a floor your wife will be out of the immediate danger zone. You don't really want her to see you like this, do you?"

Rynne surprised him, his belligerent demeanor crumbling along with his face. "She's unconscious. She can't hear or see anything." His grief vanished a heartbeat later, replaced by cold determination. "But Dr. Lawrence is going to fix that, aren't you, doctor?" he said, voice rising in volume as he loomed over the physician still cowering on the floor. "He's gonna put my Theresa back on that transplant list and get her a heart! Aren't you, Doctor?" He punctuated each question with a sharp nudge of his foot, pursuing Lawrence as he scrabbled backwards like a crab.

"*Back*?" Mulder asked, more to distract Rynne from tormenting the doctor than to satisfy curiosity. "You mean her name was on the recipient list and he removed it?"

"She was first in line!" Rynne screamed, the hand not clutching his weapon repeatedly clenching into a fist and then flexing open. "Number one on the list, the next available heart would have gone to her! And then he tells me she's no longer a good candidate for surgery, that he's taking her name off! And he starts spouting a bunch of big words that no one could understand, as if it'll justify giving my wife a death sentence. Well, I ain't stupid, and I can smell a load of shit when it's shoveled into my lap! I know the real reason he took that heart from Theresa was so he could give it to somebody with the money to pay him for it! Well, he's damn well gonna give it back!"

Rynne lunged for Dr. Lawrence, catching hold of his white lab coat and shaking him until his teeth clacked together.

"Wait!" Mulder said, taking several steps forward only to be halted by Rynne's gun in his face. "You don't need to do this, Mr. Rynne. If what you say is true, then all you need is your wife's chart and a second opinion. If another doctor agrees that Theresa should have the operation, she'll regain her spot on the list."

Scully winced, dropping her head to conceal her expression from Mulder and Rynne. To the best of her knowledge, the decision to add or remove a patient from the organ recipient list was made by committee, not left to the whim of a single physician. Though she recognized Mulder's attempt to pacify Rynne and buy them time, she feared he was backing them all into a very tight corner.

Rynne hesitated, eyes flitting back and forth between the pale, moaning man in his grasp and Mulder's calm sincerity. Mulder struggled to exude a sense of openness and reassurance, though his heart pounded and he could feel a maddening trickle of sweat between his shoulder blades.

"It's too late," Rynne said, but the protest was weak and uncertain and he loosened his hold on Lawrence. "Where will I get a second opinion? How would I know who to trust? Any other doctor in this hospital will only back up what he says."

"I'm a doctor." Scully's quiet declaration sent a chill scampering down Mulder's spine and his shoulders sagged in resignation. "I'll look over her chart and give you my professional opinion. But only if you agree to leave these nurses here and move up to the fourth floor."

Rynne squinted at her. "You don't look like a doctor."

Scully pursed her lips. "And I'm sure under normal circumstances you don't look like a man who takes hostages and threatens to blow up a hospital. Appearances can be deceiving."

Rynne glowered at her acid tone, then the corners of his mouth lifted grudgingly. "You're all right, Red. Somebody get her Theresa's chart," he demanded, waving his hand at the line of cringing nurses.

Elena quickly rose and walked down the corridor, disappearing into a room four doors to the right. She returned a minute later bearing the clipboard, her face expressionless as she surrendered it to Scully.

Scully glanced briefly at the top page before tucking it under her arm. "Upstairs," she said firmly.

Rynne's forehead creased with anger but he assented with a quick dip of his chin. "But the doc and your boyfriend join us," he countered, pulling Lawrence close and gesturing with the gun for Mulder to precede him. "If I even *think* you're lying to me, he gets a bullet and I push the button."

Mulder raised his hands and started toward the door to the stairwell, casting a fleeting look of regret at Scully. When Rynne's attention was temporarily diverted by the difficulty of maneuvering the nearly catatonic Dr. Lawrence after Mulder, Elena leaned in to whisper in Scully's ear.

"Look out. Dr. Lawrence may be a bastard with no bedside manner but he's a good surgeon. If he voted Rynne's wife off that list, there must be a valid reason."

"RED! Get over here!"

Scully bobbed her head, an acknowledgement of both Elena's warning and Rynne's command. She followed Mulder into the stairwell, observing the heaviness of his steps and the way his hand gripped the railing. He had to be running on his last reserves of energy, close to complete collapse from fatigue. Yet she was grateful for his presence, hopeful that between the two of them they could avert Rynne from his path of self-destruction. If ever they needed Mulder's eerily accurate profiling skills, now was the time.

She could sense Rynne's presence behind her -- the measured thump of his boots and muttered curses as he dragged the gibbering Dr. Lawrence up each flight of steps.

*Only Mulder,* she thought in bitter amusement, unconsciously shaking her head. *Who else could go to the hospital for a routine doctor's appointment and wind up hostage to a gun-wielding, bomb-toting lunatic?*

Mulder had reached the top of the second flight and was holding open the cumbersome fire door. As if sensing her thoughts, he stuck out his lower lip and crinkled his brows. "Scullee! This isn't my fault!" he hissed resentfully.

Scully released a long breath of air and a tiny smile, pausing to run her index finger across the back of his hand. Mulder rotated his hand so that his palm curved around the finger, squeezing it gently. For a split second the fear receded and they shared the joke, weak and trembling as it might be.

"Keep movin', Red! Or I might change my mind about the value of your boyfriend!"

Rynne's snarl snuffed the light from her face, reality reasserting itself with painful intensity. Scully ducked her head, pulling her finger from the warm cocoon of Mulder's hand and continuing through the doorway.

Georgetown Memorial
11:10 a.m.

"This is Skinner."

Grey coiled the telephone cord around his thumb, the steel band across his chest loosening just a bit. Five minutes of clinging to the shreds of his patience, feeling like a ping pong ball bounced from one extension to another, but at last he had the man himself. Sucking in a calming breath, he gathered his scattered thoughts.

"Walt, this is Grey. Don't talk, just listen for a minute." A quick glance at the two nurses standing anxiously to his left, and Grey turned slightly, lowering his voice. "I'm at Georgetown Memorial. From what I can gather, there's a hostage situation in progress on the third floor, the northwest wing. A single gunman, undetermined number of hostages. I've already talked to hospital security and they've cordoned off the area -- no one comes or goes. So far the gunman hasn't attempted communication with anyone on the outside, but you'd better get a team down here right away."

"Hang on." Amusement displaced fear for a moment, Grey's lips twitching at the sound of Fox's hard-nosed boss barking orders to his secretary. A flurry of shuffling papers and slamming drawers, then Walt was back on the line.

"You're saving the best for last, aren't you?" he asked, but the dry tone thinly masked his concern.

"Fox and Dana walked right into the middle of it," Grey confirmed grimly. "I barely got out myself, thanks to Fox's quick reflexes. And Walt... I think Elena is up there too."

A string of creative expletives gave credence to Skinner as an ex-marine and inexplicably cheered Grey. "Has anyone called the police?"

"Not to my knowledge. So far, not many people know what's going on, and I've been calling the shots."

"Let's keep it that way, for now. You sit tight and I'll be there ASAP." Skinner paused, and when he continued his voice had abruptly switched from assistant director to friend. "They'll be all right, Grey. Mulder is a profiler, he's got years of training and experience in just this type of situation."

Grey strove to accept the reassurance, couldn't bring himself to do so. "Seven days ago Fox had one foot in the grave, Walt. He's not up to this, no matter how thorough his training."

Skinner didn't try to argue. "On my way."

Grey replaced the receiver, tamping down the overwhelming desire to act, to return to the third floor in a foolhardy attempt to rescue his brother. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, wishing he could block out the image of Fox, pale and gasping for breath, fighting for his life in the ICU. Yes, he'd made amazing strides toward recovery the past week, but he was still a shadow of his normally energetic self. Regardless of the danger in catching a stray bullet, the stress alone couldn't be good for Fox's fragile immune system.

Grey's morose thoughts were interrupted when the stairwell door swung open and a group of agitated, weeping nurses tumbled through, a security guard on their heels. Grey crossed the hallway in three long strides, his eyes searching hopefully for his brother and Dana but finding Elena's dazed face instead.

"Elena! Elena!" he called, one arm swinging in a wide arc to catch her attention.

"Sir, please step back. She can't speak with you now," the guard, an older man with salt and pepper hair and an obvious paunch, looked half-terrified and wholly out of his element.

Grey impatiently pulled out his badge as Elena freed her hand from the iron grip of a younger nurse and hurried to his side. "Detective McKenzie, Raleigh PD. I know all about what's going on up there -- I'm the one that called security. I suggest you take these ladies to the staff lounge. The FBI is on its way, and they'll want to talk to everyone."

Looking extremely relieved to have some instruction, the guard ushered the little group down the corridor. Grey turned to speak to Elena, finding himself face to face with Nick Brewer instead.

"What's going on?" Nick demanded quietly, his eyes darting from the departing guard, to Elena, and then back to Grey. "Where are your brother and Dana, and why do those nurses and YOU (he indicated Elena with a small jerk of his head) look as if you just saw a ghost?"

"More like a monster," Grey muttered under his breath.

Elena looked at him, shaking her head. "Not a monster, Grey. Just a desperate man willing to try anything to save someone he loves."

Grey's eyes hardened. "Yeah. Well, I'm feeling a little desperate myself. I'm assuming he still has Fox and Dana?"

Elena nodded, her brown eyes warm with empathy. "And Dr. Lawrence."

"What are you saying? Will one of you please give me the secret decoder ring so I know what the hell you're talking about?" Brewer snapped, exasperation replacing his normally benign calm.

"There's a gunman on the third floor holding Fox, Dana, and this Dr. Lawrence hostage. A patient's disgruntled family member?" Grey waited for Elena's acknowledgement.

"Husband. His name is Daniel Rynne. His wife was just removed from the transplant list. That's essentially a death sentence," Elena said, rubbing wearily just above her right temple.

"So he's got nothing to lose," Grey mused grimly. "Not a promising set of circumstances."

"It's worse than that. He's wearing a bomb, Grey, strapped to his chest. He says that if Dr. Lawrence doesn't guarantee her a new heart he's going to flip the switch. Dana agreed to look over her medical records - trying to buy time, I guess."

Her words robbed all the oxygen from Grey's lungs, leaving him lightheaded with dread. He sensed Brewer stiffen, heard him swallow hard before mustering a shaky query.

"What can I do?"

When Grey didn't immediately respond, Elena reached out to wrap her fingers around his arm just above the elbow. A gentle squeeze brought him back from the knife's edge of panic, grounding him. He slowly drew in a deep breath and released it, a slight bob of his head to signal he'd regained control.

"Begin implementing whatever procedures you have for emergency closure of this hospital. See that any incoming patients are rerouted to other hospitals and clear out as many of the ones present but not admitted that you can. And whatever you do, DON'T mention the word bomb unless you want mass hysteria on our hands."

Brewer offered up a mock salute, but the tremor in his fingers spoiled the effect. Grey watched him trot off in the direction of the main desk, then returned his attention to Elena.

"Are they still on three?"

"Mulder talked him into moving up to the fourth floor," she began, breaking off when Grey groaned and slapped one hand to his forehead.

"He moved *up*? Is he crazy? That's just one more floor to..."

Elena's brows drew together. "The southwest wing of four is under construction, Grey. NO patients. And the floors beneath consist mainly of diagnostic services and the cafeteria. It wasn't just an impulse --Mulder knew what he was doing."

One corner of Grey's mouth turned up at the indignation in her tone. "Okay, okay. So there's a method to his madness. Sorry I doubted him." He ducked his head a little to study her face. "Did he seem...all right?"

She grasped the significance of the question immediately. "I'd say he was handling the situation quite well for someone who was circling the drain ten days ago. Dr. Lawrence, on the other hand looked ready to piss his pants."

Grey's mouth dropped open in shock before he burst into laughter. "Elena, you've got a hell of a way of whistling in the dark. I needed that."

She smiled, but her eyes were sad. "I know. I'm going to give Nick a hand with getting the ball rolling. Page me if you need me."

Grey slumped against the wall, shoving his hands into his pockets and glancing at the wall clock. Hopefully Walt would be arriving soon -- he was more than willing to relinquish control. His years with homicide in Raleigh left him ill prepared to handle a potential disaster of this magnitude. Bad enough a hostage situation, but now a bomb thrown into the mix.

"Least things can't get much worse," he mumbled, closing his eyes.

"For the hundredth time, I'm looking for Dana Scully! She was here with a patient named Fox Mulder. M U L D E R! Now are they still here, or not?"

Grey's eyes flew open. The voice rose above the buzz of emergency room clamor, loud, angry, and all too familiar. The cap of auburn hair only confirmed his fears.

Grey buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God. They just did."

4th Floor
11:30 a.m.

"Been married long, Mr. Rynne?" Mulder asked, one long finger tracing patterns in the construction dust that littered the floor.

Rynne tore his eyes from where Scully sat methodically reviewing charts and test results to squint suspiciously. Mulder's face was guileless, his body posture a relaxed sprawl against the wall. Rynne's stiff shoulders slackened but the gun remained pointed toward Lawrence's head. The doctor remained rigid with terror, nearly hyperventilating.

"Twenty-three years. Got married right out of high school."

Mulder whistled low and shook his head. "Staying together that long is no small feat. You must love her very much."

"Figured that out all by yourself, did ya, Professor? You really are a genius," Rynne sneered, but his eyes were an open wound.

"The name is Mulder. Have any kids?"

Scully glanced sharply at Mulder from behind the curtain of her hair. Their eyes locked, communication flowing without a word uttered.

*What are you doing, Mulder? Don't mess with this guy!*

*Trust me.*

Scully rolled her eyes, a tiny grunt of annoyance her response as she refocused on the chart in her lap.

"Got two. Girl's a senior in high school. Boy's a freshman at University of Maryland." Rynne's terse reply couldn't disguise his obvious pride.

"Maryland, huh? That's great, you must be really proud of him."

"First Rynne ever to go to college. Damn right I'm proud." He backed carefully over to a window with Lawrence pressed to his chest, weapon never wavering. To the left was a circular opening in the wall that led to a chute used for bringing construction materials directly to the fourth floor. Rynne leaned against it, the cool draft of outside air drying the sweat on his brow. "How 'bout you and Red? Got any kids?"

He should have seen that one coming -- couldn't raise the barriers quickly enough. Mulder's eyes skipped involuntarily to Scully, but she averted her own, ostensibly buried in the data.

"No. No kids," Mulder said quietly, his voice tight and level.

Rynne pulled his eyes from the view to peruse Mulder's face. "Can't, huh? That's a bitch. Kids are the only thing that make this damn life worthwhile."

"Mr. Rynne. Daniel. What are your kids going to think? Have you considered them?"

Rynne's face darkened and he stalked angrily across to loom over Mulder. "Of course I considered them! You think I'm stupid? Or is it just that you think I'm selfish, that I'm doing all this for me?" The gun dipped to caress Mulder's forehead, right between his eyes. "My kids need their mother, Mr. Mulder. And, by God, they're gonna have her!"

"They need their father too," Mulder persisted, meeting Rynne's thunderous glare. "You set off that bomb and they'll lose you both. Who's going to help pay your son's tuition if you're blown to bits? Who's going to be there to watch him get his diploma?"

"Mulder..." Scully's voice was barely audible, yet the alarm was evident.

"You think I want to be doing this? Think I enjoy turning myself into a bomb? I HAD NO CHOICE! I didn't know what the hell else to do!" Rynne maintained his chokehold on the doctor but the gun dropped to his side. "I don't think you understand, Mr. Mulder. Theresa *is* my life. She's a part of me now, and I couldn't exist without her."

Mulder closed his eyes and swallowed, feeling the heat of Scully's gaze through his sealed lids.

*You make me a whole person.*

"I understand all right, Daniel. I've even been there. But this isn't the answer." Mulder opened his eyes, saw he'd made a small chink in Rynne's armor. "She wouldn't want this, would she?"

Rynne stared at him blankly, then brought the gun back up to Lawrence's temple and turned toward Scully.

"I don't want to hurt anyone. I just need Red to look at Theresa's chart, to see that she deserves that operation. Then everything will be okay, you'll see."

At his desperately hopeful words Scully lifted her eyes from the data and flipped the folder shut. Mulder read her expression, and his heart plummeted.

"Mr. Rynne." She paused, obviously fumbling for the right words.

Rynne went still, then snugged the gun tighter under Lawrence's chin. "I may not have a college diploma, but I can read people. I can tell you're not a good liar, Red. Your face is gonna show me if you do. So you'd better level with me and not try any of Lawrence's fancy doctor doublespeak. I'll know if you're just telling me what you think I want to hear, and I won't hesitate to throw the switch."

Scully nodded, clearing her throat nervously. "Mr. Rynne," she said gently, running her tongue across dry lips, "I've reviewed all the tests and treatments your wife has undergone. I have no affiliation with this hospital, nor am I acquainted with any of Mrs. Rynne's doctors, therefore I've assessed her condition with an impartial and unbiased eye."

"Go on." Rynne's face was lifeless, as if he sensed the blow about to be dealt.

Scully licked her lips again, sneaking a quick peek at Mulder, who gave a barely perceptible nod. "There was a time, as recently as a month ago, when a transplant would have benefited your wife. That time has unfortunately passed. The vessels surrounding the heart have further deteriorated to such a degree that attaching the donor organ would be nearly impossible. In addition, her general health and strength have sharply declined, leaving her in a weakened state that makes surgery not only inadvisable, but dangerous." She sucked in a deep breath, then resolutely looked into Rynne's pleading eyes. "Dr. Lawrence was right to remove Theresa from the transplant list, Mr. Rynne. If she were to undergo that operation now, I have little doubt that it would kill her."

Georgetown Memorial
11:45 a.m.

"So let me see if I've got this straight. Some crackpot with a dying wife and a homemade bomb waltzed into this hospital and has taken a doctor, Mulder, and my little sister hostage? And he's threatening to set off the bomb if his wife doesn't get an operation?"

Bill's voice was even, but cold as the blue eyes that bore relentlessly into Grey. He pressed his lips tightly together and nodded, wondering just how Dana's brother managed to make him feel like an accomplice to the "crackpot."

"That's right."

Bill tightened his jaw and deflected his gaze to a point just above Grey's left shoulder, absorbing the news. Abruptly, his eyes dropped back to Grey's face and he took a half step forward.

"Then why in the hell are you here, sitting around on your ass doing nothing? What's being done to get her out of there?"

Fury, raw and primal in its intensity, surged through Grey's entire body until he was blind, deaf, and dumb with it. Bill's unjust criticism offended him on a number of levels. Anxiety and frustration with being thrust into a position of authority in an emergency far beyond anything he'd ever experienced in fifteen years of law enforcement. Fear for Fox and Dana's lives. And outrage at Bill's reference to saving Dana while pointedly ignoring Fox.

Grey took his own step forward, unaware that his hands had curled into fists. "I've already contacted their boss at the Bureau - he has a team on the way. They've closed the hospital and are in the process of evacuating the floors most at risk. Everything possible is being done to ensure Dana *and* Fox -- not to mention the hundreds of patients and employees -- come out of this alive."

At the mention of Mulder's name, Bill's lip curled. "Once again your brother has managed to land Dana in the middle of life-threatening circumstances. Is it any wonder I'm not one of his biggest fans?"

Grey's jaw dropped, astonishment temporarily outweighing his anger. "You can't honestly blame *Fox* for this? He's as much a victim as Dana --they were both just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Funny how that seems to keep happening. Maybe it's because just being with *him* is the wrong place and time," Bill sneered.

Grey started counting to ten, got to three, and was in the process of drawing back his fist when he heard someone call his name.

"Detective McKenzie? There's a call for you -- he says it's urgent."

*Saved by the bell, you ignorant, pig-headed bastard.*

"Excuse me," he said with exaggerated courtesy and stalked down the hallway to accept the receiver.

"Grey? I'm only about two minutes out. What's the status on our gunman?"

Grey let his eyes slip shut, ignoring Bill hovering at his shoulder. "Our gunman's got a bomb, Walt. He's released everyone but Fox, Dana, and his wife's surgeon. Seems she was eliminated as a candidate for a heart transplant and he wants to change the doc's mind."

Skinner muttered something that sounded like an obscenity under his breath, then asked tersely. "Elena?"

"She's safe. She's the one that told me about the bomb."

"Does she have any idea how big?"

"Big enough that Fox manipulated the guy into moving to a wing on the fourth floor that's under construction. He did us a real favor, Walt. It's the least populated section of this hospital, and we've already begun evacuating the surrounding floors." Grey heard Bill hiss at his words of praise, fought the desire to turn and flip him the bird.

"You've got to close the hospital to incoming patients and..."

"Done. Elena and Dr. Brewer are implementing disaster protocols."

"Okay, I can see the hospital now. We'll cordon off the area around the southwest wing and... Shit!" Skinner broke off and Grey could hear the faint wail of sirens.

"Walt? What's wrong?" Grey demanded.

"Who called the D.C. cops?" Skinner growled impatiently.
"They're converging on the hospital as we speak, complete with a SWAT team."

The sirens grew exponentially louder, and Grey realized he was hearing them through the ER doors and not just the phone. "Maybe one of the security guards. Is this a problem?" he asked uneasily.

Skinner blew out a gust of air. "It muddies the waters a bit," he admitted. "Don't worry, I'll handle things out here. Has this guy..."

"Rynne," Grey supplied.

"Has Rynne attempted to contact anyone? Has there been any communication at all since he released the other hostages?"

"No. Elena said Scully agreed to look over his wife's medical records, hoping to stall for time," Grey explained.

The thunk of a car door shutting, and then Skinner was speaking authoritatively to someone on the other end of the phone.

"Assistant Director Skinner from the Bureau. I need to speak to whoever is in charge right now." Then he was back online. "I'm sending two agents inside to oversee the evacuation. They'll also round up any witnesses for questioning." He paused, then said with a trace of wry humor, "I suppose telling you to get out of there now would be a waste of my breath."

"Save it for the D.C. cops -- you'll need it. I'm going to find Elena and see if she can use an extra pair of hands," Grey replied. Inspiration struck and he continued, "But Dana's brother, Bill, is here. You'll probably want your agents to escort him out along with the nurses."

He could barely make out Skinner's reply over Bill's belligerent refusal mixed with slurs against his parentage.

"Be careful. I'm going to see if I can reach Mulder via his cell phone. Do you know if he was carrying it?"

Grey snorted. "This is my brother you're talking about, Walt. I don't think he goes to the bathroom without his cell phone."

Skinner laughed quietly. "I see your point. I'm sending a walkie-talkie in with Agent Whiting. You can reach me on channel three. Stay in touch."

"Will do. Now go make nice with the D.C. boys, Walt."

Grey hung up, grinning a little, only to be cornered by an extremely bad tempered Bill.

"Listen, you son of a bitch, I am not leaving this building until I know my sister is safe and sound! Get used to having a second shadow because I'm going to be on your ass until she is!"

"I'm flattered, Billy," Grey returned, putting on his cheekiest grin. "And to think Fox predicted we wouldn't get along!"

He headed down the hallway in search of Elena, a smirk on his face and a mass of spluttering, pent-up fury hot on his heels.

Fourth Floor
11: 52 a.m.

Mulder winced at Scully's forthright declaration, ready for an eruption of Rynne's barely leashed temper. He ran shaking fingers through sweat dampened hair, fighting to hold it together for Scully's sake. Adrenaline rushes only lasted so long, and he was tired...so tired.

Rynne gaped open-mouthed at Scully for several seconds before his face literally crumpled, the lines and planes falling into pure misery. "What?" he whispered, his voice no longer strident, but weak and confused as that of a child. He cleared his throat, summoned a scowl. "Are you sure?"

Scully darted a nervous glance at Mulder, took in his dark eyes and pale, sweaty face, and grit her teeth. "Yes, I'm very sure. Mr. Rynne, if Dr. Lawrence were to attempt the transplant it could mean the death of not only your wife, but the next person on the list who needs that heart. Who could actually benefit from the operation."

Rynne tore his eyes from Scully to stare at the quivering doctor in his arms, the gun slipping from Lawrence's throat to hang by his side. "I...I thought... I never..."

"Theresa wouldn't want that, would she, Daniel?" Mulder asked, his own voice thin.

The soft question ignited Rynne's confusion to rage. In a flurry of motion, he strode to Mulder's side and drew back his foot. "Shut up! Shut up! You don't know her, know anything about us, you..."


Scully cast the chart aside and placed her body between Rynne and Mulder, her face clouded with anger and fear.

"Scully, no!" Mulder protested weakly, trying to push her aside, terrified that she would bear the brunt of Rynne's ire.

Scully refused to give way and he was currently no match for her strength. She spread her arms out in a protective shield and glared up at Rynne, challenging him to defy her.

"This has gone far enough! How many people are going to suffer while you attempt to assuage your own pain? This won't help her!"

Sirens, their mournful keening punctuating her question, drifted in along with the cold air from the open chute. Rynne dragged Lawrence over to the wall and peered out the window, his eyes widening.

"Shit, shit, shit! There's cops all over the place out there!"

Mulder firmly moved Scully to the side, standing on trembling legs. "You're in control here, Daniel. This doesn't have to end badly. Your son..." he trailed off, questioning Rynne with his eyes.

"Elliot," Rynne muttered, his eyes never leaving the view but the word choked with emotion. "We named him after my father."

"Elliot doesn't have to lose his parents today, Daniel. We can all walk out of here right now."

Rynne ripped his eyes away from the activity outside, a hysterical laugh escaping his lips. "Just walk out? Are you crazy? There must be twenty cops down there! You think they're just going to welcome me, maybe get me a cup of coffee?"

"They want a resolution to this as much as you do," Mulder persisted, gently shrugging Scully's restraining hand from his arm and taking a tentative step forward. "They won't shoot if you don't give them a reason to."

Rynne's grip on the doctor tightened almost unconsciously and he waved the gun at Mulder. "Oh really, Professor? And what makes you such an authority on what the cops will and won't do?"

Scully flinched.

*NO, Mulder! Nonononono...*

"I'm FBI," Mulder answered gravely, hearing Scully catch her breath.

Rynne laughed wildly. "Riiiight! Why didn't you say so sooner, Mr. FBI? Would've been nice to know I had such an important hostage."

Rynne's snickering faded when Mulder's expression remained sober and he gingerly removed his badge for scrutiny. Paling, he staggered backward several steps and swung the gun up to point at Mulder's head.

"Stay right there and don't move any closer," he warned. "I'll use this if I have to."

"You don't have to," Mulder said calmly, voice low and soothing. "Listen to me, Daniel. My boss is probably out there by now and..."

The piercing trill cut off Mulder's speech, startling all of them. Rynne's finger actually tightened reflexively on the trigger before the source of the sound registered and he relaxed a little.

"My phone," Mulder said, keeping his gaze locked with Rynne's as he carefully pulled it from his pocket and, when the gunman didn't protest, flipped it open.


"I distinctly remember signing Scully's request for leave, Agent Mulder, so that you two could go to Mexico. What in the hell have you gotten yourself into now?"

Mulder blinked, and his lips curved. Skinner's exasperated growl was exactly what he needed to hear. A balm to his frayed nerves, it pushed back the weariness and renewed his hope. Just knowing Skinner was out there, taking charge, reassured him.

"Good afternoon to you too, Sir. I was just talking about you."

"All compliments, I'm sure," Skinner replied dryly. "Just answer yes or no. This man, Rynne -- he's still holding a gun on you, Scully, and the doctor?"


"He's got a bomb?"



"Hard to tell. Enough to take seriously."

"Just yes or no, Mulder. Let's not spook him," Skinner admonished. "Is he rational? Have you been able to reason with him?"

"Yes, and I'm giving it my best, sir," Mulder replied grimly.

"Who is that? I want to know what you're saying and who you're saying it to!" Rynne demanded shrilly. "This isn't a 900 chatline, Mr. FBI!"

Mulder pulled the phone from his ear, raising his free hand in a pacifying gesture. "It's my boss. As I was trying to tell you, he's going to be the one running the show out there. If I tell him you're coming out to give yourself up, he'll see that you're given safe passage. No one will hurt you, Daniel. I can promise that."

Rynne studied Mulder's face, then shook his head. "I dunno, FBI. I think you're a straight shooter, and I can see you believe what you say. But how do I know your boss is reliable? I don't know anything about him, and my ass is the one on the line here!"

"You'll have to take my word for it," Mulder replied evenly. "Accept that I trust him -- with my life if necessary. And I can tell you, trust doesn't come cheaply or easily for me."

Rynne dropped his eyes to his shuffling feet in an agony of indecision. "I'd like to believe you, FBI. God, how did I get myself into this whole damn mess!"

"I'll vouch for him too," Scully said suddenly, stepping around Mulder to catch Rynne's attention. "He's my boss too."

She held out her I.D., disregarding the regret in Mulder's hazel gaze. Rynne let out a hoarse bark of amusement, casting his eyes toward the ceiling. "Only I could manage to take two Fibbies hostage. God, I am such a screw up!"

Mulder's voice tightened, toughened. "Then make it right, now. End this. For your daughter. For Elliot. For Theresa."

Charged silence as Rynne stared at Mulder as if hypnotized. Finally, he hung his head in a barely perceptible nod. "Yeah. All right."

Lightheaded with fatigue and relief, Mulder pulled the phone back to his ear. "Did you hear that, sir?"

Skinner's voice was colored with emotion. "I heard it. Mulder, you need to get him to come down the stairs and out the door at the extreme southwest end of that wing. Do you know what I mean?"

Mulder glanced down the hallway, saw the glowing exit sign over the stairwell door. "Yeah. I see it." He lowered his voice. "I can't stress enough the importance of keeping everyone back, sir. We're on the razor's edge."

"I hear you. Keep this line open and take it slow, Mulder."

Mulder heard Skinner bellowing orders as he lowered the phone and inclined his head. "It's your move now, Daniel."

"You two lead the way," Rynne ordered, the words trembling as badly as his hands. "I'll hang back a little. Keep your hands where I can see them and don't make any sudden moves."

Mulder nodded, trying to moisten parched lips with an equally dry tongue. He steered Scully ahead of him, indicating the stairwell with a jerk of his thumb. His eyes fastened on the red letters above the door, vision tunneling until the rest of his surroundings faded to insignificance. He was over halfway down the corridor before he sensed Rynne begin to follow, the clunk of his boots echoing in the silence.

Scully was a mere ten paces from the door when the world turned upside down, splintering into chaotic fragments.

"Police! Freeze!"

Mulder spun at the command, and time wound down to a snail's pace as his brain processed the overload of sensory data.

*A man dressed in black and a kevlar vest, bearing a high powered rifle, poking his head through the open chute.*

*Rynne half-turned with Lawrence as a shield, gun bobbing recklessly and his eyes bulging with fear.*

*Lawrence, panicked and struggling, one hand clawing at
Rynne's grip on his throat, the other scrabbling for purchase on Rynne's chest.*

*The snick of the rifle.*

*Rynne's desperate grunt as Lawrence's fist found it's mark, pummeling his upper body...*

"NOOO!" Mulder screamed, vaguely hearing Skinner's tinny shouts from the phone still clutched in his fingers.

Spinning back around, he dove forward, registering Scully's shocked, horrified face as he covered her body with his own.

*A flash of brilliant white light.*

*A deafening thunderclap that vibrated through his entire body.*


Concluded in part 2