Twilight's End --- Chapters 4 thru 8

by diehard

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Chapter 4

Mulder grabs their bags and tosses them inside. Leaning against the open door, he stops her as she tries to pass and captures her in a loose embrace. One large hand comes to rest loosely on her shoulder. Drawing circles on her lower back with the other, he skims the spot where the snake lies coiled.

"Ready?" he asks softly.

She tips her head up and her warm lips brush his cheek. Pulling back a little, she catches his eyes shift to jade, signaling curiosity and anticipation. He's not on edge anymore, or a hairsbreadth from losing control. Nine years, and she knows all the signals of his personal barometer. "Let's hope whatever's in those boxes is something we want to have."

"I'll settle for the truth." A faint smile crosses his lips, but there's a solemn cast to his gaze.

Smiling back, the gravity of what they're about to do is not lost on her, "That, and something we can use."

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He pulls out the two chairs and positions them on the side

of the table nearest to the boxes. Scully sits down quietly, breathing slowly, readying herself. He takes his place beside her, leans in and whispers in her ear.

"I wonder if you can get cable on these."

"Jesus..." Exhaling a breath half way between a laugh and a groan, she lets her shoulders slump as she shakes her head.

"That was levity, an attempt to psychologically defuse a charged situation."

"Shut up, Mulder." It's the usual retort, but her voice is tender, and she reaches over and lightly strokes his knee with the pad of her thumb.

"Tough talk....OK, let's do this, then."

Each of them brings a hand to rest on the larger box. It's smooth to the touch, as cool and smooth as onyx. It could very well be some semiprecious mineral, alien gemstone for all they know.

Mulder starts to say something to that effect, when the surface underneath their hands begins to soften and break apart.

A nanosecond later, the top surface dissolves completely, the rest of the mass starts to shift and move, and blue light streams between their fingers. Jerking their hands away, the urge to take cover is too strong. Reflexively, their eyes slam shut.

No one breathes.

Exhaling sharply after what seems like an eternity, Mulder opens his eyes first, then Scully. The black box is now a holographic data station, beaming a glowing screen of streaming code. Silent with shock, it's just as well, because the room fills with the sound of someone's voice.

Jeremiah Smith's voice, to be exact.

"Mulder, are you hearing this?" It wasn't really doubt, Scully had come to know all too well what was possible, that there was science she couldn't know, couldn't begin to understand.

They didn't look at each other, only at what was now the wavering image of a face they both recognized---alien, rebel, healer.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, our friend Montoya has obviously been successful in protecting this."

Smith sounded breathless, hurried.

"Listen carefully. I expect our mutual enemies will move quickly once my treason is discovered. We have the technology to encapsulate part of out consciousness in units like these. They store information holographically, interactively, and operate via voice command. I've uploaded DNA information concerning the two of you, and plans to distribute a hybrid version of a vaccine you both are familiar with. All existing samples are safe in the companion unit to this one. The vaccine requires something you are uniquely qualified to offer."

It was Mulder now, "The future hinges on us...literally."

"Yes, but you will have to make a choice, a critical one. I've also enclosed something for both of you along with the vaccine. Choose wisely, Agent Mulder.... One last thing. This unit will retain all the necessary biological constructs, offensive plans, any formulas you may need. At the very end of the data files you will find my personal log---call it a gift from a comrade. However, anything about the two of you, on a personal level, as well as my log, will erase once displayed. It is, as I think you would say, a one-time shot..."

Then nothing but static.

"Mulder, what happened?" Scully bit her lip, knowing the answer.

"Fate. His. Now it's time to face ours." One of his hands grasped hers, and held it loosely.

A quiet pause, a deep breath and his voice, resolute, "Return to data."

Smith's frozen image melts into blue symbols, a coded, streaming legacy.

Scully's command reverberated in the little room, clear, reserved, ready. "Display all relevant DNA models."

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First one double helix, then another emerges, two sinuous double twists. Rotating in unison, they provide a 360 degree view, the shimmering reduction of who they are. Underneath each strand their names glow, an eerie, ephemeral marker.

"Do you see it, Mulder?" Scully murmurs, more than a little stunned. Stunned at what she's seeing, and in the back of her mind she's surprised at how easy it is to let fall another piece of the science she's built her life upon.

"What do you see...what is it?"

"We both have branching protein code...in more than one location...it's subtle, but significant..."

"Mutation..." He feels the world shifting as he speaks, as he sees what is irrevocably changed, and still he can't say yet what he knows, what they both know.

"Yes."

There is silence for several long minutes. But the need to confirm the unspoken is just too powerful.

"We're hybrids, Mulder...like Gibson."

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Idly tracing the letter S on the back of her hand, he's murmuring something, but only the last part is clear. ".. Blindly, we shuffle toward the dark."

Some quote, some fragment of a poem, she's sure. Turning toward him, she recognizes the shadows clouding his expression. Self-recrimination will keep chasing him, no matter how deep her devotion or how hard he tries to let it go.

But he has to get past it, they both do.

"We make our own future, Mulder. You said that you believed we'd find a way to save ourselves. I plan on holding you to that."

He remembers and rallies because she remembers, and because she holds his gaze in that deep, still way and he feels her faith in him, and it's stronger than any of his demons.

"When have I ever been wrong, Scully?
About saving the world, anyway."

It feels like an ancient reference, but he's happy to see the light dance in her eyes, and feels himself relax as they dodge the bullet once again.

She turns back to the models, but not before she graces him with the tiniest of smiles.

"Identify specific location of branches and function."

The visuals on the models zoom into quadrants of symbols, and words decrypt in the blink of an eye. They're intently focused, but neither of them can completely make out what's being shown.

"Slow display, form sections and hold."

"What are we looking at, Scully?"

She reads the sections, then reads them again. "The branches are involved with seroproduction. Apparently we now produce an amino acid in our blood streams that has human and non-human characteristics."

"For what reason?"

"According to what I'm reading, there doesn't seem to have any active function in our physiology. It's just floating in our plasma...it's residue."

"It's not supposed to do anything to us...we're supposed to do something with it." There's excitement in his voice, the sound of intuition at work. Montoya's and Smith's words reverbrate in his head. "This is what they were hinting at, Scully. Display vaccine as molecule," he commands.

In a second, a three dimensional model appears. He knows his intuition is on target, he can feel it. "Insert hybrid amino acids to current display." Instantaneously, as if drawn by a magnet they merge into the molecular structure of the vaccine, thickening rapidly, becoming one seamless entity, a dense strand of radiant particles.

"Look at this. I've never seen anything like it." Now Scully's voice is brimming with that same elation. "Isolate effect of aminos on vaccine and provide results as text."

The models dissolve, then words appear slowly, heavy with promise, hovering in the stillness. 'Exponential increase in potency. Vaccine is 100 percent effective in blocking introduction of nonhuman genetic material. Toxicity to hosts: none.'

"This is it," she breathes, awed at the possibility. "It's..."

"Hope, Scully." Touching her on the shoulder, he waits for her to turn and face him.

"It's hope."

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Chapter 5

They've been at it a long time, hour after hour without a break. Taking a short breather, they conceal all the data, and symbols run down the small display field, a cobalt trail of secrets. Scully stretches and finds the bathroom in working order, but not before glancing over at the second unit. Thinking about Albert Hosteen, and more worlds than she can hold in her hand, it's clear her world's boiled down to blood and someone else's science.

Quick foraging on Mulder's part revealed hidden treasure in the tiny refrigerator---some water in a pitcher, brown laying eggs, cold mutton in a crock, and some fry bread wrapped in layers of cheesecloth. He's wonders about the data they haven't seen yet, guesses at how many vials of vaccine are in the other box, and silently prays he wasn't wrong about hope. A roll of the cosmic dice and look where they ended up. They're fugitives, they're mutants, they're the saviors of the planet. He can't say he's talking to God, not yet, but he asks whatever's out there, whatever's holding him and Scully and the universe together, to make this come out right.

At some level, he's been ready his whole life for the way things turned out, so long as it left him with proof. Scully never asked for any of it. Fate stripped away family, career, even the bedrock of her beliefs.

And then there's William. 'Loss is a feeble word,' he thinks, 'William is our forever sorrow, Scully, yours and mine.'

"Hungry?" he asks over his shoulder, needing to say something, anything, the more banal, the better. He wants to offer her any shred of normalcy he can.

Swallowing against the lump in his throat, he turns just in time to catch her straightening the shabby, brown curtain back into place. When she turns to face him, there's no doubt or confusion in the depth of her eyes. Relief runs through him--he can feel it, his breath releasing, his body relaxing.

Meanwhile, she's figured out what he's thinking. There's a split second when all she sees is the crown of William's head, smells the milky, baby powder sweetness of his skin. But she knows what he needs to hear, what she needs to do. Teasing him seems the right response, it's not the time to talk about what this all means. But tonight, in the stillness and the dark, in her mind's eye she will hold her son again and tell him low much she loves him.

"Caught me red-handed, Sheriff."

He smiles, and she smiles back. "Where's the handcuffs when you really need 'em?" Now he's intuiting her, and returns serve with the required innuendo.

"No time to play, I'm afraid." She glances over to the table, loaded with guns, ammo, and alien technology.

His eyes follow hers. 'She's good,' he realizes, 'I'm good.'

"Maybe later, then. What about something to eat? It would appear our esteemed host has left the larder full." They ate late last night, and were too distracted by each other and making ready to have breakfast this morning. It's really more a perfunctory question than anything else. He doesn't want anything now but the answers.

She knows he's not interested in food or a break in the action. Besides, what they don't know is starting to nag at her. Too keyed up to eat, she takes a long, slow breath to center herself, "Not right now...what about you?"

"Nah....Back to the salt mines, Outlaw."

It's that strong, even stride that never fails to move him as she nods and walks back to the table. Watching her return to her seat, a second later he walks walks over and joins her.

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Cracking his knuckles, he rolls his neck until the vertebrae pop, then straightens tall in his chair and slides it closer to her. Turning slightly in her direction, they're sitting so close together that his shoulder brushes hers.

"Ready for the revolution?"

Taking another deep, deep breath, she stretches in her chair and settles in, "Yeah, I'm ready."

His voice is calm and careful. "Display plans for an offensive, both versions. Provide all tactical and strategic information."

Decryption is instantaneous, and they're flooded with a barrage of information. It's overwhelming, it's too much at once. "Separate data and freeze into readable sections."

It almost looks like cell division, but the chaos of shimmering blue becomes two distinct, explicit files, organizing themselves like chapters in a book. It's their labeling that make the two of them look at each other for the first time in what seems like very long time. Underneath one is the glimmering word 'Alpha,' and below the other is 'Omega.'

"First strike and the last, best hope."

She doesn't respond directly to his remark. "Now we can look at them one at a time. Show Plan Alpha in foreground, move Plan Omega to background and dim."

First up is the protocol and procedure for isolating the proteins, then the formula specifying how many parts per milligram to introduce to the vaccine, followed by instructions as to how to mass produce the final product. The second major section shows a topographical map of the country, pinpointing cities with large pharmaceutical plants, research labs, medical schools, and MUFON members with access to those sites, as well as local boards of health, and neighborhood clinics.

Over the next 18 to 24 months, the two of them will travel to different cities, setting up cells where the vaccine will be produced. To insure the distribution, the serum would also be introduced to the most commonly used medicines at the manufacturing level. A cadre of carefully chosen resisters will distribute the vaccine through large medical centers, then in local clinics, then split off and set up new cells in other cities, then rural areas. There are also plans to provide the vaccine to former abductees who routinely travel out of the country.

After studying the display, Mulder breaks the silence. "We take point, stay on the move. This is doable, Scully. We have enough resources to stay mobile, to hide in plain sight. Large urban areas work as staging platforms. It's easy access for us, and for other resisters. Then we gear up, divide and multiply." We spread globally.... reaching everywhere like a ..."

"...like a virus. And you're right, this looks really possible."

"I like the way you think," he quipped, "especially when you agree with me."

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Scully gives the command and the second file opens, now the luminous record reconfigures to show both plans side by side. There's still an easy feeling here--the room holds the sense of possibility, and sighing deeply, she allows herself the luxury of this moment.

A new topographic map materializes, but it's only a fifty mile radius from their current location, pinpointing an isolated plateau deep inside the nearby mountain range. Mulder doesn't say anything, but he can feel the knot slowly forming in his stomach. He asks himself why there's another plan when the first was so perfect. It doesn't make sense, he can feel it in his bones.

"Halt file. Freeze data.....Mulder, what's wrong?" Scully catches the shift in the atmosphere immediately. She can sense the change in him, in the whole room without even looking.

"Smith's put new meaning in the term 'anal retentive.'"

"That's not it," she challenges, glancing at him over her shoulder. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking..." he murmurs as he touches her arm, "I'm thinking that there doesn't need to be another file, unless we're missing something."

Turning toward him, she sees the questions in his eyes, the doubt. Truth be told, it's dawning on her that it's all been too easy. "OK, let's say you're right. There's only one way to find out. We need to see everything that's here and then draw our conclusions."

Tension at the base of her spine draws the muscles tight, and instinctively she reaches back to start massaging the spot, but Mulder's hand's already there, his fingertips soothing away the stiffness, spreading warmth. Sighing, she leans back, letting him hold her up for a minute. But she knows there's no time for anything but a moment's respite. "Resume file display."

Pressing a last caress into the small of her back, he slowly withdraws, turning back to the image before him. "We'll deal with it, Scully, whatever it is we find out."

"I know." She reassures him as she steadies herself.

What the map indicates appears to be a base camp, built partially above ground, with the majority of the structure housed inside a large cave. They both notice right away a honeycomb of connecting tunnels fanning out into the mountains, into the local valley, with some finally leading to rock culverts hidden by the stand of pines they passed on the road here.

"Display schematics for all aspects of featured structure," he orders.

Diagrams and text emerge next to the map. There are bare-bones living quarters, a main room and two smaller ones, kitchen, bathroom, a lab and a communication center. There also seems to be a storeroom, or what might be a weapons locker. It's clear to Mulder the structure's utilized a preexisting cave shelter and tunnels left by Anasazi. They're ready to take it to the next level, and the reasoning behind this part of the puzzle's critical.

"Someone's been renovating, improving on what indigenous people left behind a thousand years ago. It seems Spender wasn't the only one who could see they were still useful."

"There's probably a lot Montoya hasn't told us," she answers dryly. Her attention hasn't left the display either. It's clear to her that the base is a production lab, and she's betting Mulder's figured that out, too.

"It could be that Smith and his sympathizers were responsible for this directly."

"It's possible, but does it matter? She's our only contact."

"You don't completely trust her, do you?"

She says nothing for a moment, then responds. "The only person I trust completely is you."

"That's my line, Scully."

What he doesn't say is that all the best-laid plans mean nothing, that that it all hinges on the two of them, trusting one another, and being willing to take it to the end together.

Turning to him again, she nods and takes her hand and rests it against his cheek. No words need to be said.

She knows.

Both of them return to the business at hand, watching intently as the tactical files decrypt. In this scenario, the two of them staff and operate a central manufacturing lab for the vaccine. Montoya will handle security and supervise transport of cadre members from their locations to the base and back. The resistance is still comprised of the same MUFON members as before. Traveling covertly, they'll arrive at the lab using a carefully staggered schedule and indirect routes. Apparently, the density of magnatite in the region blocks the normal tracking signal given off by the implants, concealing the presence of cadre in the region. Over the course of a week, they'll receive the training required to reproduce the vaccine. Once completed, they'll be briefed on tactical distribution using their respective home locations. The overall time frame of 18 to 24 month still remains in place.

Mulder sees the hole in the plan immediately. No matter how careful they might be, the risk to abductees is obvious. It might not be caught right away, but sooner or later a pattern of travel outside the normal routine of the abductees will be discernible. No matter how covert the travel, all roads lead to where they are. The chips are locator tags, and even if there's only a partial trail, the aliens will eventually lock onto it, and will systematically search the whole area until eventually they're all discovered and killed. Or worse, captured and abducted again. There's the possibility that some cadre could go undetected and distribute the vaccine, but the chances of success are are much smaller. He looks over to Scully, who seems lost in thought, her right hand stroking the base of her neck, fingertips brushing back and forth across her implant scar.

"Hey, Outlaw, " his voice soft, "You still with me?"

She wants to tell him she wishes she'd refused to have the implant restored, but she knows there's nothing to be gained by second-guessing. She didn't want to die, she still doesn't. 'Please let us be safe, ' she prays, 'Safe enough to do this. Please.'

"Yeah...I am," she replies, coming back to herself and this moment. "This plan has significant weaknesses, but I'm assuming you've figured that out."

"Plan Omega is a poor second choice, that's obvious. What we're not seeing is why it's here to begin with." Trying to concentrate, trying to unearth the fragment that connects all the pieces of the puzzle, Mulder closes his eyes, and leans back in his chair.

"Then we go over the files again, section by section until we find what we're looking for." Scully starts to scrutinize the display fields, hoping to find a hint, a clue, something. "Highlight key features of plans Alpha and Omega," she orders, "and crossmatch the following variables...."

"Wait...The answer's not there."

Whipping her head around, she finds him sitting at the edge of his chair, eyes bright with discovery.

"Encrypt files and close current location," he commands. Glowing blue words twist and swirl, fading into symbols. Suddenly, there's a pulse of light, then nothing. He knows what to do, it was there all along in what Montoya said to both of them. It's them. The explanation has everything to do with them.

"Display all biosignature data for subjects Fox Mulder and Dana Scully."

A new display opens, with sections of their DNA models in close up, sections they hadn't examined before. The anxiety's building and she can feel her heart racing, Scully leans in to get a closer look. "I don't know what the hell I'm looking at here. I'll need to pull up the full models, try to piece these segments into the whole. If I can do that, maybe I can guess what it all means."

Before she can do anything, the voice of Jeremiah Smith returns. "I think I can answer your questions, Agent Scully. By now you and Agent Mulder must see the critical importance you play in defeating the colonists. You are on the brink of a critical decision with the power to change the future. You need to understand fully why you've been given that choice."

"The reason for these plans...what we need to know about ourselves..." Mulder began. All he could hear was the sound of his own voice, all he could feel was Scully's hand reaching for his.

"Yes, I think it's time, don't you?" Smith hesitates for a moment, and Scully wonders if he was trying to gather the strength to speak.

"Simply put, this is the situation," Smith was back, and there is nothing but resolve in his voice. "Our people are undergoing slow extinction due changes on our home planet that have made the environment inhospitable. Our leadership is an expansionist, and warlike. However, they have never represented a majority among us. There are those who have fought unsuccessfully for our people to find other ways to survive. For decades, a tiny group rebels has worked covertly on ships, looking for a way to halt the invasion. We are separate from the splinter group that you know as the faceless ones... their tactics have been confrontational, ours remain non-violent, more secret, and by necessity, more subtle. As often as we can, we leave the ships for reconnaissance. Our ability to change our appearance has been keenly useful in intelligence gathering. We hoped that an opportunity would arise that would allow us to help your people...

Mulder interrupts, "You turned against your own, chose to fight against your race's chance to survive?"

"Yes, Agent Mulder, some of us believe that taking of any life is unacceptable. That must come as a surprise to you, but I am part of what you would call a clan of what you, Agent Scully, might refer to as priests. We formed the core of the resistance on the ships. You both know of my capacity to heal human abductees, and part of my mission was to attempt to reach and restore as many as I could. That mission brought me into contact with you, but the two of you have been surveilled by our group since your partnership began. Early on, we saw that both of you were willing to ask the right questions, regardless of the risk. We've watched you closely over time, monitored your activities, any significant changes."

"You knew about my abduction, then?" As soon as the words leave Scully's lips, Mulder's fingers lace through hers.

"Yes, but we were powerless to stop it, to stop any of them, or the attempt to create hybrids...You...Agent Mulder's sister.... we couldn't risk being discovered.... It was our hope, however, that somehow, we could find a way to fight together."

"You'd better be right," she murmurs, hoping no one's heard her, the squeeze of her hand tells her otherwise. Clearing her throat, "Go on."

"You have both undergone genetic changes we've concealed from our mutual enemies in the hope it could be used to help wage an offensive. Simply put, Agent Scully, some time after your abduction, it appears you were exposed to some unknown mutagen that altered your natural aging process. It also appears you have a heightened ability to heal after serious injury. In other words, you have the potential for extreme longevity."

"Fellig...," she murmurs, almost inaudible. Mulder's nodding, more history's come into play.

"Are you asking something, Agent Scully?" It's Smith or what's left of Smith, trying to respond.

"No, just go on..."

"As soon as we were aware of this fact, we sequestered all the relevant data. It was was unclear for several years what the corollary effect of that exposure was. But we periodically checked our original cellular samples, and we discovered not only multiple branching DNA strands, but the release of certain amino acids which appeared to bind instantly to samples of the vaccine we had in our possession. But its effect on the vaccine was minimal--only small, incremental increases in potency. Then approximately two years ago, The Smoking Man abducted you."

Scully feels herself flinch but Mulder squeezes her hand.

"What we've been able to piece together is that he reprogrammed your chip. Your risk of cancer is nil, and your fertility was restored for a single pregnancy. For reasons we don't understand, it appears Spender was attempting to provide you with a chance for motherhood, and a return to relative safety. Without a functioning chip, you could move anywhere undetected."

"But there's always a complication, isn't there?" Mulder asks even though he knows the answer.

"More than a complication, an event, Agent Mulder. You were exposed to the artifact from one of our ships, resulting in anomalous temporal lobe function, giving you precognitive ability that obviously would put plans for invasion in jeopardy. We were made aware of your kidnapping, engineered by members of the Consortium with the stated intention of neutralizing the threat."

"And you were unable to do anything again but watch from the shadows." Mulder spoke deliberately, but the irony was there. It was, however, lost on Smith.

"We came to understand that there was another agenda in place, orchestrated by C.G.B. Spender. It was was unsuccessful due to your intervention, Agent Scully, and from what we discovered later, Agent Fowley's as well."

"Fine. We've just reviewed recent history. What are you saying, Smith? How does Mulder's exposure factor into this?"

"What you don't know is that we falsified certain test results performed on Agent Mulder during his captivity onboard one of our ships. Our operative found evidence of heightened and intensified pineal gland activity and concealed that information. As a physician, Agent Scully, you probably believe pineal gland function is essentially vestigial. But Agent Mulder, I suspect you know the significance of this change, and why we chose to conceal it."

"Pineal gland function has been associated with the 'third eye,' with the capacity to access other levels of consciousness, other planes of existence...."

"You mean speaking to the dead." She says it, and as she does, she's aware there's no question in her mind about it. In an old life, it would have been a bone of contention, but too much has happened to question what's being said.

"More like hearing what the dead are trying to tell us," Mulder responds.

"That, and the potential for telekenesis, for telepathy," Smith continues. "Samples we took from you developed branching DNA almost immediately, and when we saw the presence of similar proteins to those of Agent Scully, we introduced the proteins secreted by both of you to the vaccine. The results were stunning, a breakthrough. That was when we began to formulate the plans you now have."

"And speaking of the plans, why are there two sets, Smith? Just answer that directly." Scully made no attempt to hide her growing impatience. 'Cut to the chase,' she thinks, 'Let's get to the goddamn point.'

As if he could hear her thoughts, Smith replies. "The facts, then, directly. It means that you and Agent Mulder give off a linked biosignature unlike any two people on Earth. It only exists when the two of you are in close proximity to each other, for reasons we do not understand. It means that our enemies can find you anywhere, except where there are large deposits of magnatite. We developed a serum to mask those signatures, concealed along with the vaccine in the second unit, but there's a risk of fatality to Agent Mulder that we didn't have the time to eliminate. When the timetable for distribution of the virus was pushed forward, when the supersoldiers were introduced, it forced our hand before we could perfect the neutralizing agent. That's why there are two plans. The first is the most feasible, but there is an obvious risk. We have no idea what, if anything, could be done with just the proteins produced by Agent Scully. We suspect that it may be possible to strengthen the effects, but we have no solid evidence to support that. In the second plan, you are protected, the vaccine is insured, but many others face potential discovery, death or recapture. Should that happen, the impact on resistance is obvious."

There is silence now, perhaps there's nothing else. Perhaps the essence of Smith that remains in the box is waiting for something.

Looking into each other's eyes, they both know there's nothing to rely on but an intergalactic crapshoot and their utter devotion to each other. Exhaustion and hunger are starting to claim their bodies, but at the core, they're stronger, stronger than this risk, stronger than any fear.

"Terrible odds, impossible choices, Scully..."

"Just like always."

It's not the first time, but Mulder can count on the fingers of one hand the times he felt with pure and perfect clarity why he was born, what he's supposed to do. He felt it the moment he vowed to find his sister, the day he re-opened the X-Files, the night in a playground when he let Samantha go. And there was that crystalline moment after the failed trip to England when Scully came him--whispering her promise as they moved together, how he saw the rest of his life in the blue of her eyes. Now there's this minute, this revelation.

It still amazes her how deeply in love she is with him, how transparent she is to him now. Studying his face, she marvels at the way his eyes are flecked with gold in the fading daylight, and she can't help but smile as she looses herself in them. She's past feeling shock at the daily unbelievable that is their life, light years away from her old skepticism. The woman who would've argued about what she just heard is dead and gone. There's only room for believing what's in front of her, seizing any chance that will keep them alive and help them fight the future. She has to live by her wits, survive on instinct, do the unexpected.

She doesn't know how why, but for some reason Montoya's parting words replay in her head. Before she can stop herself she says the first thing that comes to mind. It's not practical, it's not what her former self would say, but that Dana Scully's not here.

"I think I'll have that drink now."

"I wasn't expecting that, Outlaw....Good call." Mulder's up in a flash, getting the bottle from the cabinet and two tumblers. It's almost twilight now. They've been at this for six hours, and the sunlight from the dingy windows is fading to dusk, to shades of violet, lavender, and gray.

Striding briskly back to the table, he hands over the bottle and glasses to her and she pours them each two fingers of the amber liquid. They're both poised to take the first shot, when the silence is broken by Smith and a question.

"Are you ready to hear about your son?"

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Chapter 6

Slid onto the table, the mescal sits in front of them, untouched. The mood's been shattered by the question that hangs above them like a sword.

"What about our son?" Scully asks.

"With Agent Mulder abducted, we monitored your activities more closely, soon learning of your pregnancy. One of our operatives accessed your medical records, and discovered the involvement of a Dr. Parenti, a specialist in alien/ human hybrids. We immediately infiltrated his lab and learned that you and Agent Mulder were going to have a son, one with a completely unique DNA profile."

The two of them glance at each other, acknowledging the confirmation. Mulder's throat is burning, out of the corner of his eye he catches Scully welling up.

"Your child's genetic profile showed a tremendous potential for telepathy, telekinesis. He could, in fact, act as a conduit for alien consciousness. Parenti's notes confirmed this and suggested he could be an ideal tool for use in colonization."

"Tool!" Scully spits out the word. "Our boy is not a 'tool,' Smith." Mulder's hand brushes away the single tear on her cheek; feeling her shudder beneath his fingertips. Scully pulls herself taut and squares hers shoulders, grateful her voice does not betray her.

"Your son would be used the way our enemies have tried for millennia to use the holiest amongst us."

"Get to the fucking point, Smith." Mulder's voice barely rises above a whisper. He's shaking too, not with grief like Scully, but with barely contained rage.

"Our ranks have been decimated, Agent Mulder, specifically our leaders--all executed for treason. The only reason we have not been exterminated en masse is that the colonists still use us to treat abductees. Our enemies have a particular interest in the most sacred amongst us, those who've received visions and prophecies throughout the millennia. The revelations happen randomly, without any discernible pattern. There is no known genetic cause, no link to specific physical traits...."

Smith pauses momentarily, when he speaks again each word is carefully emphasized for maximum effect.

"Your son is different, his potential obvious, rooted in his biology. Given the right behavioral inhibitors, he could be the way to control millions. Consortium members seized the information we'd stolen from Parenti's files and returned it, killing our operative before it could be hidden or destroyed.... A faction within the Consortium acted on this information immediately, despite scattered reports that Spender was seriously ill or possibly dead. We knew that Agent Scully and your unborn child were in significant danger..."

"Let me guess, Smith," Mulder cuts in, his voice dripping venom. "You can't risk revealing yourselves, so you decide to wait until she gives birth, watching from the shadows, knowing the danger they faced. Too bad they weren't killed, it would have made everything easier." Scully knows he's at the edge, and it's her touch, her warm hand cupping the back of his neck that brings him back from the point of no return.

"I know our methods are difficult for you to accept. Your lives, as is all human life, is sacred to us--you must believe that. We had to make difficult choices, based on necessity, on survival. Please believe me. Work was begun immediately on a plan to help your son, to end the threat to him, to all of us. Unbeknownst to our enemies, we broke into Parenti's lab a second time and retrieved a fetal tissue sample. We manufactured a serum--specific to the boy's physiology, to be administered before his immune system was fully functional, eradicating any risk."

Smith's voice is eerily calm, despite a clatter of noise in the far distance that slowly grows in its intensity. After some static and patch of dead air, he rushes the rest, words clipped, his voice thinning with fear. "There's not much time left. We've located an emissary to deliver the serum, someone you can trust, someone known to you. He will do whatever's necessary to insure your son's safety."

Suddenly, there's another voice yelling in the background, "Hurry, they're coming! Finish it and I'll get the units to Montoya."

Now Smith's yelling over an escalating din, a whir of metal against metal. "One of our holy men had a vision... we know you will not be able to keep your son." The noise reaches a crescendo, almost drowning out the last thing Jeremiah Smith will ever say.

"Read my log...it's the last thing I can do for you."

The other voice is yelling now, "Give it to me!" I've got the portal open..." Then hissing, a roar of metal, then nothing.

A minute later symbols appear, glimmering blue words decrypt and Smith's log appears bearing his last gift. It's tersely worded, but as the two of them read and re-read the brief entry they're stunned by what they see. If all went according to plan, by now anything connecting them to their son will have all been destroyed. All that's exists is a birth certificate for a William Van DeCamp, one of hundreds of babies born that day, completely untraceable.

The sunlight 's fading, shadows growing around them. They've come to the end, they've seen it all, all heard it all.

"Let's get some some air." Mulder's pushes away from the table and is on his feet. Gingerly, he pulls the string on the one bare lightbulb overhead.

"We have to talk." Scully gives the command to destroy everything except the formula for the vaccine and the distribution plans, turns to to him, deliberately holding his gaze.

"I know," he says quietly. After giving the order to shut down the unit, he holds out his hand and waits for her to rise from her chair. Helping her to her feet, he wants to be able to say something, but anything coming to mind seems facile, useless in the face of today's discoveries.

They pick up their duffels from the floor and deposit them on the bed. Digging out their denim jackets, the silence hangs between them as they slip on the extra layer of clothing. Mulder's first, easing the door open and stepping out of Montoya's cabin with Scully right behind. She leaves it cracked enough so that a sliver of yellowish light guides them down the barely usable porch. There's the faint cry of hawks in the distance, the smell of pines nearby and dirt underneath their feet as they head for the obelisk they saw when they first drove up this morning. The only other sound is their footfalls crunching across the sparse patches of grass and gravel as they make their way. A few feet away from the granite marker they stake a claim on a spot, gazing up at the night sky. The glow of ancient stars casts enough light to outline shapes and edges of the dark landscape surrounding them. Mountains rise in the distance, rimmed by a scattered outcropping of trees, silent witnesses to the beginning and end of all things.

Twilight's eroded away, the last faint traces of purple nothing more than a memory. Blue-black sky stretches above them, a dark canopy punctured with starlight. There is a kind of awe shared between them, one tinged with relief, with grief, always grief, and finally, a faint glimmer of peace.

"Safe," she murmurs. "Can we really believe that?"

"I think we have to, Scully. What's our alternative?"

Scully takes slow deep breaths, first one, then another, letting the cold mountain air fill her lungs. She relishes the sting, the sensation of something simple, straightforward and clean. The wind's kicking up, blowing back her hair, and she welcomes the sharp chill against her face. Mulder's wraps his arms around her and pulls her close. For once, he wants only the tangible, for once he wants to be anchored in the knowable. And what he knows more than anything is that Scully is his one immutable truth. Pressing her against his chest, together they keep looking toward heaven, taking comfort in the vastness of night, its secrets and its release.

William is safe.

They allow themselves the luxury of watching night's unfolding. It's moonless, the few clouds left at twilight's end have dissolved and faded, leaving a riot of stars. Mulder points out the constellations and Scully argues with him about Cassieopeia, while they both let the enormity of today sink in.

Unfortunately, the end of the world's still looming large, and the necessity of what to do next invades this temporary refuge of theirs. It isn't long before he feels her tense in his arms, feels his own pulse begin to race.

"I can't do it," Scully whispers, "I can't bury you again."

The raw devastation in her voice stuns him. Struggling to make sense of what he just heard, his mind's racing. Plan Alpha is the only real choice, despite what may happen to him. The other risks too many lives, the chance for survival itself. But maybe it's all finally crashing down around her, maybe Scully has hit her own wall, she'd never quit fighting, but maybe asking her to risk losing the only thing she has left is too much, to spend a life running and hiding is more than she can bear. He knows it's wrong, he knows he'll feel guilty for however long he lives afterward, but he'll do what she wants, he has to. They'll build a base camp, they'll try to make it work.

But he's got to know for sure, she has to say it, has to tell him.

Hands now on her shoulders, he turns her around so they're face to face. "What do you mean?" He knows she can see the pain and disbelief in his face, but he can't hide it.

There's something deep and unreadable in her eyes, then a decade of loss, death, and love washes over her features. Love and fierceness so strong it makes his heart clench in his chest, grips him to the core. His equal, his other half, he will never doubt her again.

"Tomorrow morning, you and I are going to take that serum, and you, Mulder, will not die. Understand me?"

"Is that a dare, Scully?" The starlight glints in his eyes, and there's the same luminescence dancing in hers.

"No, it's an order."

Hanging his head in mock defeat, he decides to milk it for all it's worth with huge sigh and shrug of his shoulders, "You're taking all the fun out of this, Scully. Looks like it's all settled then. Can I at least interest you in having that drink now, Outlaw?"

"For starters."

He starts to say something, but she's already started for Montoya's shack, yelling over her shoulder, "Still keep you guessing?"

"Everyday, Scully," he shouts back, loping toward her until they're side by side. "Everyday."

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Chapter 7

"You're slipping," she teases him as she opens the door. "I gave you an opening back there and.... zip, nada."

"Just trying to lull you into a false sense of security..." Mulder slips his arm around her waist and ushers her to the kitchen table.

"And then...?" Scully pivots on her heels, making sure she can get a good look at him. This is a serious game they're playing, after all.

There's a kind of yearning in her eyes that registers with him, something he understands. For now, they desperately need to ignore the obvious, the inevitable.

"And then, I'll be workin' my mojo on you....The mojo, Scully, against which there is absolutely no defense." He hands her a shot of mescal and snags one for himself, waiting to see how far she wants to take this.

With a grin that shines through her own exhaustion, she chooses her words carefully, making sure the innuendo's firmly in place.

"That's a pretty big assertion, Mulder. You sure it''ll stand up under scrutiny?"

Clinking his glass against hers, he's about a hundred miles past tired, but she's thrown down the gauntlet. Digging into his private reserve of wolfish charm, he leans in, his voice low and gravelly, "I'm a dangerous man, Scully, don't make me have to prove it to you...." He doesn't need to say anything else, she's laughing now, and that's enough.

With a deep breath and a flick of the wrist, her mescal disappears in a single swallow. It's a silky burn all the way down, and almost immediately, she can feel the letting go, her muscles relaxing as the combination of 100 proof and the day's events claim her. Wiping the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand, she's treated to the sight of Mulder mimicking her, following up with a lick of his lips.

The sandpaper warmth spreads down his throat, expands through his chest, and the knots holding him up start to work themselves loose. Nodding in acknowledgment at the relief in her eyes, he collects their empty glasses and sets them back on the table.

The day's over. They're still standing after all that's been said, all they've found out. With what seems like Herculean effort, he walks slowly to the curtained bathroom to relieve himself and splash some water on his face. When he returns, Scully's gingerly touching the second unit, her fingertips skimming along its edges.

For the first time in his life, he can honestly say he's seen enough for now. Gently pulling her away, he presses kisses along her wrist, stilling when he sweeps against the the subtle drum of her pulse.

Turning to get a better look at him, she sees the resolve deep in the green of his eyes, "Mulder..."

"Scully, it's time for a pit stop on the 'Save The Planet' tour."

"We need to see what's in the other unit, get a look at the vaccine." She doesn't mention the serum, she doesn't need to.

"It'll keep 'til later....C'mon...." With that, he leans over and with one hand, shoves the two units and the assorted weapons to the far side of the table.

Pulling the kitchen chairs away from the table so they face each other, the two of them ease themselves into the rickety seats. Shrugging off his jacket, he lets it drop to the floor; she doesn't even bother to take hers off. Slumping down low and spreading his long legs, Mulder lets his head loll against the back of the chair.

Scully turns hers backward and straddles it, leaning forward, arms hanging loosely at her side, chin resting on the uppermost wooden rung. Wisps of her newly bobbed hair tickle the corner of her mouth, and she blows them away with a puff of breath. Her eyes slip shut and she starts to drift, but her reverie's soon interrupted by Mulder and what sounds like a stream of consciousness rant.

"Burned out, dog-tired, done for, done in, drained, finished, flagging, haggard, played out..."

"Mulder," she tries to cut in, opening her eyes and giving him a look she hopes gets through to him.

He forges ahead unabated, "Spent, wasted, weary, whacked, worn, worn out...." Pleased with himself that he's got her attention, "Sorry, were you trying to say something?"

"I was going to ask you that, actually."

"Just trying to describe our current state of being. Feel free to jump in if I've missed something."

"That's very existential of you, Mulder. But what are we gonna do about it?" She tries to sound pissed, but there's too much warmth in her voice to pull it off.

"Well, I was thinking we should raid the larder since one of us seems to be experiencing low blood sugar crankiness." This gets him the official Scully family raspberry. "I'm going to ignore your unladylike gesture. Now where was I? Oh, right....After we grab some chow, a hot shower and bed."

"Five minutes," she drawls, stifling a yawn.

"Now who's tossing out non-sequiturs?"

"Five minutes of just sitting still, OK? Then we'll eat, wash up and sleep."

Slowly draping her arms on the chair back, her eyelids fluter and close again. In her mind, she and Mulder are naked, twined in Montoya's army-issued cot. Her lips brush against his, teasing them apart with her tongue, his hands are in her hair, her fingertips press against his spine. Warm hands trail down her sides, polish the curve of her hips. A nascent ache deep inside starts to revive her. Scully allows herself a faint smile, surrendering to something primal and real, something the burden of their secrets cannot touch.

Mulder pushes away thoughts about the future hidden in boxes just feet away. Slowly exhaling, he empties his mind, tracking each and every move she makes. It's hypnotic, pushing away everything pressing outside the door, everything hovering at the edge of first light. There's nothing else in the world but her and the way she moves.

His Zen moment is a short-lived one. He fantasizes that they're archeologists working on a dig in an Anasazi ruin. They've spent the unearthing relics day in the dirt, the dust, and the blistering sun, now it's time to wash off the ancient grime. Images of them stripping down, tossing their clothes into a tangled pile and crowding together in the tiny shower flood his mind.

Montoya's shower is so small one person can barely fit, but Mulder's able to improvise in his scenario. Hot water trickles down his chest, down her shoulder blades, across the strong muscles of her arms. He can almost smell the soap as one hand lathers the snake coiled low on her back and other glides across her breast. Hit with a surge of arousal, brief, sharp and piercing, it's enough to remind him that even though he's bone-tired, he's not dead.

Not by a long shot.

They sit for several long minutes in the silence, Mulder's the first to return from the land of lucid dreaming

"Scully....''

"Hmmm?" She doesn't stir as the image of him trailing his way down her body begins to fade. There's the sound of the chair sliding across the wooden floor and a couple of footsteps coming toward her. When she finally opens her eyes, Mulder's crouched right in front of her, an amused look on his face, smiling just enough to show her he's figured out what's been on her mind.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin', Scully?"

Instead of picking up where they left off with double-entendre and gamesmanship, she surprises them both with the simplest answer.

"Yeah...I am." Low and husky, her voice sends a little chill down his spine.

"What about food and a shower?"

"Oh, I want that too. But then it's you, me and that bed."

"You coming on to me, Scully?"

"If you have to ask..."

Before she can even finish, he's up and heading to the curtained bathroom. Soon there's the sound of water running and a loud command, "Get your sweet posterior over here."

Peeling off her jacket, then scooping up Mulder's from the floor, she hangs them carefully them on a couple of nails she spies next to the door frame. There are some habits that just won't die. Now ready for that shower, she walks over, pulls back the separating curtain. A small miracle's blasting full force, hot enough to make a small cloud of steam rise in the makeshift bathroom. The miniscule set up is far too small for the two of them, so it's clear Mulder's elected himself towel boy as a fall-back plan. Leaning against the sink, he's holding out a well-worn swath of terrycloth and a bar of what looks like hand-rendered yellow soap.

"Madame's shower is ready." He's biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

"And sadly, there's no room for you, Jeeves."

She gives him the eyebrow and the once-over, and he has to fight the urge to drag her under the spray and test his capacity for physical contortion.

Unfastening her watch with a flourish, she sets it on the sink. They haven't looked at the time once since they got here, and she doesn't bother to look now. Taking the towel and the soap, she deliberately brushes against him as she sets them on the top of the toilet tank. She starts to undo her jeans, and he stops her, slowly running his hand under her t-shirt, along her stomach, his thumbs stroking her hips underneath her waistband.

"Hurry up," he whispers in her ear. "And save me some hot water."

"Absolutely. I want you nice and clean between the sheets..." she whispers back, her fingertips trailing up and down the nape of his neck. "After you make me some dinner."

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Streams of hot water pummel the kinks into oblivion and Scully fully relaxes for the first time all day. The shower is about 4 feet wide and a little more than six feet tall--a jerry-rigged contraption using a huge tin wash tub fitted with a drain, spare pipe, nozzle and bent wire hung from the ceiling to form a circle holding a cheap plastic shower curtain. In a different life, Scully would've been off put, but after today she's in heaven, or at least a reasonable, but temporary facsimile. Keeping her head under the stream, she tries shampooing. The yellow soap lathers easily despite the iron in the H2O, mixing a metallic tang with the scent of herbs. Woodruff, maybe sage, Scully thinks. Taking her time, she soaps every inch of her body, luxuriating in the slick feel, and letting herself conjure up more images of them moving together, making love with a languid abandon.

She doesn't open her eyes, but she hears Mulder's footsteps, the area divider whooshing open, followed by the clink of glass against the old porcelain sink, the rustle of clothes, and the divider closing again. Disappointed that he doesn't pull back the shower curtain to try join her, even though it's obvious it's a physical impossibility, she wants to be touched now. But then she's able to detect the wafting aroma of food and decides to forgive him. 'Soon,' she tells herself, 'very, very soon' sighing at the warm throb between her legs.

Emerging from the contraption and grabbing the towel from its perch, Scully sees that her clothes and boots have been removed and in their place is a blue chambray shirt Mulder bought for himself back in Alamosa, plus a pair of soft cotton hiking socks. Poised near the faucet is a freshly filled shot glass of mescal. After drying off, she rummages around in a wooden crate set under the sink and finds an extra towel, which she leaves draped on a hook next to the mirror.

Shimmying into the shirt without bothering to unbutton it, Scully can't help but notice it skims her mid-thigh and smiles to herself at his choice as she rolls up the sleeves. Pulling her socks on and smoothing hair damp hair down, she takes a quick look in the mirror, feeling a happiness that pushes aside what's facing them ahead. Pledging not to temp fate, she nods at her reflection, takes a sip of mescal and decides to join him.

She's treated at the sight of dinner on the table and the wood stove lit and throwing off enough heat so the room is comfortable. And lo and behold, the duffels and the suitcase have been set by the foot of the bed and her used clothes are peeking out of a burlap sack.

As soon as he hears her coming, he hurries to finish what he's doing by the bed. He doesn't want her to find out yet, but it's too late. She slips beside him, peering over at his handiwork, a half dozen wildflowers--evening primrose and wild lavender, hastily tied with twine and resting on the single pillow. "Do I detect the presence of mojo?"

Without turning to look at her, "Guilty as charged." He's already had a second shot while heating up dinner, and managed to snatch his surprise from a patch just to the side of the porch. Shifting around, he gets a good a look at her, barelegged in stockinged feet, drink in hand, shirt sliding down to expose one shoulder. Her mojo's right on target, judging by the lazy roll of heat to his groin, hardening him slowly by degrees. Dipping his index finger in the mescal, he drags it across her lower lip and leans down to kiss her. There's the slight burn of alcohol flavoring the sweetness of her mouth. She eagerly responds, flicking her tongue against his, pressing up against him, so it's a surprise when she pulls away, finishing her shot and handing him her empty glass.

"Feed me." She's got a sly look deep in her eyes that belies her otherwise casual expression.

"That's it, Scully? Isn't there something else you want to say?"

"We haven't eaten all day. Besides, the food smells delicious." She heads toward the table, but it's only a few steps before he grabs her by the arm, whirls her around, so that she's back where she started. His hand parts open the shirt at the collar, his fingers trace across her collarbone, back and forth, coming to rest at the hollow between her breasts. Licking his thumb, he drags it down and over to the spot just over her heart. It's drumming, even though she's standing motionless, eyes half-closed.

"Mulder...." she murmurs, "I think you're right about that mojo of yours...."

Composing his face into a mask of seriousness as she looks up at him, her pupils wide and black with arousal. There's nothing like payback.

"Miss Scully, dinner is served."

Mulder is at his charming best all through dinner, peppering the conversation with snippets of Byron, Neruda, and Rilke; weaving in ancient stories of creation, eternal stories of the man and woman who come together in the darkness and make the world. Scully regales him with tales of her attempt at a bad-girl adolescence, sneaking out with Melissa to joy-ride on the back of someone's motorcycle and drinking beer on the beach at seventeen.

They steal kisses as they drink tin mugs filled with cool well-water, flirt shamelessly as they dine on left-over lamb and day-old bread served on mismatched crockery. Hungry people make the best food critics after all, the two of them proclaiming the meal a feast. The fact that they've had a couple of shots of the Mexican equivalent of Everclear probably doesn't hurt either.

They would never admit it to themselves or each other, but at the moment, they are doing all they can to ignore the evidence, what's happened to them, what will happen tomorrow. The discussion is carefully constructed, the flirtation deliberate, and neither of them look at the other side of the table, at the units or the loaded guns. Right now, denial is their best friend. They can do it, they really can, and they throw themselves into the task at hand.

When the talk turns to past cases, it's only the funny ones. Forget about history, about lost sisters, lost parents--all of them dead and gone. Forget about murdered children and cut-out fabric hearts, a little girl with starlight hair, killers with cold eyes, demons, lies and conspiracies. Forget about a baby's blue eyes and full mouth.

"A" is for temporary amnesia, not the apocalypse.

A paper-thin truce with time ticking away.

The initial buzz of the mescal fades, leaving them with a glow that they hope to take full advantage of. When Mulder gets up to shower, Scully whispers in his ear, telling him not to overdress, it seems like mission accomplished. They almost get through the rest of the evening without any mention of the price the future could exact in flesh and bone.

It starts when he's undressing, when he flashes on images of vials and syringes. But he shakes it off, pushes it to the back of his mind. 'Just a while longer,' he asks whatever's out there, 'just a little more time. '

He emerges later with spiky, damp hair and a newly shaven face, throwing caution to the wind, thinking that soon he'll be able to hide in plain sight. Barefooot and gray sweatpants riding his hips, he shoves his clothes into the gunnysack hamper and doubles back to place his watch next to hers. 'Just like some old couple,' he tells himself, and the thought makes him smile. Coming back out, it looks like the table's been cleared.

Scully's standing with her back to him, but he assumes that everything's in front of her. He guessed right, as he gets closer, the units are there with the guns are lined up on the side. She doesn't answer when he asks her what she's doing. When there's still no response after the second try, Mulder pulls her away and makes her look at him. Despite how straight she holds herself, he can feel the slight tremble in the line of her shoulders.

The regret rolls off him in waves, palpable, familiar. "We don't have to do this tonight, Scully," he whispers, shaking his head. "We've made our decision. We can do this in the morning when Montoya gets back."

Blinking slowly, she's resolutely dry-eyed. She will not cry, she will not come undone. There are things to be dealt with here, playtime's over. "No. I want to." Stroking the side of his face with her fingertips, "I need to. So do you."

Hands are placed in what's now a familiar position. Instead of a flash of bright light, there's a soft, white glow, and then the surface gradually softens and dissolves like before. They find a second box inside, just large enough to hold a couple of syringes, but no one's ready yet to see what's inside.

They're drawn instead to the five shelves of vials, stacked ten to a row. The vaccine is a reddish yellow solution, no more than 10 cc's. Gingerly picking one up, they each hold a small container to the light. Golden particles swirl and scatter in the crimson fluid, like dust in the wind. Scully wonders what will happen when they add themselves to the mix, how the protein codes will combine, what the final product will look like.

Mulder's observation's less scientific, but no less true. "Who knew they were predicting the future at Woodstock? We really are stardust, Scully."

"Something divine, after all." She takes the vial from his open hand plus hers and returns them to the top row.

Without saying a word, she lifts the smaller box out of the unit. There are two indentations the size of thumbprints. She looks at him and he looks at her and there's trust, always trust, the indestructible belief in each other. They are still each other 's touchstones, now more than ever.

Setting his thumb in the groove first, she follows suit a second later. The lid melts away and what's left are two syringes, 20ml, filled with lead colored fluid. Scully picks one up and rolls it between her fingers. It's a thick, viscous liquid, they'll have to use a large muscle group as an injection site. Mulder's busy examining the other one, oblivious to what's happening to Scully. The tears have come suddenly and she's not able to stop herself. She doesn't make a sound, as they stream down her face, doesn't stir. If he hadn't glanced her way, he'd wouldn't have noticed.

"Mulder, I need you to tell me something." She doesn't let him hold her, gently refusing his outstretched arms. Choosing instead to stand tall, choosing to stand down the fear that's eating away her strength like acid on steel.

His own fear's got him by the throat, he can't do this tomorrow if she's not convinced this is the only way. "There was no other choice. Too many people would been be placed at risk..."

She no longer seems to be standing on bedrock. Whatever she had her back up against is crumbling and crumbling fast. Struggling to breathe, she's barely able to respond. "I know....I know...."

"What is it, Scully?" He can get close now, cupping her face in his strong hands, wiping the tears away with his thumbs. "Shhhhh," is all he says, over and over. She can't see his heart cracking open, the fissures of grief, a world of pain at his powerlessness to protect her. He doesn't let her know, he only wants somehow to fix this. More tears come. Mulder wipes those away, too, until there's no more left, until she can speak.

"I want you to tell me you're not going to die tomorrow." She needs him to believe, her faith in tomorrow's outcome resides in him, in the two of them believing together.

Taking her left hand, he kisses the palm, bring his lips to her ring and kisses it too. "I'm a married man, I'm not going anywhere."

"No jokes, Mulder, please...I need you to say it...Please, for me..."

It's heartbreaking to hear. Scully, who never pleads, never begs, is asking for this one thing. He has prove that it wasn't empty talk in that hotel room in Roswell. She needs his faith, his belief in them, in the future.

Pulling her into his arms, he whispers in her ear, "'Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.'" Finding her mouth, he kisses her long and hard, obliterating their sorrow. Scully responds for all she's worth, her hands snaking through his hair as she buries her mouth against his, tastes his very soul.

Stopping only to bring his lips to her other ear, he whispers again. "'For love is stronger than death.' You taught me that.... I'm not gonna die, Scully. I'm not gonna die."

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They're going to get ready for bed, climb between the sheets and make love. On the surface, millions of other couples will do the same thing tonight. But in their universe, their bed time rituals guarantee to set them apart. Oh, they'll do things like brush their teeth and check the locks on the door, make sure the stove's not on. They'll also given the order to close an extraterrestrial carryall and its cargo, one that holds the fate of humanity.

Mulder grabs the magnatite loaded pistols from the kitchen table and hides one under the bed on his side, the side closest to the door. Their own guns, now carrying altered ammo are shoved under the bed, for easy access and extra insurance. After checking the Glock's clip one last time, Scully stashes it underneath the single pillow, which luckily for her has been offered up by Mulder as an earlier gesture of chivalry. While he fishes out extra army blankets from underneath Montoya's spartan set-up, she stows the aluminum suitcase with its combination lock underneath the duffels at the foot of the bed. Scully's willing to bet John and Jane Doe never have to worry about hiding laptops with mega-encryption programs, discs with MUFON contacts, underground leads, and at least a dozen fake ID's, let alone of stacks of unmarked, untraceable bills.

All done, they pull back the threadbare linens and blankets and ease into bed. Mulder makes sure she's on the inside, that it's his body between her and who or whatever might try to come through the door. Resting on his side, he's propped up on one elbow, leg thrown across her hip. Scully's hair ruffles across the pillowcase as she settles closer to him, sighing as his free hand plays with the errant strands. Wetting her fingertip with a flick of her tongue, she traces his beautiful mouth. Taking her time, she makes her way down his chin, his throat, all the way to his collarbone. The contact, is enough to make her rub her legs together at the growing swell of her clit, the slippery pleasure.

"You can't die...." she murmurs, reminding him of his oath.

"I won't," he whispers. The heat crowds low in his belly, tightening his groin--his cock's hard, solid against his leg, He wants her desperately, like the truth. He has to have her, like air, like water. Undoing the buttons one at a time, he pulls her out of the shirt and tosses it on the floor. Reprising the foreplay from before, he licks his thumb and finds her breastbone and drags it down, down, down, When he reaches the rise of her mons, he teases his way through the soft patch of hair, stroking her between her legs. Bringing his fingers to his lips, he tastes her, sweeping his tongue to capture every drop.

"Promise me," she tells him.

He is fierce and tender, and they kiss until they can hardly breathe. They are never not in contact with one another. Mouths, hands, are everywhere touching. Bringing his head to her breasts, he trails his lips along their curves, sweeps the nipples with the flat of his tongue. The pleasure is so intense, but she's still able to bite his shoulder in response. There's the smell of sweat and sage, wildflowers and metal, and desire so raw their bodies are shaking. Together they pull off his sweatpants, her socks and shove them aside. Twining together, naked at last, the emotional charge is almost shocking in its intensity. Licking the sweat from her neck, he pulls back to look at her face. Her lips part and she locks him in her gaze as she reaches down to stroke him, feeling him swell and pulse. Cradling him, she closing around him, urging him on.

His hand covers hers, stills it, slipping away only so that he can climb on top of her, covering her with his long body. Rearing back on his heels, he kneels over her as she opens to him. Finally sliding inside, deep, so deep she gasps, he leans into her, and his arms wrap tightly around her, holding her in place. Clasping her hands around the back of his neck, she arches upward, pressing flush to his groin and he's moving back and forth, rocking her, hitting her clit just the right way, so hard, each stroke rippling through her. She can feel him everywhere, he's the only thing, he's everything. Then it starts, slow waves that take her breath, that pull her under, once and for all. And she moves, moves, moves, undulates with every stroke. She pushes against him, and he plunges again and again into her tight, wet heat. He tries to tell her nothing is stronger than they are, but he can't talk anymore, can't do anything but feel. When he comes, it rips through him like lightening. It's devastating, annihilating. He shudders her name as he lowers himself to rest at her side.

It's a lifeline, it always has been.

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Chapter 8

Fraying the border of night, the next day gradually works its way over the horizon. Gray dawn faintly trickles through the grimy windows of Montoya's shack; spilling slowly across the floor, stippling the tables and chairs, the stove and sink, and finally, the bed where the two of them lie twined together. Mulder 's lying on his side, still facing the door, with Scully asleep, flanking him, next to the wall.

Pressed against his back, her body's a ribbon of warmth against his skin. He lets himself drift, not quite fully awake yet. Peace. What he feels is peace. Some part of him wants to freeze this moment in time, not leave this bed, not feel anything else but this stillness. But the encroaching daylight finds him, and his uncomplicated peace fades. His first waking thoughts are of their future, and of Montoya and her whereabouts. He can feel Scully's rhythmic, steady breathing and wants to wait just a little longer, but they need to get up, they need to be ready.

Her arm's flung over his chest, her hand fluttering against his breastbone, claiming him in both the kingdom of sleep and the daylight world. Burying her face in the crook of his neck, she whispers his name, dreaming of ordinary pleasures. But somehow in the dream, things don't stay simple long. They end up driving, driving--driving toward wavering figures in the dark, toward a secret place, toward a light that recedes the closer they get.

Even in the midst of all of this, she can sense Mulder in real time. Feeling his body shift, she's aware of his fingertips stroking her brow, her lips. The dream disintegrates and Scully begins to surface, her eyes fluttering open. Still drowsy, it takes a second for her to completely focus. Mulder's looking down at her with a slight smile curving the corners of his mouth. But his eyes are dark and solemn, almost the color of storm clouds. 'Too serious for so early in the morning' she thinks.

"First light, Scully. Montoya should be here any time now."

First light. She remembers and the knowledge rushes through her, a millisecond later, she's fully alert and pushing off the flimsy covers.

"Right. I'm getting up."

He hands her his shirt from last night, and she shinnies into it, partially buttoning up while he pulls on his sweats. Before she can scramble out of bed, he pull her close and kisses her softly.

"Everything's gonna be fine today," he whispers.

"I was going to tell you the same thing," she whispers back, holding his hand and rubbing her thumb over his wedding ring. She feels the tightness in her chest closing up like a fist, but puts on the best game face she can and eases off the bed. "C'mon, we don't have much time." He follows suit and lets her have the bathroom first, after he grabs some toiletries to wash up in the kitchen sink.

They both wonder if that last thing she said was a Freudian slip or prophetic wisdom.

While she's in the makeshift bathroom, Mulder cleans up, pulls on a pair of Levi's and a workshirt and gets a pot of coffee going on the stove. When she emerges, she quickly slips on fresh jeans and T-shirt, throws the cover hastily over the bed and retrieves all their weapons from where they were stowed the night before. Handing Mulder his Makarov and Walther, they check the clips and cowboy up. Scully slowly rolls her neck until she can hear the vertebrae pop, while he shakes his arms loosely at his side to get the blood going. That done, the guns are slipped carefully under their waistbands and into the shaft of their boots.

The light in the cabin is no longer wan and pale. It's burnished bright, growing stronger by the minute; the sun pulls itself higher and higher into the sky and still no Montoya.

Scully starts speaking, questions looming in her eyes, but Mulder abruptly turns away, striding over to grab the hissing coffee pot before it boils over. He understands the look and is sure she's asking herself the million dollar question. Shutting off the stove, he snatches two mugs from the cupboard, pouring them each a cup. It strikes him that that neither of them has gone to the window or looked outside yet.

"What if she doesn't come back?" Breeching the silence, she accepts the coffee, casually offered as if they're back in the office filling out 302's.

"She's on her way, Scully..."

"How can you be sure?"

"Psychic ability, you heard the man yesterday." Nodding toward the cabin door, "C'mon, let's take a looksee."

He strides to the rough cut slab of pine, throws the dead bolt, and with one hand shoves open the creaking wooden barrier, cradling his cup in the other. Scully follows, hoping for the best and bracing for the worst.

The two of them claim spots on the weathered ancient porch, scanning the dirt road leading out of the little compound. It's clear and cloudless morning, the stripped down landscape breathtaking and stark, almost glowing in the burgeoning sunlight. A few hours from now the sky will burn turquoise and heat will shimmer in the desert. Dine herders are already trailing along the mountain road, past meandering past purple lupine, along trails of white woodbine and blue-green stands of mountain birch. Everything today is as it was the day before and they day before that. At least for them.

Sipping hot, black coffee, Scully's thinking about fall back plans, event horizons, collateral damage, risk factors. She looks over to him, puzzled by the strange calm on his face as he squints up at the sky, hand shielding his brow.

"Mulder, you and I both know she should've have been here by now."

"It's only been daylight for a little while....She'll be here."

He stops scanning the heavens and takes a swallow from the mug, then rolls it between the flats of his palms, studying the swirl it makes against the chipped ceramic.

There's a confidence in in his voice, a surety she doesn't quite grasp. What does he know that she doesn't? Then it hits her, the source of this confidence. What she thought was just a flip remark a minute ago was really a hint. He hasn't mentioned anything since Alamosa, since the confession about help from the Great Beyond.

"Who told you?" She's asking in such a matter of fact way, that he has to look up at her and smile.

"Krycek. He's all about atoning these days."

It was a split second, while she was washing up, while he was measuring coffee into the pot. Just a whisper in his ear, his voice unmistakable, "She's coming." Two words and he was gone before Mulder could turn around. Scully's let in on the latest visitation as she finishes her coffee. Cup empty, she squints up at the sky, and it takes several long minutes before she replies.

"That's actually reassuring, although it's hard to believe Krycek seeking forgiveness for anything....I must really be losing it."

That gets a laugh out of him. Draining the last of his coffee, he tosses his mug and she neatly grabs it in her outstretched free hand.

"Faith, Scully...you gotta have faith."

"I"ll work on it on my way to the kitchen sink."

Her steps are measured as she carefully walks through the open doorway. 'Faith's the only thing keeping us afloat,' she thinks. She washes the cups in the tin sink and prays that today, divine intervention takes the form of one J. Montoya. Checking their gear, she shoves back the fear that ghostly revelations won't cut it, that bad news is already on the way. She's halfway through a recheck of everything -- briefcase, duffels, the units on the table, when Mulder's yell makes her run back outside.

"Scully! You gotta see this!"

Running back out to the porch, there's a rapidly approaching cloud of dust, a solid, dark mass getting closer and closer. What 's soon clear to them both, is that it's a panel truck, navy, not new and not too old. A couple of minutes more, when it's in real viewing distance, Mulder makes out some rust, not too much, just enough to look nondescript, ordinary.

Barreling toward them at racing speed, it keeps on coming until it's in throwing distance from where they stand. Someone hits the brakes and the vehicle lurches forward to a breakneck stop, spewing gravel and dirt from underneath the wheels. Whoever's behind the wheel cuts the engine and kicks open the door.

It's Montoya.

She jumps out, slams the truck door and walks onto the porch without saying a word. She's got a jagged cut over her right eye that's starting to crust over and a black eye to match.

Tossing Mulder the keys, she grunts, "I need coffee."

Scully shifts to doctor mode and blocks her path, trying to get a better look, thinking she may need to put in some stitches. Her raised hand gets batted away, clearly annoying the woman of the hour.

"Leave it," Montoya barks. "I'm fine." With that, she pushes past them both and stomps into the shack, leaving the door wide open.

Mulder leans down to whisper, smirk on his face. "You know, she reminds me of someone."

Scully's not pissed, but she cuts him a look that lets him know he'll have to enjoy his little joke all by himself.

"Don't even try," she whispers as they follow the other woman inside.

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He can tell by Scully's solid strides across the creaking wooden floor, that she's not about to drop this. Under any other circumstances, this would be amusing, but truth be told, Mulder's also worried that something serious has happened to their host. They don't need any more complications than they already have.

Montoya pours herself a cup of coffee and leans against the sink. Her eyes close as she drinks the hot brew, and it looks like she's trying to catch her second wind.

"I think you should let me look at that," says Scully, quietly, but firmly.

Eyes till closed, Montoya sighs heavily. "I think you need to drop it...I said I was fine and I mean it. I just need a minute to regroup and then we need to get down to business. There's nothing that...."

"Trust me, she's not going to leave it alone." Mulder interrupts. " By the way, nice shiner you got there. How 'bout letting us in on what happened?"

Montoya glances up, and the two of them are parked in front of the kitchen table like a couple of sentries at a guard post. Draining her cup, she places it into the sink and makes a decision. The resolve in their faces convinces her to take the path of least resistance. Walking over to them, she drags out a chair and plops herself down. "Let's get this over with. We're burning daylight."

While Scully retrieves the medical kit from their baggage, Mulder pulls out a seat, sets it across from her and joins her. "It looks like you had a little problem last night. "

"No big deal. Don't get your nose out of joint over it."

"In my case that would really be a problem," Mulder quips.

That makes Montoya chuff out what might pass as a laugh, "Yeah, I can see that."

Scully's busy at the table pulling out gauze, tape and Neosporin from the kit. She doesn't enter into the conversation, approaching Montoya like she would a wary stray. The other woman doesn't resist as Scully gets a closer look at the cut. It's fairly deep, but it's too late for sutures. They'll be a scar, but she's fairly sure that's not something Montoya will fret about.

Mulder keeps digging, "So, you were saying..."

"It was nothing. I was at the drop point...a biker bar. My contact and I just finished doing the deal and everything was on schedule. I was leaving and some asshole tried to get up close and personal. I wasn't in the mood. End of story. That's why I was late."

Cleaning the cut with dry gauze before she applies the ointment and tapes it up, Scully feels Montoya twitch. "Are you OK?"

Glancing up, "I don't like people touching me."

"I'm sure the asshole at the bar knows that," answers Scully, letting a trickle of warmth seep into her voice. It's not that she feels close to this woman, or anything remotely like friendship. But she understands her. Montoya 's flinty because she has to be. She can't let anyone stop her, failure is not an option.

"He got in one shot, but I took care of him." It's not a boast coming from Montoya, just a statement of fact.

"Just tell me he's got his gonads left." Mulder's joke earns him a grin, a flash of teeth from her, brittle and brief.

"Just barely." Looking up at Scully again. "We done here, doc?"

"Let me just ask you some questions. Any dizziness, blurred vision...."

Montoya interrupts, "No nausea, loss of consciousness. Negative for concussion.....I was the medic in my unit. A medic and weapons specialist. "

"Nice combination," Mulder tosses in. "Was that also 'need to know' for us?"

"Something like that," she responds.

She will not drop her guard, not even with them, she won't say more than she has to. It clear to him she's utterly committed to her role, to the success of her mission, or she'll die trying. But she's too used to being a lone wolf, accountable to no one but herself.

"Check my eyes," Montoya offers to Scully, "you'll see they're PERL."

Scully sighs and gives this stubborn woman a fleeting smile. She says nothing but holds out her finger and watches closely as Montoya tracks every move. Then she covers and uncovers each eye, and those black, bottomless irises confirm what was just said. Pupils even and reactive to light. No signs of cranial injury or hematoma.

"Aside from your external injuries you seem fine."

"Great." Getting up from the chair, she motions for Scully to sit, while she leans back against the edge of the table. "What did the two of you decide? That's why we're here, right?"

Instead of sitting down, Scully grabs the chair and pushes it back to where it was. Mulder rises without a word and shoves his into place. The three of them ring the table, and the two of them look at each other. Montoya stares at the units spread before her in the silent room and waits for an answer.

"Montoya. It's time you told us some things. Exactly how much do you know about the offensive?"

"Why is that important? I know whatever I need to get the job done."

"It's important because I say it is," Mulder barks, arms folded across his chest. He has to win this pissing match. They can't afford her holding back, even though there are things she can never know.

"This is what you came here for. We're here now, and we're in charge. You better get with the fucking program. Gesturing toward Scully, "We can't afford anyone screwing up."

Montoya doesn't respond right away to the new chain of command. She grudgingly acquiesces, nodding to Mulder. He's the Alpha male and Scully, by turns, Alpha female of their little pack.

"Fine...There's two strategies. Plan A, you get injected with some kind of serum that'll keep Them from tracking you. Since I'm a medic, I'll give you the shots, then you get the hell out of here ASAP, carting as much ammo as we can load you up with. Once you're out of here, you start setting up bases as many places as you can."

"And if a problem occurs?" Scully jumps in, following Mulder's lead, making sure Montoya sees her asserting her authority.

"Then I guess it's Plan B or we're screwed."

"Actually, there's a fall-back." Scully's tone is brisk and in-charge. "If and when it's required, you' ll have to take on additional responsibilities. It's 'need to know,' however. Any problems with that?"

"None."

"Good."

Mulder draws Montoya back, "Finish bringing us up to speed."

Montoya's tense now, her jaw clenched. "I break camp tomorrow at dawn and follow you to whatever coordinates you send me. You two make a vaccine and get it distributed, set up as many cells as you can. I arrange for shipments of magnatite to be sent, handle security and logistics. Plan B, we set up an underground base here, manufacture the vaccine. You have the schematics as to where. I'm still on security and logistics. Our contacts come here and we stock 'em up. They go back to their locations and distribute....There, you know what I know. Now what the hell did you decide?"

He's satisfied Montoya has enough information to be a good lieutenant, and enough discipline to accept directives from both of them, despite that fact that clearly she'd prefer running the show.

He kept his gaze on Scully all during the rundown. She seemed steely and unshakable on the surface, but he saw the vulnerability deep in her eyes. It must have taken all her strength to mention contingencies. Thankfully, the risk he takes today remains a secret.

One among many, belonging to them and them alone.

"Is that all, Montoya?" he asks.

"Yeah, that's all," Heaving an enormous sigh, the line of her jaw is still drawn tight. It's obvious she's trying hard to resign herself this recent shift in the power dynamic. "Just tell me what you decided."

"It's Plan A...We chose Plan A."

"Finally. Then let's get to it."

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He whispers something to Scully, who nods in agreement. They turn and motion to Montoya, who's been keeping a discrete distance just a few feet behind them.

"We thought you might want to see the vaccine." Mulder's dropped the attitude from a few minutes before and his voice is gentler. He and Scully have both relaxed their postures, hoping to seem welcoming at some level.

Montoya shakes her head, and there's a softening in her features. "It's OK. Listen, when it's time, I'll get a good look. 'Need to know' works both ways. Besides it'll makes it easier for me to stay on track...."

She stops talking and it's clear to both of them that she's struggling to put something into words. "I know why you did what you did. I've been a soldier for almost twenty years, Agent Mulder...." Making sure she makes eye contact with both of them, "You don't have to worry about me. I got your backs."

"Changing of the guard isn't always easy, is it?" Scully replies.

For the first time, a real smile, broad and toothy, graces Montoya's battered face. "You military?"

"Navy brat, I'm afraid."

"Damn, could've sworn you were regular Army. You got one helluva game face."

Mulder listening to the two of them, can't help but let a tiny grin escape and decides to join the mix. Motioning with his hands to get their attention. "It's great the two of you are bonding, but hey, let's not forget about me."

Montoya volleys back, traces of that smile still lingering. "You probably got drummed out of basic. Bad attitude."

A ripple of laughter runs between the three of them. It's brief and as it dies down, Mulder brings them back on point.

"Bad attitude notwithstanding, we better start this party."

They move like three people with a purpose. All the levity of a minute ago quickly evaporates. Montoya locks the door, then washes up while the two of them place an open palm face down on the second unit. The structure wavers and dissolves underneath just like before. Once again, a glowing white light shimmers momentarily then the smaller boxes are revealed. Each of them places a thumb into the grooves, and seconds later the serum and syringes are visible. By now, it almost feels routine to them. One quick injection each and they're home free.

The only hitch is it might kill one of them.

Mulder reaches for the small of Scully's back. His fingertips tap the spot underneath her T-shirt where the ouroboros lies coiled. Almost imperceptibly, she leans into his touch and the circuit is complete.

Both of them glimpse over at Montoya, who's moved to Scully's side. They're not surprised that she doesn't gasp, doesn't flinch, doesn't say a word when faced with this alien technology. Without hesitation, Scully removes a vial and syringe and hands it to Montoya.

Turning to face Mulder so that Montoya has better access, she unzips her jeans and pushes aside her panties, exposing the upper crest of her hip. Mulder's hands rest on her shoulders and when she looks up, she loses herself in his eyes. Nothing needs to be said, he understands. She will be changed forever once again.

Montoya pulls off the cap covering the needle with her teeth and draws up the first vial of serum. Tapping the syringe to make sure there are no air bubbles, it takes a few minutes, the viscous, gray fluid will make for a tough injection. Holding it up and giving it one final plink with the tip of her finger, it's showtime.

"You ready?"

Scully 's nod is her only answer.

Steadying herself, Montoya places a hand on Scully's belly. Scully can feel the tip of the needle on her exposed flesh. In one swift movement, Montoya hits the plunger. Scully winces at the prick but doesn't stir, keeping her gaze locked onto Mulder's.

Suddenly, there's a flash bleaching out everything, blinding in his intensity. There's nothing but the white heat of a quasar--hot, hot, so very hot. Searing. Immolating. Scully tries to cry out but she can't make a sound. Panic and fear so primal there's no more coherent thought. Lurching forward, Scully falls into the center of the sun.

And almost as quickly as it happened, it's over. Opening her eyes, she's in Mulder's arms.

"Scully, talk to me..." His voice caresses her.

Haltingly, she rights herself to find fear is etched into every line of his face in ways only she understands His eyes are the color of slate, the color of mourning.

"I'm OK." There's the taste of metal on her tongue, and she's so thirsty. She blinks and takes several deep breaths, willing away the tremors she feels inside. "How long was I out?"

"Seconds, no more than couple of seconds." Smoothing her hair back, he whispers, "You scared the hell out of me."

That earns him a faint smile, "I forgot that's your job."

After crushing the used syringe and vial under the heel of her boot, Montoya brings back a tin cup of water. "Thought you might want this." There's concern on her face, but she won't intrude unless she has to.

Sipping slowly, Scully savors every drop. Mulder watches her and says nothing. His panic slowly ebbs as the color returns to her cheeks. He's convinced she's completely back when she firmly sets the cup on the table and her stance takes on that compact strength.

Montoya's already got the second injection ready. Motioning them over to the bed, "I think you better sit over there in case you have the same reaction.

Nodding their agreement, the two of them perch on the edge of the rickety army cot.

"I've thought about taking off my pants in front of two women, but my version looked a lot different." Mulder's sporting a cocky look on his face, telling himself the joke's not gallows humor.

The two women glance over at each other and shake their heads.

"Actually," Scully replies, "Your shoulder is a big enough muscle group, so you can take the injection there."

Montoya nods, "Yeah, that should work."

"You two are not cooperating, you realize that." Mulder keeps the tone light.

"You should be used to that by now." Scully still has that same tone of voice, but clasping the fingers of left hand, she presses tight against his wedding ring.

"Ready?" Montoya queries as Mulder nods and steadies himself

"Promise?" Scully makes him look at her, hopefully not for the last time.

"You've got my word on it." He knows she was asking about something else.

Montoya yanks aside the collar of his T-shirt, and with the same unerring efficiency administers the injection. Mulder's world goes bone white, everything burns like a thousand fires, and he melts, melts, melts. Lurching forward, it all starts to fade, then suddenly it's done. Scully's' strong hands pull him back onto the bed, and he hears her calling his name.

"I'm....OK," he rasps. "A little burnt on reentry, but OK."

"Thank God..." Without thinking, Scully cups his face in her hands and kisses him deeply, tasting life, savoring his warm and willing mouth. The world disappears again, but not in flames. It just dwindles down to the two of them.

Montoya takes her cue and busies herself with crushing the last syringe and vial, scooping up the remains and dumping them outside.

Mulder gets up to get some water, but Scully, stops him. "Sit. Rest. I'll get you something to drink."

"I should do that more often if it'll get you to wait on me."

Bringing him a mug of cold well water, she slides next to him on the bed. "Don't push your luck."

Montoya sticks her head in the door, checking to see if their little tableau is over. "Permission to enter my own house?" She can't completely hide the amusement in her voice.

"Sorry." Scully apologizes, now feeling the flush of embarrassment.

"Nothing to be sorry for. You two are married." Montoya answers, not really caring if the rings are cover or not.

"As married as two people could ever be," Mulder replies, as Scully brushes off imaginary lint from her T-shirt. He catches her in his peripheral vision, head bent, the corner of her mouth lifting in a private smile.

"If both of you are OK, we need to start loading up the van. The sooner you two are out of here, the better."

Mulder unfolds his long frame, slowly rising from the bed. "You're right." Handing Scully the keys, "You want to get started? I need to use the little boys' room."

The two women start making their way outside. Montoya unbolts the door, walking into the bright day without a second thought. Scully turns to check on him before she leaves.

"Mulder?"

"I'm fine, Mom," he quips.

Scanning his face, the whole length of him for any sign of problems, she's satisfied when none are visible.

"Call me 'Mom' again, and you'll never get laid."

"I shouldn't be turned on by that attitude, but I am."

"Married, huh?"

"I'm right, aren't I?"

Scully nods, shuts the door behind her and hurries down the gravel path to meet Montoya, who's waiting for her in front of the storage hut.

Mulder shakes his head, his vision's a little blurry. 'Temporary side effect,' he thinks. Taking measured steps as he makes his way to the bathroom, he's hit with a wave of lightheadedness that makes him stumble forward.

His worse fears are realized as he falls and the crushing darkness closes all around him.


Chapter 8 beta by the glorious sallie





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