TITLE: Damaged Goods
EMAIL: sunrise83@comcast.net
ARCHIVE: MTA, Xemplary, Gossamer – others are fine,
just let me know
SPOILERS: Up to and including Amor Fati
RATING: R -- for disturbing imagery
KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully UST, MT
SUMMARY: Mulder returns to work after the events of
Amor Fati. His attempt to profile a brutal serial killer,
however, reveals that he has not fully recovered.
Unfortunately no one, including his doctor, seems to know
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully, and Skinner belong to
Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. Agent Doug “Digger”
Costanza is my own creation.
deals with the topic of abortion. It is simply used as an
element of the plot, and is in *no way* meant to express
the author’s personal views on the issue. Please don’t send
me nasty emails about this – if you are sensitive and think
you may be offended, don’t read!
AUTHOR’S NOTES: I can’t help feeling some ground
breaking stuff happened between Amor Fati and Hungry –
but maybe that’s just my lil ‘shipper heart! This story,
while not MSR, does allow them to move in a direction that
might explain why they looked so comfortable with each
other early this season. Thanks to the wonderful Shirley
Smiley you can find the story in its entirety on my Web site
at https://members.tripod.com/~dawnsunrise/index.html
More notes at the end.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. It makes my day!

Damaged Goods (1 of 3)
By Dawn

The X-Files Office
7:53 a.m.

She knew he hadn't yet arrived the moment she set foot off
the elevator. Mulder emitted an aura, an edgy intensity that
crackled in the air like static electricity. Scully hadn't
realized how accustomed to that energy she'd become until
forced to spend the last several weeks without it -- and cold
turkey, at that.

The staccato click of heels on tile echoed the rapid beat of
her heart as she slid her key into the lock and let the door
swing slowly open. Dark, silent, stagnant. Scully turned on
the lights with a flick of her finger, squinting a bit against
sudden fluorescence, and laid her briefcase down on the
small table that doubled as her desk. She shed her
trenchcoat, started the coffee maker, and sat down to boot
up her laptop. While the computer hummed and beeped its
way to consciousness, her eyes drifted to the empty desk
across the way and her lips curved in the suggestion of a

For nearly three weeks now she'd performed this same
routine and today was no different, but for one notable
exception. Instead of a sharp stab of fear, or even a
bittersweet pang of longing, today the sight of that desk
filled her with a rich and dizzying blend of emotions that
defied translation. Today Mulder returned to work, chained
to a desk for now -- no forays into the field to hunt sea
monsters and mothmen -- but back where he belonged
nonetheless. Cracking sunflower seeds and spitting shells
into the wastebasket with an annoying "ping." Propping his
feet up and trying to engage her in a deep discussion of
why Gilligan and his friends could never seem to get off
the damn island. Rifling through folders filed according to
a system comprehensible only to himself, and whistling
annoying little tunes under his breath until it set her teeth
on edge.

Driving her crazy.

Thank God.

Unbidden, the image of Mulder as she'd discovered him,
pale and still as death, assaulted her senses. Left to die,
abandoned like an old appliance -- no longer useful but too
troublesome to dispose of. Grief and rage had nearly
overwhelmed her, and she'd longed to surrender to her own
tears, to gather Mulder into her arms and just hold him.
Damn his mother and her passive complicity. Damn
Smokey and his butchers. And damn Diana and her too
little, too late. Then the weak rise and fall of his chest
captured her eye and survival instinct kicked into high gear.
She'd get them both out of the wolves' den no matter what
it took. And Mulder would live to fight another day.

"Our tax dollars hard at work."

Every muscle in her body tensed and Scully narrowly
avoided a girly scream. Mulder lounged in the open
doorway, one eyebrow lifted quizzically and lips pursed in
an amused smirk. Scully flushed, realizing he'd caught her
woolgathering -- and while staring vacuously at his desk.
He moved slowly into the office, stripping off his coat and
sinking into his rickety chair with a contented expression
that quickly snuffed Scully's spark of irritation. He tipped
back at an impossibly precarious angle and laced his
fingers behind his neck, sending her a blissful smile.

"I'm baaaack!"

"I'll alert the media," Scully replied dryly, but couldn't help
grinning at his happiness. "Coffee?"

Mulder looked at her cautiously. "Depends. You going to
foist some of that foul tasting sludge on me? Or do I rate
the good stuff now?"

Scully rolled her eyes, collecting his mug and heading for
the pot. "It's called decaf, Mulder. And yes, in celebration
of your return I've made the good stuff. In fact, I even
brought you breakfast."

Setting the full mug carefully on his desk, she reached over
to retrieve a small white paper bag and plopped it down
beside the coffee. Mulder eyed the sack like a man afraid to
hope he's won the lottery.

"A bagel?"

Scully sat down and treated herself to a long sip, hiding her
smile with the rim of the cup. "Live dangerously, Mulder.
See for yourself."

Mulder unfolded the top and peered inside, then with a
crow of delight pulled out an enormous Boston crème
donut. "Ooo, Scully. You *know* what I like!"

Scully watched him consume the pastry with gusto, unable
to tear her eyes away when he began popping each finger
into his mouth and sucking off the frosting while making
little sounds of ecstasy.

*That mouth should be registered as a deadly weapon*

Her thoughts turned to the day she'd gone to Mulder's
apartment, rocked by the knowledge of Diana's death. She'd
convinced Skinner to allow her to break the news,
determined that he be told not over a cold, impersonal
phone line but by a living, breathing person who cared for
him. Despite her own cocktail of confused feelings towards
the woman, she'd braced herself for Mulder's pain, prepared
to offer support and comfort as she had so many times
during their history together. How ironic that it was Mulder
who wound up consoling, she grieving.

*You're my touchstone*

She'd heard the words, seen their truth in his eyes, and
teetered on the brink of insanity. Of throwing caution and
six years of repressed desire to the four winds and just
letting go. Then the despicable Scully reserve reasserted
itself and the moment passed. But she could still feel his
lower lip under the pad of her thumb...

The phone rang, shaking her out of the memory and into
the heat of Mulder's gaze. Keeping their eyes locked, he
scooped up the receiver.


His feet left the desktop with a thud and he leaned forward
to brace both elbows in their place, finally releasing Scully
from scrutiny. With an undetectable shiver, she
straightened her suit jacket and tucked a wayward piece of
hair behind one ear. That made two times Mulder had
caught her daydreaming in the span of fifteen minutes.
What on Earth was going on in her head these days?

"Much better, thank you, sir...More like bored out of my
mind, actually...I know, I know, I've read the
paperwork...Yes, she's here...We'll be right up."

Anxious to short circuit any questions about her
preoccupation, Scully struck first.

"Skinner checking up on you?" she asked as Mulder hung
up the phone.

A soft snort. "More like laying down the law. He made a
point of reminding me that I'm flying a desk this week until
Palermo signs my release. Sounded like he thought I might
run off half cocked after the first mutant that strolls by."

"Can't imagine where he'd get that idea," Scully mused

Mulder made a face. "Ha, ha. Speaking of running off,
where have *you* been today, Agent Scully? Before the
phone rang you had totally zoned out on me. Not to
mention the way you were catching flies when I walked in
this morning."

Scully willed herself not to fidget, to calmly return his
gaze. "Just tired I guess, Mulder. It's been a rough month."

The teasing glint in his eyes vanished, replaced with a
tender concern that never failed to move her. "You all right,
Scully? Have you been sleeping okay?"

She allowed a slight smile as she stood and walked over to
lean her hip against his desk. "I still have the odd nightmare
or two -- nothing compared to yours, I'm sure," she added
ruefully. "I guess I just have a lot to process. It's going to
take a little time."

Mulder traced one long finger over the back of her hand.
"You still haven't told me everything that happened while I
was... When I was sick."

"Neither have you," Scully replied, knowing she sounded
defensive but unable to stifle her reluctance to open
Pandora's box and disrupt the fragile peace she'd found.

Mulder's eyes darkened and his jaw tightened. "I know.
Guess I still have some processing to do myself."

Displeased by the melancholy turn in the conversation,
Scully ducked her head to look directly into his eyes.
"When I work it out, you'll be the first to know, Mulder.
Scout's honor."

Like quicksilver, the mischief was back. Mulder stood,
crowding into her personal space. "Scully, I just got this
incredible image of you in a little green dress, selling
cookies," he said in a low voice, waggling his eyebrows.

She pursed her lips. "You might be surprised to know I had
quite the gift for sales, Mulder. In fact, I sold more boxes of
cookies than anyone else in my troop."

Mulder held open the door and ushered her through, his
hand warming the small of her back. "Doesn't surprise me a
bit, partner. I'd personally buy anything you were selling."

Scully rewarded him with a full-throated laugh. "I'm going
to remind you of that, Mulder. Probably when it's least

A.D. Skinner's office
8:30 a.m.

"Agents. Have a seat."

Skinner didn't bother to rise when they walked into his
office, in fact, barely looked up from the file folder he was
reading. He looked worn, as if the events of the past month
had leeched away his sense of purpose, leaving only
dogged determination in the wake.

"Sir," Scully murmured, lowering herself cautiously into
her usual seat.

Mulder heard the subtle note of uncertainty, knew that
Scully still wrestled with doubts where Skinner was
concerned. She'd shared only a little of her dealings with
their boss during the time he was drooling in a padded cell,
but it was enough for Mulder to realize that she'd guessed
Skinner's duplicity.

Skinner evidently heard the hesitation, because his head
snapped up and his dark eyes regarded her intently for a
moment before sliding over to rest on Mulder.

"You're looking much better than the last time I saw you,
Agent Mulder."

"Catatonic was never my look," Mulder replied, tilting his
head a little in assent. "But then, I don't have to tell you

Something very like gratitude flickered in Skinner's eyes,
assuring Mulder that his message had been received. He
held no grudge against the man -- on the contrary, he'd
experienced his boss' remorse and self-loathing up close
and personal. Though a small portion of him resented
Skinner's betrayal, he understood the agony of being caught
between a rock and a very hard place. And ultimately,
when push came to shove, Skinner had risked everything to
help him.

"I called the two of you up here because..." Skinner broke
off, glancing back down at the file folder with an
expression of distaste.


Scully's question communicated the confusion Mulder felt
at Skinner's uncharacteristic lack of direction. Normally,
meetings between the three of them proceeded in an
orderly, almost militaristic manner with Skinner
moderating to keep them in line with his agenda. Seeing
him at a lack for words was unnerving.

Skinner sighed, folded his hands, and looked up with a
furrowed brow. "I wanted to reiterate, with both of you
present, that Agent Mulder is on light duty and strictly
forbidden to involve himself in any ongoing investigations.
No one but myself has the authority to countermand that
directive -- is that clear?"

Scully's eyes darted to Mulder's before returning to
Skinner, her expression mystified. "Yes, sir. You've made
that perfectly clear to both myself and Agent Mulder."

"And I believe I've sufficiently assured you that I intend to
abide by those restrictions," Mulder added, voice tight with
irritation. "Now if you want, I could do 'cross my heart,
hope to die...'"

"Knock it off, Mulder," Skinner growled. "Your word is

"Is there a problem, sir?" Scully asked, her blue eyes boring
into Skinner's. "Does it have something to do with that
folder you were reading when we came in?"


Skinner's jaw clenched and the small muscle near his cheek
twitched in agitation. Mulder uncrossed his leg and sat
forward, resting his forearms on his knees.

"If there is, I think I have a right to know about it."

Another sigh, this one more explosive, and Skinner pinched
the indentations left by his glasses on the bridge of his
nose. "I assume you've both heard of the Pro-Choice

Mulder and Scully conferred silently with their eyes before
nodding. "Someone has been butchering women who have
scheduled abortions," Scully said smoothly, emotionlessly.
"They haven't been able to tie the deaths to a specific clinic
or doctor. So far four women have died."

"Five," Skinner corrected tersely. "The first murder
occurred ten months ago -- the Bureau's been involved for
the past six. Involved but unable to make any real headway.
So far all leads have turned into dead ends, and the media
has transformed this into a political nightmare. Public
outcry is increasing with every murder and the Director is
under tremendous pressure."

"They want me on the case," Mulder said quietly. "Is that it,

Skinner grimaced, the muscle twitching furiously now. "I
have unequivocally informed Jeffreys that you are on
restricted duty and will not be able to assist VCS at this

"But you think he might not abide by your wishes?" Scully

Skinner eyed her shrewdly. "Just covering all my bases."

"Sir. I'm not disputing the imposition of restricted duty,
I freely admit I'm not ready for anything physically
strenuous. But we're talking about profiling here,
essentially a desk job, and..."

Mulder's voice evaporated when he realized that Skinner
was staring at him with a look of outrage and Scully just
looked pissed. "What?" he demanded defensively.

Skinner slowly shook his head, but his words were not
unkind. "I've seen you profile, Mulder. Multiple times. I
think it's safe to say that it would not be in line with your

"And I was there for the Mostow case," Scully added
sharply. "For you, Mulder, profiling *is* a strenuous
activity. Speaking as your doctor, you aren't up to it."

Mulder glanced away, guilt darkening his features.
"Women are dying, Scully."

"As you nearly did yourself. Mulder, we still don't know
exactly what was done to you in that operating room. Let it

The passion in her voice reached out and drew him gently
back from the darkness, reminding him that Scully bore her
own wounds.

"Okay," he conceded, unable to look at her. "You've made
your point."

"If anyone -- *anyone*-- tries to contact you about this
case, Mulder, I want to be the first to know," Skinner said
vehemently. "That includes casual cafeteria conversation
and anonymous emails. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's all. Consider this the perfect opportunity to catch up
on that backlog of paperwork the X-Files seem to

They left the office in a silence that continued down the
hallway to the elevator.

"I think I've just been sentenced to hell," Mulder grumbled
as he punched the button. When the doors slid open he
quirked an eyebrow at Scully and made a sweeping gesture
with his hand. "After you, Dante. Going down."

9:43 p.m.

"No, Mulder. It's absolutely out of the question, even if
Skinner signs the 302 -- which he won't!"

"Sculleee! You're being completely unreasonable about

Scully sank back into a striped cushion, took another
swallow from the amber bottle in her hand, and glared at
her partner. "I've been extremely reasonable, Mulder. I
allowed you to bribe me into sifting through potential
casefiles tonight, sacrificing my free time, with nothing
more spectacular than a pizza and a six pack. I've endured
the way you pick out the green peppers and leave them on
the lid of the box without complaint. And I've ignored your
pointed remarks about the inferiority of iced tea from a
bottle. I've got to draw the line somewhere."

Mulder scowled, his lower lip protruding in a classic pout.
"You know I hate green peppers. And I wouldn't be
criticizing the tea if you'd just let me have a beer."

Scully rolled her eyes. "Please, Mulder, you know the drill.
Until Palermo takes you off the Dilantin both alcohol and
fieldwork are out of the question. And I hardly think that
looking into a...an alleged *werewolf* is appropriate for
your first case back! We investigate X-Files, Mulder. Not
tabloid headlines."

Mulder smirked. "There's a difference?" When Scully
refused to appear even slightly amused, he sighed. "What is
it about this case that you find totally improbable -- as
opposed to the other cases that you find only highly

That actually earned him a small grin. "Mulder, look at the
facts. Some cattle wind up dead under suspicious
circumstances outside a sleepy little town and the locals are
understandably shaken. Add to that a tall tale by the
resident drunk..."

"Eccentric, Scully."

"An eccentric who likes to consume homemade brew," she
countered dryly. "My point is that looking at this file I see
little or no hard evidence to support the kind of creature
you postulate."

As she spoke, Scully noticed Mulder rubbing the thumb of
his left hand over the knuckle of the fourth finger. It wasn't
the first time she'd observed the gesture, which seemed to
be a carryover from his recent trauma, a nervous habit he'd
picked up in the hospital. She knew he wasn't aware he did
it, and had elected not to comment on the little
idiosyncrasy. After all he'd been through it seemed an
insignificant side effect.

"I disagree," Mulder replied stubbornly, oblivious to her
scrutiny. "Besides eyewitness testimony, there's the matter
of the recovered footprints and the bitemarks on the
remains. Both defy standard classification, neither human
nor animal as we would normally categorize them." His left
hand ceased its fidgeting and his right came up to cup the
back of his neck.

"I'll admit the forensic evidence is a bit strange," Scully
replied a little impatiently. "But that doesn't warrant the
kind of extrapolation you're making, Mulder, that some
kind of wolf-human hybrid is responsible."

Mulder huffed out an explosive burst of air. "Why is it so
hard for you to consider, Scully? We've certainly had
experience with nature gone amuck. Tooms, the Jersey
Devil - - hell, what about the Manitou! We *saw* it in the
Parker house? Remember?”

“Mulder, it was too dark to see anything! And when all was
said and done we had a dead *man* on our hands, not some
werewolf! The Manitou was a legend, a story concocted to
tell around a campfire.”

“Scully, shapeshifting, lycanthropy -- these concepts aren't
simply baseless fabrications crafted by adults to g...give the
kiddies a good scare! There are documented c...cases of
l...lycanthropy that d...date back to...to..."

Mulder's voice trailed off into silence. The tiny line that
creased Scully's forehead, which had appeared when he
began to stutter, deepened while he stared blankly into
space and the nervous motion of his thumb resumed. His
hazel eyes looked muddy, slightly out of focus.

"Mulder?" she prodded. Then, when he didn't respond,
more forcefully, "MULDER."

Though her pitch remained low, Mulder startled as if she'd
uttered a blood-curdling shriek. Scully laid her hand over
his, disturbed by the chilled flesh and the thin sheen of
perspiration on his brow.

"Hey, partner. Who's catching flies this time?" she gibed
gently. "Where were you just now?"

Mulder met her questioning gaze and Scully was relieved
to see that most of the vagueness had disappeared from his
eyes. "I... I can't... Scully, I *know* that information, I've
done extensive reading on this subject. Lycanthropy was
first reported in...in India. No, that's not right, it was
in...in... SHIT!"

He jerked his hand from her grasp, lunging to his feet and
pacing back and forth.


Mulder silenced her with a scowl and a furious flick of his
wrist. Scully watched him wear a groove in her carpet for
several minutes, his agitation growing, until he abruptly
stopped, wincing in pain, and massaged his forehead. He
then passed the trembling hand down his face until his
fingers pressed his lips.

"I can't remember, Scully. I... It's like it's there, but...out of
reach. The harder I try, the more it slips away."

Scully rose, weaving her way around the coffee table to
stand in front of him. “Headache?” she asked. When he
reluctantly nodded, she continued, “Mulder. This is your
first week back to work. It's been a long day, it's getting
late, and you're tired. Under the circumstances I'd say it's
perfectly understandable that you would forget..."

Mulder glanced away, his jaw thrust stubbornly forward. "I
have an eidetic memory, Scully. I don't just forget things."

Scully pressed one hand to his chest, the slightly elevated
beat of his heart vibrating beneath her palm. "What you
have, is a body that is still struggling to throw off the
effects of an extreme trauma. Cut yourself a little slack,

She deliberately returned to the couch and began gathering
up files, hoping to ease Mulder's tension by behaving as
nonchalantly as possible. After a moment Mulder joined
her, stacking folders and placing them into his briefcase.
Scully took the opportunity to surreptitiously observe him,
noting that his hands were steady and his demeanor calm,
though fatigue darkened the skin beneath his eyes and
etched lines around his mouth. Her stomach twisted
uneasily at the thought of him driving home alone.

"Why don't you just crash on the couch, Mulder?" she
asked, trying to make it sound natural, keeping her voice
light and conversational. "I'll set the alarm so that you have
plenty of time to go home and clean up before work."

Peripherally, she perceived him falter in his motions, felt
the razor edge to his gaze. "Thanks for the offer, but I think
I'll drive these traumatized bones home. I sleep better in my
own bed."

Scully arched an eyebrow. "Half the time you don't sleep in
a bed, Mulder. Come on, it's late and you look beat."

He snapped the briefcase shut with more force than
necessary and straightened, hands on hips. "I am not an
invalid, Scully. I am perfectly capable of getting myself
home. I’ll be taking a cab, so you won’t even have to worry
I’ll fall asleep and wrap the car around a tree. I don't need
you to take care of me."

Though she understood, even shared Mulder's fear of
dependence, his rebuff drew blood. Scully felt the coaxing
smile on her lips turn brittle as she gathered up empty
bottles and headed for the kitchen. When she'd finished
rinsing them in the sink, Mulder was propped in the
doorway, looking both irritated and contrite.

"Scully, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm just tired
of being treated like a child. I know my own limitations and
I don't need you or Skinner deciding what I can and cannot

The annoyance faded and he stepped through the doorway,
leaning against the counter near her left elbow. "The worst
thing about being in the hospital, before that cigarette
smoking bastard took me, was the complete lack of
control," he said softly, his focus leaving her face and
turning inward. "Not only did I have no say in the tests, the
treatments, I couldn't even command my own body. I'd lie
there and piss in my pants because I couldn't connect
enough with the outside world to ask to use the bathroom. I
was trapped on the other side of a void, a chasm, watching
while they pumped me full of drugs and tied me to the bed.
I just couldn't find the bridge."

Mulder blinked, eyes tracking slowly to her stricken face.
"You were the bridge, Scully. You showed me the way.
And I will never, *never* be able to thank you enough. But
it's over now, and I need to move past it. To take back what
they stole from me. Can you understand that?"

Scully braced her hands on the sink, looking down at a
crack in the porcelain that resembled a fish. Wondering, not
for the first time, if her days in Africa had been misspent.
And if Mulder had paid the price. Shrugging off the
niggling sensation of guilt, she lifted her eyes to study his

"Mulder, do you remember what you said to me after
Payton shot me? When you drove me home and refused to

He grimaced at the barb and shook his head.

"I do. It went something like this, and I quote, 'For God's
sake, Scully, I thought I'd lost you. Just indulge me and let
me take care of you -- for my sake, if not yours. I promise
I'll respect you in the morning.'"

"And your point is?" Mulder said, deadpan. When she
folded her arms and eyed him narrowly, he sighed. "All
right, all right. I get the correlation. Just don't give me that
itchy blue blanket -- last time I scratched all night."

"Deal," Scully replied, unable to completely mask the hint
of triumph in her voice. "There’s aspirin in the medicine
chest. And those ratty old sweatpants you left here are in
the bottom drawer of my bureau."

"Ratty?" Mulder feigned outrage as he ambled out of the
kitchen and down the hallway. "I just got those broken in!"

Scully pulled sheets and a spare comforter from the linen
closet and set about transforming the couch into a bed.
Mulder padded out of the bathroom just as she unfolded the

"Do you have your meds with you?" she asked, then
mentally kicked herself. Mulder was right, she was fussing,
but he looked young and vulnerable clad in the gray sweats
and sporting bare feet.

"Yes, Mom," he replied, rolling his eyes exaggeratedly.

"Sorry." She flopped down on top of the comforter and he
joined her, his shoulder resting companionably against her
own. "I know you don't need me hovering, Mulder." She
shook her head ruefully. "I certainly haven't forgotten how
annoying that can be. Between you and my mother I
thought I'd lose my mind! I was afraid to inhale for fear
that one of you would offer to breathe for me."

"Hey, that bell idea was your mom's," Mulder protested,
referring to the small brass chime her mother had insisted
she use to spare her tender abdominal muscles the strain of
calling out for assistance.

They snickered quietly together for a moment, then Mulder

"I haven't forgotten what it's like to be in your shoes,
Scully. Every time I looked at you, even after you'd been
home a few days, all I could see was the way you looked in
that hospital bed. So pale and fragile. Part of me wanted to
wrap you up in cotton and never let anything, or anyone,
hurt you again."

His declaration touched her deeply, but she pursed her lips.
"I'm trying not to be offended by that, Mulder," she said
dryly. "What about the other part?"

Mulder broke into a simply diabolical grin. "Wanted to
kick Payton's ass."

Scully chuffed a little laugh. "You would've had to wait in
line, partner." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "I
must admit I've conjured up some pretty graphic images of
what I'd like to do to our friend CGB."

Mulder didn't respond at first, but the silence was a
comfortable one. Scully was just beginning to feel sleep
tugging at her eyelids when his words jerked her awake
with all the finesse of a slap.

"He called himself my father."

Scully leaned forward and snapped her head around to
regard him intently. "He *what*?"

Mulder shrugged, wearing the blank, detached expression
she knew he reserved for especially painful emotions. "He
showed me a different life. One where Deep Throat was
alive and my sister and her family lived right down the

Some of the tension seeped out of Scully's shoulders. "It
was a dream, Mulder. A hallucination, probably caused by
the drugs."

He nodded, thumb stroking his knuckle again and
expression pensive. "My mother handed me over to him,
Scully. Now, why do you suppose she'd do that?"

She didn't like the implication, or his overly calm, resigned
demeanor. Especially since she'd wrestled with similar

"You were dying, Mulder. She was desperate and the
doctors had run out of options. You've already established
Spender was a family friend and we both know how
persuasive he can be. I don't think you should jump to

Another nod and a strained smile. "You look tired, Scully,
and I seem to recall the purpose of this little slumber party
was for me to get some sleep. That is, unless you have
some ulterior motives?" The leer was a bit forced, but
suitably lecherous.

Scully patted his knee, affecting an expression of regret.
"Sorry, G-man. No strenuous activity, remember? Check
back with me when you're in peak physical condition and
we'll talk." She waggled her eyebrows in a shameless
parody. "Good night, Mulder."

Mulder watched, mouth agape, as she sauntered over to
turn out the light. "*Talking* is not exactly what I had in
mind," he muttered, flopping down on his side and drawing
the comforter up to his chin. "Night, Scully."

The X-Files Office
12:16 a.m.

Mulder squinted at the computer screen, one hand kneading
the flesh between his eyes and the other clutching a pen
poised impotently over a yellow legal pad. With a
frustrated growl, he dropped the pen so that both hands
could cradle his aching head. The harder he tried to focus,
the more the words on the screen blurred into alphabet soup
and the sharper the pain that pulsed through his skull like a
cerebral heartbeat.

Three hours poking through data -- normally enough time
for him to grasp the pertinent details and begin formulating
a preliminary theory. Today he felt as if he were wading
through a bog, each step sluggish and achieved with great

*Maybe that's because you aren't supposed to be doing
this,* his conscience whispered furtively, to which he
sourly replied with a mental flip of his middle finger.

It was funny, really. Before the meeting with Skinner, the
Pro-Choice Murders had been just another headline on the
front page of the newspaper. He hadn't exactly kept up with
current events over the last month -- first isolated and
catatonic in the hospital, then struggling to cope with the
aftermath. About the only newsworthy occurrence to spark
his interest was watching his beloved Yankees win the
World Series.

Then Skinner warned him off the case, and suddenly it was
in his face everywhere he went. Snatches of conversation
from agents in the hallways and cafeteria, heated discussion
between passengers on the Metro as they perused the
Washington Post, news broadcasts popping up every time
he lay on his couch hoping to channel surf his way into the
oblivion of sleep... Images, facts, and idle speculation
bombarded his senses, and though at first he tried hard not
to succumb, eventually the inevitable occurred. The
insatiable Mulder curiosity was piqued.

Inevitable because Mulder was bored. Not the "Ho, hum,
what am I going to do with myself now?" kind of bored.
This was the "If I don't get a case to sink my teeth into soon
I'll go stark raving mad" kind. Though he still suffered from
the odd headache and tired easily, he had nearly recovered
physically. Until Palermo signed his medical release,
however, he was prohibited from really doing his job.
Writing reports, crunching numbers, attending meetings --
it was all just going through the motions. And if he were
brutally honest, what else did he have but his work? The
World Series was over. He'd already spent one too many
evenings with the boys consuming cheese steaks and
listening to them spout their latest conspiracy theory. And
Scully... Well, he sensed Scully struggling with her own
issues and was loath to intrude.

So instead of heading back to the office when Kramer and
Lundstrom sat down at a nearby table and began debating
the case, Mulder lingered. Instead of aimlessly flipping
channels, he tuned to CNN. And he started buying his own
copy of the Washington Post. All innocent acts, all
incapable of drawing censure. Until this morning when he'd
grit his teeth, told the little voice in his head to shut up, and
crossed the line.

Scully was at Quantico autopsying the granddaughter of a
congressman. According to Skinner, the girl's death had all
the earmarks of an OD, but the man's controversial stance
on several upcoming bills warranted a thorough
investigation to rule out foul play. Scully had donned her
coat and packed her briefcase with a minimum of
grumbling and repeated assurances that she'd be back in
time to drive Mulder to his 2 p.m. doctor's appointment.
She'd exited the office with a spring in her step that
betrayed her relief at escaping the tedium of their enforced
inactivity. Obviously Scully was just as bored as he was.

After a short but heated debate with his conscience, Mulder
had made a discreet call to an old friend in Violent Crimes.
Soon, he was downloading data and pouring over copies of
the casefile. He'd managed to shrug off the rapidly
escalating headache, immersing himself in reading through
case reports and studying copies of crime scene photos.
Finally the pain in his head could no longer be ignored and
he surfaced, feeling slightly nauseous and disoriented.

When he'd squinted at his watch in annoyance, his mouth
had dropped open in surprise. His phone call to Costanza
seemed just minutes ago, yet somehow the entire morning
had slipped by without notice. He folded his arms on top of
the desk and dropped his head onto the makeshift pillow,
closing his eyes.

Missing time while profiling was not a new experience.
During one exceptionally bad case while he was with
VICAP he'd gone nearly seventy-two hours without
sleeping or eating, so far down he'd suppressed the need for
basic physical necessities. Mulder knew that by delving
into the Pro-Choice case he was playing with fire, but his
frustration and boredom had the effect of transforming it
into a siren's song he could not resist. Still, he'd been
confident that with a little extra effort he could exercise
self-control and avoid losing himself completely.

So much for that theory.

Mulder opened his eyes and lifted his head, drawn once
more to the photos lying beneath his fingertips, one thumb
rubbing absently at a knuckle. Five young women, ranging
in age from nineteen to thirty-seven. Abducted from home,
from car -- even the mall in the most recent murder. No
signs of forced entry. No signs of struggle. The bodies
meticulously displayed, the fetus removed with surgical
precision and taken from the scene. As yet, none had been

Something about those missing babies bothered him and he
couldn't seem to pin it down. It reminded him of the way
Sam would vie for his attention when he tried to read a
book, tickling the bottoms of his feet and then dancing
away, just out of reach. The more he stretched his mind,
grasping for the elusive idea, the farther it slid away.

Mulder returned his head to its resting place on his arms,
breathing through his mouth in an effort to ride out an
abrupt wave of queasiness that had him feeling for the
wastebasket with his left foot. The headache was blinding -
- he was certain that at any moment his skull would crack
open and spill his brains onto the desk like gray jello.

He was so far gone he never heard the rattle of elevator or
the approaching footsteps. The door swung open and Scully
swept into the office, cheeks tinged pink from the cold air
and a very fragrant brown paper bag clutched in one hand.

"Hey, partner. Hope you haven't eaten yet. I stopped at that
great little Thai place down the street..."

Mulder bolted. He was out the door, down the darkened
hallway, and into the men's room before she'd finished
speaking, his stomach demonstrating just what it thought of
the takeout by trying to exit his body through his mouth.
Crashing to his knees in front of the toilet he clutched the
sides of the bowl and retched, moaning softly as each
spasm shot agony through his head.

When the dry heaves subsided he hauled himself unsteadily
to his feet and staggered to the sink, rinsing his mouth and
splashing cold water on his face. He ran damp fingers
through his hair and stared at his reflection in the mirror,
squinting against the harsh fluorescent lighting. His skin
looked too pale, his eyes sunken.

Mulder swore softly under his breath. "Scully sees you like
this and next thing you know she'll be telling Palermo you
need desk duty for another month," he muttered.

Letting his eyes slip shut, he focused on taking several
deep, cleansing breaths and relaxing clenched muscles. The
headache refused to be pacified, but the churning in his gut
did ease up a bit. With a final grimace at the mirror, he
squared his shoulders and headed back to the office.

"Sorry about that, Scully, I just..."


Scully turned slowly to face him, her back rigid and her
face dark with fury. She silently extended her right hand,
two of the crime scene photos clenched between her

"So, did I hear you mention lunch?" Mulder asked weakly,
taking the pictures and brushing past her to sit down at his
desk. He quickly gathered the remaining photos and reports
and stuffed them into the folder, feeling her eyes burning
holes in the back of his neck.

"Mulder, what in the hell do you think you're doing?"

He looked up at her, trying for innocence but flinching
when the lights shone in his eyes. "Clearing off a space to

"Stop it! This is serious!"

Unreasonably, his own anger flared, a reaction to being
caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He deliberately
flipped the folder open to a photo of the most recent victim
and gazed up at her. "It is? Gee, Scully, thanks for setting
me straight!" He slapped it shut and leaned back in his
chair, arms crossed defensively over his chest.

Scully pressed her lips so tightly together they appeared
bloodless. She pushed the door shut with a bang and
stalked around to the front of his desk, where she braced
both palms on the wood and leaned forward.

"Skinner gave you explicit instructions to stay away from
that case, Mulder. I heard you give him your word. Did that
mean anything to you?"

Mulder gaped at her. Of all the accusations Scully might
have made, she'd chosen the only one for which he had no
defense. Rules, regulations, the chain of command... Those
things meant nothing to him, never had. But honor, trust --
they were the building blocks of his identity. By calling his
integrity into question she'd bypassed the armor and gone
for his tender underbelly. And she'd drawn blood.

"Scully, I... Of course, it meant something to me! I just... I
couldn't seem to get it out of my mind! I kept seeing the
reports in the papers and on the news and it got me thinking
and asking questions and...and I just..."

"You’re tired of the scut work, and you figure you know
more than me, Skinner, or the doctors, so why not do
whatever the hell you want and just screw the rest of us! Is
that right?"

"NO! No, that's not right!" Mulder snapped, shoving the
chair back and springing to his feet. "I need something,
Scully, and I think this is it. I was bored, yes, but that's only
a small part. I told you I have to get past what happened to
me, to move forward -- well I can't do that creating budgets
and reviewing policies! I kept thinking about what Skinner
said, about how no one can get a handle on the case and
that Jeffreys approached him, and... Five women have
*died*, Scully! Whatever the hell else I am, I'm good at
this -- you know that! If I can stop it from happening again,
can save even one life... How can I hide down here and do

If anything, his words seemed to stoke her anger. "Here we
go again! Fox Mulder, the last great hope! Single-handedly
responsible for solving the unsolvable, for catching a
murderer and saving countless victims, heedless of the cost
to himself! Doesn't that God complex ever get tiresome,

Another barb, unerringly finding its mark, and Mulder
struggled to keep the hurt from showing. Opted for anger as
an effective camouflage. "I told you already that I don't
need you to take care of me, Scully. This is *my*

Her eyebrows lifted. "Oh really? Did it ever occur to you
that I have my own obligation to Skinner? He made it very
clear that you were not to be involved in an active case,
particularly this one. He asked to be informed immediately
if that directive was ignored."

"He asked *me* to tell him if I was approached," Mulder
argued stubbornly. "I haven't been. This was my own

Scully threw up her hands and gazed at the ceiling in
disbelief. "Semantics, Mulder. You *knew* the intent." She
wandered over to sink into her chair, shaking her head. "I
don't know what I'm more pissed off about, your total
disregard for your health or the compromising position this
little stunt puts me in."

He pitched his voice low and seductive. "Scully, I've been
wanting to put you in a compromising position for six years

He realized humor was the wrong choice the moment the
innuendo left his lips. Scully's eyebrows plunged and her
hands curled into fists.

"This is all a game to you, isn't it?" she said tightly. "Break
the rules, manipulate the system, lie to Skinner, to me..."

Mulder's stomach did a long, slow roll, but he couldn't tell
if it was the headache or the disappointment on Scully's
face. "I didn't lie," he protested weakly, slumping back into
his own chair.

"A lie of omission," she said, averting her eyes. "You
waited until I left the office to pursue this, didn't you? Are
you honestly going to tell me that you would've gone ahead
with me present?"

The truth in that assessment effectively doused the residual
spark of anger, leaving only misery and regret. "I'm sorry,
Scully. So much has happened, I... I needed to work. To
have something else to think about, someone else to
concentrate on. I never intended to hurt anyone, least of all

Something in his voice pulled her eyes back from
contemplating the stapler. The anger faded just a bit and
she appeared to really look at him for the first time.

"You look terrible."

Sensing firmer ground beneath his feet, Mulder clutched at
his heart. "Scully, you wound me! I wore this tie because I
thought it was your favorite."

Scully's disapproving frown was marred by a barely
perceptible curve of her lips. "You know what I mean. Are
you feeling all right?"

"Just a headache -- probably from reading without my
glasses. I'm fine," he replied, meeting her appraising gaze
while fighting the urge to scrub at his forehead.

The little line between her brows deepened. "You seem to
be having an awful lot of those, Mulder. Are you sure that's
all it is?"

"Scully," he growled.

She relaxed at the warning tone, smiling sheepishly. "Okay,
okay." Sobering, she indicated the folder with a tilt of her
head. "We haven't finished with this, Mulder."

"Are you going to Skinner?" he asked quietly.

She shrugged and dropped her eyes. "I have to think about

"I've been through the folder and I've got some ideas for the

Her tone sharpened. "Don't push it, Mulder." She sighed.
"Let's see what Dr. Palermo has to say."

Not much of a concession, but more than he deserved.
Mulder nodded and propped his head on one hand so that
he could unobtrusively rub his temple.

"I'm sure you never thought of lunch while you were buried
in those reports," Scully continued, pulling the paper bag
closer and lifting out a carton. "Maybe some food will help
that headache."

The pungent aroma of meat and spices filled the air.
Mulder swallowed hard and quickly switched to breathing
through his mouth. "I had a snack from the vending
machine. I'm not really hungry," he replied.

Scully's eyes narrowed. "It's not like you to turn down Thai,
Mulder. Sure you're not interested?" She punctuated the
question by extending the carton so that it hovered within a
foot of his nose.

He couldn't avoid jerking back as if she'd offered a live
snake, tasting bile at the back of his throat and feeling a
cold sweat pop out on his forehead.

"It's tempting, but I'll pass," he said, teeth clenched.

Scully mercifully removed the container, but a moment
later her hand, small and cool, was pressed to his forehead.
"You were sick, weren't you, Mulder? That's why you ran
out of here like your ass was on fire when I walked through
the door."

Mulder pulled back from the questing hand. "I did not," he
said petulantly. When she folded her arms and said nothing
he peered up at her. "Alright, maybe I did. I'm just a little
queasy from the headache, that's all. Maybe you can save
some and I'll have it for dinner?"

Scully relented. "Have you taken anything?"

Subterfuge no longer necessary, Mulder put both hands to
work soothing the pain. "Some Tylenol. Hasn't helped

Scully sighed again, walked over to her desk, and
rummaged around in her purse. A moment later she pressed
two tablets into Mulder's palm. "Here. Empirin 3's. I take
them when I get a migraine. I'll get you a Sprite."

Relief, gratitude, shame. Mulder curled his fingers around
the pills and watched her walk to the door.


She turned, one hand on the knob.

"Thanks. I..."

The apology -- trite and unworthy after all she'd done, all
she continued to do -- deserted him. Somehow, though,
Scully understood. She gave him wry but affectionate

"Accepted, Mulder."

7:12 p.m.

Obviously, ignoring her insistent knocking was not going
to achieve the desired effect.

The sledgehammer in Mulder's head picked up the beat and
he let his eyes slip shut, the pad of his thumb absently
stroking the fourth finger of his left hand. He was tired,
pissed, and his head hurt like a son of a bitch. Scully was
the last person he wanted to see right now, but he knew her
well enough to realize he didn't have a choice. She'd put up
with him disregarding her rapping for only so long and then

A faint jingling, the grate of metal to metal, and the snick
as his deadbolt disengaged.

"Hey, Scully. Don't stand on ceremony. Come on in," he
tossed sarcastically over his shoulder.

He kept his eyes fixed on the computer screen, not really
seeing the words he'd just typed. His ears detected her quiet
footfalls crossing the room, his nose the subtle fragrance of
her perfume. She stopped just behind his right shoulder and
in his mind's eye he could picture her regarding him
critically, evaluating the tense set of his spine, the nervous
bouncing of his leg, the slight increase in his respiration.
Ever the doctor, his Scully.

When she understood that Mulder did not intend to turn
around, Scully released a gusty sigh. "Mulder, I know
you're angry about this afternoon..."

"Angry?" he cut her off before she could continue, still
showing her his back. "I'm not angry, Scully. I'm


Scully stepped around his chair, forcing her way into his
field of view. Contrary to the impatience in her tone, her
face was calm. Mulder met her gaze squarely, almost
belligerently for a moment before his eyes scooted back to
contemplate the monitor.

"You sold me out, Scully. Palermo would have cleared me
for fieldwork -- I nearly had him convinced. Thanks to your
*professional opinion* I'm benched for another week."

Rather than rise to his bait, Scully let her eyes map the
contours of his face, taking in the slight squint and the lines
around his mouth. "You have another one, don't you?"
When he remained sullen and unresponsive she pressed
harder. "You told Palermo that the headache was gone, that
you were feeling good. Was that a lie, Mulder?"

His slammed both hands onto the arms of his chair and
glared furiously at her. "NO! Why would you ask me that?
I felt fine all afternoon -- betrayed, maybe, but fine. And
before you ask, yes, I ate dinner tonight without any
difficulty at all."

"But you're having trouble now."

Her soft statement, sympathetic rather than accusing, took
the fight out of Mulder and his shoulders curled forward.
"It didn't start until I sat down at the computer," he said,
and she could see how much the admission cost him.

Scully opened her mouth to point out that this time he was
wearing his glasses, but swallowed the words before she
could speak them. Though still angry, he was speaking to
her -- a big improvement from the afternoon. He'd been so
upset after the appointment with Palermo he'd actually
called a cab, refusing to get into her car.

"Go ahead, say it," Mulder growled, tugging her back from
the silent reverie.

"Say what?"

"What you were going to say. What you're dying to say.
'You're pushing too hard, Mulder,'" he mimicked bitterly.
"'Your body is telling you to slow down and you aren't

Scully supposed she should be irritated by his
impersonation, but found it hard since Mulder was right.
She *was* thinking along those lines and the rebuke could
easily have fallen from her lips. And given that just three
weeks ago he'd been completely unresponsive and strapped
to a hospital bed, a part of her reveled in his irascibility.
These days, even fighting with the man seemed a precious

"Did you take anything?"

He pulled off his glasses and blinked at her owlishly. "Not
yet, Doctor. I was *trying* to get a few thoughts down first.
Course, it's hard to concentrate when someone's beating the
hell out of your door."

Scully ignored the dig, pulling a small white bag from her
pocket. "You stomped out of the clinic before Palermo
returned with your prescription. I filled it on my way over."

Mulder's lip thrust forward. "I did not stomp." He stood up
and accepted the sack, fishing out the amber container and
scanning the label. "Thanks," he mumbled, veering towards
the kitchen.

Scully followed, hip resting against a cabinet as she
watched him pour water from a bottle in the refrigerator. At
his upraised eyebrow she nodded, and he filled a second
glass. Thrusting it silently into her hand, he slid up onto the
counter and tossed back one of the painkillers.

The silence stretched long between them until she rested
one hand on his knee and looked searchingly up at him.
"Mulder, it's not that bad. You may not be cleared for the
field, but at least you're off the Dilantin and you can drive

When he simply glared at her, stone faced, she turned and
walked away, pausing in the kitchen doorway. "I'm sorry
you're angry, Mulder," she said quietly, "but I had to be
straight with Palermo. If I hadn't, and anything ever
happened to you..." She let the sentence trail off, walking
briskly to the coffee table to collect her keys.

Mulder's hands cupped her shoulders and spun her gently
around. He ducked his head so their eyes met, contrition in
his to offset the hurt in her own. "I know you want what's
best for me, Scully. But don't you think I'm more qualified
to decide that?"

Scully reached up to lay her hand on his cheek, tenderness
and resignation in her smile. "Honestly, Mulder? No."

He released his grip and stepped back at that, eyebrows
drawing together in consternation. "What?"

She wandered over to brace her hand on the desk chair,
gesturing at the fledgling profile on the monitor screen.
"You were banned from working on this case, Mulder. You
defied Skinner's orders and wound up with a nearly
incapacitating headache for your trouble. Yet here you are
again, right back at it in spite of the physical repercussions.
Would you call that someone who knows what's best for

Mulder's mouth worked impotently for a moment before he
gave up and ran fingers through his hair until it stood in
spikes. He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at his
bare feet for a moment before looking back up at her.

"Would you do me a favor, Scully? Would you just listen
to me for a few minutes? Not as my doctor, and not even as
my friend. As my partner."

Scully bit her lip, then nodded, feeling somehow guilty at
the gratitude and relief that transformed his face. He sank
into the chair and she shifted to peer over his shoulder.

"You remember the basic facts as I outlined them this
morning?" He plunged on, unable to hide the eagerness in
his voice. "Something about the crime scene photos kept
bothering me, and I finally realized what it was. All of the
women's bodies showed visible evidence of their
pregnancies -- additional weight, fullness in the face, and
even some swelling of the ankles in one case."

When he paused, looking up at her expectantly, Scully
frowned. "So?"

"So that means that the pregnancy had progressed, probably
into the second trimester. I made some phone calls to the
clinics and discovered that in each case the abortion had
been scheduled only after the mothers received test results
indicating a genetic abnormality."

"What kind of abnormality?"

Mulder's hand crept up to massage his forehead. "Three
cases of Down's Syndrome and two of Spina Bifida."

Scully tapped her lip with her index finger. "It does seem

"It has to be more than coincidence, Scully! The normal
percentage of genetic abnormalities is... is..." Mulder's face
contorted and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut against a
sharp burst of pain.


He waved her off, panting a little but continuing. "Anyway,
I think it's worth checking out the labs that processed the
test results."

Scully watched him grimace again, took in the agitated
movement of thumb brushing finger, the light sheen of
sweat on his brow. "I agree."

"There's more. I was interested to learn that this was a first
pregnancy for each of the victims -- not unusual for a
twenty-one-year-old like Nicole Eddings, but definitely out
of the ordinary for someone pushing forty like Elizabeth
Brentwood. It may have no significance at all, but once
again, it’s worth keeping in mind."

His eyes lost focus and he began speaking more to himself
than to Scully. "I need to understand what's driving the
UNSUB. The working profile the police are using is all
wrong. They’re looking for a cold, brutal killer, someone
with a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. I
disagree. There's no sign of gratuitous violence here. The
only cuts on the bodies are those that were necessary to
remove the baby. Blood tests show a sedative, though not
enough to cause the victim to lose consciousness. He drugs
them and removes the fetus with a minimal amount of
physical trauma." Mulder's smooth tenor became strained,
each word forced. "The m...mother is then simply left to
bleed out, and the UNSUB leaves with the fetus."

He propped his elbows on the desktop and dropped head
into hands, thumbs moving over his temples in hard little
circles. "He's dispassionate, emotions under t...tight control.
The murders are necessary, a task that must be performed
but n-not enjoyed. He's p-precise, c...cl...clinical, and he
could b...be, could b...be..."

He nearly plowed Scully over in a headlong dash for the
bathroom. She listened to him be noisily sick for several
minutes before heaving a sigh and following.

Mulder spat twice in a pitiful attempt to clear the foul taste
from his mouth, leaned over to flush the toilet and hauled
himself up on wobbly colt's legs. He snagged his
toothbrush from its holder and the paste from the medicine
chest, ignoring trembling fingers. Scully leaned in the
doorway, worry and disapproval vying for dominance on
her face as he eyed her in the mirror while he brushed

"You okay?"

He pulled the brush from his mouth and bared his teeth in a
foamy and insincere smile. "Just peachy."

Scully rolled her eyes and retreated, leaving him to finish in
relative peace. Mulder drew himself a tumbler of water,
startled when her hand materialized under his chin, another
pill in her palm. He eyed it distastefully, making no move
to accept the offering.

"Two's going to make me fuzzy."

"Oh for God's sake, Mulder, you just spent the last five
minutes throwing up your toenails! Take the damn pill!"

Stubborn, but not stupid, Mulder recognized that he'd just
run out of rope. He meekly accepted the capsule and
washed it down, rode out a smaller wave of nausea, and
decided it would stay in place. He wandered over to his
couch, unable to suppress a soft grunt of relief once the
familiar leather cushions cradled his aching head. Scully
perched on the coffee table, her knees just brushing his.

Mulder flung one arm over his eyes, a shield to the light
and Scully's probing stare. "You going to out me to

He didn't need to see her face; the disbelief colored her
voice. "You intend to continue? Mulder, can't you see what
this is doing to you already? It's only going to get worse!
How much more do you think you can take before you
wind up hospitalized?"

"I hope you're referring to medical treatment and not five
point restraints," he replied, one eye peeking out from the
crook of his elbow.

Scully dug her tongue into her cheek -- annoyed, not
amused. "Once again, Mulder. Not funny."

Mulder dropped his arm and sat forward. "You're right. It
isn't funny. Five women are dead, Scully. I can stop it, I
know I can."

"Can you honestly tell me that you think you're physically
capable of handling this case?" Scully demanded.

"Were you listening to me tonight? Can you honestly deny
that I'm needed? Scully, they're stalled, at a complete
standstill. I've made more headway in the last six hours
than they've made in the last six months! I'm not capable of
making any other choice."

She sighed and slipped her hands over his restless fingers,
tilting her head back to regard his face. She read no
arrogance, no bravado, in spite of the words. Just iron
determination and a plea for her support. Almost seven
years now, and in some ways she'd grown to know this man
better than she knew herself.

In others, he would always remain a mystery.

For better or worse, come hell, high water, or Skinner,
Mulder would pursue this case to its conclusion. Nothing
short of a bullet or those five point restraints could stop him
now. Like a driverless car careening downhill at full speed,
he'd only gain momentum. Her options were twofold --
stand in the road and be run down, or hop aboard and try to

Maybe even judiciously apply the brakes when necessary.

"Okay," she acquiesced. She quickly lifted her hand, palm
out, to freeze his smile. "On my terms."

Wariness replacing triumph, she could feel him stiffen.

"Go on."

"You stick to profiling. That means deskwork, not

Mulder scowled. "What if I need to follow up a piece of
information? Or to interview someone?"

"If you need a lead run down you get me or one of the
other agents on the case to take care of it. If you need an
interview, you conduct it over the phone or at the Bureau,"
Scully's reply was smooth and hard as steel.

Mulder withdrew his hands and slumped back on the
couch. "Okay," he sulked. "What else?"

"You call Skinner first thing tomorrow morning to confess
what a naughty boy you've been and to update him on your

"Are you crazy? You want me to out *myself* to Skinner?"

"That's the idea," Scully said calmly.

"Scully, he'll not only chew my ass for ignoring his
directive, he'll forbid me from continuing!" Mulder whined.

"You underestimate the power of my promise to keep you
in line, Mulder," she replied, a smirk turning up the corners
of her mouth. "He'll come around."

Mulder opened his mouth to argue, but snapped it shut and
nodded instead. "Is that it?" he asked unhappily.

"Just one more," Scully said gently. "I will not stand back
and let you sacrifice yourself. Not for the victims, and
certainly not for the UNSUB. If I think you've crossed the
line, if I believe for one minute that you're jeopardizing
your health, I will go to Skinner and convince him to pull
the plug. I’ll make sure you’re hospitalized, suspended –
anything to keep you from continuing. I can live with your
anger, Mulder. What I can't live with is the knowledge that
I stood by and let you self destruct."

Mulder's hard gaze softened, the resentment melting under
her warmth and affection. "I'll try not to give you either
one. You drive a hard bargain, G-woman, but you've got a

Scully shook her head ruefully, rising to her feet. "If I drive
such a hard bargain, why do I get the feeling I've been
snookered?" she asked wryly.

Evidently the second pill had kicked in. Mulder's eyes were
heavy-lidded, the hazel dominated by oversized pupils.
"Guess I coulda sold a few boxes myself, huh Scully?"

It took a moment to make the connection. Scully struggled
against the grin, heading for the door. "Maybe so, Mulder.
But the real question is, how would you have looked in the

A. D. Skinner's Office
9:03 am

Skinner finished reading a sheet of Mulder's handwritten
notes and set it aside, flipping slowly back through the
photos and finally closing the folder. The palm of one hand
smoothed the manila surface while the fingers of the other
drummed against the blotter, his jaw clamped tightly shut.
The angle of his head and the reflection of light off his
glasses conspired to lend him an air of inscrutability that
defied Mulder's best attempts to discern his mood.

Mulder smoothed an invisible piece of lint from his tie,
willing himself not to fidget. Sitting on this side of the
massive mahogany desk, delivering news he was certain
Skinner wouldn't want to hear, remained an unpleasant,
though certainly not unfamiliar experience. He hated
feeling like a recalcitrant ten-year-old sent to the principal's
office to give account for his errant behavior, Mom in tow.
He snatched a quick sideways glance at his partner, not
sure whether to be reassured or annoyed by her patience
and attentiveness as she awaited their supervisor’s

When Skinner finally raised his eyes from the file it was to
pin Mulder with an icy stare. When he spoke, his voice was
low and dangerously mild.

"Agent Mulder, do you recall our conversation about this

Mulder licked his lips, fighting the urge to evade Skinner's
eyes. "Yes, sir."

"Did I fail to communicate my directive regarding your
participation in the case, in any capacity?"

"No, sir."

Skinner planted his elbows on the desk and leaned forward,
giving Mulder the uncomfortable impression of a mouse
being stalked by a cat. "Did I leave you with the
misconception that your capitulation with that directive was

Tendrils of resentment and rebellion entwined with the
honest regret he felt, tainting it. "No, sir. You were
perfectly clear," he replied sullenly.

Skinner leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled under his
chin but gaze never breaking from Mulder's face. "So what
you're saying is that you were willfully insubordinate."

Mulder's eyebrows plunged. "I just... I knew that if I..." He
folded his arms across his chest. "Yes, sir."

Skinner retrieved Mulder's notes and let his eyes wander up
and down the page, one thumb stroking his jawline. Mulder
chewed the inside of his cheek, the resentment expanding
within him like a hot air balloon until it burst.

"I realize that I ignored your instructions to steer clear of
this case. But you can't deny that I've made progress. I've
uncovered some leads worth pursuing and developed some
insights into the UNSUB. You and I both know the team
has just been spinning its wheels for months. I've begun to
construct a profile, and I intend to finish it. So if you're
planning to suspend me, *sir*, just get it over with and put
us both out of our misery."

Mulder felt the daggers of Scully's eyes but stubbornly
refused to acknowledge them. Skinner, who had kept his
gaze on the paper throughout Mulder's tirade, met his
challenging glare coolly.

"A lot of people besides Bill Patterson were sorry to see
you leave VICAP, Mulder. Myself included. I don't dispute
the talent, just the cost."

The concern, rather than the expected anger, completely
bypassed Mulder's defenses and he floundered for a reply.

"I'm fine, sir. I can do this."

Irritation seeped back into Skinner's face. He turned to
Scully, who stiffened under his scrutiny.

"Agent Scully, I know you've kept in contact with Agent
Mulder's physician. What is his current physical status? In
your professional opinion, is he capable of undertaking this

Mulder shifted slightly in his seat so that he could see her
face. Her blue eyes flicked briefly toward him before
locking onto their boss. She sucked in a deep breath and
cleared her throat.

"Agent Mulder had a follow-up visit with his neurologist
yesterday and everything appeared to be healing normally.
Dr. Palermo took him off the Dilantin and lifted the driving
restriction." She hesitated, then continued. "He did suggest
that Agent Mulder confine himself to desk duty for an
additional week, mainly as a precaution."

Skinner absorbed her words, studying her facial expression
carefully. "Thank you for the update, Scully, but you
haven't answered my question. Do you recommend that
Agent Mulder be allowed to continue working on this

Scully's eyes darted to Mulder's once more, the warning
clear. *Don't make me regret this*

"I don't see any reason why Agent Mulder can't continue to
work on the profile and participate in the investigation,
provided he respects his limitations and doesn't overdo."

"That's the real issue, isn't it?" Skinner sighed, rubbing the
bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger. "All right. I'll
notify SAC Jeffreys that you both have joined the team. I
expect you to keep us informed of your progress. And
Mulder..." Skinner's eyes narrowed and he pointed a finger
for emphasis. "Just because I'm choosing to ignore this (he
waved the sheet of notes) blatant disregard for orders
doesn't mean I won't step in if I think for one minute that
you're abusing this agreement. You are still restricted from
venturing into the field and you will keep reasonable hours.
If I hear from Agent Scully that you aren't eating or
sleeping to her satisfaction you'll be off this case so fast
you won't know what hit you." He leaned closer with a
predatory smile. "I hear SAC Burgess in Wiretapping is
short a few bodies. I'm sure he'd be eager for the help."

Mulder blanched at the image Skinner's threat conjured.
Reassuming his mask of indifference, he nodded. The
important thing was that he'd been cleared to complete the
profile. He felt confident that he could work around Scully.

As if she could sense his thoughts, Scully suddenly turned
so that her eyes bore into his. "Don't worry, sir," she said,
her voice deceptively calm. "If it comes to that, I'll call
SAC Burgess myself."

South Suburban Clinic
11:14 a.m.

Scully crossed her legs and smoothed her skirt, glancing
out the window. A beautiful Saturday, temperature a little
cool but plenty of sunshine in a clear blue sky. A day for
strolling the mall, window shopping, maybe even a drive to
Baltimore to visit Mom. The last place she wanted to be
was a stuffy little clinic, waiting to speak to Elizabeth
Brentwood's doctor.

*You owe me for this, Mulder. Big time.*

"Agent Scully?"

Scully stood, pasting on a smile and extending her hand.
"Dr. Lathrop. Thank you for seeing me."

Dr. Lathrop was cartoonishly tall and thin, his skin
stretched tight over the bones of his angular face. His dark
eyes were deep set but kind, and his answering smile
transformed his features from dour to pleasant.

"I'm not sure I can add anything to the statements I've
already given, Agent Scully, but I'm certainly willing to
try." The smile winked out of existence and his face
darkened. "These murders have cast a pall over this clinic
that has affected us all -- doctors, technicians, and certainly
patients. This lunatic has got to be stopped."

He gestured for her to follow him down a long corridor and
into a spacious office filled with books and plants. Scully
accepted the proffered chair, grateful for the softness of the
cushions after the hard plastic of her waiting room seat.
Lathrop surprised her by collecting a folder from the
desktop and sinking into the companion chair in front of his

"This is Elizabeth Brentwood's file," he said grimly,
"though there's not much for you to see. She came to me
strictly for the abortion; her OB and all her prenatal testing
were from a different clinic. I performed the obligatory pre-
exam and ran some blood work. She was murdered less
than twenty-four hours before the scheduled procedure."

Scully accepted the file folder and flipped through it as she
listened to Dr. Lathrop. "Did she confide in you the reason
she'd decided to abort?"

"Frankly, Agent Scully, that's none of my business. I don't
make it a practice to pry into my patient's personal lives,
nor would I betray any confidences they might share.
Abortion is an extremely emotional decision and I would
never presume to question the patient's right to make this

The cool, barely concealed anger in Lathrop's tone pulled
Scully's eyes from the file to study his tense, slightly
flushed face.

"I understand patient confidentiality, I'm a doctor myself. I
assure you I didn't mean to call Mrs. Brentwood's decision
into question, doctor. I'm just trying to establish areas of
commonality between victims."

Lathrop refused to be mollified. "Perhaps. But I can't help
but sense disapproval in the question. We both know this is
an extremely volatile and controversial issue, and many
people have a hard time maintaining an unbiased attitude.
Would *you* ever consider abortion, Agent Scully?"

Somehow, she managed to keep her professional mask
intact, though Lathrop's question, uttered with more than a
trace of sarcasm, pierced the most fragile portion of her
soul. Closing the folder she set it back on the desk, the
simple mechanics allowing her to catch her emotional

"This interview isn't about me, Dr. Lathrop," she answered
quietly. "But I will tell you that since I am unable to
conceive a child, I will never be faced with such a

Scully was proud that her voice remained level, pleased to
see Lathrop squirm at her response. Neither feeling,
however, assuaged the dull ache somewhere between her
stomach and her heart.

"I'm sorry, Agent Scully. Please forgive my impertinence,"
he said, the remorse on his face genuine. "I'm afraid it's
difficult not to become rather thin skinned in this
profession. Passions run high, and there's a lot of hate out

"Do you receive many threats?"

Lathrop shrugged. "What constitutes many? The clinic has
certainly borne its share of negative publicity. The Right to
Life groups picket us periodically, try to get patients to
change their minds."

"But has anyone ever crossed the line? Openly threatened
.harm for you, your staff, or the patients?"

Dr. Lathrop scowled. "There's only one man I've ever
feared would follow through with his words."

Scully leaned forward. "Go on."

"His name is Ike Dalton. He's a genuine crazy -- even the
Right to Life groups won't have anything to do with him.
He's vandalized the clinic on more than one occasion and
openly threatened the doctors and nurses. I honestly
wouldn't put it past him to do something like this, but."


"We were able to file a restraining order on him about a
month ago to keep him off the property. Haven't seen or
heard from him since."

Scully jotted the name down on the small spiral notepad
she kept in her jacket pocket, then stood and offered her

"Thank you for your time, Dr. Lathrop. You've been very

Lathrop's hand was dry and smooth, his expression
relieved. "As I said, Agent Scully, I'm only too glad to
help. I just hope you catch the killer soon."

"As do we," Scully murmured, following him back to the
lounge area.

Lathrop paused, contrition back on his face. "I apologize
again for my harsh words earlier," he said. "As a doctor I'm
sure you realize that some patients get under your skin
more than others. Elizabeth Brentwood was one of those
for me. You might be interested to know that she had been
attempting to have a child for many years. This was to have
been her miracle baby. She was devastated when the Alpha
Fetal Protein indicated Spina Bifida, and she and did not
reach the decision to abort easily."

He shook his head sadly. "So many from both sides see this
as a black and white issue, Agent Scully. Truth is, there's
an amazing amount of gray."

Stepping out into the crisp autumn air, Scully couldn't seem
to shake the oppression of the clinic and Lathrop's words.
She leaned against her car and turned her face to the sun for
several minutes before pulling out her cell phone.


His voice was tense, distracted, with just an edge of
annoyance, a clear indication that he'd been deep in the

"Mulder, it's me. I just finished speaking with Elizabeth
Brentwood's doctor and I'm heading out to the clinic where
Janet Garson and Eve Roberts were patients."

"Did you find out anything new?" The irritability vanished
and his voice softened. Scully smiled, warmed by the
knowledge that her voice had provoked the change.

"Not much. That a man named Ike Dalton has a history of
vandalism against the clinic. And that Dr. Lathrop can be a
bit touchy on the subject of his chosen profession," she
said, screwing up her face at the memory.

He chuckled softly. "Guess it's just as well you handled the
interview, Scully. I'm not exactly known for my tact."

She rolled her eyes, even though he couldn't see. "Big
revelation there, Mulder."

"Anything else?"

Lathrop's disclosure of Elizabeth Brentwood's infertility
crossed her mind, but since it had no bearing on the case
she decided not to mention it. Mulder would only vacillate
between worry over her mental state and his own guilt,
both unwelcome emotions.

"'Fraid not. How's the profile coming?"

She could almost hear him grimace. "Slow."

Scully knew him too well not to hear the undercurrent.

"Scully, I'm fine. Don't let me keep you from that
interview." Defensive. Dismissive.

She deliberated only a moment before letting it go. "I'll see
you back at your place when I'm done. You're buying

Amusement displaced the guardedness. "I am, huh?"

"Definitely. The way I see it, I'm worth egg drop soup,
shrimp fried rice, and an eggroll. From Bamboo Garden."

Ripe with affection rather than humor, his reply took her by
surprise. "You're worth more than that, Scully. Much, much

6:43 p.m.

Warm air and the spicy aroma of Kung Pao Chicken drifted
through the open door. Scully pocketed her keys and
stepped inside, letting the door snick closed at her back.


No answer, so she moved into the kitchen. Two brown bags
emblazoned with the logo from Bamboo Garden sat on the
counter, unopened. She pressed her fingers to the paper,
frowning a little at the lack of warmth. He'd obviously
ordered the food some time ago -- why hadn't he unpacked
it or put it in the oven to stay warm?

"Mulder? You here?"

Cold fingers of unease skittered up and down her spine.
Scully moved into the living room, investigator's eyes
taking over. The computer was on, still logged onto the
Net. She peered at the screen, a web page on genetic
testing, specifically the Alpha Fetal Protein test. Frown
deepening, she grasped the mouse and logged off. The
ever-present yellow pad sat to the right of the monitor, an
uncapped pen lying on top. A half-filled mug of liquid, now
stone cold. Scully sniffed -- chamomile. Her eyes
narrowed. How many cups had he brewed for her during
her cancer to ease nausea from the chemotherapy? Mulder
was a caffeine and sugar kind of guy. If he'd switched to
tea, there was a definite reason.

She turned, gaze sweeping over the empty couch to rest on
the bedroom door, hanging slightly ajar. She walked
quickly over but hesitated once her fingers touched the

"Mulder, it's me," she called softly, then pushed gently.

The room was shrouded in near total darkness, blinds
drawn and lamps off. A swatch of light from the living
room spilled over the foot of the bed to illuminate Mulder,
sprawled in a loose tangle of long limbs atop the comforter,
face slack in slumber. A glass of water and the bottle of
painkillers, cap off, sat on his nightstand. Scully's eyes
crinkled in amusement. Mulder had a terrible time
manipulating childproof caps, a fact she found endearing.

Moving cautiously to the side of the bed, she watched him
sleep for a moment, trying not to admit to herself how
much pleasure she derived from the simple act. An image
of him strapped down and defenseless, the marks of
Cancerman's violation fresh on his pale skin, appeared
before her with such clarity she felt her eyes burn. He'd
come back to her, but changed. Like metal refined by the
fire, strengthened in his resolve and his purpose. Not that
he was alone -- the experience with the etching and
Mulder's illness had irrevocably left its mark on her. And,
perhaps more importantly, left its mark on their
relationship. The difference crackled in the air between
them, she could see it in the warmth of his gaze, hear it in
the cadence of his voice. And, God help her, she could feel
it in the suddenly irrepressible smile on her lips.

They were poised on the precipice, and she sensed Mulder
waiting patiently for her to jump. She hadn't quite gathered
the courage yet, but she was close. Very close. Her feet
might not have left the ground, but her toes were hanging
off the edge...

Giving herself a mental shake Scully sat carefully on the
edge of the bed, mindful of Mulder's hair-trigger reflexes.
He didn't awaken, however, just mumbled something
unintelligible while his right hand moved restlessly as if
searching for something.

*Probably dreaming he lost his gun.*

Scully smirked at the thought even as she gave his shoulder
a gentle shake.

"Mulder, it's me. Wake up, I'm starving."

His eyes fluttered open and stared at her blankly for a
moment before comprehension seeped in. He propped
himself up on his elbows and ran one hand over his face,
squinting in the light.


Two pills, not one. Mulder hadn't been exaggerating when
he said they made him fuzzy.

"Six o'clock." She couldn't seem to control the hand that
touched the back of its fingers to his forehead and then
brushed back a spiky strand of hair.

Chagrined, she stood quickly and turned back toward the
door, hearing the rustling sound of Mulder swinging his
legs off the side of the bed, then the popping of tendons as
he stretched.

"I picked up the food around five," he said, following her
back to the kitchen. "Sorry -- guess we'll have to nuke it."

Scully shrugged, pulling plates from the cupboard and
sniffing appreciatively as he opened the carton of fried rice.
She took in the slight tremor of the hand that spooned some
onto her plate, nibbling on her lip to keep from

"What good is the miracle of modern technology if you
never use it?" she said lightly.

"Spoken like a true scientist," Mulder replied, grinning as
he popped her plate in the microwave and then prepared his

They stood in silence but for the hum of the oven, Mulder
slouching comfortably against the counter while Scully
stared sightlessly at the rotating plate through the little
window. Finally she could stand it no longer.

"It must have been bad if you broke down and took two of
those pills," she said, never breaking eye contact with her
revolving rice.

To her amazement, Mulder chuckled. "I wondered how
long you'd last. I could see how it was killing you not to
bring it up." He leaned over to insinuate his face between
hers and the microwave. "Go ahead, Scully. Come right out
and ask me -- you know you want to."

Only the playfully affectionate tone to his voice kept her
from smacking him. "Okay, Mulder. How ba..."

"Very bad. On a scale from one to ten I'd give it a nine," he
cut in, smiling smugly.

She folded her arms, pursing her lips. "And did you..."

"Nope. No instances of tossing my cookies. Blowing
chunks. Worshipping the porcelain god."


He desisted, though mischief still sparkled in his eyes. "Not
that I didn't come close."

Scully shot him a longsuffering glare. "How do you..."

"Great. Never better. And I'm starving."

Scully sent him her most dangerous scowl. "You know,
Mulder, sometimes you can be a real..."


"Your food's ready, Scully. Why don't you take it in by the
coffee table and I'll bring your soup," Mulder said brightly.

Settled on his couch, the rice melting in her mouth, Scully
allowed herself a smile. Hard not to be won over by Mulder
in a good mood. It was almost enough to make her forget
her worry over the fact that his headaches, rather than
disappearing, had increased in frequency and intensity.


Mulder deposited a Styrofoam container of hot soup in
front of her, then returned to fetch his own food from the
kitchen. When he'd seated himself on the floor across from
her, legs folded pretzel-like, his expression turned serious.

"Bring me up to speed, Scully. What did you find out?"

Scully blew gently on her soup before putting the spoon
into her mouth, thinking.

"The most obvious, I guess, would be that our friend Ike
Dalton has vandalized and generally harassed the staff at all
three clinics. In fact, two out of three have filed restraining
orders to keep him away. This is not your average Right to
Lifer, Mulder. At the very least the man has poor impulse
control, if not downright psychotic tendencies. At the
moment he's the police's number one suspect."

Mulder took a bite of chicken and chewed slowly, his eyes
far away. He shook his head. "Uh-uh."

Scully leaned forward, brow creased in annoyance.

"He's not the one, Scully," Mulder replied dismissively.
"What else do you have?"

Scully could feel her fingers curling into fists, consciously
flexed them. "Do you mind sharing with me how you can
reject Dalton so easily? Have you heard some of the things
the man has done? Read what he said to the police when
they questioned him?" She congratulated herself on her
own impulse control -- Mulder could have wound up
wearing her soup.

"As a matter of fact, I have read the interview, Scully. It
doesn't mean anything," Mulder said, using the patient tone
that made her want to scream.

"It doesn't mean anything? Mulder, he threatened to
eviscerate the doctors! You don't think that's significant?"

Mulder looked at her a little blankly and his thumb began
the familiar motion over his finger. "Scully, the guy is a
nutcase, there's no doubt about it. But he doesn't fit the
profile. In fact, he's about as far from the profile as you can
get. He's enraged, irrational. I'm not saying he isn't capable
of murder. But I guarantee that he wouldn't confine himself
to the methodical cutting we've got here. And he'd never
use drugs, he'd want her to feel every slice."

Scully blanched at his cool recitation. It was always
disconcerting to hear someone as inherently empathetic as
Mulder discuss brutal crimes with such detachment.
Though she recognized the defense mechanism, it still
bothered her. Mulder continued, oblivious to her

"Our guy is a professional, someone who knows what he's
doing. Could even be a doctor, a veterinarian. He's
comfortable wielding the knife, unaffected by the blood,
the mess." His leaned an elbow on his knee and dropped
head into hand, fingers scrubbing the flesh just above his
eyebrows. "He doesn't hate them, probably even feels he's
helping them in some warped way. He believes in what he's
doing, Scully." He sighed. "What else? You mentioned the
doctor at South Suburban was pretty defensive. Did he give
you a hard time?"

Scully kept her eyes on her soup. "He accused me of
showing disapproval for Elizabeth Brentwood's choice to
abort. After a bit he calmed down and apologized."

Mulder raised his head, scrutinizing her face. "Scully, I
hope you'll tell me if you have trouble with this case. It's
understandable that it might push some buttons for you."

She looked up, eyes hard. "Why, Mulder? Because I'm
Catholic, or because I'm infertile?"

His jaw tightened and he glanced away. "I'm not worried
you'd act unprofessionally or fail to do your job, Scully," he
said softly. "Quite the opposite. I'm worried you'd continue
to do the job, even if it was killing you."

Scully's expression was incredulous. "Said the pot!"

Mulder's jaw dropped, then snapped shut. "Guilty," he said
ruefully, then wriggled his eyebrows. "I throw myself on
the mercy of the court."

Scully snorted, but the flint left her eyes. "Mulder, I'm fine.
Yes, as a Catholic I have to admit that I find the idea of
abortion repugnant. And I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt
to know that women are terminating their pregnancies
when I'd give my right arm to be in their shoes. But none of
that really matters, does it? What matters is that we catch
whoever is perpetrating these horrendous crimes and put
him someplace where he can't hurt anymore women. That's
my job, and I intend to do it."

Mulder reached across the coffee table to squeeze her hand,
then nodded. "Okay. Anything else turn up at the clinics?"

"I stumbled onto something very interesting when I was at
Dreyer Medical Clinic," she replied, excitement driving
away her tension.

"That's the one for both Eve Roberts and Corrie Jenkins?"

Scully nodded. "During my interview with the doctor he
mentioned that both Eve and Corrie had undergone genetic
counseling at Copley Hospital after receiving their test
results. I made a few calls and guess what?"

Mulder's head returned to the cradle of his left hand,
pressing the heel hard against his temple. "All the women
received counseling there?"

"Not only that, all five spoke to the same counselor! A
woman by the name of Miriam Richardson."

Mulder's brows drew together and the motion of his thumb
quickened. "A woman?" he muttered absently. "It would
explain a lot of things. Th...the precision, the n...neatness of
the scene. The alm...most gentle approach t...to the
m...murders. Even the a...absence of a struggle. A
w...woman would be m...more likely t...t...to trust another

When he began to stutter, Scully dropped her spoon and
reached over to snag his arm. "Mulder, stop. You're going
to make yourself sick."

He shrugged her hand off impatiently, though his eyes were
reduced to mere slits from the pain. "They have the
p...preliminary test, the Alpha F...Fetal Protein, at the
re...recommendation of their OBs. Then, w...when the
r...results are positive there's an amniocentesis. Right,

"Yes, that's right," Scully snapped, shoving her plate aside
and standing. "We'll talk about this later, Mulder, I want
you to lie down. *Now.*"

Mulder ignored her, wincing at a particularly sharp stab of
pain and swiping distractedly at the beads of perspiration
on his upper lip with his index finger. "I'll j...just bet you
th...those amnios were d...done at Copley, Scully. Sh...she
could h...have access to the r...results and...and..."

At his low cry of pain Scully darted around the table but
she wasn't quite fast enough. Mulder's eyes rolled back in
his head and he tumbled to the floor, muscles twitching in
small spasms eerily reminiscent of the seizures he'd
experienced as a result of Goldstein's treatments.


She sank to her knees, barely refraining from touching him
until his body went completely boneless. Blinking hard, she
cupped his jaw, her thumb caressing his cheek.

"Mulder, come back to me now," she murmured, hating the
tremor in her voice. "Come on, partner, wake up."

To her immense relief his eyelids quivered and then slipped
open, though his gaze was vague and unfocused. "Scully?"
he rasped.

The fact that he didn't immediately try to get up bothered
her almost as much as whatever clonic event he'd just had.
"I'm right here, Mulder. Just take it easy and lie still,


The word trailed off to a moan, his whole body tensing
with agony, his breath coming in rapid pants. "H...hurts.
Wha's happening?"

Scully shushed him, her fingers smoothing back his sweaty
hair. "I don't know, Mulder. But I think it's past time we
found out."

Georgetown Medical
11:52 p.m.

Scully hopped to her feet and strode quickly across the
waiting area. The nurse, a middle-aged woman with curly
brown hair and a nametag identifying her as Donna,
maneuvered Mulder's wheelchair back into the cubicle and
parked it beside the gurney.

"All right, Mulder, up you go," she said, nodding to
acknowledge the hovering Scully.

Mulder, who had been splayed in the chair with his head
propped on one fist, got unsteadily to his feet and placidly
allowed her to situate him on the bed.

"Thanks for the lift, Donna. You can drive me anytime," he
said, the words slurring lazily on his tongue and a loopy
grin on his face.

Donna gave Mulder's arm an affectionate squeeze and
Scully a surreptitious wink. "My pleasure, hon. Just rest
now and the doctor will be with you in a bit."

Scully took one look at her partner's eyes, lids already
sliding down to shroud dilated pupils, and plucked Donna's
elbow as she passed.

"What did you give him?" she asked bluntly, keeping her
voice low. "He left here for a CAT scan, why does he look
like a refugee from a Grateful Dead concert?"

Donna smiled and patted Scully's fingers reassuringly.
"Doctor Palermo ordered a pretty stiff shot of Dilantin to be
administered once the scan was completed. Coupled with
the Demerol it packs a pretty powerful punch. Don't worry
-- he'll sleep it off once you get him home tonight and be
back to normal in the morning."

"Hey, Scully, c'mere. 'S a stain on the ceiling tha' looks jus'
like Fluky!"

Scully rolled her eyes but the corners of her mouth
twitched. "You did say *sleep*, didn't you?"

Donna chuckled and looked over to where Mulder was
lying, glassy-eyed, with his head cranked back.
"Personally, Honey, if I were taking *that* home, sleep
would be the farthest thing from my mind! Doctor Palermo
will be in shortly with the test results."

Scully stood, slack-jawed and pink-cheeked while Donna
collected the wheelchair and left the room, still chortling
softly to herself. Shaking her head bemusedly, she walked
over to her partner's side. He'd ceased his contemplation of
the ceiling and was sorting through his keys, tongue
protruding from the corner of his mouth and nearly cross-
eyed with concentration as he tried to manipulate clumsy

"Mulder, what do you think you're doing?"

His gaze meandered to her face and he blinked, processing
her question. "Les get outta here, Scully, I feel fine. I'll

Scully pursed her lips to camouflage the grin. Nothing riled
Mulder more than the idea you weren't taking him
seriously. "Sorry, G-man. I'm afraid you're grounded.
Besides, we have to talk to Dr. Palermo, remember?"

Mulder's face twisted into a stubborn pout, complete with
protruding lip. "Don't need Palermo, Scully. I'm tellin' ya, I
feel really good!"

"That's because you're stoned, Mulder."

He affected a shocked expression, all wide-eyed innocence.
"I am?" When Scully nodded he looked at her slyly from
beneath his lashes. "Wanna take advantage of me?"

Scully pocketed his keys. "No, but I think Donna might
take you up on that offer."

Mulder allowed his head to drop back onto the pillow with
a small yawn. "Donna likes me," he pronounced with
satisfaction. "She said 'm very catip...capti...very

Scully's lips curved. "You have your moments. Now just sit
tight for a few more minutes until Palermo gets here and I
promise we'll go home. And *I'll* drive, Mulder."

He yawned again, giving her a heavy-lidded smirk. "Sure
those lil feet can reach the pedals?"

She pulled over a chair and sank into it. "I'll manage," she
replied dryly.

By the time the doctor stepped into the room ten minutes
later Scully had kicked off her shoes and Mulder was
snoring softly and drooling on the pillow. Palermo regarded
him quizzically for a moment before turning to Scully.

"How's he doing?"

She slipped on her loafers and stood, arching one eyebrow.
"Feeling no pain, for the moment," she said with a wry

"And, for once, the picture of cooperation," he observed,

Scully chuffed quiet laughter, pleased to realize that she
genuinely liked Dr. Palermo. Frantic over Mulder's
mysterious brain surgery, his calm, professional demeanor
and willingness to treat her as a colleague had assuaged her
feelings of helplessness and eased her fears. But what had
really won her over (in addition to a thorough background
check by the Gunmen) had been his skillful handling of her
frequently cantankerous partner, with patience and dry

"I have the analysis of the CAT scan," Palermo continued.
"Shall we have the guest of honor join the party?"

"The guest of honor can barely form a coherent sentence,"
Scully replied. "I'll catch him up when the street value of
his blood drops."

This time Palermo chuckled, but his expression quickly
turned serious. "Doctor Scully, you're not going to be
happy about the results."

Her stomach twisted painfully and her throat constricted.
"What did you find?"

The doctor frowned, shaking his head. "Nothing."

"*Nothing*?" Scully felt a giddy sense of euphoria for a
full ten seconds before the real implication of Palermo's
words hit her. "Wait a minute. How could you find

Palermo lifted one shoulder, looking a bit perplexed. "I
went over it with a fine toothed comb, even got a second
opinion. It is completely normal."

Scully nearly trembled with frustration. She strode to the
gurney and clamped both hands onto the rail, staring into
Mulder's peaceful face. Whirling around so that the metal
dug into her back, she crossed her arms tightly as if to
avoid fragmenting into pieces.

"The man has been enduring headaches so intense he
vomits. Tonight the pain got so bad he actually experienced
a kind of seizure and briefly fugued out. How can the scan
possibly be normal?"

She knew she was misdirecting her anger and frustration
toward Palermo, but couldn't seem to stop herself. None of
this was supposed to be happening. Mulder had survived
the psychosis, and even brain surgery. How much more
could either of them be expected to take?

"The residual effects of the seizure are evident, of course,"
the doctor conceded, not taking offense at her words. "But
there is no sign of swelling, intracranial bleeding, or tumor.
Nothing to explain why Mulder should be experiencing any
of the symptoms you've described."

Scully pressed the backs of her fingers to her lips, closing
her eyes. "What do you propose we do now?"


When her eyes flew open he raised a quelling hand. "For
tonight. Take him home and let him get some sleep. You
and I both know that's key right now. As recovered as he
may look on the outside, his body is still healing and needs
plenty of rest. Who knows? Maybe these headaches are
simply a manifestation of his inability to handle stress right

"*Stress*? Doctor, I'll admit we have an extremely
demanding occupation, and that Mulder is a very driven
individual. But these headaches are way beyond what you'd
expect from stress, and they seem to pop up out of the blue.
One minute he's feeling great and then as soon as he even
attempts to work..." Her eyes widened and she felt abruptly
lightheaded. "Oh my God," she whispered.

Palermo reached out to steady her. "Easy, there. I know it's
frustrating, Dr. Scully, but we have to take this one step at a
time," he said soothingly. "Bring him back tomorrow
morning. I'd like to do an MRI and possibly an RN scan.
Until we figure out exactly what's going on, I want him
back on the Dilantin. Does he have any left or do I need to
write you a scrip?"

Scully focused on the question with effort, still reeling from
her epiphany. "Um, yes."

Palermo chuckled. "Yes, he has some at home or yes, you
need me to write a scrip?" he pressed.

Scully blinked, then shook her head. "I'm sorry. Yes, he
still has the pills at home."

Palermo gave her arm a squeeze before releasing it. "Get
some rest, Dr. Scully. You look like you could use it. And
try not to worry about your partner -- we'll get to the
bottom of what ails him."

Scully forced herself to concentrate on smiling and nodding
convincingly, though she felt as if she were falling down a
deep, dark hole. Once Palermo had left she collapsed back
into the chair beside Mulder's bed and stared sightlessly at
him, her mind replaying each time he'd suffered a headache
in her presence. The result only fed her alarm.

*At her apartment looking over casefiles, Mulder trying to
pull information from his normally infallible memory only
to draw a blank. Reading over the casefile in the office,
beginning a preliminary profile and identifying possible
avenues of investigation. Taking information she'd gathered
and executing what Skinner called "The Leap" -- that
uncanny ability to pull together pieces of seemingly-
disjointed information and assemble them into a coherent

All examples of Mulder being uniquely...Mulder.
Exercising the genius of his eidetic memory paired with his
"out of the box" thinking. In each case, he'd felt fine until
he'd engaged that complex brain and attempted to do what
he did so well.

She'd called the headaches crippling -- was that statement
truer than she'd realized?

On the surface it seemed a ridiculous idea, the stuff of fairy
tales. The evil wizard casts a spell on the handsome prince,
turning him into a helpless toad.



Had the headaches ever struck while they were filling out
expense reports? Or in one of those interminably long and
tedious budget meetings -- God knows, they certainly gave
*her* a migraine. Scully wracked her brain, looking for
something, anything to disprove the awful suspicion that
had taken root and wouldn't seem to go away. Just one
instance when they'd been in the middle of a totally
innocuous activity and he'd whined about his head or
popped some Tylenol.

She came up empty.

She buried her head in her hands, no longer able to look at
the serenity in his face. Again, the image of him strapped,
Christ-like, to a stainless steel table assaulted her senses,
Palermo's baffled voice a counterpoint.

*Frankly, Dr. Scully, I'm at a complete loss. It's clear
he was subjected to surgery and there are indications that
something was excised and removed near the brain stem. I
just can't tell you what.*

They'd been so concerned, so absorbed by what that
cigarette-smoking bastard might have taken from Mulder.
But what if the question they'd failed to ask was far more

What damage could he have done while he had the chance?

8:53 a.m.

Mulder drifted slowly back to consciousness, comfortable
but with the nagging sensation that something was amiss.
The sun was wrong, he decided, studying the flickering
pattern of light and dark on the insides of his eyelids. Lying
on his couch, the rays usually spilled over the top of his
head -- this illumination originated somewhere past his
right shoulder. And speaking of his couch, the smooth,
slightly worn leather beneath his cheek had been replaced
by soft flannel. He sniffed. Flannel that smelled of soap, the
faintest hint of vanilla, and... SCULLY?

Mulder's eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright, clutching
the sheet. His gaze darted around the bedroom while he ran
the fingers of one hand through tousled hair. A towel and
the spare pair of his sweats that normally resided in the
bottom drawer of her bureau lay beside his clothes and
shoes, neatly piled on a chair. His clothes...

For the first time Mulder registered that not only had he
awakened in Scully's bed, he'd done so clad only in boxers.
He felt the heat rise in his cheeks, uncertain whether to be
worried by the gap in his memory, embarrassed that Scully
had witnessed such vulnerability, or turned on that she'd
undressed him.

He swung his legs gingerly over the side of the mattress
and stood, relieved by the absence of pain and dizziness.
His last coherent memory was bright shards of agony
pulsing relentlessly through his brain and obliterating all
thought. Beyond that he had only a collection of vague
impressions. Scully cradling him as he writhed on the floor.
His forehead pressed hard against cool glass and the
rhythmic drone of rubber on pavement. Hands guiding him
into a long, dark tunnel echoing the rumble of a freight
train. The sting of a needle that banished the pain, leaving
him first giddy with relief and then heavy-limbed with

Mulder scrubbed his palms over his face. He desperately
needed a shower, coffee, and help filling the blanks -- in
that order. He picked up the towel and sweats and padded
into the bathroom.

Scully looked up from her computer at the groan of water
through pipes. She worried her lower lip with her teeth,
then logged off and went to the kitchen to start a fresh pot
of coffee. Her hands completed the simple tasks of drawing
water and measuring grounds (decaf -- Mulder was sure to
bitch and moan about *that*) while her mind spun in
useless circles like tires on ice.

By the time she'd hauled her semi-conscious partner up to
her apartment, stripped off his clothes, and deposited him
in her bed, Scully's body ached with exhaustion. Her mind,
however, had other ideas. She'd tossed and turned on the
couch, finally admitting defeat around five-thirty. Once
she'd determined Mulder was sleeping like a rock, she'd
brewed a pot of coffee, logged onto the Internet, and begun
searching for information on neurological disorders.

Three hours later she possessed a broadened knowledge
base but no facts that would back up her theory about
Mulder's headaches. Yet she knew in her heart that she was
right. Each time Mulder tried to work, to put his mind to
solving the case, the headaches struck with a vengeance.
Not while they were filling out old expense reports. Not
during Skinner's weekly staff meeting for department
heads. Not even when they'd fallen into an intense
argument over an old case and he'd been tight-lipped with
frustration. Coincidence? As Mulder often pointed out, if
it's coincidence, why does it feel so contrived?

"When you're done staring at it, I'd love a cup."

Scully jerked back from where she stood, palms propped on
either side of the coffee maker and eyes fixed on the trickle
of brown liquid. She glanced at Mulder in irritation --
slouched in the doorway with damp hair and a teasing grin.
How many times in the past week had he caught her

"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you," he said in a voice that
indicated he was anything but. "I just never knew you could
absorb the benefits of coffee through osmosis."

"You're a real riot this morning, Mulder," she said
sarcastically, reaching into the cupboard for a mug.
"Almost as funny as you were last night."

It was hitting below the belt, but he deserved it, she thought
smugly. His eyes slid away to contemplate the cross
stitched picture that hung on the wall near her table, lower
lip caught between his teeth.

"Uh...Scully? That reminds me of a question I wanted to
ask you," he said, shifting his weight from right foot to left.

Scully poured the coffee, grinning while her back was to
him. She turned, offering him the mug and a wide-eyed
look of innocence. "Yes, Mulder?"

She was extremely amused to see a flush spread across his
face and his respiration quicken. "Um. My recollection of
last night is pretty poor. I mean, the last clear memory I
have is of sitting around my coffee table and discussing the
case. How exactly did I wind up in your bed?"

How could she possibly resist when he'd just handed her
the perfect opening, all laid out on a silver platter? Scully
thrust her own lip out in an exaggerated pout and lowered
her voice to a sultry level.

"You told me you'd never forget last night, Mulder."

His shock was comical. His jaw attempted to scrape the
floor and his eyes blinked dazedly. To his credit, he
recovered quickly and mustered a passable leer.

"Oooh, Scully. Was I good?"

Scully snorted at that. "You were in rare form, Mulder.
What *do* you recall?"

Mulder frowned, wandering over to the table and sinking
into a chair. She sat across from him, studying the faded
lines of pain around his eyes and mouth. He stared into the
mug, swirling the liquid in a gentle circle.

"Pain," he said simply. "Possibly more intense than any I've
ever felt, more than the gunshot in North Carolina. I think I
remember being in your car?" When Scully nodded he
continued. "Then... It doesn't make any sense. I have this
image of being trapped in a tunnel with a train coming."

Scully's lips curved but her eyes were sad. "The CAT
scan," she murmured. "You were pretty out of it when they
took you down to radiology." She released a small puff of
air, not quite a laugh. "And high as a kite when they
brought you back."

Mulder dropped his head into his hands and groaned. "I
suddenly got this vague impression of flirting with a
middle-aged woman in blue scrubs. Please tell me I'm
exhibiting false memory syndrome."

Scully grinned. "That would be your nurse, Donna. Don't
worry, she thought you were very captivating."

Mulder wrinkled his nose and mouthed, "Ha, ha," then
shook his head, puzzled. "Demerol doesn't usually affect
me that strongly."

"Palermo gave you a shot of Dilantin, Mulder. On top of
the Demerol, you could say it was a one-two punch. Once
the euphoria over being pain-free wore off you were out
like a light. I barely got you back here -- at one point I
thought you were going to curl up on the front step and
camp out for the night."

Mulder's eyebrows knit together. "Dilantin? Why?"

Scully sucked in a long draught of air, releasing it slowly.
He really didn't remember.

"Mulder, you seized on me. Not full blown, but enough to
scare me. Palermo wants you back on the Dilantin full time,
at least until we can figure out what's going on."

The scowl deepened. "Nothing's going on, Scully! I just
must've overdone things a bit, that's all. I'll slow down, take
more breaks when I'm working and..."

Something in her face, an expression he wasn't sure he
recognized, made the words dry up in his mouth. Until that
very moment he would have said he knew every possible
combination of Scully's features -- fury, scorn, sorrow,
guilt, joy, affection. That he couldn't put a tag on this one
left Mulder's heart thumping unevenly in his chest.


"Mulder, you don't have a seizure from working too hard,"
she said slowly. "You admitted that that the pain from this
latest headache was excruciating. Those are symptoms,
partner, the body's way of warning that something is
wrong. Palermo was correct to put you back on the
Dilantin, a more severe seizure could be the beginning of
the end of your career as an agent."

Mulder leaned back in his chair, studying her intently.
Something was wrong, all right -- the way she was acting.
Words spoken too gently and carefully, tiptoeing instead of
marching. She should be angry with him, reprimanding him
for his stubborn refusal to acknowledge her concerns for
his health. One thing he could count on from Scully -- she
never pulled her punches.

"What are you not telling me, Scully?" he demanded
bluntly. "What do you know that I don't?"

Scully spread her hands on the tabletop, tracing the wood
grain with a finger. "I don't *know* anything, Mulder."
When he uttered a small grunt of impatience she held up a
constraining hand. "But I do have some suspicions."

He frowned. "Go on."

She met his eyes, choosing her words carefully. "Mulder,
we never really figured out what was done to you when you
were with Spender..."

"Besides the fact that he had them cut my head open, you
mean?" he interrupted acidly. "Gives the term 'playing
doctor' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?"

"Are you listening to me or not?"

The rebuke came out more sharply than Scully had
intended and she sighed inwardly when Mulder folded his
arms and nodded sourly. She knew he didn't like talking
about this, that he still suffered from nightmares in which
he was forced to relive the surgery, restrained but
completely conscious of every slice of the scalpel. The
biting sarcasm was his method of deflecting the horror and
convincing himself he'd regained control. Understanding it
didn't mean she had to like it.

"As you know, we ran the gamut of neurological tests. We
could see that something had been removed near the brain
stem, largely due to minor trauma of the surrounding tissue.
Even that diagnosis made no sense, however, since the
CAT scan also indicated your brain was essentially intact.
All our discussions, our suppositions, have focused on that
anomaly and what it might mean."

Mulder jerked his eyes free from hers, teeth grinding in
frustration. "You aren't telling me anything I don't already
know, Scully. What's your point?"

The flash of anger his words inspired died as Scully caught
a slight tremor beneath the fury in his tone, naked fear
concealed by the insolence in his gaze.

"My point, is that we were distracted by the clear link
between your surgery and loss of telepathy, and never
adequately considered the other possible ramifications."
She reached across the table, plucking one hand from its
chokehold on his ribs. "It was an ideal opportunity for
Spender -- you were completely defenseless, Mulder. What
if the surgery entailed more than just removing the alien
element from your brain? What if he saw the chance to
slow you down? To ensure you'd no longer be a constant
thorn in his side?"

Mulder pulled his hand back as if scalded, his face pale.
"You think these headaches are engineered? That they're
the result of something that black-lunged bastard did to my
brain?" he asked, his voice thrumming with a combination
of fury and panic. "I... Maybe I'm just a slow healer -- you
said there was visible trauma from the surgery! I just need a
little more time."

Scully's stomach churned at his desperation but she
resolutely shook her head. "Mulder, you're getting worse,
not better. And I think I know the reason. Last night,
talking to Palermo, I realized that each of the headaches
I've witnessed has occurred while you were working. The
first time occurred while we were arguing over that case
involving lycanthropy. It happened again when you began
delving into the Pro-Choice murders, and has escalated
each time you've attempted to work on the profile. Last
night, just as we'd begun to make some real headway
towards identifying the killer, you had the worst attack yet.
You'd have to be blind not to recognize the implications."

Mulder swallowed hard and licked his lips. "Are we talking
permanent brain damage, Scully? Is that what you think?
Then why was the CAT scan normal?"

"No test is infallible, Mulder," she answered gently, then
grimaced. "Maybe what they did won't show up on
conventional tests. Maybe it's not really damage at all, but
some sort of...of chemical rewiring accomplished with

A trace of amusement seeped into the bleakness of
Mulder's eyes. "Rewired? I'm supposed to be the one with
the wild theories, remember Scully? Next thing I know
you'll be suggesting that little green men did this to me."

The humor was forced but Scully credited the effort by
mustering the shadow of a smile. "Gray, Mulder. And I
wouldn't start picking out china patterns just yet."

Mulder blew out a harsh breath of air and lifted both hands,
palms up. "So...what do we do?"

"We take it one step at a time. Palermo expects us back at
the hospital this morning for some additional tests. I also
want a more complete tox screen run on your blood. They
can draw it at the hospital but I want it analyzed at the

"And if we come up empty?"

Scully's words were as soft as the brush of her fingers on
his hand. "One step at a time, Mulder." She collected his
empty mug and walked over to the counter. "Coffee?"

"I'd love some. Where are you hiding it?"

Scully masked the smirk with an arched brow, taking
obscure comfort in his predictability. "Just for that, you can
pour your own. I'm taking a shower."

When Mulder didn't jump on the obvious opportunity for a
lewd remark, she paused and turned back. He was sitting
very still, shoulders hunched and eyes distant.

"Mulder, try not to worry. We'll do everything in our power
to find out what's wrong."

He didn't move, didn't shift his gaze, his voice barely above
a whisper. "I'm not worried we won't figure out what they
did, Scully. I'm worried we won't be able to do anything
about it."

For that she had no answer.

Continued in part 2